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Única Looking at the Sea

by Fernando Contreras Castro, translated by Elaine S. Brooks
ISBN: 978-1-944884-29-1 (pbk.)
978-1-944884-30-7 (ebook)
(January, 2018)

...beyond the limits of disgust and shame, who we truly are in our garbage --Mabel Morvillo

Read more: Única Looking at the Sea (Academic Discount)

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Pat Robertson’s Pact with the Devil

Bill Lavender


[The Haitians] were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.” True story. And so, the Devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.”
—Pat Robertson, on the earthquake in Haiti, January 12, 2010

Now we gonna have us
a little history lesson.
You all know that Haiti,
way back when,
signed a pact with the devil
to expel the French,
and that’s the reason God
gave ‘em an earthquake
in 2010, but there’s another
little bit of history almost
nobody knows, goes like this:

In 1948 there was a young man
named Marion Gordon Robertson,
son of Absalom Willis Robertson,
United States senator from
the state of Virginia
and lifelong proponent of them
“separate but equal” decisions
by the Massachusets Supreme Court of
1850, unfortunately and un-
constitutionally overthrown
by desegregation orders of 1956,
and this young man Marion
lived with his father in
that great state of Virginia and
the great city of Lexington
surrounded by the usual Southern
luxury and a bevy of Negro
servants, cooks and nurses,
many of whom had come
from Haiti once upon
a time.

And one day Marion Gordon Robertson,
who was at that time 18 years of age,
was in his house attempting to show
one of the boys from the field
how to properly stow jam in
the basement, and when that boy
bent over to replace a jar
and thrust out toward
Marion Gordon Robertson
his shapely posterior
made partially visible by the angle
of his attitude and the slackness
of his pants, why it was
just then that Marion Gordon
felt rise within him an urge such
as he had never felt before.

Now, I know what you thinking.
But no, it wasn’t that.
It wasn’t that at all.
He did not desire to fall
upon that servant’s buttocks,
his for the asking,
nor, indeed, if he had,
would that have been anything
out of the ordinary, since
he’d already entertained himself
in that way many times
in his younger days.
No. This time what Marion
Gordon Robertson felt rising
inside him was the desire
to get down, to trade places
with that humble servant
boy bent over in front of him
and let him have a turn
at playing master.

And you know what they say,
that power tends to corrupt,
absolute power corrupts absolutely,
and an 18-year-old white
boy in a basement with his man-
servant is a power
that knows no bounds.

And you know, too,
that secrets like these,
they don’t last forever.
It wasn’t that long until
Marion Gordon’s mother
began to notice those
tell-tale stains on
her favorite nighty
and the funny way
Marion walked some days,
and as Josephine was
hardly ignorant of
the proclivities of rich
Southern white boys,
she quickly began
to suspect the worst.
Her fears were confirmed, finally,
when she returned home
earlier than expected one day
and found her son Marion
bent over the sofa with
his tongue hangin’ out
and that big strapping black
buck working him from behind.

And upon this sight
Josephine Ragland Willis Robertson
did cry out:
“Oh Lord Jesus won’t you
save my son, for a Haitian
devil has got him in the ass.”

Straightaway the senator
was called home, and straightaway
the Haitian devil was
punished for his sin
and never heard from again.
And Marion Gordon Robertson
was confined to his room
with his Bible
the reading of which
might rectify his error
and also assuage his pain.

But Marion Gordon Robertson
could not be consoled.

For the first day he
cried like an animal,
like a puppy
who has lost its mother.
On the second day
he howled like
a lonesome hound
under the moon.
On the third day
he laughed like
a hyena.
On the fifth day
his mother and father,
fearing he would
harm himself
if not someone else,
sent in his old nanny
and former wet nurse,
to see if she could
comfort the boy and
bring him out of his fever.

When that old
woman went into
the accursed room,
she knew there was only
one thing for this boy.
So she unrolled her drapo
and lit the sacred candles.
She took some dust
from a leather pouch
and sprinkled it on
the flame to make smoke,
and before you know it
out of that smoke there
come a certain loa.
Now this loa he was
uncertain, looking all
around, but the old
woman she went up
and whisper in his ear:
“Tell him you is Satan.”

