If Not Your Brown Body, Why This Earth?
by Nupur Shah
A (Re)-Working of Anne Carson’s
Fragments of Sappho
Prelude: Like the stars, as much surface-scattered as they are depth-embedded into the night, so does my re-reading of Sappho navigate for me the less-traveled road of queerness. Sappho’s poetry flourishes as much between the word-voids as inside the available meanings. Anne Carson’s 2003 English translation tantalizingly titles it “If Not, Winter” and subtitles it as Fragments, while presenting them as such. Upon my first reading of it, a deep discomfiture was evoked by the blankness gawking at me from where the words were missing on the page. However, later, I was able to reconcile with the fact that truth is always fragmentary; especially love’s truth, from which whole identities can flow. It is this flowingness of becoming and whose existential geology Sappho’s incompleteable verse maps with such beauty that defines, for me, the essence of queeribility. But narrative being every (jilted) lover’s instinct, I am sometimes urged to fill in the blanks. This is what I attempt in the two anti-fragments below, written in the aftermath of a painful farewell. I guess I was trying to ‘move on’ or not.
Words in italics & ][ as found in the original.
sunchaliced I pour and pour my pores [
waiting for you at the promised curb [
if you have been your usual forgetful about me oh what a] pity
but do I dare let this thought spill out ] trembling
down the corridors of my brain where moons have churned & planets crushed [
because (don’t I know this) I am still waiting with my] flesh by now old age
& the long hair of darkness that has fallen over me] covers
the day in the faint fabric (always already ripped) of memory which ] flies in pursuit
of you & revenge & ravishment [
but wait self go not so ungentle off the love handles nor yet so ig] noble
for she may have had a heart yours wasn’t aware of ] taking
while you played with the one taken and asked it to] sing to us
the one the violets in her lap & your own loveburntbody both sat under this tree
from which the perfect dusk now drips to remind you that] mostly
it is for the faithful that fate] goes astray
the arclight of an emotion] frequently
assails me through the blacknight whispering] for those
I treat well are the ones who most of all
invariably] harm me
I know this is a defensive longing & which (I know) is supposed to be] crazy
and yet] how can I unknow its
feeling of being a refuge an almost unburdening]
like a pale fire] flaming inside a snowmouth
what I mean is that ] you, I want
to re-remake into me] to suffer
what you have made of me because ] in myself I am
aware of this
that without you] I am not
& that with you] I cannot be
this only means that love’s way of going on] is that we exchange places
by Elinora Westfall
On the 28th March 1941, Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse. The following is an Ekphrastic poem inspired by the painting of her sister, Vanessa Bell, by fellow Bloomsbury Group member, Duncan Grant. This poem is a moment wherein Vanessa is writing to her sister, only a week or two after her death, where life continues to break back in, with all of its sharp edges.
Have you ever been to Merivale?
She writes. While
Angelica, (six), fist full of flowers, arranges them in a pattern similar to that of the painted tile of the hearth.
Violet stalks with purple faces for the V and daisies for the W while she sits, cross-legged, in the milk-dish of sunlight coming in through the half-open door.
Have you ever been to Merivale?
She begins again. Blots the end of the pen, nib down for too long on the fold of cloth.
Watches the ink bleed out blue, blue, blue…Perhaps—
Perhaps we shall go, you, me—
A song thrush in the wisteria just outside of the window calls from her nest, Leonard whistles back from where he stands between the tulips
Angelica hums a tune half-forgotten and half-remembered,
and the children, of course, they do so love to see you.
She smiles, watches her daughter weave her own initials with petals from the Forsythia.
And, upon our last visit, Angelica fell rather in love with a cow which she gave your name to—
Out in the garden again, just by the door, Angelica picks weeds, plucked with the hollow sound of the milk thistle or dandelion stalk
A brown cow, all doe-eyes, soft-muzzle. Standing on legs with knees like pollarded trees.
She smiles. Gains momentum. Shifts in her chair that creaks and scrapes against the flagstone floor.
Netty’s here, folding your stockings, rolling them into yellow balls like eggs—like eggs, in a basket.
As soon as she is gone, I’ll unravel them, fitting perhaps, for I seem myself unraveled.
She hears Netty on the stairs. Knows the satisfaction she will gain from this rolled nest of previously unraveled and unkempt stockings.
Did I tell you I see Vita now?
She comes to dinner in your place, sits in your chair with its back to the fire, with some hesitation, of course.
She looks at me. And I in her see you, and you in me she sees, though neither of us has spoken of this of course.
Instead, darling Tom slaps cards down upon the table, Queen of Hearts upturned, only fleetingly, between her and I,
And then, of course, Duncan slaps his card down too—the King, perhaps, of Spades, as suits him, and the moment passes, without whistle or trace—
The song thrush sings again, greets her mate with a beak of soft sheep’s wool scraps.
