THEME: TALKING OUTLOUD
Featuring Cathryn Cofell & Karla Huston
Two of Wisconsin’s leading poet advocates share their work. Karla was also Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate 2017 - 2018.
Cathryn Cofell is an Appleton poet with seven books of poetry, including a full-length collection called Sister Satellite and a poetry/music CD called Lip. Her poems and essays have been published in over 300 journals and anthologies and have earned over 50 awards including the Lorine Niedecker Prize and the Mill Poetry Prize. She is a passionate advocate for the arts, helping to launch the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission and its endowment fund, the literary journal Verse Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poetry Chapbook Prize and the Poetry Unlocked reading series. www.cathryncofell.com
I stuck the Statue of Liberty upside down.
At first I didn’t see the mistake—
like that block of wood that says gibberish
until you cross your eyes and slowly Jesus
appears and then all you see is Jesus Jesus
Jesus—and now it’s too late to pull back.
Why didn’t the stamp makers give her
direction? No numbers, no This End Up,
just the copper-blue broad on a wavy red bed.
Envelope after envelope I stuck it to her,
and now that I finally see what I’ve done
I can’t stop staring her down—
that one-armed handstand, that dress
so close to collapsing over her head, that old
flame so close to catching the starched cloth,
starting her whole works on fire.
She could have been a choirgirl, an astronaut,
an artery of the heart; it’s unpatriotic,
how we let ourselves be this distracted,
how we let our free will run free. Even now
I can’t stop messing with her. I tip her
on her side and here she is anew,
more mermaid than symbol of democracy—
yes, a mermaid in a sea of starfish,
dozens of white starfish feeding in rows,
she side-stroking gracefully toward them,
to join them for a picnic on a billowing
checkered cloth. But no,
not join them, not Lady Liberty. She
gathers them in, kisses their small cheeks,
tongues them like white-chocolate truffles.
Gobbles each lulled star. And after?
She swims on. She remains first class,
her lips glossed with blood,
her body lit with flame, Jesus Jesus
Jesus, what have we done?
— Previously published in New York Quarterly
Karla Huston, Wisconsin Poet Laureate (2017-2018) and the author of A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag: 2013) as well as 8 chapbooks of poetry including Grief Bone (Five-Oaks Press: 2017). Her poems, reviews and interviews have been published widely, including the 2012 Pushcart Best of the Small Presses anthology. She teaches poetry writing at The Mill: A Place for Writers in Appleton, Wisconsin.
For Easter each spring, Doerflinger’s
sold canaries, cages suspended
from the pillars of first floor, from where they
looked over handbags and fake pearls, bars
of chocolates and plumed hats, men’s socks
folded into pairs. The morning the heat
went out, the janitor found the air
quiet, the birds on their backs and silent,
feet clutched in small eighth notes.
He took them to the alley and dumped them
like so much dust. Later when the sun
thawed the air, the birds, some of them,
called from under tissue leaves and branches
of cardboard. Inside again, the singing ones,
their throats warmed with drops of brandy,
chirruped to the showers of snow outside,
and even shadows vibrated with yellow,
those voices praising bonnets of flowers
and Arrow shirts, both arms crossed in front.
Mannequins in Storage
They stare from where they are left,
each standing on a chrome pole,
leaning on each other for balance
on the tilting wooden floor.
When no one is around,
they gather broken arms
and chipped fingers, try to assemble
better versions of themselves
so whenever the freight elevator
drags its chains and begins
its slow pull or the moon outside
lowers itself for a long look
the mannequins stop their collecting.
Some, with hips cocked left, some right,
some with toes pointing backwards,
one with its lone arm reaching.
All of them with hard lips pursed, eyes
looking everywhere at once.