TABLE OF CONTENTS
3 The Kitchen, at Christmas Jessica Winter 4 untitled Jenny Ludwig 5 Weeding Sarah Dews 6 Home & Garden Dargie Anderson 7 untitled Sarah Rubinstein ti untitled Rebecca Sakoun 12 untitled Joseph Montgomery 14 untitled Aisha Gayle is The Last ofthe Belles Epoques Flynn Eckenrode 16 Theresa Mark Neuman 17 Rome 2:1 Cathy Braasch 18 Poem on the Human Heart Alexis Jones 20 untitled Lucy Schaeffer 22 untitled Steve Walls 23 Giant Squid Fights Sperm Whale Reuben Silberman 24 Interview with W.S. Merwin Kamran lavadizadeh 28 Conservation Typeface Mihira Jayasekera 32 San Diego Sequence: Prologue Ben Labreche 33 untitled John Mitchell 34 Good Numbers Daniel Kellum 36 As I Walked Out One Morning Greg Tigani 37 untitled Kathleen Murray 39 lust Westward Paul Mellon 40 New England House Sarah Rubinstein Cover
Far From Grown-Up Lisa Kereszi
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cover Far Fr4It1own-Up Lisa Kereszi
The Kitchen, at Christmas Jessica Winter That old line, about going home again — whether one can or can't. I keep forgetting. Letters collect, updates on the perpetual housein-progress, like a fabric that wears through in being made. Longing is what it does, and it tears. The distance doubles back between what's said and what was meant. Where I first spoke, walked, learned to read wasn't meant to harden into still-life, but I've done it again. In the kitchen, coat still on, I measure table angles, distance from bowl to vase — the gift's occasion, I'm forgetting. I'm offered fruit, but I've petrified it, made studies out ofthe props ofthis house. Is it now a struck stage, then, the patient fixed house standing at the back of my mind, where I've always meant to live? It lacks a context, looks too ready-made. If it's stopped becoming then I can't come back again. My memory fails me — I use it for forgetting but it dismantles, and from the ruins keeps its distance.
The addition to the deck shrinks the distance from home to fence. Less grass to cut, more house to tidy. Indoors and out I made a bad taskman,"forgetting" always to water, dust, remove clutter. Things were only meant to be done, like the quilt I think oftaking up again. Shed clothes swallow my room, the bed slumps unmade In the white angled kitchen, the snowman stencil made in preschool hangs near the spice rack. Its lines, at this distance , trace the plaster cast of my four-year-old handl which again I take down from its shelf. There is much of me in this house, andPone of it mine. I can't object — nothing was meant not to be lost. Forgive me, to borrow your terms, for getting out the tears. How easily I dissolve, you're forgetting. I'm accustomed to myself; in fact, I've never made what I would call a scene. Take heart: my weakness meant that things were less than they seemed. This distance is measured in diffusion, not flight, the house a passive object with the rest. Time assumed our work again. I can only imagine the house at this distance. You made me in order to lose me: a planned forgetting. It was meant. See, here, I make it again.
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Weeding Sarah Dews The garden stretches forty acres out beyond a purple dip ofground where, nights, cows congregate, to chew methodically the sweeter grasses growing by the pond. The hill slopes steeper down, unfit for herds or vegetables, but suited for a break before our after-dinner weeding starts. It has been hot today. We horde this time, between the dusk and sleep, when weeds pull out more loosely from fresh-watered soil that's baked all day. Relaxing under sprinkler sprays, the soil yields at the root to clay-soaked fists. The carrot beds are tangled, nettle-prone but Ruth liked weeding them despite the pricks that nettles leave â€” embedded red, sharp dots across your palms, the way the cancer lined her throat, each prickle tightening to a lump. Small locuses ofgravity swelled out and forced her days to orbit their new hearts. The surgeon traced between them, to survey their underlying constellation. Charts interpreting the map across her throat stacked up as summer built. Out in the field, tomatoes reddened; under dried-up ground, the carrots stretched towards hidden water streams. In August, dark-lace leaves could not support their droopy weight. She died before the fall. The shed sits square and sudden on the field, a green tin roofdisguising its sharp planes. Three hills surround it, and beyond, the creek is cool on tired feet dipped into streams that wind around the boulders, rushing fast, ice cold. Beside the creek, and on the path that runs up one slope to the field, the sky expanded when I breathed it in; it swam between my thirsty ribs. They sifted it. Where heavy months had flattened out the land, topography appears, a map unfolds; the grainy, rough-edged textures reemerge beneath my disbelieving fingertips.
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opposite untid Jennifer Ludwig
Home & Garden Dargie Anderson from the Oxford English Dictionary avocado avoka.do, now. Also 7 avogato,8 avocato, 9 avigato. [Sp. avocado advocate, substituted by 'popular etymology'for the Aztec ahuacatl (Tylor), ofwhich a nearerform in Sp. is aguacate; Fr. aguecat and avocet, in Eng. also avigato and, corruptly, alligator (pear).] a. Thefruit ofa West Indian tree (Perseagratissima); a large pearshapedfruit, called also alligator pear. 1697 Dampier Voy.(1729) I. as the English corruptly call it, Alligator-pear. 1947 House & Garden Sept.80 Brighten a diningfoyer with a floor ofPersimmon plastic tiles, paint its walls Avocado Green, its ceiling white. A tulip tree grew up in our yard in Ohio at the same time I did. I had never heard ofa tulip tree until my mother, who is from the South, pointed it out to me one day when I was in second or third grade. She had taught me already about sassafras and dogwood and pipsissewa, though pipsissewa doesn't grow in Ohio either. The tulip tree was just a sapling, with leaves that really were shaped a little like tulips. It managed to grow where the garden had been, outside the playroom windows, which look east. My mother put stakes around the tree so the lawn mowers wouldn't mow over it. IfI could still fit between the branches (they grow densely)I could climb it and see onto the roof, the part outside my window where my then sort-ofboyfriend Simon Phipps got in trouble by my mother for smoking. I was terrified. He wasn't. The way our house is planted, you can tell my mother's from the South. She's still trying to get hydrangeas to grow by the front door, but I think our soil has too much clay in it. The Sweet Bay magnolias, though, lean over the patio like exotic birches, dropping dense red seed bunches in the fall. They flower late in spring, and then after it rains the patio's corners are covered in perfumey white petals. Upstate New York, as far as I've seen, doesn't grow hydrangeas either, but you never can tell â€” maybe in the Berkshires or somewhere. Driving here across Pennsylvania on the turnpike made me think ofroadkill, upstairs bedrooms, limestone sinkholes, and crabapples. My thin plan was just to drive till I ran out ofgas, and stay wherever I landed, at least for a day or two, but I was afraid I would run out in the middle ofa tunnel under Kennesaw Mountain or one of those, where there's barely a breakdown lane, or that I would 6
end up somewhere near Intercourse, Pennsylvania, which I read about and where I don't think I could live. The turnpike, and New York so far, have had little to do with roadkill, upstairs bedrooms, or any ofit. Frankly I wish I had an upstairs bedroom,always having had one and always seen and stayed in the kinds of houses where the living rooms are on the first floor and the bedrooms on the second. My apartment, though, is all on the third floor, and it's big for the price, and it's the only space I've ever really had to myself. My kitchenette window looks out over a long and narrow park with a statue ofChristopher Columbus at my end. It's just beginning to be summer, really, and elm tree canopies partially block my view ofthe paths in the park. The library and the campus lie a few blocks north ofthe elm trees and the park. I can't see them from my window, though this morning I can see three leashed Weimeraners being walked around the statue by a man in a red hat. I have come east these weeks to use the library which I can't see right now (except for maybe a corner sticking out from behind the phone company building), because it contains the papers ofthe poet I would like to study. I happen to wake up early this morning, in my dark bedroom on my light-green sheets. Waking up that early without an alarm makes me nervous because I remember calling my brother old when he told me that he had begun waking up at seven-thirty automatically. It is seven-thirty. I buy the paper and eat my breakfast over it, slurping my raisin bran. I brush my teeth after breakfast. And I walk to the library, as I have envisioned I would. I feel academic. When I get to the anteroom outside the main reading room,I see a guy standing with the side ofhis face toward me. He's got very blond hair and is wearing short athletic shorts, maybe running shorts, and a kind oftight t-shirt, and as soon as I see him I freeze because I know him,and he's standing quite still, and I'm afraid he will instantly break his stance, and turn and see me,looking at him and not saying hello. He turns. "Hey," I say quickly, trying to start my greeting gesture in the middle so he'll think I was making it the whole time he wasn't looking. I am afraid to use his name, which is Hartmut. When I was eleven, Hartmut stayed at our house in Ohio for three weeks. He was seventeen at the time and visiting the United States on an informal exchange program which had been arranged through several degrees of mutual acquaintances. All adults involved thought it would be a good experience for the children to experience each other, for us swim-club Midwesterners to interact with Hartmut and vice versa â€” Hartmut, whose parents were German but who now lived in Brazil and who spoke four languages and 8 who could probably play soccer like no one we had ever seen. We picked him up at the airport, with a handmade poster
