The Richard Cleaveland Memorial Reading – February 8, 2018

this is a production of Cornell
University as part of the Zalaznick reading series
made possible by the generosity of Barbara and Dave
Zalaznick the creative writing program is proud to feature the cleaveland memorial
reading our next event will be on March 15th with Julie Schumacher
introduced by our very own Stephanie Vaughn the Richard Cleaveland memorial
reading was created in 1999 by family and friends of Richard Cleaveland Cornell
class of 1974 to honor his memory the first Cleaveland memorial reading was
launched back in 2000 by none other than Kenneth McClane the W. E. B. Dubois
professor of literature emeritus and Robert Morgan the Kappa Alpha professor
of English this would have been more than appropriate as McClane was a
classmate of Cleaves and Morgan his creative writing teacher his friend
Charles … his friend Charles Ferris remembers quote well he was a
student Cleave was a frequent reader at the English departments Temple of Zeus
weekly poetry reading and after he graduated he remained in Ithaca and
published a newspaper known as the Ithaca grapevine for five years before
heading west while he ultimately settled with his wife Glen along … Gwen, Glen!
I’m sorry Gwen I knew I kept practicing and practicing okay
along with the river in Montana where he housed and guided fly fisherman Richard
Charles Cleaveland was born in 1952 and to his friends and family he was always
known as Cleave always a seeker of misadventure Cleave was an accomplished
naturalist and was also legendary for quote a series of swamp dinners
scavenged entirely from his surroundings and served to his friends a typical menu
might include pond scum soup ferns and raccoon unquote this little fact reveals
what a man Cleave was not only a curious fun-loving
and celebratory man but also a consummate editor and poet and founding
member of Cornell’s literary magazine rainy day his friends and wife Gwen
established a reading fund in his in his name in an effort to and these are these
are Ferris’s word again perpetuate the process of communion with writers of
which he and his friends very fondly knew when they roamed the halls of
Goldwin Smith’s unquote and this is always a special reading for us because
this is a time when we really truly you know the department and the Creative
Writing Program and Cornell University that we showcase the incredible faculty
that we have here and so I really I’m always excited for the Cleveland I mean
it’s it’s it’s a beautiful it’s a beautiful it’s a beautiful reading so
now let’s go with J Robert Lennon okay Kim Barnes calls John called John a
true contemporary man of letters who has a finger and everything that has
not only to do with history and traditions of literature but it’s
contemporary and cultural manifestations Karen joy Fowler identifies John’s work
as quote slipstream a literary space currently occupied by such writers as
Kelly link and George Saunders this is a genre paradoxically defined by being
indefinable characterized chiefly by its ability to make the familiar suddenly
feel strange and unsettling J Robert Lennon is the author of two
collections of short stories “Pieces for the Left Hand” and “See You in Paradise”
and eight novels including “Mailman” “Familiar” and most
recently “Broken River” his short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker
Granta the The Paris Review Harper’s and his criticism in the in the London
Review of Books The Guardian in the New York book at the New York Times Book
Review when does John sleep that’s all I know anyway
John Lennon thank you I’m very flattered by that
Karen joy Fowler quote and to live up to it I’m going to try to live up to it I’m
gonna read some weird shit first of all though I want to I want to thank Helena
for the introduction that was wonderful I want to thank Lyrae for reading with
me and the friends and family of Richard Cleaveland for making this possible
I’ve done a couple two or three Cleaveland readings before and have
always said how much fun they are not just because the Cleaveland crew are a
blast which they are but because it’s a rare opportunity for me to get to read
to my students and I like to present work in progress because I read your
work in progress all the time and it can be kind of embarrassing to give someone
work in progress when you know it’s not as good as it might eventually be
needless to say I’ve picked that the one of the most polished bits of this novel
about just make making everyone feel bad know um I’m a couple of drafts
into this novel called “Subdivision” um I’m gonna read a couple of contiguous
scenes from the middle of the book and I’ll give you a brief explanation of
stuff you need to know that the protagonist is an unnamed narrator a
woman of around 30 maybe she arrives at a guest house in a small town with no
memory of how she got there or any understanding of what she’s supposed to
do there among the characters she encounters are a five year old boy who
seems to be living in the Attic of the guest house a demon called the bacchumono that sometimes takes the form of a handsome man and sometimes the form of a
badger and a cylindrical digital assistant named Sylvia who is with the
narrator at all times and offers periodic advice so this scene in the
middle the book the narrator has just gotten a job in a building called the
dead tower and she hears some strange noises and follows them to a door behind
which she finds a fellow employee engaged in some kind of experiment and
the only other thing you need to know is that she’s been carrying an enormous
Banana Nut muffin for 30 pages in her hand
all right I stepped into the office there were no chairs the desk was shoved
awkwardly against the far wall and supported a pile of notebooks a coffee
mug full of pencils a dented metal bucket and a laptop computer the
computer was plugged into a generator sitting on the floor beside a 5-gallon
can of gasoline it was the generator that was causing
the hum I’d been hearing throughout the fourth floor a hole had been sawed into
one of the window covers and the generators exhaust was routed through it
via a black plastic accordion tube even with this arrangement the smell of
engine exhaust was strong the most remarkable alteration to the room
