Two Prose Poems

Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel (1930)

Two Prose Poems

By Mike James

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Oh Daddy, Give Me A Quarter For The Time Machine

I want to go to Berlin! Back before reunifications or walled up divisions, back before that
screaming little man with his silly mustache.Yes, I want to go to the Weimar Republic
and catch, just one, cabaret. See Marlene sulk sexy onto the stage in black top hat, tux
(with white gloves, of course.) I want to see the scribblers making napkin notes for later.
Hello, Walter Benjamin with your weak tea and indigestion. Good evening to you, Mr.
Brecht, with your new girlfriend and old, out of tune guitar. Kurt Weill at the piano
smoking his black, extra-long filter. Some unknown Sally at a barstool listening to other
people’s dreams.

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Rebel, Rebel

for David Bowie

Once he took off his dress, he didn’t know what to wear. He tried walking around, naked
as sunlight. Despite summer days, that became quite drafty. And nothing held in place.
Appendages sagged, this way and that. So he put on a blue suit, same color blue Candy
Darling used for lipstick. The color looked more natural romantic on her. He wore the
suit to walk the dog, shop for scarves, take out the trash, order delivery cheese pizza.
Despite adjustments from a sensible tailor, the suit was never a perfect fit. In stilettos he
no longer liked the click heels made for his ears.

 

About the Author: Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

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Mental Health Portraits

Portrait of Stephy Langui By Rene Magritte (1961)

Mental Health Portraits

By Margaret Crocker

               

MENTAL HEALTH-PORTRAIT 1

Offices are silent
and locked at night.

And bland doors upon doors
and myself,
white and nervous against the glass
broken with chickenwire.

The pads of my shoes are quiet.
The elevator’s shaky hum is quiet.
The shadows of the dining hall are quiet and long.
The dust on the carcass of a water beetle,
the saw that does not move,
the razor behind the lock,
the fingers,
stained with marker,
the fingers clenched in state blankets.

The voices
are silent
while a reflection of me
smokes in the yard.

.

MENTAL HEALTH-PORTRAIT 2

Cee Cee
smiling in the hall.
She rubs her forehead back and forth,
her fingers back and forth,
the air twisting
her knuckles back and forth,
flies rubbing.

Cee Cee
taking a shower.
Her tshirt is hung
empty on the door.

Cee Cee in line
waiting for that Red Cross tshirt,
a souvenir of another life
of outside
and pursuits she sleeps away here,
of a time she had something to give.

Cee Cee in line
with a Dixie cup of orange juice
and that crazy, crazy blood
pumping a hole through the universe,
her head
bumping softly at the wall
again
again
as she stares past the door.
A sticker, a lollipop and a smiley-face on the board,
this is what she has now.

Cee Cee
carrying a cheap comb in a paper bag.
Cee Cee watches the bored nurse
and today’s discussion
“To Cope or Not To Cope.”

That is the question.

.
About the Author: Margaret Crocker is an artist, writer, wife, mother, daughter, sister and thief. She collects stray animals and has this weird fantasy of being on The Great British Baking Show, despite the fact she uses a bread machine. She knows little but proclaims much. There is much we don’t know about her.

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High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Robert Garrett

16403407_10103555321683718_111071533205757261_oA note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, many of these poems are an analysis of gendered, racial personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are all current students whose work I found to be brave and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

I chose this poem for its insistent rhyme that is both grounding and unsettling. The devastation is palpable, and the vision of a violence-free future is essential.


Shell

Life is an empty shell
because of a shell.
I wonder if you fly in the sky
or cry in hell?

I hope your killer rot in jail
in an uncomfortable cell.
As I sit back and reminisce
the memories bliss–

I remember the near miss that almost kissed
My skull instead
it leaked your lung
then the blood
ran down as your eyes hung.
Still, in that moment, it never seemed real.

Till I heard the sirens squill.
I still remember the feel I caught
the chills but didn’t cry, and I can’t
remember why, but I had this feeling
that day I should’ve died.

Time moved fast; it was your funeral now.
Tears dropped, hearts stopped
The room froze,
you could hear a penny drop
The preacher walked
to the stage, cleared his throat
and flipped the page.

Said a prayer to start
then read off your obituary–
your age,
the whole crowd sighed in dismay.

They said, “He was a good kid,”
“He had bright future,”
But all I thought about was the weapon
that took your life was a Ruger.