that read "Welcome Hartmut / Bem-Vindo Hartmut â€” your American family" and with each ofus carrying a little American flag. He had appeared in the frame ofthe airport gate with a greasy ponytail and wearing thong leather sandals, and in the first few days ofhis visit he asked me to give him a kiss on the cheek every day, I guess because he didn't know how else to ask me to like him and he could tell I was scared of him, and he beat my brother in soccer so often that the two ofthem stopped playing together after three outings. I didn't understand his accent very well and he made lots ofjokes that I didn't think were very funny. But I was learning how to be a "good hostess" and so for three weeks I tagged along as we showed him the zoo, the natural history musuem, went canoeing and to the amusement park, talked about regional customs and eating practices; all of us piling in and out ofthe van, proceeding with smiles and funnel cake and souvenir lighted visors. And then he was gone and after that ofcourse even I remembered him wonderful, Hartmut, our exchange student; led by our mother, we all loved and missed Hartmut, our Brazilian brother whom we might go to Brazil to visit some time. We all spent the last week ofthe summer before school starting to put together a scrapbook of his trip to send him. I remember writing captions beneath the snapshots, trying to make my lettering as even and neat as my mother's. He ended up going to college in New England and we saw him once during that time, for a long dinner that was entered into the family memory as "delicious" and "fun." He was twenty-two then and had lost the ponytail and actually wore a corduroy blazer with elbow patches to the restaurant, and told us about what he was studying, which was concrete poetry. He seemed somewhat self-concious about it but once he got going was able to speak about it in mostly complete sentences, and he used the word "ontological" which I admired and thought surely I would never be able to do. I knew that he would be in this city too, studying a different poet at the same library. I called him the week before I came, to let him know that I would be here, but I have not talked to him since then. I blush when I see him because I can't help it. I can't banish the memory ofthe ponytail and of having to sit with him on a roller coaster. "Carrie!" he says right offthe bat. "You're really here. Where are you staying?" I try to assess his expression. "I'm subletting a place offLexington Square." I wonder how this sounds to him. "That's a decent area. Have you started your research? Elizabeth Bishop, right?" "No,and yes. Yes Bishop, no started. Just starting now. SPRING 1999
heading back in the direction ofthe library. I'm laughing about the avocado, though, because the kitchen color scheme is more avocado than the fruit. The cabinets match the countertop, all in a uniform avocado-tone latex and formica. But it's sitting there on the windowsill, sort ofnestled in the branches ofthe elm trees which from here obscure the pathways in the park. Fortunately the windowsill is painted ivory. I've never eaten an avocado before. I've seen seen them cut before, waxy, or like clay, with a pink-brown eggish pit in the middle. I have this film running through my head, of hands that look like my mother's, paring an avocado: but we never ate them,so they must not be hers.
You working here too today?" "Not working, exactly. Just picking up a book." He holds up a small fat book with a green cover. "I like to read sometimes. You know." He flashes a smile and then sucks it back in. He stands up on his toes, then back down,twice in quick succession,in time with two guffaws. He is taller than I have remembered,and his face has matured and is actually kind of charming. "Yeah,I like to read too." I smile. We pause. "I've got to get in there and find some books," I say lamely. "Yeah. You know, we should do something soon. We should go eat dinner. Have you seen much oftown yet?" he from Bullfinch's Golden Age of Myth and Legend asks smoothly. The wily monarch consented, but alas! the maiden had taken a pomereally." "No,not which Pluto offered her, and had sucked the sweet pulpfrom a granate "Tonight? I can drive. There's places you need to see." few of the seeds. This was enough to prevent her complete release; but a Him driving is good. compromise was made, by which she was to pass halfthe time with "Okay, dinner." her mother, and the rest with her husband Pluto. "Seven?" "Should I meet you here?" Jam afraid he will ask me to Tuesday I wake up, early again,and get to the library and give him directions to my apartment, which I am not sure I work. I look up avocados just before I break for lunch. It can do. occurs to me that I need to find a concordance ofElizabeth fine. Right that's here." "Sure, Bishop, because I think she may have mentioned avocados "See you then." She lived in Brazil for fifteen years and she grew somewhere. So I go into the library, do research, take a break for fruit. She only meant to stay there a few weeks. But she had a lunch, and work until seven. And,a little exhausted and allergic reaction when she arrived, she says in her fantastic same clothes I was been wearing at 9:30,I meet wearing the letters, probably to the fruit ofthe cashew. She started to him right there under the statues. He has changed clothes swell and swell, she says, and her eyes stayed swollen shut since this morning, into weird, tight black jeans which he for a week. While she recuperated she fell in love â€” with a has pulled up too near his waist, and shiny black shoes. He woman,not cashew fruit â€” and stayed on,in one sense half showered. has recently her life. He drives me down along the river for dinner at the Clam Hartmut told me over dinner last night that his family is Palace.(I pay for my meal.) Jam expecting waitstaff, but from near Sao Paolo, which I always associate with soccer. instead there are brown picnic tables on a deck and disposHartmut tittered about that, I think because he thinks I able flowered plates and cups. And a riverbank sunset, glare should associate all Brazil with soccer, notjust Sao Paolo. that makes us squint into our soft drinks, both ofour napI didn't know men could titter quite that badly. He told me a kins blow away, and I am shivering by the time we slide it all little about his house in the mountains, too, that he thought I in the hinged garbage can and get back in the car. The fried probably could imagine it but I need to try hard, because clams seemed to suggest that I squeeze my lemon into my everything's opposite on the bottom ofthe world. The lizards coke, which they handed me through the little window along come in and stick to the wall and hang there like picture with my meal. The whole time we are making civil conversaframes,squatting with each breath, opaque eyes looking like tion about our parents and our academic paths, surprisingly part oftheir skin. And walking stick bugs, as long as his easily, I think. hand (and he raised his yellowy hand to show me,and his As I am getting ready to get out ofhis car outside my fingers spread long, creased, soft, his palm perfectly square), apartment, he reaches around me into the back seat and crabs in the living room and hummingbirds in the pantry. pulls from his shoulderbag an avocado. It is slightly unripe, When my brother, who is two years older than me, had and he instructs me to put it in my kitchen window when I started school, we found a walking stick as long as my just get upstairs. I get out ofthe car, go upstairs and follow his hand, sticking underneath the glass table on the patio, next instructions. I can see his red Honda turning the corner, to the sandbox in the corner. I remember standing fright9 THE YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE ened for a few minutes. When I felt braver I let my mother pull my hand toward the insect and lay my palm on top ofthe
