The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

  DIANN BLAKELY TRIBUTE

    by Hélène Cardona

 

 

Farewell, Our Lovely

Taking notes as if the world might disappear

 

 

Diann Blakely, soul sister, dear friend, one of the greatest, most exquisite poets and human beings to walk this earth, passed away too soon. It was with great shock and sorrow that we learned the news, August 5, 2014. She suffered from a chronic lung disorder that kept her bed-ridden much too often. She hated the hospital visits and the forced breathing apparatus. Yet she remained very active (until the end), writing poems, letters, reviews and essays, many emails, and sharing conversations on the phone. She lived to read and write and share other poets’ work as well as her own. I was in awe of her resilience and grace. She was a wild spirit, incredibly loyal, generous, passionate, relentlessly promoting the work of others. She had integrity and heart. I don’t know where she drew her energy from, she appeared indefatigable. She was thirsty for life and art, and had a great love for cinema and music. In her blog Abacus: Lines Drawn in Sand, she confides:

“I’m neither interested in polemics nor encampment thinking, i.e. anything that ends with ‘–ism.’ If I currently pledge my allegiance to received forms and poetry that is rhymed and metered–but not metronomic or singsong–that doesn’t mean I condemn free verse, and certainly not prose poetry, which fascinates me increasingly as a subgenre. I read as a writer. Louise Glück once claimed to feed, vampire-fashion, on the manuscripts she received as Judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets; I’ve used a similar analogy, but drawn from the sea, though told it was ‘unpleasantly shark-like.’ But except for a fifteen-year exile in a landlocked state, which made me feel horridly claustrophobic, it seems natural to express my process of living and writing as swimming ceaselessly through currents, searching, always searching, sensing on my skin the very vibrations that lead to the next subject, the next poem, the next image…”
In an essay for Chapter 16, she wrote: “I should note that I don’t consider myself a literary critic. Rather, I am a passionate, studious, unfashionably earnest reader and an advocate for the books—especially books of poetry—I care deeply about.”

Diann and I were so grateful we found each other. We shared a close bond. We recognized many facets of ourselves in each other. Even though we came from different backgrounds we had gone through similar heart-wrenching experiences. “I’m very private and reserved, Hélène, with a kind of surface bravado or performative cheer, but I let very few close to me, and call it instinct or what you will, but you are one of those people with whom I feel instantly at home.” This was completely reciprocal. She would write to me: “I’m going to sleep away my nightmares, till they’re all gone, then awake to much love, light, and laughter,” and add: “No matter how unreasonable the hour, you’re always there.” Albert Schweitzer said, “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Diann was deeply saddened by her inability to get more recognition. “I feel downright invisible, and angry about it because I feel my status has something to do with being female and disabled.”


She was born on June 1, 1957 in Anniston, AL. After graduating with a B.A. in Art History from the University of the South in 1979, she received an M.A. in Literature from Vanderbilt University in 1980 and an M.F.A. from Vermont College in 1989. She taught at Belmont University, Harvard University (as Seamus Heaney’s teaching assistant), and Vanderbilt University, led workshops at two Vermont College residencies, and served as Senior Instructor and the first Poet-in-Residence at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, where she received a citation from the University of Chicago for excellence in teaching before turning to writing full time. A Robert Frost Fellow at Bread Loaf, she was a Dakin Williams Fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, at which she had worked earlier as founding coordinator.


Her first collection, Hurricane Walk (Boa Editions, 1992), was listed among the year’s ten best by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was hailed as “an extraordinary first book . . . an intensely personal and passionately objective collection” by Charles Guenther in “Best of 1992.” 


Pat Monaghan asserted in Booklist, “Blakely plunges you right into the emotional heart of each poem, mincing no words as she creates an extraordinary picture of contemporary life . . . A poet to watch.”


Joyce Peseroff avers in Ploughshares, “Throughout Hurricane Walk, her first collection, Blakely shows herself capable of providing art’s sly double vision, poems offering the equivalent of the word red printed in green ink . . . Hurricane Walk is rich in wit, humor, and irony, from the ingenuous opening line of ‘Planning a Family’ (‘I love and want babies—my husband could have them’) to the subtler, supple metaphors of ‘Go in Good Health.’ … Her lines lope . . . the effect is that of a song hummed under the poet’s breath.”


In his foreword, William Matthews writes, “For her, desire is itself a value rather than a tool to mine or refine value. What haunts her poems is this question: Is desire a transitive or intransitive verb, or, as the French could say, a reflexive verb?


Because the answer is ‘all of the above,’ her book is, like our heads, full of alternative lives and roles. They’re both a variety and an identity, the way bees are both separate and part of the hive … [Blakely] knows that perfection is an alluring but bad choice, and thus a choice between two perfections is a sham. She also knows that in poetry, at least when she is the poet, you can hope to embrace rather than to choose …


[Blakley] knows everything she knows all at once, word by word, line by line, poem by poem. These sly poems are spare and ample, both. They’re cool and passionate, frank and opaque, artful and true. They’re not about what it means to be right—though they acknowledge and even embrace this fatal ambition—but about what it means to be us.”


In his review for Arts and Humanities, Frank Allen states, “Combining a purifying sensibility with compassion for loss, Blakely extracts ‘the grace of the gesture’ from the ‘usual cravings’ of ‘messy careers.’ To see things ‘honed, quite essential,’ as Blakely desires to, is to understand them.”


