Episode 41: The Bathrobisode

Present at the Editorial Table:

Kathleen Volk Miller

Tim Fitts

Sharee DeVose

Jason Schneiderman

Marion Wrenn

Samantha Neugebauer


Production Engineer:

Joe Zang


For the first and possibly only time, we were in a recording studio within Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, which made us feel like we were on an episode of The View. This week, the editors review three poems by Nick Lantz: “An Urn for Ashes,” “Starvation Ranch,” and “Ghost as Naked Man.”

Nick Lantz

As a child, Nick Lantz was obsessed with paranormal phenomenon and the unexplained, from cryptids to aliens to ghosts. These days, he tells people he’s writing a book of poems about ghosts, though that’s only sort of true. His fourth book, You, Beast, won the Brittingham Prize and was published by University of Wisconsin Press in 2017. He was also the recipient of a 2017 NEA fellowship for his poetry. He lives in Huntsville, Texas, where he teaches at Sam Houston State University and edits the Texas Review.

“An Urn for Ashes” gets us started off on our a conversation on past lives and reincarnation. Lantz’s impressive use of language and imagery draws up ideas of present beings possessing remnants of those far in the past. Moving on to “Starvation Ranch,” the editors reflect on what memory and recollection look like in the modern era. The poem layers alluring images that are beautifully constructed and give us a front seat in recounting many summers past. The final poem, “Ghost as Naked Man” offers a reimagined commentary on gender as a social construct. Seemingly in conversation with other works on the topic, the poem conveys frustration and destruction, then pride, as expressions of manhood. It also brings to mind Ada Limón’s “After the Storm,” published in Issue 66 of Painted Bride Quarterly. Listen in for our takes on these poems and the verdicts!

Let us know what what you think about this episode, ghosts, red paint, and more on Facebook and Twitter using #WeAreStardust!

Nick Lantz

An Urn for Ashes

The atoms that made up
Julius Caesar’s body,
burned on a pyre,
spread by wind and time,
have since dispersed
far and wide,
and statistically speaking
you have in you
some infinitesimal bit
of carbon or hydrogen
from his hand or tongue,
or maybe some piece
of the foot that, crossing
a river, turned a republic
into an empire.
But that means you
carry with you also
the unnamed dead,
the serfs and farmers,
foot soldiers and clerks,
and their sandals
and the axles of chariots
and incense burned
at an altar and garbage
smoking in a pit outside
a great city at the center
of an empire, that you
are a vessel carrying
the ashes of many empires
and the ashes of people
burned away by empires,
their sweet, unheard melodies.
And look how finely wrought
you are, how precise
your features, your very form
a kind of ceremony
for transporting the dead
through the living world.

Starvation Ranch

Frank Hite, my  	mother’s    
named his farm 	Starvation Ranch,
     					     and one July,   
             I balanced    
                                             high on a ladder 
to repaint those white letters  
               on the same 	red barn
where they’ve been for a hundred years.

But that summer 	  is a sketch, a note
written in the margin  	of a book I gave 
away. I shot rabbits 	  and learned
to drive and listened 
to the same  		  Lou Reed tape on loop
in the upper bedroom  	of my family’s farmhouse. 

In a closet I found  
                my grandmother’s high school yearbook
in which she had crossed out  	  the name 
of each classmate
who had died. 

I learned there are three kinds
of garbage— 
       the kind that goes in the compost heap  
              to feed the garden that grows the peppers and the corn, 
       the kind that goes in the ditch   
                      to feed the coyotes who howl at night, 
       the kind that goes in an old oil drum    
                              to burn
I learned to 		love the indentation  
        my grandmother’s pencil
left in the paper  		over a name,  
               like the tally marks
I carved into a tree for each rabbit I shot.

I learned that a stone arrowhead,  	taken
from a newly plowed field 	   that has held it
for hundreds of years  	   is still  	    sharp enough 
       to cut my palm. 

I learned to love the hiss  		    of silence 
        on the tape 		    after a song 
ended, the sound 	  of time
like the susurrus of insects  		    at dusk, like a broom
whisking clean
the floor of some  		upper room. 

I learned how to walk  
the perimeter of the house and feel  		in the grass
the edges 	  of the old foundation, 
       a version  		  of house that burned, 
that  		 disappeared, that was  	   rewritten,
and I learned how to walk  		   farther out
into the pastures, to spot 	   the earthen mounds
left behind by people   		    who remain only
in names 	  of rivers and country roads.

That was one  		  summer.  	    Decades
later, I learned that the barn I painted was not
even the original,  	  which had been replaced,  
       board by beam,
years before.

And I learned that barns are red 
because red paint
is cheap because iron
is abundant 
because dying stars 
sighed iron atoms 
into space
and those atoms 
gathered here
on earth, became 
the earth,
became blood 
and arrowheads
and steel girders 
holding up towers 
and the red paint of barns. 

Ghost as Naked Man

             “Gender is a kind of imitation of which there is no original.”—Judith Butler

Take away his beard, his hairy flanks.
Lick your thumb and smear off
his Adam’s apple. Lift away his penis
like a live bomb, and bury it
under a mountain. Hide the testicles
behind a broad leaf. 

But look, he still goes around town
pointing at things he wants
and moaning, rattling his imaginary
chains. Every time he sees his reflection
in a shop window, he cuts a thumb
and with the blood paints over gaps
in his shimmering reflection.
Then he takes a brick and breaks
the glass. There, he says,
look what I made.

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