Catherine Wagner and Janet Holmes Poems




Janet Holmes Commentary


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.


Cathy Wagner Commentary


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 poem.





1. Holmes to Wagner


Come On by Janet Holmes


Body has the floor

and tickles its tentacles forward,

more-ward, troweling.


Take it inside, gents.


Please, God:

Butt out.


You’ve gone subterranean.

The heart digs in.

It’s chase time: the sun

just over the yardarm, no umps,

no refs.


The fun’s just starting.

Night coming on

and on.




Holmes to Wagner


Incoming by Cathy Wagner



Time to come out, no-name.

Snuffle touch night.


No fur.

Spume edge forced mother mad.

Saturated mighty. Says no.

Truth gets the knees.

View from noggin: neon rat bus.


Tow tub.

Dog seal whelp.


Ticket diners. Stern Jesus.


Drawing room for love wart.

Slickit rough dry.

Rule the fool daddy.




2. Wagner to Holmes


Division of Fire by Cathy Wagner


The frictive surface is not the limit of the touching.


The private cell beneath the surface   has a


closed aspect     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

  that shares reality,

the lightning bellowing inside-out


    the cell.




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


into the


connected halls.




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




inside out.






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


Love Poem by Janet Holmes


Your body is mine and then

comes a day it will not be,

mine or yours, its cells back to their

soil, their air, not ours and some

taken back into me private

to age me, like radiation

or lightning, invisible, and if

that is us closer than fucking

made us, if it will be

more intimate if you inhabit

rather than touch, like a special

vitamin or hidden disease, I won’t

close off to it and even thinking

you into me just now like that

like when I hear you say

my name quiet like even now

makes me touch-ready breath-

ready every cell waiting

trigger happy ready to shoot




Janet Holmes is author of four books of poems, most recently F2F (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006). She is director of Ahsahta Press at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, where she is a professor in the MFA Program in Creative Writing.


Catherine Wagner is the author of Macular Hole (Fence, 2004), Miss America (Fence, 2001, and various chapbooks, most recently Hole in the Ground (Slack Buddha, 2008) and Everyone in the Room is a Representative of the World at Large (Bonfire Press, 2007). She teaches at Miami University in southwest Ohio.



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