Her second collection, Farewell, My Lovelies (Story Line, 2000) was named a Choice of the Academy of American Poets’ Book Society. Mark Doty writes, “Blakely’s noir style has the urbane, anxious glamour of jazz, but there’s nothing cool about these fevered poems … a poet of dark and bracing powers.” Anthony Hecht describes Farewell, My Lovelies as “a brilliant, touching and arresting collection of poems of undeniable, authoritative power. It is dense with a multitude of dramas . . . unflinching in their candor, and shocking in their fusions of purity and horror, delicacy and crudity. Almost always they combine or intertwine several states of mind into confederations of terrible and majestic significance.”


Steve Harris declares in Samsara Review, “Blakely’s desire for love remains intact, though weathered, even savaged, by experience. It is this overriding desire of Blakely’s that pushes her collection as a whole beyond the confines of the noir genre. . . it is Blakely’s desire to sing of this [unrequited] ache, and its coexistent sweetness, that pushes her poetry beyond the confines of genre and toward a higher art.” And Foreword describes Blakely as “a poet who drives us into the twenty-first century with an intelligent blast without letting go of the impact and implacability of history and the human story.” Both books were reissued this Spring by the University of Georgia Press.

Her third collection, Cities of Flesh and the Dead, won the Alice Fay diCastagnola Award, given by the Poetry Society of America, and the 7th Annual Publication Prize from Elixir Press, which issued the collection in 2008. Baron Wormser, judge of the Alice Fay diCastagnola Award defines her so: “An imaginer who hits the bull’s eye with every detail, intonation, and emotional twitch, Blakely’s fullness of language quietly and firmly dazzles as she moves among epochs, personae and geographies. She is a master of evoking the bounties of loss while embracing the wayward joys of what is unaccountably found.


In her introduction, Sarah Kennedy states that “a new collection from Diann Blakely always promises entrance to a tragic, beautiful world. Combining controlled prosody and extravagant aesthetic, Blakely makes sonnets, dramatic monologues, and lyrics that, in rough iambic pentameter lines, render the gritty details of Southern girlhood. These particulars, tempered by sensitivity to emotional and linguistic nuance and harnessed by form, have always been features of her work, and Cities of Flesh and the Dead pushes the lyric first-person narrative at which Blakely as always excelled to include historical personae and interlinked sequences. Attentive, careful, and self-reflexive, these poems create a palimpsest of the contemporary South, where the present is always complicated by the hauntings of voices of the past… And yet, the shared culture of music, art, books, and movies ties her to other women, to other Americans, and to the larger world: “God,” this poet asks, “what forms can / Love take except the smudged, the failed, the human?”


Emma Bolden writes in Poet’s Quarterly, “One does not simply read a new book by Diann Blakely: one experiences it. Blakely’s long-awaited latest collection, . . . explores travel’s promise for escape, its ability to jolt one from the cruel simplicity of the known and the inherited cruelties of the home. The collection ends with a series of sonnets for Tina Turner, that great icon of revelation, redemption, and transformation, who, through travels away from and back to the home, through reinvention and liberation, learns that the only real truth is that ‘We build ourselves, and love ain’t everything.’”


And Heather Jane Collings affirms in Main Street Rag, “Blakely shows us that grief and danger know no boundaries . . . [and that] like Oedipus, running from tragedy may actually bring us to it. Her writing is cautionary and haunting, and, punctuated with signs of personal sorrow, reminds us all, poets or not, of her speaker’s mortality and thus ours. We all inhabit a city of flesh and the dead. Blakely’s poems are our illuminated guide.”


Al Maginnes pronounces in Gently Read Literature, “The collection . . . juxtaposes the mortality of flesh with the brands of immortality offered by art wondering what consolation art can offer us as we busy ourselves with dying . . . Blakely provide[s] us with a clutch of beautiful and excoriating poems that force us to confront the fact of mortality even as we revel in the beauty of these well-made and crucial poems.”


Diann’s much anticipated Lost Addresses: New & Selected Poems was published by Salmon Poetry in February and launched at AWP in D.C. In his remarkable introduction, Rodney Jones states that “Lost Addresses, which she was still working on when she died, is her chosen focus, the crystal through which she would be read.” He describes her aesthetic as “eclectic, bold, and far-ranging” and her poetry as “a poetry of diverse, intellectual reference” defined “by a cultural inclusiveness that does not omit Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten.” He adds, “Through all of Lost Addresses, her immediate gift and penchant mark a harmony of lyrical ear and narrative mind in the precise intonation that became her signature. She was underrated in both her ambition and accomplishment. She wrote more effectively in the high register than any southern poet of her generation … The reader who listens into her textures will hear the abundant felicity of her singular art.”


In her Chronicle of Higher Education column from Arts & Academe, Lisa Russ Spaar published a photo collage by Alexander Kafka to accompany Diann Blakely’s poem. Diann so loved that image she used it as one of her profile pictures on Facebook. Thanks to Alexander’s graciousness, Siobhan Hutson and Jessie Lendennie at Salmon Poetry were thrilled to use that image to create the stunning cover for Lost Addresses.

