Photo by Lea Graham. Image of Quito, Ecuador, where Graham finished her chapbook.
A Deviating Elegy for RK
Last Friday, a house fire burned three young people to their deaths. One of them,
my former student, wrote a paper on futurism & wore orange boots. That was
three years ago. Eva. Her name means life—something I recalled each time she
rolled in tardy. I didn’t mind much. She knew her Picasso & I liked her sass.
That night, four others threw themselves from second-story windows & lived.
The fire so hot, I heard, it charred the cars next door. I sat here—ten blocks
away— in lamplight & the green of my jade plant, I call Jay. I read your Letters
to Salonika & roasted red peppers. I watched Tim Roth & Julia Ormond shag on
the floor of a bog in a bar off a roundabout in Southgate. Forgive me, elegy is a
cruel suspension. I think I smelled the smoke.
Some years ago, another former student adopted my cat, Sushi. She was a
painter, studying yoga in Brooklyn. (The student, not the cat). She dreamed of
life on Coney Island, picked up a Russian rancher in the L’Abattoir Bar in
Gastown. Bob, we just can’t make this stuff up. Now, I hear, she claws his traps
nightly. Last year, Sushi (the cat, not the student) passed to Joey, a hunky 27
year old with a shirtless Facebook photo. He moved to Portland & renamed her
Death Metal. She was probably 90 in cat years when she died this week. I always
loved how she laid back in my arms like a sated baby, her nasal drip & exposed
fangs. Her gut drug the canvas of the Changó I gave to my ex one Christmas. Its
ochre & cerise remain for me like the wistful knowledge of Bast,
the Egyptian cat guardian of marriage. The unintentional details of love deliver
You might say: Love is an absence of middles. You might say: Loneliness is a
fire. Today, a former student of a former colleague writes me: The treachery of
closeness equals distance, ends in loss.
A few days ago, I stood in a gallery alone with The Ascension of St. Mary
Magdalene. She rose towards a great hearth. Her blond curls suggested water,
reminded me of Eva. Angel faces & pale bellies shimmered in smoky light.
Here in this dark place, she embodied fire as cynosure of all. I thought Heraclitus.
But grief doesn’t come in two’s.
How does any of this give salve to the gone? You might say: Hold your horses. /
It was a nice trip/ to heaven. Let us/ now visit the earth. On Facebook, Eva’s
photographs breathe, blooming my screen, a ruse of memory & machine.
Sometimes the inauthentic grips the throat just as tight. As you sought your
mother, Bob, her mother might search: on the shores of a dozen islands, in the
pages of ten thousand books, in the spaces between the clouds, in the fall of, the
weight of, the silence of snow. In black & white she vogues near a stream: akimbo
& jawbone & the arched brow
For a few months now I have been writing you as if you sit still at your desk in
Heisler, your ear pressed to prairie. In January, I listened to your disembodied
voice recorded twenty years ago. It sounded like yesterday. (But we both know
that the idea of slopping the hogs is not the same as slopping the hogs.) I wrote
poems in a trailer on Vineyard Haven among maps hanging from clotheslines
strung across the room: Saskatchewan & Georgia & Haiti & Dublin. Cigarette
butts & sea grass striated the beach under streetlights on my nightly walks. I read
the poems of your mother & to your lovers. I read the poems that counsel
themselves & friends. Roy Kiyooka hit town in a hot-air balloon & we should all
have another beer!
I will receive a note postmarked Alberta any day. I sent purple flowers from
Galicia last June—& you, graciously, sent me saskatoons. The imagination staves.
Imagination, a stave.
Bob, when will the bees arrive?
Notes from the Camino de Santiago Compostela
Outside a bar in Santillana del Mar, I am drinking café con leche where
the bella donnas & bleeding hearts decant the eye with the same pitch
as your arms swelling Alberta. The Torture Museum only charges 3.50 Euro
to cruise iron maidens, punishing shoes. There’s rumor of human femurs
fashioned as ritual trumpets across the street & these cobblestones throb
with the eternal question: “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” (Clash fan?)
Pot-bellied pigs punctuate our days & sifra by starlight. Hawks & wind &
the rocking lemons of Cantabria! Weeks of foot after foot. We eat fish & mushrooms
at noon beneath cowbells & dowsing rods—a bit like sitting below your own divine
guide. You might wonder: Where’s that phial of Mary’s milk, the foreskin of Jesus,
splinters from Calvary? They elude me. I pick field flowers for you & Cooley
in Cigüenza on a day lost to construction: Bright tape & gravel, the blah blah blah
of hard hats obscuring this ancient way. Each morning, the cliffs of Finisterra
prepare themselves in blue. This costa del morte, this end of the world. We will burn
rough bread, an emery board; we will drink an earthy red to what will be.
Last Thursday, the light at the ridge above that bend in the Hudson spread
like Dreamsicles in July. Crows valentined dumpsters. Earth called cadence
below. Lamps floated stem-less, sturgeon moons in a month of wolf whistles
& Route 9’s chemical taste. Was it Williams who said “the hardest thing to do
is see”? (Or was that just my gynecologist?) As a kid, my mother caged a crow
believing one day it would sing “Hello, Dolly.” She faithfully fed it pork chops
under a sycamore tree. Instead, it ate her spelling bee ring. She often said:
Crows love the shiny things. Beware.
The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.― Stephen King
Blame it on the quartz.
Call it coffin candle,
foolish fire. A surgery
in Gettysburgh beckons:
Limbs stacked as ricks
at a window.
Call it the staring past.
Call it schism.
Burn the wedding dress.
Call it Chinese grievance.
In Poland, ignus faatua,
“traveller’s lights,” believed
to be spirits of dead
mapmakers. Eat your cabbage
or else they’ll draw “here”
out of sight.
This selection of poems is from Lea Graham’s chapbook, This End of the World: Notes to Robert Kroetsch (Apt. 9 Press, 2016). These poems were also published in Ditchpoetry.com.