A Journal of Contemporary Arts 






Those Glades we guided through—
Panther chewing bay leaves,
aiming streams of spit
at each on the canoe
for strength against the spirits,
then spat upon the casket;

Tiger’s was lashed lengthwise
and carried by long poles.

We laid his best belongings
atop that final basket,
covering it by branches
with prim palmetto fronds
and grievous logs for weights,
to leave it thirty days.

I hung a dark blue cloth
on Tiger’s Musa Isle.

Weeping so profusely,
his widow in surprise,
the women veiled their faces
with capes. The men in most
distress, it seemed peculiar
that loss could take such guise.


These stones are not found buried in the earth,
but on high buttes, and round like sun and moon.
We know all rounded objects are related.
Those things which are alike in nature grow
to look alike, and these have rested there
a long time, looking upward at the sun.

The many stones and pebbles have been shaped
in currents of a freshet, but the sacred
are gathered far from waterways, exposed
to only sun and wind. The earth contains
a count within the thousands of them, hidden
beneath its surface.
Know the thunderbird
is rumored to have been a close relation,
and when a man or animal is punished,
the thunderbird will strike the guilty person.

So if it’s possible to track the course
of lightning, one of these unworldly stones
is later found embedded in the earth.

Some trust these sacramental stones descend
alongside with the lightning. I believe
they occupy the ground, projected down
by lightning bolts. Throughout my life, I’ve been
devoted to the sacred stones. I’ve lived
according to their terms, and they have come
to help me in my troubled times.
                                                     I’ve tried
to make myself as worthy as I can
to supervise these consecrated stones,
and yet I know, I am not good enough
to speak to Wakantanka. I must make
petition through the stones – my intercessors.

             (after an oral history)

The last great Makah medicine man was Santiano,
who shook rattles with pecten shells on whalebone hoops,
inheriting cures of the East Wind’s, from uncles and aunts.
Almost no one remembers the details of his life.
His protégé was a shaman they called “Young Doctor,”
an expert extracting splinters and other substance
that got into the body. Some said by sucking them out,
“which is not so painful as practice by using tweezers,”
a mishap requiring much care, among the Makah.
Young Doctor said Santiano was a small man,
and wonderful in a multitude of ways.
He could plunge into deep water, for example,
and remain underneath it, hour after hour.
Young Doctor saw Santiano go underwater,
taking with him sea urchins, loaded in four baskets.
And after a time, brought them up again, packed like sardines.
Santiano went diving the oceans, one other occasion –
from a statement he made on his own, pounded cedar bark tied
to the tail of a shark, leaving it for a space of four days.
And then Santiano descended the depths, to retrieve it,
afterwards wearing it always, in place of a belt.
Santiano would treat a wealth of Makah illness,
administering nothing material, remedy-wise
If fishbones lodged in a throat, Santiano dislodged them
by sucking, though he would use this procedure only
in some condition arisen from natural causes.
They asked Santiano if he would tolerate weeping
in his sick rooms. His student, Young Doctor, stated then
he did not recall at all seeing anyone weep
in a medicine treatment performed by Santiano,
since we all know weeping will make a patient weak.
Santiano sang as he treated them, and if the patient’s
conditions weren’t serious, chose to sing nostrums alone.
Sometimes his songs were successful on one single treatment.
Other times, others were needed for singing along.
Summoned for medicine, if the disease were uncertain,
messengers went to seek help through emergency songs.
Many of his compositions were famously known.
Friends and relations of patients were able to sing them –
women and men, clapping hands, marking tempos alike,
knowing he’d sing until death, if the song was demanded.


An eagle circles through the reservoir
to join companions perched above the waters.
How brave, I think, atop their cypress totem,
where one well-tempered shot could augur ruin.
I think of the Coushatta tribe back home,
that battered parish known as Calcasieu –
our crying eagle. How the men buy RIT
to dye their shafts.
Once struck, the shade would fade
undoubtedly. That advertisement crimson
would, in the rain which followed, cop to coral,
a lessening of pleasure in the kill.
And likewise are we now, this side of Laura.

These cypress knees, akin to Badlands spires,
are North Dakota deserts in the bayou,
where somehow, eagles are becoming buzzards
as noon approaches us with staff in hand.


