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Rusty Morrison: California Poets Part 4, Six Poems


Rusty Morrison


December 29th, 2021

California Poets: Part IV

Rusty Morrison

Six Poems



notes from the understory (level 36, first room) I’m transferring from one BART train to anther going in the opposite direction—I’m not ready to go home. My mind is a thing that’s no longer a functioning conveyance of thinking. I hear metal scraping metal as sparks burn to cinder any meaning I understood. In my mouth, I taste bitter metal— all that’s left of what I couldn’t say to my husband last night when he told me his cancer prognosis. Sparks fill my mouth, I spit blood. Scabs form. In my pocket is a page torn from the Sunday NY Times Art Section a photo of a painting by Jenny Seville. She painted a woman’s face covered in scabs, her eyes staring off to the left, the way my mother’s eyes stared, just after she died— open but inwardly following what seemed to me endless transfers.


notes from the understory (level 36, second room) A medium is an intervening substance through which something is communicated or altered. I am a cracked window in an abandoned house. Rain uses me as its medium to change everything to its likeness. The crack becomes a medium that lengthens until it disappears in myriad pieces of broken glass. Now, I am a medium traipsing from one BART train to another, picking up gum and cigarette ash on the sole of one shoe. A young girl is sitting on the BART train I board. I take a seat beside her. Her face hasn’t been washed in days, its grime is a medium we let mingle between us. She’s a girl who isn’t any other child I’d noticed on BART before, but exactly this girl who looks straight into my eyes, giving me eyes again, even as my eyes crack into fragments, and rain pours in, neither of us looks away.


notes from the understory (level 36, third room) Translation is a thing arriving, an impregnation— one material is delivered or its delivery is denied. It may develop impossible properties, contradictions, self-saturations. Last night, a translation locked its steel door and kept me from understanding the doctor’s report of my husband’s treatment-resistant cancer prognosis.


notes from the understory (level 37, first room) My vertigo is no better than it was. I turn on my nightlight anyway, open H.D.’s TRIBUTE TO FREUD to find the sentence that I return to, but the words double against each other, leaving only an echoing of a “lost idea…taken out of the actual daydream or dream.” If I close my eyes, my blanket’s heaviness and warmth become a placenta feeding me burning redwoods, one charred branch, one blackened squirrel-pelt, at a time. My pillows are heavily-weighted storm-clouds, thick to bursting. But no cooling rain comes.


notes from the understory (level 37, second room) I try again to read H.D.’s TRIBUTE TO FREUD, but my vertigo is worse today. The bedroom elongates, ceiling and floor both give a small stretch-marked sigh and expand. H.D. is in my ear warning me: “any freak-thought, over-thought, will overwhelm you.” In my whirlpool of concerns about every deadline I’ve missed, every bill left unpaid, I can’t resist being drawn deeper, to its bottom. There, I have work to do, scrubbing the mold off of all that I refuse to remember. I wear to bed a black night-shirt that is sometimes made from the feathers and claws that are all I have of the mockingbird a stray cat killed and left on my back porch. Now, silence lives in the tree outside my window. Sometimes my T-shirt is made of the mother-hands that wrapped around me while I slept beside her in our one bed— hands that I could feel were sometimes feathers, sometimes claws.


notes from the understory (level 37, third room) A T-shirt can sometimes unravel, the way a vertigo can extend its threads to spiral backward into the gone-place, and forward into the not-yet. I hear H.D. murmur that vertigo lets me glimpse how I only ever see in myself the “reflection of a reflection.” I’m walking in Holy Sepulcher, the cemetery I used to visit with my grandmother before her stroke. We’d put plastic roses and daisies on the family graves. Now, when I go, I must walk heavily. The dead beneath my feet won’t easily recognize me without her beside me, won’t easily open their empty eyes to let me enter their long, tunneling gaze. A life can sometimes unravel—the way a T-shirt goes thread-bare at its selvedge edge. Each of those threads can be a useful marker of the way I’ve come, when the dead let me walk into what they see. What H.D. might mean when she talks of places where “writing can continue to write itself, and thus be written.”



Author Bio:

Poet, critic, and publisher Rusty Morrison was a teacher for 19 years before earning her MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California. Her first book, Whethering (2004), won the Colorado Prize for Poetry; her second, the true keeps calm biding its story (2008), won a Sawtooth Poetry Prize, a James Laughlin Award, a Northern California Book Award, and a Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America. Morrison’s other works include After Urgency (2012), winner of the Dorset Prize, Book of the Given (2012), and Beyond the Chainlink (2014).

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