Welcome to issue #6 of Subprimal Poetry Art/Music. We are rapidly approaching our third anniversary of publication, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve been reaching a wider and wider audience – and attracting a more diverse set of writers and artists from around the planet. Naturally, without writers, artists, and readers, we wouldn’t even exist – and so I’d like once again to say thank you everybody for your participation and support.
I don’t talk a lot about myself, nor the work we publish here on Subprimal, preferring instead to let things speak for themselves. However, I would like to say, that as an American ex-pat living in Mexico (going on seven years now), that Subprimal has become a very living connection to writers and artists that I might not otherwise have an opportunity to enjoy. I get to read your words, hear your voices, and admire the panoramic vision of your art.
This issue marks the first time that we’ve had a guest editor making selections, and what a broadening opportunity it’s been. John C. Mannone appears in earlier issues of Subprimal, and when I began to think about who I'd like to ask, his name came to me right away. When I ran it by him, I was very pleased that he not only said yes, but that it would be an honor.
Working with John has been a pleasure. He’s insightful and methodical. He works with writers to develop the best version of a piece possible. He has a knack to look beyond the imperfections we sometimes leave in our writing and see a jewel waiting to be polished.
And so, for our Spring 2016 issue, we have a unique and compelling set of written pieces and art. And, as always, many of the written pieces include a recording of the author’s reading that has been set to a custom musical composition. Enjoy, spread the word, and don't forget to leave your thoughts for our contributors in the comments section.
I am pleased to have had the privilege of serving as the guest editor for Spring 2016 issue of Subprimal Poetry Art/Music. After carefully reading and examining the many submissions of poetry, prose and art (approximately 900 pieces), I sadly had to turn away some good pieces. Though I did not reject work for submission guideline noncompliance, I did dismiss work that was devoid of rhythm, as well as clarity, and which had no literary depth. Some pieces did not consider our aesthetics at all (something remedied by a cursory examination of the website and reading/viewing sample work). However, there were many delightful pieces and I believe you will enjoy the works represented.
For example, a few of these fine works appearing here are from notable poets and writers, such as William Doreski's Pearly Chaos, Roberta Feins' House of Straw and Lois Marie Harrod's Seven Deadly Sins, whose deft use of language and imagery make their poems sing, even howl, their haunting aspects. Others take chances with form that serves the contents well, for example, a creative list poem of sorts by Sharon Alexander, My Name Was Once an Argument or the powerful litany by Terry Martin Why Did I Do It?. Conversational verse, even with a measure of passive voice, in the right hands can be powerful poems — rhythm and effective line breaks can help lift them into poetry. For example, Carl Boon’s poignant poem The First Time is more than merely lifted, it is skyrocketed into poetry. In contradistinction, a piece of apparent prose can be actually closer to poetry. Denmark Lane’s piece Día de Los Muertos is so full of compressed writing and resonant with internal music, I’d be remiss not to call it a prose poem. And songs. Songs can be poetry, too. Allen E. Rizzi’s song-like poem Ponokáómitaa was originally written in the Blackfoot language by the author. There is a beauty in simiplicity there.
The visual artists, no less than the literary ones, grace these pages. Their works were the last ones I had selected for the issue. I looked for complemetary pieces, or at least those that were congruent with mood. Perhaps these were the most subjective in my decision on which ones to select… there were many meritorious submissions.
I wish I had time to go into each piece in depth, there is much to be said about every single one appearing here, but alas, my words could be more voluminous than the collected works. So, please enjoy all of them, as I will again after they go live.
John C. Mannone
She expects smoke creeping toward her through the shorn trees.
She won’t be surprised to feel the floor tremble,
to open the door and find scraps floating along the biting gust—
palm-size remnants, a congregation of charred color.
She waits for retreat of engines gaining elevation, and the screams,
the screams melding into stadium rumble.
Yet children are walking to school. A boy steals
his friend’s cap and runs away. The neighbor exits
his door at 8:02 a.m. as usual and folds into his car. A flock
of sparrows play harmony
to forsythia that must have bloomed overnight. Another
Monday with its pent-up trepidations,
its lamentations for the lost weekend, its stored chance for an hour,
a moment to catch the eye of another,
to delve into the sheen that is starting to spread toward her.
