Elyse Fenton

of Portland, OR

Winner of the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award in 2013

Sweet Insurgent

Outside the flesh the wind's a hinge
broken both ways. Some forms
of breakage cause no real harm
but that's not why we're here. Pathei
mathos says Aeschylus, we suffer
into knowledge, but what if we only
suffer into dumb surprise? What-
what
? What-what? say the rotors
of my friend's helicopter just before
going down, rotors without lift, rotors
more heart murmur than murmur-
ation, but after impact he opened
the door & walked away. Hello
tenacious earth. Sometimes
you have to practice crying uncle
for years to make it stick.
Maybe because I don't want to be
sliced open I covet interiors, make
your addressalso my own
untouchable: Dear Hidey Hole, Dear
Den of Snakes. I even covet the hazard
music of your hands, their rain-on-
flashing, their morse'd every other note
pried up. In the Harm Disposer's
Handbook not every bomb can be
dismantled so it must stay buried,
one good ear bent & ticking in the dirt.

 
* * *
Poem originally published in Zyzzyva.

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Kevin Prufer on Elyse Fenton

These are such musically nervous, muscular, formally adept poems. They inhabit the familiar world of the daily news—the political vagaries of racial identity (set against the complexities of cell structure, the double helix, "blood's arterial traffic"), the many meanings buried in the word "human shield," the horror of a downed helicopter. But the news here comes filtered through an uneasy mind, quick to identify the double standard, the complexity beneath the familiar narratives we tell ourselves. "A mother I know just buried her son," this poet writes, "but that's only an expression. She had him turned to ash." Or, later, meditating on Picasso's Guernica and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," she concludes, "Oh my loveliest unlovely! Beyond the walls a bomber has always just exited the contrail-gored sky." These poems are certainly technically proficient and musically lively. But they are much more than that: they are alive to our historical moment, inspiring us to re-think our place in a constantly shifting political and ethical world. 

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