Referencing Blakely’s erudition, Julie Kane’s words haunt: “As if a Southern belle raised to perform femininity had been cursed with the world-weary sensibility of Charles Baudelaire: that is the chimeric voice of these glittering, decadent, elegiac poems. It is difficult to accept that such a voice has been stilled, but the new poems come to us as gifts from the “black-winged angel.”

Blas Falconer contends, “I return to these poems for their facility with form, their directness and their digressions, their playfulness and wit, their care for imagery, imagination, and tone, but what I appreciate and admire most of all is how beautifully strange they often are. This is what I have come to recognize as Diann’s print, and what makes her poems uniquely and unforgettably hers.”

And Denise Duhamel reminds us, “Blakely’s storytelling is complex, no-nonsense, and often full of pain. Her voice is an in-your-face voice, an almost performance-poetry voice, yet her poems are full of craft and gorgeousness.” 

Diann wrote, “All poets wish to leave behind first-caliber work that, however absurdly overlooked and under-known in her life, will last.” As Rodney Jones asserts, “No one loved poetry more or was more intolerant of pretension, yet she was shy about claiming her own place. This book is proof against forgetting.”


The anthology Each Fugitive Moment: Essays, Memoirs, and Elegies on Lynda Hull is forthcoming from MadHat Press, and the collection of blues poems Rain in Our Door: Duets with Robert Johnson is forthcoming from White Pine Press in 2018.


In addition to being a poet, Diann Blakely was also an essayist, critic and educator. She won two Pushcart Prizes, was a poetry editor of Antioch Review for a dozen years and at New World Writing, and served on Plath Profiles’ board.


She contributed to The Nation, The Paris Review, Harvard Review, Yale Review, Agni, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, Boulevard, American Literary Review, Poetry East, Third Coast, Verse, Michigan Quarterly Review, Columbia, New Letters, Shenandoah, Antioch Review, Parnassus, Louisville Review, Connecticut Poetry Review, Bomb, Callaloo, Cottonwood, Cumberland Poetry Review, Dublin Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Puerto del Sol, BookPage, Chapter 16: Tennessee Humanities Council Online, Nashville Scene / Village Voice Media, Chelsea, Crab Orchard Review, Nebraska Review, New England Review, Riverstone, Smartish Pace, Plath Profiles, Pleiades, The Journal, The Webster Review, Triquarterly, Green Mountains Review, Witness, among many.

Diann was known in the poetry community for her commitment to southern poetry and culture. She founded and curated the popular Facebook page “Notes on the State of [Southern] Poetry. Ever so inclusive, she created it as a forum to link poets and art and to promote any poetry that would bring us joy. In her description of the group’s mission, she wrote, “We seek to explore the cultural multiplicity of places traditionally associated with the American South and the various forms of art created therein; but we wish always to stress national and global connections. All are welcome to join. No exclusivity permitted.”

We must celebrate her life in the same way we lament and mourn. We all owe her a huge debt for everything she has done in the name of poetry. 


            “That love exists to cross borders, slip into other bodies
                        With the same sweet ease
            That we slip into sun-warmed grass or a river’s muddy flow.
            Or stretched our hands toward—” (from “On the Border”)

 

 

 

Diann Blakely

An Aviary

 

What is most underrated about the South? The regionally, if often unconsciously, shared

belief in original sin.  Responsible for hellfire-and-damnation sermons, bigotry,

intolerance, and xenophobia, this traditional Christian doctrine nonetheless allows even

professed atheists to agree that being human equals being fundamentally flawed and thus

being capable of inexplicable, even horrific, actions; that all souls have their strong

points and their weak ones; and that most of us are doing the best we can.  On the other

hand (e.g., the Misfit and Popeye), we know that genuine evil exists.  Or, as Baudelaire

and the Louvin Brothers put the matter, “Satan is real.”

 

 

Diann Blakely

Translations: A Memory Play

 

 

                                      QUINCE
                                                   Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee. Thou art translated.
                                                   A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

Just past midsummer’s eve, that wild night
Inhabited by fairies, by lovers who blink
And find themselves drawn to another’s kiss,
That wild night inspiring tulled embraces,
Those en pointe arabesques and fish-tailed plunges
Dizzying as brews the druids boiled in vats,
Fermenting mixtures of berries and leaves
That probably smelled like heat-waved Broadway

At the post-matinée hour. Lovelier, Balanchine’s
Pink world of elves and sprites, lovers who blink
And switch tracks faster than New York’s subways,
Their riders who avoid each other’s glances
In stifling cars sparking at speeds
Dizzying as brews the druids brewed in vats
As thick as that district’s once-famed baths
Where naked men caressed each other

In fluid anonymity. O waters of longings—
Switching currents faster than New York’s subways—
Wet and salt as tears. The parade’s hilarity
Seethes down Christopher, and you emerge,
Headed home, deeply vertiginous still
As if you’d been in that district’s once-famed baths
Instead of watching Titania’s fouettés,
Her tiaraed head snapping back with each kick

To find its focal point. And now you blink—
Sweat, not tears—at the parade’s hilarity
And are scrutinized by a tutued man
Fluttering a pink-sequinned fan and singing
With the loudspeakers: could this be the magic?
Instead of watching Titania’s fouettés,
You watch floats pass like giant confections
And crowds hanging from fire escapes to cheer,

Tiaras slip from wigs on bright shaved heads;
And you’re scrutinized by that tutued man,
Pink satin bodice rolled beneath his ribs.
Remember walking home from ballet class,
The playground’s boys whooping at your pink tights?
You watch floats pass like giant confections
But also see those boys slam one to concrete,
Hear their circling taunts. Girl. Pussy.

