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There is a beautiful temperamental voice that flows through Dorothea Lasky’s poems. It is a voice that constantly claims knowledge and asks questions. It is a voice so simultaneously full of certainty and uncertainty that I am certain it is a real voice. It is a voice alive with things I have never thought of and about which I am always thankful to hear. It is an honest voice, and at times I think it is Dorothea Lasky’s own and only voice (I think this has to do with necessity). It seems a foolish endeavor to try and understand the motives of any poem or define the success of any poet’s work, and it seems to me that the best poems ask something very different of us. There are poems that demand our respect primarily with the precision of their attention or the grace of their construction. There are poems that request our emotional, spiritual or even political solidarity with the willingness of their exclamation. And then, there are poems that speak to us, poems that exist in a space no greater or lesser than the space between two people in real conversation. When a poem occupies this organic space, its possibilities are limitless. Dorothea Lasky’s poems exist in this uncomfortable certain space, and from it invite us in, so that we can be a part of something essential, so that we can hear a voice that speaks of essential things.
Toast to my friend or why Friendship is the best kind of Love
Laura, Laura I am sad for you
But more than you I am sad for me
And when I make a toast to you
I make a toast to me, my friend.
Here on the front porches of our lives,
I toast to you, with goblet raised.
And the house of our lives too, glittering
With decay. And the fatish ghost
Of losing and the sun and moon
Being the same thing outside our house, O!
That in decay we could find that losing
Is truly beautiful. I love you and what's so wrong
With that? Life is before us, so let us live!
In friendship we are one together and in friendship
I am all soul. No that’s wrong, too.
What is a soul all aflame?
If it’s a bird in snow,
Then that’s what I am.
You ain’t gonna get glory if that’s what you came here for
If no one wants to make a home with me
Then I will make a home with myself
And wait for someone
To plant the flowers outside my window
And make me pudding
While I write poems
And the fragile parts of me
Will be senseless.
Conceptual art is dead.
Language poetry, you know how I feel.
Kenneth Koch, you are dead, too.
All the others are not the ones to follow.
Follow me, I know everything.
Art is not sense broken up into line
You with your lover there, you are not the birdhouse
The children coming from your womb
Are not longing made into flesh
You are not flesh, too
And flesh is not modern
It is old Mary on her throne
Sweetly coughing up angels
From a deep and sudden throat and the blueness of her dress is real
And her flaming heart with stakes in it feels a real and sudden pain
From a place we cannot imagine
And is felt everywhere, the blood running through it,
Sugary sweet there, and soft.
Love is the answer to God’s Question
Art cannot be without love.
There are no paintings done out of hunger.
That is longing you are thinking of, not hunger.
In you, I am sitting alone on a frighteningly sunny day.
The yellow sun rays making even my fingernails seem blue.
My ankles are completely shaven.
I am like some kind of freak,
But you see, now love is on my side.
I am eating tropical jelly beans and drinking coffee.
I have just gotten satsuma body wash and
Elderflower eye gel and orange essence facial cleanser.
Later I will take a bath in bergamots
And the bathroom will fill with moonsun.
The clear milky light will flood on me.
Completely bloodless, I in the white tub, surrounded with greenish fruits,
Will be almost not breathing.
The great event which is beauty
Can only happen when one is full.
You to me are like leaves on candy.
All of a sudden the candy is growing
And from the candy, blue flowers and leaves grow.
Made entirely of sugar,
Their grainy pores give food to the soul.
I got a brazilian wax for my engagement
But my old man was in a diabetic coma.
“Sweet Death!” he cried and I gave him a shove.
“Now this is the truth” we all thought
As he lay there, feeling nothing.
We pricked him and he whimpered a little,
But really nothing.
Four elusive spiders went crawling on him
But he had no human instinct
To grab at the elusivity.
I got my back—up dancers and we tempted
Him with the sin of women,
But his sugar level was so rich he couldn't see.
So we slipped him under the ground
And let the bugs eat him
Since that’s what he really wanted anyway.
On old ideas
Kissing the bankteller outside his stairs
In Brighton, MA I cannot lie, I felt the hope
That we once felt, if only for an instant
O the lovely bankteller, like a moose he
Rode my spirit quite outside my clothes
And chrysanthemums sprouted I assure you
Out my nipples when he kissed them.
