Plash & Levitation

Plash & Levitation

by Adam Tavel


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602232617
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 03/15/2015
Series: UAK - Permafrost Prize Series
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Adam Tavel is associate professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He is the author of The Fawn Abyss.

Read an Excerpt

Plash & Levitation


By Adam Tavel


Copyright © 2015 University of Alaska Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60223-262-4


    Blizzard Sweat

    for William Hathaway

    #26 takes his practice hacks and spits
    as the commentator warns a 2-0 count
    will let him sit dead red on a fastball
    streaking through the zone thigh-high,
    something he can really drive

    but like every other Blue Jay flashing
    in grainy low-def across my screen
    he's as anonymous as an express lane
    bachelor. By now all nine are dead
    or bald, trotting the bases of their twilight

    coaching Little Leaguers in Toronto's
    placid suburbs. On ESPN Classic
    the network runs forever home
    movies of muttonchoppers stretching
    shoulders in the on-deck circle,

    their starched periwinkle bruising
    with pit-sweat — July of '82, the summer
    of my arrival. Outside their box and mine
    there's a foot of snow climbing
    closer to two every hour. We've lost

    the wheels to our wagon and half
    its doors. The wind like a flustered
    Casey flails just to feel the angry air.
    It's an air I learn to breathe
    by the garden spade-full, by hoist

    and fling, by the parade of fucks
    I mutter out loud at the lack
    of a snow shovel's wide-bottom jaw.
    Three jays form a flock
    on the sort of branch young poets

    pounce to call dappled. I
    imagine them placing bets of seed
    to see how long it takes this blizzard sweat
    to overwork my booze-battered
    heart, this hound I've kicked for years

    for the audacity to slink
    its thin ribs closer to the woodstove.
    I've limped my first week without
    so much as the dribble of a tear
    down a frosted pint, meditating

    on my wife's ankles so
    swollen in her ninth month
    she can hardly waddle to the can.
    At night I rouse to the gentle rhythm
    of her snoring to gawk water-eyed

    at the mound our son, enormous
    beneath three blankets and a comforter.
    You bastard you bastard her nose whistles,
    though now I hear it from the angel
    on my shoulder whose employer sees

    fit to dump inch after fat-flake inch
    on our tiny plot. Listen, I plead the jays,
    tell The Boss I'm drying out, I'll clear
    this driveway past sundown
    as long as He doesn't make us

    white-knuckle our camel to Bethlehem
    on a road unfit for tanks. Prove it
    they seem to squawk, ascending
    into blur, my spade's gravelly scrape
    against these stones the only sound for miles.

    Having Drunk Two-Thirds of a Bottle of Riesling during
    Her Office Hours, Professor Adler Lectures on
    the Venus of Willendorf

    The only thing better than a goddess
    with boobs bulbous as grapefruit
    is a four-inch anachronism named
    for Roman lust you can clutch
    in your sweaty palm & beg
    for rains to slick your plow
    through drought clay. It's important
    to note the figure is faceless with plaits
    of zigzag hair mocking how life whips
    around and around like a go-kart
    until one day you forget your PIN
    at the ATM and the whole world taps
    its foot in line behind you. The hearse's
    Armor-All sheen, your husband
    plowing a T.A. on the tulips
    of your dead mother's quilt and there,
    just like that, you feel your body turn
    into the universal body ripping
    its perineum in a hollow of larch
    during the millionth hour
    of labor when the only thing
    for pain is stick after stick bit
    to splinters. Paleolithic means
    we turned from wood to stone.
    It appears I've skipped some slides.
    Let's start at the beginning:

    Our Currency of Air

    In the lilting brook of Bangladeshi English
    that flows from Dr. Rajbani's lips
    between serious case and any questions

    I believe again in a God who plagues
    with frogs and hail and kills a son
    to shatter pharaoh's staff, a God who gives His Word

    in mustard seeds, who builds His church on rock-
    dumb fishermen, who lets lions lap
    marrow from faithful bones,

    God of Charlemagne, my grandmother's God
    whose answer to hosanna is limbo
    where infants float in goo

    for the sin of dying without a squeal. A limbo
    like this intensive care, a blip-blop arcade
    where James, an hour old, pants

