THE PROSE POEMS
PAGE 5 PROSE POEMS NEW 4.21 BY:Richard Baldasty, Jessica Wright, Amanda Yesilbas, Steve Cushman, Merry Speece, Yu-Han Chao, James Heflin, Gordon Carrega, Stephanie Papa, Melanie Webb, Joe Schmidt, Emerson Probst, Elizabeth Welsh

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Richard Baldasty

Chosen

The depth of every ocean deepens because she carries water from the house in many buckets. Pails filled drip by drip; painstaking each successive trip; empties them ruled by voices within. Disdaining snakes and nettle grass, her feet the dune paths thread till dawn. Then only may she warm herself, eat bread with honey, pray strength renews. The line between land and sea, a solemn chart invisible until dark. As she walks beneath the starry quilt, she sings herself to understand.

 

Jessica Wright

Private Correspondence

When all this is over, I shall not continue to write to you. These letters, in which my heart has been split open and anatomized, shall be folded up and discarded like butcher’s paper. I shall throw them away, together with the detritus of egg shells, apple cores, pencil shavings that I find crumbling in plant pots and jammed into the corners of the window sill. This is not what you would like to imagine. You would have me remain hunched at this kitchen stool, writing mournfully after you. In your basket chair by the window, you sit as fixed and impermeable as a ghost, your blue veins popping in the hand that clenches its unlit pipe in your lap. Watching me write, you move your finger in slug trails through the dust that piles thickly between the bars of the radiator. You watch me until the nib of my pen scratches me page like a flint, and my wrist burns, and the ash irritates tears in my eyes. You think that I am crying. You imagine that I am writing to you. In this latter supposition, you are not incorrect. But when this is all over, I shall not continue to write to you. No longer, either, shall I peel apples with a knife, nor tie shoe laces as wide and flat as tagliatelle, nor plump pillows to prevent the rigid balls of your spine from cracking like china on the wall. When this is over, my hands shall return to my own possession. Do not imagine, then, that I shall have no further use for them.

 

 

Amanda Yesilbas

Words of Prey

In the night your words find you. They swoop and peck. They tear at your mind and beat at sleep with their wings.  You want soft nights. You want to be still.

You fill the space with a voice. A voice is not hard to find. You turn a knob. You flick a switch. You find love. You pour it in. You drown the words and let the voice roll in. You sleep with your ears and mouth full. But at sun rise the tides roll back. You choke and cough and find the words still in flight.

 

TWO by Steve Cushman

Junior

To be named after your father is supposed to be an honor, and it can feel like it when you follow him into the bar and the other men pat him, and you, on the back, say about damn time you got here, Steve. But what about when you're at your father's funeral and the preacher says your name over and over as he talks about your dead father and you can't help but feel like it is you, or a piece of you, they are lowering into the ground forever.

 

From My View at the Window

At the end of the yard Mary waters a row of purple and yellow pansies I did not see her plant. She is in white pants today, a lime green T-shirt I brought back from London years ago. A man walking a dog stops to have a word with her. When she laughs, then reaches up and touches his forearm, my heart breaks in a way it hasn't in so, so many years.


- Steve Cushman

 

Merry Speece

Pebble

The companion in front of me descending the dark stairway I sense suddenly disappears. The earth, I now know, in some much earlier undetermined time opened, broke the stairs off, swallowed. And plup, like a pebble, this person without gender, hits water below. That is all, the only sound, tininess, the end of another person’s life.

Trying to find our way out of the grotto, with less and less light, then none at all, we’d felt our way with the thin metal guardrail whose coldness I can still feel across my palms because it is what kept us going and what kept me from joining my companion. The guardrail that made me lavish in my praise (sickeningly), that made me sorry I’d ever been born.

Before that, when we’d had light, we kept seeing little girl Beauty Queens, all dressed alike in window gauze mostly bundled together except for a loose girl now and then, flying off, ecstatic. Bundled together tight, held together with metal bands, industrial flotsam, little girls recycling.

 

 

FOUR by Yu-Han Chao

The Longing Cat

The cat who longs for more is perpetually following humans around. She wants a home, she wants love, she wants children which she can no longer have — she wants a human. The longing cat is like the longing human, always wanting, never satisfied. She wakes up every morning thinking these are the things that I want, that I must work towards, she washes her face with her paws, fluffs up her hair and tries, tries again, but sometimes it seems that hardly anybody ever notices…

 

Famous Cat

A human approaches, with treats and a camera. The Longing Cat fears. What if this is not a Good Human? What if he is abusive and just wants to cook her and eat her and toss her bones in the trash? The Longing Cat decides she does not long for this human, not his home, not his love, not his treats. She walks away. The human is a reporter for the New York Times; he takes a picture of another cat and makes her famous. Famous cat now divides her time between her loft in Manhattan and villa in California.

