Friday, January 21, 2005

RAW MANGO: This poem was inspired by several visits to Paraguayan prisons, brothels, and a mental institution. It is best if read while listening to Paraguayan "guaranies" -- folkloric music played by men aggressively pounding out rhythms on giant harps.

Play the Podcast.

It's night.
Do you hear the rustling of the mango trees?

They say they are a nuisance - with hard fruit
like me, falling down, yet
the tree still grows in spite of broken limbs,
of a core that is too tender to bear its weight.

Overnight, the breeze turned Antarctic --
we watch shooting stars under the Southern Cross;
Chill greeting for my tour of life behind bars,
thick bolted chain and the rust
of a Paraguayan mental hospital,

women I visit
mirrors or memory?
I feel most welcome here,
speaking a Guaraní-tinged language of dreams;

my destiny to see Self reflected in a woman
electroconvulsive therapy

not a cure but at least a way to forget

life means a long, extended negotiation
with oblivion;
beautiful young autistic boy
sitting cross-legged on the cement courtyard
staring straight ahead, body caught rhythmic & repetitive
like post-traumatic stress, like post-sexual assault, like
life in an incomprehensible world; waking up under a mango tree,

fruit falling like sorrow
softening up before spoiling

the morning's stroll
into another new day we only think is new...

the young man dying of AIDS in the prison told me
"I'm between life and death" tattoos stretched out over bones

needles are not good here, w/sharp sweet stench
at least he had a mattress & a wooden cot

how much better than sleeping under a bridge
in a crate, on a cold July night near the Río Paraguay
smelling the caldo de pescado of the Lido Bar w/
Mercedes parked on the calle, young girls leaning over old men;

doesn't it seem justified to steal from the rich?
I run shakily, high-heeled,

carrying my contraband of dreams, does that make me unique?
we've got big dreams.

we've all got big dreams.
what does it matter.

Let them move to the city, you say.
But at least in the country, they had free air & pecans falling
about in November, the bright orange of persimmons draping creeks
those dear, sweet nights of looking up at a full moon
putting up preserves, feigning self-sufficiency
where race, tribe, language, origin no longer matter,
you're not having to be a parasite to survive;

Castiglione's Art of the Courtier now in Governor's palace;
play god or play capricious Puck
mask over mask over mask so they know you by your roles
& not by the sad, bright pressure of oblivion

turning wood into bowls
bowls into a sad, young Paraguayan boy
living surrounded by women
gentle in theory not predatory
like dreams instilled in you
devouring you alive;

someone else's dreams
define slavery:

nother's values articulated w/electricity
strapped to the head, held down body by women
a kind of body you will soon forget
boy in the body of every bowl

turning turning turning turning

transformation is finite
that is the true nightmare

& you fill the hollow bowl
like body w/bright foil-wrapped distractions
sweet like what you're now denying yourself;
pecans fall from your trees like joy
crunching underfoot money
directed into the cycles
of/on dreams.

Those pecans are not pecans at all.
They're mangos, and they're raw.
Very very raw.

Susan Smith Nash
September 2000
Asuncion, Paraguay

Monday, January 17, 2005

Thinking "surlitudinous" thoughts, crossing a marvellous portal in
Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the Fringe Journal


Play the PodCast

Barrels squandered palm and mango,

my hands are lovely, all squishy,

just the way you like it. Poof! she said, not growlingly

and I concurred. We have such soft polish, yes?

Sleeping is not easy, dear.

The road ahead sanded stinging nettles

Sedona and a little western-style saddle;

On the side and kinda angry

I started to cry when the man gave me

five crumpled $20s and a packet of new herring.

Angly, squarish, curvellicious, emblickled.

I have a ways to go before I awaken voluntarily,

unless, of course, I am in those arms.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

KOOLAU CALDERA, South of Kaneohe (poem). The vertical, emerald-green mountain side is, in reality, the edge of a caldera, and if you look closely, you realize that you're in the middle of a dormant volcano as you drive down Kamehameha Highway, or the newer H-3, from Honolulu to Kaneohe Bay. It is absolutely spectacular. One has to write a poem, so I did.

Play the podcast.


Thousands of years, or mere moments?

The fire is now emerald, hard, and as elusive

as roads winding through Colombian yungas --

but this is Hawaii, and the fire is internal;

smiles, elaborate signing, a stylized movement of hips and feet;

the drama is in the despair

the rainbow's end I saw terminating

in the Honolulu airport rental car lot --

treasure is something you take out and drive?

