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Contingency: Reading Between the Genres Mills College Art Museum March 3, 2010 Act I: shadows Jessica Langlois HK Rainey Shannon McKeehen Marjorie Jensen Act II: roads Meg Day Leigh Gardner Shelly Gomez Michelle Puckett Act III: making space Noel Fagerhaugh Raphael Cohen Emily Roehl Sponsored by the Department of English and the Place for Writers Â

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Act I shadows

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Jessica Langlois From the rocks north of the old city—great, dirty-pearl colored and sharp edged rocks—I rose high over the fortified Adriatic Jewel. Squinting across the slim inlet of sea, I looked down on the paths embedded atop in the famous walls. They were thick with walkers and the sun was ripe noon. HK Rainey Seven Days of Forgetting Monday: My sister says remember when and I try. I do. But when I think of home or picture summer— A hot haze, heat a bright and a hidden path down beside a chain link fence— a willow and an apple tree all I really remember is a strand of my bark-brown hair before my eyes. And how heat has no noise. Tuesday: I remember small places. The space beside the upright piano and the wall the cold plaster against my back while I cried because now that I think back, I don’t recall you reading to me like that. Your voice You’ll be fine. We all will. Page 4

Jessica Langlois Suddenly, I realized the rocks around me were alive. Their creases rattled. For stretched, tenuous minutes, I froze, knowing the sound I heard was coming from stealthy, hidden snakes. They were waiting to lunge out of their cool, dark crevasses, snap at my skin, at me, the intruder. I stood, sweat-soaked, and waited. What if I die here alone on these rocks? I thought, my heart rapid, trying to beat its way out of my chest, out of my stone-still body. I stood, sweat-soaked, and waited. What will my mother do? Who will find me up here, collapsed and sweating poison? And if I were to numb under the venom, crash into the Adriatic, what then? Who would ever know? I stood, sweat-soaked, and waited. HK Rainey Wednesday: One day, I had walked up the mountain away from the cabin smoke pouring from the chimney. It was fall and I wore warm clothing. On the hillside, someone had started to build a brick wall or the wall had been built but had fallen. I came back at dusk, through the trees, no one calling me home. Thursday: Two pillows before the window a winter ice seeping in— the women are in the bed, laughing; the men on the living room sofas. Mother points to the window and I lay down across the room years and years from them.

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It will take me half my life to find them all again. Friday: Often I dreamed of a bird, unkind and full of wings. Sometimes, the bird dreamed of me. Jessica Langlois There were no rattlesnakes in Croatia. These were flirting cicadas, rubbing iridescent wings together and buzzing sensual. HK Rainey Saturday: I have told you all I have the heart to say and probably all I remember of my heart. Once there was a wagon filled with hay, and once stones were thrown into the water. One day, a boy pulled down his pants on the corner of my street. One day, I pulled down my pants and let a boy touch me. Sunday: There was always a boy.

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Jessica Langlois


Releasing myself from the still prison of my body, I cautiously moved over the rocks. The cicadas sang around me, accompanying me forward. I had survived a snake bite, an enormous fall, a watery, anonymous death. Maybe I would venture as far as the stone remains of a military watch bungalow. Maybe, continuing north, I would climb through an unexpected garden. Maybe I would make it down to the water’s edge, find a private spot, hide my camera, and decide not to hike the thirty minutes back to the hostel for my bathing suit. Maybe I would swim out from shore, in the bathwater ocean, unadorned, floating on salt, and stay there, cupped by the slow waves, alive in a part of the world I had never before felt pulse against my skin, crisp the ends of my hair, and, at last, feel very grateful to be… alone. HK Rainey Just Now I thought of a parking lot on the intersection of 7th Avenue and 10th Street Southeast where to this day a fat, sluggish boy stands with his pants down. Hey you! he calls and I turn. He waves his wanker at me and it doesn’t seem threatening exactly more like an almost friendly hello an uncertainty, a question about to be answered or the second before recognition dawns: a familiar face you are about to slap.

