Hello and welcome to issue #9 of Subprimal Poetry Art/Music. We’ve been a little late getting things ready this time around (lots of traveling – that’s another story), but here we are at last ready with various pieces from around the world.
As you may know, we accept and encourage translations, although in the past, they’ve been from Spanish to English. For this issue, I’m pleased to say that we have work from Farhad Showghi (Germany) translated by Harry Roddy, and from Lidia Kosk (Poland) translated by Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka. This is of course in addition to various other wonderful pieces that have arrived at out internet doorstep from the magical internet tubes that connect various countries and other arbitrary political boundaries.
One of my favorite things as editor of Subprimal is the chance it gives me to see work from around the world, to see what authors and artists from other cultures are working on. Aside from the Polish and German submissions that I already mentioned, we also received many fine submissions from Eurasia and had to make some tough choices. For future editions, it’s my wish that we’ll continue to showcase authors and artists that may be underrepresented in the western world.
Many thanks to our contributors and to everyone who sent their work our way; I appreciate your support and trust. We’ll take a short break until the next issue, but meanwhile, enjoy the edition that we’ve assembled this time around. And don’t be shy to leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Victor D. Sandiego
a man in a chair,
his hands tied to the skies.
a multiple-choice question
blocking my view and assumptions
of a scarred face I had never seen before.
three tiny ants
climbing that invisible face
as if he were Mount Sinai demystified
and religious views were legalese decomposed.
dark, ominous clouds
on the mountains and in his eyes
becoming tears, gushing down as streams,
flowing like saltwater in a fresh, cold bloodstream
in which the ants go swimming; their hands reach out to his.
their practised butterfly strokes
and their masterstroke with oxygen masks;
They are swimming inside the man once again,
his hands tied to the skies; the dark clouds above
are multiple choice questions someone’s about to ask;
each answer leading to one form of castration or another.
bombs, carefully timed to precision,
Falling all over the valley of the fettered man,
scarring a manhood forever; charring him too with blemishes,
and the three ant-men who survived the massacre quite by chance,
attempting to climb his face, trying to save their own darkened faces
by taking one step further each turn – one step up until they reach his hands
tied to the skies, crossing it and entering heaven without shrapnel on their skins.
There—there it is—in the deep, purple crescents beneath the old, remembered sparkle of now extinguished eyes. There in a devastating image from Wilbur, in a near-silent line of Thomas. In the broken forgiveness of your voice across the interminable wire, I hear it. In fifty seconds of Schubert that presses the burning coal up from its lodged space in the chest to the constrictions of the throat. Like swallowing warm shards of glass that start the swell of tears, ineffable, inexplicable—like the primal sound of first grief. Would that I could dissolve into the air—disintegrate into formlessness, indistinguishable from the dew drop that clings to your morning window.
Musical composition by Franz Schubert
Regarding his work, the artist says:
My work is influenced by both the Dadaist and Symbolist art movements and combines my interest with the origins of art and my journey through the suburban experience. I term my style "Suburban Primitive."
And to keep begging always in thumb-broken prayer, I a beggar and you a beggar of the soft luminescence and shadow, yes, the shadow of a pencil and the shadow of a book and how all darkness has its place in the windows of time and how I am a shadow when I move between rooms and move between grief, when there is a whisper on my tongue and a whisper on my lips, when I don’t have the words the shadow falls over me and I bow my head and how would I want so dearly for one hour, one minute, one second for all the world’s leaders to be beggars, to hold their hands together in one pleading fist for mercy, mercy, for light, for the shade of a shadow from the sun and their own wanton power, for the shadow of a missile or a bullet or the interrogation table, and how to beg mercy of a shadow, as Mandelstam wrote in a poem, how to walk in this valley of darkness and fear no evil, how to crack open this century with a sparkle of verse and love most scandalously all who persecute us, to beg mercy of a shadow, to beg mercy of a book, a poem, this scratching out of lines like a mouse nibbling on a piece of cardboard and how in such humble fervor the world is redeemed and almost saved and sanctified, how it is all coming down in the wind, I mean the titles and fame and factories, I mean the rape and violence committed upon and to this earth, how rapaciousness finally will go the way of all thunder and lightning into everlasting distance, how only poetry and brook trout will save us from ourselves, how a single candle flame says so quietly, Here is a bud of light in a sea of darkness, look over it and be faithful until the poem comes on the wings of a breeze before flying away forever, before you breathe again in the peaceful dark and whisper thank you, becoming one again with the moon and the stars and all there is, even a chair missing a leg in the corner, even a kiss on the forehead when you were a child and almost innocent and almost worthy of the first running brushstrokes of the eternal dawn.
spoke in tongues before he died
in Arkansas. Maybe the chaotic
spirit that urged him to kill
made him whole before the State
succumbed to its functioning.
