My footsteps crunch the gravel of Oklahoma Highway 77
rubbing out tire tracks made by my parents hairpinning
in a car with chrome, fins, and a big back seat.
Skid marks drag me into infinity. Time compresses.
History's construction mutilates itself under the pressure
of autobiography. Music from the AM radio: "Just
give it to me one more time." It's all repeat performance,
step after step, prints in shifting time.
The history of a body
predetermined by the body itself.
The scars anticipate the injury.
The injury self-fulfilling
the prophecy of scars.
Good tubes to surf the body's regrets,
sand-patterned volleyballs for eyes,
gulls & terns that look Pacific.
She fashions dialectic
in a Victorian giftshop
to front the margins of Cape May.
The falls at the edge of the cliff
rumble themselves blue with waiting.
Caves, no doubt due to their hollows,
mimic narrative before causality was inserted.
For Muzak, Mr. Bulky plays Chet Baker's rendition
of "My Favorite Things" he recorded two weeks
before his death. WE MAKE IT EASY says a sign
over a balance, a scale. I once stuck my head
in one of Mr. Bulky's "pick your poison" candy bags.
Tonight I chew candy-shelled footballs
filled with gum as tough as loss --
my first real lover since my divorce
revels in tearjerkers, gummi snakes,
licorice jelly bellies, and red-hots;
the snakes ball up, denning,
eggs dropping sweet yet unhatchable
into a tight, polyethylene seam.
"What did you say?" I ask. My voice
unsticks just enough to punt a big wad
of false ennui into this scene. "Where'd
you find that Dallas Cowboy stuff?" he asks.
I shove my scoop into a brighter bin than
"America's team." New Orleans Saints.
The NFL gumballs roll like eyeballs. I'm under
the spell of fleur-de-lis & I'm oblivious
to confession. He laughs at my pathetic rebellion.
"Hell, the Saints are dead already." He scoops
tearjerkers & sourballs into my bag. I think of
smearing a chewed-up Cowboy into his hair.
In the parking lot, static obliterates football
& all other games, broadcasts, and ads for Mr. Bulky.
Voices fade in and out. Stats are indistinguishable
from over-the-hill players pitching beer. The car door
slams on the hem of my dress. There are no nerves
in that material, so I feel nothing, not even when
my blood congeals sticky chocolate
and my head rolls out the window.
A ripped plastic bag of thoughts
spills little barren candy eggs, words, syrup &
text I can't swallow whole. Shreds of reason,
a box lid in the wind flapping
"URE PLEASURE." Mr. Bulky kicks
the engine into gear. He chews a "Saint,"
blows a bubble, snaps back, face
turns skull. He echoes my hand.
She was half in love with the way she thought she could control her own paradigm or archetypal imperative.
Story-writing remembered scraps and ragged colors to be teased out in the structure. I posit victim dialectics into tensions between rescuer and rescued, I make life a dark dream only of the latest. She was inscribing her life in a pattern of her own choosing: negative, bleak, enthralled with playing margins of acceptance, fascinated with absolutes like jail and money. The very idea lying in jail where representation fails, her words inadequate to express storms surging in her veins at night.
The text, longing for her, unable to touch her. Spend flesh like cash.
So, she made out a grim little flourish, the check. Self inscribes self-conscious, self-aware forging small link. Know the manner. Know the sign to sign endorsement. Forge another link in the narrative you construct of your own life.
What matters is the containment of the act itself.
When she was a child, she had lived on a farm west of Ardmore, Oklahoma. In the shadow of the Arbuckle Mountains, Viola limestone cropped out, fossiliferous and textured with evidence that life takes indelible forms that time does not erase. She marveled at how, even in decay, the original thing maintains its form, recognizable at an instant to the observer, even when the object has deteriorated into its final stages of absence. It was much like the fence she had to repair one winter -- with boards falling from their nails, paint peeling.
The fence no longer possessed the capacity to keep anyone in or out, only the capacity to affix the mind.
You learn to keep the mind trained on or in the idea of original form, but you deny the individual the opportunity to posit or propose an alternative shape to the thing. The fence defined and delimited the mind and all the meanings associated with it. She never questioned the existence of such a fence, or whether she should in fact start tearing down such barriers and constructions.