I don't think so ...

this is the season of rains and forbidden dreams

the images brush my consciousness

awakened by small, shy sharks

just learning to react to blood in water;

I really shouldn't wade in the shallows like this,

bleeding from so many emotional wounds --

the shield volcano erected walls;

glassy, shocking the eyes with lush, exotic heartache

and a moral compass spinning insane 360s,

trying to tell us not to worry too much

watch the waters cascading down the dark basalt

then let the cares sink into the same, quiet cave

where all our childhood friends slipped --

disappeared to heaven, or to the Eden we call "ring of fire"

because we are the eternal strangers here;

we, the migratory birds too exhausted by the beating of wings

to even think of singing, with feathers like

flat leaves dripping rain but no more tears:

you're here with me now

coconut fiber mats, fishbone and shell curtains,

platters of papaya, mango, and pineapple

a tropical cliche, except for the fire just beneath the surface:

this is life in a caldera --

dreaming, with drama, a hand outstretched, a bird singing

never lonely.

November 29, 2004

Kaneohe, Hawaii

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

CASPIAN SKIES (poem). I wrote this poem in January, 2003, while sitting in the rooftop restaurant at the top of the Radisson Hotel, which overlooked the Caspian Sea. It is one of the most beautiful views I can think of, and I love returning there as often as I can. From that point, you can see the gorgeous cerulean blue of the sea, offshore drilling platforms, onshore production platforms, the 'Old City' (Ichiri Sheher) with the Maiden's Tower, caravansarai on the old Silk Road, ancient walled fortress, and the palace of the Shirvan Shah.

Play the podcast.


When the edge of the sea

merges with the sky –

clouds or haze?

heart or mind?

Life, if I could manage it,

blended between sea and horizon...

Infinity is possible

when I bleed tears like this.

I drink air, breathe the ocean’s froth.

Boundaries only define themselves

when I try to deny their existence.

Philosophy is my favorite haze;

the artifice of self

or at least when thinking I’m inside

that small, little place of belonging.

January 6, 2003

Baku, Azerbaijan

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Asuncion (poem). From 1996 to 2000, I traveled to Paraguay approximately three times per year. Part of my enthusiasm was motivated by the desire to get to know Paraguayan women poets, their work, and their contexts. I was also motivated by the desire to bridge the cultures -- American and Paraguayan -- by setting up programs that encouraged partnering. As a result, I became involved with many programs, including educational exchanges, film festivals, art, culture, trade, and developing a free trade zone. It was a fascinating time, and I was lucky to have been able to gain an appreciation of Guarani culture, and the unique dialect of Spanish spoken there, which also reflected a certain mindset, unique to the world.

Play the podcast.


the night is hot
unbearably hot

I sleep on the floor
no breeze enters the window
traffic noises 5 stories below & night sounds
from the brothel down the street, drunken singing
accompanied by harps & guitars & songs
played over and over from a pirated CD --
the smell of diesel exhaust
settling into the pores of the city
ozone & other supercharged ions
make me long for you more
my world is between dream and day

the mattress on the floor
shudders when trucks rumble down the cobbled streets
heavy with goods undocumented & untrackable
like my mind imagining, wakeful
my body trembling in response
to memories traversing this heart of hope
& still you're half a world away

I sweat in my sleep
my arms, my legs
involuntarily searching; I do not perceive
the half-heard sound of sobbing
a young girl realizing for the first time
her body is a vehicle driven by someone else
the moment she gives up dreaming;
water splashing in the courtyard
she tries to wash the smells from her hands
the rest she gives to the poinsettia tree
its star-like leaves and yellow blossoms
rousing that dismal corner of this once-grand house,
its history
created its own oblivion.

but I am asleep four doors away;
my sheet will not peel away
the pillow will not muffle your voice
remembered from a world & a lifetime away;
we have not yet met
but soon we will; now
our moments are still on the other side of dreams
enigmatic, immaculate, joyous & sad
like starlight behind a film of clouds

when I awaken I see the dawn
cast shadows on the paint peeling from my walls
the tears that have stained my ceiling;
the mattress is warm on the cool concrete floor
your breath is already inside me
my hands somewhere brushing your neck
flowers bloom in the trees outside the window
the trucks grinding gears, the brothel silent
the daylight scents are sweet & only mildly sad;
morning is, thankfully, what happens
every day

Night Tides (poem). This is a poem written about the concept of North Africa and immanent out-migration to France, or to a state of mind that speaks to extreme despair.


Play the PodCast....

surges and tides

terrible like salt or tears

its wake of foam and fears

suspended in the gelatinous seas

and that’s how you found me –

my skin peeled back

as though we had forever

as though we would be together

as though the sweet pain of newness

would clamp its hot, tender hand over mine

and my skin would smooth over

but after the dream was over you found me –

like water left behind

in one tide pool after another

kelp and brine and

driftwood intertwined

the occasional shell

soft pulp peeled back

and smoother than skin

still craving

the memory of those tides

my empty arms and impervious surge

suspended in my gelatinous nights

Twists of Roses (poem). This poem was written when contemplating the similarities between roses, rose stems, rose thorns, and barbed wire.

