Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lea Graham, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You

Crush for a Once Sestina

O these sestinas jest / they cleave the hopsack
with know-how to browbeat
the latchkey / the tell-alls

Crochet the septums / & pub-crawl
scrawl the ample, outspread broad
crusade these wattles

Persuade rucksacks / squeegee the scatback
They nickname dead seas, nutgalls / A-frame us
in cul-de-sacs (our nodding gimcracks)
free-fall Rockaway / flank the zodiac, Mumbai

But for seawalls / & razorbacks
they could parboil chick-peas / go tenure-track
draft umiaks / counter-claim catcalls

O lawdy Miss Maudy! / is this the Tao
of Arnault Daniel? / or envois
up in the Armagnac?

Shellac the plimsolls! / confit the nightshade!
These sestinas / swaybacked
Neanderthals & coryphées
stink of menthol, meatballs / they deliquiesce
they merengue

We will stop
& smell / the sumac
yoke with them
After years of waiting, American poet Lea Graham, originally from Northwest Arkansas and now living and teaching in Poughkeepsie, New York, is now the published author of a first trade collection of poetry, her Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (Reston VA: No Tell Books, 2011), following her chapbook Calendar Girls (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2006). I have to admit, I'm not entirely a fan of the book's title, unclear why the change from the working title, “Crushes,” considering how the book works through the double-meaning of “Crush” in so many of them poems, including “Crush #90,” “A Crush in Dream Time,” “Crush from Ottawa,” “A Crush for Us All Back Then,” “Crush #40,” “Crush Starting with a Line by Jack Gilbert,” “Crush #28” and “Crushed in Poughkeepsie Time.” 

This is certainly a book of crushes, a collection, compiled and sorted and accumulated over a long period, including “Crush for a Once Sestina,” a wonderful response to Vancouver/Toronto poet Fenn Stewart'sThis used to be a sestina,” produced as a broadside by above/ground press.

Wine has no rudder & so we drink
vodka tonics, watch motions of this bay:

Current's brow, contracts moustache
to collar, radial. A face buried just

above the occipital bone, breathes
salt, summer hay, a small nest & respite

from cold in the 18th hour. We
fidget rough sheets, a dry heat. I story

sex with other men to stop from—
Built as a mix of “crush” poems, ranging crushes over time, the book holds together through a mix of styles, with cut lines and line-breaks, other poems as longer stretches of prose-poem, riding the variety itself that coheres the collection. Graham has some wonderful turns, some fantastic short pieces, accumulative poems and short sequences, but there is just something about her short prose-poems that have the potential to really transcend, and where, most often, the eye can't help but hold, for a moment or two. Crushed, one might say, beneath the weight.
Bridge Jumping/ W4M/ Poughkeepsie
(The Walkway)

You smelled of burning maps, smirked as to let slip the dogs of war. Not the stale slate windbreaker & steel-cut oats above the Hudson. I was whistling “Wake Up, Little Suzie” & wearing a huipil. Your crow's feet, tasseographical signs for journey of hindrance, diploma. The conversation went like giraffes fighting: How do you behead a poem like a horse? Why is the “ch” silent in “chthonic”? I refused your urge to push the mental health button, see what might appear: pair of falcons, oil cymes between trains, a child in a tiara. I told you the death rate was 1180 for every 1200 jumps, including Kid Courage. I told you in Hong Kong it's the most popular form. You said falling from this height blows your clothes off, denies the senses. You wondered what happened to the 20 who got away? Cross-winds, a unicycle & my Mets cap divided factors. But I keep thinking of you like Colomb & Williams thought of Wayne C. Booth, writing his voice into the third edition of The Craft of Research years after he died. I imagine you might fish endangered sturgeon & dream of Guernica on Thursdays. If so, write to me. We could go to sea in a sieve, double the blind, buck your tiger, bell my cat, leap this dark—

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