Go-See Cat

Up close we see that Go-See Cat is more early-episode America’s Next Top Model, before too much narrowing down, than she is Supermodel. Her face asymmetrical, legs a little bowed, something pink and raw about her mannerism, and after all that confident strutting, we see in her eyes deep insecurities. While she sits there, watching our faces, her self esteem plunges to the floor. We’ll let you know after the decision has been made, thank you for coming, Go-See Cat.

Aspiring Model Cat

Another cat on the catwalk, approaching with most innocent eyes and hopeful mouth. Aspiring Model Cat must be barely out of elementary school. Tall but not six feet, still has a little baby fat, just the beginnings of cleavage. But the innocent eyes draw one in. This is what one needs to sell products, sell clothing, sell Cat Village to more tourists. Aspiring Model Cat, please let us know your availability for the next few months. We think you might be our cat.


-Yu-Han Chao

 

TWO by James Heflin

Dear Mr. L

Once I hired a girl to do the filing because I was in love with how she said "water cooler." I learned my lesson when she filed "Napoleon" under "garments, archaic." What were her personal charms to me then, under the wrathful cloud of middle management? I informed her of my decision over appetizers, and I have never made a mistake like that one again.
 
First I suggest you try every variant under which you believe it could be filed by one less seasoned in these matters than yourself: try "Lincoln log," even "chambered nautilus." You never know what a neophyte might do. My own such item is filed under "South Seas," for personal reasons dating back to the acquisition of "experience, nautical," but then my system is idiosyncratic, and I don't expect anyone else to use it. Other possibilities might include "trick knee" or "Cool Hand Luke."

Misfiling has brought greater men than I to the rending of sackcloth and gnashing of teeth, I can tell you. Things will become out of hand. The scurrying of underlings can do nothing for you, my friend, when “alarm clock” gets crossed up with “humidor.” Eyes bulge with tears. Veins tear. I wish you all the best in your search, but I warn you: your failings have been noted.

 

In the City of the Exquisite

I take my place in the room beneath the tracks of the elevated train, watching all day as the room rumbles. I change certain numbers into other, secret numbers. The train goes under the cathedral. There is a spot where the orange lips of the Virgin become visible for an instant. That is my favorite place to see from the train.

If you saw me you would not know me. There is a woman here who weeps. Sometimes she boils potatoes. My elbow does not work well. People wave in their carriages. Rain falls, then snow. My nephew owns a store where rope is sold, and when he visits he smiles with a cigar between his teeth. His wife brings onions. Many birds gather near my house, and a cannon shoots to drive them away.

My other favorite place is far away, in tunnels that wind through unfamiliar quarters. There at times is a heart which hangs in a dark chamber. Its pulsing is like that of the train.


- James Heflin

 

TWO by Stephanie Papa

Isolation

She decides to confront the bear in her backyard with a dog she’s never seen before. They get close enough to see the bear’s breath, clenching his cragged teeth. She calls the stranger dog to come and to her surprise, he listens, posing like a hunter at her heel. The bear’s eyes narrow to nothing and it monsters toward her. The dog reels backwards, balking low. She runs for the house, sure that the bear will lunge at her for interrupting his loneliness. She tries to lock the door. It paces in circles around and around her house, past the cherry trees, as if to tell her, ‘you are not who you were,’ prowling as a prisoner in a coliseum. He finally arrives heavily on the front wood porch and waits at the door, which she has been trying to lock for hours. He pushes it open and stares at her like a weary neighbor needing to use the phone. She wonders where the dog has gone. The bear stares; ‘you are not who you were.’

 

Let's Be Polite

I want to wrap myself inside a giant burrito and catapult through your window while you’re sleeping like a brick of bad news, roll back and forth on your computer keyboard, bounce on your moldy armchair cushions, leaking out streaks of guacamole, rip the pillows from underneath your sleeping head, shake them out of your drooled-on pillow cases and staple them to the wall, then throw my body against them, leaving my print in the shape of a bean burrito, fly out the window again letting the tortilla break my fall, saunter down your driveway bold as god damn Robin Hood, open the door of the restaurant on the corner full of luncheoners and yell “Bon appetite!” then hail a cab to the park, maybe have a drink with a girlfriend, talk about baby names, and go home for a bath in my claw foot tub.