How did my forebears stand these stinging hordes?
and how did they save any dignity?
We cannot even hold our heads upraised,
We cannot even see, to span the swamp.
In mere moments, we will surely meet that quicksand
they terrified us with, when we were children,
along with killer bees and the piranha.

The slope pursuing you is sac saliva,
encrusted by a scab of shifting leaves,
and I assume our gnarled walking sticks
alleviate an itch, as we mount upward.
The bank will thank us later on for this.

Had Soto come this way on expedition –
Guachoya to the native Aguacay,
Lake Village to Vienna/Ruston then —
the Europeans might have second-guessed it.
We might be living still in earthen lodges,
and eating these mosquitoes till we’re filled.


He asks me why our state parks are the best –
the showers more like spas or north resorts,
the “Incan” tiles as though shipped by Peru,
installed brand-new, but somehow from that empire,
and always hot.
The outdoor sports, I say.
It’s Sportsman’s Paradise, where every pathway
is left collecting artifacts of stone,
and you can look, but never may you touch.
The spirits of the Caddo here are watching.
The taxes of their heirs don’t go to waste.
An alligator cruises past, a snake,
then you are roadkill, taking what’s not yours
and never was.
                        Our plazas, born at Jonesville
when it was first “Anilco,” and next, Troyville,
established standards for this hemisphere,
transplanting them to Mexico so long
ago, our archaeologists admit
that hunter-gatherers were not so bad,
and corn-as-culture could be overrated.


Apache who has passed has come to me
to be my escort, when I am obliged
to undergo severe experience
in course of which, I will receive my songs
for treating the diseases he will cause.
He leads me to a shaman’s wickiup,
and having entered, crosses to its center.
Owl feathers circle instantly around.
All sing the same rendition of this song:
They led me to the man of medicine,
where Elder Brother is. Owl feathers flew.
The plumes of owls were singing in the air.

Now they recount to me my trip’s adventures,
a song of bees when I was tiring out,
which whirled around the houses of the shamans.
They say I have a little way to go,
then sing another – white, resplendent mountain!
It seems so far away, I can’t endure,
but I can see, like shining, shade-less rainbows,
the mountain’s arches glorious with light!
A dead Apache lingers near the shaman,
to let me know his blood is on my hands.
He rolls a cigarette, and motions, “Sit
and smoke it, brother. Listen how I feel…”
The thing that you have done to me is sad.
But now, the smoke we share between ourselves
will be a signal, billowing inside.

The man of medicine dismisses me.
I wander off so far, it seems I reach
the World’s End. There I meet with Elder Brother,
remote and desolate. He sings this song:
The ends of earth you enter, and its corner.
From opposite, I – Elder Brother—come.
My heart is bounding in me, when we meet.

While I am walking on the great world’s edge,
a serpent is erecting on it tail.
I hear it singing, coiled around the mountain,
compose a private version of its words.
And when Apache brings me to the rocks,
they shake beneath me, breaking up my courage,
till I compose and sing my own death song.


                       Return to Poems Menu



women damned
        BY C
             (translated from the French by Jennifer Reeser)

Within the lamps' pale, languid limpidness,
Upon deep cushions, impregnated full of scents,
Hippolyte dreamed of the potent caress
Which raised the drapery upon her innocence.

She searched, with a tempest-troubled eye,
For her naivete, from heaven far withdrawn,
As though a voyager regarding sky,
Having turned the head around towards an azure dawn.

Her stupor, somnolent and teary-eyed,
The air of brokenness, the dismal sensuousness,
Like weapons spent, the conquered arms thrown wide,
All serviced, all befit her fragile loveliness.

Extended at her feet, serene and gay,
With her desirous eyes, Delphine was smoldering,
Like a strong animal surveys its prey
Once having made the mark of its initial sting.

Strong beauty on its knees in front of frail,
Superb, she stretched herself around her wantonly
In such a way as seeming to inhale
Sweet thankfulness, receive the wine of victory.

The canticle which sings of pleasure, mute,
She searched for, in her pallid victim's eye,
And that sublime, infinite gratitude
Which exits from the eyelid like a lengthy sigh.

