Love in the Time of Couch Potatoes
There’s a beach somewhere, and sea lions
that rub their backs on the boulders.
The thumb on the warm remote is mine.
In last night’s documentary, a historian
was trying to disprove the phallic
symbolism of brontosauri in modern art.
I never look when you’re down feeding;
a pack of hyenas converge for the kill.
Since the second rerun of Casablanca,
I’ve stopped wearing underwear in public.
There’s always a train to catch, and you
crave the taste of graffiti in tunnels.
Tonight a chef teaches bananas flambé,
mussels risotto in olive oil and wine.
Here everyone keeps saying, Don’t touch
that channel. We keep our hands on each
other, practice French with our tongues.
In Paris, lights go up and down the Eiffel.
Afterwards our backs are brailed with
buttons, and we fondle what to view next.
– Arlene Ang
from Words Dance 7, Spring 2005
Except on Christmas
Sometimes this is what you are given,
ten minutes alone while the boys laugh under the hose.
You pour a diet soda, read a few paragraphs
as sweat glues paint chips into creases
of the inside of your elbow.
Sometimes this is all you are given
a few minutes to remember Uncle Charles,
how he fought the war, made his fortune
climbed Mayan stairs
and ended his letters
“keep the home fires burning.”
Nana is alone in the farmhouse
without strength to strike a match. Scattered,
we each carry our stick that glows,
holding high the embers like a runway
for the dead.
– Anna Reihman
from Words Dance 11, Spring 2007
The Changing of the Guard
On Fridays the administration springs
for free coffee and donuts in the faculty lounge.
Most of the teachers attempt to attend,
despite the fact the coffee tastes
like it was strained through an old sock,
found on the floor of the boys’ locker room.
The younger faculty members, the ones
still wrinkleless and brimming with theory
are swollen-eyed and beer bloated
from Thursday nights on the town.
They devour chocolate-glazed donuts
and measure out weekend plans,
discussing things of no educational relevance.
I watch them like the home movies
buried in a box in my busy closet.
It wasn’t long ago I stood in fresh shoes,
more forgiving of the coffee’s quality
and believing the world, like my plans,
would work out by Saturday night.
– Nathan Graziano
from Words Dance 9, Spring 2006
Just Add Oxygen
Your hundred thousand breaths
finger the outline of my consciousness;
your seven hundred unspoken words
strum the back of my neck like
implausible love songs.
Whimper your fears in my language
sign your dreams in felt –
inaudible and fevered,
soft and worn.
Let’s make a pact
to pry apart our eyelids
with forceps when necessary
to fight the heavy hands of sleep
inches from answers,
seconds from satisfactory solutions.
Let’s revert to amoeba,
to the basest versions of ourselves,
give up our car keys
become asexual and self-sufficient
to thwart the motion
of our borrowed freedom.
I lie awake counting zebras,
imagining empty skylines:
– Jessica Dawson
from her book Fossil Fuels
Poetry by Jessica Dawson
Originally published by Verve Bath Press in a limited print run, Fossil Fuels is Jessica Dawson’s first collection of poetry. Introduced by her husband in a sweet and cynical tribute, the book captures the intimate lyrical confessions of a writer who seems unsure of the value of her confession, while at the same time certain that she must put them to paper, no matter. Now available for Kindle or in PDF form for e-readers, its charm has transferred beautifully in digital format.
More reviews below!
Opening with a marriage proposal that is immediately rescinded, Fossil Fuels draws the reader in with its playful irony and imaginative language. The irony, however, is quickly stripped away as we are taught “Lessons in Fickleness and Erratic Behavior,” and has all but disappeared by the time we learn “There Is No Substitute for Patience.” What we are left with is bold, direct, and unapologetic. Halfway between folding/and taking over/the whole goddamn world, Jessica explores her hopes and fears with vivid imagery and storytelling that is relatable to all of us. Challenging archetypes, she chisel[s] down/to the basest versions of ourselves. With a strong, yet tender voice, soft as footprints even in the vinyl unease of the landscape, she assuages our fears and allows us to wonder what it would be like if hummingbirds/were the size of dogs—makes us believe that we’re all…substitute stars.
is a modern-day Wendy. She lives in California with Peter Pan, a baby bear and a future supreme court justice. She’s ecstatic to see her first book of poetry now e-published by Verve Bath Press/ Words Dance.
She has had poems published in Thunder Sandwich, The Hold, Passenger May, killpoet, Words Dance, remark., The Seed, MEAT, Triptyph Haiku, Lit Vision, Mastodon Dentist, Nefarious Ballerina, The Montucky Review, Red Fez and Slurve Magazine.