She rebuilt her fences. She destroyed something thrashing, sweaty, wild that foamed to jump or crash against boundaries of barbed wire and warped boards.
Injecting heroin reminded her of nailing used hubcaps to a wall. Her check came back from the bank endorsed and her account drawn down. Life was habit that kept him tethered, numbing out shame and staving off withdrawal. Why didn't he call, at the very least? She pictures a hubcap not in its natural syntax, covering a wheel. Language is a natural chemical that plays best in open field, intoxicating like scent or color of a poppy. Someone decides to detach the hubcaps from where they belong. Can you separate form from identity? Instead of leaving things alone the sentences are nailed together.
I nail logic to a wall. It rattles and shines, garish and loud in beams of passing traffic.
Detached form can be strewn along in single parts suitable only for those who are rebuilding their own narratives. Those who have eyes may have eyes open for scraps to take for themselves.
I nail illogic to hubcaps or to a collapsing vein. The acts themselves rip apart constructions and prevent a car or body or the desire for transcendence from functioning as it should. I construct the history she provides to me as building blocks of motion.
She refuses to tell me sequence.
I impose them for myself:
She drove, continuing on until she could drive no more, tears or the blinding sun of misplaced compassion impacting her vision. She could call him, for once, if she knew his number, but she didn't know his number. She thought she'd write him a letter, address it to his mother, put it in the same sort of envelope she used for the $200 check.
As she thrust her hands into the pockets of her favorite, slouchy mohair coat, made familiar with its lingering scents of her Chanel #5 and Opium perfumes, she smiled, not with joy, quite, but with the sense of power -- however illusory, that accompanies the inscription of words on paper, ink on a check, or a narrative on life.
I hear December trembling; cold & lonely sleet
master sculptor moments, you hear songs -- why on & on
pain still represented serene -- Smile on my youth;
you unscrolled my life, my voice, with tonalities
no more shaded than abstract -- woman sweeping sidewalks
passes me & does not smile -- what is this vision so fauve?
ragged narrative of smoke & dripping eyes, Paris seems
so autumnal asymmetrical gasping Fauré's "Aprés un Rève"
or why loss stamps embroiders stylizes misunderstandings
between us & air-raid sirens howling in the night sharp
brick, mortar, journalists searching diaries, children
starving blown-up attics; Clodion (1734-1814) pigments
my last card, I want to tack my heart to the wall,
somehow make my room a museum of a mind preserved not.
Under wish Dancing Nymphs I am not Sevres porcelain
though equally crazed, all fingernails chipped
around the edges, rough like you, like me --
it's a fictive construct to say there is such
a thing as survival in wartime -- Diva!
Schubert lyric lies dying; self so crystalline, geometrical:
You, perfection, smile for me -- project blood running down
whites of our eyes -- still, I feel your lips cracking; Sad
I could not help, not even with throat catching throbbing
choking holding -- I place my had piano -- I accompany
intent or your heart's myth "eterne in mutabilitie"
change meaning love feels like abandonment even in
Spenser's "londe of Faerie" now my heels click good-bye
pavement "griesly shade" harbor sweat of what cannot be --
Your eyes depart, my lips tear "my love so cruelly
to pen" while my love "cruelly penned" in agonies;
fin-de-sièl in Saint-Chapell, my voice maudlin receiving, they pour
out the cherabims from heavenly folds -- my need for you
gilds field armor bright & cold, but you'll never guess,
even your hand when swirling scarves about my head,
Poussin's Birth of Venus (1635) or full moon or glassy
cool dreamscape of bare trees & wondering -- yes I wonder
why love is abandonment, Rousseau's Carnival Evening
ice on sweaty cheek, nostalgia bares false meaning
hazy perfumed memories of first time placing steps
you awoke drenching tears in sleep not dreaming
w/death-knowledge cold on clouds & childhood
filled with pressure threats going away badly
boiled tar in my veins, absurd aphrodisiac
laughter rage dark black skies sleepwalking
begging wings pigment oils sky dawn random collapse --
And now, here I am -- singing chanteuse, smoky palm room
Paris quiet architectural passion, filigreed erasure
whipping eventual defeat, dark black cars carousel
take me every night another performance; Sing, I, sob
charm, glisten, Renoir's wretched lies of a pastel life,
all I see glisters false sunlight & teasing rape-fantasy --
You remember every word, I weep at the recording ...
memory or passports or lava burn on sheets of glass,
hope & single notes picked out on abandoned Steinways,
from the jaws of a bombed city, you gave me roses --
Did you think we'd fall apart so soon?