And as I sat I had a dream
like Martin Luther King Jr.
of a world filled with peace.
Man it was nice, you could walk down street
without looking twice.
You could walk at night
when the lights wasn’t bright
without hearing gunshots left and right.

Then reality set in, and I was back
in the war zone
where guns are easy to get in.
And at least once a day
somebody becomes “a dead man”.

A place where hope is destroyed
and the whole country wants to fit in.
With the depiction of weapons
that Hollywood is setting.

But they’re not showing the truth,
because the truth don’t sell.
We watch as it fails the youth
and floods the cells.

It’s time to break through the shell
of ignorance.
You can no longer
claim your innocence.

You just need to open your eyes;
they say it’s a beautiful world, but it’s a disguise.
Cause every other day, a child’s mother cries,
as their precious one floats to the sky.

At the hands of the “necessary evil,” the picture deceitful,
because if they get one, you get one, we all get one.

We need to change the soil
that is growing the seeds doing the bad deeds.
Like cutting the dead roots from sick trees.
Cause now we just watching the leaves
turn brown as the sun goes down
nobody looks around to notice that world
is a continuous run from danger.

The feeling when a stranger can rearrange
your life, wonder where we made a left
cause this world ain’t right.

IMG_1068

Robert Garrett is a high school senior who enjoys reading, social activism, and volunteering. He loves playing baseball and is a 4-year starting centerfielder. He is currently very busy applying to colleges.

 

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: #METOO POETRY




Editor’s Note: As the #metoo movement that originated ten years ago with Tarana Burke reached a critical mass this week, together we bore witness to innumerable traumas. Perhaps, like me, you felt far more than you were able to articulate. In times like these I turn to poetry to find the words there are no words for. To that end, today I turn to poetry of witness and testimony. To poems that are unafraid to call out sexual assault and its aftereffects. To poetry that says: me, too.


“Seized” by Rachel Heimowitz

“I Should Quit Teaching” by Lois Roma-Deeley

Rupi Kaur’s #metoo poem

“bone” by Yrsa Daley-Ward

Nayyirah Waheed

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Different From the Others: LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy of an Early Gay Rights Film

A still from Anders Als die Andern (1919)

Different From the Others:

LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy

of an Early Gay Rights Film

By Chase Dimock

 

October is LGBT History Month, and this year it is as important as ever to study our past. With all of our recently won civil rights and our dramatically increased visibility in society, the LGBT community sometimes assumes that the features of our culture and the values of our politics are recent inventions. Conversely, sometimes we make the opposite mistake and assume that LGBT people of the past (even before the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender first came about) thought of themselves and the community exactly as we do today. These misconceptions are primarily due to the fact that American culture has closeted LGBT history for so long. We learned little to nothing about the history of the LGBT community in school and have thus been denied the benefit that comes with studying history or even being aware that we have a history. I remember, as a teenager, reading gay poet A E Housman in my English textbook, not knowing that his poems written about his male “friends” were actually addressed to the men he loved romantically. It was more important for those who created the curriculum and standards for our education to lead us into misunderstanding the material than to risk admitting to young people that men could love other men in the 19th century or today for that matter.

Having a history is an essential part of having a cultural identity. A history explains where we are in the present and allows us greater insight into the direction in which we are heading. It reminds us that ideas, values, and expressions do not materialize out of nothing; they are the product of the collective communal action of the people over time. This history is always evolving and our story is never finished being told because we are constantly discovering more about it. Finally, knowing our history cautions us against the uncritical belief in a progress narrative. It is easy to assume that we live in the most civilized and enlightened of times and that progress inevitably arcs toward justice. In reality, civil rights are often a cycle of advancement and blow back. Social action is usually greeted by an even greater and opposite repressive reaction. We cannot afford to presume that our current social standing is permanent or that it will naturally improve in the future.

This insight that studying LGBT History grants us is featured in the first film to seriously discuss LGBT identity, Anders Als die Andern(Different From the Others) made in Germany in 1919. Directed by Richard Oswald and co-written by and co-starring legendary sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, the silent film tells the story of a music teacher in love with an adult student. He falls victim to blackmail and in despair, he looks for answers. A quack offers a cure through hypnotherapy, but when that fails, he seeks out Dr. Hirschfeld’s advice. Hirschfeld assures him that his inclinations are normal and that it is not homosexuality that is shameful, but rather, it is our intolerant society that deserves scrutiny. I don’t want to go too far into the plot because I would rather you watch it for yourself. 

