Flashback, version one draft 3

Still rough, more fragmented narrative than poem, all explanation and no music. The struggle continues. Long live the struggle!

for Sue and for so long
version 1 draft 3


She straddled my chest, heavy, dripping water—
earliest memory, this dream still vivid, her
long hair hanging down to my face—
I do not remember so much—so much is lost,
nearly all lost, but I feel my toddler legs kicking the bunk
above me in which my big brother slept, smell the

dank of her, hear his mattress rustle, how even
in his sleep my panic stirred him, how he chased her
away again and again, how he held my hand, how he
never went to get our parents.

Somehow that the seven year old boy, kicked awake
every night by his three year old sister, had already
learned that protecting her was his job alone.
I remember how rarely he said
no when I wanted his jacket, his hat, my chunky
arms lost in the echo of his, and how he

did all he could, little one guarding littler one, and how in 1968,
in the hospital, he climbed two chairs and a shelf,
agile as our pet squirrel, to reclaim Brownie Bear, kidnapped by
nurses who said I was too allergic.


Straddling my chest nights after nights,
earning her way into indelible memory. She looked
like my cousin Rhonda—
incomplete recall of cousins tangling to the floor?
Not at three or four—more likely a blurring of Mortica
Adams and Maleficent.

During a body work session, a meditation
intended to draw out the root of my
asthma, I cast her once as metaphor,
nothing more than a child’s mind putting

shape to what it could not comprehend. An
explanation for the memory of her adult body
lodged across my own, the heft of her, how
I felt my lungs compressed like balloons squeezed
nearly to popping, sternum and collar bones splintering—
asthma is a euphemism for

drowning in air, gasping
in and wheezing out—
asthma is the world entire made
narrow as my bronchial tubes.


Sense what that story silences? Water,
everywhere, her clothes and hair saturated,
leaving wet thigh prints on my ribs, damp puddled
in palms restrained by her knees, water in where I had no words, a
nauseating instinct that water could reclaim me, that I was
about to lose the crust that kept me human.

Denial is too easy an answer.
I’ve tried to cast the dream
as suppression—Freudian bed-wetting shame—but that
neglects the choking and my

surety that I knew her, at an age when
everybody I knew or might have known
lived in one of three houses on two streets
in one small town. As sure as I knew my own
name, I was sure she was not
a person who dwelt in my

daytime world. And I knew that
I knew her. She was not
alien, she was terrifying, she was
not new. She was not

separate from me. What sense could I make of that?
Even though I’ve remembered the dream, though it
lingered hours after, though it lingers yet,
it is always only
neurological puzzle, a knowing that I do not know.
A bit of gristle, as Scrooge said, a piece of meat that didn’t

digest. A gallery with a name but empty walls,
installation still in progress. Like lightening seen from far away,
a comprise of silence and thunder. An expectant
null. A crime scene photo, all blood, no face.


She says she knew, from our first date, August
eleventh, that she had loved me all her
lives. She says that this is crazy; there
is no way that she should have felt her
nervous system convulsing when she,
awkwardly, first touched my face.

The Bull Sea Lion

to hear me reading this poem at the Drew 2010 Winter Residency, click

to read much earlier drafts of this work, go to here

The Bull Sea Lion

Ocean-skinned in neoprene, bug-faced,
web-footed, descending, cold, searching,

gasping at my sudden shadow,
all looming black lithe ton of him.

Every nerve screams flee in the face
of his face, of his mass, but mammal flesh

draws mammal flesh. Yearning, a fear unfelt—
I reach my human hand to him.

What he could do he does not. He considers
me, rolls belly up, leans into me rumbling

I knew your mother once, surges muscle
and dives. His bulk becomes

a churn of bubbles, each an egg sac bursting
empty, each my selkie child unconceived.

Blackberry Eating

Blackberry Eating
by Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched, or broughamed
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry eating in late September.

New Work Workshop #1

assignment – write a 5 line poem using images from three earlier brainstorming exercises. Make it image heavy.

It’s a first draft, folks, and that’s rarely pretty.

The World is a Moon Bounce

The world is a moon bounce and falling off
is inevitable. But easy, landing ass first
in soft hay at the bottom of the old barn, in the middle
of your life where your grandmother’s skin
waits to wrap you warm. Just so.


