Monday, August 4, 2014

Micah Ballard, Seven Poems

When a poem takes a movie, takes any image from pop culture, it sends out a dare from itself as poem to image as stuff. It can be more or less direct: Let’s date: Every man wakes up / with a horse’s head / in his bed. Or it can play the jumbling game: You really mix me up: be gone girl, with / the wind / in your / face off a / buffed-up willowy / alien predator. Or it can be elliptical as need be: We see each other, but pretend we don’t: either there’s no example here or / there is / Louie’s Pig / Newton’s last / words.
I love the way Micah Ballard flirts with the images and makes them blush, pulls them under the spell of a poetics that’s got them cornered, until they say what the hell. One minute you’re just in his poem, the next you’ve been sent out of that room so that something else can happen. When you come back in, it’s happened, and there’s just a kind of trace for you, a scent, perhaps of something you’ve missed.
Which is to say that we choose not just a medium, or objects in a medium, but a working relationship with a medium (or media, which complicates things enormously). An interesting question, it seems to me, is just what is it that we make part of ourselves when we are born into media (as surely as we are born into language)? Often we feel we’re passive, hosts for media parasites. But two (or more) can play that game. And from inside us, where language insists on its own shapes and shades, the frames that we throw into the world are built both of poetic values and of attitudes towards—or call them absorption rates of—our cultural mediations. There’s a new game in town, every time we open our eyes, our mouths. In it, media don’t just play us, we play them. From another, higher perspective, this must seem like a pretty delightful field of play. If there were a higher perspective.
Micah asked if I wanted him to send me the film references that would “clarify” these poems—that’s a good sport talking, who’s already figured out the games he was playing. When we consume these things, clarification is the last thing that matters. Think of that “Rimbaud” in his “Tribunals.” What hits me mostly is the great “Rimbaud” sign in the loft that figures so prominently in Orphan Black (in the window, but facing in!). It’s a mystery there. Why shouldn’t it be a mystery here? (It’s a mystery whether Micah’s ever seen Orphan Black, too.) It’s one of those empty/pregnant signs that throws for loops those of us who make this association (am I the only one?)—from the poet to the BBC production and back to Micah’s poem. It doesn’t matter (I think) how he intended it, or if he’s thinking of that film where Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rimbaud. What matters is that between Rimbaud and Micah’s poem the first mediation that intercedes is the mind of some reader—a reader already thoroughly mediated. (JM)

     Sleeve Notes

I am looking for a solidarity not deadening, a private view of chaos in a single stroke. Or an easy elegance enjoying its own revival, the best of the young (underpriced) before the affiliated years. The importance is in the passing, where one boldly swarms into life then forgets about it. If I’m less flourishing than my appearance indicates, give me time. I’ve lived here for fifteen years and have never been asked to read except for summers when they make you pay. I envy the strong minded who can dull their senses on demand. They are not far removed from emotion, but wouldn’t one rather the nerves take control? Enough about them. Tell me volumes and pour out everything. I want to enjoy every advantage without interruption of technology or its boring agents. Interest matters so long as it doesn’t disturb the room or dominate conversation. Only the old, deep company know how to create an honest diversion, where the words build a bridge and you never think about making it across or where you’ll wake up. Allow me the affectionate farewell. I took a cab then walked then caught a bus and now I’m on a train. Fine dinners, large quantities of wine, and delicate hands will find me and if they don’t then surely the world must be against me. Forgive us all. Self-mythologizing is a tired poet’s game. I am grateful for the silence but refuse to be in its service. There is much to see and so much more to admit.

     Early Vapors

Cryptic scenes
a red triangle of arched vaults
chinese dens & anonymous ceremonies
held in nearby rooms. In spite
of their absence I suggested
the original might be purchased
forty cubes of white sewn into the seams
divine rites and a limping heart
to be drained between sinks
they kept saying “do not bruise the beast”
or “hard will be your pillow”
then a strange light would appear
between their eyes. It was hard
to predict the silence, scant solace
& bit of fluff for all the black
they were wearing. I wished a new delivery
parallel worlds of waiting assassins
or at least the dealers of yesteryear
a new inhaler in anticipation of


It goes on for days
& I am the result of a perforated feeling
A daunting inventory
Of stock footage
Densely layered into an array of tricks
Less iconic than the first lady
Bloody & presidential
Or the off-screen reportage
Found in this week’s tabloids
The power of names so narcotic & trancelike
A Night in Paris & the lovely blooms
That prank your chambers
A sequence of set backs
To dull the edges, strip the originals
Eventual aftermaths
That drives a wedge between what’s real
& what’s actually happening
I shall not feel their pains
I shall not see their shadows
Old illustrations famously corrupt
& self-serving, lost allure 
Departing glances reclusive in their telling

     The Maids of Troy

Let us consider mummies
Or the Maids of Troy
Such soulful lites & easy on the lungs
Compared to these Camel wides
Dreamt from the Cairo visitor center
Ten bones a pack
But worthy as any torch
So long as The Temple of Doom keeps playing
Not BET or Ghost Hunters
That means “keep everything at a distance”
Inside the head of a typewriter
This is not to state the obvious
One trips regardless the dose
You will turn from understanding to celestial
Gush renewals worthy of attention


A blue flame flattens me
its internal medicine calms the doors
I rub my hands against them
& pick at the scabs from Acheron
those who drink under the lamps
the lamps and their faces
what does it matter to wake on this train
my head on the hard marble table
a spectacle, unhinged, with my hood cut off
one must talk louder to keep warm
I think I am one of their children
we pick our teeth in black windows


The epilogue
rewinds in silence
grainy flash frames

then a little white
ghost holy to
its congregation

another lavish
production lacking
recognition and wormwood

heavy outlines
then a supervised walk
to hide the hatchet

cloud the drink
necessary alterations
this pale skin

we inhabit
a diminished vitality
reminiscent of Rimbaud

     Ivory Coffers

Who heeds not
but falls heavy
to thy might

the summer cannibals
anemic and cool
their robes of saffron

a road of crimson
spread at your feet
not at all proud

like Hall & Oates
Live at the Apollo
or War Babies

Along the Red
Ledge of 1978
but held captive

by a thread of light
the olden dyes
of Hollywood gone

oh come back little
Sheba! Betty Blythe
has left the room

Micah Ballard lives in San Francisco and is the author of two full-length collections, Waifs and Strays (City Lights Books, 2011), nominated for a California Book Award and Parish Krewes (Bootstrap Press, 2009), and over a dozen small books including Evangeline Downs (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006) and Negative Capability in the Verse of John Wieners (Auguste Press, 2001). He is the co-editor of Lew Gallery Editions and Auguste Press and co-directs the MFA in Writing Program at USF.

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