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When I first encountered Toronto writer Damian Rogers’s latest manuscript, Dear Leader, I dreamt her poems. I had been reading them for days, and in my sleep a voice-over voice said to me: “Murder of Crows.” And then I saw trees draped with knowing crows, strip mall parking lots, waste, cold stars, and a terrific crow-studded sunset. Like this image, Rogers’s poems are ominously beautiful and sage; they lay bare discordant fractures. She writes, “I’m not sure it’s smart to unlock the portal,” and yet she does.
Multi-vectored, Rogers’s poems hum with life and tension, their speaker poised as mother, seer, reporter, and daughter. They speak of loss and cold realities (misplaced charms of luck, a tour of an assisted living facility, coins thrown into Niagara Falls). They also interweave dreams and visions: “O Lion, I am / an old handmaiden; I will not lay the pretty baby in the lap / of the impostor.” Simple but evocative, at once strange and plain, Rogers’s poems of address ricochet off of the familiar “Dear Reader” or Emily Dickinson’s “Dear Master.”
In one “Dear Leader” poem, Rogers writes, “My memory is with me and it shall not be taken away, for I am / a possessor of memories that make memories.” This line shakes me. Rogers’s poems provide instructions for what to leave, what to take, and what to fight. They act as selvage: sewn edges into which the vastness of memory is threaded to prevent its unraveling. We encounter these edges as material (language, thread), and yet they are also part of the unfathomable fabric—the experiences language points to—making briefly visible what is so often hidden as an uncertain in-between.
The Trouble with Wormholes
How many times must I learn the lesson of compression?
Let go of everything you know and start from scratch.
One friend performing backbends on a beach while another
snaps his tibia on an icy patch of Saskatchewan. I don’t think
I’m suffering, my days a series of unexpected gifts punctuated
by a blast of the family rage shot deep into my soft plexus.
It occurs to me I don’t have to be so many people. If you’re staying
alive spinning stories, it’s suddenly a skill that you talk too much.
I’m not sure it’s smart to unlock the portal. The reformed raver
claimed he saw my inner wheels spin. Red Cloud, are there wars
where you are? Your great-great-grandson appeared on Democracy
Now! with a plan. Will my generation be remembered for anything
I haven’t forgotten? They mine the hills for gold, they mine the hills
for uranium, and all around the world, columns are cracking.
I’ve watched you soar all day. Please teach me how you do that.
My memory is with me and it shall not be taken away, for I am
a possessor of memories that make memories. I don’t want
to forget a single noun. I’ll download what we witnessed. Remind me
the day, the year, our planet’s name and coordinates. Warning:
don’t eat food from another time, it invites poison into the ship.
In Lemuria, I never paid to run the refrigerator. O Lion, I am
an old handmaiden; I will not lay the pretty baby in the lap
of the impostor, and my memories will not be siphoned from me
by the administrator. Repel the reptilian who conspires to hide
my memories before I enter the Ocean Unlimited. Get back
Crocodile of the West, sent to snuff out the words yellow and
money! I saw my enemy unhinge his jaw to suck down a kitten.
Please lead me to safe paper, help me write it down right.
Bad Day Villanelle
I swallowed something hard and dark.
It wasn’t food. It moves around.
The doctor wants to cut it out.
I feel it now it’s on my hip.
It’s very painful when it shifts.
I swallowed something hard and dark.
I’m telling you
it’s money that
the doctor wants. To cut it out
will save my life.
I need your help.
I swallowed something hard and dark.
He ran my body through five tests.
Then the doctor told me straight —
I’ll die if they don’t cut it out.
I’m telling you it has to go.
There is no medicine that works
on something quite this hard and dark.
The only road is cut it out.
The Warlock’s Forelock
The rain reminds me how I fell
in love with steel drums as a girl
in Detroit’s Hart Plaza, wanted to hear
that patterned ting-ping-ping all day
while brushing my teeth, while reading
my horoscope in the Free Press,
while unpacking a packed lunch.
My son’s father pours me a glass
of terrible wine. We joke it has notes
of strawberry, rhubarb, and lake trout.
I watched a decades-old documentary
in which the author’s father handled
hemlock on an island outside Ottawa.
My father tells me I’m his greatest
regret. He means not knowing me, one
hopes. It reminds me of a dumb song.
My son is asleep after drinking from me
too soon after I consumed that bad booze.
When I was 22 I drank a bottle of rosé
and zonked out under a tree beside
the intended tent. I was in a campground
in Menton. France. That’s all I remember.
Also: the English girls I travelled with didn’t
much love museums. Did I see Jean Cocteau’s
chateau? Maybe. My son thinks I’m perfect
when I do nothing but lie silently in a room
feeding him while I try not to dwell on
my mother’s bills so that worry won’t
pass from my nervous system into his. One
time I drank a rancid mud-thick brew
that made me see snakes in the floor tile.
I thought I was the Virgin Mary, radiant
and swaddled in borrowed white skirts
issued to shield my ovarian vibrations.
We stood up and sat down as we sang
allegedly magical phrases in Portuguese.
One guy saw light shoot out of my head.
Tonight, I tune the rain. Our least-favorite
cat trapped in the worst of it. I felt
love as we rescued him from his tiny
terror. Once he was safe I lost interest.
I cried this afternoon. It’s my new thing.
Her Lost Lucky Charms
4-leaf clover (found where?)
folded in paper.
Perfume from France, bottle
blue as a new bruise.
Hand-carved sandalwood box:
white shell red felt.
Tiny dried seahorse.
Tiny dried sea.
The 76 Wisdom
We toured the facility, a woman
named Jane hovering at the end
of a corridor, her face
a drained lake. Mother made a wish
for a room by the border,
a cat and a job
with health insurance.
We offered a coin
to the Falls, left our knives
inside the house. If you
creep out in the night,
please bring me back
breakfast, fresh water, the news.
In the vapors, a vision:
three of us in one bed
as if we were all in love.
In this fast catastrophe
anything is possible: a safe
place with clean carpet,
an uprush of steam from the red metal
kettle, a baby girl,
her head made of wood.
As you know, I did not join the Hole in the Universe Gang
or follow Father Yod of the ridiculous robes. I flowed
through my crises beautiful as a bruise, and alone. A man I loved
drove his motorcycle off the fat lip of Big Sur into glittering
oblivion. A new nation of Penelopes practiced the art of the loom,
planting a never-finished forest in which wild flowers bloomed
on the backs of jean jackets and hand-sewn throw pillows,
while I waited for you to choose me. The waitress at the health
food restaurant was a lemon-scented sun to my Death Valley
moon. I swooned as out the window your dark cluster rose
in the sky. How glorious was your shining forth from the horizon
when you detonated the Two Lands with your terrible rays!
I starved till my bones shone, and your voice rang in my ear.
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But I do miss the hymns, / the small, hard apples with their dimpled skin. I do miss / things.
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