Poet's Sampler: Josey Foo
The poems in Josey Foos new manuscript,
View for an Afternoon, take
their inspiration from the earthworks, drawings, and writings
of Robert Smithson. One of the first exponents of Land Art, Smithson
is perhaps best known for his Spiral Jetty
(1970), a 1,500-foot coil of black basalt rock, soil, and precipitated
salt crystals created on an unsuccessful oil site on Utahs
Great Salt Lake. Now fully submerged, the monumental structure
reflects the artists preoccupation with impermanence and
entropy, or evolution in reverseprinciples which
act as catalysts on Josey Foos imagination.
Sensuous, scrupulous, and keenly aware of the passage of time,
Foos poems find the scent of a sidewinder as vivid and immediate
as a glinting bus disintegrating in a field. They blur the distinction
between intangible and tangible, animate and inanimate: I
caught the flight of butterflies seemingly through a sea of gravel.
Throughout her remarkable, intelligent work, Foo attends to the
processes of decline and removal (absence that has become
natural, absence of sound, and the next moment, absence of regard
for sound), never forgetting that disintegration brings
with it the gift of spaciousness, allowing memory
and imagination critical space for transformation and renewal.
It was a Saturday, therefore machines
were resting. They were stripped of their skin. The dog put its
face low to the ground and saw their curves and slants, their
interlacing nerves and veins. Their heartbeat was not here, but
there, a very long way off. A search in the woods yielded bone-like
pieces of steel between concrete planes and their right angles.
The dog embraced (with its teeth) a square of residual color,
each portion torn into small pieces, the portion attached to lighter
greens as high as a man, dark, velvety, vast infinite: interior.
A portion that has weight, all things
move through gravity. Downpour, white glass, nature, the totem
I caught the flight
of butterflies seemingly through a sea of gravel. I caught summer
as it was singing on its saffron-hued rock. Rock flight through
saffron saffron caught singing.
I lay my instrument
down without knowing why. I trace shadows that refuse to merge
with the arc of the sun. The mysteries we lightly find, lay.
I whisper beside
you, Last night I saw a flight.
I take heart from sentient, unconscious joys. No sentiment from
I believe (I will pull down beams (of clouds) with my own hands).
I will pull down beams (I mean, hitchhike all around the southwest).
I believe the sun will rise (and the horizon is wide, likewise).
I will pull down beams with my own hands (working in caseins).
I am making judgments that blue is essential (shade bitter).
I am safe (working in caseins).
I will pull down beams (of clouds) with my own hands.
I will pull down beams of clouds.
I will pull down beams of clouds with my own (hands).
I will pull down beams of clouds with hands.
I will pull down beams of clouds.
I will pull down.
is the life of a name when it dies?
will make a bead from a snake curled in my fingers.
bare feet resting on sand, I will grill the bead
a fire like the eye of an unborn child.
head of a snake has come on the northern side.
now decays, a woman leaving her baskets out in the rain,
to engulf rain in her two fists
two fists swirling in adamant flowers.
The bus went toward the old Red Apple routes, where,
I cannot explain. Rise
Had it left? Dogs with their noses in fences have
sensed the light odd gleaming.
Turn augment turned. Here were the routes of the orchards, on
It begins in tail, ear, flat sheets and lash-like string, all
of it means that it will
of us, the sun will abandon its eyes. The bus glints in its acre
and cold swells flank
Maybe this morning I would tag-end, create another arrival likewise.
tug at the blank expanse of place (monument) in chalk-lines, what
was once fluid.
the scent of
a sidewinder snake
bird immersed in closet door
a metal grocery cart or trash
music halving itself (or something
and the ideogram (in my language)
for woman bowing, kneeling
in front of shoes lined up
by the doorway with one shoe overturned. Between a hundred rusts
. . .
and a burned-down heap of
is the gift of spaciousness
Thickets of sounds of water,
sounds of the wind, voice of a very hot fire, voices of mills,
tread of the sheep the man brings early in the day, voice of wheels
and of roofs when the wind blows on them, entering the wasteland
of a rectangular world and the crevice of a pigeon.
Rubbing of the thumb and middle
finger, a persons once-yellow skin
turning brown before my eyes, arguments between the sound of my
voice and sound congealing in the air, outside your ear, little
blue threads of a river.
Sounds you build your mountain
on, the blue horizon in the year since we married and moved to
the Southwest, rootprints and mysteries in small houses, fleeting
subtleness of a hometown where memory is an intrusion.
Absence that has become natural,
absence of sound, and the next moment, absence of regard for sound,
that from time to time memory is accorded this place in a thousand
silences, the other almost becomes the spirit you spoke of.
offerings fill the hollow of my hand
smoke, piñon seed, grain of corn;
board, piece of wool, thread of cotton, taste of water;
of pumiced hair; grain of turqouise gold.
The light recalls poverty near the equator. I remember
the range of smooth walls, leveled pavement.
There is a certain time that we are entitled to carry forward,
I have made a beautiful thing.
Who else, in the instant after noon, gains a sign of human life?
We are entitled to treat and form wishes like a child.
Nor is it a fabrication of my belief
that things made are free in their way.
Josey Foo received
her MFA from Brown University and her JD from the University of
Pennsylvania. She is author of Tomies
Chair and serves as a lawyertribal advocate for
the Navajo Nation.
most recent books are The
Redshifting Web: Poems 19701998 and The
Silk Dragon. He directs the creative writing program
at the Institute for American Indian Art in Santa Fe.
Originally published in the October/November
2003 issue of Boston Review