In this episode of Painted Bride Quarterly’s Slush Pile, we discussed three poems by Clara Changxin Fang, and two poems by Roger Camp. While we walked away with an impressive box score, we were more than impressed by the quality of poems we’ve received for our Locals issue! Just like our Monsters, Locals was broadly interpreted by submitters and we were not left disappointed…
Present at the Editorial Table:
Kathleen Volk Miller
PBQ Box Score: 3=2
In this episode of Painted Bride Quarterly’s Slush Pile, we discussed three poems by Clara Changxin Fang, and two poems by Roger Camp. While we walked away with an impressive box score, we were more than impressed by the quality of poems we’ve received for our Locals issue! Just like our Monsters, Locals was broadly interpreted by submitters and we were not left disappointed. Sigh. We love our job.
Clara Changxin Fang’s poems draw heavily on the theme of the foreigner in a strange land. The poems we discussed, “Lost Colony”, “Don’t Go Away,” and “The Other Side of Night,” though so different in format and execution, centered around the theme of getting lost (figuratively and literally) in a new reality, and conveyed a sense of longing and homesickness. One of our editors pulled this batch right to the top of the slush pile, and we are so grateful, When we realized we were just going to gush, we decided to go ahead and vote!
Clara channels her thoughtful observations of the world around her into her poetry, as well as her blog Residence on Earth, which delves into her thoughts on ecology, climate change, sustainable living, education, social justice, and love. Read more about her work on planet earth here: earthdeeds.org
Roger Camp is no stranger to Painted Bride Quarterly’s slush pile. In fact, we published his poem “Motion Assignnment, La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, Madrid” in Issue 90! While we ultimately decided to pass on the poems he sent us for Locals, “Riding Your Aura” and “Cape Cod”, one can’t deny that Roger Camp’s poetry evokes strong imagery of beautiful moments in ordinary surroundings. I have to admit I’m still thinking about that bank guard…
He lives in Seal Beach, CA where he tends several hundred plants, walks the streets of his beloved Paris yearly, is apprenticed to a master mason, naps in a hammock under an avocado tree, plays blues piano evenings and kayak fishes, weather permitting. He is an identical twin whose twin does none of these things. (I’m not sure what to believe…)
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Clara Changxin Fang
Settled in the Spring of 1584, Roanoke was the first English colony in North America.
We built two story houses
with stone walls on dry mud,
the island a crumbling sandbar
pummeled by wind and waves.
We erected fences and fence posts,
laid claim to a patch of wilderness
like Ptolemy mapping the heavens,
giving titles to congregations of stars.
We found a bay with oysters
more numerous than pebbles
and a seashore bright with starfish
and sand dollars. What we didn’t find
was gold to fill our ships
or rain to coax our harvest.
For three years no sails appeared
on the horizon. (The way I waited for you,
love, absent on the horizon.)
Only the blinding clarity of a cloudless sky
ushering us towards winter.
Disaster is the absence of events.
The sun wheeled the heavens like a flour mill,
everlasting waves lashed at the shore;
no boats in sight, the sea
rolled back our memories of home—
The reek of urine in the streets of London,
the towers of Parliament spearing the sky
like a row of bayonets above a river of blood. The hulls
of abandoned vessels lurking beyond sight.
CRO – Letters carved into a tree stump at Roanoke before the colony’s disappearance in 1590.
Nothing remained of what we owned.
No pottery, no tools, not even our own bones.
What we brought with us was filched
by the fingers of the ocean and the shadow of the moon.
Not even a dream in which you appear,
a shadow behind a wall of water.
Beloved, did I imagine us walking hand in hand
in the city of cathedrals, your hands
smelling of baked bread, the afternoon sun
glazing rooftops and sidewalks with gold.
I hold on to evidence—
a pebble plucked from the Rue Monge,
a sprig of lavender from the apothecary,
the dress I wore the last night.
On the island, the letters CRO,
a bird with a golden beak and black wings,
all that’s left to tell of our departure.
No violence had been done.
We simply gave up waiting for salvation to appear
like a chalice falling out of the heavens
or the waters parting to reveal a road.
I gave birth to a child.
Even without news of you, we are happy.
How bright the moon shines without city lights!
I remain ever your loving,
500—The number of mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, including Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
We named her Virginia—
land of blue ridged mountains,
fish chocked rivers and timber stands
vast enough to build all the battleships of Europe.
After centuries we are still after
what brought us here:
timber, fur, coal, the exhumed remains
of ancient forests we burn to light our homes.
Today asphalt cuts through
this valley like a ribbon of steel
and explosions shave the scalp
off of tree covered mountains.
Rocks shatter like fragments of a skull.
Men excavate hillsides, blast
through rock, bringing down avalanches
of boulders, mud, and branches, bodies
tumble down like logs, the women
buried them in their coal stained clothes
with the children they miscarried.
