Bewitched Playground


A kind of "public dreaming" takes place via the music of these poems—a music as likely to visit the long-dead ghosts of the Kwakiutl tribe as Gianni Versace, and as interested in the baby seat of a car as it is in a boxing ring. Building on the critical success of David Rivard's two earlier, award-winning books, Bewitched Playground widens both his emotional aperture and formal range. Rivard calls it "my book of domestic voodoo"—not a book about having a child, but written out of a life touched by a new intimacy,...

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A kind of "public dreaming" takes place via the music of these poems—a music as likely to visit the long-dead ghosts of the Kwakiutl tribe as Gianni Versace, and as interested in the baby seat of a car as it is in a boxing ring. Building on the critical success of David Rivard's two earlier, award-winning books, Bewitched Playground widens both his emotional aperture and formal range. Rivard calls it "my book of domestic voodoo"—not a book about having a child, but written out of a life touched by a new intimacy, and tuned-in to an unwilled strangeness, a fluctuating gravity.

Here, the unconscious forces of the imagination intersect with the everyday, in a crossroads at the bewitched playground. These stylistically innovative poems are full of the rediscovery that the world teems with "otherness," with freshness and surprise.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"What kind of grace rushes through these poems? It smells, it lucidly perceives reality, it instantly rearranges seven different levels. It dissolves time. It rubs on and changes light, feeds your well of memory. It makes one joyful, humble, aware, and richer for images one does not forget. It leaves me with a desire to be permanently friends with this mysterious kind of grace."—Tomaz Salamun

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Wild and wildly variable in verse, Rivard (Wise Poison) aims for energy, pleasure and people getting it on. "The facts of the next thirty minutes or years," he insists, "are not like tent pegs pounded into the earth." Often depending on the psychosexual delvings, and on the risky declarations of deep feeling which characterized American poetry in the '60s and '70s (and 20th-century Spanish poetry generally), Rivard's failures can fall flat indeed, doubly cursed by the Beats and by Sensitive Manhood: he writes of "the meek," "If I had a peaceful heart/ I would be as cruel as they are," and ends another poem, "I could change her life forever." Elegies for friends, and some of his poems about dead celebrities ("Jung"; Peruvian poet "Vallejo and bootless Robert Johnson") can memorialize them sensitively and well (one on Versace much less so); most of the poems on a young daughter seem just as deeply felt but less well-made. But when he takes his language more seriously, and his speaker's experience less so, Rivard becomes a terrifically unpredictable writer. "Question for the Magic Hour" detects "A wind that's/ distracted, & vague,/ sniffly--/ like a rabbit, or a sedated professor." "I refuse to be lonely," a volatile lyric avers, "I will leave like scissors from a storage case." One of the daughter poems flits from her encounter with a "Tsimishian mask" to an outdoor perch on a guitar case, ending on a long view of an outdated bumper sticker. Such vivid notation on a bevy of experiences--some quite common, some bizarre to begin with--make this playground worth visiting. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555973025
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2000
  • Pages: 66
  • Product dimensions: 5.64 (w) x 9.68 (h) x 0.24 (d)

Meet the Author

David Rivard's Wise Poison won the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book award. His book Torque won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. Rivard teaches at Tufts University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

    My Cliff

My cliff, my cliffside, my oceanside
Like everything else mine—
I don't own it,
I walk around outside its life,
or else lean there;
if need be
on occasion I lie atop it
(after asking permission first!)—
always on the outside
but face & belly to the sky,
I lie down
where I can be swept by warm rain
that has crossed water
deep & so wide
I cannot get over alone.

    Guests of the Wedding

Does it ever end? Sure, hard to say where tho, & naturally
the facts of the next thirty minutes or years
are not like tent pegs pounded into the earth,
not knowable because sharp & stationary.
But that morning walking beneath the tent—
a large tent—I saw
there was candlewax pooled on the starched white tablecloths,
proof of the pleasure
people had taken
circling & dancing & burning in the light
those candles threw the night before.
Thank you, gracious candles.
It was a wedding.
All of us, Michaela said, are really
animals, & she accepted that, glad.
And that morning
in the house belonging to Candice & Ed
next to the tent we met
the boy named Jake, a four-year-old, & his mother
with her tattoo designed by an unknown hand
to encircle like a wide bracelet her tanned upper arm,
a bracelet marked by totemic shapes &faces—
beaks, fins, talons, feathered tails, lidded eyes—
Kwakiutl if there were no Kwakiutl around to ask
the mother of Jake why & from where & who
did she think she was? Who was she
who had also had drawn across her back
shoulder blade to blade an unfurled pair of wings?
She was a lovely citizen & an employee of Ed
if the obvious can be counted on
sometimes in the sharp late-September sunlight.
Many things might happen to her
but those tattoos remain the same
or changed only slightly of course
by the fading of color,
slackened skin. Many things
would happen, her future—
months without jobs, & later,
success, against a backdrop of stables, success,
and then the night she would nearly be raped,
the rainy night she would fish
the beach with Brazilians, & on another shore
the morning she'd lick a pebble & laugh
to tell her as-yet-unborn daughter
I am Demosthenes & must practice my oration
the future I invented for her,
and within which
I moved her from place to place.
To own another person, completely, in the imagination.
How else do you teach yourself
what you wish to become?
And isn't it
one after another after another after another
the many things men & women wish to be?


