Address draws us into visible and invisible architectures, into acts of intimate and public address. These poems are concentrated, polyvocal, and sharply attentive to acts of representation; they take personally their politics and in the process reveal something about the way civic structures inhabit the imagination. Poisonous plants, witches, anthems, beesbeneath their surface, we glimpse the fragility of our founding, republican aspirations and witness a disintegrating landscape artfully transformed. If a poem can serve as a kind of astrolabe, measuring distances both cosmic and immediate, temporal and physical, it does so by imaginative, nonlinear means. Here, past and present engage in acts of mutual interrogation and critique, and within this dynamic Willis's poetry is at once complexly authoritative and searching: "so begins our legislation."
Check for the online reader's companion at http://address.site.wesleyan.edu.
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I is to they as river is to barge as convert to picket line sinker to steamer The sun belongs to I once, for an instant The window belongs to you leaning on the afternoon They are to you as the suffocating disappointment of the mall is to the magic rustle of the word "come"
Turn left toward the mountain Go straight until you see the boat in the driveway A little warmer, a little stickier a little more like spring
TAKE THIS POEM
Take this spoon from me, this cudgel, this axe Take this bowl this kettle, this continental plate Take, if you will,
this shallow topsoil above my bedrock This swingset above the topsoil this raven from my hair
Take your fear from its closet Take this shirt in need of washing this unread book Take this child this husband, this teacup, this provisional weather Take this pill with a tall glass of water, take this bus deep into the interior
Take my wife even if I meant to keep her Take my share I don't need it Take as long as you need to Take this line between breathing and voting Take this city Take that expensive ship across this cellophane model of the sea
Take the F train but not to Brooklyn Take the case of the missing cufflinks Take this beverage with its silver Pullman ice
Take me with you as far as you can go I won't cause any trouble
Take this office overlooking the people Take this patience and burn it to the ground Take down your vanities, your hippodrome your champagne pyramid
Take down your hair your curtains, your razorwire fence Take off your greasepaint your necklace, your wig your inadequate armor
Take off your coat Stay a little longer Take the low road out into the sunset
Take it out back And take it to the people Take Florida Take Ohio Take Wisconsin Take Missouri
Take this chamber like a bullet Take this house and paint it black or take it down
I'm thinking of the heat in the reins a gear in love with itself two parts that fit I'm thinking about your face:
there's nothing to invent Driven to distraction or just walking there The edge of my mind against the edge of yours An astrolabe isn't thinking of a concrete lane or unconquerable interior Abiding by its class and country church, a kitsch picture is not "sincerity"
though I am native to it A nation has this sound of being born The human is not its ill-begotten ad A hemisphere is not your hair in its Parisian rooms An astrolabe is not a metaphor for love though love contain the mortal roots of congress, like a peasant inside the name you give its ruins
Coming to you from a jumbled dream
My heart caves in the better to see you with
I'm thinking on the bright side while looking for my keys
I've never seen a body floating to the ceiling
in the big room of the post office
A word is a symptom of what can't be described
A promise, a premise held open like a door
So I didn't find mercy or it didn't find me
It's always personal like the failure of a knee
A brassy rebuttal clowning in the street
Your footprint on the planet pinned down by outer space
Sometimes I think I see the air and all that was potential acquires the aura of its birth:
the desert that became a bottle that broke into a crown that chose to seize its day
Because I couldn't stop for breath, my legs outran their shadow like a train
By which I mean a cornfield long-legged, mechanical,
the rhythm of a film
in the middle distance shooting the horizon The earth is round
A SPECIES IS AN IDEA (1)
Leaving my umbrella I left everything behind
That dog, an emblem of my dirty self
All this reflection amounting to shadows
Ink eats the page:
it's Chemistry against the Forest
What train are you on with all these thoughts?
What bitter landscape the better to hear you with?
