Mudlark Poster No. 47 (2003)

Dawn Tefft

Palestine Twice
I Promise, This Poem Goes Somewhere
Coda: Beethoven’s Joy
After Dictée: A Painting of a Film of a Portrait of an Idea
The Message Obscured, The Medium of Space

Dawn Tefft lives in Chicago where, she says, she “regularly writes things down,” and where she teaches composition at Columbia College and Roosevelt University. She won an Academy of American Poets Prize at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and has poems forthcoming in The Cream City Review and Karamu.

Palestine Twice

Sure, no buses ran then, but I went back to touch the star on the bridge. How many handprints can one girl fill with her hands? How many versions of someone who likes ice cream? I was just doing the things tourists do. I was eating the salmon and trying not to write stories. Telling myself I could only leave so many dressers on curbs. I might need to tuck something into a drawer.

Like the picture of fish that was supposed to be Palestine. You can only paint Palestine twice. After that it’s just a used church where your mother sits, contemplating the abuse of the word “light.” I don’t think anyone ever figured out whether you wait for a revival or cause it. So it’s easy to imagine a husband, and to imagine him looking up from dinner, “Don’t tell the children. They’ll find out on their own.”

Pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes... Still, they’re making it song-like. They’re dreaming feasts and giant balloons. While Mir comes in—hard, hot and soon. They stand in the yard, watching another kind of wind come out of another kind of sky. Me, I’m waiting for the incandescent fragments to stream in. Here is metal, falling on my head. Just science coming back down.

It’s always science or religion that’s falling, and I don’t quite know where to stand. I’m thinking of a man who vacuums the guts out of turkeys for eight hours a day. I’m thinking I want to be that woman at the arboretum who scoops butterflies in a net.

Because early wouldn’t be right. Still, I can’t offer those kinds of comforting words: “We’ve all left a parade, disappointed for the first time in giant balloons.” I can tell you to ward off evil with what it’s already done. But not to you. Use somebody else’s bad luck. Like your mother’s. She kept every snapshot of herself against a backdrop of gathering clouds. I was going over them like lessons.

I was noting the rate at which things darken, and a type of light that doesn’t diminish through space.

I Promise, This Poem Goes Somewhere

It’s important not to get burned out. Clouds move in the sky, and the sky moves too, behind the brick building that stands still. Even though I walk towards it in someone else’s movie. And the Yankee Hotel crumbles upwards in the corner of a postcard of the soundtrack for a displaced city. How did I land in this homage to motion unfolding noir-like in that way that makes history unreal? In just the right amount of wind.

Hair blows in the funniest way. It could belong to anyone.

This is where my eyes turn red and my legs unfold like noir, causing a man to materialize in a bookshop, causing him to fall in lock-step with a canned plot that sells itself as mystery. In the end, we both know he’ll lose. I’ll die. Someone will wind up with the cat and the jewels.

Something arbitrary as this. I’ll start crying in the mornings.

Soon, my legs will stop unfolding and my hair stop blowing. Soon, I’ll stop being anyone. I’ll have to start asserting my emotions and their necessity during the endless weeks of disbelief. I’ll find myself saying through my brush, sometimes, summer lasts for a year. I could do it like that, you know, become a Hopperian slave to perspective. Paint only the slant of light on his forehead, the ways he squints up his eyes.

Still, some of the spectrum gets through in its way. Tangles up in our lashes until we can’t see past the bend in the universe which keeps turning color back in on itself. Keeps returning us to ourselves in a different frequency.

I’ll find myself inviting someone new over for a movie and a six-pack anyway.

I know he’ll come over with a head full of light and perspective he’ll send careening all over the place. I know he’ll come in with a mouth full of Pessoa’s “O church bell of my village.” I know he’ll come, in that space carved out of a blue velvet couch and the hour between seven and eight.