- Stephanie Papa

 

Melanie Webb

Looking-Glass Riddler

Sun wants to be done, its flashing only just begun — a schoolroom where no one dies. Vladimir riddles entire, and blunt of mind I riddle with him. To be or not to be, he sequences in numeric fashion. This does not surprise, and we sit in ambassadorial remains while stands Hamlet reading us, holding his skull, sunken sockets unseeing the cherry trees laden with glossy black fruit. Eyes, and eyes seek not the whole orchard, glass-housing, across the winding river separating properties. An uncle: speeding along hedgerows of young firs, delicately rooted trees whose distinctive feature in the pine family is their erect, cylindrical cone. At maturity it falls, spreading its seed. Alice bullied, bedecked by jacks — but baby slumbering with mother in bedroom, black knight learns himself blocked by white queen. Speak! and speak: the man to his memory.

 

Joe Schmidt

Flowers

I do not know the names of flowers — I am so stupid and uneducated. Growing up I studied the names of machines, the names of guns and generals, and the names of dead politicians. I know the first African slave arrived in Jamestown in 1619. I know that greed grips the minds of humanity greater than empathy. I know envy, self-pity, and especially, sadness and grief. But I do not know the names of flowers, so I do not know joy well enough. Today, walking in Virginia, the fields explode with color — white flowers and yellow flowers, and flowers the color of eggs, and flowers the color of plums. The trees flower and the hills flower. Each flower, an eye, watches the world unfold utterly glorious beauty. And my own eyes bloom, opening to beloved, fragile earth.

Springtime: I do not know the names of flowers but maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe botany and sociology don’t matter. I forget my own name. Call me Flower-mouth and Spring-babe. Call the earth Eye-mother who blooms and watches. Call the sky Big Blue Flower Roof, and the sun Big Orange Bloom of Fire. Today the earth treats me kindly with flowers and light. I do not know the names of anything anymore. I crawl under a fruit tree in full white bloom and nap away the noon. After dark, the moon will come out, round and white, the flower of the night.

 

 

Emerson Probst

My Rusted Life

The wind blows through cracks in the barn siding while orange sunlight makes spotted streaks — hazy and dull against the bird-stained wood. There are twisted nails with twisted wires and a 1959 license plate and a radio that still works for baseball on hot summer nights. This shed is where I pile my life up like a scrap heap. Here some swing set metal and there some rusted iron fence runs. The kids and I used them once for dogs, or maybe chickens, whichever came first.

 

TWO by Elizabeth Welsh

Remedy

Taking the ferry, you sip journeys, take tester samples, try your hand at something easy, before the big one. Today, stuttering towards the deck, with your case full of milk, sow, globe, star, carline thistles, your artichokes — convinced they’ll cure you of vertigo — you stand at the hilt. Ashen pallor crawls up your slim neckline, like the dayfly that flits onto the woman’s sandwich beside you, the smell rubbing out your cure.

 

Taste

Know this: to set up a salt lick — like that first cosmic ice — to ensnare nocturnal badgers, taking photos like you were giving birth, draws me to you. Collisions occur, & I can see the plastic tongue on tarmac, touching root wads for dirt. It is not baiting in these months, but addiction unfurls like a weed: know this.


- Elizabeth Welsh

 

Gordon Carrega

Curtains

The curtains, they don't hang right. They don't hang straight. There's certainly something out of kilter in the fall of material from ceiling to floor, a basic unevenness about these curtains, although from outside you don't notice. I went outside and looked and from outside everything's fine, like finally someone cares enough about living here to get curtains and hence that desolate look of big, naked glass window is now a thing of the past. But from inside the apartment, when you're just sitting here and looking with critical eyes directly at the curtains, it's obvious they don't hang right. Perhaps it has to do with the cheapness of the fabric. I didn't invest too heavily, and then I took the material to the seamstress right round the corner and a few days later I picked up the curtains, and when I got home I hung the curtains, but they obviously don't look right. Something is off, yet I suppose the long dark nights will be a bit better now with the curtains. Then a friend comes in and suggests that I take them back, not the long dark nights because how could I possibly take those back, pack up my long dark nights in a cardboard box, drive out to the all-night department store and say, "Hi, remember me? I came in here a few nights ago about this time and I bought this box of long dark nights and, well, now I'm bringing them back because they're just not what I had in mind.” But the curtains, this friend can see that the fault is in the sewing and it's only right and fair that the seamstress should correct her mistakes. This friend, he wants to right a wrong, and because there's nobody weeping behind the curtains, nobody seeking refuge, nobody ready to jump out and say what's the big idea, he has all the time in the world to make his case, all the time in the world.

© 2012 The Prose-Poem Project
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