On Birds / Wings / Roads / Silence

Page 1



ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE Dottie Lo Bue


This book is funded by the Instructionally Related Activities Grant of California State University, Stanislaus. California State University, Stanislaus Penumbra Literary and Art Journal 1 University Cr. Turlock, CA 95382 Cover design by Dottie Lo Bue Copyright © 2021 by Dottie Lo Bue Penumbra Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Penumbra Press is an extension of Penumbra and Penumbra Online. For more information, see our website at www.penumbraonline.org.


The Penumbra Press Selection Process In the early days of our team’s meetings, we already knew that we wanted to highlight works that demonstrated original, evocative, and challenging content. We also knew that our chapbooks should be structured around a powerful central theme, be it cultural, historical, or systemic. We wanted to find works that brought us into places that we only seldom wander—those special zones of thought that express vivid bursts of insight and potent commentary. To our great fortune, we were met with a wealth of fantastic content, which truly tested our already high quality standards. After months of exhaustive and detailed evaluation, we found three poets who stood out as especially strong voices, those with keen talents for expressing both subtle and sublime imagery centered around powerful themes. We present those authors here, as Penumbra Press’s first ever chapbook authors. This poetry collection was selected by the Penumbra staff fairly unanimously, as we all were quick to fall for Dottie’s visceral imagery, unique word-play, and haunting themes. Dottie’s ability to invite the reader in, to let the speaker share their darkest secrets and most profound epiphanies, both captivated and intrigued our staff to keep reading, curious as to see how the story plays out. In particular, we as a staff especially enjoyed the poem “BIRDS OF PARADISE” for its interesting, play-like set up in contrast with its frank and ambiguous dialogue. Many of Dottie’s poems tackle difficult subjects in a refreshing way, and her personable style makes the reader feel uncomfortably at home. Her poetry challenges the reader to view things in new perspectives, which we at Penumbra Press find especially charming. We hope you agree as you read ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE.



ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE RUNNER, WHERE ARE YOU GOING? 4 SIX FIFTY-SIX AM, 5 POMPEII, 6 POWER-FED BOY, 7 RABBIT-HEART, 8 BIRDS OF PARADISE, 9 DUSK, 10 AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL, 11 SCI-FI MOON, 12 CAPTIVE AUDIENCE, 13 KEEPER OF THIS LEGEND, 14 KEEPER OFTHE FUTURE, 15 NOTES FOR THE DREAMER, 16 (CENTRALIA) 17 CIRCUMSTANCE, 18 AFTER-LIFE CUSTOMER SERVICE HOTLINE, 19 (DEATH IS THE BOY NEXT DOOR) 20 SOUND, 21 PHILOSOPHER, 22 GHOST HUNTER, 23 HEY, 24 NOVEMBER, 25 (REPARATIONS FOR THE SONGBIRD) 26 ARCHIMEDES, 27 QUIET, SILENCE, HOME, OR ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN, 28 ENDINGS AND EXPECTATION, 29



RUNNER, WHERE ARE YOU GOING? look up. with double vision, you only need half the stars to get somewhere. * the junkyard by the river knows my name and how i deal in periphery and half-raised hands and just-held breaths and how i thought once as a child that i was dying, fast. it was spring or summer and i’d had enough strawberries to throw up red, red, red, and honestly, i believed it was my heart there in the grass. my only thought was this is it – that this was death and at the end, the world was whisper-silent. i told the junkyard by the river this and it just said some love has a soft, soft voice. * runner, tonight it’s very quiet.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

4


SIX FIFTY-SIX AM, i woke to a man screaming in the alley behind my house. his voice: familiar, raw-granite, excavated and thrown from the deep pit of the quarry. he will never know that i, inside my house, hear him and recognize the sound. * visualize this: the molecules that make up your body are stones stacked together. * i wake up and write a letter to myself: you are a pile of rocks in a garden. in that garden, wind is a glitch in stillness. go back to sleep, please. things will get better. i dream of the garden. one side of a stone is sunwarm and sure. its sister, face down in the soil, makes this possible. * i wish i had planted shade trees years ago. there is no fruit, but phantom bugs are careful on thin thin skin and the wind is here again.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

5


POMPEII, the size of the sun does not matter. i lay my gossip down at your feet like a fragile thing half alive in the sand, half something else entirely. hello, great big thing that i’m afraid of. you are a scratch in my eye, but i have seen enough of this place to know that even an enemy needs water to live, and well, if you learn anything from me, let it be that you can have both low self-esteem and high self-respect. i promise. here is something about me: i have always felt like worry is medicine. i was not made for music or words or movement, but here, the ocean has gone held-breath quiet and i am listening, i swear it.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

