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In much of her poetry, Tamiko Beyer writes of the relationship between the natural world and our bodies, invoking what she calls a queer::eco::poetics. Water winds its way through her most recent book, We Come Elemental (2013), dismantling the barriers we erect between what is considered natural and not natural. As Beyer mentions in an interview with Lantern Review, there is an inherent queerness to water. She quotes poet Oliver Bendorf: “[I]t shape-shifts, takes on different forms, flows in hardened cracks, expands to fill the space it’s given.”

Beyer shares with us five new poems that continue in this vein, playing with ideas of body, language, boundaries, and porousness. She explains:

An image reoccurs in these particular pieces: the open palm. It was not intentional, but I am drawn to that archetypal image for its possibilities and ambiguities—to hold lightly, to strike, to gesture in welcome or in an assertion of boundaries.

Two of these poems were written to cross the boundaries between language and image: “Stet,” and “After Rock on a Pedestal of Ice, Tibet” are in response to pieces from the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts: here and here.

I am drawn toward testing the intimacy of language, exploring how words on my tongue and mind manifest in image and ideas to transfer from my brain and heart to yours. These days, I am interested in what poetry can do in the face of systemic, oppressive power and the possibility of it intensifying true power that stems from justice. And I am aware of how we are always — through language among other modes of communication — drawing lines between ourselves and other, between inside and out, between us and them. I want to find and wield language that smudges lines, that builds and builds and builds.

 

1.

Stet

–after “America II,” 1998 by Luis González Palma

What medals, what scatter indicates home?

Possessives undo identification. Mine. Yours. Ours. Other and other and other.

My palm flat against the door to check for heat before opening: how one prevents fire
from jumping room to room. Contagion. When the apartment below burned, bricks
turned black from outside in.

When I think tattoo, I think of the gangsters of my childhood: yakuza in the public pool.
What a six year old knows of danger.

A thousand tiny lines, a taped-up dollar bill, this particular explosion. What we mean by
country, by imminent, by the finest line through a single word.

Once I was I am no longer. An unsteady thing, as changeable as memory. I cannot say
what about America, my skin stitched so close to sky.

"America II," by Luis Gonzalez Palma, 1998.

“America II,” by Luis Gonzalez Palma, 1998.

 

2.

Between body between mirror

–after Nan Goldin’s “C putting on her make-up at Second Tip” 1992

because double::
your high cheekbones trill
at the glass edge under
the perfect brush

because artifice::
the secret of hips when in heels
one foot placed in front of the other
makes sway don’t say
tightrope say
silk say along a single hair
say dust motes in stage lights

because desire because
performance because transformation::
touch me here and here and here
my caught breath at your face’s turn
and we move, a stunned symmetry

"C putting on her make-up at Second Tip," Nan Goldin, 1992.

“C putting on her make-up at Second Tip,” Nan Goldin, 1992.

because gender becomes water
becomes body becomes mirror::
to learn the camera’s tricks
press light onto film
makes shapes almost real

because what makes me
the body dancing
twin beyond blue smoke
a woman with arms that
bend like light

 

3.

After Rock on a Pedestal of Ice, Tibet

 

The impulse to linger
after trauma. Palm up:
a gesture to sky’s gain.

Lean your cheek against thousand-year-old ice stone.

Mouth the word
solidarity as air
sticks to our lungs.

Ice: water gone hard. Rock: soil turned singular.

Mountain’s form
in the distance as familiar as yarn
and fur and body.

What are we, alone? As amorphous and vast as light.

As if stone
and ice
were one.

What element is worth our devotion? The dust of our uncertainty.

We turn to light as it becomes
sun — not hot enough to melt stone
but hot enough to worry the future.

My palms cannot hold back the shifting currents.

They can slap a rhythm, hoist
a banner, hold
your face tenderly between them.

Our voices swift the air from podium to the ear’s first swirl.

Dearests. The world melts. And we
are more power than not. Sing to stone.
Sing fire, fire, ice.

"Rock on a Pedestal of Ice," Tibet, ca. 1864, Phillip H. Edgerton.

“Rock on a Pedestal of Ice,” Tibet, ca. 1864, Phillip H. Edgerton.

 

4.

Toward Solstice

 

binding :: small tongue
pressed to page

winter filled with winter
fruit :: curved

line :: language
stitched into body’s

other meaning
light :: late

and clear :: a year’s
labor pinned

 

5.

Form

for Samuel at thirteen

Because we become more
than our bone structure,
more than what the mirror gives us.

Growing up to learn sometimes
teeth are for biting
or for shaping words your own.

Otherwise, they just sit in your mouth.
Pretty little horses.
Pretty little dangers.

In your palm, a red stone
light as pumice.
Rocks don’t lie: even the deepest buried

will rise to bright sky. I don’t know what truth
sounds like on you tongue.
But I suspect it tastes of lemons.

When ground beneath you rumbles,
its vibration is the afternoon
turning to guard the midwinter sun.

Tamiko Beyer is the author of We Come Elemental (Alice James Books, 2103), and bough breaks (Meritage Press, 2011). Her poems have been published in The Volta, Octopus, PANK, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow. She is also the Associate Communications Director at Corporate Accountability International where she harnesses the written word to challenge some of the most powerful and abusive corporations in the world. Find her online at tamikobeyer.com.

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