however came in the form of a very neatly constructed brick wall this wall
along with another sheet of plywood formed a little room a sub office if you
will opposite the desk entry to this room took the form of a crude hinged
section in the plywood an ad-hoc door about time a glance at the laptop on the
desk suggested that a camera had been installed inside the little room a
window on the screen appeared to display a live feed from this camera and beside
the live feed a constantly updating text box read 0 0 0 3 8 279 no leakage
detected barrier permeability probability zero point zero zero zero
zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero to 7% zero zero zero three eight to nine
one no leakage detected barrier permeability probability zero point zero
zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero one seven percent the man
turned to me I could see now that he was quite young in his early 20s he was thin
and his curly hair was lank and must he wore blue jeans in a stained white
t-shirt as you know he said his emphasis suggesting that in fact I did not know
classical mechanics tells us that a thrown ball lacking the energy to crash
through a wall should bounce back right of course I said to illustrate the man
reached into the bucket on the desk and pulled from at a very worn looking much
handled tennis ball he held it up meeting my gaze to make sure I saw it
then he threw it at the wall it struck the brick surface rebounded and bounced
once again once against the floor the man caught the ball neatly in his right
hand this action triggered another line of
text on the laptops open window zero zero zero three eight three five nine no
leakage detected barrier permeability probability zero point zero zero zero
zero zero zero zero zero zero zero to two percent do you see the man said
holding up the ball here in the life-size world of classical physics the
ball bounces back I do but in the quantum world he said now shaking the
ball for emphasis any given particle encountering an ostensibly impermeable
surface has a small probability of permeating it anyway it’s unlikely to
happen but if we try to calculate a path of
such a particle it’s impossible for us to achieve an infinitely probable result
it turns out that there is a nonzero chance that such a particle could borrow
energy from its surrounding particles and use that energy to tunnel through
the barrier as I’m sure you’re aware of course I said winging it but I think
you’re saying this is only true in the quantum world not out here where things
are large and abide by rules the man seemed very excited by this reply his
grin was triumphant as if I had fallen into an obvious logical trap and he
pointed at me with his ball hands squeezing the ball in the process he
said that’s what you’d think wouldn’t you but the truth is that we’re all
living in the quantum world it’s logical mysteries are like an infinite speed
bicycle that we’re all riding all the time without even knowing it if there is
any probability of a single particle borrowing energy to permeate a barrier
then there is also a probability however small that an assemblage of particles he
held up the tennis ball triumphantly like this tennis ball could
simultaneously borrow enough energy to permeate another assemblage of particles
I see I said in other words he went on his eyes wild there was a nonzero chance
that when I throw this tennis ball against that brick wall it will go right
through in illustration he flung the ball at the wall it bounced back he
caught it the laptop said etc
forgive me if this is a foolish question I said idly hefting the muffin in my
hand but wouldn’t it be more efficient to build a machine to throw tennis balls
at the wall for you in fact doesn’t such a machine already exist
the man began shaking his head before it even gotten halfway through my question
no no no no it is my belief that the quantum entanglement of this district is
influenced by intent in order for the tennis ball particles to know that they
should coordinate in an effort to pass through the wall
they require evidence of a will for them to do so that is the particles that
constitute me the experimenter must be entangled with the particles that
constitute the tennis ball which must in turn be entangled with the particles
that make up the wall without that intent the particles won’t know to
redistribute their energy to make the tunnelling possible I thought about this
for a few seconds so you’re saying I slowly inquired that the particles need
to read your mind the man folded his arms over his chest
he was beaming exactly he said I was wrong to doubt you
you do understand quantum tunneling it had been a trying day and though it was
still late afternoon when I arrived back at the guest house I lay down
immediately to take a nap first carefully resting Sylvia and the banana
muffin on the bedside table I doze dreamless Li for what must have been
hours because when I woke darkness had fallen and my room was illuminated only
by Sylvia’s red warning light she was announcing with some urgency a visitor a
visitor a visitor there beside my bed stood the little boy from the coffee
shop he was dressed rather charmingly in a
very small neatly tailored pinstripe suit and necktie emblazoned with
lightning bolts in one hand he held a small rectangular package covered in
gift wrap which bore a pattern of balloons confetti and the words happy
birthday and in the other hand he held my banana muffin which he had halfway
completed eating his jaw worked with bovine determination and crumbs cascaded
down his chest and onto the floor I leaned over and switched on the lamp you
startled me I said to the boy Sylvia was silent but her red light somewhat
subdued now continued to pulse did you forget I’m sorry I said sitting
up maybe I did forget what you said you’d take me I cast my mind back to one
personal encounter with a boy my one personal encounter with the boy I
couldn’t remember promising to take him anywhere but perhaps my memory was
deceiving me I’m sorry I said I guess you want me to take you to a birthday
party the boy nodded taking another bite of the muffin all right I said hanging
my legs down from the bed I rubbed my face where’s the party birthday house
