Spring 2008, Volume 4

Drury Award Winner

Poetry by Jason Luz

Annie Proulx

Of all her characters—pressed like petals of prairie fire between pages—
the hoary old ranchers derelict and snow blind—
the far-flung denizens of the Great Divide, working out their own salvations
the same way they worked the land, wringing and grappling—
Out of the whole lot of them, it was those two lovelorn, tow-headed boys that refused to leave her be.
Well after the galleys were put to bed and she had moved on to other obsessions,
they kept on stamping their heels and spitting,
like they were a pair of J. M. Barrie’s wild-eyed lost boys.
At first she thought it was the months spent laboring over them, her progeny
conceived from a catalogued glance: the gruff middle-aged gentleman at the bar
looking askance at the young men playing cut-throat,
the whole while being talked up by the woman next to him.
The rest was all hammered and nailed, bones and sinew, the breath of affect.
But it was such a stretch, like puzzle pieces to a strange panorama, a mess of so many close details;
it was easy to see how she could end up dreaming her work.
So how is it they won't shut up even after you do one in and shatter the other like a nick-nack.
It wasn't justice they were clamoring about. She had at her service a journalist's sober eye,
a measured sentimentality—Flannery O'Connor would've flushed with envy.
Eight years later, no forwarding address, there they were again—
but this time with fully articulated limbs, glimmering eyes, quivering lips,
each with their own catalogue of memories. This was an entirely different craft.
And so for long after, she thought about these things,
about transformation, not mythologies but
the things we cast off day-to-day, hair and skin, old clothes,
the things we forget, declarations and grievances,
all the things that remain, swelling or shrinking with the weather,
but always gathering mass and momentum,
not the weight of the soul, but the weight of joy, the gravity of trauma,
how it draws you in, as if you could trace your own trajectory.
She was still toying with these ideas when she got word of his death,
and in that breathless instant, she thought she saw it striking down
like some biblical violence.


My brother’s dog is lured by telltale smells;
he drags me even if I snap his leash.
If he were neutered, would he be as prone
to sniff out every musky clump of grass.
(Picasso must have been a dog—compelled
to leave his mark at every given chance.)
He hunches over like a question mark
on driveways or San Augustine. I stoop
to scrape and bag his warm and wormy stool,
as lamps come on in craftsman bungalows.

Typesetters Couldn’t Guess Her Game

Typesetters couldn’t guess her game,
en- em-dash—her own invention.
Did it come to all the same
typographic intervention.

She too kept stock-still in her room,
just the scratch of a blackened nib,
some tattered stanzas for a groom,
the corset cinch of Adam’s rib.

Empirical parades of words
seethe—shake a fevered reverie,
a Blue more than minstrels, uncaged birds
with no fear of recovery

from the upturned world of reeling
sky, spins a fractal, wayward cloud—
spare convexities of feeling—
gauzy and strange as death’s own shroud.

And yet all this as bound as clay
to the dank corporeal sod,
all she could and could not convey:
confessions to some wing-shorn god.

Surely same as dear Langston sought
desire translated to verse,
more air than flesh, but just as fraught,
the holes the intellect can nurse.


I should have seen it coming—my father’s legs atrophied,
my mother in bed half the day—god, how they had aged in three years.
Balikbayans, back to the homeland, but this time for good.
For two long months I ate and slept with them in that same room
on the ground floor of my Aunt’s house, what used to be her clinic,
like I was in convalescence myself—I couldn’t wait to leave.
And what happened afterwards, the irony of it I just now realize—
how when I left for Singapore, the first stop of a grand discovery—
that first night on my own, I ended up in a hospital bed.

I should have seen where it was tethered, stabbed through a finger of dirt,
tied through a pierced eyelet, pulling the shop awning taut.
But it was already dark when I climbed out of the metro and mistook
east for north, and the Indian man’s voice startled me.
He emerged from a lonely stretch of dark sidewalk,
“American dollars,” he asked with no inflection, sounding more like
an accusation. And my backpack was top heavy, the topmost compartment
jutting up behind my head like a second skull, so that my center of gravity
was too high, and when I quickened my step and my foot snagged,
my head swung around like a catapult.

Suck it up, as the boys all say, at least nobody saw you eat it.
I thought I was okay, so I pulled myself up, dabbed blood
from my lip, felt the sting on my cheek. I thought I’d find
somewhere to wash up, passing glowing interiors
with so many strangers, gaping and speaking from behind glass.
My lip swelled like a sneer, and then my thoughts swelled too.
I felt a sudden grief—my parents are dead, I thought, even though
they came along to see me off at the airport just that morning.
My memory receded like a waking dream, and I thought,
Oh god, this is how it happens—how you're left alone mumbling in some back alley, wretched and nameless.
But even then it felt so familiar: a sleepwalker’s ambition,
a mounting futility, a lulling vertigo, like I knew
there was nothing I could do to keep from falling.


