Archive for the ‘Words of Power’ Category

Cruickshank’s Farewell

December 28, 2009 3 comments

by Irene Brown

The rumble of the Lord’s Prayer
mumbled through the chapel
and, with Presbyterian necks re-set,
the piper’s notes tapsilteeried their way
over the damp, sober shoulders of the mourners
who silently tutted and smirked
at the vital ‘HEUCH’
that rose from the back.

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Irene Brown lives in Scotland’s capital and has had her first poetry pamphlet, Glass Slippers, published this year by Calder Wood Press. She provided definitions of two of the Scots words in the above poem that might be unfamiliar: tapsilteerie means “topsy turvy; state of disorder,” and heuch is an expression of exhilaration uttered especially while dancing.

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No Place Like Home: Kansas 1965

December 26, 2009 2 comments

by Pamela Johnson Parker

Her bicycle and broom, her fingers bony
As catfish barbels, skin the shade of scales
Scattered from the luna’s wing—oh, the witch entire

Is what I craved—her pointed hat, her widow’s
Weeds trailing behind her like a burning
Bride’s veil, and her voice—pure power—

And your little dog, too. I mimicked
That rasp for days, and I was never
Afraid… Never.  What scared me were the trees,

Apple-laden branches that groped and grabbed,
False faces, wrinkling grey bark… Trees like him,
Mr. Monday, who lived across the street,

Who clutched at my hair and my red car coat.
When I wouldn’t go back to the porch slanting
Before his pointy house.  Da duh, da duh

Da duh—each lurching pair of steps was perfect
Iamb, a meter I’ll scan again, again.
No one heard me shriek, my voice was too faint

To carry. Later, I didn’t have words
To say what I cannot say. As I watched
The Wizard of Oz the weekend after,

Hexing, oh, I called down my worst on him,
Curses like poppies, poppies that sent
Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion

To sleep, to sleep. No one will wake him up;
Mr. Monday lives alone, not even
A dog… Before the mirror, as I murmured,

I gazed at my unfamiliar face:
Oh, these things must be done delicately.
If they have ears to hear, then let them hear.

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Pamela Johnson Parker (blog) is a medical editor and adjunct professor in creative writing and poetry. Her inaugural collection A Walk Through the Memory Palace was the winner of qarrtsiluni’s 2009 poetry chapbook contest. Her poems, flash fiction, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in The Binnacle, The Other Journal, New Madrid, Pebble Lake Review, Holly Rose Review, Six Sentences, MiPOesias, Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal, and Anti-. She is also the featured poet in the April 2009 Broadsided series of poetry and art. A graduate of the MFA program at Murray State University, Parker lives in western Kentucky.


December 23, 2009 7 comments

by Joseph Harker

Our father used to chop off his own fingers,
pull quarters from our ears or clap his hands
to conjure Jolly Ranchers out of thin air.

We were heirs to the secret knowledge: that our father
was better than the other dads, with a gleam in his eye
that suggested he knew Important Things.
We shrilled with joy when he’d lift us onto his shoulders,
or do handstands and circle the yard.
Our birthday parties were always the best in town.
Abracadabra! and we were instant celebrities,
leading charmed elementary school lives.
Girls wore their admiration on their sleeves.

Not that we didn’t have it rough.
Times are always hard for dishonest men, no matter
how many rabbits they could pull out of a hat.
Some nights we heard our father swearing;
he muttered in his sleep.

Later the novelty would wear off, and perhaps
we had our shame on our faces once too often.
None of the card tricks or magic words
held the mystery and fascination they once did.
Abracadabras won’t put food on the table.
They won’t keep your kids out of fights or
your hands out of the liquor cabinet. They won’t dry up
sudden squalls of tears.

Maybe we should’ve seen it coming.
He lost the sparkle in his eyes, and fumbled the coins.
His breath was sweet with brandy. His armor rusted.
There were signs, but we thought he’d say, and now,
with a flick of the wrist, abracadabra! you can watch

It’s never that simple, and it’s always messy,
if you don’t know how to do it right.

There’s a gravestone, even though we never found a body.
The current was stronger than his soul. What if
we’d had a father that wasn’t larger than life, a farmer,
a pharmacist, someone boring who wouldn’t leave
his goddamn kids this way;
but then, we might accept this, move on easy.
His love was no legerdemain, so it must be this,
this passing away, this attempted suicide,
this sleight of body,
this Greatest Trick.
We wait for him at night. We whisper,

we squeeze our eyelids tight,
count one-mis-sis-sip-pi,
open them,
and —

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Joseph Harker is the pseudonym of a foolish twentysomething, lately located on the East Coast of the US. He dreams more than he ought to, scribbles less than he wants to, and is a textbook Libra in just about every way. If you’d like to bother him, it’s best to visit his online demesne, naming constellations (but do mind your step).

