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translated from the Russian by the author 

 

On the other side of the wall we can see an old man, alone, hiding.
He is almost blind and does not speak.
He has no name that we know of, no country, no family.
One day, he’s gone.
A few weeks later, he’s back .
It is autumn, he has grown older, thinner than before.
The north wind blows hard.
The icy rain falls.
He is cold despite his clothes.
For it is already winter.
His skin is almost white.
We leave him.
As he will undoubtedly be dead before spring.

 

По другую сторону стены мы увидели одинокого старика, который прячется.
Он почти слепой и не разговаривает.
У него нет ни имени что нам известно, ни страны, ни семьи.
Однажды он исчезает.
Он снова возвращается через несколько недель.
Сейчас осень, он еще постарел, стал худее чем раньше.
Дует сильный северный ветер.
Идет ледяной дождь.
Ему холодно, хотя его одежда.
Потому что уже зима.
Его кожа почти белая.
Мы уходим.
Потому что, скорее всего, он умрет до весны.

 

 

 

 

We are Saturday.
The streetcars pass in the streets.
There are birds in the sky, bees on the roof, and mice in the ceiling.
They are waiting for the night to come out and eat any leftovers of my food.
There is also a small gecko on the terrace, fearful.
Sometimes the doves come and I give them seeds to eat.
Yesterday I painted a face, with my name in Russian and French,
on the red door of my apartment.
Then, later, I broke another door,
to help some locked out foreigner get into their place at night.
They had forgotten their keys inside.
Then I offered them a book.
I guess it was one of those days, not quite like the others.

 

Сегодня суббота.
По улицам ходят трамваи.
В небе есть птицы, на крыше пчелы, а на потолке мыши.
Они ждут ночи, чтобы выйти и съесть остатки моей еды.
На террасе также есть маленький, пугливый геккон.
Иногда приходят голуби, которым я даю семена на съедение.
Вчера я нарисовал лицо с моим именем на русском и французском языках
на красной двери моей квартиры.
Затем, посже, я разбил еще одну дверь,
чтобы помочь незнакомым людям входить в их квартире ночью.
Они забыли свои ключи там.
Потом я дал им один книгу.
Так бывают дни, не совсем такие, как другие.

 

 


artwork by the author

Order a copy of Cameron Quan Louie’s chapbook Apology Engine right here.

 

 

My therapist says trauma is simply an encounter with something that we cannot make sense of. I struggle to make sense of this. My therapist is skilled, practices the technique of self-disclosure, establishes rapport with me by confiding about her own trauma. As a young girl growing up on a farm, she witnessed the long, bloody birth of a calf in a barn. No explanation is the default. She says that trauma is stored and released in certain parts of the body, which is why we cry unexpectedly during yoga, arching and bowing our backs through the familiar sequence. Cat, cow. Why being overcome with feeling makes our throats shake. The vagus and the vague. If poetry troubles sense and multiplies the senses, that would make poets the professional purveyors of trauma! Just think! Teachers, performers, and poets laureate are paid to drive around traumatizing people, telling them how valuable, how necessary it is to be traumatized, even being thanked for the service. I have a plan: At the beginning and end of every poem, every work of art, the person responsible for it should get on their knees and beg for forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

The professor is mild-mannered, dresses in tasteful khakis and lumpy shoes. He is the kind of person who leans approachably, without any irony or self-possession, against his desk at the front of the room. We are a mixed class: Half of us are writers who are embarrassed and ashamed because we spend too much time writing and not enough time studying literature—its histories, theories, great pasty men—and the other half are devoted to the study of literature, but too embarrassed and ashamed to admit that they want to write themselves. Who apologizes to whom? The professor says, The thing about you writers is that you’re always thinking: How can I use this? What he means to say is that our ability to operate shamelesslyto separate reality from responsibility, to consume, is limitless. Our loved ones die in a fire, and all we want is a flawless description of the fire. I crackle in my plastic chair. The professor is not wrong.

 

 

I Found Jesus on a Billboard

 

Driving North on 95 my eyes were
nystagmic and numbness shot from
the tips of my fingers in South Carolina
all the way home to West Virginia.

