44.1 Feature: Craft Essay by L. Vella
L. Vella has poems that have appeared in or are forthcoming from Spork, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Birdfeast, and Sugar House Review. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and currently lives and works in Iowa City.
Dear Kaleidoscope: On the Poems in Black Warrior Review
by L. Vella
If you persist in wearing your mask at the supper table / Well Goodnight Then
—Anne Carson, “Red Meat: Fragments of Stesichoros,” Autobiography of Red
At dusk, the crows. Then cicadas, two barred owls out back, a train horn around midnight, soft snoring on the other side of the bed. Cats yowl down the street. A summer storm rolls in before dawn, thunder clapping a dog awake. When the sun comes up, a sparrow nest in the gutter by the kitchen door, a motorcycle on its way to work.
When I was born, I slept so much my mother thought something was wrong. She tells me this story all the time. On Halloween 1993, my father married my stepmother. I was the flower girl, dressed in my pointy princess hat from the Renaissance Festival and a matching dress that my stepmother had made. Hours before the ceremony, I fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning, I ate leftover cake and wondered where everybody was. At my first concert – Whitney Houston at the Palace of Auburn Hills during her Bodyguard Tour – I fell asleep. I fell asleep during hockey games, movies, my brother’s graduation. There are days where I lay down in the afternoon and don’t wake up until morning. In my dreams, I fall asleep over and over again.
When I wake up, I am five hundred miles away from the city I grew up in. I wonder where I will wake up next.
Over and over the world fragile.
—Laurie Sheck, “Notes on the Earth Seen from Space,” A Monster’s Notes
This series of poems began with the idea of a twin Earth lost on the other side of the sun, eclipsed, antipodal. The idea morphed into myth, as Mercury, planet and god, tasked with finding Proserpina. Planet, now woman, the contours of her body form from rotation, create and are created. She becomes weathered. She becomes phased. She grows one fingernail at a time.
Each poem became a planet, rotating, magnetic, swapping and connecting images and words and form. Or each poem is the same planet, a palimpsest, clouding and eclipsing and expanding.
c’est ce sable noir qui se saboule au hoquet de l’abîme … / cette gorgée d’astres revomie en gâteau de lucioles
it is this black sand which roughs itself up on the hiccup of the abyss … / this mouthful of stars revomited into a cake of fireflies
—Aimé Césaire, “Comptine,” Ferrements
On a moonless summer night in Riverside, Iowa, I camped with friends on the banks of the Iowa River. Earlier, we played and lost, in the 1st Annual Trek Fest Softball Tournament. The lights of the fields were flooded with moths as big as birds, spiraling up and falling back down to terrorize red shirt spectators. When we made our way back to the river, our campsite was pitch black but for the countless fireflies coruscating between the trees and reeds as far as we could see. They stayed like that until we fell asleep.
Abyss as prima materia, the chaos from which everything was created. In other words, every time we wake: a new world.
Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Somewhere along the way, these poems turned into love letters and lullabies. To the city I’ve left behind, to my lover about to leave me, to my sleeping self. I dream myself out of a body, untethered. Or, unearthed.
In my earliest remembered dream, I’m trapped on a boat sinking into a swamp swarming with alligators. A woman waits for me on another boat, close by. She might be my mother or my grandmother or me, all grown up. It’s nearly too far, but she calls my name and I step up to the edge. I jump. And I fall, into a mouth open and full of teeth. I rise up, watching, and float further and further away.
Did you, do you ever stop falling? / I repeat your name / a word / it almost means / nothing
—Rachel Zucker, “Letter [ Demeter to Persephone],” Eating in the Underworld
By the time I graduated high school, I’d moved over seven times. All those houses I grew up in, I still walk through the hallways. Here, the carpet that stains our socks. Here, the closet under the stairs that smells like camping gear. Here, the laundry room where we keep the dog kennels. The same furniture, but different rooms. Then different furniture, then different rooms, then different people. I remember each hiding spot, each door with a lock, which windows were big enough to climb through.
Sometimes I dream that I’m claustrophobic when there aren’t any walls. Lost in the space between sleeping and waking, I look for an escape route, but I can’t find one. So I create one. I unravel the chaos around me. I unravel memories, names, images, sentences, words, sounds. From the scraps, poems.
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