what’s birthday house it’s birthday the party is at birthday house were late
what’s your friend’s name the one with the birthday the boy
ignored my question let’s go he said all right all right
a minute later we were walking under moonlit skies through the streets of the
subdivision the little boy seemed averse to using the sidewalks he preferred to
march right down the middle of the road after a block or so he finished eating
the muffin and quickened his pace despite my much longer legs I was having
trouble keeping up you know where we’re going I presume I said he didn’t reply
we walked in silence for a little while the boy veering suddenly off and this or
that direction always returning to the middle of the street at one point a dog
crossed the road up ahead turning to gaze and passively at us and the boy
took my hand his fingers were greasy from the muffin and a bit cold when the
dog disappeared into the shadows the boy yanked his hand from mine as though I
had been the one who initiated the contact and he couldn’t wait to let go our destination turned out to be a
charming house with a wide porch and a brightly illuminated front window inside
adults and children in conical party hats could be seen gathered around a
table with balloons fastened to its corners I made out a pile of colorful
gifts and a cake and could hear the faint strains of happy birthday hurry
the little boy said grabbing my hand and pulling me up the stairs
I might have politely knocked on the front door but the little boy barged
right in no one seemed bothered by the intrusion he ran up to the table and
added his gift to the pile then launched into the song which had entered what I
recalled was its third or fourth verse depending on which of its many
variations this group favored happy birthday my dear here’s a respite from
fear as you blow out the candles thank the Lord you’re still here happy
birthday my friend all good things must end let these gifts help you salve all
of the wounds you can’t mend happy birthday loved one time for
compensation for the way you’ve been treated and your sufferings to come we
were well into the verse about the possibility of peace at last in the
afterlife before people began to roll their eyes I’m bored a child shouted I
want cake she screamed another at last the song collapsed into its
traditionally ragged strands and a comely woman in a gingham dress
presumably the birthday child’s mother began to serve large wedges of cake to
all the children as the children age the parents broke up into small groups to
chat many of them held paper cups of fruit juice and one of them handed one
to me I sipped from it and asked so who’s the birthday boy or girl my little
group laughed as though I just made a whimsical joke and continued with their
conversation which seemed to be about the state of construction on the road to
the city I felt a bit put off my question hadn’t been unusual in any way
I didn’t think and deserve some kind of answer instead of asking it a second
time though I decided to try a different conversational gambit I turned to the
woman beside me a tomboyish person with large eyeglasses and a fringed suede
jacket and said which one is yours the woman who had smiled at me when I turned
were now frowned in evident puzzlement I’m sorry which child is that the one in
the eyeglasses there she’s adorable the woman looked at me with an expression
somewhere between pity and mild alarm as though I might be making fun of her or
even issuing some kind of threat she elbowed the man standing beside her a
placid looking bald fellow wearing a plaid shirt she wants to know which of
the children she said is mine well the man said they’re the
children they’re just neighborhood children I mean it’s their house
the woman added haven’t you been here before she asked me I try to come to
birthday every few weeks the man interjected have you never been to
birthday before the woman asked me her expression harbored the beginnings of
relief as though she’d last divined a possible cause from my peculiarity
I sense that an explanation was in the offing but at that moment our
conversation was interrupted by a loud cheer we turned in time to see all the
children cake and ice cream smeared lunging for the giant pile of gifts in
their eagerness that clawed at the plastic tablecloth and it began to slide
sending paper pates juice cups and other debris crashing to the floor no one
seemed particularly concerned by the mess so I began to laugh and applaud
along with the other adults take take take take we all shouted as the children
savagely toward the presents open and bows and ribbons and scraps of gift wrap
flew through the air the children seemed uninterested in the gifts themselves
which from where I was standing didn’t appear to have the novelty and
charm of typical birthday surprises through the scrum of revelers I could
make out a stained plastic travel mug a creased and dog-eared road Atlas half a
bag of hard candies and a pair of sunglasses with one broken lens but the
gifts lack of Appeal hadn’t dampened the children’s enthusiasm one little boy
pushed another down and kicked him two little girls were pummeling one another
over what appeared to be a quart of motor oil I was pleased to note that the
little boy who had accompanied me here was keeping to the edge of the mob
avoiding direct conflict with the other revelers but his face was anxious and
determined he repeatedly extended a hand toward the gift pile only to snatch it
back when another fight broke out nearby I was distracted from the gift frenzy
though by a scene that was unfolding on the other side of the table in the back
corner of the room withdrawn somewhat from the action a man and a woman stood
close deep in conversation the woman was smiling shyly tucking a
strand of hair behind her ear the man had his hands in his pockets and he was
leaning over her nodding the woman looked familiar and it took me a moment
to place her it was just een whose apartment I’d turned down my first day
in the subdivision I hadn’t recognized her because her
expression was so unfamiliar deeply seductive like some starlet in a
romantic film she wore her now familiar sheer white cover-up grass-stained at
the knees and as I watched she smooth her hand over it as though to emphasize