Get your mama to buy you a dress.
Pink satin bodice rolled beneath his ribs,
The man lifts his arms—bone-thin, lesioned—
To catch the beads thrown by the next float’s riders.
New York’s not often home, and you push
To join two boys standing on raised concrete
For a better view. You’re all on tiptoe.
Here men call each other girl with irony

And love. Could this be the magic at last?
The man lifts his pink-lesioned arms
In this habitation of fairies, of lovers who blink
And hope they’ll be alive when their eyes open.
A blonde queen’s stopped to strut her stuff,
And for better views, you’re all on tiptoe
In air dizzying as brews the druids boiled in vats:
Someone calls out girl and you’re twelve again,

And happy. O wild nights of someone else.
Get your mama to buy you a dress.
I did, and solo plane and ballet tickets too—
Could this be the magic at last? I’ve known long
And miss wild nights of someone else,
That pink slip dress I once wore on the street,
Expelled post-love, then that matinée.
Girl. Pussy. Fag. Fairy. Welcome nowhere, I’m home.

                                                                to Erica Dawson

 

Diann Blakely

The Gold Bird


I fear nothing from winter—
These wings are now gold.
My beak is pure metal,
Open only for song. Mere worms
Cannot hold its attention;
They will thin and grow fickle,
Shrink rootward at autumn’s first chill.

Here I practice my high notes
With few interruptions. My old friends
Pass by, and remind me of cold.
They flap their gray wings—
So unkempt and mottled!
Their flight south is mindless,
What really excites them is fish.

Will I miss the young hatchlings,
The sweet trystings by ponds? I’m unsuited
For tropics—I wasted last winter,
Preened my feathers, grew fat.
My soul is at peace here,
And this emperor loves me.
There’s no wind in his garden,

It is my song that trembles golden leaves.

 

 

Diann Blakely

"Whatever You Say, Say Nothing"

 

No lark, no making light of bombs and kneecappings,
This detour through Derry: according to the map,
A2’s the shortest route to the Sligo cottage
Where we’ve reserved a room. How peaceful it appears
In the glossy brochure’s shots: windows wreathed with roses,
And a bay view. Tired, we’ve just toured Inoshowen,

That rock-strewn jut into the Atlantic; no buffer
Between us and the Pole but ocean, we stood in gorse,
The wind stinging my skin, and turned south to view Ulster,
An idea so odd you dropped my hand and gouged
Two shapes in sand to explain it. With little coaxing,
I take the wheel, try to adjust the driver’s seat,

Glad though half-ashamed of the minor surge of fear
That disperses my travellers’ fog. Too much Guinness,
Salt gales and wave-riven shorelines. Our fight last night.
The border crossing’s easy, almost a disappointment,
And the city could be any industrial one back home,
Except for its burned-out, windowless rowhouses,

Their bullet-pocked stone walls. Then, on a street whose yards
Are edged with flowers, like our own, soldiers appear:
Cradling rifles, they march in step then pirouette;
Their helmeted, shadowy eyes check left, check right,
What might come at their backs. A routine patrol,
You say, but knock my hand away from the lighter:

Could a lit cigarette look like a threat? The Foyle
Comes into view, and still I put off smoking; the thrill
Of our small dare has dulled, and I’m eager to leave.
Should we have proof, you ask, pointing to roadblocks
Then the backseat, where our loaded camera sits.
The shutter’s scarcely closed when guards step from a booth,

Its bulletproof glass sides festooned with razor wire;
People like us just make things worse—I blush, knowing
The soldier right—and he should confiscate our camera,
Arrest the driver. “You must see our side, sir,” he says,
Consonants barbed. “We’re under terrorist attack here.”
You try to shake his hand. He’ll let me go this time,

Waving us toward the Republic; “Donegal-Sligo-Leitrim—
The Friendly Counties” have put up a sign as welcome.
Their hills, mist-softened mounds of postcard green, rise
To meet us as Derry’s smokestacks become tall smudges
In my rear mirror and radio towers grow distant,
Spikes looped together with wire, dividing the sky.

 

 

Diann Blakely

Blood Oranges

 

1.

The inn’s shuttered against Ávilan noon,
Against a pale, inquisitorial light
That nothing escapes on this windy plain
Where angels swirled into Teresa’s dreams,
Such holy dreams her raptured limbs convulsed.
Pain’s arrows broke through my habit, and yet,
Receiving this sweetness, my blood sang prayers.