An ordinary day she would have passed by
but for this debt. This lease she can only repay by grabbing
what was taken without recourse.
I understood. Finally.
First, the smell of the sea. Then the smell of fish, so intense along with the smell of bread, it meant life itself. Then the fragments of rope, the consistency of the sail: so sheer in the light, so solid to the touch.
I understood the sense of abandonment and where it came from. The terror of losing the one I loved each time he left, the uncertainty of his return. And the worship of the boat shielding him from the elements, bringing him safely home.
Now I knew why the harbor, lighthouse, foghorn, had such appeal. I had been the fisherman’s wife before, as were my mother, my mother’s mother, back through the centuries. Far into the memory of the island, buried by sand and pebbles I had trod on as a child, while I stared into a blueness only whispering freedom and possibilities, silent about its secret essence.
I had not learned yet how to spell the word loss. But it was engraved in my cells, it circulated in my veins. It just needed to unspool as a fishing line from its reel. My heart firmly hooked, already bleeding.
After Hieronymus Bosch
The faces, the mouths
open, the hungry child eats
cookies made from clay,
eats dust as the pregnant woman
swallows what she craves,
and those kidnappers of sorts,
the Baptists from Idaho, who know
what they are doing,
evidently not enough to convict.
Wouldn’t you promise a child
a swimming pool if you could?
Wouldn’t you promise elsewhere
like I wanted to take my mother?
She died so small, a tremor,
a sparrow curled on her sheet.
And what about the dogs
my sister says, how many dogs
are wandering around Port au Prince,
how many dogs wandering New Orleans,
Fukushima, Baghdad, Bangladesh.
When will the dogs from Somalia,
from Syria, find bones to gnaw.
No one has mentioned the dogs.
Out of the cupped hands of the high plains,
the river drops into a vein, runs red
through canyons etched in Havasupai echoes,
down to agribusiness run-off in cheap
canals across the line they call the border.
What does not die in the desert
becomes swamp trickles of Mexico.
I stand on a high plateau above eonic change,
and read the flyer from the farmers’ meeting.
What is not used remains unusable. God-trash,
excess of water fetishes, old ravenous appetites.
Palm Springs, the outer dream of L.A.
Climbing out of the Salton Sea, now
an acescent plain, knee-deep in the glue
of pesticides and cosmetics.
Fever rich or sick, a salty drink of alkalines
bleach the riverbottom white, or a Disney,
litmus blue. Postcard perfect,
if painted in the Fifties. The sands reclaim
the imagery of the poem here. The words
cannot escape, they evaporate, light
as lies. Grit the color of tanned flesh,
the mouth of the river is no river falling
into the Sea of Cortez.
I am a contemporary man, loving
the houseboats of Powell Lake, riding
the Roadstar over empty Arizona highways.
So picturesque. Old Mormon proficiencies
of irrigation seem quaint. The ghost of Elvis
sings the death chant of the glit city.
Regarding her work, the artist says:
My Brain Hot, my Skull Drops
Light and Crisp Like Popcorn
Like a Rainbow Drawn Hard and Fierce,
By a Child With Threatening Crayons
The Savage Blue Sky is Haughty
The Sun Arrives, but not Really
Explosions in the Light Hot Darkness
Are Consumed by Mouth
The poets and folksingers
Who weave their parallel universe
Have never heard of you
No naked foot
Hastens upon its wings
No face brightens
As your name is rescued from
Yet you breathe
In and out
Owing legend everything
Free to slip through windows / bricks
Pines / sleepy witnesses
Saving your kisses for now.
When I went away the first time,
I noticed blue jays
high in the maples
along the avenue. My father
who held a pistol
to his neck lay bleeding
where all could see him.
My suitcase was small.
The neighbors disappeared
behind their blinds. They saw
how little I was, how the world
would swallow me before Omaha.
But I walked fast, pawning
my mother’s pearls on 12th Avenue
for hamburgers and ice cream.
On the bus to Lincoln
I was anonymous and happy.
The whiskey-drinking men
barely looked, and when they did,
it was as uncles would,
shyly. A thunderstorm
almost stopped me, but I went on,
switching Lincoln for Sioux Falls,
clutching my dollars on the toilet.
