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The Sacred

December 27, 2011 Comments off

by Monica Raymond

The body is bless-ed as the sacred, the
sacrum fulcrum, yoga
pose of the rocking boat, where balanced
on the abdomen, flying arms
somehow reach the ankles, a sacredness
also of tentacles, frost
seaweed shingles which overhang caves.
Inside a vortex
of water among jellyfish sweeps in
a twister, a trunk,
lunges and sucks among those inmost
passages, dark rock

of the heart. The sacred language of
the body is
this thickness, white as water from a
hose, the pressure
making clearness a color, dense as spume,
the pouring, layers and layers
on blacktop after the fire’s
out. Temporary, a wading
till the grate swallows it, the firemen
tired, a bit
officious, roll up canvas and fasten
chutes, ladders, extenders with brass gadgets. Most

loveable when least heroic, like the Zen priests, shedding
their black
vestments, shaved boyheads emerging, the meditators after, brushing
the lint off their cushions.


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Monica Raymond is a poet and playwright, sometime essayist and photographer, general artist/teacher type, currently based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her play A to Z won the 2011 Ruby Lloyd Apsey Award for plays about race/ethnicity. She has now had work in 15 issues in a row of qarrtsiluni, which means that her work has passed muster with 15 different editorial teams—an unprecedented achievement.

Categories: Worship Tags:

The Capture

September 12, 2011 2 comments

by Monica Raymond

How does the tame
animal in the corral remember
the wilds from which she came?

Now is all order, champing
of given green, chafing
against content, peace, use.

Now the unseen flares up
in fence posts: once I was glory,
flame in the wilderness, now

I am house
bound, house broken.
The ranges
close in—each fence once

was wood, and each grass seed
flew through the air, bare-
back, equestrian splendor

in every guardian. That we
to this place came, how caught
not issue any longer, but that

we meet, above us
sky and night, a geode split,
the fractured crystals of what once

was whole spill
down on us like salt. How then
wage wild or tame

when all in this fenced place
came to reckon, vanish, held
together briefly, as by some force?

Unlikely stars, grass, horse, unlikely
us, galloping our read
and leaping where numbered

stanzas place boundaries on
boundless. Or hold us in it, all
remembering

dark wind, expanse, we
leaping choose to live,
not one captor and the other captive.


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Monica Raymond is a poet, playwright, sometime essayist and photographer, general artist/teacher type, currently based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s published all of the above genres (except plays) in previous issues of qarrtsiluni.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags:

Two homophonic translations from Old French and Provençal

April 27, 2011 4 comments

by Monica Raymond

Ballad of Dames in Jaded Time

after Villon

Tell me where, in what country
does Flora ring her bell of romaine,
encyclopaedic Thais
play footsy with cousin Germaine,
Echo, burbling like the Maine
rivers rushing over stone—
Beauty crows its human moan
Whose song? Negligees Downtown…

Where’s sage Eloise (once called Lui)
for whose love, chastened, stripped to skin,
Peter Abelard of St. Denis,
poor son, made monk where man had been?
Some blah blah, mine—oh, where’s the queen
who commanded Buridan
into a sack thrown in the Seine?
Whose song? Negligees Downtown…

Queen Blanche, white as a sheet or lily
chanting “why,” that voice a siren;
Bigfoot Bertha, Beatrice, Ally,
harem babes with tongues of men;
Joan, the good witch of Lorraine
who the English broiled at Rouen:
Where are they, weird sober wren?
Whose song? Negligees Downtown…

Prince, don’t ask this week, this year
why they ventured, where they’ve gone—.
Tunes rise up and disappear:
Whose song? Negligees Downtown…

* * *

Aubade

from the Provençal

Wake up, friend, you dormouse of a fried banana,
totally birds of the world speak of our love—
Leda, me and you.

Wake up, friend, who sleeps till freezing tomorrow
totally birds of the word, dizzy with our love—
Leda, me and you.

Totally birds do muddle the love, dizzy it,
do my love and do boss ‘em, my lying birds
Leda, me and you.

Totally birds do muddle the love caravan,
do my love and do vacillate and lie
Leda, me and you.

Do my love and do si do love, end and life,
you who tortures bones, rams ‘em to Siam
Leda, me and you.

Do my love and do vaseline emendations
which you told, tested, ram most of ‘em who push
Leda, me and you.

You tortured this bone, rammed it to Siam
and this forecasts these bevies of fountains—
Leda, me and you.

You tortured this bone, me who pushes—
as this seacoast, a fountain, is to the Bahamas—
Leda, me and you.

* * *

These are homophonic renditions. While they are ruled by the form and rhythms of the original, and to a certain extent by the content of the original as well, my choice of words is governed as much by sound as by sense.