--“Hippolyte, what do you have to say,
Dear heart, about these things? Do you now comprehend
This holy gift you must not give away,
Your finest rose, blown, withered by a violent wind?

Lightly as mayflies do my kisses hover,
Caressing grand, transparent waters after dusk,
And like a truck would be those of your lover,
As though he harrowed with a ploughshare, digging ruts.

Like a heavy horse's harness, without grace,
Or like the cruel yoke of cattle they will pass,
Hippolyte, my sister! Turn your face,
You, my soul and heart, my all, my other half,

Turn to me your star-filled eyes of azure!
For one enchanting glance, a holy healing cream,
Will I lift up a veil of darker pleasure,
And I will then sedate you in an endless dream!”

But then, the young head raised, Hippolyte:
“--I don't regret, and do not feel ingratitude,
I suffer, my Delphine, anxiety,
As after tasting terrible, nocturnal food.

I feel dissolving on me dreadful doors,
And apparitions scattered in a black battalion,
Who wish to drive me on a risky course,
Closed off from any exit on the blood horizon.

Are we committing actions which are strange?
Explain my terror, if you can, and my distress.
I shiver with fright when you say, 'My angel!'
And feel my mouth to go towards you nonetheless.

Don't look at me in such a way, my thought!
You whom I always love, my sister by election,
When you would be the trap by which I'm caught,
As well as the commencement of my perdition!”

Delphine shook out her miserable mane,
And stamping with her feet, as on a stand of iron,
Look fatal, gave her answer in a despot's strain:
--“Who so, in love's vicinity, dares speak of hell-fire?

Forever be the idle dreamer doomed,
Preferring the premier, in her stupidity,
Obsessed with unsolved problems, and consumed
With mingling the affairs of love with decency!

The one who, like a mystic, would unite
The darkness with the day, the shaded with the warm,
Will never from the red sun, Love, have light
By which to heat her paralytic form!

Go, then, to find a stupid fiance!
Run off, to give your pure heart to his cruel caress,
And, filled with horror and remorse, and gray,
Stigmatized, you will bring again to me your breasts...

One may please but one master here below!”
But pouring out immense distress, the mademoiselle
Cried suddenly, “I feel swelled in my soul
A pit without a bottom: my heart is this hell!

As deep as space, like a volcano, fiery!
Nothing will sate the moaning of this monster's need,
And nothing cools the thirsting of the Dirae
Who, lanterns in their hands, are burning till they bleed.

That our closed drapes divide us from creation
And that the lassitude accompanies the rest!
In your deep throat, I long for my destruction,
To find the freshness of the grave upon your breast!”

--Descend, lamentable victims, go down
Upon the pathway to eternal hell, descend,
Plunge into the depression most profound,
Where all crimes are beaten by sky-forsaken wind,

Mad shadows, run till your desire is spent.
Boil pell-mell with noises of a thunderstorm;
This rabidness you never can content,
And from your pleasures will your punishment be born.

Never will a new ray brighten your caverns,
By fissures in the walls of feverish miasmas
Filtering in, so as to light the lanterns
And penetrate your bodies' horrible aromas.

Your amusement's sour sterility
Perverts your thirst, and stiffens you into a hag,
And your lustfulness, with a wind-like fury,
Causes your flesh to slap you like an aging flag.

Far from humanity, condemned, astray,
Traverse through deserts, like the foxes wander through;
Making your fortune, souls in disarray,
And fleeing the infinity inside of you!

Femmes Damnées (Delphine et Hippolyte)

À la pâle clarté des lampes languissantes,
Sur de profonds coussins tout imprégnés d'odeur
Hippolyte rêvait aux caresses puissantes
Qui levaient le rideau de sa jeune candeur.
Elle cherchait, d'un oeil troublé par la tempête,
De sa naïveté le ciel déjà lointain,
Ainsi qu'un voyageur qui retourne la tête
Vers les horizons bleus dépassés le matin.

De ses yeux amortis les paresseuses larmes,
L'air brisé, la stupeur, la morne volupté,
Ses bras vaincus, jetés comme de vaines armes,
Tout servait, tout parait sa fragile beauté.