Some abandoned this place,
let mud and rain pull their houses
back into the earth. Most stayed,
subsisting from the mountains
they helped to destroy.
This gutted Appalachia
is a war zone, but one
we still call home.
Dear Chen Ying,
Virginia is a beautiful. I walk to the Potomac River with mother every evening, and we watch the sun go down over the mountains, orange slices on the water, geese gliding over the surface like the airplanes landing at Reagan airport. Everything here is bigger and faster, we ride in dragons shaped like cars. Here we play with Barbie dolls instead of silk worms, and in the autumn the leaves turn red like the lanterns during the Spring Festival, and we light candles inside pumpkins carved with hideous faces; unlike our friendly family ghosts, they have no names and confer no blessings. I am learning new words: crow, cloud, kite. You must speak here in order to survive. In social studies, we learned about a group of English people who sailed here in a tiny ship, built a settlement on an island, and disappeared a few years later. Eleanor’s father came back to look for them, but he never found his daughter or his grandchild. I am thinking of her today, the family she abandoned, or who abandoned her, the beach extinguished of stars, the country’s interior so vast and full of terrors, the night rustling with strange sounds. Sometimes you don’t know enough to be afraid. You only know: the air is clean here, it smells like daffodils. The children have yellow hair like the tassels of corn, and like scarecrows, it’s hard to tell if they are real, but when they fall they cry like we do. While I still remember how to form these characters, tell your mother thank you for taking care of me before I came. Maybe I’ll send you the flowers I’m growing, heliotrope and nasturtiums, pressed into dictionaries we should study but use as weights. Until then I subsist on the memory of your smiles, the sticky buns we ate together on festival days.
I miss you,
Don’t Go Away
The night shakes its wings and the sky
hasn’t folded its whitewashed lawn chairs.
Hyacinths in the garden gleam like pale fire,
the forests are crammed with shadowy fish.
I heard you say: I don’t know
when I’m coming back.
Once, I lost my car in a strange city
while we circled the streets searching
for a way home. All was dark except
where we glimpsed ballroom dancers
flickering like moths through a window.
At dinner, we spoke to each other
one or two words only. Yet here we are,
alone in your car while I cast my net
for something to say.
Stay. Take me with you.
If you go, I will see your eyes
looking back in every corner.
I won’t have to listen
to hear you call my name.
If you go, you must come back quickly.
Or else clouds will sweep the rooms with rain.
The Other Side of Night
The Buddhist monk instructs us to pay attention to our breathing but all I can think of is the way you touched me before I left for Utah, like oil splattered on the wrist, like snow falling on bare shoulders. For the next two years the great bowl of the Salt Lake valley was cleft by a chasm I could not close. The mountains are taller than I imagined. The Great Plains is vast like the Pacific Ocean. The distance between one who loves and one who doesn’t. Not able to turn back, the people who lost everything built a city praising God on the snow white shores of that inland sea, and all who came to it admired its ship like tabernacle, its broad avenues, and its temples without windows. At the bottom of my suffering there is a door. The latch opened and I sank. I breathed in water and breathed out love. So much of it that it filled the oceans and the air, the fish grew wings and the birds grew gills, the eyes of the people were opened and no one killed or hurt one another because they saw the wound they carried in themselves in each other.
Riding Your Aura
In front of the Bank of America,
a bank protection officer
lays hands on the newspaper stand
like a man who knows his way
around an altar.
There’s no mistaking him
for the bank guard
of my youth, the greying,
pot-bellied, retired cop
well laundered in blue
dozing inside the doorway.
A New Age version,
this man is outside,
swathed in black like SWAT,
protective vest and automatic in hand.
Shooting your way out of a bank
is one thing, but shooting your way in?
Seeing Isaac, patriarch
of the sidewalk,
would turn my tail
if I were a robber of banks.
Friendly, he has earned
Main Street’s affection,
every pedestrian watching
When I wear a lid he likes
I get a fist bump.
Hidden in his casual demeanor
is no slouch. Behind those shades,
a warrior, Iraq
or maybe Afghanistan.
At peace with himself
he is adept at reading others.
Greeting him after returning
from six sunny days in Alaska
he said to me
that was you, riding your aura.
The Cape itself is like a snake at its serpentine end.
Beyond a place the charts call Long Point is an echo
of the Cape, a final coil within a coil.
Walking in Beech Forest, I saw two snakes
their chocolate colored bellies and tri-lateral yellow
stripes entwined, age and youth combined.
The older, larger one sensing me, held still
while his younger, slimmer companion slid its body
along side, contour unfolding contour.
In my effort to follow I lost focus, lost the snakes,
unable to define a coil within a coil,
unable to tell beginning from end,
lost my way as well, wending tail to tail.
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