The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

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JUNE 2020 Issue



In the closeness, in the distance,
there is drought and fire, as trees
are taken without notice. Building
at the same time as destruction,
grout along the seams, sound loud
with thick form. Patterns matter, pay
attention. Pater familias is not available
at the moment. If you listen carefully,
you’ll handle the mantle of this drooping canopy.

Mother claims the cantor can’t hear the echoes
in this burning building. She is right, although she
is entirely a memory, as we all will be, or are
already, to those who’ve stamped the cramped light
down. Respect the clear light of the candle.
It’s a small but clear light. Clear light claims
the shadow, takes all responsibility. Practice
your life, wife. Don’t give me flak, and make a soft
flan from hesitation. Grip the future between
your teeth, and I’ll pull the harness tight.

The cantor is from my deep past, held
deep in the centre, fast breath into the dream state,
a kit that fakes DNA on the down-low.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child,
though thought myself without age,
just a creature alive and full of eyes, words, and sound.

I thought the creatures around me were both here
and not. Not a brand of absence of presence,
but human at some point, even as echoes.
Echoes of air made into form; my demands
were simple: you may only enter
if you tell me something interesting.
Practice memory in order to release it into air.

I placed my hands into the sandbox.
There were sandboxes everywhere,
and they led down into other dimensions.
Other dimensions were and are always possible.
Practice. Dig with hands or small, broken
shovels, or spoons stolen from the kitchen drawer.
There was a rumour amongst the children
that this was how to meet the devil,
or end up on the other side of the world.
I dug, fearful and thrilled at the prospect,
at the daycare opposite an old firehall.
Art is like that, I guess.

Clap once for silence, clap on to show appreciation
for those who stand before you, singing
with their skin removed. Practice. Cart away
the flowers that have bloomed, fallen, and died
after such wild applause. They can be used
to mulch the batch of latent words and thoughts.
Clutch your pearls or someone else’s.
Nothing can calm a panicked person until the panic
passes. A train into the calm valley eventually,
a brain on wheels making stops to empty waste.
Practice. The best tack is tact in an open casket,
to see in and see out, whether or not the eyes are alive.
Visible breath is a good marker. If you want to check
that a poet is alive, pinch her, or just whisper something
about payment. The shock will perk her up,
and she’ll pack her pencils in a small toy truck
rolling with empty cans a-clatter behind.

There is a cantor in my line, I’m sure of it.
But mainly, definitely people who hoed rows in fields,
planted endlessly, picked the produce, probably
pickled it too. Embraced, comforted, argued, worried,
lived, screamed, loved, fucked, and died.
Died for sure. That is something all our ancestors did.
Our job, as was theirs, is to live, and care,
and make the best of it. Practice.

Down the corridor, I host the ghosts.
I’m the haunted hostess with the mostest.
Most motels come with sheets
that breathe small morsels of the humans
who lay between them. Practice. They’ve accumulated
an invisible weave of personhood. If you are an object
that embraces a human, do you hum with personhood?
If you are a person who reviles people, can you choose
to be inhuman? Not a behaviour so much as an identity.

Practice. Keep trying to be a person.
It’s a finite rehearsal. It’s an endless performance.
Performance-enhancing drugs of grief, belief,
responsibility, doubt, full to overflowing.
Mugs full of big grins. You big mug,
I’ll learn ya and then I’ll know ya like you know me.
Practice. See all the sea monsters. Snuggle
the main monster and hold it close. It’s very small
and will be smaller still at the end.

Chlorodandy leafsuit

Sumer is an urban godbase,
lewdly sing cool crews.
Tomorrow shall be my dancing ray,
sun wishes my true dove will coo, entranced,
to seal the legend in my pants.

Spin the spinnet into the funnel
of leaflife. A thread of song holds forth
on the palms of open trees. A rattle
breaks a whispered train of thought:
the king is naked, the king is naked,
and the king is a lowered, hairy bee.

Ear to crocus, crocus to ear,
come closer so we can both hear
the low-down dirty worms repeat
I.O.U.s of life shit beneath our feet.

Baby Everything

We come down tough on free-loading landers.
The verge is invisible. Although the signs are diminishing,
capital has its limits. The main one
is lucre. Hand it over - stick yr paw
out the spaceship and drop it on this field.

Baby, everything
is this direction, I think,
or the other one. Life flourishes in the ditch,
baby, concrete is sand gone old, hard,
and stodgy. Baby hand me
the beer. Follow the arrow
and open the fridge. Gentle, gentle,
baby the night. I don’t mean scream,
like a baby does. I mean the sleep thing
that a baby also does. Baby, go into the origin,
baby, into the wet field of ideas and blood.
Baby eyes open
into the dream, dream of the extension
cord, umbilical to light.

Mothers are uncomfortable
for others to contemplate.
Signs on boards propped next to highways
are favoured over the uteruses rifling through the bins
of onesies in the thrift shop.
A sign’s a stand-up guy, easy to repaint
and clear all the time. Not
like mothers, that’s for sure.

Bards on the highways stick thumbs out,
as quills fly out past porcupines propped on limbs,
tapping foreheads in tree crotches,
writing with the hairs of men.

One day the baby
who lives on signs
reached out through the two dimensions
and rattled the trees.

The trees said, baby.
Baby, the trees said.
Baby, the space to crawl
is here through our branches.
These are those things attached to our torsos
that your creators cut down to make the sign
that directs towards their castle. Castle Baby.

Baby, sex trees to help the arborists
and the fresh politicians
who knock on doors made of trees
with pamphlets made of trees.
Baby, let’s ask the trees.

Dot matrix
hanging chad
baby. DOS
printout baby
replica facsimile.
Trunk road 10 near
Maud Lewis
Rubik’s cube.

General Dogsbody

I’m a contortionist. I can’t swim.
When the sword drops, grab it
and walk through creaking doorways.
A feather waves on a tilted hat, shaking props
on the walk through sharp palm stalks. Tap
the barrel twice. There’s a sneeze from
the locked chest, teeth on the skeleton key.
We’ve never been formally introduced
but I carried you up the stairs. It was dark.
The rain fell. There was a razzle dazzle.
You have a strong mind. The paper fell –
I picked it up and read a torn address.
Enough to go on. There’s always another tunnel.
Always go through the tunnel. Tenement drawbridge,
a window into magic. Trick hinges
are the best. The tunnel is covered in a flight of swallows
or small drifts of autumnal leaves. I knew
the twins risked it. Water torture? We’re qualified.
We wish to be convinced of the miracle.
We see the torch in the room of billowed
cloth. We know the accolades
of fallen tassels.


Alice Burdick

Alice Burdick is the author of four full-length poetry collections, and a book of selected poems: Deportment: The Poetry of Alice Burdick. Her work has appeared in many chapbooks, broadsides, folios, magazines, journals, and anthologies, and she co-owns an independent bookstore in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia called Lexicon Books.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

All Issues