    93 times a minute, his monitor
    a wild topography
    of peaks and dips like Coltrane's solo

    in "Giant Steps," every note wailing
    angry penance across the tenor's reed for years
    lost to tar-dark dope that bloomed

    brief sanctuary in his veins. Will my son live
    to feel the sharp pinch of vaccinations
    or hear anything but this clinical

    space station beeping, I want to ask,
    will his lungs drain to rise with mine
    as he snoozes on my chest,

    his matchstick fingers in the jungle
    of my beard when our rocker's rails
    creak the downbeat

    to an August cricket serenade
    lit by the azure glow
    of a 3 a.m. nightlight?

    Pacing Pine-Sol tiles
    memory's filmstrip flickers
    my mentor, the great poet childless and divorced

    who scolded my younger self
    sighing oh how your work will change
    once you see the world

    through a father's eyes,
as if he ever stood
    behind his bleeding wife's wheelchair,
    sweat greasing its orange rubber grips

    so he could spin them around the handles' steel.
    Just because you know a thing is true
    doesn't mean you've felt its hand

    wrap around your silver ring
    and squeeze, reads the opening of a screed
    I scrawl across my mental stationery

    when Rajbani huh-hmms, reaching
    for a pamphlet that explains as a precaution only,
    intubation reduces serious risk of ...

    Doctor, if I could dam your flooding
    euphemisms with my fist, if
    I could strangle your scarf-soft neck, professor,

    your strained clichés about avoiding
    Laertes' rage, if only I could throttle
    every preemie in this wing

    to wring my son his currency of air —
    this is what I pray to no one when
    Rajbani dashes to incubator 9

    whooshing shut a screen to shield himself
    from our stupid stares and start
    the pumping work only hands

    can do, caught as we are
    in a cruel red fermata
    where the flatline drones the only note it knows.

    The Young Painter
    Rejects Eakins' Gross Clinic, 1875

    The prudish brouhaha Eakins wrought
    with Gross's crimson scalpel was
    intentional. Yes, smeared sweat
    glistened on the doctor's scalp,
    shimmering in the preposterous
    light that blinded row after studious
    row. And the boy's leg sucked apart
    like a wet wallet at incision,
    audible enough to send his mother
    into a caterwauling fit until Isaiah
    Peeks, our resident addict, chose
    between two desperations
    and offered her laudanum.
    But the rest was blithe, stylized,
    ordered as a watch-face. Eakins
    reduced incidental seepage
    to raspberry juice staining
    nails on the chief assistant, reduced
    hair to lacquer sheen, reduced
    my fixation to an idiotic pair
    of pupil's eyes and a mustache
    anxiously perched while the clinic,
    roiling from clustered lamps,
    drowsed amid pyogenic stench.
    When I saw it all hanging
    framed some months later
    my bad left hand was a rainbow
    of gouache I bought with blood
    money the pawner paid me
    for indigo hours and the chain
    dangling from father's half-hunter.
    I cringed at his rotten black incisor
    as, like children chanting
    times tables, that clerk and I
    counted down the rumpled bills.
    My next canvas was a vision
    of a scarred boy staring at his toes
    limping down a pier forever.

    Aubade for Sesame Street at 3:27 a.m.
    Ending with a Line from Snyder

    Synchronized, the Muppet ones
    sway peppermint canes
    with fishing line visible
    below their cardboard stage.
    An off-key Frank Oz warbles
    how glorious it is to be
    a stroke, a streak, a floating
    bone, simply perpendicular
    to the earth and counted
    first, the carnelian match-head
    of infinity yet yourself
    divided by yourself is still
    yourself. The putrescence
    of formula puke wafts
    from two ruined towels
    heaped and sopping in the tub.
    There is no other life.

