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Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire

by Brenda Hillman

Hardcover, 108 pages, Univ Pr of New England, List Price: $22.95 |


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NPR Summary

Fire — its physical, symbolic, political, and spiritual forms — is the fourth and final subject in Brenda Hillman's series on the elements. Here, Hillman evokes fire as metaphor and as event to chart subtle changes of seasons during financial breakdown, environmental crisis and street movements for social justice. She gathers factual data, earthly rhythms, chants to the dead, journal entries and lyric fragments in the service of a radical animism.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire

After A Very Long Difficult Day

You talk to your loved ones
at night. It is a kind of modernism:
color sees into you, thinks a warm path, a tint of meaning brought
from how you feel. Then, you are double:
the owl calls out, Tyto alba,
in your sleep — scrip scrr — heart-shaped face emitting loose nouns ... Under its turf,
the smart mouse turns; the fierce dead merge with the recently born
where earlier they emptied what you seek --

How will you be known? Some registered complaints. You passed them
in the hallway, their new haircuts. The bosses are known by new wars.
What salmon are left hurry upstream --
cold swaths in the bay. Linnets, by
rose fire at the edges — (linnet or finch?
the word edge has wings made of 'e' );
the moon rests in a mantle
of minutes, its boundaries in back of the trees. Boundaries
are known by their nothings — ;
you will be known by your dreams.

At The Solstice, A Yellow Fragment

Our lord of literature visits my love,
they have gone below, they have lost their way among the tablets
of the dead — ;

preeeee — dark energy — woodrat
in the pine, furred thing
& the fine,
a suffering among syllables, stops winter drops from cold, cold,
miracle night (a fox
deep in its hole under yellow thumbs of the chanterelles,
(no: gold. Gold thumbs, Goldman Sachs pays no tax ... (baby goats
in the pen, not blaming God, not blaming them --

(alias: buried egg of the shallow-helmet turtle
[Actinemys marmorata]
alias: thanks for calling the White House comment line))))

For your life had stamina
from a childhood among priests
& far in the night,
beyond the human realm, a cry released the density of nature --

Between The Souls & The Meteors

The ancestors turn in the sycamore, leaves like hunched-over squirrels.
A freeze might take the lemon tree. That thing of dozing "over a book,"
the writer just godpowder now. Miles up, sparks dragged through
meteors; miles down,
creatures eat rock mixed with fire —

Someone prays for you
even if you don't like it. Our suicides sleep in the mind of a word.
We want our mother
not to have suffered. Moonbeams snake where the tanoak shivers.
We want our father
not to have suffered, or the three cats, sprinkled with western dawn --

The little baby sleeps on his side, his dream face turned to the woods;
a fox sleeps with its mouth of color;
& the O in your head, the damaged vowel, where the skin rises to meet the wound,
what does that spell?
— i don't know, i don't know (since it got to go on living) but seems like basically it's kind of
a combination: everything means everything plus
there is no hidden meaning --

In High Desert Under The Drones

We are western creatures; we can stand for hours in the sun. We read poetry near an Air Force base. Is poetry pointless? Maybe its points are moving, as in a fire. The enlisted men can't hear. Practice drones fly over-head to photograph our signs; they look like hornets [Vespula] with dangly legs dipping in rose circles with life grains. They photograph shadows of the hills where coyotes' eyes have stars. They could make clouds of white writing, cilia, knitting, soul weaving, spine without nerves, dentures of the west, volcano experiments, geometry weather breath & salt. Young airmen entering the base stare from their Hondas; they are lucky to have a job in an economy like this. The letters of this poem are also lucky to have a job for they are insects & addicts & thieves. Volcanic basalt recalls its rock star father. Creosote & sage, stubby taupe leaves greet the rain. We hold our signs up. We're all doing our jobs. Trucks bring concrete for the landing strip they've just begun.

A cliff stands out in winter
Twin ravens drop fire from its eyes

My inner life is not so inner & maintains the vascular system of a desert plant. I'm grateful to Samuel Beckett & to my high school boyfriend whose drunk father yelled when we closed the door & read The Unnamable during the Tet offensive. They prepared me for this. Outside the base we see borax mines in the distance — the colors of flesh, brown, black, peach, pink, bronze. We stand there as the young airmen settle into their routine. The Gnostics noted it is difficult to travel between spheres, you've had to memorize the secret names & the unnamable haunts every aspect of your routine. The names grow heavier as you carry them between the spheres.

When The Occupations Have Just Begun

One style cannot complete the unknown.
You cry before others in autumn, a nature you must repeat to live.
Friends comfort you as they pass.
Obdurate cliffs drop into the sea as tears pour from your heart's intricate oddity. Acid soil slides down where anchovies spawn. A tender enigma shines in the clinging cypresses — ;
their roots recall the young hurt.

When people pitch tents in the streets their cries make earthquakes swell.
Rats & crows cross the fire zone
to visit assemblies, Danaus plexippus
between lender & being lent. Violent & less violent turn
on the wheel of night. When generators vanish, squat candles are lit.
You cry as the wounded leave & return.
So many years have failed to show what the unwanted wanted
to undo. You're told to stay calm, be reasonable & wait,
transfixed as you are by the public sphere but your body has been very
very reasonable so far,
your body is the archive of the world --

From Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire by Brenda Hillman. Copyright 2013 by Brenda Hillman. Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.