The Poets of “We Are United”

The “We Are United” Hurricane Benefit at La LUNA last Friday raised money and collected donated items to send down to people affected by the recent hurricanes. The event featured performances by musicians, comedians, and writers from the central Ohio area. Here we have collected the works of the three writers and video of their performances.

Mansfield, a Love Story by Llalan Fowler

You fall like rust off an unused warehouse, you sound like broken glass under my heel, you taste like the lead paint curling down walls in your empty Gothic homes. You scream like the trains passing through every morning at two and you are as silent as the empty storefronts whose dusty windows throw back a dirtier version of myself. Mansfield, you birthed me, you raised me, and I left you.

I tried out other cities. I felt the pinch of DC’s high heels, the soft hoods of Boston’s fur-trimmed winters, the wet armpits of New York’s commutes in the summer subway. And all the while I was away, I felt your pull. The gravity of family and history and people who mean what they say. The instant I crossed Ohio’s border toward parts unknown, I became an Ohioan. One of the few things about myself I can never change, my hometown became me.

When I came back home, Mansfield, I was defeated. I couldn’t look you in the eye. I couldn’t tell you that DC wanted a fight, that Boston stole my heart, or that New York took all my money. I couldn’t tell you how close I was to just never coming back.

But you didn’t care. Instead you embraced me and revealed yourself to me slowly, shyly. Rich in thought, love, and art in ways other cities envy. You are repurposed, reconditioned, and we dance in your abandoned buildings, sing in the shadows of your rail yard silos.

I am narrow brick alleys and I am hundred acre plots of corn. I am brilliant white trilliums in spring and rank ginkgo berries in fall. I am the wait for summer and winter to end. We are the thrift stores, the bowling alleys, the bars with reputations, the long tin-ceilinged shops, the wrought iron balconies, the liquor stores, the galleries, the square that isn’t. We are long uninterrupted stretches of forest and we are deer and we are hunters. We are you, Mansfield, and we are home.

Untitled by Nick Gardner

Allen Grossman has said that “the poem is always a record of failure.”

I was working just outside Baton Rouge when Hurricane Isaac hit. The memory is like looking in a fogged-over mirror with some opposite self, backwards, lashing down trailers with winches. The winds found gaps in the wood over windows and made those gaps sing, wildness whooshing around my helplessness and the rain swishing its violent clumsy skirt. I grasped for words to describe this nature and its moods, attempting to distill the storm into stanzas. I thought of nature in poetry, from the pastoral to Whitman praising spiders and the grass, from the divinity in nature expressed by Dickinson to the escapism that goes from Wordsworth to Thoreau. As if by putting nature into words we can control it. These wild winds are wings I nestle under. This rhyme an umbrella. Trees snap in half and sail across the lawn easy as a wish.

I sat outside during Hurricane Isaac. Under the overhang of the roof, the earth’s noise was too loud to talk, too violent to listen. I smoked a cigarette in this beautiful tantrum. Inside me was a battery of urges ready to open fire. A tornado of brokenheartedness, war between guilt and forgiveness. Was this feeling love or terror? I think of William Blake in his poem “The Garden of Love.” How he uses the concepts of nature and love interchangeably. They become metonymy: within the word nature exists love, and love also contains nature. Both terror and love exist within the natural disaster, and the natural disaster exists within both terror and love.

Five years later I’m back in Ohio. A friend of mine tells me a story she read about a woman who, after the rains of Hurricane Harvey had subsided, walked 5 miles to a Suboxone clinic rather than picking back up the needle. When I hear this story I realize I love this woman. There was something like fate that drove her on through floodwaters, through wind damage. The earth’s unabating fury and the woman’s unabating urge. That earth must forever batter itself like the woman must forever find her fix. James Arlington Wright says “The wheat leans back toward its own darkness/ and I lean toward mine.”