Étendue à ses pieds, calme et pleine de joie,
Delphine la couvait avec des yeux ardents,
Comme un animal fort qui surveille une proie,
Après l'avoir d'abord marquée avec les dents.

Beauté forte à genoux devant la beauté frêle,
Superbe, elle humait voluptueusement
Le vin de son triomphe, et s'allongeait vers elle,
Comme pour recueillir un doux remerciement.

Elle cherchait dans l'oeil de sa pâle victime
Le cantique muet que chante le plaisir,
Et cette gratitude infinie et sublime
Qui sort de la paupière ainsi qu'un long soupir.

— «Hippolyte, cher coeur, que dis-tu de ces choses?
Comprends-tu maintenant qu'il ne faut pas offrir
L'holocauste sacré de tes premières roses
Aux souffles violents qui pourraient les flétrir ?

Mes baisers sont légers comme ces éphémères
Qui caressent le soir les grands lacs transparents,
Et ceux de ton amant creuseront leurs ornières
Comme des chariots ou des socs déchirants;

Ils passeront sur toi comme un lourd attelage
De chevaux et de boeufs aux sabots sans pitié...
Hippolyte, ô ma soeur! tourne donc ton visage,
Toi, mon âme et mon coeur, mon tout et ma moitié,

Tourne vers moi tes yeux pleins d'azur et d'étoiles!
Pour un de ces regards charmants, baume divin,
Des plaisirs plus obscurs je lèverai les voiles,
Et je t'endormirai dans un rêve sans fin!»

Mais Hippolyte alors, levant sa jeune tête:
— «Je ne suis point ingrate et ne me repens pas,
Ma Delphine, je souffre et je suis inquiète,
Comme après un nocturne et terrible repas.

Je sens fondre sur moi de lourdes épouvantes
Et de noirs bataillons de fantômes épars,
Qui veulent me conduire en des routes mouvantes
Qu'un horizon sanglant ferme de toutes parts.

Avons-nous donc commis une action étrange ?
Explique, si tu peux, mon trouble et mon effroi:
Je frissonne de peur quand tu me dis: 'Mon ange!'
Et cependant je sens ma bouche aller vers toi.

Ne me regarde pas ainsi, toi, ma pensée!
Toi que j'aime à jamais, ma soeur d'élection,
Quand même tu serais une embûche dressée
Et le commencement de ma perdition!»

Delphine secouant sa crinière tragique,
Et comme trépignant sur le trépied de fer,
L'oeil fatal, répondit d'une voix despotique:
— «Qui donc devant l'amour ose parler d'enfer ?

Maudit soit à jamais le rêveur inutile
Qui voulut le premier, dans sa stupidité,
S'éprenant d'un problème insoluble et stérile,
Aux choses de l'amour mêler l'honnêteté!

Celui qui veut unir dans un accord mystique
L'ombre avec la chaleur, la nuit avec le jour,
Ne chauffera jamais son corps paralytique
À ce rouge soleil que l'on nomme l'amour!

Va, si tu veux, chercher un fiancé stupide;
Cours offrir un coeur vierge à ses cruels baisers;
Et, pleine de remords et d'horreur, et livide,
Tu me rapporteras tes seins stigmatisés...

On ne peut ici-bas contenter qu'un seul maître!»
Mais l'enfant, épanchant une immense douleur,
Cria soudain: — «Je sens s'élargir dans mon être
Un abîme béant; cet abîme est mon coeur!

Brûlant comme un volcan, profond comme le vide!
Rien ne rassasiera ce monstre gémissant
Et ne rafraîchira la soif de l'Euménide
Qui, la torche à la main, le brûle jusqu'au sang.

Que nos rideaux fermés nous séparent du monde,
Et que la lassitude amène le repos!
Je veux m'anéantir dans ta gorge profonde,
Et trouver sur ton sein la fraîcheur des tombeaux!»
— Descendez, descendez, lamentables victimes,
Descendez le chemin de l'enfer éternel!
Plongez au plus profond du gouffre, où tous les crimes
Flagellés par un vent qui ne vient pas du ciel,

Bouillonnent pêle-mêle avec un bruit d'orage.
Ombres folles, courez au but de vos désirs;
Jamais vous ne pourrez assouvir votre rage,
Et votre châtiment naîtra de vos plaisirs.

