• givalpress

Issue 164

This issue features


John Blair


Oppenheimer on Corsica


A sadist of her kind is an artist in evil, which a wholly wicked person could not be...

Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu


Julius Robert Oppenheimer reads Proust

by lantern-light beside a tent pitched

in the shadow of Monte-Cinto

twenty-two years old & lunatic


with abstraction & he has left behind

a literal apple poisoned like something

in a fairy-tale on the desk of his Cambridge

tutor & to distract himself


from savage regret he has memorized

a passage from Proust that he will hold

ready his entire life concerning one

Mlle. Vinteuil, who in her fascination


with the amative nature of evil

has asked her lover to spit on a photograph

of her father before she sinks

intoxicated into the roiling


barbarous waters of a kind of love

in which it was as Proust writes

so refreshing to sojourn and when

Oppenheimer crawls into his tent


and tries to sleep the abstract

flowers of evil return to bloom

and fade inside his head as they

always have, malice becoming shame


becoming guilt sublime and cold

as reason & he thinks of how

Marcel hid behind a curtain to watch

Mlle. Vinteuil’s abject passion


under the gaze defiled of her

father’s eyes how drawn to her

debasement he was but how nonetheless

he understood that she had given away


joyfully something human

for something horribly divine

a sacrifice that Proust understands

in that moment to be the heart of love


which whatever other names

one gives to it is the most terrible

and lasting of cruelty and as

Oppenheimer hikes the island’s


trailing spine down to the sea

the air is cool at first then becomes

saturated with the waspish smell

of salt and sunshine


the atmosphere growing heavier

& more complex as he descends

sinking into heat and glare

like iron into a sun’s dying heart


and just before sunset in the held

crepuscular breath of evening

he stands on the damp sand

at the water’s edge and contemplates


the world restless in its lingering

the artistry of evil he realizes

just another tide-worn shore against

which the future tirelessly breaks


barbarous as love: the smell

and taste of things remain Proust

prophet of the exquisite

and the irredeemable might even then


be whispering inside the sunburnt shell

of Oppenheimer’s ear like souls

amid the ruins of everything else

because this is the first last moment


before everything else begins

because it is never too late

and always too late because every

story is the same story and in


the wine-dark night of his mind a sun

is rising too bright to see & burning

hot enough to sear away even this

lonely unendurable world.


Copyright © by John Blair.



The Tower: Minus Six Hours


Alone at the top, calmly reading a book with lightning flashing and thunder booming and the gadget all set to go, Hornig sat in a lawn chair with a single light and a telephone.

William S. Loring, Birthplace of the Atomic Bomb


For weeks the days have slid

out and back in glistered tail

to glittered mouth

in their snake-ish way

blazing with desert sun


the mountains that shoulder

close incoherent and rambling

& folded into prayer-shapes

templed hands to guide

the dissembling


dismembering wind

that unravels like Penelope

every morning’s shroud of mist

from the peaks insisting

he thinks (a word more intentional


to his mind than the dry

discretion of blowing though

sometimes during that last

long night while the storms

rage he thinks winding—


as in winding a watch

and sometimes winding down

as in the end of all flesh

is come before me

for the earth is filled


with violence through them

and behold I will

destroy them with the earth)