Its stepless grid is suddenly a corridor
You write this down You're at the end of it
Looking for the bigger picture too early in the day to curl into a question you'll only have to answer later Turn over the planet like a dewy rock The difference between hot and cold is not great at a distance Appearing through the blind a golden bough is just a handle into hell a vehicle that pays its toll to name the day as if it were a country
VALET OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH
Welcome to our treasured island seized from the tribe of enemy combatants who nursed us through the winter of 1642
This heap of shoes This copper beech This highway butter
This featureless cottage about to be filled with "genuine antiques"
This track into milkweed seen from the ground
This monumental train that thought it could replace the barge before it got choked out by interstate trying to protect inalienable piracy Planes thrown down like lightning Lightning thrown like a glove
This eye is not a camera passing through the comb-like trees
This theory with its problematic central arc will be for sale when the poem is over
This is the end of the bike path
The moving sidewalk is about to end with the future on it loaded with blankets looking for a place to lie down
Those little hairs are really feathers connected to the past Behavior eats us up A cardinal in the berry bush Unmothered sometime
Don't feel ashamed of any bird I wake up long enough to think this is creepy but not long enough to write it down
I'm building the haystack I'll disappear into Everything's too much until it's nothing Try to find that woodpecker in the jigsaw of the trees
Sink the dream into the hole Throw its flag into the carpet dark A test of composition to open the field betrayed by nightfall's hourly wage
You take the sun personally like a coin in a purse Anything can change in a blink, an eye becomes a storm The hole closes over the river, the air in the cut you leave behind The love you broke into then couldn't patch up Words sail over your finest antennae Even the warmth of a poem suggests a proximate danger Wild mushrooms Camouflage
POISONOUS PLANTS OF AMERICA
April fool Bear's-foot Bog-onion Devil's-apple Dog parsley Doll's-eyes Fairy bells Flying saucers Four o'clock Gagweed Goosefoot Hare's-ear Indian beans Inkweed Jacob's-coat Lady's-thumb Lion's-beard Locoweed Monkey-fiddle Moonseed Mother-in-law Puncture-vine Naked lady Quaker-bonnets Rabbit-bush Smartweed Sneezeweed Snakegrass Stinking Willie Sundials Swallow-wort Wahoo Wart-cress Witches' thimbles Wolfsbane Wonder berry
A witch can charm milk from an ax handle.
A witch bewitches a man's shoe.
A witch sleeps naked.
"Witch ointment" on the back will allow you to fly through the air.
A witch carries the four of clubs in her sleeve.
A witch may be sickened at the scent of roasting meat.
A witch will neither sink nor swim.
When crushed, a witch's bones will make a fine glue.
A witch will pretend not to be looking at her own image in a window.
A witch will gaze wistfully at the glitter of a clear night.
A witch may take the form of a cat in order to sneak into a good man's chamber.
A witch's breasts will be pointed rather than round, as discovered in the trials of the 1950s.
A powerful witch may cause a storm at sea.
With a glance, she will make rancid the fresh butter of her righteous neighbor.
Even our fastest dogs cannot catch a witch-hare.
A witch has been known to cry out while her husband places inside her the image of a child.
A witch may be burned for tying knots in a marriage bed.
A witch may produce no child for years at a time.
A witch may speak a foreign language to no one in particular.
She may appear to frown when she believes she is smiling.
If her husband dies unexpectedly, she may refuse to marry his brother.
A witch has been known to weep at the sight of her own child.
She may appear to be acting in a silent film whose placards are missing.
In Hollywood the sky is made of tin.
A witch makes her world of air, then fire, then the planets. Of cardboard, then ink, then a compass.
A witch desires to walk rather than be carried or pushed in a cart.
When walking a witch will turn suddenly and pretend to look at something very small.
The happiness of an entire house may be ruined by witch hair touching a metal cross.
The devil does not speak to a witch. He only moves his tongue.
An executioner may find the body of a witch insensitive to an iron spike.
An unrepentant witch may be converted with a little lead in the eye.
Enchanting witchpowder may be hidden in a girl's hair.
When a witch is hungry, she can make a soup by stirring water with her hand.
I have heard of a poor woman changing herself into a pigeon.
At times a witch will seem to struggle against an unknown force stronger than herself.
She will know things she has not seen with her eyes. She will have opinions about distant cities.
A witch may cry out sharply at the sight of a known criminal dying of thirst.
She finds it difficult to overcome the sadness of the last war.
A nightmare is witchwork.
The witch elm is sometimes referred to as "all heart." As in, 'she was thrown into a common chest of witch elm."
When a witch desires something that is not hers, she will slip it into her glove.
An overwhelming power compels her to take something from a rich man's shelf.
I have personally known a nervous young woman who often walked in her sleep.
