Hey There Wildflower

Sub-adult Cub

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Sub-adult Cub
Human-dependent circus
-survivor raised forgetting
skills of their mother’s hunt.

Released into wild,
glassy beige gazing, eye
vigilant, and mistrustful.

Bottle-fed, hand on throat,
declawed by Slovak Mafia boss.

Carcass used to rekindle
hunting instincts rigged by
their unique systems:

Start on dead animals, small prey.
Hope to develop and not relapse
under its placid domesticity–
mad cats ending up here
never turning wild.

Even a wild tiger abandons
contested kills, in order to
–rather than, risk an injury.

Too crazed to prey, too
lazy to trap eager prey.
A predator acting out
of character, uncertain
hunger, not its narrator.

Stories that Listen via Ulysses via the Odyssey

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Stories that Listen via Ulysses via the Odyssey

Stories that Listen by Priscilla Becker functions as an (incomplete) retelling of Homer’s Odysseus and Joyce’s Ulysses, in reverse. As in Ulysses, Becker’s tale includes modern references and frameworks interspersed with key tropes, imagery, and themes deployed by her literary predecessors. The Odyssey is a tale depicting Odysseus (plus a host of crucial female characters) lost on his journey home to his wife, Penelope. On this journey, Odysseus escapes the cyclops by the deceit of un-naming himself. Thus forth, Odysseus endeavors to reclaim his name and personhood. Ulysses’ character, Leopold Bloom seeks to rename himself and “re-key” himself after losing his house key and is subsequently dubbed “Mister Knowall” by the unnamed “citizen” at Barney Kiernan’s pub (aka the cyclops’ cave). Becker’s contrary narrative depicts the subject retracing her steps as she emerges from the cave, moving backwards as one whose identity has been negated by the cave, not to be rebuilt as consequence of the cave, but to say “no” and retreat to untethered freedom.

Stories that Listen’s table of content features a large “O” symbol on both pages. Whereon the second page, the “O” appears at the end of the list of titles, on the second page, the “O” appears just before the collections final poem, “Neglect”. Early editions of Joyce’s Ulysses similarly emphasized the first letter of the first word of each of its three books (“S”, “M”, and “P”, or, in the context of the Greek story, The Telemachiad, The Odyssey, and The Nostos). In Ulysses, the physical shape of letters “S”, “M”, and “P” provide a map or entry point into each book and call forth infinite verbal references. In Becker’s work, the table of contents includes two “O” shapes (as mentioned above). The collection itself does not begin with the letter “O”, however, a filled in “O” is situated before the final poem in the collection (Neglect). In the odyssey, both ocean and cavern represent the feminine womb, or that which is mysterious, undiscoverable, and dangerous. The shaded “O” is Becker’s progressive (or regressive) iteration on the concept.

As in Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses, Becker’s “Stories that Listen” is a quest for identity and consummation of the self. Unlike Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses, Becker’s primary and only important character is the speaker. The speaker is often juxtaposed by an “other” or a “you”, or the absence of the other or the you. As the collection progresses, the speaker fixates on defining themselves as none, no one, nothing, one, or a unit of two (folded into the other). The most crucial scenes in the Odyssey and Ulysses hinge upon the “un-naming” of the titular character (by Odysseus himself in a scene with the Cyclops in the Odyssey, and by an ironically unnamed barkeep in Ulysses). Both Odysseus and Leopold Bloom spend the remainder of the text “earning” back their names / re-naming themselves. Becker’s speaker is nameless throughout the text, however, the project of “naming” may be correlated to the project of defining the self not as “nothing” (insubstantial, to use a Joycean term) and not as part of a unit, but as “one” alone.