the contours of her bony body the man also looked vaguely familiar his lanky
frame and broad shoulders struck a real chord in me he spoke to her nodding and
they both broke out into peals of laughter which I could barely hear over
the mad rending and shouting going on between us the man had his back to me so
I couldn’t make him out clearly but as he threw his head back to laugh I took
note of his angular features and thick brown hair and thought I’d go over there
and try to throw a wrench into their flirtation the little boy gazed
mournfully mournfully from underneath his birthday hat as I aged around the
table he was pointing at the gift pile imploringly as if asking me for help the
nerve clearly it was his job to seize and
unwrap the presents and mine to prevent justine from seducing this handsome man
i frowned and shook my head at the little boy and dejected he returned to
pawing ineffectually at the gift pile after dodging an elbow from a nearby
scuffle I felt an itching sensation at my hip as I approached the insufferable
couple in the corner and reached down to scratch it then realized it was just
Silvia issuing some irritating notification or alert from inside my bag
I was forced to suppress a wave of anger why did I bring her if she was just
going to interrupt my fun ignoring her I strode up to Justine in her suitor and
tapped him firmly on the shoulder Justine’s face registered my presence
with a smirk can roll the of the eyes the man turned to me I was right he was
very good-looking I said can I talk to you for a minute please
sure he said sullenly motioning to Justine to please excuse him you’re
embarrassing me I said everyone can see what you’re doing the man held up his
hands hey we were just talking Sylvia’s alert had sped up and was now turning
into a solid unceasing buzz I smacked my bag to shut her up you weren’t just
talking I said you were flirting I’m the one who has to go to work with her every
day how am I supposed to do that knowing how she behaved with you you’re blowing
this all out of proportion you’re the one embarrassing yourself
right now not me nobody even noticed me talking to her until you came over here
and made a big deal of it I said everybody noticed I pointed to the
birthday table where the children had nearly reached the bottom of the gift
pile things are bad enough already between us you’re making them harder for
me you’re the one who made me come here he said I wanted to stay home you hadn’t
left the house in weeks I pointed out there’s a reason for that I’m on medical
leave I’m sick you can’t just cheer me up his handsome
features were curling into an expression of disgust if you can’t recognize that
then you’re sick too you’re sicker than I am
behind him Justine was pretending to be distracted by something out the window
but it was clear she heard everything at my side my bag was shaking like a
washing machine and emitting an ear-splitting alarm which the handsome
man didn’t seem to hear it’s a terrible world he said barely audible beneath the
screeching from my bag his face was hard and his eyes were unfocused and we’ve
made terrible choices forgive me for taking a moment a moment’s respite to
talk to a pretty girl I was about to respond to this bizarre escalation in
our argument when the man Justine and the entire party around us grew hazy in
my sight began to smear and distend at the same time all the voices around us
slurred then dropped in pitch and then stopped entirely as their time itself
had ground to a halt the only persistent sound in motion came
from my bag at last I sipped it open and peered inside it’s interior was bathed
in blinding red light would you please stop that
I screamed the sound and movement ceased immediately do not speak to the bacchum
oh no do not touch the bacchum oh no what are you even talking about I said
that was an important and serious conversation the back kimono is
dangerous you must focus on your work I’m not at work I’m at a party why can’t
I just go to birthday for an hour and be free of your petty concerns you are
always at work Sylvia said cryptically back away from the bacchum oh no you
must help the child find the gift my eye was drawn to a motion at my left it was
the little boy he finally got in a leg up on the other children and was using
one of them a bruised and bloodied red-haired boy lying paralysed on his
back on the floor as a step up to try and reach a gift that lay in this
the table surrounded by the detritus of revelry it’s paper was torn at the
corner and it looked a little dirty but I recognized it as the gift he himself
had brought exasperated I leaned over the table and plucked up the present I
handed it to the boy there I said that wasn’t so hard was it
now get down off that child the little boy climbed back down to the floor he
extended the present to me I just grabbed that for you I said open it no
the boy said shaking his head it’s for you how could it be for me it’s not my
birthday he shrugged glancing at the seemingly random collection of objects
that lay scattered on the table and floor they’re all for you he said I
didn’t understand but I accepted the gift I noticed now that he had carefully
wrapped it the folds were sharp and precise the cuts tidy the hole was
beautifully accentuated by a pink ribbon and bow and bow the torn cover revealed
that there was a book inside open it the boy said again inside my bag Sylvia
pulsed white I unwrapped a gift and left the paper and ribbon fall to the ground
and my hands lay what appeared to be a heavily used self-help book its back
cover facing up a plastid looking woman gazed up from a photo in the corner
beside a biography that read Jane lo Elsie MFT is a licensed family and
marriage therapist and the author of the best-selling self-help books loving is
giving out of the doghouse and lost-and-found
I turned the book over it was called her way recovering yourself from his
demanding love its cover illustration depicted the outline of a man his arm
raised in anger in the background of the silhouette of a woman confident her arms
crossed outlined by an aura of gold a blurb at the bottom of the cover
attributed to a Roberta Klarman read in an elegant script this book saved my
marriage and myself many pages were dog-eared and sticky notes stuck out in