glass, on the other side ofthe walking stick. I stood there invincible, halfwishing I could feel its legs sticking to my hand just like that but glad I was safe. For a few minutes the creature enthralled me; then when I got brave enough, I leaned over to look from underneath and I saw my hand just the length ofthe walking stick, sweaty pressed against the glass, fleshy and pink, like a great octopus sucker. I yanked it away, horrified, and ran inside, where from the lower panes ofthe living room French doors I watched my brother pick up the brown bug and let it crawl up his arm. I wanted to tell Hartmut that story, to insist that we here have walking sticks as long as our hands, but it would have come out wrong. I don't think you can describe your own hand as a "great octopus sucker" the first time you go out to dinner with someone. I'm imagining telling him stories though: that's the scenario for me thinking right now: I'm imagining telling Hartmut the things I'm thinking about. Though I don't talk to anyone like that, let alone Hartmut, who last night on top ofthe high jeans wore a straw hat that must have been bobby-pinned or something, I can't figure out how it stayed on his head. Telling Hartmut how I'm going to drive cross-country, maybe next summer, and how things keep happening between Elizabeth Bishop and me, how we're both obsessed with geography and our birthdays are one day apart, and about howl miss home terribly, how my room is there up in the magnolia trees and the most glorious kitchen table stands wiped offin a brightly lit, empty room. Hartmut, who last night picked me up and immediately suggested we play twenty questions, in the car on the way to Clam Palace. He meant the real game,animal vegetable or mineral and all that, not twenty questions as some code for us asking twenty questions about each other to get to know each other. He picked "avocado," which I thought was curiouser then than I did later, after he had given me the avocado. I picked "interstate" because we were on one at the time and because I've been infatuated with them recently, with the problem of being on them â€” because the fact ofthe matter is that if you stopped, you would be somewhere, halfway between Kennesaw Mountain and Wyomissing, or something, as local as you ever are, but while you're going you feel like you're just going, you're not anywhere at all. Also how sometimes they build enormous interchanges where nothing else important ever happened, only the convergence oftwo roads. That there should be a tremendous cultural artifact somewhere in Pennsylvania where no one has ever lived. It doesn't seem right. Hartmut, whom I might take on a picnic. We'd go to Massachusetts, to Sandwich right at the base ofCape Cod and I'd drive, because I'd want him to sleep the whole way up,so that I could roll the windows all the way down and 10 watch the land urgently like I do when I drive alone. We'd go to Sandwich and find the saltmarshes where I once took a
walk with my family. We were on a sailing trip and we took a walk after dinner, as the sun was going down,and we somehow found a wildlife refuge with a boardwalk over it, so the four of us walked looking down at the marshgrasses and pans and creeks for maybe a mile. The boardwalk arched up into a footbridge ten or twelve feet over the big creek in the middle, where there was a wooden ladder that climbed up from the water, and there were recent small water footprints and splashes on the rungs and on the widened area on top of the bridge, and someone had left behind his Star Wars beachtowel. My mother spotted a horseshoe crab on the edge ofone ofthe creeks, and we looked at it through the glass of the water, unable to read its expression, stranger than anything we had seen that day. Hartmut we'd bring our bathing things in a straw bag that you would carry while I carried the picnic basket, and we'd walk on water for a halfa mile, stopping once to lie on our stomachs with the boards digging into our lungs as we leaned over and looked into the water, underneath the boardwalk where there'd be less glare. The water underneath would be limpid, and we'd lie there for a minute watching marshgrass hover underwater under where our feet would be hanging off. It might be ten-thirty in the morning and for a while we lie there, not talking, and then you pretend to see an alligator and you're offwith the straw bag behind you running because you don't want to get bitten, yelling at me to watch out, save myself, so I grab the picnic basket and chase you, and a minute later slide into the bench on the bridge like it's home base, next to you, out of breath. We're so glad we're safe we just slouch there for a minute or two, until I jump up and say it's time to go swimming. We turn our backs to each other and change into our bathing suits, for a moment standing naked on a footbridge over a saltmarsh in Massachusetts, but we don't stop to think about it. It's very still this day and we do stand for a minute wondering about the water, trying to look through the pane for the bottom ofthe creek, or fish, or alligators, but the glare's too bright and so we justjump in, one after the other, a jackknife then a cannonball and the saltwater catches us both, plunge and cold on our scalps and neither one of us touches the bottom, and it occurs to me as I reach the surface that I want to eat the pear in the basket and stay here half my life, Massachusetts, wherever,7 avogato,8 avocato,9 avigato.
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The Last ofthe Belles Epoques Flynn Eckenrode Of the first eleven, I saw only three that were interminable As such. The rest burred. We Were neither illusory nor salient enough To pass from one right on to the next Without questioning first: could this be the one Lautreamont meant by love? Well, that was agony enough For me. And let me tell you, it sang.
ad ,h Montgomery
Boats passed back and forth over The river all day without making The most minor note twang in My breast closet. I thought of you And snow came tumbling over the eaves, Evening wag early and full ofcerise Arid its cream-colored dresses. That's how we knew The avant-garde had arrived from their delicate Symphonies. They tiptoed so prettily. Even their most mincing words were Butterscotch. I remembered in olden times when even The well-bred lifted their eyes and, whoosh, What a burn was the sun. We wore Whittershins on our heads all day for Hearts such as that. Now it's just hats With little bells on top. And to each one His own moat. Not a key in a breast pocket. Though the king still has a currant cake that fie feeds to the magpies each Spring. And harrows them off.
14 SPRING 1999
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untitled Alsha Gayle
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Rome att Cathy Braasch
16 SPRING 1999
Theresa Mark Neuman I grew up in Ostia, on the coast, And at twenty, I went to work in Rome For Mr Dati, a friend of my brother's At the Hotel Delle Legazioni. It was winter when I came in, And I walked to the hotel, fifteen minutes From the station. My room was upstairs, With a small window looking out Towards St Peter's, with its huge spaces. When Easter Week arrived, The hotel filled up entirely, And I walked out on breaks To join the crowds in the street outside Pushing together as they approached The churches near the hotel. When I reached Santa Maria della Vittoria, I went in to see the statue ofSt Theresa where an angel holds her mantle delicately, between his fingers, as she falls back into light. There, I imagined the faces I knew: My parents, my brother, Mr Dati. I wondered, if the Lord passed here could he brush me close by as lightly as the angel holds St Theresa? When he preached in Nazareth, and the mob sought to throw him down from the cliff, he did not break through their arms, or ascend to heaven, or give the law. He said nothing, but only touched some as he, passing through their midst, continued on his way.
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Poem on the Human Heart Alexis Jones I REPROACH
You'd bless my spiral heart But never eat down to the center; Pet it, knowing something ofit But not enter. Is it just A pretty then, an asymmetric trifle? It is tilted in the caverns at the center, And hard to see. It has brought some grief to me. II DESCRIPTION
Writhing gravel, it kicks like a fetus, Shrinks like a slug under salt. Perverse, a nothing â€” If you'd not have it we're apart For it's the slosh behind my sway, My weight. I could not Do without. III DESCRIPTION (2)
Aorta, ventricles right and left, cathedral Improbably CUL, SO Close that it is
Like the babble ofcellular commerce, The haystack-interference of languid waves Or the spray cannonballing in every direction When we brush arms. It speeds, it slows, Hard-wired, and I must follow. IV ITS TRAJECTORY
First eyeliner, then the averted face, Then the rising panic of metaphors that dive Brokenwinged, faithful cormorants, Heaven to hell. The wideeyed winces When alone, the recall right down To the bone. And desperate nonsense that comes: Call me kudzu, or bimbo, or grace. Be my place. V ONE WISTFUL VERSION OF LOVE
A shoal offlyingfish traversing the ocean. Their many bright poppings accusing the ocean.
