This is the age of surrealism,
ordinary oil on ordinary canvas:
all those losing the noisy ghosts of slavery
all those who are scraping off wet paint
and those palm trees in the gardens
all Galerias de Arte in São Paulo.
They say: we are poor.
Some say: we are squatters.
There is the head of a man
and the eyes have no iris.
There is the male I and the
female I superimposed,
your rhythms on guitars, the bass drums,
You dance the Lundu.
You want to stay
when your favela is razed.
What are you going to do
with all this river water?
Your tin-roof shack on stilts?
Lundu – Brazilian traditional dance
After I buried the umbilical cords, the placentas,
the cauls; after I moved in with the lemon trees and
zinnias; after I escaped his fists, I slept in the orangery
on the putty-coloured couch; after I saw the waning
gibbous moon setting in the morning sky; after the
warble of swallows, a Sicilian folk song on a boombox:
“Ciuri, Ciuri”; after I mopped ceramic floor tiles with
water and vinegar, painted cerulean the rush chairs;
after the red brick house was separated by glass doors,
the concrete of a bunker kitchen, steep staircases: after
all that, I would take this verse and write sradicare,
uproot the wild roses, raspberry rhizomes, grasses.
And you’d ask: Why do you write about fetuses
and swallows, “Ciuri, Ciuri”? Flowers, Flowers.
You’ll ask: And where are the wild blueberries?
and the shrill octave C flute notes?
And the Sunday afternoon lessons
words by these dragonflies: Leave! Get out!
I’ll tell you the story.
It was the beginning of autumn,
a scalpelling of white bone lichen
and bones full of mud the colour of damp irises
all these surrealist collages
glued to canvas, newspaper clippings.
Crizzled azure sea glass.
Then one day fleeing his fists,
these streets, carrying these bags.
One day this was the city of the unspoken
all those stone houses as they watched as I
bore the moon’s night side. And those
who swaddled it in a yellow sickle caul.
Look at all those who dwelled there.
Look at my buried placentas.
And you’ll ask why ekphrasis
speaks as one of fracture.
A stilled world, living in frames?
In the long galleries
etch in aquatint a madder red.
Wild blueberry rhizomes that
resembled old coffins. The barrens.
Sometimes, can you explain to a bittern what war is? Now it gets closer as if it has a secret to tell. Clucks and booms: Huu bwong. Unk-er-lunk. Huu huu huu huu. Sometimes, for a while you feel free. Then you hear teacher’s voice: “Ilka, come and sit back here on this bench!” These bog lands you can’t understand. These watercolour paintings of Pirka Wood. Walled nunnery orchard. Rye fields. Marshes and reed grasses. Heather moorlands. The cotton rag paper, wrinkled from water, as if the surface was the skin. The goat hair brushes. Over the years, you withdraw. You get smaller, you lose fairy tales. Sometimes, can you explain to a bittern what a song is? Why you play marbles. Pig-tailed nine year old. Sometimes, you can’t understand why fourth grade teacher is touching you. Why blue horses come in your dreams. That snort and nicker and goad the rains. Wet poplar leaves in a bomb crater. A waning sickle moon. The creek. Why you are afraid to tell your mother. The thin paper.
Edgar Ende’s Cloth With Swallow (1946)
A long-lost myth, half-remembered
animal motif and architectonic fragment
these images of darkroom sketches
these epochs of distortion.
fighting it out in the ooze.
You pour gesso and let it fall across.
Skittering off every canvas
past the dogs, past the boars,
the foxes, the lizards
past giant sculptures
you call yourself a surrealist.
A flat plane devoid of texture
death themes, clumsy, naïve.
The figurative alienated.
This swallow voice.
Small misshapen swallow.
This is the barbed wire of the ghetto
all those killed by war
all those tortured
flanked by high brick walls
their degenerate art.
They say: Burn it!
You say: Auction them!
There is the rustle of the river reed
there is the evening sun.
