Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

The Best American Poetry blog: A Portfolio of Shorts by Newer Writers selected by Alan Ziegler

[Originally appeared on The Best American Poetry blog.]

Nora Brooks

SOUP OF GLASS AND CHALK-STAINED SKIES

  1. Maybe you own a crockpot. Meals made in them are supposed to be nourishing. Chalky edges of plaster gape open around the hole in the wall next to ours. Crockpots are things mothers give to men newly divorced. Dad can’t feed us pizza and Campbell’s ready-to-serve with mini-sirloin patties anymore. We’ll be yanked back to Auburn, California or wherever Mom’s moving. The new boyfriend’s name is Dick.
  2. Cleave 2-3 lbs. of discount beef into stew chunks. Use a good knife. Dad says his problem with cooking is he’s never had to do it before. Top ramen with lunch meat doesn’t count. My eyes are fixed on his flimsy blade severing tendon and miniature arteries, soaking the cutting board with blood like bruises blooming. There’s another hole in the hallway and one in my bedroom. I don’t understand why we have to wait until we move to patch them.
  3. Quarter 4 medium potatoes and chop an onion roughly. Fish a pound of peas out of the freezer and hope they’re not frost-burnt. He slams the meat chunks into the pot with the vegetables. He sets down his sixth beer. He adds water. It’s supposed to be that easy.
  4. Add seasonings to your taste. Dad has a memory of Mom’s soups, hearty and simple, with a little love nip of pepper. He tosses in a handful from a pre-ground jar like he’s sowing a field. Take it easy, I tell him. It sits for the time it takes him to go on a beer run. Miracle, it’s done. He walked to get the beer. The last thing we need in this family is a DUI, he tells us sisters, slouched over our stools at the dining bar. It’s so full of pepper that it hurts. It’s like swallowing glass. Eat it, he tells us, I don’t want people thinking I can’t take care of you.

Nora

Nora Brooks is a writer whose work has been published in Poets & WritersPopMattersMonkeybicycleRedactions, Alimentum, and The Best American Poetry blog and is forthcoming from H.O.W. Journal. She is an MFA candidate at The New School and lives in the East Village. This piece originally appeared in Redactions. Nora can be found online at norabrooks.org. 

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Nailed Magazine: Four Poems

[As published in Nailed magazine.]

Under a Cloudless Sky, a How-To

1.  Listing from right to left, the salamander drifts like a little golem over the lake. Alastair’s hands trace across my bottom, a knee suddenly jerks mine to the side. I blossom wetness. Grilling steak is simple, there’s almost nothing to it. He tells me these things are basic.

2.  Fat lizard limbs shoot backwards as the salamander breaks the thin tension of the water. On the other side of the bed at night, my ex-husband’s body has not even left an imprint behind. He is so divorced. He is gone. Alastair told me last week that I don’t know who I am. Alastair crushed garlic, that much I know. The smell was all through his kitchen.

3.  The one tricky thing with steak is gauging how well-done the other person likes it. Tell me, Alastair says, I’m observant but some things I can’t guess. The steak will yield under your finger just the right amount for what you want. If you let the steak rest, the juices will flow out naturally from the center. Walking down Sandy at the wrong time of night, alone among women in vinyl and macerated rhinestone, I don’t care if something happens. The lapping echoes of traffic reverberate against the freeway overpass guard, there to prevent suicides.

4.  I could never get it right when I was married. Too charred, or the wrong amount of salt in the parmesan crust. The salamanders turn out to be everywhere, darting after their prey in little hectic whirls of motion, green tails protruding the more I looked. Just like the people suddenly popping up yards from our big rock in the sun. Alastair quickly withdrew his fingers from me. Medium-well, I said, Leave it a long time on the fire, but not too long.

5.  I’d wanted to swim all the way across the lake but was afraid I’d get tired. I had visions of long algae strands licking my ankles and sucking me down. Alastair lifts a fork to my mouth. I chew. Garlic bursting, with a piney hit of rosemary. Alastair smiles, eyes cool grey around a glowing ring. You could have done it, he says, you could have gotten to the other side. I tell him, I know.

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My Husband as a Sensitive Instrument

 

  1. Delicate, quivering, he watches TV with the sound turned down low. If he had antennae, they would be curved and lightly furred. The best insects for Yucatan tacos are jumiles with their strong mint flavor. The first step is to locate the jumiles, to slide your hands between the flat of rocks and pull out the thing you want, its tiny legs scrambling against your palm. The Maya would eat an honored sacrificed one afterwards, wasting nothing of the god-flesh. It’s not that they thought they could predict time, just inhabit it more fully.
  1. When two of our good friends decided to sleep with another two of our good friends and the one who was my old girlhood pal like hips rotating out of the same socket bucked up the nerve to tell me about it, he already knew. You can keep the jumile alive almost indefinitely in the crevices of a leather bag as long as you feed it the right mixture of leaves and grass. The Maya would strip the god costume off the carcass and prepare the honored sacrificed one for the coals. They thought each moment had a personality and that by careful observation, you could know which way the wind was blowing, what was dangerous and safe.
  1. When it is the right time, crush the jumiles in a stone mortar, volcanic. Grind in a little chile, salt, tomato. The mixture will become soupy, corpuscular, time to fleck it with green of chopped cilantro and punch it with lime. The summer I drove in circles across the hot body of the country like an arrow returning to its bow, my husband already knew why. But it’s easy to tell when you’re lying, he said. Maybe no one was ever paying attention before.
  1. Ladle the jumile mixture across just-made tortillas sent from a cupped kneading hand onto the griddle to the plate. It goes well with strips of meat leftover from barbeque, with fermented maize. I had allowed someone else to run the flat of his hand across my back the same way I later ran it across my husband’s, like brushing fingertips across a harp, across the steely inner strings of a piano. Rib stacked above rib, shuddering with wet.

Previously published in Alimentum (under Nora Robertson).


5000 Evenings of Myrrh and Doves

  1. This is a year we are celebrating Chanukah. Sometimes we celebrate Christmas, but it’s latkes we always come back to. For a generous portion, grate approx. 1 russet potato per person. If you’re fancy, go ahead and peel them, or just let the long gold strands stay edged in rough skin. Our family is only my sister, me, and Mom since she doesn’t have a new boyfriend yet, so we need about four. It’s good to have a little extra for later.
  1. Line a bowl with cheesecloth, or a dishtowel if that’s all you have. Twist the grated potato hard inside the cloth like you are wringing out something dirty. Mom tells us the story about how the Maccabee army rebelled against Antiochus Epiphanes, a Greek king who crept across the borders of Israel and grabbed control of the kitchens. Soldiers killed pigs on the Outer Altar of the Temple and forced the Israelis to eat the sacrificed meat. Most of them headed for the hills along the coast. Mom sets down her wineglass and opens a package of chocolate coins. Since we came to Dad’s house, we never get to do anything Jewish. Instead, we mostly keep Dad company in the living room with his Baudelaire and six packs and Rockford Files reruns. There’s a spot on the sliding glass door where he hurled the cat one late evening. The cat looked dazed but ok. Chop up ½ yellow onion very fine, the sharper the knife the better. Onions will make you cry, so get used to it.
  1. Unwrap your dishtowel and see what filmy white paste is left behind. It’s the starch that makes the cakes stick together. Mix in the onion until you don’t tear up anymore. Mom says the Maccabees were the world’s first guerillas. She takes a sip of her third glass of Manishevitz, red hair curling around unfocused aqua eyes. Not even the Greek war elephants could get through the brush. She tells us the Maccabees sliced open the soldier’s bellies with ox goads as if they were butchering an animal, guts spilling onto the ground. When they entered the Temple, they only found one clay jug of sacred oil for the lamps, enough for a day. Somehow the flame kept guttering in the sanctuary for eight long evenings, enough for them to bless enough oil to keep clean.
  1. My sister lights the gas flame under the oil in the pan. Use ½ inch at least, a good quality canola. This is not a time to skimp. Thicken up the mixture with 2 tbsp. flour, 2 beaten eggs, and enough salt and pepper to meld the flavors together. The batter will become firm, unwilling to fall apart. In my house, my sister is the queen of the skillet. She is precise and nearly silent when working. She rolls out each patty quickly between her hands. She raises the brittle crunch along the edges of the latke and leaves the inside moist. My mom says Israel is a nation state of the mind. The Maccabees are gone, but we keep on thinking about the oil lamps over the Outer Altar where offerings of myrrh and white doves burned. In the pan, the oil is hissing. My sister looks up and her eyes retract in the light of the stove, cool dark brown, not letting anything in.

Originally published in Nailed magazine. A video installation based on this poem screened at Katz’ Delicatessen’s 125th anniversary.


“Because I Said So”: Review of Alan Ziegler at The New School Poetry Forum with David Lehman

[Previously published on The Best American Poetry blog.]

Unknown-1Since 1978, when Mark Strand was denied a Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his bookThe Monument on the grounds that the poems were not in verseprose poetry has fought a battle—which it has largely won—for legitimacy in the eyes and heart of the reading public. It has won in no small part because prose poetry blurs the boundaries between genres. On April 8 at The New School poetry forum, Alan Zeigler read to us from his new anthology, Short: An International Anthology of five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, the third major anthology of the short prose form. Ziegler has been one of our foremost supporters of the form, both as a writer of prose poetry as well as a professor at Columbia University, where he has long taught his renowned Short Prose Forms class.

As Ziegler commented to moderator David Lehman, there have been two previous “gold standards in this form”: Michael Benedikt’s 1976 The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, and Lehman’s own Great American Prose Poems: from Poe to the Present (2003)Benedikt’s volume “introduced many of us to the form in a way that was not available before.” Both of these volumes have been hugely influential in inspiring new writers of short prose. Ziegler in fact  “could not have put this together without sending the introduction and table of contents to David.”

As Lehman remarked, Short puts forth the perspective of an international collection, allowing the inclusion of many early writers in the form such as Baudelaire’s “Get Drunk” in Lehman’s translation: “On what? On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, your choice. But get drunk.” Ziegler read this to us as well as another amusing poem translated by Lehman, Henri Michaux’s “My Pastimes” which elucidates the speaker’s love of beating people up.

Another twentieth-century French practitioner was Max Jacob. Ziegler remarked he seemed to have “skipped modernism entirely and went straight to post-modernism,” and read to us John Ashbery’s translation of “The Beggar Woman of Naples.” In fact, many of these older pieces have a contemporary feel, as if written in modern diction and stride. Ziegler noted that one difference with these older pieces is that today there is a place for such work, whereas many of these pieces remained in notebooks until discovered later.

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I’ve Been Here All Along and I’m Getting Tired

I spent the 4th through 6th grades with a Mrs Schmidt at the Sacramento Waldorf school, which probably saved me from a life of screwing off.  She was German, very strict, and kind.  I was a mess in the fourth grade.  I didn’t pay attention and read under the desk almost constantly.  My handwriting was almost illegible.  My dad was back in Eugene, Oregon, remaining behind after my parents’ divorce. Eugene become a lost haven for me, a place where things made sense and my mom wasn’t dating an asshole.  Dear Mrs. Schmidt, you probably didn’t guess that when you let me into your classroom that you’d be breaking up a fight between two girls in hand-knit sweaters and me wielding a copper rod from eurythmics class.  But you stood between us and made me march into the yard and breathe, the lilac bush shielding us from view of the other kids and filling the air with its soft smell. If I’m all good now, it’s probably due to you.

Play
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How to Boil an Egg LIVE

Back at the start of my recipe poem chapbook, How to Boil an Egg and Other Recipes,  I read in a lineup in Portland. Here’s some footage of that evening. I believe there were Spanish coffees after.

Body Making Cookery LIVE 2005 from Nora Robertson on Vimeo.


Soufflé of Engorged, of Long-Suffering Flesh

1.  Mousse makes me think of frozen desire.  Whip a pint of heavy cream into a frenzy of stiff peaks.  A soufflé would be lighter, more prone to deflation.  In a shop window this afternoon, I saw the whispering dress, Marilyn Monroe shoulders and a layered cotton skirt cinched in tight.  Tonight you told me you wanted me to masturbate in front of a room full of people, on a couch or a stage, and our hips buckled together, swollen spots rubbed raw.

2.  In a double boiler, melt splinters of chocolate, half a pound, the darker the better.  The dress fit me perfectly, size 6 though I am not a size 6.  I am not what I’m supposed to be.  I was not supposed to want a gypsy rose skirt too, same layers of black tulle flaring off the hip like castanets are clacking in each of my palms.  Baby, I’ll do anything you want me to.  The rest of the day, a tug in my groin suggested esparadilles, a sangria top, accessories.  I flipped over on top.  I’m your slut, your slit, your bitch.  He reached up to tuck my hair behind my ear, brushing waves back behind my shoulders so he can see me better.  Stir in orange flower water to taste, vanilla and for piquancy, for a little fight, a pinch of chile.

3.  Working quickly, fold the chocolate into the hard tufts of cream.  Use a light hand or the peaks will begin to disintegrate.  Running back to the shop, I slid the plastic card across the glass of the register and hoarsely whispered, I’ll take them both.   The shop woman seemed mildly surprised.  If I don’t, I told her, I won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

4.  Spoon the mousse into individual ramekins, ½ cup each, and chill.  The mixture will become sturdy.   Afterwards, I couldn’t sleep.  The sky outside grew steeped in weak light.  I’m a lifelong masturbator.  Now all I can do is masturbate, an insomnia of flesh shivering for release, next to your supine body.  Set one serving in front of each diner, a soupçon of crème anglaise, a basil leaf, exactly one portion per person, enough.