My dreams, less metaphysical, swirl fractured
With parrots clawing at a vendor’s cage;
With black-chadored women, arms locked in pairs,
Who duck into boutiques while chauffeurs wait,
Their radios tuned to weirdly wailing pipes;
With Guardía patrols, holsters swung low
By machine pistols. Now the fan’s blades waft
My dropped, still-blank postcards, and I want dreams
Of angels too, their wings hymning escape
From travel-smutted flesh, from legacies
Of shuttered rooms and Easter dresses stiff
With starch, the mingled smells of sour milk
And talc—Those freckles, child!—as Southern suns
Force dogwoods’ buds to cruciforms. At dusk,
My mother and her widowed mother, aunts
Long-widowed too, bless rumors with veiled tones
While I spear carrots, hiding the orange cubes
Beneath my plate. Rumors of their small town’s
Adulteries and wayward kids, friends clawed
By sickness—eaten up, poor soul; they say
Three months.
Clocks chime and my legs twist, stretching
To reach the floor. God is in the details,
Teresa said, remembering the arrows,
Those small blood-leaking holes in both her palms.
Above us hang framed oils and photographs,
Their black-gowned women posed against live oaks
Still draped with Spanish moss and razoring
The darkened sky. God is in the details,
Said the saint whose corpse smelled of roses
After her death, whose severed hand was carried
Through the countryside to touch the sick
And make them whole. To raise the dead.

Though shy, invited to few birthday parties,
I’ve attended so many funerals,
Dressed in stiff-collared black, that I revise
My bedtime prayer, also terrified I’ll die
Before I wake. Everything’s inherited here.


2.

Take, for instance, those hummingbirds fluttering
Outside the Toledo farmhouse last week:
Wings zooming up and down, their thin beaks pierced
The cobbled path’s geraniums, blooms red
As the birds’ throats. Where that path lapsed to dust,
Wind hymned through olive limbs and the sky swirled
With silver-purple clouds, the oily hue
In El Greco’s dreamed funeral, its count
And anorexic saints exposed below
Unseen, inhuman hands that leaked lightning.
Two wrong turns in the olive grove, draped with
Low fog that clung to grass and powdery soil,
Wet my legs to the knees; and I startled
A hare, frozen in the dawn chill as steam
Puffed from both our nostrils. No blessings here,
The wind translated, except for those who watch
The sun rise till the ground scorches and ask
For still more heat, for those who reach to stroke
That quivery fur, who seek delight in gorse
And trampled poppies, that tail’s uplifted flash.

Jet-lagged and lost in the dense-misted grove,
A near-hallucination of scrawny trunks
With dusty, blade-shaped leaves, I stopped, wheezing,
To search for my inhaler, felt my heart claw
Its narrow cage of countably stark ribs
Till noises from the farmhouse—kettle-shrieks,
Pots banged against a sink—told me which way
Was home. For a day. I travel to make peace
With mine till I’m exhausted with strangeness,
With washing shirts in rust-streaked bathroom sinks
And the black aftertaste of bitter coffee,
With sneezing fits mimed nightly for housemaids—
Habla inglés?—who bring more feather pillows
And stare like stones. The cobbled path grown hot
Beneath their crimson throats, the blurry wings
As darkly translucent as mourning veils,
The hummingbirds hurt each other away
From those blossoms with rapier beaks, also
Their tiny claws. But sharing doles of grace,
Small bits of heaven’s dust drifted to earth,
Is unknown in the animal kingdom
As in childhood’s domain: you touch my blocks,
My dolls, my collection of butterflies,
And I’ll tell, I’ll smash what you love, I’ll kill you.



3.

For Lorca, flight to Andalusía
Brought neither lost youth back nor shelter from
The war, but only bullets splintering
The dust-veiled olive trees—whose childhood blessings
Were more bloodily mixed? On the dawn train,
I lapsed from views of his sun-fractured landscape
To a nap’s dreams swirled by his aunt, reborn
As the black-habited Bernarda Alba,
Who shuttered her windows against the sun
And stars, who insisted her girls die virgins.
Her homely scepter’s law knocks even here:
Streets jammed with late diners, with kids who spill
From Madrid’s pulsing clubs to jostle those
Still hawking Marvel comics or mantillas.
Or toy machine pistols. Or rabbits’ feet.
Or the next booth’s drag-sized black lingerie,
Which two skateboarder boys poke sneeringly.
Their words aren’t in my phrasebook, but recalled
From Lorca’s gorgeous, self-hating tirade
Against Manhattan’s sidewalk queens: cancos,
Maricas
. Back at home, we drawl the name
Of our own Andalooo-shha, a town near where
En Sangre Fría’s author, his cherub’s face
Still pretty on the next booth’s paperbacks,
Was raised by aunts who called him sissy-britches.
Later, he felt more at home with murder
Than small-town Southern life, despite a love
For its landscape, the oaks silvered with heat
And hanging moss that draped my early dreams
Of heaven. Some find it on earth, he wrote,
In windows filled by jewel-stained light, a light
Suffusing grace through cities yet unknown.
Miss Holiday Golightly. Dead Lorca fell
Beneath smoke-pluming guns; Tru’s last book bore
Teresa’s words about unanswered prayers.
What do they share, and I with them, beyond
A language of desire and shame, of homes
Escaped then mourned? Andalusian oranges—
I buy a bag, their scent acidly sweet
Through waxed paper, sweet as envisioned love
Made real. Why travel except this desire
For linkage, even skewed; its fruits blessings
We’ve dreamed foreign, their varied tastes received
And welcome as this blood orange leaking its sting
Down my square, freckled, inherited chin?

