Monday, August 25, 2014

Dean Ellis, Three Poems

I first encountered Dean Ellis when he took part (as poet) in an exhibition I organized of collaborative projects by writers and photographers. He turned out to be not only a poet, but a translator from Portuguese, an expert on Brazilian music (and lots of other music), and a sometime bartender at one of New Orleans’ best restaurants—an incomparable quadruple threat! (That he doesn’t mention the latter in his bio note is an insufferable display of humility.) His poems here participate in the great Romantic project of psychologizing the alien—taking the unknown, and perhaps unknowable, and registering its psychic (we’d say cognitive, now) effects in images. As in the best of Wordsworth and Keats, especially, there’s a deep investment here in the in-between, in gaps, absences, and particulars elusive of denotation—things in a mystifying middle, thrown into the world awaiting us, to be processed, even mastered. Of course this begins in a sublime and dauntingly mythic environment, reshapes itself into a discourse on (cinematic) images, takes a swerve through Graham Greene and Marguerite Duras, and ends in dreams—the movies that all of us make. Inasmuch as what we call “media” are fundamentally image machines, Dean’s poems are messages from our middles.

Cecil B., Boca Raton

Cecil B. paddles
a red kayak in fading
sunlight, heedless
of circuses and Biblical
epics. The sea is his
template, the horizon
a huckster, the current
his only commandment.
The breeze is a bullhorn,
he speaks through it
with sinewy wrists turned
against the flickering
sky. Jodhpur oars tread
the ingénue tide, breaker
hordes approach, await their
cue. The sea cleaves,
his breast swells with
vernal gusts. He sees the stars
concealed behind a curtain
of clouds, the Creation
that will never be His.

Cinéma Vérité, a Glossary of Terms

Soft focus: he distrusts
memory and relies on the
memory of memory.

Wide angle: the breadth
of his longing attenuates
the gaps.

Long shot: she tumbles
into the gaps and is
nurtured there.

Jump cut: he awakens
to time and its cruel

Tracking shot: she refuses
to exit the panorama
of his vision.

Mise en scene: what one
sees is what one sees,
and isn't.

Denouement: there is no
such thing as resolution,
only last scenes.

Upon Falling Asleep While Reading The Quiet American Or Maybe While Watching The Film Version Not The Original But The Superior Remake With Michael Caine Or Maybe It Was The Lover By Duras Or Maybe It Was The Film Version

Once I rode a rickshaw
with Graham Greene he
told me, as the driver's
vertebrae creaked forward,
and groaned a doleful
chorus with the wooden
wheels, you suffer as much
as the driver, you see, because
you are his burden and he
yours. It took me years
to learn this, he said,
and I am still learning. But
why then, I asked, do you
still take rickshaws? Because,
he said, they need my business
and I am too lazy to walk. And
then I awoke from the bubble-
wrapped dream, and tore the
cellophane from my eyelids,
and knew, quite unknowingly,
that I would never ride
a rickshaw, or know anyone
who ever knew anyone who
knew Graham Greene.

Dean Ellis is a writer and translator living in New Orleans. His work has appeared in The New Orleans Review, Bloodroot, Another Sticky Valentine, the St. Petersburg Review, the online series Working Stiff at and the KGB Bar Lit Magazine. His translation (with Jaime Braz) of Jacinto Lucas Pires' novel The True Actor was published last fall by Dzanc Books. He hosts the radio programs Tudo Bem and The Dean's List on WWOZ-FM 90.7 in New Orleans and online at

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