The poem reflects on the origins of the driftwood fragments that compose Richard Long’s sculpture ”Puget Sound Driftwood Circle” that was displayed at the Henry Art Gallery as part of their recent exhibition “The Time. The Place.” As part of that show, I taught a gallery-based writing workshop that guided participants to consider the relationship of their own experiences shaping relationship with place—as both a site and an idea. I then curated verse fragments generated from the workshop into a visual poem. I worked with designer Michael Barakat to design the visual piece, which has also been made into an animated work.
The poem’s contributors included:
At one time men
rode thick-legged stallions
corralling steers from the plains
of East Texas and Oklahoma
all the way to the high desert
plateau of Washington State
and up into Alberta.
Why? For lack of more
convenient stimulation and
a paltry local job market, presumably.
Now our town (pop. 1,256)
has two amicably competing
groceries, three taverns, and
an annual parade celebrating
our most distinguished military
leaders. Nothing sells here.
When the cavalry does
thunder down from the buttes
for cattle and ravaging
we remind them the last cow
died off in the drought of ‘68
and all our women left
pursuing clerical work in
greater Sacramento. Over this
we share a laugh and head
over to Nickel’s for beers.
“Nothing like some cold beers
to help you forget your troubles,”
Nickel laughs. You could really
mistake him for an angel.
Later we’ll all go to the Town Meeting
to decide a new motto.
We work hard to not be invisible.
The first child was raised by wolves.
The second child never left the hospital.
The third child was switched at birth.
The fourth child never got off the bus.
The fifth child became separated at the supermarket.
The sixth child talked to a stranger.
The seventh child was placed in a basket of reeds.
The eighth child wandered off at the fairgrounds.
The ninth child swallowed a fly.
The tenth child went out to buy a pack of cigarettes.
The eleventh child rendezvoused with the Demonic One.
The twelfth child took a job as a farm appraiser out
in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The thirteenth child was only the idea of a child.
The fourteenth child is the one they call Leader.
The fifteenth child was a heartless monster, despicable
through and through.
The sixteenth child was a prodigious violinist who never
lived up to her early promise.
The seventeenth child was born into a time of hope and
prosperity unlike any we will ever know.
The eighteenth child changed her name, her face, is a natural
at living on the lam.
The nineteenth child lost a hand to a farm implement; otherwise—
The twentieth child has enjoyed his lonely life among the good
people of New Zealand.
The twenty-first child followed her ball to the edge of the woods.
This is the child I am looking for.
I was led here by love.
Where the Money Is
Billiard balls! People ask me
all the time
where the money is
and I tell them,
“Billiard balls.” For nearly
200 years my family
has been making billiard balls.
And always right here
in Enfield, Connecticut.
If there were such a thing
as billiard ball royalty,
well I suppose that’d be us.
During this country’s famous
our billiard balls
were the only billiard balls
used by both Union and Confederate troops,
primarily for recreation
(as we have been told by
reputable scholars citing
primary source material)
as cannon fodder and even
literally thrown by Union soldiers
in the battle of Antietam. Why,
I wouldn’t be surprised
if this wasn’t where some practitioners
of the emerging game
didn’t hone their pitching abilities.
My office is lined with historical keepsakes
commemorating such events.
Yet maybe you wonder
if I don’t have regrets; if,
in my younger days,
I wouldn’t have liked
to see the world, Alaska
and Cape Horn.
I have given my life
to billiard balls.
But to those who would remind me
“variety is the spice of life”
Have you forgotten the eight
distinct hues of the standard
pocket billiards set?
I have a simple wife,
two girls, and a large
and comfortable home.
In 15 to 30 years
I will die and be laid
to rest in a coffin lined
with felt of forest green
or burgundy. My funeral
will be well attended
by celebrities of the competitive billiard circuit
whose wages I have maintained
as substantive even in times
of economic woe.
Gold knob in hand, I could have graced the room that held the sun, but I duly closed the door to it, citing pale skin. Two doors down, a room of sand, a spillage in the hall before me. Finally reached the emergency meeting I’d arranged with my selves, re: new uniforms, so I’d look sharp in the field. In the end, bra padding was my only concurrence. I went about my life. In the ambient times, a golden glob of sunlight. In the dim times, crestal slipface reversals. This very morning, in fact, one self scampered barefoot across the dunes, my breasts quite protected. At my farthest, I looked like a chess pawn, edges blurred. In the rapidly rearranging expanse of sand someone had written: UR A MULTIDIRECTIONAL WIND REGIME.
The rapidly rearranging expanse of Sunday. I only wish you’d watch the late-forties experimental film about cats. The fact that you won’t makes me wonder. It’s a three-sock day on these unswept floors. I’d sweep but I did what I was supposed to do yesterday, and I can only do so once per week. Last night I raced to the end of the dunes only to arrive at an ice cream shop that was out of ice cream, and also had no employees. Stakes are necessary in any story, you told me, and therefore you could not listen to one more of my dreams. In the film the father cat worriedly hops into the empty chips box where his children wobble around with eyes shut. Having licked clean all five of her young, the mother begins to groom the head and ears of him. She does this until he falls asleep. She seems to stay awake throughout the night, breathing fast and long.
Parallel Universe #77
Every floor you were the hotel and on them all / You: a spot in the patterns or the yellow carpet / The you without a face / Nothing felt, realizing a stomach elevator / Knowing I lived there / No doors out / A window sunk inside a yelping pigeon / Cover blown apart
Every version of you / Love on a spectrum / Even the yous who aren’t you / Are him, her / but still you / Your hotel room’s atrium / A mouth in the floor in it mint, tomatoes, marigolds / Clock pointed to all times / hungry hungry numerals / Missed the flight / In cell phone lot screaming dial tone / Missed it again
Come back with me twenty years / I’m new concrete, drying
White wedge of light shines from the portal / That showerhead portal / A shine notion through your chest / Emerging white light still / Prismic aspirations; your radiant trying / A single whisper it tries a lot to say / Retrieve the pale rainbow from the drawer in the foyer / Nearly translucent in my grasp
Shin Yu Pai is a poet, cross-media artist, and curator for the collaborative global exploration project Atlas Obscura. Her poetic origins inform an artistic style that has grown beyond the written word—manifesting in photography, installation and public art, cross-disciplinary collaborations, and sound. She is the author of eight books of poetry and in February 2019, Entre Rios Books will publish a visual survey of twenty years of her past work in a new collection called Ensō.
Bryan Beck was born in Germany and grew up in Oregon. His poems have appeared in such places as jubilat, iO, Sixth Finch, Spork, Paperbag, and Prelude. He works at the University of Massachusetts and lives in Amherst.
Kristen Steenbeeke is an MFA candidate in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received the Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellowship. She’s had work in Pleiades, Pinwheel, Third Coast, Tin House blog, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Poetry Northwest, and others. She was recently a finalist in Mid-American Review’s Fineline Competition and Third Coast's poetry contest, and the winner of Indiana Review’s 2017 Poetry Prize.
Lindsay Anne Watson is an artist and educator living in Portland, OR.