Ari Banias

Winner of the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award in 2019

CURRICULUM


View with a cathedral in it,
sooty. Fountain with the face of a merman
about to spit water through
chipped lower lip but
holding it in.
Another postcard rack.
Another stall at the market
displaying African waxprints
on tote bags, dresses, broad skirts
sold by a white man. I copy a list
of French colonies and their dates
into a blank white notebook.
On a bed of ice
haphazard piles of silver-grey fish. "The eye
should be clear," said my mother.
I don't want to look
at the eye. What's visible
from inside a Brutalist building.
Institutional green
linoleum tiles c. 1961, of a sturdy kind
the year my mother emigrates.
What's visible alongside
a nearly motionless canal.
Alongside a river
brownish-green, predictable,
romantic, like a few-weeks fling
that soon splits in two directions.
Irrepressible bodies of water
surrounded by buildings from centuries prior
whose filigrees gather soot
as excess definition.
Wreathed in trash
something classical
and repulsive endures.
The exterior of the famous museum
once a fortress
is powerwashed
behind large scaffolds fitted with tarps
screenprinted to mimic
the exterior of the famous museum.
One vertical band of newly-washed portion
bare and ridiculous beside the
car-crammed thoroughfare. Piss
against trees and walls and the seams where walls meet
trickles and stinks like a moat.
In a concavity where the likeness
of another wealthy person once stood
pigeons sit.
The oxidized face
of a statue of some goddess
streaked in it.
In the gay club the dancer showers in front of us live
behind glass coyly
not revealing his dick
while screens project him digitized
in slight distortion on either side of him.
He snaps a small white towel
in front of himself and keeps it up
against the glass with his own weight.
Under this dancefloor
across from the bathrooms
a red room cordoned off.
It doesn't have to be there to be there.
At the market's end
bruised tomatoes, nectarines
so soft they're left for free.

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Kevin Killian on Ari Banias

Out of a sheaf of ambitious, excellent poems "Curriculum" proved the most enjoyable, as what begins as a casual tour of an unnamed (European?) city devolves as a study of the human body at its cleanest and most messy. I've been reading Mary Douglas' classic essay Purity and Danger, and I think the late structuralist anthropologist would have gotten along splendidly with the anonymous author of "Curriculum."

The poem might be the musings of a tourist with an eye for the picturesque and another for the grime of urban life.  These points of view sometimes switch category in favor of paradox: thus the cathedral is sooty, as "buildings from centuries prior" come with "filigrees [that] gather soot/ as excess definition."  There's the postmodern paradox of tarps on a scaffolded museum undergoing power washing, tarps designed from photographs of the actual walls they hide.  On the more secular side, our witness finds a gay bar in which "the dancer showers in front of us live," but behind glass (like a work of art).  Presumably to circumvent the law, the dancer slips a little hand towel between the glass and his crotch; with such pressure on either side, this little towel becomes the punctum of "Curriculum," the tipping point between wet and dry, dirty and clean, authenticity and mimicry.  The seven final lines glow with Imagist precision, and I take them as reminders that sex "doesn't have to be there to be there" in the poet's vision of the "market's end."

 

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