 

 

Diann Blakely

The Dolls

 

Those lolling china heads and rag-stuffed arms
Will never love us in return, said Rilke,
Whose mother dressed him like a girl, whose charms

Were sealed in letters for his distant harem.
“How dreadful,” he wrote, “to spin our first silk”
For lolling china heads, for rag-stuffed arms

As plump as mine when young, the rich aroma
Of cakes rising, cream rising in whole milk.
My mother dressed me like a girl who’d charm

Her grown-up friends at teas, stroll through museums
And fall in love with statues, like Rilke,
Those lolling china heads and rag-stuffed arms

Turned to marble Apollos in his poems:
“Change your life.” Easy for a god to talk—
No mother dressed him like a girl whose charms

Were pink and minor, who blinked with alarm
Whenever boys asked if she loved them back.
O lolling china heads and rag-stuffed arms—
Still I undressed, a girl with other charms.

                                                                            to Richard Howard

 

 

Diann Blakely

Home Thoughts from Abroad

 

         1. Reunions: Kensington, 2004

Jet-lagged, yanking my mother’s huge suitcase
Like a leashed and mutant dog, I stumble
Through the jammed lobby, a chill morning haze
Sooting the V & A’s imperious walls
Beyond a bank of windows. “We’re headquarters,”
The clerk explains politely when I ask
Who all those loud gray-haired Americans are,
“For the 82nd Airborne.” First I’m blank,
Then alarmed—war again, and this one fought
By those nearing death, as Rousseau suggested,
Our hotel commandeered for drills and cots?
“Their reunion,” the clerk adds, and how stupid
To forget D-Day’s 60th, how vets
Would come in swarms. No rooms are ready yet.


        2. Announcements: Jackson Boulevard, 1967 and 1980

“I hate babies—they mess up your nice things,”
My mother shrieks, my brother spitting up
On her bed’s counterpane, hand-tatted lace.
And like her china, even her wedding ring,
Among the last heirlooms long ago shipped
From a parent country that preferred nannies
And marriage for bloodlines, not happiness.
My mother’s was “beneath her, a disgrace,”
Said a great-aunt once, half-drunk on sherry.
How long before their unblessed love turned bitter?
Rigid beneath blankets, I pray that they’ll divorce
Through years of long wall-trembling arguments.
The night I tell my mother I’m engaged,
She cries, of course, and offers me her ring.


        3. Half-Day Bus Tour: London, 2004

Our guide has told the joke a thousand times,
Sir Winston’s drunk retort to Lady Astor,
Her ugly forwardness a female crime
In any century. “Victoria,”
He points to a monument, “dressed in black
For forty years to mourn Prince Albert’s death.”
Next a story about Brits’ love for pets,
But I’m tuned out, my attention distracted
By London’s dusk-lit glow, till the punchline,
Something about wives and dogs, all bitches.
My husband’s trampling down the Yorkshire Dales;
What stories does he tell to gain strangers’ smiles
There, opting for hikes, not museum riches?
Here the loot of a hearthbound queen’s empire.


        4. Steward of the Signet Society: Boston, 1985

“Larkin’s dead!” The escutcheoned door slams hard
Behind an undergrad who’s six months late
With dues; his friends at the lunch table
Drop their silver forks, slosh tears and sherry
On the linen cloth I’ll later have to wash
And iron. Fourteen grand a year, plus free rent
Right in Harvard Square—how could my husband,
A broke midlife 2L, and I refuse?
Modelled on Oxbridge literary clubs,
The Signet has a library, small bar,
Members who’ve perfected British phrasing—
“White coffee,” “bonking her”—but that day flub
Quoting those poems that comprehend the heart,
How it craves love, also deprivation.


        5. Portobello Road, 2004

How I loathe shopping, especially in crowds,
My backpack so loaded with Mother’s finds—
Tea caddies, butlers’ trays—I nearly waddle
To the next stall; she fingers christening gowns,
Then, stricken by her childless daughter’s wince,
Seizes on a gift of silver earrings.
“Victorian,” the dealer swears, then bows,
And points to what he calls his china darlings,
A row of dolls so cloyingly sweet-faced
They’re icons for this country’s child-worship,
Still reeling from that gruesome railyard case:
Three boys, two murderous, their four hands gripped
On film. A quick parole, adoption offers.
Let them rot, I say. Weep for their mothers.


        6. Jackson Boulevard, 1972, and Fitzroy Road, 1963

Both houses white, both haunted by Furies
Who took their revenge as good women do,
Not with guns or knives but black depressions,
One’s hair falling lankly from an oven door
As hissing gas choked out her eulogy;
The other crying in bed through whole seasons,
Wearing the same nightgown as summer air
Sharpens into fall, as I learn Shakespeare
And history, also how to clean a house,
Make dinners for my brother and my father,
When he’s not travelling; how to wash
And iron between problems for geometry.
My favorite book in high school? The Bell Jar.
Recurring nightmare? Sheets stained, her wrists slashed.


        7. Tom and Viv: Jackson Boulevard, 1973, and Piccadilly Cinema, 2004

“To be moral, I suppose”—here Dafoe,
Who plays Eliot, looks upward from the rug
As though God dwelt within the chandelier—
“One must first be damned.” The film gets better,
But the marriage can’t survive Viv’s bloody rags,
Head-blurring pills quacks said would stanch the flow
That continued red for weeks. She sniffed ether
And gave her husband his best Cockney lines:
What you get married for if you don’t want
Children?
At sixteen I knew what I wanted:
To be Prufrock, remote from those women,
Pliant and perfumed, whose arms were downed with hair;
To write poems singing as Eliot’s dry bones—
Viv, a faithful wife, died in an asylum.


