Circles Where the Head Should Be

Overview

Winner of the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, 2010

The poems in Circles Where the Head Should Be are full of objects and oddities, bits of news, epic catalogues, and a cast of characters hoping to make sense of it all. Underneath the often whimsical surface, however, lies a search for those connections we long for but so often miss, and a wish for art to bridge the gaps.

"Playful and soulful, buoyant and mordant, snazzy and savvy-Caki Wilkinson's poems pull out all the stops, and...

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Circles Where the Head Should Be

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Overview

Winner of the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, 2010

The poems in Circles Where the Head Should Be are full of objects and oddities, bits of news, epic catalogues, and a cast of characters hoping to make sense of it all. Underneath the often whimsical surface, however, lies a search for those connections we long for but so often miss, and a wish for art to bridge the gaps.

"Playful and soulful, buoyant and mordant, snazzy and savvy-Caki Wilkinson's poems pull out all the stops, and revel in making the old mother tongue sound like a bright young thing. Lend her your ears and you'll hear American lyric moxie in all its abounding gusto and lapidary glory, making itself new all over again."-David Barber, Poetry Editor, The Atlantic

"Circles Where the Head Should Be has its own distinctive voice, a lively intelligence, insatiable curiosity, and a decided command of form. These qualities play off one another in ways that instruct and delight. An irresistible book."-J. D. McClatchy, author of Mercury Dressing: Poems, judge

"Caki Wilkinson's marvelous and marvelously titled Circles Where the Head Should Be contains poetry as dexterously written as any today. And beneath its intricate surface pleasures lie a fierce intelligence and a relentless imagination constantly discovering connections where none had been seen before. This is a stunning debut."-John Koethe, author of Ninety-fifth Street, winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize

"Like Frost, Wilkinson believes in poem as performance, showing off her verve and virtuosity. She is the 'Lady on a Unicycle,' negotiating her difficult vehicle through the pedestrian crowd with 'the easy lean achieved/ by holding on to nothing'-a joy to witness." -A. E. Stallings, author of Archaic Smile and Hapax

CAKI WILKINSON graduated from Rhodes College and Johns Hopkins University. She received a 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry, Yale Review, and other journals. She lives in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781574413090
  • Publisher: University of North Texas Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Series: Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry Series, #18
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.10 (d)

Meet the Author

 CAKI WILKINSON graduated from Rhodes College and Johns Hopkins University. She received a 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Her poems have appeared in The AtlanticPoetryYale Review, and other journals. She lives in Cincinnati.

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Read an Excerpt

Circles Where the Head Should Be

poems


By Caki Wilkinson

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2011 Caki Wilkinson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57441-309-0


CHAPTER 1

    Cosmogony

    A ball of yarn, a hill
    maintain an equipoise until
    their neatness starts to bore the gods
    of potential and energy
    who hedge bets, reckoning the odds
    of when the rest will be

    set in motion, and who,
    first stumbling upon this clew,
    constructed both the incline and
    the inclination to unwind.
    Like most gods, though, they haven't planned
    to stay; they mastermind

    the scheme, ex nihilo,
    then slip behind the shadow show
    and designate an agent, chief,
    remaker of their mischief made.
    Each time, disguised, this leitmotif
    gets salvaged and replayed,

    a universe begins,
    for orogens and origins
    suppose a Way Things Were before
    some volatile, untimely That—
    sweetness perverted by the core
    or the belfry by the bat,

    or here, a hilly green,
    whose still life, eerily serene,
    completes their best contrivance yet:
    from high above, a williwaw,
    a hiss, and then the silhouette
    of one terrific paw.


    Lares and Penates

    The suburbs? Well, for heaven's sake
    who wouldn't choose the absolute
    convenience? Cheap, a quick commute,
    and close to Lowe's, a Steak and Shake,
    our own police and DMV,
    a library, a lake.

    Esteemed domestic diplomats,
    we trump conundrums (His and Hers)
    and smother any fuss that stirs
    the air of habit-habitats.
    It's not an easy job; in short,
    we wear a lot of hats.