There is a synthesis that exists between the storm and the stanza. Wordsworth, in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads speaks of the poet writing most effectively from state where he is the imitation of the experience he once had. It is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”As I imitate the storm, I spill over. I am thrust into that tangled fury of wind and rain and brush, of drug addicts, criminals, and convicts. I am clobbered with a garbage can in flight. I am in love and I am heartbroken. I am wrenched along behind that determined, addicted woman, dragged through the ditch in the wake of things I no longer have to experience. I no longer need to decide between the needle and a five mile walk. But each successive storm is a reminder, a verse in this poem of the hurricane within and the furor outside ourselves. It is only a reminder of the paroxysms of the earth and the paroxysms of the heart.

Responding to #AllLivesMatter,
by Jason Kaufman

Are you fucking kidding me?
I mean, of course, all lives matter,
but black lives
have the tendency
to die in jail cells
for no crime at all
or for peddling loosies
to buddies at the corner store,
so you’ll excuse me for emphasizing
#BlackLivesMatter,
which is not a condemnation
of your whiteness, no
#BlackLivesMatter
is a love letter
between black brothers and sisters.
A reminder to themselves
that black bodies,
hearts,
minds
are lovelier
than slave ships.
Lovelier
than fields of cotton.
You are not 3/5ths lovely,
you are lovely
from your head to your feet.
Lovelier
for those parts of you
I don’t understand,
the shared history of your people
and my people’s denial
and my tripping over my tongue
’cause I don’t know how to say it,
that I’m sorry for my complicity,
that I’m sorry
for every time I let the racist joke slide by
and laughed,
or worse,
imagined I saw some truth in it.

It’s time I own my complicity.
It’s time I own stop and frisk.
It’s time I own,
70 percent more likely to be pulled over.
It’s time I own,
8 times more likely to be gunned down.
It’s time I own,
40 percent less likely to rise beyond the economic situation you were born into.

So I will repeat this poem
with passion
until
#ICantBreath,
just to get a sense of how
Eric Garner felt,
because you are not a dead body
left in the road for 5 hours.
You are not an invitation
to vigilante justice.
You are lovelier than fields of cotton.
#BlackLivesMatter
is a love letter.

I Am Not I, by Jason Kaufman

We are genetic-made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I,
I am my mother,
and she carries within her a non-recombinant coda
replicated without change
since Mitochondrial Eve.
A phenotype expressed
for 200,000 years.
The genes the same,
the body, heart, and mind the same.
Only frivolous alterations
to the wardrobe have been made.
There is no end to the simulation.

We are television-made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I,
I am Jordan Catalano,
and this is my so called life.
Quiet bad boy,
full of dark matter.
The kind of dumb that sparks with insights
he cannot name.
And he is every grunge poet,
modeled on every existential absurdist.
Lovers of the void
that kills them.
There is no end to the simulation.

From the page we are made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I,
I am Arthur Rimbaud,
and Rimbaud is the seething
bad blood of a mongrel race.
Taking a blade to Verlaine,
taking a blade to everything known,
every folk tale, every moral,
every unquestioned cultural meme.
Reveling in the blood,
and the wound like lips
pouring forth the nuance of a word first spoke,
but no word is spoken once
and anything said twice is useless to the poet,
so like Rimbaud, I too will give up words
for something I can touch: african sands,
caravans, and some king’s money.
There is no end to the simulation.

From the page we are made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I,
I am Jalaluddin Rumi,
and Rumi is ten generations
of desert mystics,
with only words for flowers,
and you are Rumi
and Rumi is God
and I am his Bride.
You fill me with your womb-blessing
until the vessel of my body shatters
and I fall towards the glassblower’s breath.
I am reborn in his image.
Rumi, God, Bride,
Rumi, God, Bride,
There is no end to the simulation.

We are quark made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I,
I am a great ghost waltz.
What you see before you is impossible,
a palanquin of air carried forth on sylphic shoulders.
Trace backward this labyrinth of atoms
and discover it’s all born from nothing.
A holographic essence.
Quarks snagging telepathic codes
from entangled partners.
Information replicated without digital degradation.
My image reflected endlessly
in each node
of Indra’s
net
of diamonds
It drapes the earth,
but draw back the cover,
draw back the cover,
draw back the cover,
but you will not find the lover.

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