The speaker uses the word one/once in the following passages, “There is a certain smell/ that overtakes me, for instance/ once, in a button shop” (White Tone, page 3, lines 8-10) (it is also notable that the title contains the word “one” in “tone”), “It’s just the kind of thing/ one notices-” (A Minor Language, page 19, lines 30-31) (here the word “one” is followed by the word “notices”, essentially the inverse of “no one” or “not one”), the speaker sets up a similar inversion later in the stanza, “that must mean,/ because it has no/ meaning to anyone but me,” (A Minor Language, page 19, lines 34-36), “the only one I know” (Sedentary Sea Organisms, Mostly Algae, page 13, line 14) (again, the speaker negates “one” by following it with the word “know” and uses the word “only”, another word that is repeatedly used throughout the collection), “Once I wanted / very much to say I love you-that,/ but bodily” (Recurrence of Childhood Paralysis, page 27, lines 13-15), “Once there was something/ to erect,// a miniscule monument/ un-analyzed// Once there was something/ to drag out// Then it was like/ increments that won’t/ collection// an occasional bout/ of coincidence// Once it was possible/ to idolize…” (Simulation, page 29-30, lines 14-25), “not a flying dream but a walking one” (On Nothing, page 44, lines 14 and 17), “I’m not hurting anyone-” (Roman Tone, page 54, line 19).

In the poem Psalm for No One, the word “one” surfaces in the title of the poem, and the first line addresses someone whose name is represented by a blank line, the speaker references “no one” again in the third stanza, “It is hard to picture/ no one so I think of the girl/ who died // her bright face, the way/ she says yes to everything” (Psalm for No One, page 23, lines 5-9). Here it is easy for the reader to assume the speaker is addressing the other, but upon closer reading, it is more likely that the speaker is addressing herself, un-naming herself, referring to herself as “the girl who died”. This girl says “yes” while the speaker says “no”. In Joyce’s Ulysses, the famous line in the famous final chapter from Molly’s soliloquy is “Yes, I said yes” – indicating Molly’s choice to consummate her marriage. Again, Becker’s poem On Being Left for No One literally contains the eponymous “no one” in the title of the poem. The poem depicts the speaker “choosing nothing”. Again, the “you” addressed by the speaker is likely the speaker, not the other. “There is no argument for yourself” is a sentiment directed to the self by the speaker. In Homer, Odysseus argues his way out of many complicated and dangerous situations, here, the speaker refuses to speak to the lack that confronts her. Where “no one” is near palindrome, “On Nothing” (poem title, page 44) contains the same crux in reverse. Words twisted into meaninglessness – only sounds carry weight in this universe. This notion is well-illustrated by the final stanza in poem, Last in Water Series, “The sound it will make,/ a calling./ Not my name/ but my name/ before there was speech” (Last in Water Series, page 42, lines 24-28).

That the phrase “no one” literally translates to nothing, or no 1, ie zero, is relevant. Circling back to the “O” stamped on Becker’s table of contents, It is worth surfacing the prevalence of “o” sounds, “o” shapes, and “o” wordplay. The word “no” itself is an “o”. “Only” is an “o”. Snow is an “o”. “So” is an “o”. “O” is “coast”, “slow”, “awoke”, “smoke”, “shadow”, “tone”, “afloat”, “low”, “old”, “open”, “wrote”, “broke”, “bones”, “close”, “post”, “stone”, “motion”, “go”. “No” is the negated “o”. If “no” is the negated “o”, then “on” and “one” are “o” negated and inversed. If so much hinges on the “o”, what is the “o”?

Contextualized by Joyce and Homer, “o” is a cave, a womb, a symbol for unity. “O” is at once shallow, hollow, whole. In Stories that Listen, the literal exclamation, “oh” occurs only once, “Oh but sometimes you see it/ in the suicide light/ of the moon// And that is its terror// its pure arbitrary body,/ its sheer hormonal skill” (Disambiguation, page 38, lines 25-30). The word “hormonal” contains its own string of “o’s”. If “o” is stripped down to the a priori, its most bestial state outside of the context of language, “o” is a sound elicited by pleasure or pain. These are visceral feelings. These feelings are connective. Through pleasure and pain, we can relate to each other.