No one warned decision & whispering reversals -- some love
spurting color of glass cutting wrists or phone ringing;
and yet applause rings out a self-destruction, more flock
crave long-stemmed pyroclasts Vesuvian myth undershadowing
best side of humanity made into ash, excavating sunset
symbol "life in wartime" mode -- minor timbre perform
(or don't forget) bijoux-tableaux dainty pedestals quiet
mimesis in shaded voicings sanded support high-heels grip
stage of oxidizing stretch of lace into treetops,
pine trees tense as stone my throat tightens poetic
despair, seeing you vin-de-table viscous hurtling blank,
self seated off-stage, white cloth on the table,
I miss you.
Unblemished by cigarette or exudate of denial -- I am
paid to sing like this, every note reminds me I've lost you;
under paralleled spaces in our roaming, desiring gasps
phrasing not music pearls beryls sapphires agates
mixtures of unprecious to inlay ceremonial life-in-
wartime -- your eyes flutter down drinking wines
too long lost, cave where secrets begin to understand
gold, hordes, spilling under my woman's form draping
to say curves differentiate me from the angularity of
aggression, & yet we know denial -- if you hear me, only
record yourself the way you think you have always sounded
You will hear not you, but the ruptures -- the distance
from your expectations -- crisp white paper folded twice,
slip notes words prosody true meaning sleeping betwixt
purple ink from your Waterman fountain pen -- "don't
leave" -- I can't bear your walking away, silence into
ruptures, quick Parisian taxis darting into day & blue-
gray tones of Louvre & emblematic Eiffel turned absurd
when dark voices howl madness open ironworks decadent
illusions Rodin & gates of hell more Parisian
than engineering; in refined torture of fashion & cliché
the note slips out words unhinging dragons of air
& another night singing requests,
I, yes, clawing the night
for the feel of your warm skin
awakening blood like memory.
triple-chocolate rich bittersweet dusted cocoa
could I have imagined pleasing, homely
Festspielhaus in Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart --
I substitute diligentia, obedentia, justitia,
humilitas -- in a sense the final silence
has more meaning than that earlier phase,
when a kiss & a single red rose awoke her
a spritz of Chanel #5 relax champagne poured slow,
disordering equations bright breeze rock kind.
Mainly the fifteenth-century open-air fortress
packed chiffon drinking Eclipse Barbados Rum
this Teatro Alighieri in simple word/matter
Bacon's stasis of the edge, when you promenade
like so many Secret Service, you look, the brand
name cannot be repeated too often / the color RED
is perceived by 56.023% of Americans as both
hot and "genuine" -- single-malt blood mild.
label crystal lead percent not by-product
my love following obviously withdraw -- determine;
on flavor any reference to heaven scores high --
West Indies abundance repudiates individual
a flag cut bright cloth crackling like breeze;
Ich weiss, dass ohne mich Gott nicht ein Nu kann leben:
Werd'ich zunicht; er muss von Noth den Geist aufgeben.
("I know that without me God cannot live for an instant;
if I perish he must needs give up the ghost."
Angelus Silesius, 1624-77, mystical poet)
heat flux distrust between the sexes; thermal
boundary syntax netsuke, lacquer & inro jars,
mere subtlety may qualify you as a skeptic, read
lovely real miracles of survival, skin pinking
toward symbol, taking significant to mostly up,
why I weep in my stars and Atlantic, place
hope somewhere numerical, tell it all different;
general in Delftware Blue-Dash chargers (1680-
1720) with Royal Portrait, Oak Leaf, Tulip,
and Adam and Eve designs; convecting surface.
