A Collaborative Work


Sonnet XII

I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
By the known rules of ancient liberty,
When straight a barbarous noise environs me
Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs:
As when those hinds that were transform'd to frogs
Rail'd at Latona's twin-born progeny
Which after held the sun and moon in fee.
But this is got by casting pearl to hogs,
That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
And still revolt when truth would set them free.
Licence they mean when they cry liberty;
For who loves that, must first be wise and good.
But from that mark how far they rove we see,
For all this waste of wealth and loss of blood.

---John Milton

I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs,
wailed Milton back in sixteen seventy-three--
an age so hooked on legal corsetry
that neither his own mannered monologues
nor Donne's bloodthirsty, voyeuristic bugs
could do a thing to save its legacy.
A pretty inauspicious century
it was--replete with prigs and pedagogues.

"How blind they were," we solemnly conclude--
"how overcome with triviality!"
We shake our heads, and turn complacently
to our own day--this splendid interlude
where fallen angels plead insanity,
and every evil has its platitude.

Enter the idealistic divorcé.
By the known rules of ancient liberty
the sin was incompatibility;
when marriage, that delectable soufflé,
fell before it reached the serving tray,
we might have asked for more than entropy
and indigestion, neighbors getting flirty
on Bread Street and tripping up a stairway.

At the altar, everyone's an angel:
wingtips polished, lace like snowflakes pressed
against the heat of consummation, the swell
of beautiful, living bodies. Wedding guest,
haven't you wept finding yourself addressed
and caught your tongue at what you could not tell?

I'm in the mood for peace and relaxation,
and ask my son for music: "Choose a CD."
When straight a barbarous noise environs me.
MF Doom, Cool Man Association,
Necro, Del the Funky Homosapien.
Blackalicious, Apathy, Ol' Dirty
Bastard. Tricky, Eastern Philosophy.
Army of the Pharaohs. All Creation

shakes and jives and shivers to the hellish sound
blasting from the dashboard, loud and clear.
The point drives home: we can't get out of here.
Sempiternal night, zero's our ground.
We're pissed off, amped, hopped up, and tightly wound,
like the digitalized music of our sphere.

The middle class abides by catalogues
addressed on Google's fount of URLs--
images flash and sound: hoots, brays, barks, yells
of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs--
the last were simmered, served with raw quahogs
in winter--link recipe: parallel
lines of text foxtrot till your eyeballs jell--
affected pupils swim like pollywogs.

Adobe flaps its winged Acro-bat,
backtracks, segues whistling new/old iTunes,
Wikipedia tells all as Crosby croons.
Amazon's got your book, sink, mouse, plumed hat.
In rhyme or prose, virtual habitat
clicks to Paypal: your charge account balloons.

Your cheek pressed to the kitchen table. So Prague
has left behind an aftertaste of bills.
Don't fret. You got your Cecil B. DeMille
vacation: castles, riding horses, bogs--
as when those hinds that were transformed to frogs
just stood and stared, you gaped hard at her still
that day. We've broken things--commandments. I kill
the birds you bring me; you take it out in jogs,

while I prowl with my accountants. You suck
the marrow from my savings plan and call
it yours. The beach is where you go to maul
the school girls with your horrid Czech. Luck-
ily I didn't take your wrongful name.
I watch you crying through the window pane.

She paged her way through MySpace, checked the blogs
spent hours on CNN and BBC,
then lodged complaints with all the powers that be:
cursed the Works in which we are but cogs,
smashed her ziggurat of Lincoln Logs,
rail'd at Latona's twin-born progeny,
maligned the Holy One (dismissed be He),
thumbed her nose at entire catalogues
of minor nature deities; what good
does it do to have a progressive society
with multiple perspectives, valuing every
enlightening force--the Buddha, the whole brood
of Hindu gods, the Higher Power, the Virgin Mary--
when people still can be so goddamn rude?

I dream my students with the nuanced prose--
the essays I looked forward to. They key
into a neighbor's home repeatedly;
odd bags and boxes vanish at the close
of that red door. I do not interpose;
I reminisce. Did we write poetry,
which after held the sun and moon? In fee
means a kind of limited ownership. I pose
the problem of the teacher's possessive my,
but cross the threshold nevertheless to find
a homemade bomb where I had hoped to spy
a coffee table, tea cup, curled orange rind,
and journals open to fresh pages: my kind.
Not this flashing point, the unblinking eye.