    Our curb's appealing. From the street
    you'd miss the issues we're ignoring:
    termites and week-old dishes mooring,
    barnacled with shredded wheat,
    the bunch of brown bananas stuck
    with a yellow Post-It: Eat!

    We dictate chores, but understand
    the clock moves faster than we do
    and focus on those old and blue
    dilemmas of the second hand:
    inheritance, ill-fitting pants,
    smoke, rumors, foreclosed land.

    Winters, we help keep track of taxes,
    sort copies Xerox-hot in piles,
    or prune unruly hanging files
    (a fixture of our weekend praxis).
    There's always something. In this house,
    only the cat relaxes—

    because the clutter drives a need
    for more, more room, more hours, food,
    more faith in the subjunctive mood...
    tomorrow, yes, we should succeed
    in keeping peace and making time
    to garden, and to read.

    Still, every spring our porches spawn
    insects we can't identify
    and ferns turned freeze-dried octopi.
    They spill into the arid lawn
    with diasporic fliers, clover
    and choirs of woebegone

    house sparrows whose incessant cheeping
    recalls the gloomy Ubi sunt,
    our soundtrack to the nightly hunt
    for whatever is downstairs, beeping.
    (As if the sleepless needed some
    reminder they're not sleeping.)

    But don't fret; clarity, if brief,
    is possible. With luck, you'll see
    an artfulness in entropythe
    rust, the dust, the bas-relief
    of Aquafresh-encrusted sinks.
    So when, in disbelief,

    a woman skims new catalogs,
    convinced her luster's fading, faded,
    and, afraid to end up jaded,
    doughy in orthotic clogs,
    she gracefully accepts her fate
    and rises early. Jogs.


    Bower Bird

    Old news, the midnight warblers worrisome
    to introspective bards, the nagging taps
    and jugs that left so many haunted, dumb,

    behind their coppice gates or chamber doors—
    but witness, now, this feathered architect,
    a bricoleur, exotic, who ignores

    convention, working long before he sings
    to gather fragile lumber, sticks and seeds,
    although, part larcenist, his favorite things

    come from the human world: milk caps or pairs
    of pearly buttons once attached to tags;
    matchsticks, cigar bands, red synthetic hairs

    uprooted from some coconut baboon
    or other Florabama souvenir,
    stripped screws, receipts, even the jagged moon

    of a fingernail blown, dusty, from the Hoover.
    And steadfast to the finders keepers rule,
    this passerine Houdini will maneuver

    through apertures in transoms, cracks in attics,
    encroaching on such odd forgotten hobbies
    as medieval reenactments, numismatics

    Hummels, and paint-by-numbers, hauling back
    whatever he can muster, though he's less
    a petty crook than kleptomaniac,

    since unlike history's most famous thieves,
    Prometheus and Charlie Peace, Capone
    and Robin Hood, he's charmed by gingko leaves

    the same as blazing gold, for he equates
    the value of a find with how it fits
    into the complex structure he creates.

    Bizarre, this art through which he resurrects
    a story of disjointed parts, the cause
    extracted from his manifold effects—call
    it a burnished hut, a self-made cage,
    a bachelor pad; in fact, his bower's nothing
    but a vehicle, the decorated stage

    where he's transformed. The undisputed prince
    of bric-a-brac, his solo trill persists
    whether or not he has an audience,

    the coda rocking walls designed to glisten
    yet hardly strong enough to house his hope
    those finest plumes, on their high perch, will listen.


    Lady on a Unicycle

    Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line,
    unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.


    —Newton's First Law

    So Esse Pearl gets snowed in at the chichi condo
    of that married man she sees,
    and-you can filter this however you think fitshe's
    upstairs, toweling off burst-bubble film, her chest

    chafed from his monogram,
    and he's shut in the parlor, leafing through sheet music—but

    just the glockenspiel, he says, to swallow all
    the woodwinds in his head—
    when, glancing towards the porch to contemplate a scale,
    he sees a woman poised, it seems, above the fluff
    of shrubs before the sheer
    pink streetlights show her high boots turn a single wheel.