Influenced by Richard Brautigan, William Carlos Williams, Rumi, and a desire to never be try to be Sylvia Plath, Jessica Dawson’s writing is a lyrical confessional. She abhors self-promotion but requires an audience at all times. She reads the dictionary for fun, speaks only in degrees of sarcasm and enjoys owning her children in Scrabble.
Jessica Dawson’s opening line in the opening poem in Fossil Fuels is, “Dear Sir,/Let’s get married.” It is a playful beginning to a collection that is rough, sweet, funny, challenging, open and, best of all, written with wit and daring, straight from the heart. Dawson does not quail at the difficult subjects, the troublesome emotions, the “hard decisions,” as one poem is called. She is a brave, keen writer and it shows in almost every line.
There is also a sensual warmth underneath her smooth method. “I dreamt I was an alligator/all teeth and hot, wet breath,” one begins and moves through affirmation (“and I was alive”) to an ending that is dramatic and carnal, a virtual celebration of consumption as an exaltation of life. In poem after poem Dawson, with sinewy lines and piquant metaphor, makes this kind of declaration work.
In “Upon Discovering my Husband’s Porn Stash,” she manages to be achingly human and vulnerable and still maintain the “poet’s eye” distance necessary to make the poem a success. In “There’s No Other Way to Play an Instrument,” she says, “His notes were bunches of lilacs,/were handfuls of river stones,” an oxymoronic triumph of sense and sound. That poem ends “like if hummingbirds/were the size of dogs,/or if dogs discovered lightning,” which is a concluding line worthy of James Tate or Heather McHugh.
Overall, the collection delights and dances and mourns and shouts and sings and rejoices in what it is to be mortal and cerebral and receptive and observant in these difficult days. At times it is quiet and peaceful and at other times full of vigor and brilliant clamor. “Just add more oxygen” the final poem says. The reader may feel that Jessica Dawson has done that, given the air a new quality, illuminated some things that compel us to notice even the atmosphere we all swim in. This is a ravishing and enchanting chapbook.
The luxury of sparse, yet poignant, writing is not a commodity most writers get to have at their brain-tips. Fossil Fuels is just one more example of Jessica Dawson’s natural tenacity for such a style. It is lush in a sparing way. Conjures up stunning and surreal imagery that is subtly imprinted with fierce emotion. You can almost feel Brautigan’s ghost chuckling to Jessica’s song. It’s confessional, while not seeming to be. Blended in such a way to make you forget to notice what is being done to you. A culling song crafted with the sweet, sweet poison of ink. It puts you down.
But, instead of waking up with one less organ, half frozen and dazed in the oversized commode of a stranger’s nightmare, you realize you’ve just had the enriched experience of entering someone else’s realm, loving every second of it. She plays in the muck of her own sensibilities and spreads it out on the pulp of our imaginations. And that. You can’t teach.
The sleek speech starts on page one with a letter/prose poem looking at the future, in the tense of Now, never once stopping till the end poem that reverts us (and her, it seems) back to spectacular base. The last five lines of the last poem are what planets are made of.
This is a book of three parts. Moveable parts that stick to the teeth and eyes. The first section, “Mouth Full of Gunpowder,” is a journey in itself. The pieces moving through a universe of emotion that sorts through life’s pursuit, whether it be love, the self reckoning of purpose or the outcome of snooping through your lover’s porn. This section of poetry slyly reveals the skin as an undergarment, falling away in controlled fever.
The second part, “Belly Full of Twigs,” fits its title. It’s placed in the gut of this chap and mixes classic Jessica images with the soft tones of a moment as it’s consumed. It is the surreal. Form and content collide during these pieces in the strongest section of the chapbook.
“One Good Pack of Matches,” isn’t catharsis. It isn’t the third act of a play but it is the end. For this book at least. These poems slowly unroll the carpet to the chap’s end with a growling piece that properly leaves us wanting more. On sum level, Fossil Fuels reads like an extended vignette. A distinct voice throughout while still retaining a diverse methodology in the use of form, style, organic symmetry and cosmic sensuality that is innate in Jessica Dawson’s work.
So, once again, Amanda Oaks and Verve Bath Press have showcased a stellar writer. The press has a knack for finding superb artists and then going on to create a collaboration of style and substance that produces lovely items. This chap is a fine example. Fossil Fuels is a great buy and an important work for the increasingly populated landscape of small press poetry.
This is the death of dying.
