ditch,

the poetry that matters

Lea Graham

Lea Graham is the author of the poetry book, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No Tell Books, 2011) and of the chapbook, Calendar Girls (above ground Press, 2006). Her poems, essays, translations and reviews have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Notre Dame Review, Delirious Hem, Southern Humanities Review and Fifth Wednesday. She is a contributing editor for Atticus Review and works as an Associate Professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York where she teaches poetry and travel writing among other exciting subjects. Lea Graham was born in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in Northwest Arkansas.

 

Notes from the Camino de Santiago Compostela

 

Outside a bar in Santillana del Mar, I am drinking café con leche where the bella donnas & bleeding hearts decant the eye with the same pitch as your arms swelling Alberta. The Torture Museum only charges 3.50 Euro to cruise iron maidens, punishing shoes. There’s rumor of human femurs fashioned as ritual trumpets across the street & these cobblestones throb with eternal question: “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” (Clash fan?) Pot-bellied pigs punctuate our days & sifra by starlight. Hawks & wind & the rocking lemons of Cantabria! Weeks of foot after foot like an extravagance of poem writing. We eat fish & mushrooms at noon beneath cowbells & dowsing rods—a bit like sitting below your own divine guide, the gear of near future. You might wonder: Where’s that phial of Mary’s milk, the foreskin of Jesus, splinters from Calvary? They elude me. I pick field flowers for you & Cooley in Cigüenza on a day lost to construction: Bright tape & gravel, the blah blah blah of hard hats obscuring this ancient way. Each morning, the cliffs of Finisterra prepare themselves in blue. This costa del morte, this end of the world. We will burn rough bread, an emery board; we will drink an earthy red to what will be.

 

 

 

A Note on Crows, February 14, 2012

                 

Last Thursday, the light at the ridge above that bend in the Hudson spread like Dreamsicles in July. Crows valentined dumpsters. The earth called cadence below. Lamps floated stem-less, sturgeon moons in a month of wolf whistles & Route 9’s chemical taste. Was it Williams who said “the hardest thing to do is see”? (Or was that just my gynecologist?) As a kid, my mother caged a crow believing one day it would sing “Hello, Dolly.” She faithfully fed it pork chops under a sycamore tree. Instead, it ate her spelling bee ring. She often said: Crows love the shiny things. Beware.

 

 

 

Notes from Okay

 

                Is not landscape an event as well as a setting?

                                                From Robert Kroetsch, The Crow Journals

 

I am writing this from the roof of an evangelical preacher’s house in circumambulating barks & crows, the pounding of papaya leaves, a capella in the dark. Today a woman said I looked like her dead daughter by Jimmy, the Mississippi sailor, she found lost & wandering in the 70s. It is mango season & I have learned to say I love you in Kreyol. The children write je m’apelle…& salut, Lea & je taime beaucoup in my journal when I look the other way. Open sewers of styrofoam. Zinglan like crooked incisors in each wall’s ridge keep us out or keep us in. We sneak beers called Prestige. Kisa = what is. I have learned one banana tree yields 100 bananas in one year. I have learned Les Cayes is Aux Cayes is Okay. I have learned “cartacacoethes” is the uncontrollable compulsion to see maps everywhere. Kikote = where. On Gelée Beach today, a man in a Yankees jersey shook his Bible in my face, spoke of rapture, certain I could only learn by hortatorical gesture. Cow Island, at sightline. Sean Penn on the plane. Plagatox names the bug spray. Seeing is like the history of maps, lots of omissions & lots of gaps. The nameless Maroon blowing his conch shell to gather the revolution, a photograph of a statue in my Lonely Planet.

 

 

A Note about Ghosts or Rapture or Language or Something

 

Reading “Driving into Calgary” you shimmer & I stray

into your sweet fright of childhood: your Aunt Annie

gumming a peppermint. My Baptist ladies in A-line

 

skirts & bobs, the men in creased slacks rising, all rise

to meet their Jesus from the born-again tracts of my

imagination. Why does mystery need a night-light?