its mindless way through

the wide valley


of the Journada del Muerto

to finally sing angelic

in the gaps between the sheets

of corrugated tin & the one

slapping wall of nothing


but canvas that form

his hermitage one hundred

feet up on a steel tower

alone with the gadget

(five ton globe wrapped in wires


like a spidered planet from

a gothic dream) and the air

is so damp that even the fragile

scent of evening primrose

is carried sweetly familiar


up from the desert floor

heated by the glare of the giant

searchlights focused on the rattling

omphalos of his perch

and in the light apropos


of nothing human a dog

disconnected trots

the sand below the tower stops

to sniff something a rock

or scrap of bone bleached


to chalk a soul abandoned

like a rusted gear from a cattle

tank’s wind pump or maybe

some long-lost baseball batted

away by a boy


who once lived in the ranch

house nearby now risen

like a mushroom from its horse-

hide cover smelling

like a hand too long gone


to smell & as meaningless

as the mange like a map

of circumstance drawn large

on his back places that are

not his place because


no place ever will be again

(and though he might long

for it he is not deceived

and knows what's coming

which is nothing


or something that walks

like a man in nothing's

well-worn shoes) and then

the dog trots out of the light

and is gone like a stone


dropped down a well

into absence and the man

in his tower thinks that no one

could have earned forgiveness

enough to make it stay


not here where the very

air is already molten

with impatience and he tries

to read tries to not think

of home or failure


or his colleagues making jokes

about setting the earth’s

atmosphere on fire

and he feels as completely

other apart from his kind


any kind as he has ever

in this life felt the storm

breaking into lightning over

the peaks sparking restless

at the tug urgent of so


much iron and ecstatic potential

and in that moment

the phone at his feet tries

to ring a single inscrutable

ding of the bell


but when he picks up

only ghosts whisper breathlessly

in the drone of the open line

baffled inside the unreachable

distances of forgetting


worn thin by the lathe

of the world’s going on without them

alpha and omega beginning

and end first and last and manic

with every regret.


Previously published in Naugatuck River Review.

Copyright © by John Blair.


Atomic Bomb

© Philcold.


White Sands, New Mexico.

© Rolffimages.


White Sands


(July 16th, 1945, 5:42AM Mountain War Time, White Sands, New Mexico,

thirteen minutes after the world’s first atomic explosion)


In first light, the glass

is still falling as a molten

mist a fog colored

the thin green of empty

Coca-Cola bottles


the morning falling

along with it in narrow

degrees green as well

just at the horizon’s edge

where the landscape snips


it clean with a blade

of mountains and though

no one’s close enough to hear it

(the nearest living human

is a technician


unnamed & unremembered

lying 10,000 yards away

at his station ordered

to keep his eyes closed

his head down


inside a shelter made of concrete

and timber piled over with dirt

who maybe hears a kind

of crackling in the moment

before he lifts his head


from his arms before he

pulls his ear plugs out

a sound like frost under

a boot ice night-crusted

on dead grass the way it did


back in Lubbock or Keokuk

or in some calm cold

corner of Baltimore

a hometown sparking in his

lonely marrows where wonder


seethes like seafoam

like wrack thrown to land’s

edge by a spring-tide busy

with crabs and sea-lice

climbing eager


through his liquids like

a breaking surf to line

his rocky strands with the same

soft bottle-green) even so

there is probably a sound


but the light

that blazed before daylight

red through his arm’s

flesh is already gone

photons screaming


mindlessly into space

where light and time are little

more than background noise

a fry of abandonment

like gypsum sand blown up


the stoss slopes of pure

white dunes blown over

mountains over cities

radiant with compulsion

and terrible disregard


to fall with a fine

exhausted susurration

on houses on beds

and pillows and sleeping children

who wake to find the grit


caked in the mitered corners

of their eyes strange

as dread or love or the hard

pale light of some fading

and childish dream.


Previously published in Prime Number Magazine.

Copyright © by John Blair.



The Thin Man


On July 17, the difficult decision was made to cease work on the plutonium gun

method—there would be no "Thin Man."

F. G. Gosling, The Manhattan Project


FADE IN:


EFFECT SHOT:

THE SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN!

The shadow, grotesquely thin,

is cast by one strong light

which reflects itself against

a white cement wall.


ENTER: the first bomb

the subtle premise they never

finished the one they called

the Thin Man lean and long

bête noire of our eager

& our absolute


but just too liable they feared

to going off a bit too soon

for the kind of glad carnage

the allies had worked

themselves up to make

(the firestorms of Tokyo

& the guttered bones of Dresden

blast-shadows flickered

on the world’s white walls)


The important thing Nick

tells Nora is the rhythm

a Manhattan you always

shake to fox-trot time

everyone trying for calm

everyone a friend

with questions and regrets

a brawl of wind that loves

a party all the way to the end—


My soul, woman. I give you

three murders and you’re still

not satisfied says Nick

banter go snap go spoof

as the world clatters like a reel

toward the credits:


Nick is closing the door

of their room as soon as it

snaps shut they are in each

other's arms NICK:

(smiling . . . but not shy)

I thought you'd never leave.