It’s always night, or we wouldn’t need light.
–Thelonious Monk

      Not paintings.
Not Goya’s demonic visions. Not the chiaroscuro of firelight lacquered over
tar-pitch panels, the tincture of shit and piss and diseased blood,
the witches’ coven in midnight audience with goat-headed Baphomet.
Not Hopper’s alienated Americana, clinical as chromium, sullen as weak coffee gone tepid.
Not Chagall’s wistful blue dreamings, resplendent with the milky promise of whimsy and pathos.
      Not music.
Not nocturnes played in the misty twilight gardens of some last great estate.
No dissidents. No hipsters down in the darklands, in subterranean cloisters, slumming it.
No Lou Reed. No demimonde. No murky dissonant wall of sound.
No despondent poets or singer-songwriters cowering under broken street lamps.
The darkness is Not your lover, your sister, your mother, your long-suffering friend.
No Lady Day, No Bessie, No crying over that Evening Sun gone down.
      No Faulkner regarding the swirling iron work, black against the bruising sky
above Jackson Square, thinking of the young negress fearing for her life,
fearing what the darkness would bring. If they come for you at night,
who’s to say they won’t shoot you in broad daylight, the brown shirts,
the children of Kalashnikovs and bolo knives, the Junta, the shining path.
      All this endless contemplation of murder and creation.
The night is not an elegy, not a final benediction, not some dark imperative,
The night is not the hysterical blindness of human will.

Maybe our dogs will redeem us with their superior night vision.
Rescue us Laika—Save us Ugolyok and Chernushka—Save us all from our night blindness. Poor Laika, you were probably better off half-starved,
half-frozen on the Moscow streets, instead of strapped to your cradle,
your capsule, your tomb. No one heard you whimper when they
shot you into the sky, and the straps bit into your torso as your ship
accelerated, and your whole body rattled like you were nothing more
than your own heart convulsing in its cage.
And as you reached orbit and your viscera
and all your senses went weightless,
the shadow of evening passed over the Ural mountains
like a slow black tide flooding a shallow wash,
and then the glass revealed a larger darkness,
All of space expanding in every direction,
wider and faster and soon it would overtake the light,
and all the possibilities would collapse.
And as you smothered in your overheated bubble, your tin can,
you saw there was a darkness beyond the night
something more than the illegible sky.

What Animals

What animals have we here, the typesetters must have joked,
en-dash– em—the width of three capital O's—O-O-O.
This is how the personal is collectively categorized, regimented,
assimilated—not by force but by a glib complacency.
(Or do typographers know full well the confluence of form and
feeling, the breath of space, the winking sensuality of serifs.)

The daguerreotype was long ago sealed in an evacuated box,
so that we may forever observe her stock-still in her room,
the sounds of commerce and society strained as the dusty jaundiced light,
the unmistakable scrape and catch of her nib on rough parchment,
the late afternoon air stifling and leaden—such prim confines.

But what corpuscular science determined her words,
strung in tightly bound configurations—
a field study of remote minds in strange environs,
but so much more Blue than any minstrelsy—
and these charged agents antecedents to starlings,

Darting through the upturned world of reeling sky, so that as they
ascend, they fall through thinner and thinner strata of air—
the molten underworld of firmament and wayward clouds,
their fractal gestures: spare convexities and dissipating tendrils—
like death's own shroud, at first impenetrable, then gauzy, then diffuse,
revealing the selfsame sky.

And yet all her words
earthbound despite their altitudes,
even as they took the kingdom of heaven by storm.

And I think of dear Langston,
How desire is a bodily questioning,
arms and then fingers unfurled to their very tips, Electric.
How desire is ultimately bigger than any flesh could contend or
satisfy, beyond the bounds of any propriety, sensed or senseless.
How the desire for Self comes to be written as selflessness.

Why I could never be a poet
After Frank O’Hara

Maybe if I walked around more, I’d have the proper temperament
to write better imagery, clearer lines, but who the hell walks in LA—
only a nobody walks in LA and you got to be somebody
If you’re very lucky, you’re two or more people
and you can take the diamond lane and zip past all the
slow-and-go traffic—cut to the chase like a real NY-er

I did want to move to New York once but then Sarah and Rebecca
got priced out of Hell’s Kitchen, had to move to Washington Heights,
where the kids with the pit bulls ask them if they want to fight their
French bulldog. Rebecca says her colleague is doing an ethnography
on the power-lesbian couples of Park Slope,
pushing around their made-to-order babies in ruffled prams—
just like Mrs. Ritchie née Ciccone.
And there’s some evil mother—I swear it wasn’t me—
I heard him say the other day, “Has it come to this, are we so jaded that
we’ve resorted to having children.”

This last weekend I drove all the way to the Westside
to see the Kara Walker retrospective at the Hammer,
I remember how we marvelled when we first saw her abject silhouettes,
our affinity, our admiration, horrified and giddy at her poetics of race and gender,
her singular feat of derring-do: swallowing her own shadow whole
and spitting out such stark and terrible images, whole panoramas
of plantation lullabies and Jim-Crow domination scenes.

          Represent. If I can’t write, I would draw instead. Even if I draw the same way I write
furious and desperate (painterly if you want to be nice), vine charcoal is forgiving
somehow the lines coalesce into recognizable shapes: arms, aureolas, ankles, a gesture.
          But words. Words are unwieldy, tricky even, like they have to be pitched to overthrow,
or else get caught up in the same-old, same-old eloquent shackles,
forever at play in the master’s house.
Is this what the Language poets were about, but why did it feel like so much subterfuge.
It should be giddy like a last night in Sodom.

I’ve been listening to recordings of e. e. cummings, and his voice I swear has the same
timbre as Winnie the Pooh, wizened and calm, a single breath for the smallest phrases,
syllables sustained and softly sibilant, the audience hushed in a chamber resonant like a basilica.

And I want to remember what Orlavski told us in figure drawing class
It was so perfect, I wished I could capture it like a gesture—
“Don’t worry about getting the exact proportions right,” he said,
“just savor the joy of mark-making.”

BIO:  Jason Luz is a student at Long Beach City College.