Sunday, October 29, 2017


FOUR POEMS by Susan M. Schultz

From “I want to write an honest sentence”

3 August 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about injury. When is analogy injury? When song mimes trauma, or the other way around, as if two girls singing “this girl is on fire” mimicked the deep state's heavy metal? A boy leaned into speakers at a London club, circa 1978, while the rest of us jumped up and down. There was a back door. That was no Khmer Rouge self-education camp. (“Does arm have a b on the end?” my daughter asks, thinking it like the word “numb.”) Memory is always already proximate, a dolphin leaning toward the pier to rub its nose against a cat. Or a hooded man bound to a metal bunk bed beside the other who will never leave the room. Or forged to resemble either. The man who was most kind to my parents writes that the statute was at fault for his conviction. Evasions of is as as. Sylvia Plath's angered me. Daddy didn't put you in a camp. One wonders how to punish someone who so ably punishes himself. Adding insult to injury, perjury to testimony. It's another thing if we're all implicated, wondering where the books we left in the mail room went on more than one occasion. Self-cratering is not self-care. My reliance here on sayings—buy the styrofoam bowl and add water to taste before putting it in the microwave—reflects the fault in my chest. That's an analogy for burning. Where in your body do you feel this lack of knowing anything? At Kilauea Iki the walls of the crater appear as scrims of rock; in each pile along the path there are black and orange rocks, and those whose surface is aluminum. At polite distances, ohi'a push out their tufted blossoms and spikes of grass bow. The lava field is a zendo of sorts. As we drove back from Kona, the volcano shone red in sulfur smoke to the right of Mamaloa Highway. “I'll always remember this day,” our other daughter said from the back. Whether or not that was an honest statement hardly matters; we cannot know what that verb form holds.

19 August 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about something else. Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Something Else. She lived on the windward side of a mountain that bled clear water when it rained. Something Else had a GPS whose voice took her Somewhere Else, a small cafe where music was unplugged and everyone spoke in measured tones about the return of the trade winds. Something Else wrote lists of the lists she needed to make, of socks and shoes, of people she wanted to meet, of the emotions she refused to feel. That she lost her scraps of paper to the wind hardly mattered; she had made something of her imagined life, something that mattered to her. It was material fact, even if Someone Else on the other side picked it up later, not knowing anything about her except that her culture mandated clean socks and laughter. When the dirty water sprinklers started, all the children screamed and ran off the field. One left the list behind, and words melted into themselves and the soil. Socks were sacks and laughter was a curve ball. Who's to say we should match fantasy to fact, when fact is so bad for us? Something Else kept writing lists of food she never ate, of team sports she never played, and of goals she never pursued. But she found the road to Sublimity, where the eclipse would occur. The event that is the lack of the only event of which we can be certain. Lucretius, brah, had nothing on the heliotrope in his garden. One could make a happy beginning after the minute of totality, or one could rest in the shadows. I want not to allude to tiki torches, though they do cast a dubious light. The politics of purity is clueless, no candlestick, no baseball bat, no back room or garden. So Something Else planted her own clues, putting down an air plant's roots and watering the air after the wind stopped. She tempted butterflies with her milkweed, listening for wings in the late afternoon light when sunset drew orange pencil over the mountain's lash. Those who shall be last are first, she thought, as she averted her eyes from the screen.

10 September 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about grief, the ways we claim it for ourselves as if we were assigned categories, like hurricanes. I was a five with him, and you but a three, or I achieved orange and you but a pale blue. My daughter wants to know what the colors in her book mean, but she knows that red assigns you the handmaid job. Outside, there's a bird, a motorcycle and Irma through the upstairs speakers. Behind the bird doves doo wop. I know a Honda from a Toyota more than this from that bird, or, names float separate from being. The alphabet keeper had a huge net with which she caught her letters, but names are another matter, requiring more net, or less noise. Because one student is blind, I required them either to pick up trash or to collect sound pollution. My husband sleeps on the couch as Hurricane Irma pounds one man in Naples, Florida. This one man is wearing a blue slicker and under his slicker is a helmet and beneath his helmet are goggles. I caught an early reference to the falling men, those who revisit us each 9/11 as horrible thuds on low-hanging roofs. My students took personally Ta-Nehisi Coates's lack of sympathy for the victims. Several demanded inspirational content. They loved his honesty, though. When I handed the shirtless Hawaiian man, seated on a patch of ground beside the post office with a large brown dog, a bag full of toiletries, he called me sista. Radhika wondered why not aunty, but of course he and I were of a similar age. Or he right for Nam, I for the ivy league. Let's do couples therapy with the book, I suggest in class. You read a section that angers you out loud, and then say only what you read. Tell me where in your body you feel it. If it's in the cone of uncertain grief, you've got your GPS. Grief positioning as an app, one you link to your smart phone, giving you time during the day to schedule your weeping and your denial. It's loss of control, isn't it, that ruins us, not even the symptoms that carry us there like medics in green helmets, their boots sucking mud out of the rice paddy. He was with a group of men who got separated from the others. When soldiers approached, he had no idea if they were friend or foe. Then he saw they were black, heard Sgt. Pepper blasting out of their tank. Later, he adopted a Cambodian child and married an East European woman he met on-line.

21 October 2017

I want to write an honest sentence but all the words have shifted or are locked in containers in the parking lots of our suburb. In the parking lots of our suburbs we hear the sounds of mynahs and chickens, but honest sentences are too soft to be heard. Too soft our ear when we turn to the general whose tales spin from the apparent air. Spin your tales with no names attached; they might drag you down like anchors. The fourth soldier wasn't found for days, his body too mutilated for an open casket. When you call the soldier's grieving widow, put on the tone of a holy man, not one holier than thou. In the holier than thou suburbs we sweep the homeless off our streets and stretch our arms out to the ocean's real estate. In the homeless ocean, particles of plastic lodge themselves in the stomachs of fish and albatross. The stomach is its suburb, ganglion like a demi-colon to which are attached the nets and buoys and sandwich wrappers that define us. Her autobiography consists of what she buys, and ours of what we waste. In the wasted suburbs a Filipina maid killed herself in the back garden, or did she? My husband's dental hygienist began with a flurry of Filipino jokes, because she is Filipina. In the suicidal suburbs one man turned on his car (twice) in the garage. The first time his son found him alive. Another shot himself on the lower floor, while his family sat above. He was successful the first time. In the suburbs our neighbor molested his daughter whose death was later ascribed to a fall. He was a saint to my parents. In the sainted suburbs we put our trash at the curb in bins so no one could see it. We kept our sorrows inside air conditioned rooms, our screams within brick walls. I want to write an honest sentence about such sorrows as arrive here uninvited. It's the dream, this particular trauma. Each day I walk my dog through unsettled air and feel a strange mix of grief and love. Our leader abuses us. The raisin has eight folds and four puckers and feels like leather in my mouth before I swallow it.
—for Stephanie Han


Susan M. Schultz is author, most recently, of Memory Cards: Simone Weil Series (Cambridge, UK, Equipage Press) and of several other volumes of memory cards from Talisman, Vagabond and Singing Horse Press. She also authored Dementia Blog and “She’s Welcome to Her Disease”: Dementia Blog, vol. 2 from Singing Horse Press. She has lived in Hawai’i since 1990 and founded Tinfish Press in 1995. She lives in Kāne’ohe on O’ahu with family and cheers for the St. Louis Cardinals.

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