Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rita Costello, Four Poems

It’s no accident that Hank Lazer and David Saffo both built their poems with reference to phenomenology, which works its way through bodily processes towards a world that is never quite immediate, or never quite accessible as immediate. (As Merleau-Ponty put it, “Since perception is the ‘flaw’ in this ‘great diamond’ [he’s alluding to lines of Valery’s that translate ‘My repentance, my doubts, my constraints / Are the flaw in your great diamond’], there can be no question of describing it as one of the facts that happens in the world, for the picture of the world will always include this lacuna that we are and by which the world itself comes to exist for someone.”) The body—our first vehicle, but also the source of our first alienation—is constantly reaching, or, more hopefully, grasping; yet it is thrown into the world and history already decomposing, a vastly imperfect correspondent. We’ve spent that history, and we spend our lives, searching for ways of mediating this imperfection: cuneiform writing, the abacus, the telescope, the typewriter, the Stratocaster, the silicon diode, the sonnet, the M-16.
Rita Costello is wonderfully attuned to this sense of ongoing, embodied mediation. Her poems here invoke all sorts of tools, all of them fallible, all in circulation around the body or bodies, all of them somehow in on a Nietzschean joke of ceaselessly proliferating perspectives echoing into a void. Or maybe that’s me—Rita, I think, shows greater cheer and more hope than I do regarding the ways in which we build ourselves into the world—that’s what we want, to be sure—with our instruments, our vehicles, our media. (JM)


Back in the days of the daisy-wheel
typewriter—spinning out dervish dance
letters—we ruined our eyes in shop-class pinching
fingertips like tweezers down on singular
shapes of ten-point type. And, with crane-
like motions, we rescued letters from the alphabet
tray lowering them slowly, pseudo-steady, down
into lines of meaning, or at least as much sense
as seventh-graders can make from such great
resources as letters and language, which is probably less
than an infinite number of nimble-fingered monkeys. I
imagined sometimes, Sesame Street style, the steel-carved
A’s and T’s and D’s atop their firm-squared bases
as buildings—the model city, the sky-scrapers I
would someday walk between, collecting
the meaning of the world from their surface, like an
ampersand pressed, long and hard, into the skin
of an index finger, at least temporarily marring
the genetic code, the identifying lines that in a room-
ful of ink and sticky-rolling presses marked everything
as personal. Those nights I dreamed a hand
of sentences—firmly centered and set in the once silver
circle now rolled flat blue with ink—and stamping
out the lines even the most novice palm-reader
could interpret clearly.

     on the release of Adolf Eichmann’s prison writings,
     February 2000

Confronting an actual Eichmann, one had to resort to armed struggle and, if need be, to ruse. Confronting a paper Eichmann, one should respond with paper.
Pierre Vidal-Naquet

Thin papers amass bulk only      by unimaginable
numbers      stacked—fighting numbers
with numbers, innocent     victims alike.
Thirteen-hundred pages still fit in a box      too small
for a single body. It would take a lifetime to write
a mass grave, a thousand blue pens in place of blood.

     essentially the same

mirrors and copulation are abominable,
because they increase the number of men
—Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”

I blame my birth on propaganda, not the sort to entice
blonde breeders to the Reich, but that good old American right-
eousness in exposing the faults of others. My mother     in the third
grade, good Catholic girl suddenly made impure with the realization:
If we’re saying this about them, what are they saying about us? I imagine
to get there she must have seen her own world in that other; how else
could such transubstantiation occur: one moment trusting     blind
faith in all authority, then bodiless, nation-less, questioning of all
existence. The body is only a consumer of bread     as malleable as the funhouse

mirror. The world splits to so many mirrored images, that all our poles
are fractured     multiplication. Humanity as a whole meaningless against us
and them. Old as shadows in Greek caves or two-headed creatures      broken. We
are never solid. Searching only brings us closer to the mathematical eyes of the fly
as the only way      to see ourselves—here a people, here a thought, here a war—and all the fly

is attracted to. Don’t we all want to think of molecular science as mythology? My
atoms will never, have never been part of another, of you, of the brick wall
I keep running into, arms thrust out, fingers splayed and cracking with the
force of speed not really mine at all. But the propaganda is all shifting
to seek stillness anyway; borders that do not bleed and eyes so dead
all perception melds to singular substance: the mass that raises the bath-
water is never part of the water. The thoughts of children are always swayed
by educational filmstrips. This bread is my body, take me into yourself and
believe, a body is a temple, sculpted, freestanding, closer-my-god-to-thee architecture.

     Paradelle for Grandma, Just Moved to Assisted Living

When her mind went, she couldn’t remember
when her mind went. She couldn’t remember
the wind echoes ripples across the water.
The wind echoes ripples across the water.
The water remembers her when she couldn’t;
across the went-mind, wind ripples echo.

She could not remember the day they took her;
she could not remember the day, they took her
away from the home where deer awoke her mornings.
Away from the home where deer awoke her mornings,
from where the deer took her day. They remember
mourning away the home; the her she could not awake.

Her mind stayed home, though her body moved
her mind. Stayed home, though her body moved
the mountains, her eighty acres, three ponds, and
the mountains—her eighty acres, three ponds—and
her body moved though the eighty mountains and
her mind stayed home: her three-acres pond.

The mornings moved her home, her echoes went though
the deer, the day, her three ponds, her—remember
eighty?— acres, mountains, mind. She awoke
water. She couldn’t remember the ripples and where
they took her wind across, when the body
could stay home, not away from her mind.

Originally from New York, Rita D. Costello has lived all over America (and China). She is Director of Freshman/Sophomore English at McNeese State University and co-editor of the anthology Bend Don't Shatter. Her work has appeared in journals such as: Glimmer Train, ACM, Baltimore Review, Fireweed, Pank, and Hawai’i Review.

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