—only the echo for which I have spent these last few weeks digging for beneath the roots of speculation, only to find dust and grit, the shriveled bulb of a daffodil dug up too often and the skull of a blackbird buried by Angelica, I am sure, though at your behest.
Now, the ticking of the clock, the whirr, the readying, readying, then the chime. Too loud. Always, too loud.
She closes her eyes, waits, waits, for stillness, and then—
Have you ever been to Merivale?
She has digressed for too long.
I ask not because of the (now) literary bovine, but because, in passing a cottage I noticed a young woman, a girl, perhaps, sat, elbows on the windowsill, Mrs. Dalloway between her hands—and it was such a shock to see you there, so suddenly, so starkly, in this house painted the color of our Cornish sea, because you see (as only you do, you did) I look for traces of you, without knowing it at all, and I find I cannot speak, cannot say, as you would have done, so eloquently, but I cannot, neither with voice nor with pen the pain it is to glimpse you so suddenly, and so sharply within your absence.
The house is quiet, the bird has flown, Angelica has gone, the garden too tempting.
Such is death.
The stillness stretches.
But one of these days we may contrive to speak again. Who knows?
Again, the stillness
My darling Virginia, I miss you.
And this letter is nothing, without you to receive it.
The hesitancy of pen held above paper.
My family doesn't know I'm queer / at least the ocean does
by Sam Moe
We break up somewhere off the Atlantic, I won’t hand you the anchor, I won’t help with wine glasses and guests, if you need me, I’ll be in my cabin (you don’t) and I’m telling myself I should have done better, what did I expect, you touched my arm, I haven’t been numb since. My father would’ve warned me not to love a woman like you—if he even knew she was lost at sea, stubborn as the waiting jaws of lantern fish, he might agree—your eyes are lights in the woods ashore, those same woods we carried crates of crustaceans to cook, the wedding wasn’t for hours, we saw brides chase through woods like deer, their hair soft and honey-hued, That could be us, you said. I looked over only to find you focused on deep green rollups, you rotated plates so indispensable, overwrought, and respectfully faced the guests. Service is storm themed, I don’t care, I’m downstairs praying for hail to create shelter, you might say sorry, I won’t hear you over the cacophony of blue, gray, crystal, I toss anchors overboard. Our history is hopeless, hips, harmony turned fists, I don’t trust you near my lips. The dinner guests laugh, lean back in navy-blue booths, each printed with cartoon crabs and seals. Real aquatic creatures have scars, oils, coral bruises, their beloved captain once threw trash into the sea, she tried to out me to my mother, she told me it was liberating to turn off her mind for a few minutes at a time. I’m becoming a barnacle, when I uncork wine all that comes out are sturgeons, vaquita ghosts, a moray eel tangling my wrist like bracelets. There are seagrasses, diatoms blue as the promise you gave. Fins rise from the sea, a mermaid calls my name, says sea lettuce is better than iceberg, I guess I believe her. So we leave, everything is waterwheel and eelgrass, parrot feather in bottles, messages in coralline, a locket you once gave me floating away towards gorgeous glittering water hawks, I’ll later hear the stories about how you turned your house turn into a forest, I’ll be in a cable knit sweater, I’ll be frequenting the water bars with my demigod girlfriend, the bartenders will say She sure loves salt, I’ll say, That she does, before we skip out on our tab for the icebox heart of night. I’m cold all the time, new-you says I’m beautiful, blue as lobster pearls, clam paws, we’re no longer playing games, haunting in tides and the wide-open bites of a waxen, ex-shaped jellyfish scar around your ankle. Are you icing the raw? Or are you giving into the shore, hurt, razor fins of clear-eyed manta ray gazes, I’ll never reach you again, I’d rather give up my lungs, you’ll be alright, please tell me you’re done with all that, please don’t forget to tell me you’re still alive.
Summer Job on the Night Shift / Falling Wrenches
by Randy Stauffer
The bell ends the shift at midnight.
Released wrenches echo across
the shop floor as t-shirts come off.
We walk out into a resistant August
heat and head to his ‘72 Charger. The lime-green
surface reflects the cigarette by his leg.
I sidle up to him enough to brush his shoulder.
Still early, we take a run to Jersey to
get a 6 pack, then head to the fields
behind the bowling lane, a landscape
of ad hoc racing strips and lumber yards.
Trying to pass a ‘69 Mustang,
he hands me his beer and accelerates
but expert shifting fails.
Defeated, we drive to Lake Nockamixon.
We finish our beers and take another.
Sitting silently, the humidity explodes
into lightning and rain begins to hit the windshield.
I watch shadows cast by the streetlamp roll down
his arm. He gives me a ride home and I sleep,
closing in on dreams where we win,
before waking to mow the lawn.