several pages places furious I turned to the little boy and snarled where did you
get this he appeared nonplussed after a moment he sighed what happens in my
marriage is none of your business I went on do you understand
the little boy shrugged again let’s get out of here I said
exasperated I shoved the book into my bag pushing Silvia aside
roughly took the boy’s hand and pulled him toward the door to his credit he
kept up his little legs pumping in their pinstriped suit pants around us the
party was grinding slowly back into motion I flung the front door open and
we marched down the steps and through the streets toward home Thanks as is the old adage larae Van Cleave
Stefan on needs little introduction embalm magazine an interview a sly ray
your poem all reads like a blues song have you ever said any of your poems to
music and how does music play into your writing larae replied I want to try to
write a blues poem and tap into the sense of whoa and play which ties into
one of the tensions that comes with the between of what is canonical and what is
unrecognized unquote she also spoke of her desire to
work with music musicians just to serve just as well as her fascination with
instruments and their African roots quote the banjo is my new obsession and
in his and it is in some ways inspiring my new manuscript there’s a renewed
interest in instruments African roots and the african-american string bands
for which I am glad she says to me all I think about when I think about these all
these projects and all these wonderful things that lie ray does these are
artistic trajectories always lead to the vivid geographical center of poetry Lyra
is the author of open interval a 2009 National Book Award finalist let me
repeat that again a National Book Award finalist and back Black Swan winner of
the 2001 cave con poetry prize as well as poems and conversation and a
conversation a chapbook collaboration with Elizabeth Alexander and it’s a
beautiful book currently at work on the coal-tar colors her third poetry
collection she has written plays and lyrics for the Cherry um essica Arts
Collective she is one of the ten celebrated poets commissioned to write
poems inspired by Jacob Lawrence as migration series in conjunction with
the 2015 exhibit one-way ticket Jacob Lawrence’s migration series and other
works at the MoMA everybody larae Ben cliff Stefano thank you all so much for coming out
thank you for that beautiful introduction thank you John as well I am
gonna start off with a Bop poem because I’m obsessed with that form speaking of
music and all of that so I’d be to ask the audience if everybody knows who
Jodeci is in here Jodeci so this poem is called stay and it’s in conversation
with Joe disease poem stay I’m really really think it’s neat and like to think
a lot sometimes about the way that black folks pronounce things and so in that
song stay there’s a lyric where Joe Joe sings and all of my tears you know they
left me drowning and I love that pronounce pronunciation grounding as
opposed to drowning and so I just kind of wanted to play off of that stay heading to the beach in late June I rock
the quiet storm mix I made last week in a fit of nostalgia and bit spending silk
and sweat levert Tresvant and Gil on and on for 99 cents a pop for hours
so one loops long enough to get me almost anywhere I’m willing to drive
myself Joe Joe’s voice heavy as the torrid week wrung out laments and all of
my tears you know they left me drowning don’t you know the
son the brothers beg and I admit I do as well as I know the comforting dark I do
of a theater at midday a matinee I do a cool film against the
out-years hot wet glare or the bath warm Atlantic exhausting the Florida coast as
I know to the impulse to steer one’s vehicle towards some other variety of
wear and grind familiar enough the difference between Greece and its
performance and all of my tears you know they left me grounding the sea when I
reach it smells like salt the same in Massachusetts as in adolescence where
crusty sweet from Krispy Kreme hot glaze now mingled with the ocean grit on my
fingertips stay here in my mouth you know I’m thinking about you
one sweet ring preserved pulled back to life from the crush and break
surrounding and all of my tears you know they left me drowning this poem is
called SAP and it’s kind of making fun of myself and I’m trying to read like
new things too everything is from the new manuscript but some things are brand
new this is one of those poems that’s like brand new in the past two weeks
brand new so forgive me if it’s not quite pull too pulled together but in
front of Lincoln Hall the Music Building on the way from Goldwyn Smith to the
parking lot there’s a large tree that I’m a little obsessed with I was always
like a weird kid who kind of fell in love with trees and that tree over the
years has grown very special to me SAP I asked the tree to register me and it
stings what for some ridiculous pitch nibbles Hales hey
hiding plane in sight a twitching clog ripped pendant fixed against bark lapels
a glimpse and this network exposed my almost ancient urge to lick or for alone
and Patrick or sent si vous play perfume ear something to match its um bird amber
drip its grip its scratch its unstraight stretch towards warning fin look up that
patch of flame in the limpet worried winter amplifies will it spread will
spring rest morning with its feckless inflammation of flowers will me to pick
some new arboreal altar to shove my adoration towards a full Junt ignorance
but real such anxiety this I would miss it
if it changed too much my favorite I call it friend Eclipse between himself and the light pink spot
on her cream-colored dress where the sweet strawberries red juice dripped she
creates and inhabits a space between noise
he knows the girl who lives for one space which she creates the girl who is
a reactor creating this space even here she can hear the silence where she wants
him he must not become concrete to her he must become a concrete listing the
idea keeps her company on trips when she is silent by not speaking he practices a
future of space by collecting the thing it’s word fit world he leans raw sugar
digs the flesh on the side of his hand he can hear the amber crystals breaking