        8. Westminster Abbey, 2004

Just a few minutes until evensong:
Poets’ Corner closed, I buy a brass rubbing
Of Shakespeare, whose remains lie undisturbed
Elsewhere, if grave robbers still fear curses,
The anger of the dead come home to roost.
Head bowed over packages, the hard pew
Surely spasming her back, my mother
Doesn’t move as the black-robed junior choir
Processes. How tired she looks, and worn,
As I slip in beside her; the loft’s organ
Sounds “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” which soars
Above the cracking voice of one young tenor.
She pats my hand, smiling; God, what forms can
Love take except the smudged, the failed, the human?


        9. The Tower, 1986 and 2004

The Thames whitecapped: wind stands our hair on end,
Drowns out the Yeoman’s spiel and the clamor
Of ravens we’re warned not to touch: they bite,
Perhaps exacting payment for those clipped wings,
Which ensure they’ll stay put and the Tower
Never fall, still faithful to the legend.
My husband, who brought me here on a past visit,
This year wanted our vacations kept separate,
His treks remote. The Yeoman defends Richard,
A hunchback but no killer: “cripples were feared”—
Mother and I bend under low ceilings—
“Being thought to bear the mark of Satan.”
Some marks don’t show. The crippled heart resists
The world—but how sick I am of prisons.


        10. St. Paul’s, 2004

Public and various as a shopping mall
At home, with as many knick-knacks for sale—
Probably Churchill’s turning in his grave,
Which isn’t here, just a slab of marble
Marking where his coffin stood. Mother soaks
Her aching spine at the hotel, too tired
For any more cathedrals, wanting to pack.
An ill-scheduled group of Germans, guided
To the American chapel—Churchill,
Half-Yank himself, turns again—hears its words
Of thanks translated, and I want to kneel:
How is a free life born? Praise Him, All Ye Works
Of the Lord
arches overhead in Latin.
I ask for blessing in my mother tongue.

 

 

Diann Blakely

The Last Violet

                        Mary Jane Kelly, 1863-1888

1.

Limerick, sir? Sweet flows the River Shannon,
Or don’t you know that song? I spent girlhood
In neighborhoods more posh than Whitechapel,
Its butcherhouses’ stink and rummies slumped
By Maiden Lane, where some woo rougher trade
Then shrink beneath a sweaty fist in rooms
Like this: o murder’s heard here late at night
Almost as often as St. Mary’s bells,
The same cry heard when Jack still wore nappies.
’Tis a comedown for me, raised to paint china,
Embroider silk and linen, taught to sing—
Only a Violet’s my favorite—
By mam before she and the last babe died.
My first stop here in London was the same
As all good Irish girls’, some glad to scrub
A convent’s floors for porridge and a cot,
But who’d call these fair wages? Even here—
Ma maisonette—I keep a lady’s ways:
This basin, my bottle of French perfume
And that small one of brandy—there, a nip
Will take the chill November from your bones.
Thieves stole my oil lamp and the wee portrait
By Walter Sickert, no less, when I took ill
With quinsy, fevered in that infirmary bed.
Now I sleep days after twisting the sheets
With proper husbands in derbies like yours—
Lord’s name, are you really a bachelor?—
Who go home late to their wives, long asleep,
Milk-faced and tight-kneed, dreaming of the Queen.


2.

That courtship teaches whoring’s mortal shame
But true: young girls trade kisses for bouquets,
Let sweaty hands roam their breasts in return
For tuppence frills and bows. Only a violet . . .
I’d fancied marriage more romantic than
A ring and overnight at Cardiff, Davies’
Sod-drunk sleeps soon as he got the mine’s pay
And fun from me. E’er dirty, he’d roll off
To snore, and, turning up the lamp, I’d check
For smudges—you, like true gents, look to know
That soap and water won’t melt bones. Davies
Died in the explosion that also killed
The dads, who’d dragged us all cross-channel when
Sacked from the Limerick bank: barely nineteen
I was, and left to scrimp for London fare;
Then how I cursed the dads, cursed how he’d drained
My dowry soon as we’d shut poor mam’s eyes
With coppers. Roaring he’d be, and gutter-mouthed
At table; my greasy brothers smirked, the lot,
When he’d thunder there was one place besides
The kitchen where a woman was good company.
Only a violet . . . sacking, threats
From the landlord, and sending off Brigid,
Whom mam had hired as maid, her cheeks still raw
From Galway winds—she’d blush crimson and drop
Her eyes to the joint when dads was four sheets,
Blush and wait for him to stop laughing at
His own blather and start carving the meat.


3.

The West End house? Two dozen oil lamps dripped
With silk fringe, lovey; bare feet disappeared
Into plush Persian rugs. The men there were
The lot’s best, so well-mannered they’d say “sorry”
For coming. You like a good laugh, don’t you?
One gent hired me for a full week in Paris,
Six giddy nights with oysters and champagne,
A feather bed. That poor dim James, a fiend
For culture, plucked my elbow in the Louvre—
“Coo now! What you call that?”—and exclaimed loud
By stained church windows, checking his moustache
In Notre Dame’s carved font. Its statue of
The Virgin, my name-saint, gave me the shivers;


Though one Sunday when James was still asleep
I skittered in before the eight o’clock
To light a candle for that wee sister
I never held, for mam, even one for
The dads. Hail Mary, full of grace, blessèd
Art thou among women and blessèd is . . .