There is the village,
Call her goddess of heath and yellow gorse. Tell her you have left the moon unlit. Snuggled into its folds. Swamp-fed forest creeks. Grafted to fen carr, sedge grasses. Dwarf blackberries. See if she believes you. You can neglect wood bluebells, red-purple milkweed, these rimes, flowerings begging for time. Paper birch trees that chafe refrains, disjunctions, oxygen for photosynthesis. How a butterfly pupa fastens its body to a green leaf before eclosing. Tell her it’s the Earth here. Tell her escape won’t work, this far into the scrub habitat. How over there in flattened boxes sits Pirka Ort, clawed wheat fields knotted in dirt. Excavating a nunnery manor. Cherry trees. Plum. Stripping away punctuation. Tell her that you are out here all alone. Tell her. You have summoned the wind. Swallows flying low. Smell of petrichor after rain falls. The blood of the stone. See if she believes you.
miniature gas masks
an empty glass milk bottle
rodents in the ground
live plutonium-packed prey
wind in pine forest
Ferris wheel in Pripyat
a camera drone
woodland around Chernobyl
song of marsh warbler
I will go now, learn the language of the
woods, and go to the huts, where the flautists
are practising, the sky violet. I will
learn the trees. Gneiss hillocks of mosses.
I shall weave and knot jute ropes around grey
bark and branches. Lime-green wings and
furry white body. Obits for those whose cairns are
missing, those who are numbers. Pupa of the
Luna moth eclosing, I will journey through
the Totenwald, a boggy, stygian fen.
Blueberries and wild roses standing in the sphagnum,
knots and ropes, using ropes as lines, an ode I use
to knot each piece, cocoon wrapped in leaves as home.
I will go now where river birch grows. Hold a
wake among rhodora, red osier dogwood withy.
I hear a small blackwater stream
quarrelling with metaphor. Acid rain in understory.
Wetness the shape of water on skin.
The bodies we speak of inhabiting.
Clutching monochrome negatives.
4e arrondissement of Paris
ma soeur Camille
destroying much of her oeuvre
silence back to silence
tearing all sketches.
In 1892, after an abortion
drawing us into a plum moon
set amid a wild overgrown garden
and we become spectral:
wrapped in a long maroon coat
recluse in her studio
at 19 Quai Bourbon
committed at Montdevergues Asylum
never touched clay, ever again.
You’ve come to the island north on the reef
waking up with the half moon
the air tasting of salt
knotted grass fishing nets
name it wind, or cloud
the sixth extinction
splashed pink by a mad painter
zooxanthellae, symbiotic algae
leaving a bare skeleton
overheated seawater placed
in clam shells you’ve offered
umbilical cord to the ocean.
Take a word such as children
or hunger, take a word such as stars.
Tell a story
Mud huts painted yellow or blue
created in the Dreamtime
eucalyptus and acacia and mangroves
rephotographing through long exposure,
geckos, skinks, snake.
Factories and cars and deforestation.
Unstretched cloth canvas. The many weeks I lived in here, in Terezin Ghetto.
A family group here, and another there. Memories trapped in erasure. Scraping through oils and ink. We are not safe, says one character. Scratching, sculpting away with palette knife. Grey ink running with the black ink. The painted people call to us. Shadow us. Possess us. I put down abstract marks. Look at my ancestors. Concerts in cellars and attics. Percussion, a cello, double bass. Lilac hills of Prague.
Sibilant hissing sounds. Windowless cattle wagons. Czech Nazi camp filled with bumblebees.
Such, such yellow sun. When I stood at the gate. Vanished house left unlatched. Not rifles. Not screams. Land of bluebells. Swamp milkweed. Tracing in figures. Until the lost lovers, parents, brother, and sisters, stand upon this wood easel. Children’s fairy tale opera called Brundibár. Kocour, the Cat. A dog and a sparrow.
a field of stones unstitched
it is an old, old sound
scavenger vultures. Grey coyote.