Another evening Boca Raton, I enter despair
like a charming fresco of Roman views largely
generous, means, moving, showroom fold sweet
bright odd, unworthy dictate of reason --
variable inspire my hands gesticulating
loopy trails of smoke -- take order wherein I pray --
Assure my strongest & best-known coin, memory
gravures objective aspects of aesthetics --
Carrara marble denies the original ebeniste,
my doubt not delighting repair, failing
footsteps ascending stairs & tapestries
visage rapport writ large, clusters of
thick torture never quite become jewels;
this is my life branding disruption of scale,
my heritage surreal sticking out a belt
caprice, night sky flying animals like circus;
more certain Goya's The Sleep of Reason
Produces Monsters (1799) -- relentlessly
capricho, I am paint to smear canvas; hear me.
holding two courts in one, belated convert
chaos marking Enlightenment Femme parfum
by Rochas, where I buy "la truit sauvage"
shaved Rayleigh waves where convection la loi Guillou
interdit my toys & planets & brushes drizzling
shadow my face, my eyes -- garnets time-dependence
saffron leather foie gras produce this series
again and again when alone, night liquidations
infinite clays of prestige spiral collective's
claim bitterly mathematical population silk
parameter with fame my mother's tears, a woman
turns to me with lips tight-pressed, wilting
lashes for profile overvaluing simple word.
The deal-maker drives Guthrie, Oklahoma
iguanodontid Muttaburrasaurus metallic, gold.
All I need now is a warm-blooded Corvette.
"Drive-thru, please." Another eighteenth-century
male throbs like locusts at an August barbecue.
Turrets, statuary, iced watermelon slush pinkly
red through my snow-cone eyes.
I melt for love if it's sweet & green-rinded
like memory & play. I fish through cypress foliage
& my pockets for change. The drive-thru window guy
smiles with eyes of pure night vision.
You are my intrigue, a gold-hinged bangle
.52 ct of diamonds. Anne Wharton died 29 Oct 1685
at her uncle the Earl of Rochester's house at Adderbury
Vast favorite of court & crests, she lived inking
folio sheets: The abuse of wit ("How many aim
at what so few can hit?"). Mental fauna will process me
or the best part poetic.
Every weekend, supervise
the vineyards, gamble the trees.
Despite environmentally-panelled narrative,
nothing preserves creatures like large hind legs.
The beast with hands small, isolation large
creates rare art. "Air to that Bewitching Face"
makes me think form precedes mimesis.
Embellish the walls of castles
with confusion pure and eight-day travel.
This is the tragedy of incurable urge:
Rochester dying & Wharton elegiac, slain
love & love's chalk-white death.
Annus 1680 replanted in the millennial imagination:
I see love's great slaying.
Today sweats into my pores, tearoom & myriad drawers --
topiary makes text of my need to combine wine w/Fragonard,
travel sapphire or turquoise into the night.
The road to the drill rig is pure clay,
dry clods depress my beliefs like ice
crackling ferns in Jurassic extinctions.
I shiver skeletal like December.
You shake my hand -- cool firm greeting this time --
I browse in the wilderness a size like sheep (it could
hardly be more casual).
I weep at denouements of verisimilitude.
The tail-end suggests student.
Warm water gushes from the kitchen faucet.
Downtown is dust town. Your lips arose biped & running
muscular despite oblivion. We're stuck
in a red velveteen Mediterranean
rococo theater while Sunset Boulevard
supervises my true life's work.
This poetics is a connoisseur's calendar.
I collect the fits & starts of any writer's need.
How do I popularize the state of staying
behind? You give me dreams of extinction.
On the screen, her words are invisible,
your words are stipulations & swans. I see them
detailed & sullen, like unintended beginnings.
It is more difficult to garden than to love. Imagine
fourteen beds, cultivated, with genus & differentiae.
Think Carson McCullers. Think Joyce Carol Oates.
What they have in common can be stored in a box
labeled BOXING. Me or She, this organism inexcusable
is here. Nightfall resides in my fingertips
plucking dead blooms from poems.