6


POWER-FED BOY, how your stomach must hurt. you did not begin as a coal mine but they looked at you and said now, here is potential. they said bury the heart and let the dirt weigh it down and the pressure of every ounce of masculinity that came before you will make a fossil of who you could have been into something new and worth fearing. they will shovel it back into your chest through your mouth if you let them, until it sits in your lungs and fills your stomach to the brim and stays there. it will be heavy. they will name you profit and power and fuel. they will call you a Man (capital M). smoldering ember, they'll call you the sun as they burn you to warm their big houses at night.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

7


RABBIT-HEART, when i drive a car i'm afraid i might kill someone, but i know you— you are summer-warm engine and alive. wolf-heart, i don't want to be a bullet. i will take up a mouthful of gravel to weigh me down before i run. dreamer, when the train doors swallow you up you'll find the amtrak smells like sweat, the quiet car is to the left, and they will check your ticket for dust. you must let them take it from your shaking hands and clip your paper wings because you may only fly here once.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

8


BIRDS OF PARADISE, some guy looks at flower and calls it bird, but like a good bird, in a good place. BIRD FLOWER says: i did not crawl out of this seed to be a metaphor, but if it will get me closer to heaven than this ground is, i’ll be it. SOME GUY says: you are already in paradise. BIRD FLOWER says: no no no God no. there are worms here. SOME GUY says: i don’t see any worms. BIRD FLOWER says: you are only looking at the surface.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

9


DUSK, this might sound made-up, but i’m watching a dog watching a cat watching a bird and hoping to God that the creature watching me is kind. as it turns out, each thing must take to live and i did not agree to this. i’m told that this whole time i have not really lived a life and at this point, i do not plan to try it. tonight my shoes are filled with cemetery dirt, once-hallowed ground shoveled into the back of an old pick-up truck, and used to fill the holes in our drive, where irony tastes like decades as the wind picks up, and even with permission, we look like thieves in faded light.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

10


AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL, i'm not sure if you're the right place to call, but i'm scared— not of flying, but of returning to earth unrecognized, of crashing into a tall body of water and learning the hard way that instead of warm-winged-things we are tiny fish and we do not know our names. there are risks. rabbits do not know they're rabbits. they have no idea there are books about them, but what if they could? what if they could?

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

11


SCI-FI MOON, in a strange turn of events, i am not afraid of being finite. this is the smallest emotion i've ever held. i might drop it in the dirt and forget how it feels once cool air touches the open palm of my hand. this night is no home, but a long, hushed hallway in a cold hotel where no girl should have to be the dead canary whose silence warns the rest of us. i'm begging you, learn to see your body as a sister. it will become easier to live with her. what i'm saying is, please be safe. what i'm saying is, please understand, my hands will not uncurl.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

12


CAPTIVE AUDIENCE, this is about birds that grow larger than houses and towns that mistake them for homes. * the first rule is that dew cannot come inside. but here’s what i have learned: plants know when the sun’s there, laughter is prayer, and bones learn to ache. bones are fact, until exposed to air and salt and atmosphere. bones are infrastructure and by design, roads don’t go everywhere. but there’s church enough in alleyways. * here’s a cross-section of all of the things that make me afraid: guns, mold, teeth, touch, toxic masculinity, mushrooms, rabies, fire, stepping on snails in the dark after rain. * here’s what i remember: plants grow, but do not measure and we all build the homes we find.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

13


KEEPER OF THIS LEGEND, tell me about bioluminescence and how a wave can come to glow when it crashes and i'll stay long enough on this sandy earth to watch moths dive into the ocean just to lap at bright blue foam and taste the moon's reflection. * in this life, icarus is a thousand tiny bodies in perfect synchronization. he's night-silvered, inverse set to music, and most of all, he gets to go home. when he lays down to rest his wings and wings and wings and wings, it's nearly morning, and the dust on them still faintly glows.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

14


KEEPER OF THE FUTURE, the story of north america’s folklore cryptid portmanteau poster boy: the last jackalope alive talks of pilgrimage with bright, bright eyes. he wants to see the equator that the climate has cut into like warm knife into wax and level together with the imaginary line, eye to eye, myth to myth. there, the gravitational pull is weaker and he has high hopes. the conversation has no official record, but it's overheard that he asks it how to hold it together when you're the last of your kind and the air just seems to grow hotter and hotter. he knew it would be invisible, but he didn't know it would be so quiet.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