18 SPRING 1999
VI AND ANOTHER
A thing you choose. It would not get its head and be Unmanageable. You might keep it in a spare room, Sparely fed. You might unchoose again. VII THE HEART AND THE MIND, BICKERING PER USUAL, CAUSE SOME CONFUSION
yourselfowed is not to be found â€” No more than sculpture is in the sculptor's son, Bucktoothed when he smiles. Similitudes, but not ofa flesh. The one rejected, causing fever in the other. M: What you think
H: See yourseluesfilmily shadowed here in the amiable doe-eye ofdream flexibly neighboring countries with no carefor governance home variety show SptIrfetS in the wide ring lipping at each other teeth kept to yourselves gracious acrobats in a clement world M:That dream is lost to us, Tenderheaded and clapped onto land, adamant walkers, Having toughed our asymmetries up into air, Still given to feelings ofloss, driven to huddling knots In the closeness of huts, shaky pockets Ofocean, wondering, Could we reach the right place by flying. H: It could be merciful and sweet let infrom the cold breasts sit yolk-fat nestlings upon hands care goes to what trusts you scared and shy you can bring nothing to this drowning so be as blueeyed as you can
19 THE YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE
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M: Oh, clinging club of two, crammers oflooks, it is not necessary. Would you be held in a mouth forever? You cannot: these jerry-rigged platforms sway. See wider, if you can, to the tropics. Or make of this some helping. VIII BODY IMPERIAL
We sit, each aloof, listening in parallel: Silent, breathing. April, the trees Leafing outside, and when 1 sneeze Some pollenaceous bit or effluvium Comes waltzing and snags a neuron of mine. A few more times — furious molecules, Sharp-edged cryptograms, jab in and out like fleets, Armada that must feed itself and country. If I speak of love it is as an emissary, Living under a sweatshop benevolence
20 SPRING 1999
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Of kicks and crusts, hoping only For a reduced violence. The eye with the unwarped glass Sees you in high-noon clarity And would not make you food for these. What must be appeased must be appeased Rut can we laugh then in our native tongue, And disregard them, gargling their finest tea, And escaping with armfuls ofstolen silks? IX APOSTROPHE
Oh, heart, you belligerent - having howled Through nights, you're still all disdain at the given meal. Nothing real is your style. You old cow, swish your tail, Moan at the weather. It's what you know and does no harm. I'm like the owl that sits all doused And irrelevant in the storm. I'll clap hands over my cars and sing.
21 THE YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE'
Giant Squid Fights Sperm Whale Reuben Silberman The same animal drama unfolds here, in muddy ponds and streams. The autumn shipwreck ofsenses, water tripping over bloodied stones, with depth promised in stiller, darker bowls. The same vain struggle we go through every night, when I tell you that the sky and ocean are one violent color, or "that was the first time you were honest." I know it began a thousand feet under the suthce, in battle embrace with a prehistoric sea-creature made ofglass and brine. I embraced piece ofdriftwood, gagging up faith and curdled salt, nauseous streams of manliness. You cured it, feeding me cashews, keeping me dry and honest. Weeks later we go crawfish-hunting under dead leaves and stones, when suddenly something so immeasurably big rises behind you, an ocean offlitting sunbeams, twigs, dead fish. Footprints refill, that quiet struggle a
ofdirt and dark water. Now,in the New York Museum,a hulking struggle between arms and cylinders, sperm whale and squid, looks like an embrace. I kneel under the stuffed Blue Whale ribs, a dim cave in 1 marble ocean. Later I dip my toe into the trickling city streets, the guttural streams. You meet me for dinner in the cavernous hotel, rubies and golden stones inlayed in the bedposts. Lying here, it takes little effort to be honest. Stories swell and lap, like groggy tide. We agree this living is most honest, as our sleep separates into darknesses, watery dreams of Epicurean struggle. Thoughts spread out between seafood breakfasts, a fire crying in a pit ofstone, the unsure kalcaw ofscattered flocks, the sea-life dancing in sea-wind embrace. Everything is much smaller than its shadow. Smoke, in rings and slivers, streams along the edges ofsight, mystifying the bulbous fruit trees, dipping into ocean,
eddies in a foamy tide pool, or a brook inland from the glassy bay, the ocean. And as the smoke is sucked inwards, with your breath, you moan."Honest, I don't know when I lost my reflection." The hard, blackening tears which stream down your chest, the egg-blue lacquer ofsilence, the crystal faces ofstruggle — all these are water also. And as the silvered currents disengage, spin, embrace, pale green seeds bob like weird fishing tackle, like flushed, luminous stones. We sheltered in the canopy. Then the cave flooded, and we built forts ofstones and barnacles. We watched the titans wrestle and topple in the distant ocean, hot and lumbering in the shallow waters, but now there was no tired embrace. As meek waves crashed on their bodies, they were fighting — bloody, honest. Far away, in a brackish river, an oar and a catfish quietly play out the struggle. Reeds bend to listen as we picnic in a rusty boat, silence running in streams. In streams across New England, battles of hapless love settle, stones ofsalt and faithful struggle sink gracefully into the strange, bruised ocean. We know to be honest, like brown seaweed, drifting in her own embrace.
23 THE YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE
Interview with W.S. Merwin
Kamran Javadizadeh YLM I'm interested in the way in which humans and the natural world seem intimately linked in your poems. Certainly, in the early poem, The Mountain," this seems to be the case. There, you've written: ...it seems probable Sometimes that the slope, to be so elusive And yet so inescapable, must be nothing But ourselves: that we have grown with one Foot shorter than the other, and would deform The levellest habitat to our misshapen Condition, as is said ofcertain hill creatures. The Last One" is also a good example of this kind of idea. In both poems, nature seems to cast a shadow that is substantial, that stains human life in some way. Is this just poetic fancy, or do you believe that this kind of connection exists between man and the world? Merwin I believe two things about that: to me,the Judeo-
Photo ©Mark Hanaver
W.S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Union City, New jersey, and in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was educated at Princeton University. Merwin has lived for many years on Maui, in the Hawaiian Islands. In 1952, W.H. Auden chose his first book, A Maskfor Janus, for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Since then, he has written many books of poetry, prose, and translations, most recently, from Knopf, The River Sound (1999) and The Folding Cliffs: A Narrative (1998). The Folding Cliffs, a historical poem set in 19th century Hawaii, tells the story of the government's attempt to seize and relocate victims of leprosy, and of one family's resistance. Merwin has won many prizes: the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets (of which he is now a Chancellor), the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the P.E.N. Translation Prize, the Governor's Award for Literature in the state of Hawaii, the Tanning prize for mastery in the art of poetry, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Merwin is currently the judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets.
Christian and humanistic separation ofus from the rest of life is false, and very destructive in the long run. It's selfdestructive; it will destroy us. I also believe that part ofour great achievement as a species is metaphor. All language is metaphor. Certainly in any imaginative writing, everything that you write is metaphor. My quarrel is with the fundamentalist approach, in which metaphor doesn't exist and everything is literal. In writing about what is called very lamely the "natural world"(as ifthere were an unnatural world), as you recognize the sympathy and identity that we have with the whole oflife, you can't retreat from that position. You can't say,"Yes, but I'm only interested in homo sapiens; I'm only interested in my own race, or my own sex, or my own ethnicity." You can't draw back without withering, without the limbs starting to fall off. The subject really ofart, and the subject really of us, is life, life itself. It's not some aspect of life, or some part oflife, or some form oflife — it's all ofit. Then it ceases to have to be a program. It doesn't have to be a subject, or anything like that. It becomes the kind ofdimension ofeverything that you write about. And I think that's the idea, I think that's what we have to recognize. We've come to it in a very hard way, by realizing that the end may be in sight. I'm very pessimistic — I think that we're doing things at such a rate, we're destroying things at such a speed, that we may have passed the point ofno return. But that's not a reason 24 SPRING 1999
not to try to understand it, not to try to empathize with it, sympathize with life, and not to feel somehow belittled by the vastness ofthe rest oflife, but to feel elated to be part of this whole enormous thing. I think that's what the whole animistic religion, the whole ofthe religions before you come to the "great" religions, was about. We've somehow cut ourselves off, and we're a very neurotic society as a result. After reading The Folding Clifft, I came across an interview in which you said the following: "[The] urge to write propaganda is one I not only understand but sympathize with. But I think it's an urge that doesn't often make poetry. Ofcourse poetry should never be completely devoid ofthe desire to make something happen â€” it would only be decoration then â€” and that desire to make something happen is the part of you that is writing propaganda: so it's always there...one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world, and one tries to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves, while there's still time. But I don't think it can be messianic...poets can't go out and preach on the street corners to save the world." Did you have to resist the urge to write propaganda when you wrote The Folding Clifft? If poetry cannot be messianic, what sort of"something" (as opposed to Auden's famous "nothing") did you hope The Folding Clifft could make happen?