Coda: Beethoven’s Joy

The future of performance is this: jubilee. Take millions of stars and feed them to a crowd of forty for dinner. Parade women down the spine of the city. Move out of Austria. Go where you like in the aria that speaks for the parade out of the country. Be the bullhorn for the transmutation of the gendered heart of the cosmos.

There never was a father-figure who beat you. Or a set of stone steps leading down into the garden. But one of them should exist, and you have to decide when and how. Take the bridge between necessity and outcome, between father and garden; make sure to record your fear of the water, which you don’t look down at but see in a dream.

Eventually you will have to face the inevitable existence of tables. You encounter them in just about every room you go into, and they’re almost always accompanied by chairs. There’s a plot afoot—to make you sit. To make you productive.

Chairs keep finding their way down to the river, swirling down into its depths, flying off in the ether of the seamstress’s voice. Nature gives birth to convention, and you know the best place to sit. You know how many yards of fabric are required to make her a dress. And this because you cannot stop measuring the almost-real length and width of her body. She is covered in so much of what seems like skin.

Today, you invented a new language for the transmutation of the gendered heart of the cosmos. Soon you will turn into a violin. Soon is not soon enough. There is so much to reinvent in the backwards gaze you turn from the chair to the garden.

After Dictée: A Painting of a Film of a Portrait of an Idea

A flash of light in the corner. Green curtains blowing. You could live here next to the bed in the phone that keeps ringing as if to say there will always be noise and it will always be shattering attempts at stillness.

One continuous shot and the movement of curtains in the corner. You learned this from the Art Institute of Chicago. From spending so much time staring at one painting of a garden. A girl and flowers and a tree and a woman and light and all of it happening at the same time. The people you see as if through water, but the tree is sharper. So is the bicycle.

You did not learn this from Picasso, though you like him best: so much of a busy canvas depends on variation. On emphasis.

Where are you standing in the portrait of a woman? To whom do you call when she begins to play the piano while Cha is raped on the threshold of a museum? What do you choose to emphasize here? What do you decide about color?

Rewind it, introduce no new variables. It still ends with a pan of someone’s legs and curtains blowing.

Rewind it. Introduce three books less. A flowered dress.

The Message Obscured, The Medium of Space

Something crosses the synaptic gap even though it can’t be felt, a chemical message wanting to be electric soon. Dylan wrote folk songs first. He was born again by plugging in. There was so much to not say right, and one sound just wasn’t going to cut it. He was trying to get closer, and closer just kept moving farther away. Soon, he couldn’t speak to anyone or himself without a go between.

The family that records their arguments on video tape can’t scream unless they’re acting out the part of a family screaming. Children aren’t touched in that way unless Mr. Friedman admits it on film, which he’s not going to do. Case closed. The kitchen becomes kitchen again. Lines keep resurfacing in the actors’ mouths and someone turns the camera on. Are you sure you said your part right?

Dylan’s life has become a stuttering tour, every album since Blood on the Tracks an abusive love song to Sara. They held each other with sincere tenderness while filming Renaldo and Clara. She played the part of a whore; he flirted with Baez. Some days his face was painted or he wore a fedora with flowers. The gypsy troubador stopped needing to travel in the arms of his wife. He stumbled back into the skinny figure swaddled in dirty clothes as soon as the four tracks or cameras switched off.

The train is often not the train, but a magical collection of cars speeding you into your future which is constantly coming. Sky becomes more important when entering or exiting the tunnel. A little bit of blue sky. The train won’t stop moving. A black hat around the corner. The woman who wants to look long and deeply at the Orthodox men on the train knows not to. Their religion says she shouldn’t tempt them this way; hers says the hidden face is sweeter. This is the only way they can make Shalom Shalom float across the car between them.

A black hat around the corner, an album plays on a headset and the train prepares to descend. A Hebrew hello heard above music becomes a chain of letters that spark in the dark like the blue fire following the El down the tracks.

Copyright © Mudlark 2003
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