So the loa he turned himself
all big and red, and he grew
him out a big pointy tail,
and he says to Marion Gordon:
“Son, I am Satan, at your service.
What seems to be the problem?”

And Marion Gordon said:
“Oh my darling Beelzebub,
can you bring me back that
Haitian boy who was so recently
my servant? I’ll give you anything.
Do you want my soul?”

“Oh,” said the loa,
“I don’t really need no more
souls; I got plenty. And besides,
they don’t do that much for me.
What else you got?”

And Marion Gordon Robertson,
who was soon to change his
name to Pat, thought very hard.
He put his chin in his hand
and tapped his finger on his
head to roust out the thoughts,
and this is what he come up with:

“OK, Satan, I’ll tell you what.
You bring back my Haitian boy,
and I’ll be such a servant as you
have never had. What I’ll do is
pretend to be your constant
enemy, but I’ll really be
your constant friend,
spreading your message
across the whole wide world.
I’ll hold up a picture of Jesus,
but it will really be you.
I’ll call myself a priest, but I’ll
really be your lackey.
I’ll call the saints sinners and
the sinners saints.
I’ll blame victims for their
suffering, and heap fortune
on bloodthirsty beasts.
I’ll take the God of love
and turn him into pure hate.
I’ll steal money from the poor.
I’ll live off the coffers of guilt-
ridden charity.
Anyone who says the truth
I’ll call a liar, and those
who lie out of pure
meanness I’ll call prophets.
What do you think, Satan?
Has anyone ever made you
an offer like that before?”

“Well, you know,” said the loa,
“you talk a good game, but so
does every priest with his hand
in his cassock.  But you seem
so sincere, and you know it’s
what’s in your heart that matters,
not what’s in your head, or hand,
so I’m gonna try and help you out.
Now, there’s not much to
be done, just now, about your
Haitian boy, since they already
strung him up out on the back
forty, but I reckon we can find
someone for you. Hell, you pretty
good lookin’, I might just give
you a try myself.
So you go on and do
what you done said,
and more, and every night
when you go to bed,
you just sprinkle a
little of this dust
on your candle,
and stick your bum in the air,
and me, that is Satan,
will come take good care.”

True story, every word.
And Pat Robertson said,
“OK, it’s a deal.” And ever since,
he have his loa,
and that loa have him,
and will have,
till the real Satan come
take him back
where he belong
and where he long
to be, way down
in that deep,
black
hole of hell.

I have recently been having a conversation on Facebook with one of my favorite poets, Forrest Gander, concerning the upcoming release of The Lost Poems of Pablo Neruda, which he has translated into English. Specifically, we were talking about Copper Canyon’s kickstarter campaign to raise money for the project. My reaction to this campaign has been negative because I feel it is excessive. Copper Canyon is trying (actually they have already reached the goal) to raise $50,000 to supplement the $50,000 they have already raised through major donors to fund the total project cost of $100,000+. 