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December 22, 2009 3 comments

by Holly Anderson

14 August 1971 (Picasso is painting)

I lay the yolk-y yellow ground      down
now here goes my triangulated body
here is my flesh-colored jock strap
my flesh-colored wings ready for take-off.
It’s hot as blisters and look how the sweat
still runs off me like a young man.
My balls hang heavy and damp.
My dark-veined stones.
Still here. Still have it. It’s all in here.
I’m bringing it out bringing it forth.
I can do this. I can always do this.
The paint still listens.
I talk to the colors and they come —
from the fields this yellow mustard
from fields seen from a train trundling south
then blue canvas awning stripes
sandy Torremolinos days with mother
green seedlings black taxis in the Paris rain.      Drunk
and taking Fernande home to finally touch her      secrets.
Finger her notch her crook tongue her cleft
heft her high and bury my      self.
Now I have wings.
Flesh now yes it’s always been flesh to flesh
and light shifting shapes changing course
of course I’ve followed the light all my life
and strung the string of shapes that tell the stories.
All the stories I’ve lived them all.
89 and the line still excites still makes me hard
the kernel of sex was and is and will always be there
as it should be as it must be forever and ever
so help me god.
So help me work these hands wash in pigment
wash in rapture.
The seed is there
the bursting is still there.
The bursting remains.

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Holly Anderson’s poetry and prose has been anthologized in Up is Up, But So Is Down: New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992 (NYU Press), The Unbearables (Autonomedia), and First Person Intense (Mudborn Press). Her limited edition books Lily Lou (Purgatory Pie Press) and Sheherezade (Pyramid Atlantic) are in library collections including MOMA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Anderson’s lyrics can be heard on Consonant (s/t), Love and Affliction (Fenwayrecordings) Mission of Burma’s VS, OnoffOn (Matador), Jonathan Kane’s Jet Ear Party (Table of the Elements/Radium), and various other albums.

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Silent Messengers: Writing on Stone III

December 21, 2009 4 comments

by Marja-Leena Rathje

Silent Messengers: Writing on Stone III, by Marja-Leena Rathje
Click on image to view a larger version.

archival inkjet and collagraph on paper
76.2 x 50.6 cm. (20″ x 30″)

Ancient writings on stone may be silent but still send powerful messages spanning great passages of time.

To see the rest of the Silent Messengers series, please visit Marja-Leena’s online gallery.

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Marja-Leena Rathje (blog, gallery) is a Finnish-Canadian artist specializing in printmaking and photography. She is crazy about weathered rocks, prehistoric art and the archaeology of past, present and future. She lives and works near the sea and the mountains of Vancouver and has exhibited widely, both internationally and in her local region.

Excerpts from Seven Anglian Spells

December 19, 2009 Comments off

by Andrew McCallum


the house appointed for judgement
marked by an arrow bearing certain signs
to assemble the multitude

a decisive place
where we lieutenants add our arrows to
that of the headsman
pushing them into the soft belly of the earth
to signal our kinship
planting a henge that shall
over time
grow into chapels and parliaments

the house appointed for judgement
two or three men clad in the pelts of beasts
heads close
conferring on a skyline


aaron’s beard

a charm against enchantment
a cure for bad milk
a sprig placed in the milk pail
before milking afresh

a sprig hid with cunning
from the priests
about one’s person
against their malignancy



earth baked hard
almost glass

a bead
a lentil
an unnatural device
disguised by name and

to protect against
the uncanniness of nature



land taken in from the forest

like the dogs that scavenge our touns
accepting sometimes
a kind hand
a docile word

that warn the approach of our enemies
yet slink back to the wilderness
when the spirit takes them

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Andrew McCallum is a widely published and award-winning poet from southern Scotland. The countryside around his home is littered with relics of his forebears, who speak through them from as far back as mesolithic times, and with whom Andrew strongly identifies in his poetry. Heideggerian in temperament, Andrew is convinced that language is constructive of the world inhabited by the language user; hence the incantatory or ‘spell-like’ character of the old Anglian words he casts in this poem.

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With Nebuchadrezzar in Jerusalem

December 18, 2009 1 comment

by William Doreski

Just because Jeremiah complained,
God turned over Jerusalem
to Nebuchadrezzar, who burned it.