 

Forty-eight-foot-wide bulletin selling God:
Worried? Jesus offers security.
There he was, palms outstretched, mighty supplicant!

 

I unclenched my jaw and saw my skin was not so scaly as
the night before—the lines of my hair not so sharp now.
Prayer can be turned over
and inspected again rather than
prated and pounded, in and in and in.

 

I thought about Father David in his waist-high waders,
cradling the back of my head
pinching my nose and plunging me—
the chlorine water didn’t smell like it had anything to do with Jesus.

 

I thought about the puckered Baptist spectators with hand fans,
beads of sweat cascading away from silver hairlines.
I thought about the Sunday School teacher
who hugged me when I came out sopping,
I thought about the dark circle my dripping hair made on her
holy bosom.

 

The congregation of tail-lights in front of me flashed Amen.

 

When I rolled the window down
the smell of burnt rubber filled the Civic—
crisp air lapping my face and pushing my hair back reminded me
I hadn’t slept in a couple days, and I smelled bad.

Four Poems

By Max Bien Kahn

Poetry

 

Below are four new poems by New Orleans-based musician Max Bien Kahn. His new EP, On the Floor EP, will be released on December 3rd. Preorder the EP here. Listen to a track from the EP right here.

 


 

small victory

 

got a full refund at the mall today
they asked me if anything was wrong
i told them:
it didn’t fit right
if i had told them:
i buried my mom in this shitty suit
and don’t want to look at it anymore
that would have been
something

 

 

chinese food

 

her last day was christmas
our last dinner was christmas eve
we sat around upstairs
in the tv room
the tv was off
she couldn’t walk downstairs anymore
i filled my plate with chinese takeout
and she choked on a bowl of tapioca
or whatever that nutritional slop was
spitting it up from time to time
and then declaring in her frail voice
i’m never gonna eat again
i put my plate down
i agreed

 

you did this on purpose
didn’t you
you brought us together for christmas
we always celebrated like good jews
we went to the movies
and ate chinese food
which you never wanted to eat
but we loved it
and you loved us
when we were all together
at a big round table
with a lazy susan
picking through the greasy pile
of what we call
chinese food
and you would swallow
and smile
because your family was eating together
and it was christmas

Four Poems

By Maria Canzano

Poetry

 

 

FLIES

 

I sit in the kitchen with the back door open 

and the man next door smokes 

he sounds like he could be my uncle 

or maybe one of the men 

who used to play cards below my bedroom window 

and hide from their wives in the summer

 

 

 

STRAWBERRY MARK

 

“the word for key again?” 

“chiave, chiave, chiave” 

to use the bathroom at the beach 

the corner of a spiky house 

the railing where I sat 

and then swung back 

I thought there would be a bump 

when I shaved my head a decade later 

but it was round as an allium flower 

what a funny compliment

 

Day 1: a song that reminds you of being 9 years old and drinking honeysuckles in the backyard after piano class while your mom pays the teacher

 

Day 2: a song that you listened to driving on the interstate for the first time, even though you weren’t allowed, and you got off one exit from where you got on because you were nervous

 

Day 3: a cover song that you never knew was a cover until someone at a party–where you were already feeling self conscious anyway–made you feel really stupid about it and now it’s the only thing you can remember when you think back on that party

 

Day 4: a song your coworker would always play and it used to annoy you but now you kind of love it and want to tell them, but you probably won’t

 

Day 5: a song that you only ever listened to 30 seconds of because it was on a “hit clip” that you got inside of a happy meal

 

Day 6: a song by someone you personally know that comes on shuffleevery time, like a cruel jokewhen you are just trying to make out and not think about your friends

 

Day 7: a song that always makes you think “i should do this at karaoke” but then you forget when you are actually at karaoke and you just do “Cowboy Take Me Away” again

 

Day 8: a song that feels like the first cold day in early October and it makes you want to cry from nostalgia but also smile with hope for the future and the combination makes your arm hairs tinglebut it could just be the cooler weather doing that

 