Jamais un rayon frais n'éclaira vos cavernes;
Par les fentes des murs des miasmes fiévreux
Filtrent en s'enflammant ainsi que des lanternes
Et pénètrent vos corps de leurs parfums affreux.

L'âpre stérilité de votre jouissance
Altère votre soif et roidit votre peau,
Et le vent furibond de la concupiscence
Fait claquer votre chair ainsi qu'un vieux drapeau.

Loin des peuples vivants, errantes, condamnées,
À travers les déserts courez comme les loups;
Faites votre destin, âmes désordonnées,
Et fuyez l'infini que vous portez en vous!


                       Return to Poems Menu





Magnificent, a most amazing leaf
Some holy ones of old might on their walk
Have found, its center crossed with white like chalk--
A springtime, Sabbath symbol of belief.
It serves as my distraction from the brief
Appearance and demise upon each stalk
Of bright azalea blooms amid this talk
From bees who lost them too, but show no grief,
When sullenly some cloud's penumbra sogs
The air around these fuschia -spattered grounds,
And past six screeching, mating jays, my dogs
Seem less themselves but more like moor-born hounds.
A gray face, carved within these living logs
Of oak, bursts from the rough bark it surrounds.



                       Return to Poems Menu




Canto VI

Entrance aglow, the phantom swiftly led
away, as I attempted to keep pace,
and heard our tour guide fading, as he said,

"Although we have no photographic trace
to prove the legend, it is claimed Delphine--
being a lady beautiful of face --

attracted the attention of the queen
of Spain, who granted her her heart's desire
upon the very moment she was seen,

when yet a teen.” I thought: How strange, the fire
consumes not wood, nor air, nor palm nor fern.
What could this freak phenomenon require?

He finished, while I watched the mansion burn,
marvelling at the dearth of dropping jaws,
and drama none seemed able to discern.

His pause became a belletristic pause.
"Twice widowed, with one husband lost at sea,
the second husband by some unknown cause,

still a great beauty she was said to be.
By most accounts, a mannequin of poise
and charm, who kept polite society.

And while she was not beautiful as Troy's
reputed beauty, yet, hers was enough
to quell malicious rumors of the noise

emitting from these rooms. Rich charm can bluff
its way out of a scandal, with aplomb."
Suddenly, the road below turned rough.

"A charge of slave abuse against Madame
was filed, her home and regimen exposed
to an investigation." Like a bomb

or rocket from the flames returned my "ghost."
And like a soldier in a southern trench,
I took the shelling. "What a lovely host

I am," she drawled, in such proficient French,
it startled -- proper, formal and complete,
her exhalations reeking with the stench

of sulfur. "Grace can optimize deceit,"
our guide forged on, "The formal charge was dropped."
Grout and unlevel rock replaced the street.

Before, plain asphalt pavement, flat, blacktopped
and smooth, it now was made of ballast stone
inlaid like diamond steps. Our tour guide mopped

his beaded forehead, pulled a mobile phone
which rang within the pocket, from his hip,
answered the caller loudly, with a groan

theatrical and humble, both, his lip
affecting pique: "I told you not to call
me ever when I'm working." With a flip,

he cut the speaker short, and drew up tall,
regained his former, scholarly composure.
"Sorry about the interruption, y'all...

Some photographs result in an exposure
with greenish orbs." He winked, as though in jest.
"They commonly precede a bank foreclosure."

The phantom: "How appropriately dressed
you are, cherie -- such cheerful use of blacks.
The door has opened. Will you be my guest?"

The street had now developed streetcar tracks,
innate as veins along the facing block.
"Let us escape this herd of thirsty yaks,

and this malfeasant, gurgling prairie cock,
picking at lies like flies upon their backs.
Come -- smell my sweet bouquets of crimson stock,
my sprays of pomegranate four o'clock."


                       *(2013, Saint James Infirmary Books)


Return to Poems Menu





I couldn’t claim a prouder aunt
Than she who taught this county’s ways,
And lectured me to say its name
Not “Moniteau,” but “Monitaw.”

