141.1: Devon Branca:: Tape of “Jesus Explains What He Learned About Being Human, Prior To Explaining What It Felt Like To Be A Sea Horse” & The Children’s Theater, 1985-87 & A Black Cat, a Table, a Wrist Full of Copper Bracelets & A Porcelain Figurine in Our Blocked Airway; or, A Poem of Winter, 1937 141

I have a new phone and none of my contacts made it over. A weird thing has begun happening – I receive thoughtful, intimate text messages from friends and am not able to place them. When I was a kid I knew my friends’ numbers; now, maybe, with Google and the area code I can suss out a vague idea of who might have sent a text. Of course I could just ask, but sometimes it’s nice to show up at the Cineplex and be surprised. I have to keep myself amused. Yesterday, when preparing Devon Branca’s introduction, I received this text: “You were in my long weird dream. Something about babysitting a kid before he moved to Helsinki, a parade, a house that had lots of ladders and lofts, and little bright plastic animals.”

I feel this way when I read Branca’s poems, like I’ve just made a cameo in someone else’s dream. The figures are familiar but they are not my own. When presented with the name “Naomi Norin” in “A Porcelain Figurine in Our Blocked Airway; or, A Poem of Winter, 1937,” I thought for a moment that I’d been presented with a person that I knew, a tangible locked in my own windpipe. I spent twenty minutes Googling Ms. Norin and came up with nothing beyond genealogy charts and old census data. Though the name rang a bell, resemblance was all the name amounted to, a vague shadow to something in my memory or family history. The poems here shift and are able to occupy all space, all time. There’s a universality to the speaker’s minute observations. Each of the poems in Branca’s selection I answer with what I answered that person yesterday, “That sounds like a wonderful dream. I wish it were mine. Who is this?" Nik De Dominic

Tape of “Jesus Explains What He Learned
About Being Human, Prior To Explaining What
It Felt Like To Be A Sea Horse”

“Some shirts blowing in the wind, cartwheels,
our hands and feet growing roots (over),
being plucked (and over),

for the large celebrations,
we sacrificed a baby carriage, a coffin,
but they bled only carnations, so we

yelled fatly at the sky
because the sky was the closest window we could find
to an open ear.

* * *

Awkward, but without shame.”

The Children’s Theater, 1985-87

We were dressed up like the prayers of the old in the dark,
talking to the prop boy with the gun, asking him to spare
our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our friendship—all
melting out the door, turning to liquid what had been sculpted,
the bloodstreams of our ghosted forms, our nervous
dance, save them all but me—I’m willing to die
but none said it, none, the unable to act, to feel
what we felt, to know one thing, dressed up
and wondering if we should blame the ones we wanted to be
                                          or the people we pretended to play?

A Black Cat, a Table, a Wrist Full of Copper Bracelets

Mom, I see your stained-glass mother at the rummage sale.
She says she hasn’t seen you in years and buys a table
painted to look like the grass after it’s rained,
a black cat under her arm. From inside your stomach
I was born, swallowed once before. Because each year
is the same fistful of Christmas cards with the names crossed out
and arrows drawn. I was born at night and thus we,
the tightrope lines of the sun, continue to arrive,
the always leaving, soon-to-be-missed children; window adults.
You tell me how to play house by building rooms
out of smaller tables. You’re on the phone telling your mother
this is the end, the last time we’re exchanging clichés.
A dinner with the family’s conversation, the family’s treed streets
and treed heads, the background building rooms into people
and such rooms back into tables. Your mother explains
that the table is for the black cat who likes to look out the window
at you and us and the guessers with our crayons and butcher paper
running around and looking for ornate tombstones. Her psychiatrist called her crazy,
so she blamed you, pushed you to the ground. Such a hot day, the rain sizzles
and the air gets hungry, the rain sizzles and the cat swallows your mother,
who screams and screams. The cat’s fur so soft and clean
that eventually one gets used to the sound, passes it off
as the house settling against the torn-open ground. While here,
fields in fields away, I stare at a lamp and its light
and how each diffuses to the other, the outline elusive,
like the sun’s repeating. This room pretending
to be a cat, placing dishes on its stomach, drinking milk
out of the moon’s embrace. Your mother is dying,
fading from this room. It is nearly night. Come tomorrow,
there’ll be nothing left to collect, no photo albums or afghans;
you took what you wanted when your father died. And the cat
is to be buried with her, curled around her frame. Come tomorrow,
when I call, you say, “Do you think I’m a good mother?” You pause.
I pause. You say, “It’s not wrong to want to be free.”

A Porcelain Figurine in Our Blocked Airway;
or, A Poem of Winter, 1937

Not the musician, nor painter,
nor dancer schooled in the dialogue
of life learned through the senses

can make Naomi Norin react.
She is the book from which she reads,
the one and only book folded within her arms.

And so the clouds, men, hills, chairs,
mangoes, barbers, subways, are the joints of her body.
Awkwardness was never born in the hallways

of her hands moving through her sleeves.
She puts on her clothes, takes them off. A truth
in nudity whose second skin is less than nothing,

or if a distance traveled, then the distant world.
A visible puppeteer tying rocks to her feet:
I must stay on the ground. I am the rock

on which the fairies and the macabre need to stand
on tiptoe
. Naomi’s statue in the fountain.
It is November, the wind is making ice.

A gleam flows around her, branches break,
her arms filling with bones and brittle houses.
She has never been the dead.