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Shannon McKeehen Starved in public, I am the paper weight, waiting to move, your hand over me, under gravity's constant spell. Marjorie Jensen Inside this shell, there are many bomblets, mistaken for toys or food. I reach out, in hunger, losing pieces of myself. Shannon McKeehen I am artificial-insect in amber, a novelty trapped and adored. Marjorie Jensen I mix you, her- a concoction that will split like the apocalyptic atom. There are stages, they say, phases to outgrow. Over the traps that will detonate.

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Shannon McKeehen Look at me-Look at me-Symmetry frozen in place, Marjorie Jensen What remains when the physical is gone? I am only electric impulses. The power structure is built around me, contaminates zones, limits my access. Shannon McKeehen Look at me-Look at me-Symmetry frozen in place, while you pluck the gray hairs from your vocabulary. Marjorie Jensen What remains when the physical is gone? I am only electric impulses. The power structure is built around me, contaminates zones, limits my access. Creates arbitrary combinationsBlue Peacock. papilio arcturus. I teach it how to fly without coming apart.

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Act II roads

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Meg Day I came here looking for my mother. This is the twelfth cemetery I’ve visited in the three years since she died & Tulocay Cemetery & Crematory in Napa, California is no different; none of them hold names I recognize. Leigh Gardner my sister and i run for hours through the burning desert fold and unfold loosen the strings a blood full of holes somewhere our father builds a boat our mother fills jars with smoke Meg Day The fact that I am even here, sitting alongside the grave marker of one David Edelstein, is evidence enough of something marvelous at work. The desire to find proof, to prolong memory, to run fingers across the headstone of the past in hopes of learning something new on behalf of the present.

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Leigh Gardner south of tucson dusty baseball caps in trees beside gravel roads empty gatorade bottles pale signs remind us that littering is illegal Meg Day I’ve been sitting & talking with Mr Edelstein for a while now; like talking to the new tenant of a house you lived in as a child, there’s a connection in the physical space being occupied, if not in the actual conversation. I don’t know Mr Edelstein or who grieves for him now, but I know the smell of freshly kempt grass, the feel of topsoil soaking through the knees of my jeans, of cold cement smooth & unforgiving like metal. I know the sound of stones being stacked, of the only Hebrew I know being blurred out in what always seems like sharp, cold cemetery stillness. I know I’m projecting my grief onto these symbols, onto this space — & yet when I pause to look up, I’m always surprised to see David Edelstein’s name & not my mother’s. Leigh Gardner scarecrow : target : effigy : a mass of straw formed to resemble a man : face

prairie road body


blood shoes fence wallet bones truck faggot Page 13

Meg Day The markers of our living don’t carry over to the markers of our death; there are no gravestones here with any acknowledgement of the things that made up an individual’s identity, no rainbow flags or raised fists carved into stone. Just names. There’s nothing to learn here, and yet I’m so anxious to finally find her resting place, the true resting place. What about the allure of history makes me think it will change the present? What is it about the idea of tangible, timeless proof that invites me to believe a stone in the ground will make any difference? As I was walking through the lines of headstones on my way back to the car, I considered the yard as lines of text. I’ve been working in the book arts printing studio this semester, participating in the totally meditative & laborious process of setting metal type, one letter at a time. If typeface is meant to enhance the reading of a text without becoming obtrusive in its comprehension by a reader, what does this tell us about the “font” of the poem that is a cemetery? Why such broad lines & tree-barren landscape, why such predictable imagery? What is it that has so strongly fueled my desire to remember that I’ve driven thousands of miles in the last three years looking for answers in a place that obviously can’t provide them? What is it that we hope to learn from human’s interruption of nature’s reclamation?

Leigh Gardner Cartography Inside the dark, cool house, my sister and I grab handfuls of paper and boxes of markers. We map our house, draw all the right angles of rooms, the square windows. We carefully label all the rooms, the kitchen, the living room, the dining room with its perfectly rectangular table.