Or maybe the unthinkable,
the horrifying maybe of maybe
he was not the man they thought
and not the man they killed.
So what happens? The living go
on past Little Rock to move
potatoes about their plates,
watch CNN in a bland motel,
praying and failing to refocus.
They consider questions
and white men make clichés,
each harboring Jesus as He
to right all wrongs, each confusing
beauty and truth. The burden
lies elsewhere always, the burden
of doing for the dead what we
could not do before.
There’s a corner of my mind
where I sell apples
from a sack, the fruit of all
my endeavors, for five cents
apiece. But who has
a nickel to spare? Businessmen,
gone bankrupt, take flight
from the windows of gray sky-
scrapers, their double-breasted
like ospreys diving into
blue. Soon the sun will follow
on its nightly trek to hell,
as I too return
to my unlit room, hell-bent
In the back of my head lies
a squatter’s camp, where cardboard
tents are home to the
homeless. They sit in the muck,
hunched over grubby
plates heavy with nothing, their
cups overflowing with less.
Ich gewöhne mich daran, hier, im Sitzen, wie jemand zu wirken, der sich anlehnt, manchmal nach vorne beugt, solang die Umgebung raumfüllend und im Ungewissen bleibt. Die Zunge kommt im Mund herum, Minuten vergehen. Ich will auf Weißes zurückgreifen können, wenn links im Fenster die Wolken ziehen. Den Kopf habe ich im Voraus gedreht, mit der Hand eine Tasse gedrückt. Bücke ich mich, sehe ich, wo vorher nichts war, die Füße. Ich müsste schon etwas gesagt und Wäsche zusammengelegt haben. Licht ist gefallen, das Gartengrundstück nachgekommen, kann mir gehören, ein Beieinander eigener Worte sein, eine Übereinkunft mit Gras und den Konturen der Büsche.
I’m getting used to appearing, here, while sitting, like someone who leans, bends forward sometimes, as long as the surroundings are space-filling and remain in the dark. My tongue travels around my mouth, minutes go by. I want to be able to reach back to something white when clouds go by in the window to the left. I’ve turned my head in anticipation, squeezed a cup with my hand. If I bend down I see, where before there was nothing, my feet. I must have already said something and folded the laundry. Light has fallen, the garden plot has followed, could belong to me, a juxtaposition of my own words, an accord between grass and the contours of the bushes.
Again it comes, like a stone
Caught in the wheel, like a fire
Leveling the valley, overturning
A life’s perceptions.
No monasteries remain,
No stacks of irreplaceable content.
The student learns he must begin
With only a few leaves left to study.
They are first pages, turning over
And over in the empty wind.
The zucchini blocks the doorway, but we make the escape, past the dog, through the pile of vegetables too woody to chew, and into the getaway car, which is bright and zucchini green. There’s no fence. Just a sign: red letters on sepia outlining prohibitions, the boundaries of the reservoir. We dive in quickly, our arms teeming with onions, imagining the tang of tomorrow’s water in our neighbors’ mouths, and in the dog’s dish, as police lights shimmer over our submerged heads, the sound of sirens muted in breathing bubbles, little onion scalps bobbing on the scrim of water that protect us from sight. Our toes scraping the mucky bottom, we wait for silence before dog paddling to shore.
It’s the onion we take turns pushing with our noses that makes me feel better about you, and the way you shred the parking ticket, salting it to feed the birds.
Musical composition by Friends of Uranium (live)
Regarding his work, the artist says:
I look for artistic raw material in the natural, cultural, and built environments, focusing particularly on details that suggest meaning beyond the literal, the familiar, the snapshot. Like many other visual artists, my ambition in making art is to make the invisible visible, to use the medium and its syntax to magnify and intensify perception. In the best images, I see a successful mixture of "speech" (the formal elements of craft) and "story" (the revelation of creative meaning, felt life).