I fall down ringing. Tomorrow I'll see myself as fossil:
poppy, anemone, wild iris, and circumstance.
Gardening gloves tape abandon to her face
like sin to specific tokens. Designate anatomy
if it's necessary to describe a body at all.
Words blink taxis into her
best synonyms, word uttered Quechua in Sucre,
Bolivia loses relationships between vehicle & tenor.
Wander I now in palaces of words' oblivion.
I waylay epiphany to insure myself against loss:
Even cold is love, true is a flower -- wrap me now
singing prayer in a voice like tidepools in dawn fog --
In tones epic, biographical, I am spared knowledge
of bodies. So underknown my species;
a woman I am wearing Day-Glo
plastic strips down on wrists & breasts --
my breath is as quiet as dawn.
Here in this Texas truckstop, a woman
with baroque hair, gargoyles for eyes
contemplates whoring. She slicks dawn colors
onto her hopes of the future.
My inhalations mimic my full-moon mesquite words.
Whitetail deer chewing on oblivion suggest my art.
In your eyes, the wind ruffles Adirondack white-water,
your smile flushes me stylish with spray & lilies
left in the rain --
I woke up this morning metamorphosed.
Not a cockroach, but a Woman.
A Woman with breasts & a
Naked Lunch talking asshole routine.
I've barriered a gun in for verbs.
I've got a trigger saying "This Is My Head."
I've got a cough that breaks my heart.
My fears are balloons expanding into stratosphere.
The doctor's touch is as difficult as glass
and I'm cratered by ears, nose & mild
You've given me an idea about patchwork -- I know why you collect it -- antique calico, gingham, paisley printed cotton fragments lashed together -- they seem to suggest order and design. They also suggest the opposite. The unified whole can break into chaos at any moment -- fabric fragments bursting apart on the coldest nights to leave the sleeping body shivering under fluttering scraps. I admire the thread. How can we find a thread that will hold? How do we find stitches that will allow the pieces to slip away if the pressure to stay in the pattern is too great? --
I read the papers, I listen to CNN. The presidential address reminds the old and the sick that they are old and sick. Flipping channels, the nurse paused when she heard Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." She decided not to suffocate Mrs. Wyndham with a moldy pillow.
For the past few weeks, I've been annoyed by dreams of naked Adonises telling me they long for me. It's absurd. I could be their mothers. Dreams leading to night panics. Forget age difference. Forget dignity. Forget Harold and Maude. My loneliness awakens transformed into pale violet acrylic. These nights have netting for hair and pearls for stars. Can anyone say why the body is frail? Why Thomas Malthus still appeals to economists & social reformers?
The face knits, the body approves -- I love your new trompe l'oeil wall with its prairie expanse of wheat & vast horizon. The paint pulls the concrete into the world of illusion. Behind it all, conversation fills the crevices with binders. I can't imagine a world without Mozart. Do you remember Thanksgiving in 1979 in Houston? The Armand Hammer collection was in town, so we paid homage. So sad thinking both mother, father -- gone --
love always from your granddaughter
Gone like dreams an ache
in my throat I lavage like self
medicated to go walking on
the trompe l'oeil surface of life,
an American Primitive I collect
in spurts of nostalgia.
In a take-away of sharps, the nurses ordered plastic forks at Taco Mayo. A minimum-wage drive-thru guy in Armani suit shrink-wrapped a CD player to fit the box they carved in my throat. Compact disc circular saws serrated the solitary cup of pico de gallo. My voice grunged in prerecorded jams. Raw silk is what I wear on my drill-fish breasts and pharmaceutical sales-rep spine.
This lane's got women "the city's so GO-GO-GO so how's your life" for fur to be not inner skin but cousins coming from Joplin. Estimate age of Cullen when Dee's had phones.
Too many funerals slow the rhythm of how alone I feel. It is alarm's nature to be internal, the way sex is carried around under my skin. She was too young to die. My hands tremble Christmas. Flowers lose their roots in my sing-for-sad what no one expects. Having IVs more "Jay says it's because" -- and me I'm 90 miles of flesh running down I-35 in fields stacking brickward ways of coping. I'm losing my fitness to feel family.