15


NOTES FOR THE DREAMER, a case study in which sisyphus has this recurring dream in which the boulder is gone and he is alone: he wakes up and screams and no one can hear him, but his voice reverberates off the rock and keeps his feet moving. NOTE FOR THE DREAMER: it is best to be sure that the hill you choose to die on is one with good acoustics. if he’d ever show up for group therapy, he’d know that prometheus has his own rock and recurring nightmare. the eagle decides it no longer has a taste for his blood and refuses to meet him and he is alone with his liver after half of forever. it should be a relief but it feels like rejection. he wakes up and screams and a bird in the distance can hear him. it has a fish in its mouth. NOTE FOR THE DREAMER: the chains may have always been symbolic.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

16


(CENTRALIA) a large dog is outside my window looking back at me and somewhere there’s a town with no one in it. even now, after everything, there’s a place that’s been on fire since 1962, a place where the coal under old homes and roads and railroad tracks burns bright orange, hot, and does not dare to breathe apology. it was a mistake, but you have to admit it was encouraged and you have to realize this fire’s been burning longer than the voting rights act of 1965, which is a long time for a fire, but not nearly long enough for voting rights and this fire cannot be suppressed, but suppressing lives is still in business and that one is no accident. especially now, after everything, we must take responsibility for our breath.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

17


CIRCUMSTANCE, dying is a messy sport and i need you more than anything to stop trying out for the team over and over again, where whole body experience becomes vestigial and takes its place on the bench. i don’t know how long it’s been since i stopped asking you to stop emptying all of yourself to make it easier to fill your body back up with something else, but if i could say it without feeling like the punchline to a joke, i’d still be saying please stop drinking, please. on the phone, the distance between your raised voice and mine is its own wide road, is a wonder in itself, and i won’t be yelled at through a miracle, so goodbye, which is to say, i’m pretty angry and i’ll talk to you later, but right now i’d like for this call to end.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

18


AFTER-LIFE CUSTOMER SERVICE HOTLINE, will there be water? the thing is, the san mateo bridge is a giant face-down in the water of the san francisco bay, drinking, and the night my grandfather was dying, we drove to him across its back. 7 miles of lights like vertebral column pointed straight toward his room in the ICU. the night my grandfather was dying, pneumonia called the bay to meet his lungs and i drank enough water in the hallway to make myself sick. i understood then why the giant hadn’t come up for air yet, and i just want to know if there’s going to be any left.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

19


(DEATH IS THE BOY NEXT DOOR) neighbor, sometimes i can hear him crying at 3 pm. the walls are thin and he’s on the phone again and he’s asking: did they know? did they know what they did when they gave war a name? and the voicemail clicks and there’s a knock on his door and he lets out a ragged breath and opens it to the bored delivery guy who waits around for him to compose himself because he knows he tips well. and i always wonder if i should go and say something, but there’s a small, very human part of me that likes to think about death crying into his pizza.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

20


SOUND, at least, i think you are a sound. there is frost on the windshield in the middle of summer and you say not to panic, that cold is just absence. i think i’m in the suburbs. i’m alone on a quiet street and all the shadows look mid-century modern as folded maps rot in the backseats of every four-door sedan because there’s no reason to leave this kind of american dream, but now the houses’ cast shadows look like a person’s and i’m not sure they want to be.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

21


PHILOSOPHER, there is the ego of the mouth, the road through it in the fickle distance between top and bottom lip, terrain built around the hilly backroad form of each word and careful four-count silence. rest. pause. breath, between them. there is the ego of the moths, with their willingness to take what warmth they can, the ego of the stars, in that all things have memory, in that they don’t know what it means to be our ghosts. then, there is the ego of knowing you cannot save the world and still trying to wrap fragile arms around it anyway.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

22


GHOST HUNTER, there are options. * ONE:

24 hour pharmacies are as liminal as it gets, but there are rules. you cannot take before you give. trade in warmth, but trust the fans by the automatic doors to brush clinging spirits off your back before you try to live your life out there again. the cashier will look away. * TWO:

interview fire. and tell me how i’m supposed to feel when i’m 100 miles from a wildfire but its ashes are on my windshield and the sunflowers in my yard. this is california summer where you learn that it’s possible for the wind to carry someone’s home to you and that smoke is just pieces of places looking for somewhere new. * THREE:

wait.