It was warm. The corn was
warm and rising, and my diary,
green squiggles and all,
was finally mine. When the Black
Hills came with sunrise, I vowed
never to return, but I knew
there would be snow,
dead panners of gold, the old
truth of the gun-blast.
I was fourteen. I was going,
going—and the fountain coins
were a mercy, and I suspected
he did his best, the blast, the blood,
the ambulance men shrugging.
But I missed my mother’s mashed
potatoes, so I slept.
Those warriors that died at Normandy
and Utah Beach, the owl cries for them.
In the forest at the mountain’s base,
hear an ocean and more than half a century
away, nature congeals at the thought.
The owl flies a night mission, like B-52s
over Berlin, its target a mouse, nocturnal
hare, the planes from long ago winging
to plant a bulls eye on Mein Kampf madness.
The ocean separates the two, time dissolves
tissue and metal. Yet, energies linger,
recorded in earth and rock, blood and bone
the way the calling owl knows rooted instinct—
something deeper, essence drawn by gravity’s
well, savagery lying coiled in the heart
of every living thing—chilled whisper that makes
the lover start and slide deeper into the covers,
while the warrior, mad or sane, grinds teeth,
eats the earth’s constitution laid down in hot
tidal pools before a human’s first tremor
left footprints washed away in sand.
Her dad's the Preacher
of New Jordan Baptist Church,
a straw bale building
along State Highway 9.
Dust spirals up from the roadside
into the playground,
where six-year-old Amy runs
a makeshift barber shop before Bible class
shearing sinful curls
from a flock of young Christians.
But Cynthia is shorn already–
not coming to church anymore.
Bad blood, Dad explains.
In the Healing Room,
after Cyn’s funeral,
Amy plays with a velcro Noah’s ark,
while Dad comforts the bereaved parents
by telling them
they didn’t believe strongly enough
to save her.
The parents weep; Amy
tears horses, peacocks, off the ark,
throws them overboard
to drown in the sea of blue carpet.
Later, with the same rasp – whoosh,
she rips a match in the silent sanctuary.
Flame snaps across wadded tissues;
in a fissure of the unfinished sill,
loose straw crackles
like voices raised in jubilation.
The ice is skating from the sky
to spread itself like tissue
across our pale exhalations.
No driving to the post office
or supermarket today. No walk
in heaving evergreen forest
this morning, the yak of crows
angry as runaway commas.
You in your city loft remain
aloof from the pearly chaos.
Here in the New Hampshire woods
the creak of overladen trees
threatens to smash a culture
and release its meanest spirits.
Not even the grossest lyric
can absolve the landscape and thaw
the skim on which no one,
not even the embodied Jesus,
could walk. The crows call us both
by name, but sealed inside
your urban shell you’re secure
as a hermit crab. Naked enough
to pass the most minute inspection,
I stand before the mirror and hope
this self-erasure is gradual
enough to allow me to complete
my study of horizon lines
competing across the seasons.
I also hope to greet you someday
where weather intersects weather
in a chorus of elegant sighs.
We’ll shake hands across the gap
and salute ourselves goodbye
for good, all the ice melted
and the crackle of sunlight
flattering our creased expressions
as if framing us in history.
Máóhk, the color of sunrise, was my pony,
Áápi like the clouds was his blaze.
Sik, the color of earth, was his eyes,
He was mine for a time in the haze.
Ponokáómitaa, he was my friend
When others would not stand with me.
His spirit, it stays in my heart
Like the scent of the tall green pine tree.
Come sit by the fire, my friend,
Let us dream of tomorrow.
Together we’ll speak of today
But never of yesterday’s sorrow.
Ponokáómitaa, come to me in the morning
So that I may ride young once again
Like the man of my youth come alive,
Head high and hair in the wind.
Come sit by the fire, my friend,
Let us dream of tomorrow.
Together we’ll speak of today
But never of yesterday’s sorrow.
Ponokáómitaa, I am proud to say,
I hear the silence we now share.
Regarding his work, the artist says:
In contrast to this piece, all my other work reflects a process of discovery. Most of the time the "meaning" does not become clear to me until long after a painting is finished. 'Renascence' is unique in that it is the first and only work that I have done where I started with an idea and executed it. It is really the only illustration I have ever made.
I first read Edna St. Vincent Millay's Renascence when I was around 15. As I write this, I realize that I read this poem at one of my own first awakenings, when I just began to have an inkling that there is infinitely more than meets the eye.