    Now here's the kicker: he goes back to reading, forgets
    even to mention it

    until they take a holiday months later (months!),
    like it wasn't worth writing home about-and that's
    the kind of man he is,
    Esse Pearl says, a mess of grandioso themes

    the rest of us can't hear; and (bless her heart) wrapped up
    in his wife's terrycloth,
    she never knew what passed: a whistle-trill of spokes
    turned over salted asphalt, the easy lean achieved

    by holding on to nothing,
    the freedom of a body that can stop itself.


    Same Lady, Different Unicycle

    Reaching the metro station, soaked, galoshes
    sloshing, commuters stop to empty things—
    a hood, a tote-into the sidewalk grate;

    the overhang ladles their hair with rain.
    Bevies of wet umbrellas ruffle past.
    They hurry underground, all trundling
    the same dark luggage, and learn the Red Line north

    is making only local stops. Enough,
    they think: another morning's ticker tape

    looped with bad news. Too soon, they've had enough.
    Squinting through platform steam, they hate to wait,
    heads spinning, phones flipped out like hands-Back off,

    I'm searching for a signal—never mind
    the squatter by the bottom stair who thrums
    his old guitar. Hard to imagine how

    one finds an opening through coats and ponchos,
    but she does, this lady on a unicycle.
    A child tugs his mother's sleeve, points, Look!

    and they watch her thread the madding masses, drop
    a dollar for the song, and pedal on,
    tilted into the gray, available light.


    The Truth About Effects

    Hens form one of the minor tragedies of the floods.

    —The Dearborn Independent, June 1927

    There's hardly rhyme or reason for a flood
    or what it swallows. Water rose in spurts,
    then leveled everything. A gust of mud.

    The lucky were called spared: they hadn't drowned
    on rooftops. From high ground, some raised their shirts,
    comparing watermarks; some made a mound

    of salvage—heaped, but dry. You had to choose,
    one man would say. He left his hens in runs
    and hauled his father's anvil, which he'd use

    to prop the basement door—though, like the levee,
    he brought it up some nights, bestowed on sons
    who found it unremarkable, but heavy.


    Genealogy

    It had to do with little leaden things,
    a belt unbuckled, rumors, epithets
    they tried and stuck with, their inheritance:
    nearsightedness, short fuses, long regrets.

    One said, you know, I'd hoped for more than this.
    The other, why'd you think you get to hope?
    It had to do with what they did, and didn't,
    a mirror's smears, hair nested in the soap.

    Out of this blinkered logic, they begot
    the whole town's whispers. Spoken like a curse:
    Knocked up. A waitress at the Dairy Maid
    spread it (her second cousin was their nurse).

    The baby, it was no surprise, grew up
    on powdered milk, saltines, government cheese—
    since lonely's poor is worse, she bore another,
    as if bless-you was meant to cure a sneeze.

    They tried. And stuck with their inheritance,
    but not a lick of sense, they reinvested,
    hell-bent to break the cycle, make ends meet.
    She went to Junior College. He got arrested—it
    had to do with what they did, and didn't.

    One son took sides. The other never kept
    a promise or a steady anything.
    He quit the church league, grew a mustache, slept,

    knocked up a waitress at the Dairy Maid.
    Head Majorette, she twirled, but looked a wreck,
    didn't return after the baby came,
    the birth cord wound around its purple neck.

    Since lonely's poor is worse, she bore another
    and stole away to live with kin, her past
    forgotten when she tied the knot again:
    a man's man who hung on (unlike the last),

    hell-bent to break the cycle, make ends meet;
    who had AC, four boys, and dogs that hunted;
    who strategized, ascending through the ranks
    to hold his father's post. It's all she'd wanted:

    a promise or a steady anything.
    But children leave (tied down, sewn-up) a void,
    the referent of needs no longer needed.
    She caught a lump. Her husband, once deployed,

    didn't return. After the baby came
    (their last surprise), she left the bills and yard
    she couldn't face (his legacy, or hers?),
    skipped town, and cropped him from the Christmas card,

    forgotten. When she tied the knot again,
    she framed the news; her new man worked with solder
    and flux-their life: clippings, memento mori
    turned paperweights, stepsons, a whip-smart daughter

    who strategized, ascending through the ranks;
    who read Theogony, said autodidact,
    sought refuge in big-city-life-but driven
    to get a job with benefits, got carjacked.

