26 May 2009

Spotlights ain't nuthin but jive

Brett Eugene Ralph, a man who, in his expatriate Louisvillian days, was one of the biggest reasons I ever got around to reading The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You (one of my favorite books and easily my favorite in the broad "epic poem" field), has just had a book of his poems published. I've read a handful of Brett's poems in the past and they are well worth seeking out. Here's a sample (perhaps familiar to those that were down with the letters S J B and B around the turn of the century) lifted from his page at Sarabande Books:


When I saw Charity dancing
alone in the farmhouse kitchen—
eyes closed, lips parted, held aloft
in one hand half a mango,
a gigantic butcher knife
clutched in the other—I froze
at the screen door as I always do
when I come across someone praying.

All night I had been hitting
on the daughter of a tiny woman
orphaned by Hiroshima.
Grandparents had been lost, and the mother
would soon be dead though no one knew
if it was the blast or the facility
she retired next to in Utah

This was the kind of bitter irony
that made you want to burn the flag—
even if it was against the law, even
on the Fourth of July on property owned
by a Republican state senator.
Which is precisely what would happen
later, after we'd drunk the wine.

Hey, he said in one of those voices
unique to fraternity members
high on nitrous oxide,Anybody want a drink
of hundred-year-old Romanian wine?
Before we could answer, he had produced
from one of the pockets of his wheelchair
wine he meted out, so help me God,
from a Mrs. Butterworth's bottle.

By the time that bottle made its way
around the bonfire, I was drunk
on kimonos wed to atom bombs
and motherless children left to cultivate
an excruciating beauty,
drunk on crippled tipplers
scarcely larger than dolls.

Like the wine my father fashioned
out of blackberries, out of plums,
it was very sweet and very strong
and it wouldn't have taken much to turn
Mrs. Butterworth upside down
until her skirts fell and I'd forgotten
that the cloud above Nagasaki rhymes
with the flag we raised on the moon.

As I watched Charity dance, I rested
my brow against the rusty screen
and that knife and mango might have been
a bottle and a beating heart,
a bomb and a burned up baby doll,
a flag and whatever comes to mind
when you read the word forgiveness.

Closing my eyes, I extended my tongue
and pressed it firm against the pattern:
I tasted yesterday's rain,
the carcasses of moths,
broken glances, tears,
the smoke of not-so-distant fires—
all those desperate gestures
we collect and call the seasons.

-Brett Eugene Ralph

Dope, dope stuff. The book is called Black Sabbatical. Get a copy direct from the publisher here.

Ralph was also a part of the awesomely named Rising Shotgun in the late 90's where he crooned this, the greatest David Allan Coe cover ever set to wax:

Spotlight - Rising Shotgun

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