The first is of a widely translated poem by Francois Villon, “Ballade des dames du temps jadis,” the refrain of which is usually rendered as: “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” I have long wanted to do my own, slightly cockeyed, version, which qarrtsiluni’s call for submissions gave me impetus to attempt.

The second poem I wrote about fifteen years ago while taking a course in the Provençal (Occitan) lyric in graduate school. I haven’t yet re-located the original of Aubade, though believe me, it has one — I could never have come up with those dizzying rhythms and surreal juxtapositions without a source!

*

Monica Raymond is a poet, playwright, sometime essayist and photographer, general artist/teacher type, currently based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s published all of the above genres (except plays) in previous issues of qarrtsiluni.

Notes on “Collateral Damage Noted”

December 22, 2010 2 comments

by Monica Raymond

On Memorial Day of 2005, I took part in a performance conceived by Tom Plsek at the large open plaza in front of Boston City Hall. “Collateral Damage Noted” was to be a sound meditation on the civilians killed in the Iraq war. The latest reliable figures place this total at almost 25,000, he wrote in his call.

Plsek’s idea was that musicians would stand in a circle and sound a note for perhaps ten or twelve seconds,then pause, averaging three to four long notes a minute. Each note was to represent the life and death of an Iraqi civilian. By his calculations, if a hundred musicians did this for an hour, we would have made enough notes to account for the Iraqi women, children, and non-combatant men killed till then.

I had signed up to participate, even though I was not, strictly speaking, a musician. In fact, in the fourth grade, I had been asked to just move my lips during “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” And more recently, the director of a play in which I was touring had barred me from a musical number — the history of Zionism set to the tune of Hava Nagila.

Was I just out of my mind, someone who had never set foot on ground steeper than a parking lot signing on for Annapurna? No, because in that same play, I’d had a solo — improvised wailing as I hung up banners with the names of massacres. Mournful wailing — there aren’t a lot of calls for it these days, and I’d just been hitting my stride when the tour ended. So when I saw Tom’s call for volunteers — voice, okay, he’d said — I jumped at the chance.

Plsek, a trombonist, had an elongated heron look, beaky nose, and eyes close-set behind pale glasses. Gradually, the musicians arrived. Most wore jeans, and looked well-worn and familiar, like travelers gathered in a hostel you’d met all your life in dreams. As we clustered in the center of the plaza, Tom read a quote from the Dalai Lama — basically that war is hell, and now that it’s automated, it’s even more hell. He wanted each note to be heartfelt, pure, beautiful, delivered with full attention, he said. After all, it was a human life.

We spread out in a large circle. To my left was a man whose wide wooden flute with conspicuous nodes was, he explained, a shakuhachi. His skirt, his shirt, his glistening closecut hair, the flute itself, all were the faint brownish golden tones of bamboo.

To my right was a tiny woman whose left arm was handless, ending at the elbow with a small curve, like a heel of French bread. She used it to support her instrument — a tiny trumpet with three stops. “A pocket trumpet,” she explained. Beyond her the musicians looked blurry and faint, as if seen across a chasm. Some listeners had settled onto blankets and towels at the center of the circle, as if the event were a beach party.

Now Plsek moved to the center, and the rustle of chatting ceased. He gave the signal to begin — raising his hands above his head, and then lowering them with a sharp flap, like a giant bird.

I began whooing away, counting the beats, Soon I became winded and breathless. Try as I could to make them even, each note seemed to come out differently. I thought of who they might have been — a short “ha” that ended unexpectedly quickly a five year old boy, the echoing ululation his mother, croak of a grandmother.

Tom walked around the circle holding a placard — we were a quarter of the way through. Across the concrete, I saw my old housemate Jen Bliss, with her Renaissance princess look, blowing her flute. Halfway round was Katt, small and compact, cap of dark hair bent over her violin. Sonorities of accordions, tiny Tibetan gongs — their concentric resonance filled the air. I closed my eyes and went back to sounding.

Now my breath lengthened. The sounds came out as “oh”s, keening and sorrowful. Sometimes the lives I signified were briefly real to me, the complex muscular length of a human body, a ghost image of a family sitting around a table, a father carrying his son on his back. Sometimes I threw my lot in with the shakuhachi, joining its cavernous unearthly tones. Other times I was just a machine for pumping sound, feeling underwater somehow, a whale or dolphin hooting through my blowhole.

I knew I was loud — I hoped not too loud. I opened my eyes to find Bob Raymond (no relation) staring back at me from inside the circle with his video camera. I guessed he had just shot footage of me, hair sticking up, eyes closed and diaphragm heaving. I felt stupid for not having realized this would be videotaped — Mobius Artists Group, of which Plsek is a member, documents everything. Behind Bob came Plsek with a placard — and I was surprised to learn that we had only ten minutes left to go. Rapt in the trance of my own sound, I’d somehow missed the midpoint.