    The referent of needs no longer needed?
    Husband. Too soon, she wished she'd never married.
    It had to do with little leaden things,
    the fumes a body runs on, grudges carried.

    She couldn't face his legacy—or hers,
    it seemed-and, scotched, they opted for a gloss.
    One said, you know, I'd hoped for more than this,
    but there it was, refulgent in the dross

    and flux—their life: clippings, memento mori
    assembled like a line nobody drew
    out of this blinkered logic. They begot
    a tough, bow-legged brood. The middle two
    sought refuge in big-city life, but driven
    to bouts of rage, found mediocrity.

    The baby, it was no surprise, grew up
    sore as the dickens, hating kids. Had three.


    Girl Under Bug Zapper

    This haywire night, she's back from church
    with neighbors, plain-faced Pentecostal types
    whose scowls cut through the windshield's smears
    when her door slammed, no thank you ma'am or wave,
    who'd still be scowling, could they see
    she kowtows on rotten boards, the porch suffused
    with purple-blues no regal soul
    would praise, to maim a wayward gypsy moth.

    She likes to watch them die, the stunned
    and stunted, slugs betrayed by falling salt,
    cicadas gutted, anthills razed
    like circus grounds after a hurricane,
    and while a kinder child might stray
    from incantations, cataclysmic winds
    of aerosol, or soda froth,
    her heart's a mudcake shrunken in the sun.

    Besides, she's seen enough of them
    hooked onto eaves and storm doors, dull as leaves,
    and knows they'll drop, spun from the shock
    of pain, or rapture, creatures slain in spirit.

    Besides, she'd rather celebrate
    the world unhinged, its crooked scales and stakes,
    party-of-one who plucks these wings,
    confetti in her folded palms. Frail things.


    Portrait of the Artist with Toothpick Bridge

    Last place: in retrospect, I could've thought
    about the laws of Statics and Kinetics,
    or drawn a blueprint. No, I chose aesthetics,
    hung up, like all new kids, on first impressions.
    But decorating sticks with sticks, I grew
    concerned: my trusses barely bore the glue,
    much less a brick. Poorly conceived, and wrought,

    the thing was lucky it survived the ride
    to school. And while I'd gain perspective, years
    after I faced the junior engineers,
    the meantime left me to my indiscretions:
    minor, but of a very public nature.
    Despite my having learned the nomenclature
    of tension-turned-suspension, I relied

    on other terms: an ornamental apse
    and ziggurats, I said, were more my style.
    Thus, holding it together for my trial
    was difficult. I tried to make concessions
    for shaky hands and braces, but fell short—a
    lesson, not in how to build support,
    but how to stand back, watching it collapse.


    Itinerant

    He's driving, one hand down an Arby's sack,
    and—Jesus Bleeping Christ—we're nowhere close,
    sentenced to Kansas. Kansas: home of wheat,
    the nation's largest prairie dog, and plains
    that lend some credence to the pancake-world
    hypothesis. I need to pee. Again.
    You stick two people in an F-150
    for three days, lugging pets and plants and far
    more baggage than they're willing to admit,
    their separate self-reflection starts to breed
    apotheosis or abomination—
    and usually the latter: we're both pissed.
    Who died and made you king? I say. He says,
    Sometimes your big mouth bites you in the ass,
    and then he pegs me with a chicken finger—
    not at me, near me, he'll maintain for weeks
    after the incident, but either way,
    it whips my left ear, hard, a deep-fried dart,
    before it's sucked into the floorboard vortex,
    that point of no return between our seats.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Circles Where the Head Should Be by Caki Wilkinson. Copyright © 2011 Caki Wilkinson. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas 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.

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