A priest two rows away looked up from prayers
Like I’d raved curses; he startled and made
The cross’s sign with his smudged, crookèd fingers
Then backed, black-frocked, through an open door.


4.

“Black Mary,” jealous wenches nicknamed me
At the Ten Bells … less elegant—or luxe
Than the West End house, but nobody takes
A cut, and I’ve now regulars who queue
For more than evening pints. Marie Jeannette,
I whisper when I miss those nights beside
The Seine; once, the slut most covetous
Heard and began to screech like the banshee—
“Her real name’s Mary Jane! ‘Black Mary’ Jane!”
So loud she screeched, my fellow spilled his ale . . .
Pour us a bit more brandy, there’s a love.
I don’t deserve “Black Mary,” I tell myself
When I look into mirrors, my hair flax-blond
And smile sweet as a girl’s, plump as those days
I posed for Walt Sickert; I don’t deserve
These filthy walls, no matter what I call them,
Nor deserve waking at dusk to find grey rats
Worrying my naked feet. When in her cups,
My friend Liz brogues away about the kirk
And its free destinations … “Mary, Marie,
Are you listening to me, lass?” I’ll have none
Of a Scot’s destinations, I say straight,
But her head bows as she claims the parson
Meant that we’re doomed to certain things by God—
“Like our monthlies,” she moans. The only time
I’m black-tempered. After, I’m back fluttering
My lashes and silk fan, and with bells on.


5.

A suspect’s jailed, but Fleet Street ragmen buzz
Like flies to fresher blood: Queen Vicky’s eighth
And chloroformed lie-in a scandal to some:
Is it not women’s curse to bring forth babes
In pain? Abortionists sell laudanum,
Which I’d drink every night if my labors
Paid more; now even brandy’s seeming dear,
My regulars afraid of Whitechapel,
Afraid old Jack might rip them too! ’Tis kind,
Indeed, for you to walk me from the Bells,
To praise my voice: Only a violet
Plucked from my mother’s grave
—och, the neighbors
Complain at any wee noise, make more fuss
Than alley cats, or that pate-addled drunk
Who’s whingeing chorus . . . The halfpenny candle
Gutters, but lately I’ve not dared close my eyes
Till the dawn breaks, and still, I suffer dreams—
Your derby might hang there, love, near the bag
And gloves—dreams of that murderous blade yellowed
By candlelight and plunging for my throat,
More like one of Sickert’s paintings than real;
And in the worst I bowed to hell’s own steel,
Just like back home in Limerick I bowed
To the cross our priest hefted, my head dipped
Ready and willing, belly shrunk from fasts,
Shake-kneed and cunt nun-dry . . . be a good heart
And fetch the quilt. I’d steal peeks at the statue
Of Jesus, the red sword-gash in his side,
Those slender, near-girly legs ankle-crossed
Below blood mingled with pale curls and thorns.

                                                                            i. m. Anthony Hecht

 

 

 

 

DIANN BLAKELY (June 1, 1957 – August 5, 2014) was an American poet, essayist, editor, and critic. She taught at Belmont University, Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, the Watkins Arts Institute, and served as the first poet-in-residence at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee. A Robert Frost Fellow at Bread Loaf, she was a Dakin Williams Fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She won two Pushcart Prizes and has been anthologized in numerous volumes, including Best American Poetry 2003.
Her first collection, Hurricane Walk, was listed among the year’s ten best by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; her second book, Farewell, My Lovelies, was named a Choice of the Academy of American Poets’ Book Society; and her third volume, Cities of Flesh and the Dead, won the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America as well as the 7th Annual Publication Prize from Elixir Press.
She was poetry editor at Antioch Review and New World Writing. Her poetry collection Lost Addresses: New & Selected Poems was recently published by Salmon Poetry. Rain in Our Door: Duets with Robert Johnson is forthcoming from White Pine Press and Each Fugitive Moment: Essays, Memoirs, and Elegies on Lynda Hull is forthcoming from MadHat Press.

 

 

HÉLÈNE CARDONA is the author of six books, most recently Life in Suspension and Dreaming My Animal Selves (both from Salmon Poetry); and the translations Beyond Elsewhere (Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, White Pine Press), winner of a Hemingway Grant, Ce que nous portons (Dorianne Laux, Éditions du Cygne); as well as Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for WhitmanWeb. The Birnam Wood, her translation of El Bosque de Birnam (Consell Insular d’Eivissa) by her father José Manuel Cardona is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2018.
She holds a Master’s in American Literature from the Sorbonne and has contributed to The London Magazine, Washington Square Review, World Literature Today, Poetry International, The Brooklyn Rail’s InTranslation, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Asymptote, and The Warwick Review. Acting credits include Chocolat, Jurassic World, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Hundred-Foot Journey, etc. For Serendipity, she co-wrote with Peter Chelsom & Alan Silvestri the song Lucienne, which she also sang.

 

 

Diann Blakely's poems are from Lost Addresses: New & Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry, 2017)

 

 

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