in her mouth this next poem is called murder ballad
and it pulls from a lot of different Murder Ballads
one that you might recognize as the song in The Pines also known as black girl if
you’ve ever been out like listening to old-time music here and ethic I’m sure
you’ve heard that song and it’s also got another song that I grew up singing in
the Pentecostal church which I wasn’t going to sing but since John sang maybe
I’ll sing a little bit of it and the manuscript is finding itself
turning a lot towards the no convictions list that is ever-growing and an ongoing
here in America but this song murder ballad actually is based on or inspired
a little bit not based on but I was thinking about Jamar Pinckney senior who
was a Detroit man sentenced the 37 to 80 years for the murder of his 15 year old
son who had raped his three-year-old daughter so this is murder ballad it has
an epigraph from June Jordans fragments from a pair of parable June Jordan that
simple sentence she writes her fails murder ballad one it’s the girl who dies
in the singing fair-haired she floats for the love of some fuck boy Miller’s
son done in at the hands of her own sister or she finds herself more garish
less gorgeous on water draining burgundy from the wound from a saber drawn
through her because murder but a Mickey drink beneath river willows nary was
enough to satisfy who’s greedy gallows bound love how water daily
her again she is Eddie swirled the spirit of this gone place artifact of
dear fiddle part sweetheart little darling dancing her doomed to mourning
doves indifference in Knoxville her bludgeoning mere a melody she can
neither convince nor escape her Willie a whistle under breath still still breathe
still breathing still under a blanket unsmooth ‘red if if singing affirms give
the high part to the girl with the glass clear Mountain voice leave the low
gospel soaked groaner to find the harmony and gutter it Oh
belt it what good is it to contain black girl black girl don’t lie to me
you again the only in a room full of song black girl black girl don’t lie to
me where did you sleep last night in a vacant lot in Highland Park someplace
you’ve never been to tell the truth the tunes raised you otherwise orphan girl
your st. Jacques Alto at 8:00 summons Shadrach Meshach and Abednego ‘s furnace
so furiously well deacons climbed down into that deep wave trouble in my way I
have to cry sometimes so much trouble I have to cry sometimes somebody else’s daddy just disappeared
response a syncopated clap response a nightmare begins
responsibility a delayed cry tell the truth a toonie daddy never
heard you sing scales your lungs unfixed wake work sunken – slung – sung – den in
a vacant lot in Highland Park someplace you’ve never been this is measure I find
myself thinking a lot and reaching for the wisdom of my great grandmama Heaney
Bush Roundtree these days people who have been in my house have seen her
because I’m always like showing people her portrait because um I have her exact
eyes and it’s so like kind of weird to me as I get older to see that become
more and more pronounced measure oh and this was something that she used to say
to us all the time so I should like how to tell the story behind this so my mom
had four kids pixee Craig larae and Sydney who um mama
my great grandmama referred to as trishy tre gal and boy so I was gal because she
got tired of names and weird ones too to try and pretty no and if we were like
kind of acting crazy and stuff like that the question she would always ask us is
what al you like whatever you cha measure what Al you gravitational waves
I need to parse this remnant echo of my great grand mamas care a model of the
known universe her hand tied patchwork would land heavily on me
I’m laying on of layering I wish I still slept under loose ends of her tight red
knots fastening I miss distilled – gal third-born essence of southern
upbringing after two siblings she slant rhyme – their names and before the baby
brother she called simply boy pronounced with a
hidden W like a questioning kiss goodbye what what Lu I dictionary my inheritance
2-centimeter gram second and tie myself together with it accelerate toward grace
grounding nomenclature again – field – fern to the inexact exacting heaviness
of family a bend in the road in Crescent City Florida we’re left to my own
devices I might lie down under moss and humid night cut in the fool
what ALU where I hear her question pulling me still in thinking about the no convictions and
thinking about like kind of how to continue to live in the age and the
society and the space that we live in I was really really disturbed and troubled
and continue to be disturbed in trouble for the calls for measured responses to
no convictions after state-sponsored violence and I started thinking about
this particularly after the speech that President the statement that President
Obama had released after the no conviction in George Zimmerman case for
the murder of Trayvon Martin and I kept thinking about like kind of what is a
measured what is the appropriate measured response and as a poet like
kind of what does that mean a measured response and what held to try and
inhabit that measure so this poem is again it was inspired by him Iona
Stanley Jones she was an eight-year-old she was asleep on her grandmother’s
livingroom sofa when the Detroit Police Department um
busted and they were conducting a raid and they shot her and it has in it a
couple of references the one I should tell you an amphib rack is a metrical
foot it’s a three-syllable foot and unstressed followed by a stressed
followed by an unstressed syllable uh uh and it’s um foot so associated with some
black girls names that when people like decide that they’re gonna try and tell a
joke about a black girl they just automatically just pull out and and the
braket name and use that and as a stand-in for you know then people know
you say the name and people know black girl but amphib racks are also the foot
that is the basic unit of measure in a in a limerick so I guess that’s enough
information measured if space makes the pattern his
app sorry measured if space makes the pattern her absence is stilling a quota
the president says we’re a nation of laws the Limerick under her dreaming
