Charlene Fix

of Columbus, Ohio

Winner of the lou_ham_mem_awa_20120706_125307 in 2011


I prefer to pound stakes
through the flapping canvas of my tent
on the outskirts of Vertigo.

It's windy there but possible to walk,
and desolate but nothing more: sleep
populates the desert in dreams.

And when I wake, daring, barely, to turn,
I remember how, in the center of Vertigo,
everything spins, how the flounce

of that feminine city flares out.  Those
who have journeyed there agree:
matter behaves spasmodically in Vertigo,

and few can explain, though implored,
why this is so.  You'd need a thousand
aproned carpenters to crucify the walls.

Vertigonians learn to live, lacking control.
Plates fly up.  Dinner congeals.  People
pass from left to right while remaining still.

Only the blind are spared the onus of seeing,
the mute spared the onus of saying.
Vertigo's dancers can spot incredibly well.

In spite of all this, every now and then
I leave my tent, drawn to the rhythms
and flickering lights of Vertigo.

I aim at vestiary protocol and
leave my Bedouin parlor, its rugs
and lamps and squat barometer,

its jars of passion and silence sealed
while minuscule wings creak me farewell
and a whirlwind of volumes tells me I'm near. 


David Lehman on Charlene Fix

The category ("in the surrealist manner") turns out to be highly flexible and in no way constrained by association with Andre Breton and the Surrealist program he and confreres introduced in France. Many entries are impressive on their own terms, and it is a pity that I can single out only a few for special commendation. After repeated readings, "On the Outskirts of Vertigo" delighted me most. I admire the way the poet spins out the conceit of a land where vertigo is the norm. The assorted repetitions of the word — it appears in stanzas 1, 3, 4, 7 and 8 —  are shrewd, and the idea of "Vertigonians" sums up the metaphor in a single word.  There are verbal felicities: "the flounce / of that feminine city" flaring out; "the onus of seeing" as parallel to "the onus of saying." The poem's regular three-line stanzas go oddly well with the strangeness of a place where gravity is routinely defied and people can "pass from left to right while remaining still."

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