It starts with a statement of our very human condition.
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
Over these things I could not see:
These were the things that bounded me.
Finally, after intense and painful struggle, it reaches its climax.
God, I can push the grass apart
And lay my finger on Thy heart!
And then it resolves.
The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by."
It is just so beautiful and sad and true. I can never read it through without tears.
24th & Mission – where virgins appear with bloodied lips lifting their puebla blouses, the Spanish quarters of Telegraph and Castro, as colorful deaths. The Festival of Altars comes gleaming like maharajahs along empty bottle offerings. Mexican lanterns. Holy Spirit. Floating goldmines. Bodies like gnarled caskets raise the 13 Standards while fruit hat chiquitas in suede dresses carry dried flowers to the hooded groom, swinging fuming censers that hint at Orient gardens.
In the streets there are salamanders shedding the dark as they go wanting after the sacred flame. From the Nubian depths – its charnel portals – they step through as mediums down the tunnel of days fed by prehistoric winds that howl with saurian nightmares. The drumbeat. Chupacabras. Below are giantesses who offer draughts of the blue agave that go down like devil’s breath, reeling with dust, with camphor and iodine… yerba santa baptisms.
Call out the flaxen wives of the boneyard with cobweb lapels, black roses in their teeth. Escort them aboard subterranean ferries past bishops and sorcerers and pale little girls with their hair in marigolds, to Aztecs in coyote skin who jostle together to become smoke and joss paper. A link of dancers leads them on to a red mesa, the haunt of the ghast and cold-kissed Persephones, where the hanged kings, the twice-born fathers leave their adobe houses to join the gay confusion hid in Venetian masks and maidens’ kisses.
They bow to the pieces of Osiris found by children, torn apart like piñatas, spices, toys and lapis lazuli, sprinkled like kosher salt over the doorstep. The long road ponders a scythe. Sandmen line the catacombs.
To the Mission Dolores Basilica made of ivory speaking in sutras – carvings – morphs – making love to one another. Your god-bitten towers pointing. San Francisco: a wreckage of gargoyles crashing into the sky. Here there are feasts in the cemetery; the weeping willow women in their red girdles kneel in adoration at the altar cloth, laid with cakes of light and plates of quince and grails of strange wine touched with ash. The olden ones dine upon the gilded tomb. And after their suppers the matadors in their capes, faces as chimney sweeps, lay gifts of Arabian hash and de la Rosa candies at the gates of the soil, a Star of David on the headstone carved with a serpent’s tooth.
And the Witch of Words, one of filigree and manners, spins tales of glamor around her seven pillars, while her handmaids pave the way holding portraits of the blessed: Dred Scott, Cuauhtémoc, Frida Kahlo, Geronimo, Benito Juárez, Gloria Anzaldúa, Katherine Dunham, Josephine Baker and more.
Don't fall in love with a man not yet a boy
who will tell you seven months after the breakup
that he doesn't get poetry.
Repurpose the words you gave him
like dry lumber leftover from the addition to the garage
and set them ablaze.
All the memories he gave you sit on the backs
of sunsets because they're only bright when the lights are out.
Don't mistake the dwindling flame
for a star.
If anyone asked, you told them
it was he who arranged the constellations
but it was you who plucked the northern lights
and put them in his irises.
It was you who danced in the crescent of the moon
and who will dance again.
The other tourists occupy lawn chairs
outside their cottage doors, and squint, like us,
toward the balding hills.
All day you and I brown like meat
under the broiler-sun, afloat
on our blow-up rafts in the mineral water.
Late afternoon we drive away from the valley floor,
from the pools and teepees to the hills where brush
clumps like hair on the flesh-toned earth,
and two horses feed miles from a fence.
In Warm Springs, we buy fry-bread and jam
in the reservation store. They are the ones
who refuse to work the resort,
and have the lesser house for it.
Driving back, we eat the warm bread
and even though the 100-degree air blusters
around us, we feel cool in our wet suits.