Day 9: a song that you only know about because it was featured on one of the biggest cultural influences of your generationan OC mix

 

Day 10: a song that you used to say you’d play at your wedding until you started questioning if getting married was ever something you would actually want to do and if you did, it probably wouldn’t be the kind of wedding with traditional “wedding dances” anyway

Three Sonnets

By Will Stanier

Poetry

 

 

Dark Sonnet

Two Poems

By Tobin Bartolo

Poetry

 

i never liked wearing hats
always reminded me of
many years in succession
playing baseball on a team

now i go to bed with my hat on
there’s no game on
there’s no one at the field
no glove, no team, no bat

it would be fun to play a game
with a team again
would you be on the team?
if you like, you can design the hats

 

Mark Leidner weaponizes the deadpan tone of a defeated world to reclaim that classically Romantic thing: the Sublime. Weaponizes like the weapon is a water gun; reclaims like he’s won a water gun contest and the reward is the end of global warming. In Returning the Sword to the Stone, Mark isolates the scenes of absurdity that string our inner lives together while gesturing toward the authenticities still available to us at this late date, this deeply stupid, cynical, and sentimental moment in history. Reading this collection was re-invigorating and a reminder that the opposite of stupidity is not intelligence but love.

 

Mark is a generous, wise, and witty writer. This interview was conducted by email.

 

While reading these poems, I was reminded of the D W Winnicott line where he says flippancy is a reaction to despair. What do you think is the relationship between that attitude and that feeling in your work? Does playfulness exist in concert with futility/frustration, or is it something purer and more simply fun?

 

I try to pair flippancy with something else — some other kind of seriousness, a lyricism, a formal constraint — to create tension. My favorite poetry is flippant yet not, playful yet ferocious, silly but provocative. Such conflicts are also the way I feel most of the time: despairing yet ready to laugh, contemptful yet looking to show mercy, skeptical but hoping to be naïve, etc.

 

Following on that, what or who is the contempt directed toward? The idealism here seems to be connected to love – the marveling at your subject who recites “Having a Coke with You” is one of the most moving invocations of love I’ve read in a long time. I love how that poem lifts off. Do you feel idealistic about love and love for writing? Or, why was it important to you to write a love poem where what you love is how much someone loves something else and loves sharing that something else with someone else?

 

I try to reserve the majority of my contempt for my own greed, vanity, and pettiness, but it often sprawls into contempt for the same qualities in others or the culture generally. While I’m idealistic about love and writing most of the time, that idealism is freighted with contempt for the deluding character of love and poetry. I usually feel satisfied with a poem’s honesty about poetry if it has at least little of both of these impulses in it.

 

In “Having a Coke with You,” I was recording a real-life event that spontaneously happened, so I didn’t think too much about underlying whys. In retrospect, it makes sense that I’d want to write this poem and put it in the book because it does present an ideal of love I believe in. Loving someone or something outside yourself is one way to escape the claustrophobia of exclusive self-regard. Loving someone outside yourself who in turn loves something outside themselves — poetry in this case, or a way of relating to it — seems like a more liberating extension of that transcendent space.

 

Transcendence calls to mind the moments of almost gleeful resignation in the collection: in the title poem, returning the sword to the stone (in all its forms) seems to indicate some abdication of expectation that sets you free. Is this act of playfully loving your limits (Sisyphus licking the stone) the same as humility?

 

We all face limitations we have no control over, mortality being the main one. I think learning to accept limitations, and possibly even to love them, is one pinnacle of wisdom. There is that Eliot line from the Four Quartets: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” Someone quoted it to me once, and I often return to it. In Returning the Sword to the Stone I wanted to explore it.

 

The Big Bang Never Happened

 

Turtle shells and yarrow stalks became Chinese
tools of divination. Metagalaxy and antimatter
appeared in books. Mom said I get upset
because I think too much. Everything is spinning.
Cities torture trees. Suburbs farm powerlines.
Cats and birds are always cleaning themselves.
The universe is bigger and older than we thought.
Two galaxies can collide with no star collisions.
Mom said the less we think the happier we’ll become.
Little gifts from her made me cry years later.
All my prior selves seem unconscious later on.
Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies is an American book.