that lilting at 7 a Seuss rhymes still funny and who’s to say wouldn’t have
been still at 30 the sneetches or what was I scared of she’s 7 asleep on the
living room sofa in anthrax who hears her breathing if space makes the pattern
her absence is filling a quota this absence
Ayana but what was the officer scared of what reaches for him in the recesses of
his attention what formal suggestion of darkness needs stagger to formless if
space makes the pattern egregious this grief in the rhythm of uplift too
graphic a measure of struggle which struggle with law holds the dark in it
keeps the dark of Quinn Letta Latoya Kim Keisha onika Tawana my still breathing
cousins you’re still breathing cousins alive in it Ayana her breath in
perfection at 7:00 this measure for measure on measure on measure or else
law is dead Iona it never was eclipse when the birds moved what I
noticed was their silence they sliced through the changing light I wanted to
believe them a sign at least 50 white gulls and after them as silent a hawk
and then three black birds teach me to read
I asked the son bitten into and branding my shoulder with tongues of heat what if
the air silvered itself into argent syntax would I understand a sliver as my
own how urgent would I deem the man beside me a monarch flitting by a be of
consequence if the sting were to close his throat in Swift and a phylactery
translation an answer I raised my arms I spun strong fingers through their paths
of flight go thumb guhl guhl index middle crow ringed pinky hawk gull
Blackbird Blackbird midday claw me the birds moved I note there unsaid skein
this missive to decipher lustrous cycle you have come waxing monarch across the
son this poem is called shake and pour and
it’s um thinking about like the time that we’re living in and thinking about
the changes that it makes upon a person to live in a time like this
and I was thinking about especially recently so this is a brand new poem I
wrote this poem this week so again forgiveness and suggestions but
I was thinking about it because for fur I’ve been here for 14 years and for most
of those years at the end of every class I would take my classes to my house for
a celebration at the end of the semester and I would make pancakes for them and
and I recently it’s a practice that I recently stopped and there’s something
about the atmosphere in the time that light kind of shifted my perspective on
that making pancakes in a way that makes me really sad but also made me think
about what you doing a girl so this is shaking poor it’s brand-new hopefully
you all can tell me if it comes together this interaction that happens actually
did happen on the comments – there’s a person from town who maybe if you’ve
lived in town you might recognize shaking for time would invent itself for
the hour it’s texture of a Sunday risen Oh joyous Jesus can work it out on the
am dial before my favorite praise break was
Columbus to shell the latest so-called breakthrough in personal computing
chrome you could have bought me mirrored there for a nickel the first time I
heard the ad had I slipped without notice through the buttonhole passageway
I belong on the Commons eye out for the striking
downtown dancer who’d fabulous a rave before my eyes in shiny silver hot pants
and a belly shirt to wear had he disembarked those three summers I
fretted his absence only to re-emerge before me out front of the waffle frolic
the Nazi dance is real I’ve done it he blinked at me remotely in response to my
insistence tell me how to get to where you are an imperative I’d hoped time
would invent itself for as even as he’s shimmered before me his dancing
dangerously somewhere I longed to be reality rent party at a Turing fraying
like that wind whip frame like that wind whipped into the edges of flags into the
edges frayed beautiful of whose black son is this right there he stood but
where was his mind was mine a sizzle and wait then puff popped batter bubbles
rising to mark the break in fasting the long a farmhouse table set the soft flap
plate fill of short stacks for students I stood at the stove spatula in hand and
flipped year after year I could no more read the time map he had devised that
settled quiet as a tablecloth over this town
then the ring of blue flame licking the pans underside to bring fall down blue
flames dancing to call spring done the Nazi dance is real he’d said in minutes
come to find myself at home wrapped in a ruffled apron again turning disturbed
and turning in my head the end of the 50-minute hour thank you all so much for
listening well I am literary woman and sort of thing that is such a really funny question
because like some of those poems that I read I’m not sure if they’re done like
the SAP poem I’m not sure if it’s done the Porsche Aiken poor pancakes
poem I’m not sure if it’s done and so like I’m kind of up in the air there was
a poem that I was writing up until like two minutes before I got here thinking
I’m gonna read that and then that made itself clear that it was not done and so
I don’t I it’s a feeling but sometimes I’m up at the podium and even after it’s
bound in the book I’m changing things or I’ll change things on the fly as I’m
reading it so and I’m not sure that there’s that quote that like that people
quote all the time about like poems being abandoned you know and so I think
I just nacho thanks not sure and thank you for
listening to us um I wasn’t sure really this book came from I took about a year
of notes where I was just like I’d see a web link most of the links and picture
and photos I’d taken and photos I found online mostly about like municipal
architecture and how the structure of a place affects the way we live in it what
it’s built for versus what people actually do there so there’s a lot of
buildings and houses and weird architectural anomalies in this book but
I didn’t have an actual story for it I just had all these notions about a kind
of not entirely realistic world that collects the strangeness of space right
and I saw I just started I had gone I gone and did a reading with hell was it
somewhere near Rochester is a college near Rochester and they put me up in
this B&B that was run by a retired judge and when I got there there was a giant
table in the dining room with a puzzle on it and the lady the judge said to me