Isn't there something witchlike about a sleepwalker who wanders through the house with matches?
The skin of a real witch makes a delicate binding for a book of common prayer.
When all the witches in your town have been set on fire, their smoke will fill your mouth. It will teach you new words. It will tell you what you've done.
STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO
When the ghost is on you,
you don't even see it happen:
a fathomless meta-name broken into chaptered glades
There's a slurry on the pond doing one thing and thinking about another The whole stumped hill waiting for its sovereign
Even if Jesus does love Winchester Satan still loves Milton just as in the roughest seas friendship favors Quakers
Through the trees I saw you burn my love house down A residue of color carried into leaf traffic like a thought becoming its own money
Darker than circumstance all roads lead into a house style High up, far off the comma excess What is most like this?
The education of nature?
A sinking robot?
Pershing in France?
Hearing my name in it as Alice loved the hand that pushed her down the hole just that much The forest-broker's dream:
a hell-shook bell Her piece of rock:
a gloss upon the dailies Welcome to the game, little duck All you have to do is dash to the other side
THE OLDEST GARDEN IN THE WORLD
Something drives out from the fate I was hungry for A body that fulfills its face carries into day what fades behind it In Natural History Sophocles loved Asphodel, but Asphodel loved William Carlos Williams as hyacinth loved France, and honey loves a toothache Is that a crime or just a form of currency like big tobacco moving on with shady radar over our greenery?
Seeing to the creature:
leaning, bending down What grass is tendered in what state of the union?
Any body can be unionized A governed love for the people isn't special The government of love is to believe itself unwritten Love's office is devotion to the ungoverned, like justice somewhere else, in a while A school beside its architect A child next to a picture The family in its tunnels Pure products feel their power to feed the engine Their movement a document that totters into being written with their elbows and their hands Here is what I found today or what I am
I hear the whistle blowing but I cannot see the train The wrong buildings are coming down to meet me An oily noise waving its petition in the face of what a future So my book becomes a road drifting casually toward a lake The road talks to the stonebreaker in a private language inaudible by carriage A hand transposes the work of the eye until it cannot tell which side is up Dear Rose, I think that I would like to be a weapon like a pillow in the hands of an angry girl A building in the shape of a cloud that takes the shape of a galleon shaped like a bow of hickory or witch hazel or the willow that weeps against this pillow-thought of you
ANOTHER LIFE IN GREEN
Outbreaks of calumny have not yet killed the lupine Trying to make up for a sudden lack of air the hill grows thin against its grid closing our eyes painting its gardens Man and not-man hardly correspond at all When a character says
"I am not Romantic"
it's because an imaginary line has crossed his heart The willed adventure of the alpine grass, the distant lightning of a coup d'etat
A horse or a turnip Your Wealth is on the stove
By the National Institutes of the earth at night
As for Baudelaire a picture of half your face
is all the world, like a new democracy by Henry Adams
To thumb the wave To get awakened
My verse, my vernissage sinking to the hand
as green against the snow or a pretty paragraph
foreshortened in pink going through the season
from apples to oranges a task I will accomplish
with all the dirt I came from What did I expect
to break into the sun?
So begins our legislation
To never say "I am solved by this shadow"
I panic the way evening petals
the wooded cheek I am not bored
On this hidden fence I erase everything
Caught in the mouth of the dog next door:
the spreading heat of urban violet
dying in the car None of this is free
YOU?VE LOST YOUR CARD
Or it lost you before it hit the floor Not everyone's thinking about how to dress for evolution It's not even our show who barely speak as a species Edges dissolve like a parade with Florida looking like a gun and Texas like a gun And Oklahoma like a flag that pops out of a gun on an episode of F-troop in my Oklahoma phase before I knew what a military transport plane sounds like touching down, its wheels bounce back with a little cry or so they did before my brother was called up But that was another war before we knew what we know now and before we forgot what we knew then:
the appearance of another flag The appearance of a continent with handles as if it could be lifted by a rhetorical gesture above the big round heat of the rest of our lives
THIS IS NOT A POEM ABOUT KATHERINE HARRIS
(R-13th District Florida)
When I announced my support for the 'stop Sex Trafficking? Act I dressed as tastefully as I could without compromising my syndicated cleavage. When I announced my support for this Act, I was not denouncing sexual acts per se,
even when performed for political advantage. When I denounced my support for sex trafficking,
I was flanked by a Republican from Ohio with whom I was not having sex and a Democrat from New York, whose assets I had eyed only briefly.