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Bored, we take our paper and markers out to the sunshine. We play in the dust of the backyard, pull out the garden hose, and let the water run. We scoop wet sand aside, encouraging streams and pools. My sister and I sit in the dirt, trace out the design of our waterway, squint back the sun bouncing off the white paper into our eyes. We draw the shapes of the water, the trees and the rocks, make a map. A pond becomes deadly quicksand; weeds are walking, talking trees; there are cactus jungles, and oceans full of monsters. We name everything after ourselves. We have forests, rivers, and continents all in our honor. The entire globe fits in our backyard and it is all re-named. We know that we would not have been able to find all these places if we did not already know them somewhere in ourselves.

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We know this is the world we will live in, one we have named, claimed as our own. Shelly Gomez Conquista Soledad hugs her corner rises straight from gutters to touch the sky her dimpled shell is smudged with soot the fiery cries of Revolution and all that needed to burn one cannot tell by looking whether God still lives inside The Pope pressed his thumb into each province, Legba Aztlan, Allah touched them too some are loved by people with paint, Iglesia Mayor, though one cannot tell by looking if love lives inside el Jefe was smart enough to let the people choose their prison  Page 16

Michelle Puckett   sound of texans. belt buckle with three golden guns. a stadium lit as the Virgin. white asterisks orbit the rim. women’s voices sweet like the smell of pie. two tiny bottles of Wild Turkey mixed with Sprite. paid for with coupons. Black Jack video game. one eye pussing and closed (no eyeball). when I scoot past she holds my hips where they curve to waist. I flinch at the intimacy of it. I had forgotten. Dallas, unraveling {crushes, then coos} all sugar-knived and hot. these women look as if they’ve never sweated. lipstick solid. is this how I look in California. apparently, someone has lost a child. I tell the flight attendant I am a poet. she asks what rock I’ve been under. Shelly Gomez when the Revolution came anyone who had something was painted as a thief and the people who had to steal to eat were caught in the delirium of blame what do you give a person with nothing? a finger to point with a gun inside they will give you power

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(people were dying, bombs exploding in the center of town) before grandfather had three stores he had two kids and no home of his own. I watched days and into the night for what he gave us sweet man, he turned no one away overnight, she said, overnight it was gone how can a life of work come to nothing (people disappeared) Michelle Puckett to know the body is to know the map “…what if talent only count(s) when it (is) noticed by an outside party who (knows) how to get North.” – Selah Saterstrom place ankle bones over ears & breathe & salt & milk & sea; the help of the crush

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of suspension the way one part carries the redistributed weight policed, in small public the hand is slow in darkness something lukewarm, endless tip of tongue, the other room’s pine becoming stronger, equivalent forests, & what they mean to this page the look of my name, in someone else’s hand similar & scourge errata & dirge palsy as filigree, as rococo taken to mean florid – this labor beneath ornate terror, palsied and severed one bloody thing, flapping in opened wind rhythm beating a mini-series akin to “Dynasty”, but with a working-class kind of opulence camera moving slow over the body of a fourteen year old in a trailer park, light lengthening the space between thigh and calf, each hair aglow in poor sun listen, this is how jeans with holes become popular (it is our dignity) (it is their wealth) consider the Southwest place an accent in the baby’s name, keep pronunciation for us, alone remember the beating flag of arm ecstatic indifference, the hands, still shaking: you know full well, any place below another will always be called South

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Shelly Gomez the Secret is in the Language en el Pueblo de Florida a building large enough for columns wears block letters on its forehead “El Futuro es La Paz” the eaves are crumbling many things are old here the train has no doors few windows, painted once in bright colors and glazed with tenacity some, wounded, peel away others hold on it rumbles slowly heavy with passengers all carrying time like gladiola, and rain that doesn’t bother with promises it’s coming when it comes