Play the PodCast ...

We pulled ourselves away

from the shrill tangle of lies and guns –

a small bench, a twist of roses –

the smell of sweet, green grass

and a fire burned down

into the rocks and sand

Your eyes, hot and wet,

singular coins, unblinking,


sinking into the depths of my waters

cool and clear like a first encounter

untinged by disappointment

ropes still coiled and fresh

smelling of jasmine and rain

under twists of roses

we pull ourselves further


Sunday, January 09, 2005

fringe-journaling at kramerbooks on dupont circle in washington, dc Posted by Hello
Lake Swimming (poem) -- This is a poem written during a two-week poetry workshop at Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia. This particular poem was inspired by swimming in a lake near the Finnish border, and by thinking about other experiences of swimming in lakes.

Listen to the PODCAST of "Lake Swimming"


The technique is different.

You ease in, trying not to slip on rocks,

then you feel the mud slip between your toes,

the muck and slime clinging to your feet

and the possibility of leeches

goose-fleshing you to go chest-first

into the cool, yellowish liquid,

thicker than pool water

thinner than the blood

you feel throbbing up through your chest,

your belly, your face

and while you’re catching your breath

you imagine fish swimming in parallel schools

beneath you, each layer of water

colder and darker than the one above

like memory

the surface is still warm and bright

after all, it is still happening

you’re 55 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg

swimming in a lake not far

from the Finnish border, fairy tale mushrooms and ferns

softer than a newly-hatched chick

the kind they used to dye and sell for Easter

in the local TG&Y store in your Oklahoma home

and then just one layer down,

water like the Vermont lake where you’d dash in

swimming back and forth to the swim buoys

Quebecois French blaring from radios

and noisy boats, piloted by teenagers

laughing and throwing beer cans at you

if they noticed you at all –

a layer lower – wind warnings in flooded Arizona arroyos

canyon edges carved from orange-red Navajo sandstone;

you turn for breath and there is only water –

geology feels like that sometimes

your father’s maps are faded,

the lamp at his drafting table flickering and uncertain

and deeper, the fish are larger

the images massive, dark, and poorly defined –

a moonlit night in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania –

you, swimming alone across a small lake,

cabin lights flanking the shore,

your classmates telling you

it was wrong to swim alone

(but you always do) –

and finally, that dark, bright Nevada day at Donner Lake –

Jane looking thin and radiant

only a year before the schizophrenia

took her nights from her days,

her days from her arm, tracked with pain

and self-lapses she called “finding God”

or simply “her religion” –

and your face

innocence and self-assurance

were the same thing those days;

she would hit & run –

you would keep swimming

The unbearable cold

makes you prefer lap-swimming

in pools these days.

Friday, January 07, 2005

"Antidote to Vanity" is a poem dealing with people who have been displaced due to war or natural disaster (the tsunami comes to mind), and who have been living in limb -- sometimes decades. It is also a meditation the writings of a 5th-century Buddhist monk who lived in the Sri Lanka / India region, who suggested strategies for undesirable mental states -- attachment, desire, etc. This is a concept that is usually misunderstood. Think before judging.

Bones poured like wax gone bad,
I descended into the fire; my personal fear comes alive
in this ravine curling sidelong the highway

flames leap from the asphaltic shale
an artesian well of fire

I think Johnny Cash & Zarathustra;
did my dad & Nietzsche have so much in common?
Ring of Fire & Self-Overcoming –
gales cannot extinguish this blaze of glory
& associated smells; Oklahoma oil in a jar from the Hunton formation
my dad talking about the well near the Wynnewood refinery
& my brother sneaking charred hotdogs off the backyard grill

all the while, I'm here in the Absheron Peninsula, knowing
I’ve been here before; many times

We are nearing an ancient temple
Zoroastrians worshipped this same eternal flame
two thousand years ago, muffled by paisley carpets

Good vs. Evil
weavers repeated flames with brilliant wool and silk
in infinite tones of scarlet, burgundy, & simple red

thousands of miles away, my aunt served her daughter's wedding cake on silver
saved by an uncle who said Berlin was like Dresden –
fire bombing was a terrible way to discipline a city
some streets burned for days, asphalt ignited
where water had been long supplanted by dirt & defoliated dreams

my heart burns
my head erupts in paisley

just that small fact that history changes
but the same earth burns
the true good is in the flame itself
purity comes from the inner core of fire

thousands of years, we sometimes discover the ancient truths
sometimes not –

it’s just that now I see the way history was & will always be…
& my bones weep
like wax
passed close to the flame