Two things were challenging for me: the tone of
the original poem and its sexual content. I mean, Cathy’s deep into a project
of sex poems and I pretty much skitter away from the personal when it comes to
my writing (or so I think). So my first attempt was to translate what was to
my ear a rather impersonal & serious scientific tone into its opposite,
something personal and confrontational and maybe funny. But it’s very much a fiction not a memoir
(ha) and it seemed untrue to the challenge to not have myself more on the
line, as I normally would be when writing. When I read Cathy’s lines
beginning “When a body dies,” I became very wistful, remembering my own
partner’s cancer (now in remission) & the fears that accompanied it, and
the fact that he’s a couple of decades older than I to boot, and that put me
in a completely different place. Very retrograde of me to translate sex into
love (or naive, or something on the downhill side of romantic, or maybe just
boring) but the idea of taking the beloved’s cells into one’s body hearkened
to the ritual of eating the ashes of the dead—the frisson of the forbidden
(cannibalism) and the mystical possibility of ultimate union. ‘Til death and
then you don’t exactly part, or something.
The process got me to do things I wouldn’t
ordinarily do in a poem, and for that I’m grateful to Cathy & to the
folks who came up with the idea for this project.
A number of things in Janet’s poem got me thinking
about inversion: the funny/scary “inside” to “out” move, the heart digging in
(when it’s usually inmost already), the rhyming couplets (gorgeously subtle)
and certainly the male-male sexual innuendo, because homosexuality used to be
called “inversion.” Crazy old Krafft-Ebing said homosexuality fell into two
categories, “congenital” or “acquired” inversion. He saw both as deviant. I
decided to play formally with the notion of acquired inversion by turning the
lines inside out – I did a kind of homophonic mostly-backwards translation of
them. Then I turned the whole thing upside down, so J’s poem acquires an
inverse of itself (lucky J?). (“Rule the fool daddy” is a version of the
first line, “Body has the floor”; “No DNA” is a version of “and on”—etc.) The
“congenital” idea ended up outing itself via the birthing imagery, and I have
a vague postmortem idea that the poem wants to bang together congenital
inversion (content) with acquired inversion (form) so that they cancel one
another out, see you later Krafft-Ebing, see you later difference between
form and content. I think my poem is mostly nonsense, but maybe is a sort of
sad poem about what happens when people get born. That’s inversion too:
Janet’s poem is about grownup trouble, and mine starts out at the other end
of the telescope. I had a blast with this project; I loved digging into J’s
Come On by Janet Holmes
Body has the floor
and tickles its
Take it inside, gents.
The heart digs in.
It’s chase time: the
just over the yardarm,
The fun’s just
Night coming on
Holmes to Wagner
Time to come out, no-name.
Snuffle touch night.
Spume edge forced mother mad.
Saturated mighty. Says no.
Truth gets the knees.
View from noggin: neon rat bus.
Dog seal whelp.
Ticket diners. Stern Jesus.
Drawing room for love wart.
Slickit rough dry.
Rule the fool daddy.
The frictive surface is not the limit of the
The private cell beneath the surface has a
like a bead or nut and an
inverse aspect that joins it to
the other cells the lover’s
It is obvious
we know each other
and it is not to be said
can’t be, by the aspect of the cell
the lightning bellowing inside-out
Your cock between my asscheeks, the pipe
not yet rolled into the culvert
Culvert protects the road
water runs under the road.
Thus the people walk and shake hands
on top of the fucking.
When we’re living our cells are
a bell donged
the others vibrate.
When a body dies it can’t
any more spread lightning
from the friction surface
I want to play something with you
whereby the lightning strings that rabbit toward
my brain and shudder back
be plucked and set a-winging
the October cells
Wagner to Holmes 1
Frottage by Janet Holmes
You scout, rubbing your stick,
hoping for fire!
--working the warmth
that brings the curl of smoke up
to rise fractally in the air, a signal.
Send your friction signal to that one,
this one, me, a passerby
whose surface has not as yet
responded. Apparently you send it
allwheres. Friction, sir,
is conflict. Do I need your cells
throbbing against mine just now?
(Do you know what this one is?)
Nice cock, asshole.
One can smile and smile
and be, above the handshake,
villain. I’ve read your rapsheet:
I know your soi-disant
score. You might as well
be a dead man for all the spark
mustered by your lust.
Wagner to Holmes 2
trigger happy ready to shoot
Archived at http://lit.konundrum.com/poetry/holmeswagner_trans1.php