The World is a Moon Bounce

and falling off is inevitable but
easy as landing ass first

in soft hay in the old barn
in the middle

of your life where your grandmother’s
skin waits to wrap you warm,

just so—as if her flesh could pull you
back from over the edge of the world.

New Work Up

I’ve started a new set of pages for my craft essays and poetry reviews, accessed through a new tab at the top of this page. First up are two essays using Scott McCloud’s theory of transitions from Understanding Comics to consider how poems are sequenced in collections. If you like comics or syntax, you’ll probably be as geekily thrilled as I was when I wrote them. Heather McHugh and Ellen Bryant Voigt also make big appearances in these works. No surprise there, after this fall.

More coming to this area soon.

The Bull Sea Lion

this poem just goes on evolving and evolving. Here’s the fourth draft of the third revision/reinventing of it:


The Bull Sea Lion

Ocean-skinned in neoprene, bug-faced,
web-footed, descending, cold

compressed gasping at my sudden shadow,
all looming black lithe ton of him.

Muscles scream flee in the face
of his face, of his mass, but

mammal flesh draws mammal flesh. Yearning,
a fear unfelt, I reach to him with my human hand.

What he could do he does not; he considers
me, he says I knew your mother once, surges

and dives. The shape of his bulk
becomes a churn of bubbles, each

an egg sac bursting empty, each
my selkie child unconceived.

the thing is, poetry just goes on speaking to us

if it captures some true thing about our odd little human lives. I just found this in Heather McHugh’s essay “Broken English,” from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus

to engage with an insatiable girl
ramming belly against belly,
Thigh riding against thigh

The Bull Sea Lion – revised

The Bull Sea Lion
revision draft one
Elliott batTzedek

A dream of an ancestor common to
condor, human, and whale, astounding
bulk, floating grace: flying—
the nature of matter before the invention of falling.

Gravity was less
in Earth’s youth, levity the law
before the weight of battleships and
bombers leveled probability.

And now a bug-faced selkie
in neoprene skin enters the water,
surprised by her soaring, by the sudden
shadow of a black lithe ton.

Muscles frozen rubber—how prey feels.
How mammal flesh, drawn to mammal flesh
considers the mass of his body, yearns
for some ancestral embrace.

I reach my unwebbed fingers to him.

He dives to where I cannot follow.


revision from a new work workshop. Earlier drafts here

how poems come

how poems come
Elliott batTzedek

For myself, a poem emerges by itself, like something developing in a dark place.
Fanny Howe, “Bewilderment”

someone has taken a photo, photos, has not wound the film forward all the way, or too far, imprinting overlapping, underlapping, multiple exposures, images piling up, separated, blank space blank space blank space normal human turned devil-eyed by the flash

someone has taken photos and handed me the camera

i studied photography for two months in high school, which was a long time ago or maybe never but i take the camera and go into the dark room

dark has a smell and it is chemical and acrid and wet and anticipation and frustration and elation and oh the sorrow of the lost century that digital has no dark and no dark smell

that i go into because someone has handed me the camera. i have some experience and some control and some likelihood and no patience none at all so maybe they took a great photo, maybe it was the best photo ever taken and if so, why the fuck did they trust the film to me? i’m just a poet and seeing my life so far i wouldn’t trust me with a great truth because the image is only as good as the filter and, honestly, i suck as a screen, i like to live with all the doors and windows open and dirty laundry hanging everywhere

because washing clothes is not a priority, i’d rather be in the dark

where much to my surprise, and with my gratitude or my unwarranted and unlicensed and gossamer cock-sure arrogance, a real stunner comes out of that liquid bath from time to time. Shadow and light, time and eternity, detail and universe, I and thou, word and sound, so balanced that just for a flash unbalanced ceases to be possible.

“You must have shadow and light source both, listen, listen.” Damn mystics, damn poets, damn darkness that i want more than i want anything because hunkering down and bending over and peering through the wet veil while praying one sharp image will develop is the most devotion-like motion in my muscles’ memory.

Give me the camera, give me the damn camera already, i can promise you nothing but oh

oh how i will serve you if you just keep the cameras coming