And the pureness of not knowing him at all
Was really what we all feel when we enter this earth.
There is a newness to the best things that cannot
Be excelled and old things like old love die and rot.
There are old ideas in the world that should be forgotten
There are old ideas and old phrases that should at least
Be recycled for others
There are old plans now that should be new.
There are old thoughts in your head, my reader, and let them die.
Follow me, I am the crusader of the new
My spirit is a plastic rod that channels all our births.
And in the mouths of the little beasts, we shall find the great
Ocean that spits up black bugs all glittering on its shores.
You know there is an anthem to the ages.
There is an anthem of the ages.
This is that anthem
This is that anthem
Outside Chattanooga, TN
They have peaches, plums, cherries,
Dewberries, and bananas there on the trees.
My mother used to put the fruit in jars
To last us all winter.
Nowadays the young people they buy
A can of fruit at the store and do not
Grow their own food. My mother used to
Pick the fruit off from the trees and
There were peaches, plums, strawberries,
And blueberries and in a jar they would all go and
Feed us all winter. Today the young people they
Buy a can of green beans and then they eat it.
It used to be that the fruit was on the trees there
Right back in the woods.
The fruit we picked off so easily, like talking
I would pick the fruit off the trees and give it to you.
The peach I would take off before mother canned it.
And the juice would drip down to your chest
And I would lick it off. Nowadays the young people
They have no children, they eat canned pineapple
Their mouths spilling out with nails and their intestines, they
Fall dry and brittle in their houses.
In my mouth though I will hold you
Even though they all have they all have forgotten
The sweetness of peaches and today
The children eat glass peaches and they try to remember
Something they can't even remember
Because it never even happened to them.
And that is sad, don’t you think?
Don’t you think that is sad? That here
We all are and we have all dried out.
The flat balloon
Wraps around the child’s face.
This is how it feels when you talk to me,
I can’t get out of it and you say very little.
My hands are holding
The balloon tightly on the child's face.
I want the child to feel life.
I want to feel
The pain that the clouds have made for me.
Suddenly the child springs up, gets me a present, and says thank you.
His dog follows after him
And the dog is made of snow and so am I.
It has come to my attention that your soul is in need of saving.
Well, with all of your vice and your scorn. You spend a lot of time
doing bad things, don’t you? You might be asking yourself: How can I get into heaven? The truth is, there is no way. There is no heaven. The answer to Man’s most asked question therefore has no answer. Let me tell you a story.
There was an elephant once named Jesus. He was full of blood. There was blood on his face and on his head, and on his body. His grey body would get all bloody and then get even more grey will all the dried blood. His skin felt like wet parchment, and I’ll tell you a secret, I knew a little girl who would draw on him. Then Death came and killed the little girl and the elephant.
Friend, did that make little sense? Let me tell you something else. The bible says “The Wages of Sin is Death” (Romans 6:23) and William Blake says “A Spirit and a Vision are not…a cloudy vapour, or a nothing” (A Descriptive Catalogue, 1809). Your spirit is in danger, sinner! You do not know your body is your spirit! The spirit on your tongue is full of water! The ball of fire in the sky is your heart on fire in your chest!
Friend, we are entering an apocalypse. That apocalypse is called Lack of Divine Image. This apocalypse has crushed our very general heart and is in danger of crushing our very specific one.
You might ask: what can I do? Well, here’s what. Take the exit Nothingness 75 off the freeway. Give into yourself and oppress the law. Art is in danger, my brother and sister and sadly, you are in danger with it.
There is a rose for diving water. Divide the water. Deeply concern yourself with this or the effect will be circular. Take the rose and put it in your chest, then put your chest in the sun. I’m serious. Without your help, no one will be saved. There will be no water. The earth is dying as we speak. So start now. God waits for no one.
The Eternal Damned
Joshua Beckman is the author of Your Time Has Come, Nice Hat. Thanks (with Matthew Rohrer), Something I Expected to Be Different, and Things Are Happening. He lives in Staten Island.
Dorothea Lasky is the author of five collections of poetry, including ROME the forthcoming Milk. She is an assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and lives in New York City.
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