They kiss and CUT TO:

BAGGAGE CAR –

PANNING ON PORTER

places the BRIDAL BOUQUET

on top of the crate turns

and shuffles

out as porters must as we are –


FADING OUT: THE END

(off set off camera off lights

and childish wonder off happy

ever after with bodies

and justice done glibly

and well and sequels on the way

epochs of linen clouds spread

over hand-painted peaks

of mountains of bomb-scream

played on slide-whistles

for a laugh)


and Nick and Nora lingering

for just another moment just

another forever of handsome

and serene in their ducky

gardens with nothing to do

but smile wan celluloid smiles

and wait as everyone waits

in black and white


for applause and resurrection

for curtains drawn whispery velvet

aside as a theater dims

to darkness and on the screen

a lion roars imperious

as a bomber’s brute engines

coughing deeply to life

in some far island’s breaking

and technicolor dawn.


Previously published in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review.

Copyright © by John Blair.



In the Tin Factory



The books themselves are rubble

abandoned shrines

of moments rumors and misrule

shouting through doorways


bright as salt & Miss Sasaki

sits at her desk her body

held in a calm pretense

of dutiful


of useful waiting the way

cherry blossoms wait forever

in a kimono’s print

to wither (after the bomb


some of the women

of Hiroshima would wear

flowers until they themselves

withered


perfect blooms burned

into their skin by a light

so bright it heated the patterns

on their kimonos like the metal


of a branding iron)

& the shelves in their rigid

orders are made of heavy oak

& painted white (color


of industry color of empty

color of death color

of the serpent-god Hakuja

no Myōjin who in the book


of folktales above

Miss Sasaki’s head

perpetually strangles

rogue samurai in their sleep)

and the color makes

Miss Sasaki remember the novel

she has been reading about

the snowy north country


a young geisha lost

in her poverty

the handsome traveler

who loves her and leaves


her inevitably behind

how the afternoon moon

paints itself like ardor

above unbroken fields


of pale buckwheat flowers

as the traveler in his train

alone homeward goes

every horizon and rail


every line tracing

every edge a separation

of here from there of past

from whatever consummation


still hovers on the other side

of now; it is 8:14 she is

looking at the window

in a minute she will


look away thinking

to speak to the girl

at the next desk about

something she can never


afterwards remember

but before that in the moments

before after begins

she sees through


the tall panes absolutely

nothing not even sky

or rooftops or any kind

of cloud only


a featureless waiting-to-be

that fills her not with dread

but with longing what do

you call the world? a priest


at the hydrangea temple

of Ajisai-dera once asked

her father and her father replied

without hesitation I am


the world I name

the world myself and now

she thinks this light

is the name of the world


before it is written

and the window is its book

like pages too bright

for words this day


like any other day

like any other story

relentless & forever

about to begin.



Previously published in Nimrod.

Copyright © by John Blair.



The Different Country


The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those

last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, Commencement address (1946)


This high it’s the air itself that does

the polishing the keen whistle

of restlessness rubbing the edges

bright above this first republic

beyond unendurable where grows


the tallest rainbow the most efficient

sky the brightest burning sun

and the steps we’ve climbed to get here

are nothing came from nothing

mean less than the wind


or the weather or the cold breath

that gasps from behind whatever carven

door holds the secrets safe inside

the Cave of Knowing (not a box

not an apple hung mealy


on some golden bough but a cavern

deep with echoes lit by electric arcs)

and in the wide valley below us

is the different country blue heaven

of impossible fires though this high


after night has fallen over the mountains

and cities the different country seems

to glitter with starry promises so far away

they seem unreal and hopelessly cruel

though no less beautiful in the way


that everything that glitters is beautiful

even if the streets aren’t really gold

and the lights we see apocryphal

blink one by one out down

to the last candle burning in a window


in that faraway place left to light

the halls of sleep (which are guarded

according to Publius Papinius Statius

by the shade of Quies and the dull attentions

of Oblivio) inside the one country


that is the only country where the fields

are salted white with quiet and the sun

though it swells each day like a blister

on the perfect blade of the horizon

still and so stubbornly rises.


Copyright © by John Blair.


About the Author

John Blair has published six books, most recently Playful Song Called Beautiful (University of Iowa Press, 2016) as well as poems & stories in The Colorado Review, Poetry, The Sewanee Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters, and elsewhere. His seventh book, The Aphelion Elegies, was published by Main Street Rag Press.




Janet Joyner


Cook’s Feet


Just the feet outstretched,

in repose, finally.

Right foot on bottom, heels

like worn leather, calloused.

Thin black leg, one ankle

showing, her dress hem

tucked behind the knee

on a hand-hewn wooden

stool. Fingers still busy

at beans, bowl in the lap,

snuff on her bosom, smelling

high. Nor she nor I

ever could seem to get

all the way to comfortable

in that southern house.


Copyright © by Janet Joyner.


Cocoons


Terrible things happen

in there. What a caterpillar

is doing inside one is

digesting itself, using

enzymes to reduce

its body to goo, turning

itself into a soup

of ex-caterpillar. Crucial

butterfly structures: eyes,

wings, genitalia, while

the children of lepers learn

the valuable lesson of not

to hope on adoption day.

Close your eyes and think

of the weeping, the willows,

the cherries, and the widows.

That’s the trouble with people,

their root problem. There’s

always as much below ground

as above.

Copyright © by Janet Joyner.



Absorption


You never promised

to love me. Never said


you would, but did swim

your scale-less pores

up-stream with me

against the tide,

mixing our sun-sucked

waters, a wet mist


rising like clouds

to escape gravity.


Copyright © by Janet Joyner.



Bees

Copyright © Relukf.


Colony Collapse


The bumble and wild ones

disappeared at the same time

as the honeybee. But with

a death less ominous

for us, who fight for power

and dominion, but not yet

food. Not the queen

nor her brood, not her

minions, nor all that

golden honey money.

But real bees, buzzing,

swarming on a frame

inside the hive. Each one

identical to the next.

Striped body, black

eyes, rainbow-colored

wings. Then she dies,

the worker dies, midleap,

when her wings are frayed,

worn out, as she’s about

to take flight, bulging with

nectar and pollen. This time

she plunges back to earth.

Stilled. Yet happy, we must

believe. Happy to have

measured up, achieved

the idea of herself,

the Platonic notion

of Bee. Of having

accomplished

an infinite amount,

given such

a tiny body.

With only

one sting.



Copyright © by Janet Joyner.



About the Author

Janet Joyner’s Waterborne won the Holland Prize in 2016, and was followed by Yellow (Finishing Line Press in 2018), Wahee Neck (Hermit Feathers Press, 2019), and Now Come Hyacinths, (Hermit Feathers Press, 2020).


Raymond Luczak


Recognizances

after two weeks of videochatting


This is how I knew:

you stopped a moment

to stare quietly,

without warning,

into my eyes.

Strangely enough,

no one had ever done

that to me before.

My heart stopped,

immobilized,

afraid I had become

a gory accident

that attracted

boatloads of gawkers.

I didn’t know what

to think or to do.

You were looking,

patiently

exploring my eyes

over a thousand miles

away. I allowed myself

to breathe, afraid

to blink my eyes

into losing you

before we’d a chance

to meet in person.

You looked steadfastly

at me, demanding

total silence.

You didn’t need

to lift a finger.

I think I forgot

to breathe, that I was

not dead, that I¾

I wanted to say something,

—well, fuck, anything—

to break the spell,

the hum of your silence

inside my earbuds,

but I had no words,

no spine. I had

become water.

What was wrong with me?

What had I said

that prompted you

to look, the longest

moment of my life?

I thought your webcam

had frozen your eyes,

but I caught you blinking.

You didn’t turn your head.

You had no discernible

expression. I wanted

to run, hide. But I didn’t,

and that’s made all

the difference.


Copyright © by Raymond Luczak.



That Old Mirror


The mirror knows how to lie through

the glass of its teeth, its cavities transparent.

I didn’t know that monsters could move in

so easily without paying the rent.

Its pupils are multiplying into icicles,

spearing the littered corpses of memory,

wrapped in the hospital gray gauze

and marked due for inspection. I open

my mouth, only to exhale a blizzard of curses

into the nothingness of horizon.

A cure was all I had wanted to impart

with a swipe of towel across the glass.

The snow cliffed on my eyebrows must melt.

I need comfort now. Mirror, lie to me.


Copyright © by Raymond Luczak.




At a Seminar on How to Interview for a Job in New York: 1988

for J.H.



Your hands, hot from stage anxiety,

is a furnace simmering.

Your thick, robust hands

remind me of Koko’s, that gorilla

and her kitten: your hands

must have trembled too often

in cages more naked than theirs.


Instead we both try on antics

(pretending to be something we were

never, as in focused and ambitious,

ready to answer questions

fired from across their desk)

in this Coney Island zoo losing shore,

its cotton-candy spells: my youth

chases for a frayed yarn strand,

still searching. What you appear to be:

a gentle-eyed brute tottering in a three-piece suit

with cat hairs askew between creases.

Who would hire to keep us warm?



Copyright © by Raymond Luczak.



About the Author

Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of many titles, such as Lunafly: Poems (Gnashing Teeth), A Quiet Foghorn: More Notes from a Deaf Gay Life (Gallaudet University Press), Chlorophyll: Poems (Modern History Press), and Widower, 48, Seeks Husband: A Novel (Rattling Good Yarns Press). He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.



Mary Makofske



Borders


Drawn in ink or blood,

they unspool from history

to split mountains and valleys,

meander in rivers that twist

and turn, dragging their banks

to new configurations, adding to,

subtracting from, this dominion

or that. Invisible, except

when a fence or wall defines

them, ramparts that open

only through drawbridge or gate

guarded by sirens and guns.

Those you can step across

are silent. The same weeds grow

on either side. Perhaps a sign

announces some new territory,

but the soil does not change

its allegiance: clay or silt,

loam or dust. The name

of the tree that straddles

a border may change from one

language to another, but its roots

are anchored in the same earth

and draw up water that travels

without passport or visa.

Still, coastal nations cast their nets

three miles into the ocean’s

tides and storms, and even the sky

is bound with invisible borders

dividing yours from mine.

Previously published in Bryant Literary Review, Vol. 21, 2020.

Copyright © by Mary Makofske.



As a Bruise Changes Color

A woman can walk into doors

only so many times

before sympathy turns to doubt


only so many times

till she’s blamed

for her clumsiness


only so many times

as if blind, limping back

on the crutch of his promises


only so many times

till he learns how to hurt

without showing


only so many times

she’ll be grateful

for that


A woman can walk into doors

only so many times

till she finds her way out


Previously published in Spillway Vol. 25, 2017 and The Gambler’s Daughter.

Copyright © by Mary Makofske.



About the Author

Mary Makofske's latest books are World Enough, and Time (Kelsay, 2017) and Traction (Ashland, 2011), winner of the Richard Snyder Prize judged by David Wojahn. Her poems have appeared recently in Poetry East, The American Journal of Poetry, The MacGuffin, Spillway, Southern Poetry Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Crosswinds, Earth’s Daughters, and Bryant Literary Review, and in nineteen anthologies. She has received the Atlanta Review International Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Poetry Prize, and the Malovrh-Fenlon Poetry Prize from Quiet Diamonds. Her chapbook The Gambler’s Daughter recently was released by Orchard Street Press. Visit: www.marymakofske.com



R. S. Mengert


Anatomy


Rip me open.

My guts are stars

of blue, of gold;

my blood, the black

of space. Each rib

contains a doomed thunderbolt

of childhood,

knotted rainbows that bind

winged seraphs

to their spade-tailed devils,


the memories of parents,

demigods of flesh who

naked and estranged, summon time

out of eternity

with tears.


See inside me the eternal

repetition: emergence, revelation, death.

See inside me

the eternal stalemate: twin black-masked demons, Good and Evil

bleeding out beneath the yellow glare of moonlight.


I am the drowned magician

that fills an auditorium.

I am his lovely assistant, mortified

by complicity.

Open me or not, I am the hole

within myself, equal parts

blood and stardust, light and void.


Rip me open, see yourself


in me, the house ablaze

in which you call your ashes on the phone

while flicking out a cigarette.


Copyright © by R. S. Mengert.



Elegy for Vader


Dark father that I never had, how I envied you

your shimmering black helmet, your iron mask


to hide a face scarred and mutilated from a life

of politics and war. Your body clamped together


with machinery, you held it straight, loomed tall

in front of threats by holy men and heroes.


You gave your only son inarguable advice:

Use your anger. Trust no one. Settle all your scores.


He didn’t thank you. And when you cut his hand off

just to show him what the world is like,


he hid out in a forest, where he prayed and fasted

for a chance to bring you down with piety, forgive you


into death, watch you die ingloriously,

your sword laid up, your beaten face unmasked –


to show your scars, still raw and leprous after decades,

and expose to light the pale and shriveled remnant of a man


who had the dignity to shut out hope’s deceptive glare

behind an elegant, imposing cloak of black.


Copyright © by R. S. Mengert.



Skeptic


Because you see the skull

glaring back in the mirror

like a traffic light,

you think you see

beneath surfaces.


You see yourself a visionary.


If I try to look

beyond the skull,

you think I’ve missed it.


I look out my office window

and all I see are skulls,

even in the daylight. You


wait until it’s dark,

and miss the gray redundancy

of funerals while you squint

in the yellow haze

of your cheap electric light.


But that’s your way.

You walk into a churchyard

with your plastic sack

full of straw-men and equations

wrapped around your neck.


You smell dirt,

so you think the air

is made of dirt,

and you leave,

afraid to breathe.


Copyright © by R. S. Mengert.



The First and Final Vision

(after Frida Kahlo’s Moses)


The world is too round

today. We can feel it


spin. We need the hand, the rain.

We need a hammer


to set the stars in motion.

Eternal child, floating


in the secret waters of the earth,

forever born, forever dead,


your naked hands embrace

the darkness


in their everlasting tomb

of birth.


Breath, dust, flames of vision

held up to the night


gather like the surge of molecules

that sparks the blazing of the sun.


Light our way now, we

who are lost


in cloud, in desert, in the clang

of swords and armor,


you, who know the fire firsthand

and live.


Copyright © by R. S. Mengert.



About the Author

R. S. Mengert lives in Tempe, Arizona. He completed an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. His work has appeared Poor Yorick, Exacting Clam, Bureau of Complaint, Gargoyle, The California Quarterly, Pensive, SurVision, Zymbol, Maintenant, Poetry is Dead, ABZ, Four Chambers, The Café Review, Fjords, San Pedro River Review, and Enizagam.




Margot Wizansky


The Lessening

Her face pared down to fine armature, she is not

exactly sleeping, deeper than sleep, more

regular. I count her breaths, forty-eight

a minute, inconsequential to the air.

Her every breath a labor of purpose,

not struggle, even though her eyes

are shut and her mouth’s been

open for days. I can’t resist

touching the sweet radiant

whiteness of her hair. The

trinity of heart, lungs,

brain, winding down,

her chest lessening,

impossible to

measure what

I have left of

her, she who

made me.


Copyright © by Margot Wizanky.



One Night in San Miguel


In the ex-pat bar I met a Texan

with a three-day stubble

and no last name, lanky

and laconic, his legs

long as my margarita,

and in that one inebriated hour,

everything was reckless

and I couldn’t get my bearings,

went off with him

to a hidden hot spring

utterly obscured

in sulphur mist,

and peeled off

my flowery Mayan blouse.

First I, then he, dove

into the steam

without a thought

for all our possible deaths,

and then we held each other

in some vagrant sleep,

most of my sorrow

still ahead.


Copyright © by Margot Wizanky.