What kind of act was this?
Though educated in Switzerland I have no understanding whatsoever of clouds or of cloud-painting.
Meteorology means observing the natural advantages of sunlight between the elevator and the congressional Hummer. I prefer to be shot from the lower right when speaking to a male interlocutor.
I prefer to be considered a serious fox by those who can ignore my network affiliations.
Sooner or later I'll be sliding to the other side.
I'll be in the Senate like a tongue in a bottle.
I have never attempted to take responsibility for the space shuttle's successful lunch, though I am a firm advocate of low-carb monosyllabic government and have committed adultery with unemployment figures and have enjoyed a pun or two of my own.
When I came out against terrorism I was not "coming out."
When I came out against the sex trade it was not about me it was about money.
When it was not about money it was about Congress.
When it was not about the sanctity of the House it was about the future of the Senate and when it was not about that, it was about Dynasty, which I recommend in reruns, and when it was not about family executive privilege, it was about real estate. It was about running. It was about time we had the kind of coup we've been giving to the rest of our friends, it's time we photographed ourselves next to African American constituents, it's time we talked about freedom of religion for marginalized fundamentalist Christians. It's time to "revitalize our economy"
by clicking on Diversity.
It's time to break ground with our brownest neighbors.
It's time we called our gulf the Mediterranean of the Americas. It's time to toast and be toasted. To clink and run, to veritably jingle.
It's time to expand homeland security through terror.
It's time to honor our veterans with combat-inspired video games distributed free to wheelchairs everywhere.
It's time we referred to their poorest hospitals as Liberty Housing.
It's time for all of us to ?Protect Our Children?
from easy access to Medicaid,
prescription drugs, and the protracted violence of a liberal education.
Homelessness has been so well fixed that everyone I know has at least one somewhere else,
a home in the sand and one in the bush.
You who can recognize an easy link, a family plan,
a vindication, a meal ticket,
a personal payback when you see one,
be sure to check out the great White House page on the benefits of CAFTA.
When Florida says no to drilling, it's not because we don't like oil, it's just our way of sending a message from my gulf to yours.
You?d better think twice before you write this down because I've got friends who've got friends in the IRS and aviation who know how to read.
You'd better decide that We've never had sex that the mic didn't work that you got it all wrong that I only resemble the fox you describe that all of us were acting the only way we knew how.
Excerpted from "Address"
Copyright © 2011 Elizabeth Willis.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsAddress
Take This Poem
A Species Is an Idea (1)
Valet of the Shadow of Death
Poisonous Plants of America
Still Life with Tornado
The Oldest Garden in the World
Another Life in Green
You've Lost Your Card
This Is Not a Poem about Katherine Harris
A Species Is an Idea (2)
In Strength Sweetness
What People are Saying About This
“Willis newly revives the list/litany form, and that works to the reader’s delight. Edged flowers or berries in transparent wax: what the words are like. So we have the forest, along with a quite ruined New England/America. And if one is a traditional Witch, does or doesn’t it help? . . . Keeper of the ‘black poppy,’ poetry.”
“How does the poem address both self and world? How does it address at once the light and the dark of things as they are? And from what site–-or address–-can it possibly speak in the profoundly unstable currents of our time? Such are among the eternal issues Elizabeth Willis movingly explores here by means of an unflinching ‘devotion / to the ungoverned,’ that is, by means of the poetic imagination itself.”
"Willis newly revives the list/litany form, and that works to the reader's delight. Edged flowers or berries in transparent wax: what the words are like. So we have the forest, along with a quite ruined New England/America. And if one is a traditional Witch, does or doesn't it help? . . . Keeper of the 'black poppy,' poetry."Alice Notley, author of Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2005
"How does the poem address both self and world? How does it address at once the light and the dark of things as they are? And from what site–-or address–-can it possibly speak in the profoundly unstable currents of our time? Such are among the eternal issues Elizabeth Willis movingly explores here by means of an unflinching 'devotion / to the ungoverned,' that is, by means of the poetic imagination itself."Michael Palmer, author of The Lion Bridge