Five Poems by Ruth Ellen Kocher

Ruth Ellen Kocher

Ruth Ellen Kocher

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

Exercise 3.
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. 

Exercise 17. 
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 
Without mold. 

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. 

Exercise 4. 
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 
sent forward, 
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.