Cloudbank 11 includes poetry by Lisa Lewis, Bill Brown, Andrea Hollander, D.G. Geis, Thomas Mitchell, Peter Schmitt, Kim Kent, and many others. Overland Park by Michael Malan, Towline by Holly Karapetkova, and Star Journal: Selected Poems by Christopher Buckley are reviewed.
Issue introduction by Michael Malan
Lost in Juarez
Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. I heard a few groans from the peanut gallery.
And yet his lyrics carry a power not often found in contemporary poetry. One of my favorite songs of his is “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (from Highway 61 Revisited). It starts with a bang:
When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez
And it’s Eastertime too
And your gravity fails
And negativity don’t pull you through
Don’t put on any airs
When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there
And they really make a mess outa you.
It helps, I think, if you can relate experientially to writing of any kind or style, but especially lyrics like these: Do you feel it in your bones?
Juarez, Easter, it’s raining, and pessimism has lost its charm. Lonely, in another country—just call home, right?
I cannot move
My fingers are all in a knot
I don’t have the strength
To get up and take another shot
And my best friend, my doctor
Won’t even say what it is I’ve got.
Well, yes, but paralysis has set in and it’s hard to text or call when your fingers can’t do the job.
Your ailment is mysterious, something deep in the soul. You try to hook up with Sweet Melinda, but that doesn’t work out; “she takes your voice /And leaves you howling at the moon.”
A series of adventures follow; you don’t get much help from the local constabulary:
If you’re lookin’ to get silly
You better go back to from where you came
Because the cops don’t need you
And man they expect the same.
Your doctor isn’t helpful. Neither are the police. What about trying to improve your socio-economic standing? “Up on Housing Project Hill / It’s either fortune or fame.”
On the poor side of town, as it turns out, success seems like an empty goal; there isn’t a lot of upward mobility. Nothing seems to improve. The “authorities” are not on your side. Someone named Angel ends up looking “just like a ghost.”
The song ends with these powerful lyrics:
I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they’d stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to bluff
I’m going back to New York City
I do believe I’ve had enough.
Hitting bottom can have a positive effect: with a little soul-searching, the truth—that there is no mystique in being on your own in a unfamiliar city—can set you free. Feeling lonely and out of touch is not a rite of passage. Home is not so bad after all. What you’re running away from can be worked out without drugs and alcohol.
The poetry in these passages is raw, but the message involves lessons that many people might not learn without going through the dissipation process on their own. They’ll want to let it all hang out. So, as Dylan says in another song (“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”): “Don’t say I never warned you / When your train gets lost.”
Walking along the Beach, High on Mushrooms, Christmas Day
by Kim Kent
Because that week a boy had lied to me, I would have tried anything
to let my mind take a walk along the water, wander
the dirt bluff trails free of anger or sadness, or the lingering
ghosts of his hands along my skin. Just a little dose,
the instructions said, for a good time. My friend and I,
side-by-side, stared out at the water, almost purple, moving
like a perfect sheet of glass. Behind us a father and son
watched a bald eagle atop a high bough and all of us stared
amazed by different things. I knew then, that this was it.
The great beauty no one else was seeing and the body alive
to itself: the vivid pulse of blood in my hands, the steps
we took floating, one after the other, with almost no
effort at all, the dark shadows of trees inked into place.
And after what was either no time or hours, we walked
back towards her car. The path getting darker and the sky
above the water pink, then blue, then purple. And then,
rounding the last curve, the whole sea appeared
below us as if we’d pulled back a curtain on a picture
window. The city in the distance twinkling, and the ferryboats
lit up, crossing paths like two mouths touching
and then, pulling apart. Everyone must have been out there.
Heading home or getting where they were going. We
watched until our eyes glowed with the dark, kept watch
for what we could no longer see clearly in the distance.
Poets and writers in Cloudbank 11
Bobby Steve Baker
Susana H. Case
Rich H. Kenney, Jr.
Sue Fagalde Lick
D. C. Miller
Susan Bucci Mockler
Tiah Lindner Raphael
Elaine M. Seaman