I have wished Auden hadn't said that, sometimes, because I think it's very misleading. It certainly seems like a special sort of"nothing."
It does, it does. I think that ifyou write poetry solely to make something happen, you very seldom write poetry. You write something else. But I think that what happened with The Folding Cliffs was two things: there are several long unfinished historical essays about Hawaii that I was working on in the early 8os,in which my feelings ofoutrage and injustice took over to such a degree that I thought I had to put them aside until I had that in control. In the meantime, I became absolutely hooked on the story, on the story ofKo'olau and Pi'ilani, so that! think that, in a way, writing those unfinished essays allowed me to digest some ofthat feeling and to really focus on the story. No one's ever tried to tell any part ofthat story from the native, from the Hawaiian point of view, certainly from a Hawaiian woman's point ofview, and I don't feel that there are two sides to every question. I mean sometimes there are questions there's only one side to. But, ofcourse,some people have felt that The Folding Cliffs was slanted. There was one reviewer who said,"Oh,all ofthe 15 THE YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE
white people are bad guys, and all ofthe Hawaiians are good." I think that's very untrue. The Hawaiian people suffered, also,from their own ali'i, from the behavior ofthe chiefs, from the things that were happening there. And I think Knudsen is one ofthe more admirable people in the whole story. And other people, who know a great deal of Hawaiian history, have said that they feel that it was a fair picture. You can't tell it from the point ofview from which that story's been told before and come out just, because the Hawaiian people were robbed, and the ones who suffered from leprosy were appallingly treated. There's no question about that, there are no two ways about it. And the dirty politics behind the treatment ofthe lepers, as they were then called, and are not to be called now (people don't seem to realize, that's a dirty word, you don't use the word,"leper," any more), but the victims ofthe disease, there was a lot of politics involved in it, and it was partly religious politics. The Catholics and the Protestants disliked the way the other was handling it, and, ofcourse, the Catholics behaved much better than the Protestants. Throughout The Folding Cliffi, the environment seems to have the power to shape human life, and one wonders whether your word, "folding," describes the appearance ofthe cliffs or some action they perform on the people in the poem. Is the something that poetry makes happen similar to the something that landscape makes happen? Does poetry, can poetry, enter into nature this way? I think that one ofthe things that happens in metaphor and in poetry is to recognize these identities, recognize that the separation between us and life, itself, the separation between us and the world around us, is a false distinction, that really we are a part ofit and it is part ofus. It's unthinkable to make that separation, really. But we do it habitually, without realizing that it's nonsense. So that, ofcourse the landscape has an effect on the people, and ofcourse the environmental situation has an effect on the people. They help to make it, and then in turn they are made by it. That's true ofthe landscape ofNewark, New Jersey just as it's true ofthe cliffs on Kauai. They didn't make the cliffs on Kauai, but they chose to be there, and there was a history oflife there, and ofcourse it formed the people. One orftotf i ngs that struck me most about The Folding Cliffs was the strangeness of the poem. Inasmuch as we all seem still to live in the shadow of High Modernism, we've learned to take it for granted that whatever a poem can be, it can't be a long, historical, narrative epic any more. I can think of a few examples of similar sorts of contemporary poems, but I wonder what you make ofthis privileging that seems to exist today of the lyric over the narrative? You can look at it in terms ofliterary history and see the way it happened. I don't think any ofus understands exactly all the forces that have made it happen. John Bailey, in a review sks.
in The New York Review ofBooks says wonderful things about The Folding Cliffs and The River Sound. The whole first two long paragraphs are a discussion ofexactly what you were talking about, an utterly brilliant discussion, ofthe way prose comes to be dominant,and the way, consequently, certain forms of verse become self-conscious and all set themselves up in relation to prose. IfI've done that, I wasn't doing it deliberately, and I felt this story had to be a poem, and this was the kind ofpoem it seemed to me would work for that. I also feel there's this tendency that comes out ofseveral decades of critical theory — ofwhich there's a great deal at present — especially out ofDerrida and the French critics of his generation and period, that the subject is unimportant since there is no such thing as a real text anyway — it's all subjective — I don't believe that. I think that, ifyou really do believe that, it's a limitation ofthe possibilities ofpoetry. Poetry should be able to do anything, it should be the freest form ofwriting. After all, Lucretius wrote a wonderful scientific description ofthe making ofthe universe, in verse — it never occurred to him that this was not appropriate. There are treatises on military strategy, in verse, and why shouldn't stories, ofall things, narrative, be possible in verse, in poetry? At any time? And some stories seem to demand the dimension that we call poetry. One contemporary poem that does seem similar in this respect, in that it tells a story as a long poem, is Derek Walcott's Omeros. That poem in particular provides an interesting comparison with yours, since it is also concerned with telling a story about a region known to most of his American readers as a tourist spot, whose indigenous people are not as "advanced" or "civilized" as the visitors; anxieties about tourism figure largely in Omeros. Regarding an earlier (prose) book you wrote about Hawaii, you said, "I was a little hesitant about writing about Hawaii at all, because I thought one more haole, one more white person, one more white foreigner writing about the Hawaiians, who needs it?" Although you have lived in Hawaii now for a number of years, did you worry about writing this poem as an outsider? Yes, I did. But the story wouldn't let me alone. Quite a lot of people who live there know a little bit about the story, the way we know about Bonnie and Clyde, but I began to realize that they didn't know very much. It was all based on one account, the Sheldon account, and that was inadequate. I found several remarkable people who helped me,and we dug into the history and found a whole lot more that nobody knew about and began to put this story together. I felt that I wasn't 26 SPRING 1999
exploiting somebody's story, I was merely trying to tell it. I hope I have done that. And I have gotten as close to historic truth as is possible. The people who've really helped with the historic work all approve ofit. A great deal ofThe Folding Cliffs is fiction. It had to be. But it's all based on what fact there is. I'm curious about the process of how this poem came to be. Ted Hughes says that it is "told almost as if by a native" — I wonder what you make ofthis kind of compliment, and about the extent to which your rendering of Sheldon's version of Pi'ilani's tale figures into your thoughts about translation, and in particular, the idea you express elsewhere in a foreword, where you discuss the possibility of"[reaching] a point where some sequence ofthe first language conveys a dynamic unit, a rudiment ofform." You go on to write that "The surprising thing is that at this point the hope oftranslation does not fade altogether, but begins to emerge." Do you think that the Hawaiian language "informed" your poem in this way?