I do not dream my place in crinkled plastic. Inhale the traveled moment. I fall in love too easily. Bolivia's acrostic foams insulation into another set of lace thigh-highs over my garage. In the mind of the Ray-Ban raped, I'm screwed into thinking. The last green card went to a gargoyle from Notre Dame. Volleying with the limp hands he had air-expressed to me, I preclude my humors to utter burn, my bare back gritted pink by Bon Ami mon ami the scene we esteem more cleanly than me thinking my arteries too blood-bulged to keep me lean. I swung three bats at impossibility. Love's easy thinks are quieted by the wipe of an eye. I'm swollen with cloud. Aloud.
He constructs biography by erasing
autobiography built into his narratives.
The poem about his childhood is not truth.
The script he has written for himself will hurt her.
She responds to the emptiness by playing out
the generic expectation. Eros laughs.
The skylight disguises the darkness pouring
into her house. Outside, the holly needs pruning,
her words need stringing, festooning, draping,
arranging, ordering. With hands glowing,
music & space precipitate synthetic
heat. Her fingers twist worry, fear, earrings.
To make sure she regrets,
she listens for her words disappearing
like footsteps out the door.
Norma Desmond asking, preening, begging
the question: "When is Locke's conception of mind --
ideas and images combine & recombine -- when is it
not mad? not an actress?
not a manic "flight of ideas?"
Logic clips wings, the script she is writing;
hearts deform like patriarchy
the devoted pet, a servant named "Max" or
a chimp "He loved to poke at the fire
with a stick."
She considers tautology.
Max is purchasing an African gray parrot
to repeat, to prompt, to ruffle facts
in all offending brains.
The shoot begins on time. Dolphins
fly through hoops in a foul-smelling
tour-de-force of water.
Extras clutch ephemeral selves.
Under pressure of flawless diction,
identity is made to gape at the great DeMille.
The context suggests Miss Desmond's upholstery
is worth hiring. She drives herself on desire.
Under hot lights, women in tight stockings gloss lips
fix themselves into mirrored camera-
ready stares, each glass mirror
to concatenate like sangre de cristo
or foothill lakes, or HOLLYWOOD on the hill
their features glacial,
a star's own self-regard
sunflowers bloom like old tango & Valentino
sliding into yet another block-
busting rape fantasy --
"even starlight objects
to film & its discontents"
when aging debutantes of silent screen
are forced (because of their age)
to play cold, old castrating
one day she will be cloaked
in refound fame -- Draped
into an overly sumptuous casket.
But burial is one-way,
its publicity unenjoyable,
unexploitable -- she always said,
"Only highways pretend
to flow two ways." Pure will-to-power
is as excruciating as a madwoman scripting
her own return, rotting
what joy there is to be found:
a man staring from a garage window,
counting the days to his escape...
Freud's pleasure principle seems to demand law-breaking.
A poetics of law and legality takes the form of definition. Identity confines itself to a tight cluster of words. Poetics of frozen ontology asks you to forget that language is loose & wandering. Language's fluidities rupture, but not in the obvious manner ascribed to by some writers. It's not as obvious as the culture may have you believe. Say the words aloud. Silk flowers bloom & do not fade. Someone glued a plastic Memorial Day wreath to the star of the Oklahoma State Seal. No one would accept what that meant.
Behavior which is rewarded tends to be repeated.
Behavior which is punished tends to be repeated.
Not again, I said to myself last time I thought poetics & longing went hand in hand. My heartbeats are stuck like sleet on cold metal. I'm looking at the way I never stop mirroring my childhood night-terrors and abandonment anxieties. I groan like a shade in Dante's wood of suicides at what probably lies ahead. Sometimes it takes me a year to be able to endure, get over my longing for what I can't have. I want words to mean. Generic expectations are built on wishing life were predictable and that human intellect can organize reality. But, the poem, in the end, is doomed. It is as doomed as my body.
Copyright © 1994 by Susan Smith Nash.
First published in book form by Potes and Poets Press.
Now out of print, it is reproduced here complete.
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