    New Flag

    its border a fetch of dragonflies
    thin crystalline wings shimmering
    like a jeweler's backlit display
    of promise rings soon to hang
    from necks of girls awaiting
    fragments from the desert

    at center a teddy's clawless paws
    unfurl their plush hello
    no red X no crosshatched back
    no Carolina cotton pricking
    the palm until it turns one brute
    slab of callus this silk is

    softer than a sheik's pillowcase
    & the lone strawberry curl
    peeking over my son's collar
    so when it frays I'll have
    the perfect rag to buff
    father's sour bugle fulgent

    from the seamstress it's too petite
    for a toga or the ballpark
    pole that pings when the pulley
    thwaps with summer thunder
    too small to hide twin hinges
    on a casket

    Death March from the Siege of Kut, 1916

    Halfway to Aleppo our diarrhea
    from the last rank scraps of camel
    gave way to sun sores. Some motley
    of starved shufflers we were —
    blisters burst between our toes
    and oozed at the corners of our mouths
    crusting our bleached whiskers.
    In that savage monotony of dune
    I wished for Thompson's typhoid
    or the blind bravery to break
    file and flail against the sun
    until the moist crackle of a Mauser
    left me baking, a leather couch
    for vipers. When queer Lewis, one
    of Townshend's sycophantic aides —
    who spent the morning muttering
    to an open locket of his sister — bolted
    shrieking gibberish to all of Syria,
    our guards laughed until he shrank
    to a bobbing apostrophe upon the sand.
    Booming "Old Maid in the Garret"
    each day at noon roused more valor
    than psalms. It was our cheering song
    that helped us leave the withered
    crusts of comrades singing.
    In my woozy head I drafted
    letters home to every mum
    whose son's collapse saw captors
    drag away the sunken ziggurat
    of his ribs with a team of onagers.
    My letters left out uniforms stripped
    and cast with lots. They left out
    our filched canteens gurgling mud.
    They left out that the only rain we knew
    for nine hundred miles was Turkish
    piss, yellow as sand, flung upon our heads.


Excerpted from Plash & Levitation by Adam Tavel. Copyright © 2015 University of Alaska Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA 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 Contents


Blizzard Sweat,
Having Drunk Two-Thirds of a Bottle of Riesling during Her Office Hours, Professor Adler Lectures on the Venus of Willendorf,
Our Currency of Air,
The Young Painter Rejects Eakins' Gross Clinic, 1875,
Aubade for Sesame Street at 3:27 a.m. Ending with a Line from Snyder,
New Flag,
Death March from the Siege of Kut, 1916,
Sometimes, at Seven,
A Medici Servant Recounts Leo X's Coronation,
Cento from the Church of the Nazarene's Advent Marquee,
William Tecumseh Sherman Speaks on the Burning of Old Sheldon Church, South Carolina, 1865,
How Her Pearls,
On Certain Theories of Capitalism,
Fever Dream in which Anne Sexton Is My Mother Begging for Her Job at the Sunshine Supermart after Her Third Reprimand for Tardiness,
From Her Deathbed Harriet Bailey Chronicles the Fifth and Final Trek to Her Son Frederick Douglass,
The Rocket,
Witness 483: Phoenix Lights Incident, 1997,
Dry Lightning,
The Great Disappointment,
Charles Altamont Doyle Writes to His Son Arthur Conan from the Montrose Lunatic Asylum, 1888,
The Fever Room,
What Creature,
Into the Primitive,
Ananogmius within the Body Cavity of Xiphactinus,
The Redskins Logo's Soliloquy,
Still Life with Denver Broncos Duffel Bag, 1989,
Marlboro Purslane,
Erasure: Tattered Copy of Ezra Jack Keats' Whistle for Willie Discharged by the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs' Preschool Lending Library,
The Clay Is Vile Beneath Our Feet,
Widow's Lament,
At Sixty Weeks,
On Certain Theories of Guitar,
The Throat an Open Grave,
Delirium Tremens: Keith Moon at Laguna Beach, 1978,
On a Photograph of Jeffers with His Granddaughter Una, Carmel, 1953,
Joseph's Apocrypha,
Ode to Noah Caterpillar Jackson, 1807–1880,
Two Mosquitoes,
The Birth of Things to Come,
Recital with Tenebrae,
Seven Post-It Notes for the Philosophy Department's New Work-Study Aide,
Gut Shot, Alifair McCoy Prays to Wisps of Floccus,
Target Practice,
A Surrogate Suicide Note for Carol Frost Written with a Murder of Shaftsbury Crows,
The Wolfman's Confession to the Salisbury Police Department,
Ghazal for Toadspawn,
Plash and Levitation,

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