you are a visitor here too. ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

23


HEY, be careful when you close the gate. a spider, black widow, she lives right where your hand fits around the latch. i don’t know what october looks like in this world, but i am bones and beak and break and neck and tires that yell: please, stop me before i can hurt someone. i was a tree once, i think, not meant to move this fast. i could have been a book, i think, until i learn the word synthetic. i could have been a sole then maybe, and tread on soft green grass.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

24


NOVEMBER, all we have is this body, this shell, this creature, this soft home. i am tired but i do not feel like there is a virus inside of my body that can kill the people i love. this room is small and i am small and germs are small but i could not tell you which is the smallest. all i can say with certainty is that fear hums like air purifiers with too much responsibility. all i can say is it’s been nearly a year and i have not stopped shaking yet.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

25


(REPARATIONS FOR THE SONGBIRD) archaeologist, there’s a songbird that will never exist because of what we did to it. the world will never hear the voice it could have had, but the government will provide nesting material to make up for it: one coin tucked into the folds of shredded fabric, twigs, leaves, flowers, seeds, you know, bird things. they won’t mind if it’s second-hand. and we’ll call it enough in different voices, call it success, call it progress. we’ll pass the empty man-made nests and call it only fair given the circumstances and forget that tragedy lives in the present and future, not alone in the past, that these nests were not abandoned, they were built for ghosts who never got to live.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

26


ARCHIMEDES, i’ve never been good at math, but i think this cup of water might be the ocean. i don’t want to bother you. i don’t want to bother anyone, but i need you to tell me how much gold it will take to displace each drop inside of us. you taught me to work backwards when it’s the only way to measure what’s left, that it’s okay if gold’s worth is polished fiction if it’s a story worth telling. i just need you to remind me before you answer that life and death are only measurements of distance.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

27


QUIET, SILENCE, HOME, OR ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN, house plant dreams of rain storms, dreams of relief, dreams of having the last say. when i stand up too fast my eyes go black, and for a moment, i’ve left this place. silence gives old roads half a chance at flight where young crows don’t imagine being seen as they test their wings in the space between warm asphalt and open sky. i look up and see rogue planets tucked into the dark. do you think they like it out there? do you think they’re resting? do you think they know they’re far from home? i think i see them looking back but nasa tells me that there are just fingerprints on my glasses again, and to leave the sky alone.

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

28


ENDINGS AND EXPECTATION, a crow or sparrow or thought or dove landed on my shoulder and said you don’t have to be anything. it said don’t worry, or do, but the wind doesn’t know you care about it. it said quiet can be a lot of things or quiet can be nothing at all. i said you know a lot, for a bird. it said what is a bird? what are wings? what are roads?

ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE

29




Acknowledgments A year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined writing poetry to share with anyone, let alone writing a chapbook full of it and willingly sending it out into the world. Here we are, though. Weird year, right? I want to acknowledge that doing this wasn’t an act of newfound bravery on my part, but rather it has been a collective effort built from every bit of encouragement I’ve been given between then and now. I can’t express how grateful I am for every friend who has given me a piece of what it has taken to build this. You’ve helped me make something tangible, which is so cool, but mostly I’m just happy to know that there is kindness out there like yours. Thank you for hearing me and my many fears out! I love each of you, dearly. I want to also thank the entirety of the Penumbra Press staff for all of their hard work, dedication, kind words, and belief in this project. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to work on it with all of you. And lastly, thank you, Reader. I hope you enjoyed this strange adventure. -Dottie




ON BIRDS / WINGS / ROADS / SILENCE is a collection of poetry that explores facets of reality and what it is to exist (and sometimes, cease to exist) in relation to both the self and to others, through quiet observations, anecdotes, questions, dreams, myths, and the surreal. Each poem is addressed to someone or something, literal or abstract, with addressees ranging from a Ghost Hunter, to Archimedes, to Air Traffic Control, to Circumstance, and back. The work navigates the world through the ephemeral narrator’s relationship with it, which is tempered by an ever-present anxiety for the self, and overwhelmingly, an anxiety for others. The collective works aim to build a foundation for self-image and compassion, as well as a personal understanding of the concepts of quiet and home and when to question both.

Dottie is an artist and writer from California. She loves animals, strawberries, and overcast days. Her work can be found online at dottielobue.com.