A pox upon you, Charlie's Chili Dogs,
Starbucks, Chipotle, Coldstone Creamery,
you harpies of the dreaded calorie--
quit hitting on me till my judgment fogs,
and every vein and capillary clogs
with drippings from your latest recipe!
Forget the Lean Cuisine. It's not for me--
but this is! Got by, casting pearl to hogs
for years and years--gave all my sweets away,
ate naked salad, kept the flab at bay.
But lately my resolve's begun to flounder,
my seams have split, my aft has gang agley.
And so: if Death-by-Chocolate wins the day,
at least you'll find a happy corpse. If rounder.

I packed her boxes. Then once more in my dreams,
as if the world were falling apart. So when
they found her, I flew to that long box again
as if repacking would keep the tan-taped seams
from, she'd say, Apocalypse! on the Eames
chair, of all places!
But this is her language, her pen,
her psychic journal, not mine. Why do I mention
what is not? Why tame these dreams and daydreams

that bawl for freedom in their senseless mood?
No, they are not senseless. They do not bawl.
This glass bird; that napkin nest. It all,
it all makes sense. But what a petty sense
of a life poured out too soon. What recompense
when we break? Do we eat her uneaten food?

"My kid's in rehab. How I wish that he
could kick the coke." "You think you've got it rough?
My daughter wrecked her body with that stuff,
and now she's into rum and Ecstasy."
"Remember when our children watched TV
in footie jams and tutus, played at gruff
old G.I. Joe and Princess Barbie?" "Enough,
enough. Can't sleep, I'm full of dread, I see
a path of fire. The young ones play with death
and still revolt when truth would set them free."
"Truth? What truth? Revolt could set them free--
not 'being good,' not marshalling their breath,
their thoughts, their deeds. I want the living tree,
my kingdom wild and full of joy, the Lord saith."

One pundit notes how public attitudes
reflect our country's harsh colonial past:
fighting Indians, witches, the British king.
Count on one hand recorded interludes
of calm, genuine sense of "peace at last!"
Seeking truth, it's to the Bill of Rights we cling,
and argue over. Source for lobbies, feuds,
attorneys' income, Capitol bombast.
Patriotic fear triggers rifles swinging
anywhere. Some want to wave guns without
license. They mean, when they cry "Liberty"
to stand like Boone, a raccoon-hatted scout.
These times arouse frontier mentality--
look--in your backyard trash--a wild bear's snout.

You could be any sin I used to love:
the dollar in my palm, a wallet slimmed;
the back door broken open, unlocked limbs;
parents gone on weekends, hundreds shoved
inside the body of our house worn skinless.
Hymens broken in an upstairs room,
a neighbor's call, a gun, a siren's bloom.
On the wall, blood. A piece of dress.
I remember running; the cop in the woods
who sat me down with photos of his kids.
So years go by. I keep the words he said--
"For who loves that must first be wise and good"--
close by, each time you touch and ask: "Who is
this lamb in the Faustus hood so falsely led?"

Each time one or the other of them flogs
the same dead horse, whether it's she or he--
"I always listen! Why can't you listen to me?"
or "Can't you keep your name off the police logs
for just one week?"--the space between them fogs
like a grey midwinter morning; out to sea
they drift, misguided, thinking it might be
different this time, but all their dialogues
end the same way. Crimes of the past intrude
on every present moment; history
keeps them unhorsed, rudderless. How earnestly
they seek the star that will guide them toward the good.
But from that mark how far they rove we see--
they'd never follow it, even if they could.

Wait. A miracle could happen here.
The moon, for instance--is it turning blue
tonight, by any chance? And is it true
that in this war-beleaguered atmosphere,
the fat lady is singing loud and clear--
and all the cows, grievously overdue,
are coming home at last? I challenge you
to claim you don't sniff promise in the air.

But let's not say a word. It's understood
we really shouldn't talk about surviving
cataclysm, or that we're reviving
a sorry, sinking decade in a flood
of mindless hope. But something here is thriving,
for all this waste of wealth and loss of blood.

1, 8, 14 Marilyn L. Taylor
2, 7, 9 Kathrine Varnes
3, 10 Ann Fisher-Wirth
4, 11 Charlotte Mandel
5, 12 Tatyana Mishel
6, 13 Diane Arnson Svarlien


Ann Fisher-Wirth's third book of poems, Carta Marina, will appear from Wings Press in 2009. She is the author of Blue Window (Archer Books, 2003) and Five Terraces (Wind Publications, 2005) and of two chapbooks--The Trinket Poems (Wind, 2003) and Walking Wu Wei's Scroll (online, Drunken Boat, 2005). With Laura-Gray Street she is coediting Earth's Body, an international anthology of ecopoetry in English. Her awards include a Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, the Rita Dove Poetry Award, a Poetry Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, two Poetry Fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission, seven Pushcart nominations, and a Pushcart Special Mention. She has had Fulbrights to Switzerland and Sweden. She teaches at the University of Mississippi.

