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Poet's Sampler: Josey Foo

The poems in Josey Foo’s 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 Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Now fully submerged, the monumental structure reflects the artist’s preoccupation with impermanence and entropy, or “evolution in reverse”—principles which act as catalysts on Josey Foo’s imagination.

Sensuous, scrupulous, and keenly aware of the passage of time, Foo’s 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. —Arthur Sze


Move

    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 itself.

Gravel

        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 shadow passing.

 

Beams

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.

                What is the life of a name when it dies?
                I will make a bead from a snake curled in my fingers.
                My bare feet resting on sand, I will grill the bead
                in a fire like the eye of an unborn child.

                The head of a snake has come on the northern side.
                Grass now decays, a woman leaving her baskets out in the rain,
                looking to engulf rain in her two fists—
                her two fists swirling in adamant flowers.

Reversal


The bus went toward the old Red Apple routes, where, I cannot explain. Rise
     retain fidelity.
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 which this
     house was.
It begins in tail, ear, flat sheets and lash-like string, all of it means that it will
     take hold
of us, the sun will abandon its eyes. The bus glints in its acre and cold swells flank
     the river.
Maybe this morning I would tag-end, create another arrival likewise. Or likewise
tug at the blank expanse of place (monument) in chalk-lines, what was once fluid.

 

Between

      the scent of a sidewinder snake

      bird immersed in closet door

      a metal grocery cart or trash basket                     blue jay                     red rats
                                                                    magazine racks

      music halving itself (or something more potent)

      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 stove



      is the gift of spaciousness

 

Sounds

      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 person’s 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.

            Ten offerings fill the hollow of my hand—
            sunflower, smoke, piñon seed, grain of corn;
            cedar board, piece of wool, thread of cotton, taste of water;
            strand of pumiced hair; grain of turqouise gold.

Beautiful

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, changed.
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 Tomie’s Chair and serves as a lawyer–tribal advocate for the Navajo Nation.

Arthur Sze’s most recent books are The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970–1998 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



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