 

How the graves of Haiti shine green & share yards

with the living as they share the cross, the twining

snake & rainbow. Why not? Tonton Macoutes,

 

only means “Uncle Gunnysack.” Trickster uncle,

kidnapping assassin. The people wear red

underclothes to keep their ghosts away.

 

I read poems to invite mine.

 

 

A Deviating Elegy for Robert Kroetsch

 

Last Friday a house fire burned three young people to their deaths. One of them, my former student, wrote a paper on futurism & wore orange boots. That was three years ago. Eva. Her name means life—something I recalled each time she rolled in tardy. I didn’t mind much. She knew her Picasso & I liked her sass. Four others threw themselves, that night, from second-story windows & lived. The fire so hot, I heard, it charred the cars next door. I sat here—ten blocks away—in lamplight & the green of my jade plant, I call Jay. I read your Letters to Salonika & roasted red peppers. I watched Tim Roth & Julia Ormond shag on the floor of a bog in a bar off a roundabout in Southgate. Forgive me, elegy is a cruel suspension. I think I smelled the smoke.

 

Some years ago, another former student adopted my cat, Sushi. She was a painter, who studied yoga in Brooklyn. (The student, not the cat). She dreamed of working on Coney Island & picked up a Russian engineer in the L’Abattoir Bar in Gastown, B.C. Bob, we just can’t make this stuff up. Now, I hear, she claws his traps nightly. Last year, Sushi passed to Joey, a hunky 27 year old with a shirtless Facebook photo. He moved to Portland & renamed her Death Metal. She was probably 90 in cat years when she died this week. I always loved how she laid back in my arms like a sated baby, her nasal drip & exposed fangs. Her gut drug the canvas of the Changó I gave to my ex one Christmas. Its ochre & cerise remain in me like the wistful knowledge of Bast, the Egyptian cat guardian of marriage. The unintentional details of love deliver us. You might say: Love is an absence of middles. You might say: Loneliness is a fire. Today, a former student of a former colleague writes me: The treachery of closeness equals distance, ends in loss.

 

A few days ago, I stood in a gallery alone beneath The Ascension of St. Mary Magdalene. She seemed to rise towards a great hearth. Her blond curls suggested water, recalled Eva. Oiled faces shimmered in smoky light above her & the pale bellies of angels below. Here alone in this dark place, she embodied the alchemical concept of fire as cynosure of all. I thought Heraclitus, too. But grief doesn’t come in two’s.

 

How does any of this salve the gone? You might say: Hold your horses. / It was a nice trip/ to heaven. Let us/ now visit the earth. On Facebook, Eva’s photographs breathe, blooming my screen, a ruse of memory & machine. Sometimes the inauthentic grips the throat just as tight. As you sought your mother, Bob, her mother might search: on the shores of a dozen islands, in the pages of ten thousand books, in the spaces between the clouds, in the fall of, the weight of, the silence of snow. In black & white she vogues near a stream: akimbo & jawbone & the arched brow of tomorrow.

 

 

For a few months now I have been writing you as if you sit still at your desk in Heisler, your ear pressed to prairie. In January, I listened to your disembodied voice recorded twenty years ago, sounding like yesterday. (But Bob, we both know that the idea of slopping the hogs is not the same as slopping the hogs.) I wrote poems in a trailer on Vineyard Haven among maps hanging from clotheslines strung across the room: Saskatchewan & Georgia & Haiti & Dublin. Cigarette butts & sea grass striated the beach under streetlights on my nightly walks. I read the poems of your mother & to your lovers. I read the poems that counsel themselves & friends. Roy Kiyooka hit town in a hot-air balloon & we should all have another beer!

 

I will receive a scrawled note postmarked Alberta any day. I sent you purple flowers from Galicia last June—& you, graciously, sent me saskatoons. The imagination staves. Imagination, a stave. Bob, when will the bees arrive?

 

 

 

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                                                                                                                September 3, 2013