It went, “The word is Indian,”
French adaptation of a term
Which translates “countryside of God.”
Acutely, she would fix her eye

On me, her lips drawn tight, downturned
Beside my stoic Uncle Stanley,
Whose figure I conjecture might
Be large as that colossal man

Depicted on an obelisk
Beneath Missouri River’s bluff
By graven moon and lithic sun
On granite or volcanic rock.

Our last, best matriarch we lay
To rest, amid four fields of corn.
A peaceful, eastern meadowlark
Forbids us, gorged with song, to grieve;

The travois dragging just in dream
Behind our kind as we return
To Moniteau, with buckskin bag.
This aunt, determined that I know

My origins and what they mean,
Appears indifferent as her face
Suffers when we leave this vista,
But – like my mother – sheds no tears.


The left door, like a mother bear beside two cubs,
   reposes on a blasted, fading, spectral step.

You know there is a staircase rising back of it,
   that any moment, relatives not ever braided

nor feather-tressed, will turn the knob of porcelain,
   transported by dry weather with a dress of fern-

green cotton – like you know their Osage medicine
  will spill from bundles split when they are bending forward.

The Green Corn Ceremony will be coming up,
   when every door receives its garland-husky gourds

hung loosely, with the musk of bison, deer, and elk
   smearing the splintered thresholds of witch-hazel leaves.

Their avian-pecked veneers are pocked, streaked, rotted pumpkins
   that reek of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove when locked,

because there is a sauce they must be getting over.
   It’s carried from a near, Missouri River’s creek

passing a cultivator from the Civil War,
   long since succumbing rankly to mound-builders’ fury.

You hear a banging crank. The chants of “West or Bust!”
   are bellowed through their smoke pipes from the soaking bank.



As sandpipers rush the peninsula
edging the ebb along Bolivar,
emerged from your insular pensiveness,
look at the liberal gulls
laughing like hoodwinks in orbit.

Notice non-partisan hermit crabs
shrunk in robbed shells on red pericarp;
seaweed beneath the right wings
of pelicans: fogyish, drunk.

Ponder the Inuit parable
devoted to seagulls and seals.

Gather the Clayoquot clams—
mother-of-pearl in your palm.

Balmy impressions in boxlike
sandbars’ political houses,
reciting some Cherokee formula
linking committees to fowl
meant for restoring relief,

shift your attention to shorebirds
coming like Congress in session.


Because the medicine man can’t come himself,
she hums throughout the empty corridors
at four a.m., as I pick up my promenade
around the ward where my last matriarch
is lying. An arcade of tonic monitors
defines her intermittently with flashes,
as I secure my earbuds, pivot, follow
to lyrics of the ancient Iroquois.

The reason being, I have never seen
a mortal woman so profoundly red.
She must, instead, be sent from the Creator,
and neither meant for limits, nor earthbound.

O Ancient Red! The shamans sang, Red Spider!
Red Raven, this is only Ailment’s ghost.
Red Dog, your quarry never may escape.
Red Terrapin, your aid has never failed.

As they began their formulas, invoked
some healing intervener for relief:
Let down your cobwebs from the seventh heaven!

I do not ask her this – though it’s appealing.




Here is what I heard: earth lodges, cooler
by deep degrees, with meadowlarks outside.
The walls, first engineered by Scattered Corn,
a singer and a builder of the now-extinct Hidatsa,
by afternoon seemed strangely to be cornmeal-battered.
Intoning underneath my breath the word for lodge,
I carried like a loden amulet the Mandan hymnal,
which linked me from the threshold to the bird
sewing a fluted sequence from the chinks.

I heard a voice, not matching Sakakawea’s,
pursue me past the gilding of the village field,
but looking back, the earthen buildings quieted.
The drying racks were sighing with their burdens
long absent, and the dowels bare of interwoven flax,
resisted even creaking to the wind’s Dakota howls.
Who was it on the cryptic prairie speaking,
and why was I the only one to be aware
it uttered like a meadow to the sun?


Return to Poems Menu


ARCHIVES Jennifer Reeser EPO Poems Published Prior to 2023