Cholla cactus, saguaro
standing high behind the stage
houses built of adobe
corrugated tin roofs
made a note
ochre hills and arroyos
four unrhymed quatrains
oracle for our times
eighteen-foot rusty steel fences
a new poetic photo book
are edges lost?
Crossing the Sonoran Desert
one unbroken waste, mesquite
rattlesnakes, tarantula, scorpions
a page or half a page.
White wooden crosses.
class of non-citizens
trying to cross into UK
stowaways on Chunnel trains
seeking asylum rights
scabrous echo chambers
peel back into wars
dangerous sea crossings
loops of razor wire fences
squatters at a landfill site
forest shanty town.
Serving one hot meal
bordering a motorway
cafés, small grocery stores
wooden huts, tarp tents
cold water taps, cell phones.
Do you spend the days with them?
shapes of home
stuck into pages.
Found portraits, maimed and rebuilt. Cyanotypes. Plum black shadows. Toned with oolong tea. Dot and circle. Gravel cul-de-sac.
Dailiness of the 1950s, filled with scrapbooks, birthday cakes and the etiquette of hats and gloves. Posting collage poetry, saddle shoes, crinolines. Rock’n’roll hits on the radio. “Blueberry Hill” belongs to which room of the repossessed house. A single, unknowable thing. A mother and a father, five children. Father’s whisky. War paranoia. Grandmother Mariska’s töltött káposzta, cabbage rolls. Poppy seed beigli. Reach towards longing. Other times, it is a process of looking: milkweed, ladybug, scent of blue pine. Out of focus. Sainte-Thérèse-De Blainville. Laurentides foothills. Sound at this hour. Wait for dawn. Turquoise. Shapeless taupe. Mille Îles River marshes. Mudflats.
where the dog rose blooms
dance of long-legged grey cranes
I listen to you tell, Éloïse. Years before this dream. Perhaps it is taboo because it is ugly. We are stripping corn and talking. I stare at your bruised face. Speaking the unspeakable. Why?
Putty coloured monochrome. You, and sycamore roots, clumps of clay. Under that, the Saint Lawrence River. Mice in kitchen pipes. Un mur mitoyen — semi-detached triplex sharing a common wall. Built in 1932. You, and back alley coal sheds covered with sheet metal. Milk in glass bottles. Laundry flapping on clotheslines. Everydayness. Your children in school. Or have they moved out to live on their own? How many times do you return and speak with him? Squatter in the ground floor loft. 700 square feet. Cold and grey. Shuttered Hochelaga typewriter store: rue Sainte-Catherine Est, corner rue Davidson. So begins a Saturday night. From street to street. Far from that woman with her reed baskets. Farm table and six mismatched jute cord chairs. Apple trees you planted, Éloïse. Raspberries.
This triplex, a first property, you say. You, and red brick with ochre mortar. Flat weave kilim rugs, unvarnished oak floors, catching a full moon. Sleeping in a brass bed with a lilac duvet. Leaving it rumpled. “I must lock the door,” you say.
Years before this dream. Orangerie winter garden. Purple roses, Éloïse. Old pattern coming back to the dance. No longer lied to.
Mártonfi József 1948 – 2015
When my brother was dying
I remembered the rocking horse
he received for Christmas
I wanted his gift
he was only six months old
and I was a faster rider
red, blue, and gold mane
leather bridle, harness
sitting under a tall pine tree
lit with red wax candles.
What can I say to him?
“Öcsi,” father called him. “Junior.”
A first son after four daughters.
“Silent Night, holy Night”
war refugees from Budapest
old Hütte — timber hut
in the Bavarian Forest foothills
a father and a mother
would I want that rocking horse
now that he was dying
in his sixty-seventh year
metastasized liver cancer.
What happens to the dead? I ask.
Living on a houseboat
Puget Sound, Washington
wetlands tidal marshes
the last outpost of the coast
carry his flight from the law
he didn’t answer letters
he married, twice