 


artwork by Tao Lin

 

Below are five poems from Will Stanier’s chapbook Everything Happens Next, forthcoming from blue arrangements. Preorder a copy of the chapbook right here. (Preorders come with a special surprise.)

 

 

Parade

 

     sitting wasting time
thereby seize it
      sounds
so aggressive. 

 

     hear actors rehearse
clunky dialogue,
          feet sweaty in flannel lining, look up
and there’s the sky again. 

 

I’m glad not to be sick
     after drinking too much,
           to be without hermeneutics,
     whatever those are. 

 

a man walks by rolling a double bass
                  on a single wheel.
my friend walks by talking on the phone,
     red tassels bouncing
           at the cuffs of her jeans. 

 

     three watermelon lozenges
turn my tongue sugary pink.
      I see a beautiful woman,
             I see a lot of people. 

 

 

◊ ◊ ◊

 

 

Murmurs

 

what in the dream has eight
corners?     I don’t know!

 

pinhole camera of my hand, fingers splayed against
the sky   swarming, blushing   in edges and inlets

 

“funny the oneiric specters, like I was
supposed to know about things I didn’t . . .”

 

near the trestle bridge made famous
as regular people out for a walk refused to be our project.

Two Poems

By Phoebe VanDusen

Poetry

 

Night Terrors as Self-portrait 

 

Tonight, I am your commercial
daughter, no swallow just bite
and smile. You see, this bed
is my cacophony, my nothing,
my halves, my faithful herd
dog, my white flag of surrender,
my thrash for help. This is where
you can tell I am fractured.
I’m ashamed of all my shame
I try to make sense of my sins,
of my cervix, I throw a service
for my ex-lovers. I dress them
in shrouds of toothbrushes and guilt.
I force them to compliment my body
of written work. Inside my humid
head, I am as lonely as a tyrant, irate
aiming for the jugular. I slice all mangos,
lace, and air. I fuck the faceless
goblin in the gothic attic, overcome
I weep above his dead green
body, and then I say hello!
Hello, sack of talking peeled grapes!
Hello, my rapist!
Hello, lobster devouring my boss’s head!
Hello, celebrity I can’t quite place!
Hello, woman who broke my heart!
What you have all heard is true, I am not
a good person but I know that I could be
a fantastic goat.

Three Poems

By Devon Welsh

Poetry

 

 

Bongos

 

for mama

 

chemtrails made the sky a crossword
and the day was chillier than yesterday

 

I played the bongos at your grave
to say thanks for the music

 

imagining a child doing fortnite dances
in the new grass on the hole you lay in

 

I would have been that kid
if I had been born in 2008

 

too old to be an Obama baby
too childish to have a baby.

 

I’d heard they’d have the cure for cancer
by the time I got cancer

 

which could be true,
but not for you.

 

(this isn’t how he really died
he was cremated

 

in LA and it was hot outside
and I wasn’t even there)

4 poems

By Elizabeth Ellen

Poetry

 

for garielle lutz

 

(the) Conjuring

 

As a new hobby, I think about sabotaging our relationship. I think about this a lot while we’re at Home Depot looking at Christmas lights.

“If we ended it right now, think about how good it would end,” I say.

You look at me funny when I say this. We are each buying a new Dustbuster, tho for some reason yours costs twenty dollars more than mine.

“I don’t get you, baby, why would you say shit like that?” you say, your mask under your nose. “If you want to break up with me, just do it; get it over with.”

But that’s not what I’m saying at all.

 

I spend another twenty minutes after dinner fantasizing about ending things. You come in from smoking and playing video games on my front porch and I’m crying and crying. I thought you’d left.

“I’m just so tired,” I say. I am apologetic. (I am your baby, your baby girl.)

 

I hide my eyes with your hands. An hour ago you wanted me to dominate you. Thigh highs, cock ring, handcuffs. You can’t get more All-American than that.

 

When you come inside me you say: shit, goddamn, fuck.
When you come inside I say, “We better break up now,” and I am crying and crying.