Originally published in Monkeybicycle (under Nora Robertson).


Pork is the Last Frontier

1.  Back in the day, there was no such thing as pre-packaged breadcrumbs.  There was no Lipton’s instant iced tea or minute gumbo.  Take a cardboard can of Stouffer’s breading mix off the shelf and notice its slight chemical smell.  Grandma tells me that in Texas, they chicken-fried everything.  Chicken-fried pork-chops, chicken-fried okra, chicken-fried chicken.  My mom doesn’t let me eat sugar. She says it ruins your stomach.  Grandma learned to make chicken-fried at the age of eight because her mom was widowed with nine kids and boarders put bacon on the table. Mom doesn’t cook pork either.  She says pork is the last frontier of Judaism, which makes me think of rolls of barbed wire ringing a yard like in Sophie’s Choice.

2.  Rinse four pork chops, pale beige like bandages, and towel-dry.  Heat ½ in. pure white lard in a pair of cast-iron skillets, surfaces oily like engines.  The oil will vaporize and hang heavily in the air tinted with pig.  Grandma met Grandpa at a baseball game in Springfield.  We don’t keep kosher in my house.  I’m not even sure what kosher is.  Grandma had just graduated from book-keeping at junior college and moved here with her whole family to take an accounting job at the bread factory.  My LA grandma thinks bay shrimp salad is lovely and won’t eat the rendered fat of anything, not even chickens as she grew up doing, but still doesn’t eat pork.

3.  Sprinkle salt, pepper and a little chili powder into a cup of flour on a plate.  The color will grow subtly complex.  Whisk an egg in a bowl and cover over the  bleached steak face of each chop with egg and then flour before frying.  A tousle-haired, lanky man just back from dropping bombs on the Nazis kept looking over at her, a trim blonde with a soft drawl, at her, the fatherless girl with eight younger sisters.  He proposed to her in front of a fireplace by Christmas, circle skirt flaring around her on the bear rug.  She thought it was her chance.  She didn’t know about the cabin trips and six packs of green death, the dour father and the dog-kicking.  Didn’t know her eldest son would learn to box his brother’s face dancing just outside the little boy’s arm reach,  that she would learn to search the aisles for Frito Lay and Dr. Pepper.

4.  Let it fry up until the coating sticks real good, until it smells like only heat.  Mom says kosher is obsolete anyway.  She’s more worried about preservatives.  Grandma slides a chop on our plates.  Grandpa is halfway through his before us sisters have poked a fork into the crust.  She tells us, try it.  This is what things taste like where you come from.

Originally published in Alimentum (under Nora Robertson).


Soup of Glass and Chalk-Stained Skies

1. Maybe you own a crockpot. Meals made in them are supposed to be nourishing. Chalky edges of plaster gape open around the hole in the wall next to ours. Crockpots are things mothers give to men newly divorced. Dad can’t feed us pizza and Campbell’s ready-to-serve with mini-sirloin patties anymore. We’ll be yanked back to Auburn, California or wherever Mom’s moving. The new boyfriend’s name is Dick.

2. Cleave 2-3 lbs. of discount beef into stew chunks. Use a good knife. Dad says his problem with cooking is he’s never had to do it before. Top ramen with lunch meat doesn’t count. My eyes are fixed on his flimsy blade severing tendon and miniature arteries, soaking the cutting board with blood like bruises blooming. There’s another hole in the hallway and one in my bedroom. I don’t understand why we have to wait until we move to patch them.

3. Quarter 4 medium potatoes and chop an onion roughly. Fish a pound of peas out of the freezer and hope they’re not frost-burnt. He slams the meat chunks into the pot with the vegetables. He sets down his sixth beer. He adds water. It’s supposed to be that easy.

4. Add seasonings to your taste. Dad has a memory of Mom’s soups, hearty and simple, with a little love nip of pepper. He tosses in a handful from a pre-ground jar like he’s sowing a field. Take it easy, I tell him. It sits for the time it takes him to go on a beer run. Miracle, it’s done. He walked to get the beer. The last thing we need in this family is a DUI, he tells us sisters, slouched over our stools at the dining bar. It’s so full of pepper that it hurts. It’s like swallowing glass. Eat it, he tells us, I don’t want people thinking I can’t take care of you.

Originally published in Redactions (under Nora McCrea).