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Act III making space

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Noel Fagerhaugh The space of Rae Armantrout’s poems is a space of infinite play, relentless questioning and feminist transformation. Rae Armantrout is associated with the group, known as the “language poets,” or Lang Po writers, who lived and wrote in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1970s and 80s. She was then in her 20s, and friends with the likes of Ron Silliman and Lyn Hijinian, two other notable poets also associated with the group. Other groups of Language writers sprung up in the New York and D.C. areas as well. While associated with the Language poets, her work has resisted categorization that confines it to any one set of limits. In her essay “Femininst Poetics and the Meaning of Clarity, Armantrout argues that use of conventional forms as medium for drawing attention to women’s oppression is merely a collusion of hegemonic power, that the adherence to the “univocal, more or less plainspoken, short narrative often culminating in a sort of epiphany” is a silencing, in part, of the dualism that is at the heart of oppression: the need to see one’s self through the eyes of the oppressor as well as from the perspective of a subaltern, in need of all views in order to survive within a society hostile to, or merely unconcerned with, one’s own condition. In Armantrout’s work this acknowledgment of the double bind of the oppressed is evident in her use of multiple voices and in her recognition of the power that this position incurs, the power of the margins, the crossroads. From this position, women, and all outsiders, have access to multiple views and perspectives from which to imagine alternate futures, to challenge conventions and appreciate the “constructedness of the identity.”(Armantrout 3, 9) In this essay, Armantrout gives her argument against the “totalizing metaphor” and its use by feminist poets. She states that this use of single voice, single metaphor creates a false sense of “order and clarity” by silencing any internal dissent. This, she writes, runs counter to the reality of woman’s experience within mainstream culture as “internally divided,” as raised on conflicting messages that she be both “Sleeping Beauty” and “Wonder Woman.”(8)

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Rather than using the lulling, single metaphor, Armantrout invites the opposing, conflicting voices into the space of her work and uses them as parts with which she assembles her composite characters. In the selection of poems titled Veil we hear from a doll that tells the speaker “to exist.”(Armantrout 6, 131) In the same collection we here from a sign on a door that even gets a voice in the poem when it states: “Don’t exist.”(126) By giving both these statements room in her work, Armantrout forces her readers to question alongside her when she examines these crashing messages and the place they get recorded onto the psyche. The best example of this internal conflict (and of women having to choose the lesser of many evils) at work in her writing is the poem titled “The Plot” in Veil, in which she mashes biblical metaphors, myths (both ancient and current) and folk tale characters to reveal the “plot” of sexism at work in the socialization of women from so many points within culture. The threads in this piece weave together the cautionary tales of Rumpelstiltskin, Adam and Eve, and Penelope, along with Hollywood’s new myth of the “sexy bored housewife.” As women we are set the impossible tasks of piecing together our identities from our relations to men: of preserving male pride, of remaining objects of male desire, and as defender of our “firstborn” children or creations. Rather than allow culture to shape our identities, Armantrout calls for her reader to consider the Ouroboros and the option this myth proposes: that of swallowing one’s own tail/tale in an act of perpetual self re-creation. Again, Armantrout gives the tale her own twist in the end, where she gives Penelope the power to make her suitors wait forever on her, rather than having a choice forced upon her.

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Raphael Cohen (sung) go… searching for yourself in stories suppressed the roots and the branches family trees neglect go searching for yourself in stories submerged your place in this puzzle now it need be unearthed go searching for yourself in stories forgotten or should i say swept away ancestors haunted haunted… haunted… by placelessness designation as stranger ever pervasive thread and framework it’s an overcast December dawn from a fifth story apartment overlooking the Hudson river inside which i just woke up i’m visiting my makers for a week’s worth of winter vacating and i’ve risen earlier than usual dreamscape all diced up

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with images of running/ being chased in the dark a soundtrack of screams/ their source unseen the apartment’s completely quiet save for the whispered prayers i hear my father reciting so delicate/ yet determined welcoming a new day the same way he has for the last 70 yearstallis shawl across his shoulders tefillin phylacteries on arm and forehead a laminated sheet of paper yellowing at its edges rests in his hand offering printed direction though the text inevitably engrained in his memory unbeknownst to dad i’m peeping his ritual through open bedroom door recalling how he taught me it about half my life ago and how i kept the same practice for roughly a year or two before bowing out deeming this tradition someone else’s truth

