japonisme: 6/26/11 - 7/3/11

02 July 2011



Wherever the flamingo goes,
she brings
a city’s worth
of furbelows.
She seems

unnatural by nature—
too vivid and peculiar
a structure to be pretty,

and flexible to the point
of oddity. Perched on

those legs,
anything she does
seems like an act. Descending
on her egg or
draping her head

along her back, she’s
too exact and sinuous

to convince an audience
she’s serious.
The natural elect,
they think,
would be less pink,

less able to relax
their necks,
less flamboyant
in general.
They privately expect
that it’s some

poorly jointed bland
grey animal
with mitts for hands
whom God protects.

Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan, “Flamingo Watching” from Flamingo Watching (Copper Beech Press, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Kay Ryan.

(over to you, m. ghost)

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29 June 2011


i'd been considering this post for a good while now, smart and politically savvy, with videos that make today's washing machines look like miraculous sea creatures, and doing laundry appear similar to dancing the ballet. oh give me a break, i'd think. a chore is a chore. etc. then i saw this poem, and my vision was changed.


A round white troll with a black, greasy
heart shuddered and hummed "Diogenes,
Diogenes," while it sloshed the wash.
It stayed in the basement, a cave-dank
place I could only like on Mondays,
helping mother. My job was stirring
the rinse. The troll hummed.
Its wringer stuck
out each piece of laundry like a tongue--

socks, aprons, Daddy's shirts, my brother's
funny (I see London) underpants.
The whole family came past, mashed flat
as Bugs Bunny pancaked by a train.
They flopped into the rinse tub and learned
to swim, relaxing, almost arms and legs
again. I helped the transformation
with a stick we picked up one summer

at the lake. Wave-peeled,
worn to gray, inch
thick, it was a first rate stirring stick.
Apprenticed on my stool, I sang a rhyme
of Simple Simon gone afishing
and poked the clothes around the cauldron
and around. The wringer was risky.
Touch it with just your fingertip,
it would pull you in and spit you out

flat as a dishrag. It grabbed Mother
once--rolled her arm right to the elbow.
But she kept her head, flipped the lever
to reverse, and got her arm back, pretty
and round as new. This was a story
from Before. Still, I seemed to see it--
my mother brave as a movie star,
the flattened arm pumping up again,

like Popeye's. I fished out the rinsing
swimmers, one by one. Mother fed them
back to the wringer and they flopped, flat,
into baskets. Then the machine peed
right on the floor; the foamy water
curled around the drain and gurgled down.
Mother, under the slanting basement
doors, where it was darkest,
reached up that

miraculous arm and raised the lid.
Sunlight fell down the stairs, shouting
"This way out!" There was the day, an Easter
egg cut-out of grass and trees and sky.
Mother lugged the baskets up. Too short
to reach the clothesline, I would slide down
the bulkhead or sit and drum my heels
to aggravate the troll (Who's that trit-

trotting...) and watch.
Thus I learned the rules
of hanging clothes: Shirts went upside down,
pinned at the placket and seams. Sheets hung
like hammocks; socks were a toe-bitten
row. Underpants, indecently mixed,
flapped chainwise, cheek to cheek. Mother
took hold of the clothespole like a knight
couching his lance and propped the sagging

line up high, to catch the wind. We all
were airborne then, sleeves puffed out round
as sausages, bottoms billowing,
legs in arabesque. Our heaviness
was scattered into air, our secrets
bleached back to white. Mother stood easing
her back and smiled, queen of the backyard
and all that flapping crowd. For a week

now, each day, we'd put on this jubilee,
walk inside it, wash with it, and sleep
in its sweetness. At night, best of all,
I'd see with closed eyes the sheets aloft,
pajamas dancing, pillow cases
shaking out white signals in the sun,
and my mother with the basket, bent
and then rising, stretching up her arms.

Sarah Getty

From The Land of Milk and Honey, by Sarah Getty,
published by the University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
Copyright © 1996 by Sarah Getty. All rights reserved.

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26 June 2011



With rod and tackle box,
I'm slogging through soft sand,

a red sun going down in the surf,
swag-belly clouds drifting in

with Ray, only two months dead,
going on about girls that summer

we studied French in Québec and
guzzled Labatts at the Chien d'Or,

about how he'll marry again, keep
at it until he gets it right—
Pas vrai

Above the tide wrack, a woman
in a two-piece with half my years

kneels struggling in the sand
with a pillow of feathers,

one wing flapping—a pelican
tangled in fish line, treble hook

in the bill pouch,
the other in its wing.
Ray says, Ask her out for a drink

but she says,
Could you give me a hand?
I drop the tackle and secure the wing

while she croons to calm him and
with one free hand
untangles the line.

With pliers from the tackle box,
I expose the barbs and carefully clip,

a total of six loud snaps.
Then I hold
the bird while she frees
the last tangle

and we step back,
join the onlookers,
a father explaining care to his kids.

The pelican now tests his wings, rowing
in place. He looks around and seems

to enjoy the attention, just as Ray did
in bars, buying drinks and telling jokes.

But this college boy with a can of Bud
is no joke and says they watched it flap

all afternoon
from that deck on the dune.
His buddy agrees with a belch

that buys a round
of frat boy laughter.
Ray tells me the kid needs his clock cleaned

just when the pelican waddles up
and puts his soft webbed foot on mine.

He tilts his head to
catch my look, then
flapping runs into the air,
tucks his feet,

and climbs, turning over our small circle,
before heading west. Dazzled and dumb,

I'm faintly aware of the woman,
then gone,
weightless and soaring over water, looking

down on myself slogging through sand,
certain that I'm being watched,

if only by another self
who will have to tell how it happened.

Peter Makuck

From Long Lens by Peter Makuck. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Makuck.

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