I suppose it did. I didn't think ofdoing it self-consciously. There are moments when it gets close to dialogue, when it also gets close to pidgin. I'm not deliberately doing pidgin the way Walcott does with his characters, but a lot ofHawaiian pidgin (and there were several pidgins — they're all beginning to meld into one and perhaps die away)is based on the grammatical structure ofother languages, so that some of the pidgin does have some ofthat structure. But basically Ko'olau and Pi'ilani's first language was Hawaiian, it was not English. They spoke to each other in Hawaiian. Knudsen probably spoke very good Hawaiian, but with an accent. The missionary children spoke perfect Hawaiian with no accent. It wasn't until just about the time ofthe story, after the takeover, that they really started to destroy the whole Hawaiian language, deliberately, in the schools. Among the haoles, they spoke English, but the people who lived there also spoke Hawaiian. The reason they say Hawaiian is dying now is not because nobody speaks it— there are quite a few people who speak it— but almost nobody speaks it as a first language. So that when you try to learn it, and you're speaking to somebody in Hawaiian, when you're at a loss for words, you lapse into English, and then you've lost it. The schools now, the immersion schools, are what's bringing it back. Bringing it back to a very small minority, but they are bringing it back. The first epics, or, I suppose, the first poems, were oral poems. Obviously, one cannot write an oral poem, but I wonder whether you felt as if you could import some ofthe elements of oral taletelling into the fabric of The Folding Cliffs? The stories that the
young boy Kaleimanu is so avid about repeat themselves and surface later in your poem; in interviews, you've described history as a many-layered palimpsest — did you find that the nature of an epic or oral poem lends itself to drawing out these sorts of layers? Yes, I wanted to do that. I didn't want the story to simply be an anecdote. I wanted it to sit in the whole dimension, obviously, ofthat period ofwhat happened to the Hawaiian people, and also to their whole history as a part ofthat. In order to do that, I deliberately used echoes ofthe genealogical chants and things like that in a couple ofplaces in the poem, because in all ofthe great myth,legend, poems, and stories ofHawaii, ifthere's a moment where a high chief comes in, they'll give you the whole genealogy, they'll take it way back to the origins. The great creation chant ofHawaii, the Kumulipo, is a genealogical chant, it's about the whole making ofthe earth, in many creations, one after the other. I wanted a verse form that could move from something that could echo the Kumulipo,to something that could describe action and even include bits ofcorrespondence, that had that kind offreedom. I wonder how you came upon this verse form of"cantos" that are about a page long and are printed as if they were elegiac verse. Did you start this poem as a series offragments of about that length, and then did it just grow from there?
I think what happened is that I evolved it to write the poems in The Vixen, and then realized that that was a stage in the direction ofsomething that could be used for narrative, too. It's not exactly the same as The Vixen, but it's very close — they're related. And they are, indeed, related to the elegiac form, as the elegiac form is related to the great narrative form. In addition to your poetry and translations, you have written a good deal of prose. One usually thinks of prose as more direct and transparent than poetry, and therefore somehow more suited to the project of the historian. Did you turn to verse for its opacity, its resistance to easy interpretations or efforts at moralizing? No, I didn't. I felt that ifyou did it as prose, it would be one
more ofthose history books that sits on the shelfand nobody ever reads. It would be just what I said, it would be an anecdote, it would be the sad story that happened to those poor people. A poem was something else. There's a whole dimension you could bring to it. It becomes an imaginative construct, and not just an account ofa sad few years. I wonder how a revisionary project is linked to the visionary agenda of poetry. Do you find that the two are somehow linked?
27 THE YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE
I think they should be. Is Lucretius? I suppose he is,.,tgq. Ifit's going to be poetry, you really want it to be all poetry, you don't want part ofit to be sort ofpoetry, and part ofit not.
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28 SPRING 1999
But, you have to have something very flexible to be able to make that move. And ifI did it successfully, I realize that it is something I could not have done when I was 18.
That's just the bottom ofthe cliffs. They go up to here, you know![He holds his hand several feet above my copy ofthe book.]
Well, it seems to be part of the danger in writing such a long poem. There are parts of Homer, even, or of Virgil, that don't seem to be as much poetry as other parts. Was this a worry of yours?
I'm interested in your decision not to punctuate your poems. On the one hand, this seems to be a move that makes the poetry more opaque, harder to read. On the other, often I've found that the lack of punctuation forces one to become more involved with your text, to punctuate it silently. Are either or both ofthese desired effects?
Well, obviously, that's true ofThe Folding Cliffs, too. The mode varies, but it should be able to. I mean, this is also true of dramatic verse, this is true ofShakespeare. One has to develop, has to find a mode that can handle all ofthose different things. And when poetry gets self-conscious and sets itselfup against prose, in the way we were talking about before, it tends to get a bit uptight, literally, and unable to have that freedom, and I think one simply has to take it back. You don't have to ask permission to do it, you just try and do it. Do you think that this taking back that you describe in any way liberated or expanded your sense of writing lyric poetry as well, writing, say, the shorter poems in The River Sound? I don't know. I simply don't know. When you've written for a few years, you realize that everything that you wrote required everything that you wrote before it, in order to come to that. It is a progression, even when it seems to be a progression of failures — even the things that you couldn't write become part ofwhat you eventually do write. Probably. Everything is an influence, everything affects you, and I suppose that having written the earlier things did make that possible. I was thinking about The Folding Cliffs story during the years when I was writing the poems ofThe Vixen, but not thinking that this was going to have anything to do with the form ofthe verse — I didn't know what form the verse would be. I was thinking about that story for io or 12 years, without any idea of how I
Yes. I thought when I began to write The Folding which was quite late, I'd thought about the story and the whole thing for years, before I actually got to writing it — that I may have to end up by punctuating it. But, you know, Homer wasn't punctuated, The Song ofRoland wasn't punctuated, The Poem ofthe Cid wasn't punctuated. The main reason for my addiction to doing without punctuation is that I think that poetry really is always partly oral; one foot is in the oral tradition, however involved it is with printing, and with the printed word. Which means that you ought to be able to hear it. And the only way to make certain that you have to hear it is getting rid ofthe punctuation. Ifit's punctuated, it makes it unnecessary for you to hear it. But ifyou don't hear poetry, you don't get it. That's one ofthe differences between poetry and prose — prose, you don't have to hear. I think that poetry you always have to hear. What makes the punctuation — as it does when we're speaking to each other — what makes the punctuation in unpunctuated verse, is the sound, it's the movement ofthe language, and you hear the movement by hearing the poem. So many people have said,"I thought it was difficult, and then it made me read it out loud, and the moment I began to read it out loud, it was very simple." So I don't think it's opaque in that sense. I think it's opaque ifyou don't hear it. Well, it forces you, I guess, to become more involved.
could get it written. Yes, that's what I wanted. Did you worry about making the story too beautiful? No,I didn't, because I wasn't that close to writing it. I tried not to make it too beautiful. I tried to simply tell it the way it happened. I mean, it is a spectacular place. It is also a very terrifying place. Thatjacket photograph, that's Kalalau Valley. Are these the cliffs, then?
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You talk about retaining a certain degree offlexibility with your verse — do you feel, and I know this would be just speculation and perhaps it's a question you can't answer, do you feel as if you'll ever want to go back to using punctuation, as just one option? Who knows? IfI find that there's something I want to do that can't be done any other way, then I will. I've done it without punctuation fora long time. And it's not just decorative. It becomes part ofthe form — to do without punctuation, as you'll find ifyou try it, is as much a form as trying to write in a sonnet, or trying to write with rhyme, or something. Because you have to keep that continuity, you have to use the movement ofthe verse to make the sense. The movement makes the sense.
It seems to promote the importance of the line-breaks, for one thing. Yes. It doesn't necessarily, though. Ifyou read the troubadours, in the original, which were not punctuated, the line breaks were very important. But they don't have run-ons, it's not run-on lines at all. They're rhymed lines, and they're not punctuated. I've read somewhere that you've said that, in the strictest sense, you would consider yourself a formalist. You write in "free verse" — what are we supposed to make ofthis comment? Well, I've always felt that poetry is extremely formal. Even a poem in so-called free verse is saying:"This is the form of the poem, but in this case, it happens only once. But this is its form." The form and the impulse, the form and the substance really are the same — I mean, that's what you want. I think that there is always a play between spontaneity and form. There has to be a tension between them. You have to have these two poles. And you have to have the tension — the tension is where the excitement is. Ifyou let go ofeither end, the whole thing goes slack. You think ofthe best so-called free verse poems and the language is very tense, because they're playing with the energy ofthe lines. I'm thinking of something like "Meditations ofan Old Woman" ofRoethke's — free verse poems that I admire very much. There's immense energy in the individual lines. So, that's formal verse, and Roethke, I think, would have said so. So you think that the notion that one writes in free verse to free oneself of the shackles offormal constraints is bogus? I think that's purely a matter ofat what point you come to it. I think that there will come a point where so-called free verse will become a terrible, restrictive, deadly, and dull convention, with which you couldn't do anything. Forms actually allow you to do things. They're not restrictions, they're empowerments, they're things that allow things to happen. Sometimes you can write something only in a particular form — the form makes it possible. As with all conventions, they can become hackneyed, dull, dead, and ofno use, but, in themselves, they're neither good nor bad. I'm curious about your experience as the judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets. In your short tenure there, have you learned anything or come to any even tentative conclusions about the state or future of American poetry?
throw out everything and say this is all hopeless, and so on. I was very sad not to have a manuscript. I don't know what predecessors of mine have done, but I did find out later that I wasn't the first person who had despaired ofa year's worth of manuscripts. But every manuscript that I read, it was not that there was no talent in them, but there was no complete book manuscript about which I could say,"Yes, this whole thing can be published as a book." And I don't think it's my role to enter into an editorial relationship with the writers and say,"Ifyou do this and that with your manuscript, you might have something you can send in next year." There were manuscripts in which there were individual poems,and sometimes quite a few individual poems,so that if! had been publishing a magazine I would have said, "I would like to take this, that, and the other poem and publish them." But to take the whole manuscript and publish it as a book, I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it because I've got to write an essay, which makes it seem that I approve ofthis whole thing. I thought, not with these poems in it, I can't do that. This manuscript just doesn't measure up. Several ofthe people who were finalists came to me,just by chance, in the course ofthe months after that, in different places where I was reading; they came up and introduced themselves to me. And they said, yes, basically they agreed, that their own manuscript wasn't really as finished as it should have been. Maybe it will be more finished the next time. I think the manuscript that's come out this year [Craig Arnold's Shells] is very remarkable. The young man conceived it as a group of poems — I don't mean that that's the only way to do it at all, but it's interesting that he conceived it as a book, as a group of poems,around a central image. When you publish a book mainly of lyric poems, say The River Sound, do you think of it as as much of a book as you would of a book-length poem, like The Folding Cliffs? Do you aim for that kind of coherence? I don't aim for it in the sense that I write poems with that in mind. I suppose the nearest I came to doing that was The Vixen. I began finding that I was writing these poems in the same form,and they were all about the same place — this was going to be a group ofpoems. I didn't plan it as a group of poems. I planned the opening poem, which is in several parts, and then the others kept coming. They kept coming until there was a book. That book has a sort ofcoherence of its own.There's been a point at which every book, certainly
I don't know how typical the manuscripts that I see — and I 30 see a small number after a great many ofthem have been read in a preliminary way — I don't know how typical they are ofwriting in the States. I don't know that anyone knows that. The first year, I felt very disappointed. I didn't deliberately
from The Moving Target on, seemed to reach a point where, all ofa sudden, it was complete. They added up to something where everything was coherent, had a kind ofcoherence. All ofthe poems seemed to belong together. But that's a subjective thing, there are no formulae for that. Whom did you enjoy reading the most when you were younger? It was a very funny progression. Shakespeare kind ofseeped in until Shakespeare became very, very important. But it was gradual. I fell in love with Milton, ofall things, when I was a freshman. I was crazy about Milton, to the point where I didn't really want to read any more Milton — it was hard to hear anything else. And then the Romantics. Shelley and Keats. A lot ofShelley. And then to the Moderns. Pound was the first ofthe Moderns that I read. Then,ofcourse, it all began to branch out from there. A lot ofreading Stevens and Spenser at the same time. That's the way I think it ought to be. I think that to get stuck in any period, including one's own,is dangerous. I've always loved the Middle Ages. I don't think many people realize it, but that has always been a very strong influence. And I've come to love it more. Have you found yourself influenced — and it might be hard to detect, I guess — by the work of your contemporaries and friends? Or is that somehow too close?
And to think that Yeats and Hardy were writing at the same time. Hardy understood Yeats pretty well; Yeats didn't understand Hardy at all! What do you think of when you look at your earliest poems, say the things you wrote when you were a college student? Oh,I didn't publish them. You mean the earliest published things? I mean, there they are, it's history. I have nothing to do with it any more. It's part ofa chronological development and, yes, you could take them out ofa Selected Poems, but, these busy scholars go digging them up again — you can't totally suppress these things. I don't feel happy about revising things; after a certain period, I don't think there's much you can do. Because you're not the person — your sensibility and your mind and everything else have moved on from when you were hearing that poem. You're not hearing the same things. I think people that tinker with their own poems a lot like Graves and Auden generally ruin them. The later versions ofthem are usually awful. You know, it may not be a very good poem, but you have to leave it. You didn't write a very good poem! Certainly, the poets published in these pages are younger even than the ones whose manuscripts you will select. Do you see any special problems confronting college-age writers? Do you think that a student with an interest in writing poetry would be wellserved to enroll in writing workshops, or do you think one's time would be better spent in the library and in more conventional classes, or just sitting down and trying to write?
I can't tell. The funny thing is that, in the late 50s and early 6os, when,all ofa sudden, a number ofpeople began to A lot's been said about this. You get extremes: people say, write in a different way,some ofthe journalists and critics "Oh,they're dreadful things, they damage you," and so forth. assumed that we all got together in a room and worked it out I think they can damage you. I think they can also encourage as a calculated program. Nothing ofthe kind happened. false dependence on other people's opinions about things far I think Bly bullied Wright, James Wright, for a while, locked too soon. There are all sorts ofdangers to them. The great him in and said,"You go write some things," and James did advantage to the — I hate the word,"workshop," anyway,it complain about it afterwards, but it was good for him, and it seems to me very dreary—but I think they may be ofuse in did actually make that sort of breakthrough. But James that they focus attention, your own and other people's, on Wright never put down the very formal early writing that he what you're doing and make you take it seriously. And they made. He was very good at it, too. Look at that poem,"A Note give you time and encourage you to actually do this writing Left in Jimmy Leonard's Shack." Do you know that? A wonwhich you might not otherwise have done. I think that all of derful poem. And really the great influence on his poems at those things are good, and you're also meeting other people the beginning was Hardy. He really understood Hardy. your own age who are reading a lot and are getting excited Do you read Hardy? Do young people? Hardy's wonderful. and are talking about these things. I think the reading part of You think sometimes he's very sloppy and bad, but he isn't. it is probably every bit as interesting as the writing part, readYou don't want to imitate him, because nobody else can get ing each other. But also encouraging you to read poetry in away with the things Hardy does, but his best poems are just general. One ofthe drawbacks that I see is the tendency to wonderful. There's nobody like him. Absolutely terrific. focus only on contemporary things. I see a lot ofyoung writers, and I talk to them,and I'm shocked to find how little 31 THE YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE they know(many ofthem, not all ofthem,certainly) ofanybody before the 6os, ifthey go back that far! The fact that they would actually read Chaucer for pleasure, or Keats for pleasure, or Wyatt. They don't know what they're missing.