These last notes came hardscrabble, fast and furious, like clambering up to the top of a small mountain. Eyes open now, I can see members of our circle blowing, bowing, gonging, chiming, as we try for the last few moments to embody the crowd of the faceless dead.

Plsek takes the center of the circle, and draws his arms down. Silence. For a second, it’s as if we have launched a huge invisible egg into the cosmos — we stand and watch it rise.

Then disheveled and somehow humble, like participants at a meditation retreat or a funeral, we mill about, touching each other’s instruments, The circle becomes fractal, like a coast full of inlets and crenellations,  finally dispersing completely as we cross over to those we’ve recognized on the far side.


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Monica Raymond won the Castillo Prize in political theater for her play The Owl Girl, which is about two families in an unnamed Middle Eastern country who both have keys to the same house. She was a Jerome Fellow for 2008-09 at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, among many other honors and awards. “Dreaming the World” was a prize-winner this fall in Caffeine Theater’s “Old Father William” Contest for poems influenced by Lewis Carroll.

Categories: The Crowd Tags:

Flag Woman

November 16, 2010 Comments off

by Monica Raymond

Flag woman by Monica Raymond
Click on image to view a larger version.

Cambridge Carnival. Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. August 2003.

 

Monica Raymond won the Castillo Prize in political theater for her play The Owl Girl, which is about two families in an unnamed Middle Eastern country who both have keys to the same house. She was a Jerome Fellow for 2008-09 at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, among many other honors and awards. Her poetry has been published in the Colorado Review, the Iowa Review, and the Village Voice.

Categories: The Crowd Tags:

Waiting to March

September 29, 2010 2 comments

by Monica Raymond

Waiting to March, Cambridge Carnival (photo by Monica Raymond)
Click on image to view a larger version.

Cambridge Carnival. Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. August 2003.

 

Monica Raymond won the Castillo Prize in political theater for her play The Owl Girl, which is about two families in an unnamed Middle Eastern country who both have keys to the same house. She was a Jerome Fellow for 2008-09 at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, among many other honors and awards. Her poetry has been published in the Colorado Review, the Iowa Review, and the Village Voice.

Categories: The Crowd Tags:

The Lears at Home

June 7, 2010 4 comments

by Monica Raymond

Regan broke things
by accident, Goneril
broke them on purpose, and Cordelia
was careful (careful!) and saved them, milky china girl
holding the does, thumbsized miniature piano
with gilt keys and a rose. That was before
they were fiends, when Goneril, if she wasn’t
winning, would only tear up the Monopoly money, saying
“It isn’t real money, anyway.” And how they would nudge
her, kick her, actually, at the end, saying
“Get up!” and “You’re not really dead,” which was less
consolation than you might suppose, as the
whole idea of us all being actors
when looked at closely
is less than reassuring, implying
that simply getting up and on cancels dread,
as if there were no politics or cruelty
in theater. Anyway, for Cordelia
acting the role was just like
playing the part, what with not having any good lines
or kisses and having to be banished
and then blindfolded for Gloucester and be pushed down
and be Kent in the stocks (though at least she got to yowl
for that one)–it’s no wonder she took up
tumbling to get attention. And Goneril would make them all
get off the phone, that hot tense silence
to listen for Edmund’s calls. She’d throw herself
at the cold whorled elements, ocean, storm,
hoping they’d cool her down. At first she’d hoped
he’d be like that, but soon saw he was too
sizzling, viperish, and Regan never told her
he could come on differently,
though pinching at odd moments.
Now they’ve learned to pause
for commercials. You can tell Goneril’s passions
by her coiffure, square cut, solid as
villainy, dits of liner like hard girls
in the fifties, her emphasis
soothing in its relentlessness.
Regan’s a pale poufy blond who talks kind, leaves you tired.
They talk about the old man,
how he runs up his phone bill, flies with his
cronies to Vegas, how they’re going to have to
put him in a home. Some smarmy practitioner
comes on, folks call in
aging parent stories. But it’s hard to keep
to this rhythm,
once you’ve seen that this play
is written and put on
by three girls, sisters at the edge
of puberty: the sex all hard hugs and partings, the vagueness
about strategics and real land values, small kings
schoolgirls in drag.
And the father, Regan trying to learn
to be Goneril, saying
lines you might invent for an absent man.


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Monica Raymond won the Castillo Prize in political theater for her play The Owl Girl, which is about two families in an unnamed Middle Eastern country who both have keys to the same house. She was a Jerome Fellow for 2008-09 at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, among many other honors and awards. Her poetry has been published in the Colorado Review, the Iowa Review, and the Village Voice, and her work has been selected for publication by every pair of qarrtsiluni editors for eleven issues in a row now.

Categories: New Classics Tags: