Ruth Ellen Kocher's work has been published in Callaloo, Cimarron Review, Ploughshares, African American Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review, Washington Square Journal, Crab Orchard Review, ninth letter, as well as other literary journals, and has been translated into Persian in the Iranian literary magazine She'r. Her first book of poetry, Desdemona's Fire, won the Naomi Long Madget Award for African American Poets and was published by Lotus Press in 1999. Her second book, When the Moon Knows You're Wandering, won the Green Rose Prose and was published by Western Michigan and New Issues Poetry and Prose in 2001, who also published her third book, One Girl Babylon. She teaches in the MFA program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
The Slave's Notebook
Possessive case for the word 'slave' does not exist in Italian.
The slave, owned, not own, nor owns,
Nor evolves. Nor provision, any, make consonant belonging.
On the streets of America today a little tear-gas powders the up
Air, buildings behind the blue clouds gleam, not a century old, un-ruined
Forum become column become a basket from beneath acanthus climbs
Toward the heavy stone tablet the funereal covered items arranged inside
The woven movement her sisters fingers, her daughter's hewn
Grass taken late, the day's wet mist, Tiber returned, arterial,
Flow, heat, stock dry enough: bundle
So long ago, everyone knew what mist destroyed.
On the streets of America today shields
Pushed against rocks. The air gusts of what after blue
gray becomes, what gray always has hoped, has
sought low crouching at the king's relic foot, weapons
clicking the clack boots march which neither good nor bad is
both, but everything.
la tratta degli schiavi del blocco note
the writing done by the slave in a notebook
la scrittura di fatto la tratta degli schiavi del blocco note
the writing a black slave does in the notebook of her grandfather.
la scrittura di un nero schiavo non nel blocco note di suo nonno.
the writing a black slave whose grandfather was also a slave but not black
la scrittura di un nero schiavo il cui nonno è stato anche uno schiavo, ma non nero
black is only a thing the slave owns that is nothing
il nero è solo una cosa che il proprietario di schiavi che non è nulla
repeat after me
ripetere dopo di me
the writing done by the slave in a notebook belongs to no one
no one belongs to the slave.
Lesson: Daphne, As Tree, Forgetting
When you live in a city
cow pastures marked by the divots
of hooved lumbering forward
remain as much a myth as constellations
supposedly sleeping between stars.
Dung heaps keep worries to themselves.
Grass hushes wind to its hubris.
Clouds roll over fields sleepy
as a girl out of bed too soon as soil
retreats to the earth's imagination.
The planet silent except for cut rock
mountain backs heaved up—
only in the green light flash of traffic
lurch of movement
never really still
underneath sirens the clip
clapping of people
moving from this place to that,
only in the small
squared parcel of grey atmosphere
veiling the crown of your city's height,
beyond the tipped steel buildings
can you remember that I was
not always rooted to this avenue
nor caught in the pull of sky drowned out
by parking lot lights speck-less
without gods story-board stars.
Lesson: She as Lotus Eater
On days like this presume
why the traveler stayed
lost: child gone,
spouse—a warm pace
away from you, the construction of each
neighborhood, an effigy of bird calls
somehow ruinous against a could-be
so seductive you will kill
the first breath of intrusion
easily as a memory
splayed. But why look up? Why notice
sky static and then crippled with the movement
of weather that forms despite you
or noon's bulbous seconds
rolling off as so many drips into
a clear bladder
that takes any shape it holds—under the first
skin of earth is a compass, is a satchel,
is a kite with bow-tie ribbons,
is a ferret skull,
is a sandwich with brown mustard
but mostly distraction
comes solicited. Warranted. Do not ask for return.
Do not ask for what easily finds you.
Lesson: Writing Not the Personal
Hanging participles upset me. That is personal. Why does me matter said or not. Why does me insist on sight. Tape offers no taste. The thought belongs to someone, the tongue belongs, the eye belongs. Even Eliot says. Even I agree him that.
That's not trashy. It's divine. Call it genesis and write a bible. Ill buy it. I've paid for Elliot. Now, let's talk trashy. Untagged sampling is STILL uncool. It is the case that I am saying this unapologetically. Eliot, Smelliot. He could have been cured with a little black basketball sized caviar. Just sayin'.
Is it turned up tape which draws me to a plethora grammar of names, so many names not the least of which is Breton. Breton becomes the most mentioned with also the greatest variety of prepositional treatment as in Breton after Breton about Breton above Breton along Breton among Breton around Breton at which is a shame because of the agentless verbs that leak in everywhere. Yes, of course. If I wrote the personal I would say that I am not blind. But blindness is for the potentially sightful and sight must lodge somewhere and if not in moss or bark or rock or self or soap, then Where— seed swept wind never settled sighåt un*had, sight*fulness too. All that, and taste. Too bad. Such a good of the personal. And smell. Which of course leads me to green anjou pears, also fruit, also cliché… little fucks of taste. Oops. Taste, gone. And fucking with the best parts. You need a body for that. True. But tape you need no body for.
Lesson: Looking Away
it always comes down to bob marley on a t shirt circa 1974, sun yellow
the bottle falls out of the bottom paper bag soaked through smashed 40
grass nearby cut and clumped. grass clippings. grass smell. grass green
and gasoline. engine. that night stains your 38th year. streetlights come on
say, night come on. the flap is not pigskin. is not rubber. is not wax but
bleeding and human, is not a hand waving down cars. streetlights come on.
not white light yet against exhaust not yet black sheltered mountains.
every puddle reflects, fender reflects, steeled glass windows of each home
reflects now white light not yet. the evening kneels before you, bowed,
reticent. what does her face look like looking away from you, unsure
whether to rise or stay. bowed. this morning you would have eaten every
last bit of bacon flesh had the night come to you like this then, had she
bowed before you, opened the split frame of your flesh like the bulleted
window, the twisted shrapnel unwrapping the calm. the evening lifts her chin
stares past you as though, already you leave. spiral not back to her. not
gaze shiny street, not bleed. not bleed. a family of locust will remember
your breath, the lull terminating for you the drum beats, one love, sway
of dreadlocks that year. the car passes away, and you, with evening, here.