San Diego Sequence: Prologue Ben LaBreche Pick up the paranoia of the times. Pick up the local paper, The infinite grind of twenty-six letters. But get the parents' answers Out of your head, their age's romance, their youth's disillusion. No nightingales, no skylarks. Let's kill even the quail That pines in the canyon. The only plume here writes brush fire. And ditch the suburbs' cats that yowl before the bowl, Glutted on dystopia, purring discontent. Sing the land's limits: the ocean mumbling in the west, The silent eastern desert. Sing half-heard Spanish. Sing praise to the Age of Gerald Ford, To his monuments, seen from highways by untrained eyes: Commuters stare, half-moved, halfway in between, Jerk into the future, stall, try to measure time's passage By chrome's uncertain flash, the traffic's troubled slide. Free the ear and throat: throw the whisperer from your back, Tear ()tithe binding laurels. And if you need some wreath , Look only to the interchanges coiled ahead, the moment passin
The crowning shadow as we speed beneath.
32 SPRING 1999
untitled John Mitchell
TFIE YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE
Good Numbers Daniel Kellum He lifts the Tube, and levels with his Eye; Strait a short Thunder breaks thefrozen Sky, Oft as in Airy Rings they skim the Heath, The clam'rous Lapwingsfeel the Leaden Death: Oft as the mounting Larks their notes prepare, They fall, and leave their little Lives in Air. - Alexander Pope,"Windsor Forest" We be leaving you now, good buddy, and be passing along those good numbers to you. - From the manual, How to CB
The CB hemorrhaged halfway to Tampa, as if it had swallowed staples instead ofaspirins, as jilts colon was bunged with bile catching hooks and blood clots. Miles deep into the trip, it purred and coughed, its sound clipping occasionally like buckshot. It sounded like hunting, like shotguns, the lake's lotion haze, like the slip friction of oilcloth packed in case of rain. We, stupidly, casually, nested in the trees as our fathers felled geese with exploding acorns. We were too bored to watch them as they suspended these ornaments in the sky. They caterwauled upon completion of their task - not seeing us - they barked for us to emerge. You might have been killed they insisted, shaking us. The sky had been cluttered with shells. 2
I radioed a so-r and kept driving. I thought you would copy, understanding about the radio. I thought we would meet up in Tampa, our trucks slaked with the innards of your dead father's house. It was after the funeral. It was a miserable haul. On the black tar road, I caught only taillights - the branches
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of untended constellations — speeding, dripping over the hills. In those ten hours the river ofcars seemed as lonely as space. 3 I'm keeping it to the double nickels," you transmitted relentlessly, trying to explain about cops you'd heard about on another channel. You kept radioing until you hit Florida, at which point there was no use. We unpacked when you arrived, hours after I did. You crabbed about CB etiquette as I explained about the awful transmission, the night spent without sleep, and the stars. The old furniture out ofthe truck was plainer than your wife's. Spare-jointed, heavy like a workman's hand it looked shellacked as morning crept into the garage. But it was the tables and things, you decided,
that were worth the cost oftransport.
4 The birds and buckshot plummeted inelegantly. They teetered without choreography, and we collected their corpses laughing, throwing them like kindling into our bag.
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Look, Stephen," your father nudged on one ofthose trips. It's an owl," he said,"A young spotted one," and we looked into its yellow, shock-opened eyes and plucked out the pinestraw that clung like jewelry to its feathers as it fell.
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As I Walked Out One Morning Greg Tigani Certainty,fidelity On the stroke of midnight pass Like vibrations ofa bell. â€” W.H. Auden This is the last stroke, love. Prepare yourself. Make no more plans. Take down the flowers from The shelf; the time has long since passed for them. Love has no ending only in itself. The face oflove whirrs differently than clocks, A movement honed by want and justly tired, A faithfulness wound down, then finely laid Into the slender drawer of belts and socks. leen Murray
Tempered who wakes dream-tined and dawn-consoled Who reaches long to shut the alarm bell, And feels the certain life paid by the toll, The good breath after heaving bare the tower: So through damp hairs and sheets the morning tells To lie back down and wait the patient lover.
36 SPRING 1999
Just Westward Paul Mellon We are too near the springs oflife to see The cold, clear vision ofthe world you've found. Our swallows fly too closely to the ground And soar with sharp, ecstatic instancy; They have not heard the aged willow-tree Whisper its cynic secrets, with a sound Indicative ofits serene, profound Acquaintanceship with all eternity. Why should they think that summer has an end Because a maple dons a scarlet gown And gold is scattered on the forest floor? They see beyond the river's farthest bend Just westward, where the evening sun sinks down, Another paradise from which to soar.
Paul Mellon's death on February 1 of this year was mourned by many. His contributions to the arts and to education defy summary. We can say with conviction that this magazine would not exist in its present form were it not for his generosity. Mellon, the son of businessman Andrew Mellon, graduated from Yale in 1929 and went on to study at Cambridge University, where he received Bachelor's and Master's degrees. He served as president of the National Gallery of Art from its opening in 1941 until 1979, and founded the Yale Center for British Art. He received honorary degrees from Oxford, Yale and the Carnegie Institute, and collected numerous awards, including the decoration of honorary knight commander ofthe Order of the British Empire and a prize for distinguished service to the arts from the National Institute for Arts and Letters. Paul Mellon published both poetry and fiction in The Yale Literary Magazine during his years at Yale. "Just Westward" appeared in January, 1929.
39 THE YALE
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• .• ""%• 43.4o
New England House Sarah Rubinstein
40 SPRING 1999
Editors-in-Chief Kamran Javadizadeh Darby Saxbe Managing Editors Alexis Jones Greg Tigani Business Manager Calvin Wright
Art Editor Nicole Piar Photography Editor Farrah Karapetian Public Relations Director Siddhartha Shukla Design Prem Krishnamurthy Rob Giampietro
Staff Rebecca Armstrong, Molly Ball, Bidisha Banerjee, Jessica Bulman, Lise Clavel, Sarah England, Leyla Ertegun, Katherine Feather, Meredith B. Gordon, Benjamin Gould, Meni Hancock-Brainerd, Odile Joly, Carey Knecht, Jenny Ludwig, Matthew Longo, Caolan Madden, Danica Novgorodoff, Rebecca Onion, Karen Paik, Elizabeth Prestel, Daphna Renan, Eric Rosenthal, Jennifer Russ, Yomei Shaw, Aria Sloss, Jennifer Vogel, Emily Weiss, Margaux Wexberg, Devon Willamson, Emma Winger
Acknowledgements Nolen, William The editors ofThe Yale Literary Magazine wish to thank Philip Greene, Francis Bergen, Wilson Hammer, Langdon Review, Curtis Carroll Davis, W.S. Merwin, Susan Bianconi and J.D. McClatchy at The Yale Joe Maynard at Yale Audrey Healy, Harvey Goldblatt, Rosemarie Gibbons,and the Pierson College Sudler Fund, Abraham Levitan, Printing Services, John Robinson at GIST, Jessica Winter and Lainie Rutkow,Jed Roher, Pearly Sweets and The Polio Kids, Rhythmic Blue, Commodore 64, Gaslight, The Exit Players, The Sextones, Bart and Judy Saxbe, the Platonics, Lucy Schaeffer, Sandy and Alan Croll, David Young and Georgia Newman, and Mahmoud, Malak, and Rita Javadizadeh.
The contents ofThe Yale Literary Magazine are ÂŠ1999. No portion ofthe contents may be reprinted or reproduced without permission. All rights reserved.
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The Yale Literary Magazine is a non-profit, registered undergraduate organization at Yale University. The views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those ofthe editors or staff members. Yale University is not responsible for the contents ofthe magazine.
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The winner ofThe Francis Bergen Memorial Prize for Poetry is "Weeding" by Sarah Dews. Langdon Hammer judged the contest.
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