A man looks at his reflection and sees a bird. The bird is round and pale. It looks like the moon made of dead strawberries. The man looks away. He picks up a brush and sets it back down. It does not matter what he does with the brush. The man opens his lips and spits out a caw. His wing-blades leave nests on the floor when he shivers. He steps in the dislocated feathers and twigs. The shower turns itself on. The man tries not to blink. The bird blinks three times. He remembers his first love on the beach, swallowing each other in white sand next to bullet carcasses. He hasn’t touched a woman since, but looks at every one he sees—women in grocery stores, his next-door neighbor, the divorcé who only wears green jackets, faded movie stars with sagging breasts and stretched-out nipples, the store mannequins on Main Street. He looks at all of them and collects their gaze, plastic and singular, and stiches beaks to their hair.
Można iść obok
razem i osobno
jak drzewa w lesie
co dążą w górę
Piękny jest ten las
obok gdy się idzie
i gdy osobno
słyszy się ciszę
It is possible
to walk side by side
separately and together
like trees in a forest
that grow up
are the forest
Splendid is the forest
when we walk alongside
hear the silence
When I’m born, I hunger cry
for a nipple. I receive
the rubber glove with the pin
hole. After I sleep, I want
a breast. I suck the corners
of this deflated pillow.
A mustached lady coos me
to her cracked hamster bottle
with powdered milk. Even breath
is pumped in. I inhabit
and life in mortal famine,
while mom’s yesterday heartbeat
starves my sunken ear today.
Ah, the repetition of the sorrows as if the old prayers had fallen from the beads and rolled under the bed, their quavery voices telling the angels to pay attention, please, for innocence is a brief lie and the many compartments of thought will hold steady their walls, adding and subtracting as the years grow fleshy. What do you say to the mother of a dead child, or a father? It’s only the town boys now, smoking on the back porch in the dimming with the nervous moths. As an elderly lady lumps along in her uncomfortable shoes for appearance sake, little squares of white gum in her purse for favors or habit. It’s how she would be your grandma who you’d loved beyond every sweet summer, and all the candy she fed you and your brothers out of her good grace and taste for sugar. Where does it come from, the ruin and the holes in everything that cannot be filled or ignored? Who does the breaking, this sort and that until you’re only at the window with nothing but the gray and the blank trees, not even a river to soothe?
A cop out of his cruiser tapped the window
with a clacking of something metal on glass.
Pressed against one another in the front seat
of the `76 Le Sabre we woke confused, as if
we'd known things bright and sure before
but had been drained of all of it during our
illicit rest. Nineteen years old, parked in each
others arms at the end of another ping pong
night of booze and half wit gatherings,
empty conversations. The pre-dawn light
was as much of a surprise as the badge,
the gun, the inquiry into our state of being.
The law didn't care about much other than
whether we were victims in blood of some
late night crime. Dumb as any other kid
on the edge of growing up I felt like a man
when he adjusted his sidearm and said he
guessed I'd want to get the lady home before
her people grew too worried. What I wanted
was to share nights and days, bills and children
with this girl. It was love and it was every-
thing, as it always manages to be when you
know nothing about it. This hard headed girl,
volatile, possessed of cruel humor, sulking
when anything didn't go her way, I would
have married her any day of the week, spent
Sunday's at the bar watching the game, Friday's
after work drinking with the guys. Three kids
eventually. Meals once a week at grandma's.
One trip to Disneyland before the children
weren't young anymore. Mortgage, lawn care,
car payments. I'd have joined the Elks Club
or the Knights of Columbus. Easter egg hunts.
Church Sunday morning. We'd have celebrated
the Fourth of July, said we loved one another
and almost believed it, a random first love
stretched thirty years. Neighbors helping install
the above ground pool. One vacation in Europe
that never happens. A lake house somewhere
you started wishing you could afford. Young
in our parents way, old like them. Death almost
a blessing when it finally grows near, trying
to congratulate ourselves on just getting through.