An Indian woman speeds by in her red Camaro,
her uniform sleeve flapping in the wind.
allow for shortness of breath
trudging through fields
and fields of endless snow
there is such quietness
you can feel noise
I have had my share of snow
and on these isolated walks
days are remote blankness
hear that amazing stillness inside
silence is the tiniest sound
sometimes from within
in the brokenness
we all need some point when we suddenly notice
the world around us
we find what we’ve been searching for
has all along
been here in the Forever
we all come from these useless whispering miles
wandering in the lost
attracted to what is nameless and felt
and here it is
in the closed-knit trees chewing bird songs
we are bees maddened by too many flowers
in the unnerved sun
where solitude and oblivion are the same
I answer Yes to Thunder Sky, Shrieking Hawk, Firefly.
My name is the color of cactus bloom: tangerine, tiger stripe,
marigold, marmalade, spice.
You can call me
Lightning Strike, Tidal Wave, Raven’s Eye.
My name was an argument my parents had.
(I heard it from inside.)
Scarlett, my mother said. Then I heard nothing
but her blood.
Over my dead body my father replied — the only argument
he ever won.
Or you can call me
Scarlet Fire, Hurricane, Riptide.
My name, the aroma of desert rain,
soaks the Smoke Trees.
I slip my name under my pillow, hold its darkness beneath my tongue:
Black-Eyed Honey Running Naked in a Field of White Horses.
Regarding his work, the artist says:
The waves tumbling ashore with never a tide to transform the beach, instead steady rollers with every wind. Some mornings there is the absolute stillness— voices & music from the far shore, boys & girls, Camp Seagull’s revelers & revelry.
Even now, summer is always the children
Spending “my summer vacation”
Cataloguing the surf, camping on the beach
With fire pit glowing late
And the stars
And the Perseid Showers
To keep imagination bright.
The summer she died
She denied all that summer had come to mean.
The girls I sent to stay with my mom.
And every morning for the rest of summer
I stayed here,
Living rough and short-tempered
And with me for “not knowing”
What she knew
In her soul
But not in the fold
Somewhere between the shores, in the commercial channel, are the rigged schooners, powered luxury ships and, even, the occasional coal barge en route to and fro the inland sea, all, moving gracefully to their elsewhere.
The smell of wood smoke permeating
The tent fabric & every article of clothing—
One big jamboree
With excursions to the Antique Car Show,
The 4th of July parade in Boyne,
The Polish Festival
And more to shape and refine
The middle American into middle America.
No mean thing is the beauty of land
Restored and never found wanting in heart,
Church, or the art of patriotic inclusion.
Summer is always about
That summer without.
We stayed, summer after summer,
And it was never the same.
But what is?
Summer is about the children:
How my girls grew,
How they lean in search of light,
How they thirst,
How the biometrics of life
Shape the givers of life.
Voices of revelry carry from the far shore, between are the rigged cats & schooners moving gracefully to elsewhere, silently; and then the staccato skidoos & skiers flying in the wake of a motorized shell, turning this Turner into a furious roar with skidoo & skier punctuating with sky-bound whippets of lake.
These are the people,
That is America.
The immigrant migrants brought through time
By love of God, Country and Family;
Brought to the fore
And most importantly
By the unalloyed spirit
Of those wanting what they’ve been told
They cannot have.
Because the link was lost between echo and call
Because the child misheard trick-or-treat as trigger treat
Because of too many evenings watching PBS
Because the tiger paced the cage
Because mother’s last meal was asparagus and crème brûlée
Because of the parching desert silence
Because of the gray clawfoot tub, the pink tiled bathroom
Because the ancestors were thirst and maybe
Because I sprained my ankle rounding third base
Because the record kept skipping, over and over and over
Because my father made me get off the phone
Because of micro-mosaics in Ravenna, all those blues
Because sadness blanketed the night
Because the pond, the ducks, the bread crumbs…
Because grandpa couldn’t say he was sorry
Because of snow, and more snow
Because the kidnapped girl was never found
Because Lucille asked what sustains you?
Because the seashell tasted of tears
Because other gestures became, finally, impossible
Clouds gauze the evening sun, the precipitous territory
between pine and fir. I angle for that perfect shot
of elemental harmony.
Trout slip through molecules of static lake,
silent and surreptitious in their passing,
weaving whispered stories to sighing needles,
while hot parched reeds sing their sere symphony.
The only discordant notes—the mysterious slurring
of Gaelic fairy trees.
Regarding his work, the artist says: