“if I stepped out of my body I would break
From ‘A Blessing’ by James Wright
POETRY / KATHLEEN KEENAN
All Most Some None
At the art gallery, we look at a wax sculpture of three peacocks. It’s dripping down from the ceiling toward us, a melting upside-down birthday cake of pride. You’re sick and waiting for a phone call from your doctor. I want to tell you about all the things I’ve seen in museums: Charlotte Bronte’s tiny mourning shoes embroidered with hair, and marzipan sculptures of Elvis and fairy tale villains in Budapest. An enormous golden orb outside Mozart’s childhood home, all the mirrors in Versailles, where you’re always catching some refracted version of yourself bent around a million tourists. Dead things preserved in jars, hundreds of paintings, artifacts whose meaning we can only guess at through kaleidoscopes. Look, I want to say, things last all the time.
At the top of the dunes, I think about the time I flew back to you across this lake. We laid in the dark and I couldn’t talk because the tiny piece of ice in my throat was just for me. Now it’s winter and the lake is frozen over. Huge white swoops of snow piled like whipped cream, pointing up to grey skies, a single sunbeam like this is a painting by a Dutch master. I see heads pop up, people sliding down the ice hills, pressing their luck. Underneath the lake is moving. We were here in summer but not like this: we drove down Main Street, meandering among the barely-clad bodies of summer people. I don’t think you liked it here but then you never saw it in the winter.
I catch you everywhere: bits of you in the flash of someone’s smile, how they tilt their head. After all this time I know I don’t remember the real you anymore and instead what I catch is the feeling. Uncomplicated and so untrustworthy — a train pulling into the station as scheduled, an offered hand on a patch of ice, a reluctant grin crinkling into wrinkles. At the end of every fresh heartache, again and again I relive our almosts. I ask and you reach up to get me the peanut butter, call my name down the stairs, tell me you’re taking off your glasses, watch me as the train comes into the station. I hang my understanding of what it means to be in love on the memory of you gluing glitter to your shoes. I thought there’d be another train coming.
Thirteen years ago, or another lifetime, he squeezed my arm and someone saw. It felt good to belong to him even in misunderstanding. Crammed in that little room where we had all those parties, I knew what it looked like but it wasn’t that exactly. Restless fingers tapping on denim knees, sarcastic jokes just on the edge of cruelty, a possibility blooming and fading like a bruise disappearing.
FICTION / KATIE HOLLOWAY
An Owl’s Facial Disk is Made of Concave Feathers, Which it can Adjust
The night after I lost you, the owl appeared. She rode on a gust past my window, a shimmer of white, but I never once thought – ghost.
When I returned to work, she visited again. Wide-eyed, she perched on my ledge, her talons gripping tight, like my fists in my pockets. I wondered if her whisper-thin bones ached with the effort.
She appeared once more after my birthday dinner, after I’d smeared away my obligatory makeup, but before I’d committed to pressing my too-clean skin into my pillow. She pushed her face against the glass, showing me her mask. Letting me know she could also see mine.
INTERVIEW / AARIK DANIELSEN
The Poem as Living Inheritance: An interview with Joseph Fasano
No poem dies once imprinted on the page.
Its words breathe, travel, reshape a reader’s personal language, seal — or even augment — their memories, knock on their doors at the most inopportune times to remind them they’re loved. No poem dies, but rarely does the poet discern the abundant life they lead beyond the fulfillment of their spiritual duty.
Joseph Fasano’s poetry lives on the edge of inheritance. His speakers inhale a certain worldly wisdom — just as their diaphragms relax, ready to exhale their observations, Fasano writes, placing them at the cusp of revelation. Or they belly up to the altar and the poet captures them just before they dip the host in the cup.
Fasano’s books harness this on-the-verge-ness, chronicling what has been, gesturing toward the as-yet-untouched better. They are overgrown with compassionate forests eager to embrace the wayfarer and, in the way of Franz Wright, populated with people stumbling into divine light.
And they are shot through with blood relatives, especially fathers and sons, seeking a connection that runs thicker than blood.
Fasano’s ideals found fresh expression this year on Twitter, in a poem whose second life he will bear witness to the remainder of his days. In Poem for My Son, Fasano composes a “living poem” to his son 280 characters (or less) at a time. The poem began in January and, as of early December, has more than 2400 entries.
His short verses silence future prodigal-son fears before they ever arise, describe rather than define belief (“Faith broke into my life like foxes in the pantry”) and massage his son’s still-moldable constitution into something resilient yet forever tender.
Earlier this year, Fasano and I traded emails, discussing poetry as an act of love, the work of parenthood, and writing both to his child — and the child Fasano himself still holds inside.
Danielsen: Before beginning Poem for My Son, were you aware of any other “living” poems? Can you trace any specific influences on this piece of work?
Fasano: Poe infamously declared that the long poem was an impossibility; he based his claim more on physiology than anything else: the lyric poem, to him, was about focused intensity, and the human organism, he argued, simply cannot sustain an intense state of being for the duration of a long poem. Even a masterpiece like Paradise Lost, it seemed to him, had to be merely a stringing together of heightened lyric moments. All of this quickly deteriorates into semantic ambiguities and somewhat arbitrary definitions.
The point is merely that I disagree with Poe’s assessment — as I did in my long poem Vincent. Whitman had an astonishing response to an argument such as Poe’s: he simply did not think of his Leaves of Grass as poetry — if poetry is defined as something other than nature. Instead, that book was exactly what its title suggested: a living thing.
I don’t claim I’m doing, in this poem for my son, anything like or up to the level of Whitman. It’s merely my way of suggesting that this piece develops organically, with all the missteps, troubles, and occasional triumphs of a life.
D: All writing, to some degree, takes on the life and characteristics of the writer. But you’re more open, more vulnerable about the embodied or personified nature of this work: “It’s raw. It grows daily. It stumbles.” How does this one rise and fall, move and breathe in different ways than your other work?
F: I rarely show the process of my composition. I’m not sure there’s always a reason to do so anyway: the reader should be treated to the fruits of the labor, not the gnarled roots of the music.
But in this project, I’m talking about parenthood, and parenthood is messy, mistake-laden, immersive. A father puts his head on the pillow at the end of the day and says to himself, “My work today was to be in the work.”
D: How did you conceive of your audience when writing previous books? Did you have a type — or actual people — in mind? How do you think the writing itself changes when the audience is so defined?
F: When I was in my early twenties, living in a small walk-up apartment in Manhattan, sweating out lines of poems, I would have laughed at myself to imagine any audience at all. I was merely trying to appease the ghosts in me with craft and magic.
Even now, I think the writing should do what it must and let itself find an audience. The tragedy is when a writer’s perception of audience — which is usually a mistaken perception anyway — shapes the work, rather than the work shaping, waking an audience.
Of course, there are subconscious considerations of audience in play when the work is being created, but the essential thing is to do it all in good faith. You write to appease the unappeasable ghosts in you, whoever they may be.
D: How have you approached this work in terms of intentionality? Are there certain rhythms, freedoms or even limitations that you’re trying to take?
F: Everything I write is founded on rhythmic considerations, though if the craft is working it should not seem like craft. As for freedom, I believe the true goal of art — and life — is to find the place where form and freedom are the same.
D: As you write, do you see degrees of overlap — in terms of what concerns you, what images you find meaningful, etc. — with your previous work? Toward that end, is there anything completely new you feel this work has unlocked?
F: I feel this work has allowed me to speak directly about many things that have concerned me — maybe I should say obsessed me — for years: intergenerational trauma, shame, redemption. What seems new in this work to me is the radical vulnerability and permission to be wonderstruck in a purely childlike manner.
In many ways, I’m saying words that I wish the child in me had heard in time.
D: In late March you wrote these lines, “Every poem is a voice crying in the wilderness.” What is your best hope for how your son might hear and even heed that voice echoing around him? How much are you trying to hold his someday response loosely?
F: All I want is for my son to feel that he does not need to be afraid of any part of himself — or perhaps it’s better to say that in a positive formulation: I want him to love every part of himself.
How many times do we look up — after love, after agony — and ask, “For whom did I quiet my song?” We hardly know what forces in us are quieting our voices. Sometimes we even call those forces ourselves.
“Let be, Leonardo,” is what I want this poem to say to my son. “Do not be afraid.”
D: Clearly this work is an act of love. How do you think writing, more broadly, can be performed as an act of love? Where does it fit within this sort of greater, and yet more intimate, constellation of love we act out every day?
F: Writing and loving have this in common: they are greatest when they get out of their own way and listen. That is what I’m after, in life and in art: the great listening.
I just want to be a part of that, and when the time comes, I want to walk with my son through the wilds of this life — follow him, even — and lie down beside one another and look up at the light, or the darkness, and I want to have done my part to create a world in which he can hear, in that wind, his own song.
D: Do you have a sense of when you’ll know this work is done?
F: Every time I look into my son’s eyes, I see the beginning.
POETRY / AARON LELITO
To cultivate distance between dreams and the candlelit arrangement of mistakes, to walk by as if they are the curbed furniture, to sit with the being- ness of the unroomed couch, the mattress on gravel, the table upended for stability when gusts come, to bless the ground upon which our bared breaking rests.