For this reason, the poem “On Nothing” exists at the crux of the collection. It begins and ends with the line, “The other morning we woke” and features Becker’s signature palindromic inversion in its title. The poem teases form with repeating lines, but here, form is unfamiliar, or arbitrary. On Nothing depicts sleep, a dream shared by presumed lovers. The dream contains sex, a fantasy of home, “(the existential night with no boundary):” (On Nothing, page 45, line 22). In the dream, lovers are connected, a “walking one”. The poem itself makes a full circle with repeated lines throughout, and repeated bookends, “The other morning we awoke”. The word “awoke” signifies breaking, the harsh moment, a prerequisite for breaking into dreaming. The word “awoke” contains both “aw” and “o”. For “o” to occur, an “aw” (moment of pain) must also occur. If “o” represents pleasure through connectivity, to disconnect to negate connectivity with “no” (and other such negations).

Stories that Listen is structured around concepts of wholeness and connective mechanisms (such as “o”, such as literal ligaments). The collection is also structured by the destruction of connective mechanisms, breaking of the whole, becoming two, then nothing, only something, then one. The poem Only Something depicts speaker at the height of boundarylessness,
“Only something/ with no/ mother, a boat on its water,/ afloat and nowhere// could refuse the harbor// Something with no vacancy,/ no hunger, cropping its own/ low capacity// No birth wound, no age ring,/ something strayed/ by spontanaeity// Only something with primal/ border, with mineral/ armor// could turn from this offering// Like a peak you sometimes/ see, not a chain of anything” (Only Something, page 49, lines 5-20).
This selection contains multiple images of the borderless, unhinged, un-faceted, and the disconnected: something with no mother, an unmoored boat, no vacancy and no hunger, at low capacity. This selection also depicts a creature devoid of birth wound or age ring. These images mimic the “o”, “o” as womb, “o” as wound, “o” as natural cycle of aging. The final image depicts a lone mountain peak, or detached chain of things (perhaps a reference to DNA, Andromeda). This selection is reminiscent of stanzas that appear in poems, On Being Left for No One and Moving Images. “From your shallow space/ you contemplate the attraction/ of the coast, the line/ between two things,/ choosing nothing:// There is no argument for yourself” (On Being Left for No One, page 28, lines 19-24). This stanza depicts the border between ocean and land (coast), and the speaker choosing neither – in pursuit of boundarylessness. In this context, the “o” creates a boundary for the unit, or whole, while the “no” negates delineation, making connectivity impossible. With this logic, in order to connect, boundaries function as connective-mechanisms, or ligaments. The poem Moving Images deploys sound images to reinforce the above logic, “Its freedom is what troubles me,/ the borderless quality of its city, a sound/ that in the day seems part of a scene/ and one could see the black/ heaving by.// But at night the sound divests itself,/ like those other awful independent/ sounds…” (Moving Images, page 31, lines 6-13).

The penultimate and final poems in the collection, “The Sound of the Closing Door” and “Neglect” are bifurcated by a “filled” “O” symbol. The Sound of the Closing Door depicts exactly what the title suggests, the “o” closed by a door. Additionally, the final stanza of the poem makes a reference to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (a clever innuendo related Becker’s wordplay pertaining to one), “This first fragment of division,/ the private room” (The Sound of the Closing Door, page 55, lines 19-20). The collection’s final poem, Neglect, makes reference to the usual suspects of Becker’s repertoire, “gone” and “one”, a reference to “close”, the words “motion” and “own”, “planning to go thoroughly” (O, O, O), “slow”, “closed”, “once it loved nothing”, “objects come from home”, etc. Neglect closes with the following stanza, “In a certain way,/ nothing’s much/ changed. It’s like/ not knowing to count/ and then counting/ to one” (Neglect, page 61, lines 53-56).

Works cited:
Becker, Priscilla. Stories That Listen. Four Way Books, 2010.
“Episode 12, Cyclops.” Online Literature, http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/ulysses/12/.
Navarette Franco, Ricardo. Boots in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Jan. 2010, http://www.siff.us.es/iberjoyce/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/POJ-8.pdf.

In heat

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Leopard in Heat
I excite I carry excitement, transfer excitement
he slung onto the skin, I swung into his
sprayed rainwater on roast broken asphalt
road when tasted, pepper, paprika, pine

once the mating begins it is a non-stop
affair, filled with uneasiness, violence
honeybees caught in saliva web between
fangs stinging the doublechamber echo.