Not that we didn’t enjoy
splashing fuel around the temple
and cooking the so-called great Men

in their houses; not that we minded
toppling bronze pillars and stealing
oil lamps, pots, shovels, snuffers,

copper vessels, firepans, and scraps
of gold and silver; not that we paused
an instant before we murdered

threescore men at Riblah
and set that corrupt old slob
Gedaliah in the governor’s seat.

But Jeremiah bothered us
with his offhand eloquence,
his pipeline to heaven. Who explained

how to read the dry sticks and bones
in the desert? Who bribed him
to squeal on his own people?

Who directed him to pray
to the pantheon’s weakest figure,
a god who’d quickly see

the logic of the anti-Semite?
Who knew he’d like the taste of ash
on his tongue, the screams in his ears?

Who taught him how to invoke
Nebuchadrezzar without smiling
like a child who just killed a fly?

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William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel (2009). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge.

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December 17, 2009 2 comments

by O Thiam Chin

The old man arrived at the kampong much earlier than expected. He had walked for an hour to reach where we stayed, and by the time he stepped foot into the house, he was perspiring all over. My grandfather and uncles were told that he was the most revered medium in the district, one who could summon and talk to any spirit he wanted to, to ask a request or favour, or to seek blessings or placation; his services available for a small token amount of ‘coffee money.’ To me, he was just like any old man — severe, toughened, wrinkled.

My mother told me to serve him a cup of coffee, and when I brought it to him, he gave me a White-Rabbit sweet in return. Then he turned back to my grandfather, his countenance serious, and continued with their discussion. I only caught a few snatches of words, before running out of the house, to join my other cousins at play, the sweet already melting in the heat of my palm.

That night, the old man stayed for dinner and ate at the table with the men of the family. Their heads remained lowered in deep talk, and the old man closed his eyes while he listened.

The wooden sedan-chair was brought in from the storage hut and placed before the altar that was ladled with food offerings and urns burning with smoky, eye-burning incense. The painted faces of the warrior gods and benevolent goddesses flickered with numerous changes of expression as the flames from the candles shuddered with each rotation of the overhead fans. We, the children, were told not to go into the living room for the night, or linger outside the corridor. We had to keep away from the procession.

But we watched nonetheless, peeking from behind tiny slits in the paneled doors, taking turns to observe the goings-on in the room. The old man had put on loose silky red pants, bare-torso, and was sitting in the sedan chair, his face turned down. Then his arms began to move, as if pulled by invisible strings, and he let out a terrible scream that silenced all residual noises from us, who were watching him with a curious intensity. He shook his head violently from side to side, and a voice, deep and alien and angry, fell out of his mouth. It was not a voice I recognized, but I noticed the wide-eyed surprise and subsequent relief evident in my grandfather’s and uncles’ faces. They were fully aware who was speaking to them through this medium-man, a voice they knew, way before my time.

My grandfather started asking questions of the medium, and before we could hear his replies, my mother and aunties came up from behind and swatted us away. As we ran off, our laughter charting down the dark corridor, we imagined a new exciting world where the dead are never actually dead, and the living are always reaching out to them.


O Thiam Chin’s short stories have appeared in several literary journals and anthologies, including Asia Literary Review, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Best of Singapore Erotica, Silverfish New Writing 6 and Body2Body. His debut collection of short stories, Free-Falling Man, was published in 2006 and his new collection of stories, Never Been Better, was released last month.

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Self-Portrait as Dryad, No. 7

December 16, 2009 23 comments

by Marly Youmans

The golden haze around these whips of limbs
Is glistening, awakening to light
Within retreating clouds — embattled fire
That melts the snow and pellmell sends the sky
To run in ditches near the highway’s edge.

My God, I am no witch to suffer so —
Who tied me to this stake that frosts my skin?
Who makes me tremble with his solar heat?
Who takes my voice and shakes the syllables
Until I speak in otherworldly tongues?

Dear Christ, the world is aching in its grave,
And can I bear another spring-time thaw?
O Willow, Willow, I uncurl to let
The bite and simmer of this raking gold
Explode in leaves — green eyes that weep for me,
My harrowed hell, my star-enkindled tree.

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Marly Youmans (website, blog) recently saw the publication of her seventh book, Val/Orson. Set among the tree sitters of California’s redwoods, the story takes its inspiration from the legendary tale of Valentine and Orson and the forest romances of Shakespeare. Her previous books include Ingledove; Claire; The Curse of the Raven Mocker; The Wolf Pit; Catherwood; and Little Jordan. She co-edited qarrtsiluni’s Insecta issue with Ivy Alvarez.

