Brian Turner – The Yellow Jackets on Our Tongues

Brian Turner

“The moment always comes when, having collected one’s ideas, certain images, an intuition of a certain kind of development… one must pass on to the actual realization. This is the most delicate moment…the moment when the poet or writer makes his first mark on the page, the painter on his canvas, when the director arranges his characters in their setting, makes them speak and move, establishes, through the compositions of his various images, a reciprocal relationship to the dialogue and that of the whole sequence.”  —Michelangelo Antonioni

I’m not fond of Antonioni’s insistence on using the ‘he’ pronoun, but the meditation itself leads us into the blank page, the silence where language arrives, the space where music and movement and thought begin to inhabit the poem, stanza by stanza, room by room, page by page.

The Yellow Jackets on Our Tongues

These things we do to ourselves.
These things we do to the vehicle 
of the body, to the biome of muscle
and fire, to the scaffolding of neurons 
and synapses that signal desire
into the forms of power, motion, flight.

These things we do. In one hand, vials
of Actovegin, Primobolan, HGH. In the other,
syringes, reticulated chambers, needles
that are driven home, plunged
into intramuscular tissue so that the body,
juiced, might awaken, transform, come alive.

Canseco wrote a book about it. And then another,
dropping name after name. But there’s nothing new
in this. Even Ruth once injected himself with fluid
extracted from sheep testicles, all done to enhance 
performance. Hormones, steroids, cocaine,
amphetamines—the game has seen it all.

What was it that Reggie Jackson said?
It takes talent to run fast, but it doesn’t take talent
to run hard. Effort is the least we can ask
of ourselves. I remember my father saying 
something similar—when I asked,
what does it take to be a good soldier?

To be an infantryman, he said, to survive
the battlefield—you have to be incredibly smart,
because you’re being hunted by human beings
just as you are hunting them, and you need to be
a world-class athlete. And I remember thinking
that I was none of these things, an idea

that stayed with me even as I became a sergeant, 
training late in the rain-soaked woods at Ft. Lewis,
Washington, our squad told to start over, and over,
to go back, reset, do it again, clearing the chambers
and then reloading, firing live rounds into the forest
in front of us, killing ferns and bark and the night itself,

over and over, do it again, 1 AM, 2, our uniforms 
caked in mud and glued to our bodies with sweat 
and exhaustion, my squad leader pulling me aside 
to whisper, Hey, Brian, try a couple of these, man,
his palm lit by moonlight angling through the pines,
the yellow jackets in his hand, a gift, two capsules

he promised would help me to kill the forest
better, that it would help me to lead my team 
up the slope and into the concertina wire. 
Everything depends upon this. These things we do.
The speed of the mind. The speed of the body. 
The acceleration. The rush. The lightning within

that alters the course of history. Everything
depends upon this. The way we climb the hill. 
The way we plunge the needle into muscle.
The way we move to our left or right. The way
we respond to light. The way we slough away our bodies
over and over, monstrous, beautiful, strangers even to ourselves.

Monique Quintana – Nesting (an installation)

Monique Quintana

Nesting (an installation)

            For Aideed Medina

The girl found a scroll rolling at her feet, and she read it, and it said that a crown made of wood is not a crown of flowers. A cradle made of wood is not a crown of flowers. There are rules against talking about a crown of flowers. There are rules about singing about a crown of flowers. Men in our town buy their own books to get a claim. This is their crown of flowers. Their paper flowers. What is our crown of flowers? A drop of perfume to wash the feet? We could walk around Fresno barefoot all day, and no one would wash our feet except the women we brought here with us. 

Joseph Rios – Death of Josefo (Part 2)

Joseph Rios

Death of Josefo (Part 2)

Josefo is writing a poem sitting on his dad’s lawnmower
drawing diagonal lines over a client’s backyard.
The Fresno heat comes up from the ground
and into your nostrils like a worm reaching out of from the soil
for the claws of a sparrow. And maybe Josefo is the sparrow
and never been the worm. He has devoured every one
of these stories born in the hardpan under his feet.
The old woman who pays his father just now
became a worm to his pen. She’s standing still
behind double pane glass, a wall of picture windows
trimmed with white paint. He can only ever see her nightgown
and it is barely distinguishable from the folds on the curtain.

His brothers, too, become worms swooped up by the poem
writing itself in his mind loud enough to drown out the engine
driving the blades beneath his seat and even the blower
on his brother’s back. Josefo is writing a poem
that will help him lift a full bucket of grass over his shoulder
He is writing a poem that will make that lady feel
just one ounce of shame. Josefo’s poem is taking a picture
of his father’s face after he has just splashed it
with hose water. In the poem, Josefo and his brothers have
their shirts off and they’re swimming in that lady’s pool.
She’s not in the frame. There is no house, no lady,
and not a single blade of grass to be mowed.

Brian Turner – Touch-and-Go Landings: An Elegy for Thurman Munson

Brian Turner

Dear Friends, Writers, Readers, 

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing a first full draft of a poem with you each day. You’ll quickly notice that they are all baseball poems. For those of you with no interest in sports or a full-blown dislike of baseball—please don’t turn away, as you’ll quickly see that, in many ways, they aren’t baseball poems at all. I wrote this first poem completely on my laptop over the course of an afternoon, with breaks to play with my dog and to drive a relative to a doctor’s appointment for a CT scan. For the next poem, I’ll try to capture more of the rumination involved, some of the choices, edits, phrases scratched out and then returned in variations as the poem develops into a full draft. I think there are subtle differences between poems written on an illuminated screen and those written by hand on paper.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these things and (much more importantly) I hope you’ll consider donating to the Larry Levis Scholarship fund at Fresno State. 

My best to you and to your own verses—

Brian Turner

Touch-and-Go Landings: An Elegy for Thurman Munson

            August 2, 1979

What are we to do when the news comes, the paper
describing the Cessna, the airport on approach,

that blue and cloudy light at the end of summer?
What are we to do when those we love die young, die

short of the runway, the engine stalling, fire
engulfing the cockpit? In Munson’s last at bat,

the night before in Chicago, the count run full,
the pitcher, a lefty, leans into the windup

and the ball, spinning, keeps spinning, suspended now
for as long as the imagination allows, 

so that everything remains possible, yes, 
it’s true, in the air between the mound and home plate

the ball is spinning, even now, and it could be
a strikeout or a home run, all of this and more, 

as time itself holds its breath, leaning in, witness
to the wild unfolding secrets of history.

The way it is for us all. A Tuesday morning,
a Thursday afternoon. Our bodies radiant

with the light we carry, with all that we have learned,
and death itself a surprise sometimes, landing hard, 

too soon, the way it is when those we love most   crash 
into that last moment, that last breath, that last glimpse

of all that is or ever will be. But imagine. 
Imagine if we could hold them in that space, there

between the mound and home plate—the way Munson flies
over the curvature of the earth, nose up, climbing, 

15,000 feet and leveling out, the plane
becoming his body, his body given wings. 

Monique Quintana – 2 Alebrijes (A True Story)

Monique Quintana

2 Alebrijes (A True Story)

            For Steven Sanchez

Before the time of plague and death, the girl bought two boys winged toy animals in a store on Olive Avenue. She meant them to be gifts. Instead, she packed the two animals away and forgot about them for years. The animals had conversations, and they told stories about each other’s families. They talked shit about people they didn’t like, and they grew older for their ideas. They wrote poems. During the time of plague and death, the girl found the animals again, bright yellow, red stripes, wooden, splintered, winged, shuddering, and she let them keep on and talk on and she forgot to give them to the two boys they were meant for all along.