Charlotte Mandel's latest collection of poems titled Rock Vein Sky was published August 2008 by Midmarch Arts Press. Six previous books of poetry include Sight Lines and two poem-novellas of feminist biblical revision--The Life of Mary (foreword by Sandra M. Gilbert), and The Marriages of Jacob. She edited Saturday's Women, the Eileen W. Barnes Award Anthology of poems by women over 40, co-edited by Maxine Silverman and Rachel Hadas. As an independent scholar, she has published a series of articles on the role of cinema in the life and work of poet H.D., and essays on May Sarton. She teaches "Translating Silences," a poetry writing course with additional study of a "Poet of the Month" at Barnard College Center for Research on Women. Visit her online. Visit her online. Earlier work in Mezzo Cammin: 2007.1

Tatyana Mishel lives in Seattle where she works as a writer and editor. She is also the editor of In Posse Review. Her forthcoming chapbook, Good Girl, Bad Alchemy will be published by Pudding House Press.

Diane Arnson Svarlien is a verse translator living in Lexington, Kentucky. Her translations of Euripides's Alcestis, Medea, and Hippolytus were published by Hackett in 2007 and 2008. She was trained in Classics and poetry at the University of Texas at Austin (Ph.D. in Classics, M.A. in Greek) and the University of Virginia (B.A. in Classics and English). Her translations of Greek and Roman poetry have appeared in Agni, Arion, Translation, and other journals, and in the anthologies Latin Lyric and Elegiac Poetry and Homosexuality in Greece and Rome; a selection is accessible online in the Anthology section of the site Diotima, and a selection of translations from Greek is forthcoming in The Norton Anthology of Greek Poetry in Translation. Diane is Visiting Associate Professor of Classical Languages at Georgetown College in Kentucky, and Poetry Editor for translations and original Latin and Greek verse for Classical Outlook.

Marilyn Taylor's poems have appeared in Poetry, Measure, The American Scholar, The Formalist, and many other journals and anthologies. Her work won first place in recent competitions sponsored by Dogwood, Passager, The Ledge, and GSU Review; her second full-length collection, titled Subject to Change, was nominated for the Poets Prize in 2005. Her latest chapbook, The Seven Very Liberal Arts, was published in 2006 in a fine letterpress limited edition by Aralia Press. Another chapbook, titled Going Wrong, is due out in mid-2009 from Parallel Press. Marilyn is a Contributing Editor for The Writer magazine, where her articles on poetic craft appear bi-monthly. She has taught for many years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was recently selected the Poet Laureate of Wisconsin. Earlier work in Mezzo Cammin: 2006.1

Kathrine Varnes writes poems and plays in Mamaroneck, New York, the setting for certain alleged indiscretions of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Kathrine has taught for two decades in a range of institutions, from inner city high schools to elite private colleges, most recently at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Her book of poems, The Paragon (Word Tech 2005), contains a range of formal experimentations from the nonce to the avant garde. Further poems and essays have appeared in publications such as Valparaiso Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Measure, Prairie Schooner, Black Clock, Connotations, After New Formalism, and Parnassus. Kathrine is also co-editor with Annie Finch of An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of their Art (University of Michigan Press 2002) and a coordinator of collaborative sonnet crowns.


Sarah Busse
Barbara Crooker
Jehanne Dubrow
Annie Finch
Ann Fisher-Wirth
Dolores Hayden
Melanie Houle
Michele Leavitt
Diane Lockward
Charlotte Mandel
Ann Michael
Tatyana Mishel
Jennifer Reeser
Wendy Sloan
Diane Arnson Svarlien
Marilyn Taylor
Kathrine Varnes
Terri Witek
Marly Youmans

Marion Belanger: My current project, Continental Drift: Iceland/California, is structured around the geologic boundary that forms the edge of the North Atlantic Continental Plate. I was particularly interested in the fact that this geological boundary has no political allegiance, was not determined by wars, by financial interest, or national demarcation. It is a boundary that cannot be controlled or contained by human intervention.
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