The Organ of Jacobson:
Patch of sensory cells within main nasal
chamber detects heavy moisture-borne
odour particles.

Curling around your waist, yipping
hyena on the good and fetid stench.
Rose bites risen on vine, glowing up
our spine, slipped on saliva crescent,
purple vessels broke upon crooked neck.

In heat where the hot pores leak,
where the gorge is a bulge whose
hole is full, not hollow. claw
hooked on muscle, fur, mange.
Howls.

Profile.

leopard1
Profile.
Who: (grand) poobah
What: meatcleaver massage
Where: cotton skirt
When: flying a kite
Why: “the wow”
How: MO

Reach a conclusion, then break it.

When he was good, he was the best of good.
When he was bad, he was the worst of evil.

Signed,Staged,Posed,

aroused mesolimbic pathway
your gruesome appetite
hybristophiliac
lug wrench
torso

Fat Cat cat hunt

kill leopard

Fat Cat cat hunt
Brain is a paranoid organ
Why eat brains, organ’s
paranoid oeuvre

Who is hunted and how
do we devour its detail;
end trail’s detour.

Learn impersonation
of victims to lure
your predator in.

He writes signatures
in severed ligatures,
uniquely knotted knots.

Operating for decades, upon
autopsy, clearly the eye
ball, skillfully removed.

In folds of flesh — detritus.
Obsession with obsessed lust,
dread of being torn, chewed,
spit out, turned excrement.

They say, curiosity is our brain
operation removing its uncertainty.

a wildfire season

lubroth6It is wildfire season
her mad red sun dusts ash on the high rise
where disaster pales on your forehead slick
with grease and particles from another town.
The ash coats us, tigers in the zoo, and our laptop computers.
Picture a future museum for the next millennium’s imagination:
stone bodies, one headed, two legged.

In the future, you won’t be here. Sprawled on the bed, 18 and naked.
Your mother’s hair, a black, shell beach spills onto tiled, white stairs.
Hot in his body, your bald daddy pushes down, her spiraling hairs.
We eat pie, fucking and fucking in your pool outside, 17, and 16.

My hand in your golden hand, crossing a river together, staying together, becoming jaguars of the forest, sooty, hot cats in the jungle where love
can’t be eclipsed by its violence. Our wildfire after we roamed the brush
with black feet and long hair.

Picture your mother’s hair whistling against law enforcement. Plodding along
our sadsack beach, a hairline receding into the rain clouds. But the fires in your belly hunt after each other. Crocodile scales between your claws. We ate iguanas together. We smoked in the cold of a moon passing over the sun. Purple lips sucking up the flesh of frogs. Your blood pumping in my jaw.

The undercover claw–

a snail sliding home; rolling me
down, jangling stone after bone.

Scorpions kiss to make smoke. And you
always come back, stinging, to wrestle
my body open. Naked with skin thin
enough to shed, always.

May I become gelatin, calm, home, slumbering.
A tail in my teeth, bone by stone, velvet spot
by spot, on my tongue.

The jungle is green and gold and limbs restrict it. Jungle wet
and burning moon, pecks the branches with her cutting beak.

Sweaty on the mattress, sleeping forest. Sleep forgets

if pain is a room, my bones and your bones are a house
sex sleeps inside like pus. I don’t remember the details.
But the details made us this way.

Pacing the bumps on your skin for a home, placing your fur on my flesh.
Eating you piece by piece. Becoming instinct in each other, and feast
under cover

threads returning to you, belonging to bed,

and yours again, I am your mother’s bruises
smiling between our bodies like wet mango
and soured avocado

In the Eye of Rosettes

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In the Eye of Rosettes
In coming back to my body, I lost my body.
Reconnecting atom to atom, pore to follicle,

bone to cold, skin to fat.
Is it still? It touches you.
If it’s still, it touches you.

To clone a predator, tether her to her tormentor.
Killing is survival. Killing is food. Killing is fun.
Two truths and a truth, once done, twice done.

My father played a tiger in a play, except the stage
was the forest, and my tiger was not a father.