One reason why this film is an important part of our cultural legacy is that it reminds us that many of the same basic issues we confront today were part of the same struggle 100 years ago. Grappling with a culturally enforced notion of “difference,” dealing with the disproportionate rate of depression and suicide among LGBT people, and finding access to queer friendly counsel and health care are still difficult parts of the coming out process. Yet, much has changed since Hirschfeld’s time. The idea of sexuality as distinct from gender identity was still evolving. Most psychologists still subscribed to the inversion model of the homosexual man as “a woman on the inside” and a homosexual woman as a “man on the inside.” Hirschfeld himself proposed the idea of the homosexual as a “third sex,” though he later revised that idea after further work with his associates. Continue reading

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE TREASURES THAT PREVAIL




From THE TREASURES THAT PREVAIL
By Jen Karetnick:


ADVISE AND CONSENT

It seems to fall to men to create
disasters and women to mop up after.

The first thing people have to forget

is their sense of the senatorial

desk, the deep leather armchair.

There’s always
somebody screaming

off stage or window-shopping for the ridiculous,
arm in arm. Sooner or later these moments come.

We have seen this happen and cannot refrain.



UNDER MANGO CAMOUFLAGE

They bloomed too soon, pistils coral,
hung green like left-behind seawater
well into the sodden fall, ripened
into a bilirubinous yellow.

Falling, they broke themselves
open into Cyrillic letters on the unearthed
limestone as if they were envelopes
stuffed too full of possibilities.

Now marked only with a flag of memory,
this is where we buried the bits
of flesh snipped as easily as a stem
from an eight-day-old son, disguising

the dreams that in the wrong hands
could have been so readily rewritten.



THE OPPOSITE OF MECCA

Oh, the darkness of it all—black cat, black dog,
black monkey on the black-eyed woman’s shoulder,

rocking on a boat dock over water so absent of light
even our dreams have lost their shadows. In this house

made of books and planks, under the art of thatch
and weave, we are birds nesting together who have closed

our throats to song. This is where, without definition, we pin
the horizon as the center on a map of our always new world.



Today’s poems are from The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Jen Karetnick, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


The Treasures That Prevail is about climate change and its effects on Miami; the poems in this collection confront the ills of modern society in general, mourn both public and personal losses, and predict the difficulties of a post-modern life in a flooded, Atlantis-like lost city. The narrators are two unnamed women, married with a teenage daughter and a teenage son, who live in a part of Miami that will be underwater unless action is taken. The Treasures That Prevail is a parable about what could happen to any of our low-lying coastal cities if we don’t start to make changes now.

Jen Karetnick is the author of seven poetry collections, including American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing, May 2016)–which was a long-list finalist for the Julie Suk Award from Jacar Press–and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016). She received an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. Her poetry, prose, playwriting and interviews have appeared recently or are forthcoming in TheAtlantic.com, The Evansville Review, Foreword Reviews, Guernica, The McNeese Review, Negative Capability, One, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Waxwing and Verse Daily. She is co-director for the reading series, SWWIM (Supporting Women Writers in Miami). Jen works as the Creative Writing Director for Miami Arts Charter School and as a freelance writer, dining critic and cookbook author. She lives in Miami Shores on the remaining acre of a historic mango plantation with her husband, two teenagers, three dogs, three cats and fourteen mango trees.

Editor’s Note: How fearfully prescient this collection has proven to be as California is burning, as large swathes of the world are recovering from hurricanes and earthquakes, as Harvey Weinstein has been outed as a sexual predator, as man after man shows us what it really mean to be “senatorial” in his “deep leather armchair,” as the world is melting and our future threatens to emerge underwater.

With The Treasures That Prevail Jen Karetnick has penned a collection that is beautiful and terrifying, that is lyric and devastating, that rings of Cassandra in the ways its truths fall upon deaf, ignorant, or apathetic ears. The language within these pages is thick and malleable, painting with words a picture that you might cut back with a machete in a valiant effort to combat the vengeful wrath of a raped and battered Mother Earth. For even the best among us — in the age of capitalism and consumerism and selfish, self-destructive climate change — are but “birds nesting together who have closed // our throats to song.”