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when suddenly my sight’s seized by a stack of stamped envelopes on dining room tablewhat i quickly come to realize are end-of-year donations the ’rents are sending out to organizations they supportatop the pile i see/ then grab a dispatch directed with pre-printed logo and address to JNF the Jewish National Fund!?!?a group established just after the 20th century set in with the expressed intent of purchasing earth in historic Palestine for Zionist settlementthese the folks responsible for ensuring 90% of all land in what’s now Israel can only be owned by Jews i haven’t told my family nor do i have any plans to that a coalition i’m involved in sat down last week

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to sketch initial plans for a border-crossing boycott and sanctions campaign against JNF citing them as pre-eminent player in the predatory project of Palestinian dispossession i’m on the precipice of a panic attack seeing that star of david pimped for propaganda’s sake in ink print on envelope carrying a contribution my father considers crucial as Israel concludes day five of its current bomb onslaught upon the people of Gaza i retreat to my bedroom which isn’t my bedroom sit down with head in hands distraught over day’s beginning then look up at a bookshelf and see my mother’s father staring back at me from inside a photo frame made of wood and metal haunted… haunted… mom’s family comes from Poland dad’s family comes from Egypt

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Jews of distinctly dissimilar cultures still they shared that outsider status even at assimilation’s height that fright, that fear of pogroms, of expulsion a shadow persistent a neuroses relentless no sense of public acceptance could shake it no cantor’s sweet hymns could assuage it

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Emily Roehl The Psychoanalysis of the Contents of a ’97 Buick LeSabre I drive a steely blue Buick LeSabre with plush blue fabric seats. He is not a sexy car. His name is Davenport, which is what grandparents in the Midwest call couches. I found him at a used car dealership next to a cornfield outside Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was trading in a station wagon—Woodrow Wilson—named for the peeling strip of faux bois glued to his side. I don’t remember what I thought of Davenport when I first saw him except that he was shiny. The sun was setting as we drove back toward the city and I whispered my goodbyes to Wilson. The light on the horizon was orange and the sky above us was blue like Davenport, blue like possibility, blue like going somewhere. When Davenport is clean, his body glistens—tiny flecks of silver in the paint make him shimmer like sunlight on the surface of still water. But Davenport is never clean. Crusty grey remains of bird droppings leave trails from the roof down the side doors and a transparent layer of bug scum coats the front bumper. There is a dent in the back passenger door that he mysteriously acquired one day while I was getting groceries. The dashboard is thick with dust that manages to be chalky and greasy at once. A stuffed orange tiger presides over the gritty dashboard, his coat faded around the back of his head and neck from being exposed to the sun. A defunct car freshener and a washed out achievement ribbon hang from the gearshift; one is a cowgirl stroking the head of a horse, the other has the words “I like myself” printed on a dull yellow background. Davenport has one of those cup holders that folds out of the storage divider between the seats. The floor beneath the driver’s side is blotchy with coffee stains, the signature of bleary-eyed road trips and an altogether useless foldout cup holder. Davenport and I like to take long trips together; we’ve gone from California to Minnesota and back, alone, twice. He’s a good road trip companion; his seats are cushy and the radio…works. There’s an adaptor that connects the tape player to another device, and I’ve used it so long the tape has melted into the slot and I have to stick my finger in and lift up on the warped plastic…just…so…to get it to play properly. I am very good at this.

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I’ve collected a lot of dust and a couple of trinkets traveling around, and my license plate has remained the same. Davenport’s South Dakota registration card says I’m not from around here. This is why I keep my South Dakota plates. My dirty, spotted car tells me I’ve been places, and my registration says I’m not staying. So long as I never drive through South Dakota, I can feel like I’m going somewhere, like the blue horizon extends indefinitely, like I don’t have to stop moving. Davenport and I—together—will shimmer in the sunset light of a hundred vanishing highways. We don’t have to be pretty, or accomplished, or clean, or well-tuned, or talented, or calibrated, or waxed, or envied. We just have to keep moving.

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Edited by Emily Roehl / March 2010 Page 33

Contingency: Reading Between the Genres Produced by the Mills College English Department and the Place for Writers March 2010 / Oakland, California Page 34

Contingency: Place  
Contingency: Place  

March / 2010