My lover played a jaguar in a play, except the stage
was the jungle, and my jaguar was not a lover.

My mother played me in a play, except her stage
was my body, and I, myself, was another.

To clone a predator is to create a new victim.
A human chewing his own ear off, wearing a tiara.

I do not know how to leave this place.
Walls of fur and walls of silence.
Where the whiteness is a house.

Wait until it snows to kiss me for the first time,

again. Unweaving a funeral shroud for a man who is not yet dead.
(The only true father is a dead father) light as a tether
in my throat.

My lover was
a predator

and I’m another.

Immigration and the Loss of Practical Good: The City in Which I Love You by Li Young Lee

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Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon) is a basis for Li Young Lee’s poem, The City In Which I Love You. Like the Song of Songs, its central narrative is a meandering search for God and community. Lee’s use of mixed metaphor, personification of objects and elements, and objectification of body imbues the speaker’s spiritual odyssey with a viscerality rarely assigned to spiritual realms. The poem is at once supernal and cutting to the bone — a contradiction instinctively felt and understood by the living. Here, mind, body, and spirit are one, indivisible.

The speaker’s odyssey is set upon unnamed cities, fixed on the idea of cities rather than specific qualities of a specific city. Suppose the concept of “city” is a manifestation of civilization — and civilization itself is defined by a set of rules arisen from human nature pondering itself.  Using this logic, separation of civilization and consciousness is irreconcilable. Without one, the other is impossible. A human exiled from their community can not be truly be human within the essential framework of how we understand ourselves. Exile, then, is dissociative: Man without city, like the soul without body; and city without man, a body without the soul. Heidegger’s “Building Dwelling Thinking” illustrates this concept with the following passage, “Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build… Dwelling, however, is the basic character of Being in keeping with which mortals exist…”

While much of Lee’s poem engages one man’s exile, stanzas 16-23 pose a divergent meditation. Through dissociative observation, the speaker is capable of imagining the pain of others (those he sees, and those out of sight.) He is careful to observe himself defying the instinct either to consume or be consumed by external pain. The speaker anecdotally bears witness to the death and dying of others (strangers) while he searches for a dwelling where he may capably love an idealized other.

Stanza 16 reinforces this divergent tone by acting as a grammatical continuation of stanza 15, but unspooling a subjective retrograde, “I called to you, and my voice pursued you,/ even backward/ to that other city.” The two stanzas construct a visual and linguistic breaking: the literal stanza break, the literal page break (stanza 15 and stanza 16 are presented on two separate pages,) and the linguistic break of calling the other to the self, and the voice’s subsequent pursuit of the other. The voice depicted by the poem skews traditional “call and answer” song formats by constructing a loop or echo effect which behaves in a similar pattern, but is different because it is perpetuated by a singular entity, moving forwards (calling the external to the self) and moving backwards (pursuing that which escapes.)

Stanzas 17-19 again, are a grammatical continuation of stanza 16. Each stanza break creates literal distance between the bodies of the subjects, living and dead, between the dead body and perceived intent, and between speaker and subjects, respectively. The scene depicts three characters through the speakers’ lens. One man has killed another, and a woman tends to the dead after the fact. The speaker watches all, observing that he is not the woman, he is not the dead man, and he is not the killer. He does not bear their consequence of death, killing, or bereavement. The woman acts to preserve the sanctity of the dead by fanning away/staving off flies with her handkerchief. The dead acts dead, still, a false foil for the living. The killer acts with nonchalance or anxiety — depending on the reader. The speaker’s detachment is twofold: He separates himself from his subjects, and he recognizes his subjects’ ownership of their lives and deaths. He does not search for his beloved in the pain of strangers, and he does not call forth his beloved to ease their pain. Presumably, in a dying city where he is other, the self destroyed, he can do neither.

Stanzas 20-23 explore dualities of the universal and the foreign. The speaker recognizes the shared human experience of suffering, political oppression, interpersonal violence, and joy in communion with nature. In stanza 22-23, he removes himself from personal culpability for the intimate personal and structural workings of foreign entities. The flag image in stanza 23 recalls the image of the handkerchief in stanza 17. The handkerchief is mechanism for swatting vehicles of decay (maggots) while the image of the flag suggests a bird tearing itself from a decaying institution (the national bank.) The language surrounding both images is reminiscent of birds (flies, flapping.)