I love whiskey, adore
everything about it. The ritual,
my favorite dense tumbler, the taste
that brings me back to nineteen. All the bad
up neat as tombstones. I’m here
for the scent of tar still clinging dumb
to vinyl stools. For the dim
and the din only the last bar
in town without a television
can muster. I love it enough to be whole
with one, some nights need it
to fill me all the way up. When the tour guide
in Lynchburg told us,
with the strong stuff,
you hug the amber in your mouth
along your tongue
for six seconds,
it all made sense. My apex
can tame that wandering,
my body the wild
my parents birthed into me, the root
of all my best failures. It asks less
than a winning bull ride,
this feral purring down my throat.
One-hundred thirty-five… the thinking part of me
dissolves and I am there, in Veracruz,
with Mel and Mont smoking cigars
and flirting with the bella selling flavored cones
made from shredded ice …one-hundred thirty-five
in a mass grave, pieces of skulls
and spines and belts and shoes…
I troll past the photos, grimy workmen,
rakes and shovels, mouths and noses
masked against the smell. A face, a gesture,
like that of fat Armando dipping crabs in boiling water,
laughing as he boasts of wrestling crocodiles
“Threw the beast a hundred meters
back to the lagoon..!” Thatched roof bar,
cascades of flowers, laughter, everywhere the people
laughing, rainbow colors swirling …the sky
a gluey gray above the women digging,
putting bits of bone in plastic bags… I turn away
from the computer, hear a voice
from the cantina whisper love words
in my ear. Veracruz …one-hundred thirty-five…
No arrests, no convictions, just small pieces
of what once were people flirting, dancing.
I close my eyes, the laughter, singing
fades away, becomes the moans of those who died
and those who piece together their remains.
Regarding her work, the artist says:
While exploring the world around me juxtapositions unveil in the mundane. I took this photograph while walking through the beautiful streets of Montevideo, Uruguay. I was struck by Santa's glare and the dogs stare, as the surf stickers and rack showed burned up memories. The dog didn't bark, but murmured wanting a way to the beach.
it was night in a second floor apartment on a balcony in a crowded urban center. We were expecting a guest and he arrived, an old and bearded professor bringing French bread and a peculiar gourd-shaped bottle of German white wine that proved to be superior. I don’t know much about wine, I said, but this certainly is delicious. A gracious sophisticate, he told us exactly how much it cost and where it might be found.
After which, we were ourselves guests in a new and foreign city that seemed, nevertheless, strikingly familiar. In the evening we sauntered out and made acquaintance with the citizenry. There was no one who did not but take to us at first, and several times that initial, memorable evening the drinks were on the house.
Some time after that our heady ex-pat group began to drift apart, until late one night in a crowded upstairs “shoebox” bar, my last remaining original companion presented me with a drunken ultimatum, Come home with me now or be left forever behind in this alien place and among its people. I did not hesitate as I ordered another round.
Then everything sped up and there were bars and bands and drinks, and it was always night, or nearly night, or perhaps even the same evening. Occasionally I thought to look for the professor’s splendid wine, which I was certain to recognize by the distinctive shape of the bottle.
Somewhere along that time someone got killed, a stranger it seemed, but the killer we knew. He had tried to strong-arm a club owner into a contract for his awful alternative band. Events conspired and went from bad to worse. It was a shame, we all felt. He had been a sweet good-natured boy at first and was one of the early stalwarts of our little group.
Toward the end I was driving alone in the pre-dawn hours along one of the central arteries of the sleeping city when a wrong turn found me in the countryside on a narrow dirt and gravel road. The heavy sky and dismal landscape appeared as if lit from behind in washed-out shades of ashy gray, calling to mind Carlyle’s description (in his enormous biography of Frederick the Great) of the long drear stretches of sandy waste that compose the Prussian plain.
At a broad turn in the road I turned the car around. Among a phalanx of one-way surface streets headed north, I came upon a single roadway going south. (I had been headed downtown toward the nightclub district when first I found myself here, lost.) My attention relaxed as I drove down the now familiar lanes, the very street on which my old best friend once lived, or perhaps was living still, in his comfortable if frugal house.
Someday, I thought, in the not too distant future, this whole town will seem a shrine to something I have lost somewhere in its confines, or am bound to lose before I come to leave here, or am losing even now.