If it is late Sunday in the brain & sunlight
falling on the wall of the Food Court
and you tell me your daughter
at 18 months still breast-feeds,
and if I with my slightly younger daughter
sitting at the next table nod but say nothing, nothing,
while you speak of the vicissitudes
of cracked nipples & late-night feedings,
then I am someone who is
you can tell yourself
an odd man, dumb, & probably weird,
weird, weird enough
to see in the baffling dear creature you are
a classical subject for a civilized poet in an innocent land,
such as ours would be.
In that poem you would still be a woman
but made-out now as a beautiful thinly tall broomstick,
pale but not at all bony,
with encircling copper necklace & threaded red sash.
I have a devil, I own a devil,
my devil,
and he'd defend whoever sang.
So all right,
I am strange—a usually shameful matter
for an American—& would make myself even more so
to you
by revealing a secret from my life.
It's something.
I watched my wife feed our girl the milk
as both seemed to sleep those minutes
until the baby stopped, started crying,
and I took her downstairs & walked
back & forth on the planked oak floor.
It was 3:31 A.M.,
and I put the music on low
only to initiate my daughter
into the religion of Bob Dylan.
Well I ride on a mail train, baby, can't buy a thrill.
Ain't it just like the night, to play tricks
when you're trying to be so quiet.
I want you to know these things.
So what are you waiting for?
Go ahead, ask.
Don't hold your breath
if you want to breathe,
my beautiful broom.

    Bewitched Playground

Each could picture probably
with great care his brother drawing
the corded string of a watered silk bag
and mumbling to Basho above the keepsake
pay your respects to mother's white hair
now your eyebrows look a little white too

but all have turned instead to watch this child
a girl my daughter Simone
an astute migrant
skimming the stream of days
toted wherever she wants
to eat the dirt of inattentive towns
to arm wrestle as with
the blind & steal a stoic
shipping him home—
all have turned & run to her because
she has a spider on her neck she has
seen herself
though blindfolded by a cloud
the sun is a yellowjacket
drowning in a cup of coffee she carries
a spider in her hair
blond & blonder dear river.


Tho we sit there smiling with wet hair
in green grass & broad daylight
nonetheless silently we must
as a requirement agree to die.
That is it, the worst
of the whole
silly business—
that is the worst thing
they fear, those blessed
melancholiacs who shudder among us,
who should love properly
our springs, & summers,
plush summer—pollinated
dahlias, unbuttoned pajama
tops, zinc oxide
at all the lifeguard shacks—
love this, I say
come on,
but they can't & don't.
They won't
be tempted to be
They are the ones & they are
the only—trying to wait it out.

    My Education on Earth

It's not snowing but it snows
the dry defiant powder
wind spills off roofs like a blizzard
of feedback from a guitar,
a cheap Sears special tuned by a god
who dreams himself
trapped somehow
within the body of a stoned
and temporarily
unemployed auto worker.
As for me, I too
need to be woken. I would like
to be woken
conclusively—if necessary, by
burning embers—so that I might begin
my education on earth.
Only I'm worried
I've planted
the bulbs improperly.
After all
in six to eight weeks
they are supposed to become a gift
everyone would want—those tulips—
their yellow, persistent
and unsighing—unless
they have been planted badly,
upside down for instance.
In which case the directions
seem to imply
there will be no warm rains to sweep the streets,
no spring showers like gold coins falling
against the earth's trampoline.
And when I shuck my shirts
at night they will still give
off sparks in the dark,
cold air sucking life
from the collars & cuffs. So—
the day may have been dug badly,
growing downward now
apparently forever.
But I annoy myself to be
so sensitive—
it makes me
sleepy! I am asleep
in a week some calendars call
the week of March 1st, & in need
like the steam
as it rises swirling & distracted
into cold daylight
out of a dryer full of
wet hot clothes.
Steam, I say, smarten up—
get over it
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Table of Contents

My Cliff 1
Guests of the Wedding 2
America 4
Bewitched Playground 6
Temptation 7
My Education on Earth 8
What I Know 10
Question for the Student 12
Daydream 13
Anger 15
Nightly 17
Home 18
Question for the Magic Hour 20
Versace 22
Jung 23
A Dream 25
Question for the Bride 27
Not Guilty 29
Nice Work If You Can Get It 31
Docudrama 33
To My Wife 35
Birthmark 36
January 30, 1994 38
A Kidnapping, Some Mook Might Say 39
Going 41
Question for the Teacher 42
Friend 44
Speech to Be Made by X in the Next Life, Whenever He Gets the
Chance 46
Clarity? 48
Hope 50
Question for the Office of Recycling 51
Paradisiac 52
The Favored 53
Voice-Over 55
Question for a Match Whose Flame Is Ascension 57
Lucky Slaves 59
Hello, Traveler 60
Golden Year 62
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