In stanzas 24-25, the speaker directly addresses his beloved, a presumed source of meaning. Our speaker meditates upon the suffering he has witnessed, finding only meaninglessness. He declares the “otherness” of his beloved “perfect as my death.” Until the fact of his death, his death is abstract. Until the fact of some permanent transformation of the beloved’s “otherness” in relation to himself, the otherness of the beloved remains an ineffable barrier to their union.

The beloved can be a woman, a feminine apparition, the embodiment of spirituality, communion with God, a church community, or all of these at once, whatever the reader chooses to project onto the text. Only through union with the beloved can the speaker become whole, and only by finding a community where his love is possible can this union occur. The line “Everything is punished by your absence” suggests those forced into exile, incapable, like the speaker, of expressing love/practical compassion in service to their obliterated communities. Human upheaval, then, results in a catastrophic loss of practical good. Belonging to a community not only endows man with a sense of identity and purpose, but also with a share of communal resources.

 

Excuses.

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Excuses.

it’s true. once in the springtime, long ago,
i murdered a frog, in cold blood, stone dead.
first, i pulled off his legs. my hands, aglow
with green guts and frenzy, itched to behead.

in my paw, i held the stiffening thing.
it no longer twitched. i retched, petrified
by shame. gloom came that same spring:
fewer tadpoles. i could never confide

the misdeed. and— years later, someone said
that famous killers, in childhood, killed.
my future was set. my hands were frog red,
tainted from babyhood, stained sick by thrill.

i have an excuse not to be purer:
i’m a fated serial murderer.

La Brea Woman

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La Brea Woman

The excavator gazing upon her skull
thinks not of death, but of treasure;
a tale for whom nothing pleasures.

Why put up with the insults of life?
The mad lover begets a mad lover;
predator makes play of predator.

This is the cycle of the tarpits:
rest, devour, die, be eaten, wake.

She curls her lip, and, revealing the ectopic
starlit tooth, snarls at his quavering body.

The body has a fearful look and hormonal stink
she associates with eminent alleviation, bliss.

She dreams of sucking down his teardrop kidney
from a sweet summer cornhusk. His sunken belly,
never the vessel, but sustenance nonetheless.

She remembers the first man who gazed upon her flesh
ensconced skull looking not to love, a look to steal.

Woman of the tar and of the angels
through whose socket groans an ocean;
and with ear to yellow, cranial shell,
transmits the voice of nameless jezebel.

A skeleton they do not want us to see…
intent for Yorick not to be or not to be.

The girl with the saber tooth
in the lady’s chamber of tar,
grinning skull painted ear to ear,
to kiss the cavity which belches dirt
without recollecting (or reckoning)

The dust of hair, mud of skin —
shivering in her skin of grief,
and decomposing cats.

—The Poisoning—

She traveled far by foot from her home, the scorpion tree.
crouched over the blue sea stone creature with its sticky
skin and dark eyes, sticky eyes and yellow racing stripes.

She bends over her friend’s blue stone head and stokes his yellow stripes
with the spine of an unsheathed dart, an extension of her fingertip…

She drags the tip across his slick back.
The harvest of poison is a nonviolent act.

–Transformation–

A traveler from scorpion tree, once a woman, evolved
into a predator. On the record, none predated her.

She learned to unbuckle from his fingers, to slip from his arms into sleep.
When she woke, her tooth stung. Thick spittle stuck in the throat.

From his rib, she carved a knife, from his shin, a scythe,
and prayed never to wake again, a woman.

–Sleep–

What begins with blood proceeds with silence…

She shot from the grass with the power of her mouth, her breath, the divine tooth. But, outnumbered up close, they used her own weapons against her:

Smashed her skull with an ax fashioned from the pelvis of her dead lover.
She received the burial of hunters: body tossed into the pit with elders,
mothers. Sabertooth sisters sleeping with each other’s hungers.