come down anytime to work on the puzzle and I wrote I wrote to a friend like at
my guesthouse base they said come on down any time I’m working the puzzle and
I can’t remember who I wrote to but they were like that’s the first line of
something and so I wrote that line down and just kept going and about ten pages
in I was like okay I know who this is and it just sort of came the voice came
to me and I realized oh shit this is the novel with all the stuff in it so then I
stopped pulled back did a bunch of research figured out her backstory and
the novel ended up being sort of about her kind of processing trauma of a
relationship in the past and you the reader kind of figure that out over time
but she never really does so see yeah it came from the voice plus the research it
didn’t it wasn’t really deliberate but once I had that voice I then I started I
do this yeah I might have done this assignment with you your class where we
I hand out like a dossier with a bunch of blank spaces
it’s like name age you know hometown sort of bland details and then the
further down you get the more like esoteric the details become like dream
she had last night you know and so once you fill in the bare necessities
suddenly you picture somebody and they start to become somebody right and it
was very much like that it came from this one these couple of lines and it
became a woman and then she it became her story so kind of an obscure answer
maybe but that’s how it happened absolutely well you serve as an
instructor whether it is some people poetry stories or only further
development mission area repeatedly that constitute so like because it’s fresh in my mind I
can talk about SAP which is like kind of trying to grow out of like every day
that I’m on campus I passed that tree and in the in the warmer months you know
I’ve been known to go up and hug that tree cuz I’m that person and sometimes
that tree responds positively to that and sometimes it does not and so the
thing about the sting that happened one of the times I hugged that tree and that
tree was like and so that became a thing that I wanted to like kind of Express
because then I start wondering especially if I’m like kind of feeling
lonely in the world you know or like anxious in the world because I’m like if
there’s there’s like enough anxiety in the world without you really worried but
this semester I’ve really been worrying because there’s a spot there’s that red
spot in the I think of it as the armpit in the poem but in the pit there’s that
red spot and I’m like looking at that tree and I’m wondering is anybody else
noticing this is this a problem is this kind of like turned into a thing and it
like really becomes like a worry in my mind and there was another tree that was
like a favorite tree of mine on campus that did go through some changes where
it looks kind of sickly now and different and then I still have like
things in my head where I’m just like it’s getting sick because you’re just
looking at it too much and stuff and I think that’s so weird like what it’s
like to actually be in this madhouse up here that that becomes the thing that
I’m like how do you find the language for that to make it make sense to
somebody who’s just walking by and who’s like it’s done in that tree or like not
that interest like how do I make that interesting and how do I make it a point
of connection and how do I make it so like it’s a bridge so that we both feel
less lonely in the world becomes the project for me that answers yeah I feel like that’s the what where
do the ideas come from question is a is a common one and that might be because
none of us has ever given a satisfactory answer because it’s totally did I think
it’s totally different for each writer and even for each project that they’re
working on for me the best ideas usually surprise me it’s not what I’m trying to
do something or if I’m trying to do a thing this is the thing that I do by a
mistake and then I gradually realized that the mistake is the is the real
thing I tend to leave things a little undercooked – you talk about the sort of
the relationship between you the writer and the reader and how we come together
this this kind of like letting the reader fill in stuff not explaining
myself too much so that you gives you because as a reader I love the enigmatic
not the confusing but the enigmatic I say this in workshop a lot like you’re
explaining too much here or you’re not explaining quite enough here you want to
find that sweet spot where the reader feels this sense of discovery you know
not like they’re being lectured to and it’s kind of hard to achieve and and
really you know really for the first question it’s hard to know when you’ve
done it – it’s hard to know when it’s done I mean my answer to that question
would be it just isn’t it’s just not done ever anything I mean it’s printed
in a book eventually and then you can’t work on it anymore but as Larry I said
you just you do so anyway that’s kind of discursive answer but about 1/4 I don’t and I mean I like have to
preface this by saying so each of the books has taken I think it’s seven years
poetry like seven years to get like 48 pages out and so in and it’s not always
like kind of coming from an emotion or something like that and like I’m
obsessed I think I hope that you can hear it in my poems with physics is a
thing that is just like kind of constantly on my mind and that I’m
thinking about and let’s so sometimes like I’ll start thinking about a poem
and I better not lose it sense of immediacy as I’m working on it like over
revision over revision because sometimes I have to teach myself to the science to
be able to make the poem that I’m trying to make and like sometimes it’s like
shoving the science in there in a way that’s just like okay this is how this
all works and then pulling that out because it’s like that was for you that
was for you that was not for the poem that’s not going to be the thing that
makes this poem run and so how much of that is like that how much of that can
you just take out and do without in order to like kind of be left with
something distilled or like something that’s there’s some essence this has been a production of Cornell
University on the web at Cornell edu

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