So says Jessica Dawson in her poem A Response to Rumi’s The Seed Market, from her poetry collection Fossil Fuels. It’s an aptly fearless announcement from a book which acknowledges in both title and content the depletions we welcome and readily survive. In Rumi’s poem a falcon appears for no reason, in Dawson’s the proclamation is made to say more vulture than falcon, really. Words mean. It is here we are pleaded with to have purpose, be vulture.
Dawson is not afraid of gender. In her opening poem, Dear Sir, she is both addressing and blind copying the reader on the memo. In her second poem, Lessons in Fickleness and Erratic Behavior, she says and then sir, you’ll be well on your way. In the same poem: Abandon fly-fishing…think about it fondly, in theory. Dawson understands the need for a line that does not choose, but accepts an additional in theory.
Many of the poems have the speaker looking upon the back of another, or imagining doing so. Lines like twenty-some years it took for his back to become a wall cast Dawson as one positioned behind things, a keeper conditioned to still them, while also understanding the necessary act of committing last things to memory. In the introduction, Brian Dawson states that ‘New Confessionalism is alive and well’ and I would agree and add that it is summoned, here, from the most sustaining of muscle memories.
The creativity on display in the book is thankfully not showy, but is also not hesitant. Whether Dawson is dreaming of being an alligator and calling a flamingo leg a rubber tent stake or merely waking blinking in code, breathing in diagram or calling us all volunteer rainbows, substitute stars- she is always next door, present, making of our locale a show woman’s world.
The finest poem here is titled Upon Discovering My Husbands Porn Stash, not because it divorces itself from the others but because it marries if only by common law what the book has lived with long enough to say it’s more the amputee ache / of my fingers / when they leave his skin / and the feeling that I’m in this alone.
I quote much here from the book and could much more because the book speaks for itself, but also to itself. Its speaker seems unsure, modest, unable to agree that any word is final. How refreshing. Here is a final clue, and last quote, from the poem A Little Ditty:
Explanations are ghosts of guilt,
shadows of sympathy, and I have no use for them.
I Bet They Never
Wise men say it’s good to know
when to let go of things
but I bet they never saw you
in that dress
stretched out on the damp grass
with the late afternoon sun
– William Taylor Jr.
from Words Dance 11, Fall 2007
Sober on a Snowy Day
Outside cars tiptoe
Aristotle’s on table four
and his soapbox again,
talking about how he
sees things, you know.
He says that prison
does that to a person,
makes them sober
on a snowy day.
He stirs air,
thick like old coffee,
with the tip of his cue
and launches off
into a dramatic monologue
about social injustices.
The men playing
on the next table
listen with their eyes.
Outside a truck
throws salt onto icy streets
and men wrapped up
in financial depression
walk past on their way
to the closest bar.
On the radio, Thelonious Monk
attacks piano keys, backs off,
then returns; his silences
are silly little tricks
that make Aristotle nervous.
Even though he’s on step four,
Aristotle sneaks out to his car
to shotgun a beer
and smoke a cigarette.
he uses the shadow
of his stick to line up shots.
When he misses,
he leans into the table
and whispers inaudibly
to his ghost opponent.
Once he likened his life
to a snow globe that
some stupid, mother fucker
keeps picking up and shaking.
I like that metaphor, I really do
like that metaphor.
– Rebecca Schumejda
from Words Dance 12, Fall 2008 & her book, Cadillac Men.
we sit alone
in an empty lot
facing the mountains
it’s 2 pm
you’ll be back
at work soon
in your computer
hum key click world
but for now
and the mountains
on the el paso side,
the rich whites live
at the top in desert palaces
front yards carpeted
with sod and a cactus
or two just for kitsch
on the juarez side
the poor are outcasted
to the same height
magenta or rio linda
blue siding to keep
them warm and a dirt
yard to sweep in
the bore of summer
i ask you
which is better
span the dash
than your desk
job, than the compliments
you hand feed me,
and the wife
who doesn’t know
– Michelledion Matthews
from Words Dance 7, Spring 2005
so many/no time/too late now
They’ve already seeded a new generation,
those old lovers with the moon in their eyes,
hair tapping a Morse Code onto my breasts
and tie-dyes flung over the random chair.
We thought the sixties would be our time warp,
our tunnel away from our parents’ path, but
my lost spouse sleeps in his own room,
indifference, his new mistress.
No man touches me that way anymore.
Not with his tide rising and spewing.
Not with his kiss scorching the room like a comet.
My hands knit together,
a pinprick of blood stains chaste sheets.
– Pris Campbell
from Words Dance 12, Fall 2008