Want more from Jen Karetnick?
Buy The Treasures That Prevail from Amazon
Jen Karetnick’s Writing Portfolio
Buy American Sentencing from Amazon

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Snuffleupagus as Depression: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

Snuffleupagus as Depression:

A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

By Chase Dimock

 

If you ask Daniel Crocker how to get to Sesame Street, he’d point you toward a twisting road of manic depression, frustrated desires, and existential malaise. In his latest book, Shit House Rat, Crocker’s poetry reimagines the furry childhood icons of Sesame Street embodying torments and foibles as adult and human as the people whose hands are lodged up their muppet behinds. Cookie Monster is an addict, Big Bird has mania, Snuffy is the haunting specter of depression, and Grover’s anxiety led to a hell of a divorce. But, Sesame Street is only the starting point. Shit House Rat takes the reader to Leadwood, Missouri, Crocker’s rural, predictably lead polluted hometown, where he engages themes from his childhood to his adulthood, including mental illness, queer sexuality, poverty, and small town conservativism. I got a chance to ask Crocker about the appeal of dark humor in poetry, the struggle of growing up bipolar and bisexual in rural America, and most importantly, what exactly a “shit house rat” is.  

 

Chase Dimock: The first thing your readers will notice about your new book will obviously be the title, Shit House Rat. I know that as you were working on this collection, you had some trepidations about how the title might be perceived by your audience. Where did you get the idea for this title and why did you ultimately decide to use it?

 

Daniel Crocker: I have trepidation when it comes to just about anything, so I try not to let it worry me too much as a writer. I really put myself out there, especially in this new book, and there’s always a lot of anxiety that comes with that. I did have some specific concerns about the title though. I got the idea from the old saying, “Crazy as a shithouse rat.’ I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern or southern thing, but I’ve heard it a lot growing up and even now. It’s a nice turn of phrase, really. So, I just took the last half of  the saying (kind of like I did with Like a Fish) and used it. My worry is that it’s a real putdown to people, like me, with a mental illness. I don’t want anyone with a mental illness to think I’m making fun of them at all. My hope is to take the phrase and subvert it. Own it.

 

Chase Dimock: I think it will be clear to anyone who reads your poetry that your goal isn’t to make fun of the mentally ill, but to use humor to explore the experience of mental illness. A lot of your poems are funny, and I mean literally laugh out loud funny, which is pretty rare for modern poetry. (Robert Lowell wasn’t much of a yuckster) Why are you drawn to using humor in your work? What does using humor reveal about the experience of mental illness?

 

Daniel Crocker: A lot of my early work is pretty dark and without a lot of humor. I don’t like a lot of that early work either (some of it still holds up). But, I always like humor. I thought I was funny. Eventually, I wrote a short story or two for Do Not Look Directly Into Me that were funny, and I quickly found that I loved doing it. I haven’t written fiction in a while, and it’s pretty clear to me now that I’m mainly a poet. However, once humor started seeping its way into my poems it was like a creative flood. I guess it was me finally finding a voice that was all my own. As Steve Barthelme one said to me, it has to be more than just funny though. I think that’s true. For me, the perfect poem of mine is something that makes people laugh when they first read or hear it, but then they find they are still thinking about it later because there was something deeper and darker in it as well. Which I guess if you think about it, it’s the two extremes of bipolar disorder mixed together.

I can’t say what dealing with mental health issues with humor means for anyone else, but for me humor is just a way I deal with a lot of things. When you have mental health issues, every day can be a struggle. With my own particular diagnoses–bipolar, anxiety, OCD, probably PTSD, I worry about a lot of things. I’m doing well on medication right now, but when I wasn’t little things like planning an extra ten minutes before work just to get out of the house just in case there was something you needed to check over and over. You never really know what kind of mood you’re going to wake up in, what your anxiety level for the day is going to be, etc. If you’re going to be successful in any way, you have to plan ahead for just about anything. It’s tough to commit to anything in the future because you don’t know where you’re head space is going to be on that day. Or, before medication for me, I might commit to a ton of stuff while manic and then regret it while depressed. I guess this is a long way of saying if you don’t have a sense of humor about things they can become overwhelming. At least that’s my go to stress relief. Jokes.

The good thing about writing funny poems is everyone usually likes them. The worry is if they are going to take them seriously or not. In Shit House Rat I’m using Big Bird as a symbol for mania and Snuffleupagus as depression. Will people buy it? I dunno.

Continue reading

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