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The Seven Healing Saints

December 15, 2009 8 comments

by Lucy Kempton

These photos were taken at the Chapel of Notre Dame du Hault, in Trédaniel, Côtes d’Armor, Brittany. It is the home of “Les Sept Saints Guéurisseurs,” the Seven Healing Saints, polychrome wood sculptures of uncertain age and provenance, each invested with the power to relieve certain afflictions. (Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

The Saints are St Houarniaule (or Hervé), St Mamert, St Méen, Ste Eugenie, St Lubin, St Livertin, and St Hubert. They were called on to cure a range of common maladies, such as migraines, eye troubles, rheumatism, but also mental and psychological problems; blind St Houarniaule who traditionally kept a dog or perhaps a wolf who ate the dog and was commanded by the saint to take its place, on a leash, was invoked to help with fear and ‘angoisse,’ anxiety, to master the wolf in a more figurative sense. St Hubert helped with dog-bites and rabies, ‘la rage,’ so by extension with rage and fear, the connection between fear and anger preempting modern psychological understanding. Ste Eugenie is the only woman, but wasn’t always; she was a feminised and Catholicised development of St Tujan, or Ujan, a much older, more indigenous saint, who was possibly in turn a Christianised version of a pre-Roman Celtic sun-deity.

St Mamert looked after intestinal troubles, including colicky babies. His intestines are exposed, open, and he holds them tenderly, a rather pretty pink coil of gut, between his two hands.

For a long time people brought gifts and offerings, oblations, for the Saints’ favours, either to propitiate or to thank them. They gave money, but also things like linen, hemp, butter, honey and beeswax, even piglets. The revenues from the chapel were enormous for such a small, out-of-the-way place. But by the end of the 19th century people began to offer other kinds of votives, these little plaques, mostly marble with engraved gilded lettering. They are in thanks for services rendered, and mostly simply say ‘Merci,’ Thank you, one or two are in English, some quite recent. (Many are also to Notre Dame to whom the Chapel is dedicated) The effect of the same word in different variations over and over in the gloom and candlelight is rather hypnotic.

Things have always made their way to the chapel, been sheltered by or given to it; the Saints’ statues were not all always there, some were probably brought from another religious foundation, a leper hospital, at about the time of the Revolution. This relief carving is an enigma, was perhaps brought here in the mid-20th century during one of the chapel’s periods of restoration from another demolished church or chapel. I always think of it as the angel with the book, but elsewhere the object is described as a blank escutcheon, a heraldic support for words or symbols. Book or shield, there is a feeling that the angel is bringing something of importance that should tell us something, but it can’t be read.

Unfortunately, what drew wealth of course drew thieves, and the chapel was not infrequently robbed throughout its history. Then in the 1980s the Saints themselves were stolen. They were replaced by plaster copies, which were stolen again in the last few years. The statues in these photos are very new replicas of the originals, that have recently been installed.

They are faithful and sympathetic copies, the scale and forms and colours are all as they should be. But the idea of replacing the Saints is problematical; its difficult to grasp how practical and concrete the kind of faith they were part of was. They weren’t just representations of spiritual power, the power was the object. We see them as curious works of art, which might or might not house a spiritual reality, but that’s not quite the point. The spiritual and material reality used to be one and the same. So making new ones to replace the old shouldn’t work.

Unless the power is within the place, rather than its furniture and artifacts. This has always been a sacred place, a place of healing; the chapel and the Saints are quite recent emanations of this. If you walk west from the chapel, past some prehistoric standing stones, into a wooded ravine, you’ll come to the holy well. In mediaeval times it was dedicated to St Tujan, and has been a sacred place probably since the bronze age; Gallo-Roman remains have certainly been found there. People throw the age-old votive offerings of coins into the well. There is a stone cross and other stone artefacts from who know where set up here. A fallen tree covered in ivy forms an arch in front of it. On the ivy stems someone has inscribed the words ‘Cécile tu nous manques’ — ‘Cécile we miss you.’

Who knows who Cecile is or was and why she is missed, but someone brought their sadness, their angoisse to this particular place of power and left it as an offering in these words, a poignant counterpoint to the marble plaques of gratitude.

With thanks to Bertrand L’Hôtellier for help with the research on the chapel of Notre Dame du Hault.

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Lucy Kempton is British, living in Brittany with husband and dog, and sometimes teaching English. She blogs at box elder — subtitled “meanderings of a displaced dilettante” — and the microblog Out with Mol. She is currently engaged in a call-and-response-style, online collaboration with British blogger (and qarrtsiluni author) Joe Hyam called Questions. She co-edited qarrtsiluni’s Water issue with Katherine Durham Oldmixon.

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