Specifically, here, I want to reply to one thing Forrest said to me: “…Bill, with all the things to be paranoid about, ur paranoid about an all poetry press publishing a translation? You have a reputation as a champion of poetry. I want to continue to think of u that way.” I do want Forrest, and everyone else, to continue to think of me as a champion of poetry, and to that end I want to answer now a little more formally and completely to explain the apparent enigma as to how one might be a champion of poetry but not of this project. And, indeed, how one might even find offensive the suggestion that if one is not a champion of this project, one is not a champion of poetry.
For me, Pablo Neruda is on the short list of major influences. He was one of about five poets who made such an impression on me in my early 20s that I decided what I wanted to do with my life was devote it to poetry. I was impressed with his use of metaphor to reveal the world’s complexity, and with how, through metaphor, he could trace the implications of a personal emotion or sensation into the realm of the social and political world. I was a budding Marxist, and Neruda’s humane communism, based on love and respect, was exactly the sort of utopian vision I sought for an anchor.
In the Fall of 1973, while I was bumming around the country, fresh out of undergrad at Arkansas, I was working as a carpenter in Missoula, Montana. I had gotten as far as Missoula before I ran out of money, so I had rented a trailer there and gotten this job to work until I could afford to move on. One day—we were working outside on some sort of truckstop building— we were on lunch break, sitting on the ground eating out of those lunch pails carpenters always used to carry. One of the guys had a radio and we were listening to the news being conveyed to us by Paul Harvey (whom all of them loved), and, in between the usual inane jokes and comments on female anatomy by the workers, I chanced to hear Paul announce that Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda had died… of cancer. Harvey used one of his signature pauses before that word, cancer, to bring home the tragedy of it, that this ubiquitous disease, for which there was no cure, had brought down even the Nobel laureate.
Cancer (or actually “heart failure”) remained the official story, as we know, until just a few years ago. And yet we of the radical left knew, by 1974, that Pinochet had killed him. I don’t remember the exact left-leaning news outlet where I read it, but it has been common knowledge among activists ever since that the “cancer” that killed Neruda was capitalism—that Pinochet’s coup against Allende, which was quite openly sponsored by the CIA and was less openly but still definitely promoted by Kennecott Copper and other American corporations itching for a piece of Chile’s rich resourses, included an order that Neruda be killed. Neruda, like Allende, was assassinated, and he was assassinated with full complicity, perhaps even active involvement, of U.S. actors.
Actually, I am not a champion of poetry, and I don’t want to be thought of as one. There is an awful lot of poetry in the world we’d be better off without: all those volumes of protestations of identity, whose heartfelt cries conceal their basis in ethnic competition; all those psalms and reiterations of the angsts of the petit bourgeois, the sad mortality of the rich; …  I’m not a champion of that. And the reason I am not is because of poets like Neruda, who teach us what it is possible for poetry to be and do and what its rightful place is in the political and social arena.
I’m not a champion of poetry, but I am a champion of a certain thing that poetry does, sometimes, at its best, when it finds its level. It’s a great event when that happens, because the public discourse is elevated and begins to find new ways to represent truth, and perhaps some part of the defensive violence that is ripping the world apart can be averted then, momentarily. 
I applaud these Lost Poems being finally released, for Neruda represents one of those rare moments in which poetry engaged the political discourse and wove itself into the social fabric. One could imagine a campesino, leaning against a tree while his mule drinks, reading from a torn and folded plain white volume. That was what Neruda was to South America, a champion and poet of the people.
What if these Lost Poems were released, completely unadorned, in a cheap binding that would fit in a pocket? What if it were given away to labor unions? Or sent to every MFA student in the nation, most of whom have never heard of Neruda. Silly pipe dreams, I know, but I could accomplish any of them with 100k (I mean 50k, after rights….).
This lavish project, with its appeal for funding based not on the text but on a faked cult of personality… showing off the handwriting instead of the discursive fabric… with its full-color reproduction (or rather production, for it is producing a new text in a new social milieu) of a black and white event… making of the social text an art object, with its case binding suitable to grace the coffee tables of the ivy league… this has nothing to do with Neruda, and I am not its champion.

 

For My Students
     (a work in process)

 
for ellie
for steve
for allan
for miroslav
for kristie
for arnošt
for jindra
for bill
for radím
for gwen and vincent
for dave whom i first met at jazz club celetna
for the drinkers at the golden tiger
for ludwig at kajetanka
for the bartenders at ypsilon
for the naked weather announcers
for carol
for jackie
for mary grace
for rachel
for tara jill
for travis
for jean
for katie
for nat
for yvonne
for dana
for max
for valerie and john
for gillian
for saundra
for mary-louise
for keith
for sonja
for hela
for taije
for jennifer
for carol
for her who threw up in my hand at the marquis de sade
for the tyn
for the titty bar
for the go-cart track in the basement of the president hotel
for the late-night streetcar and the gypsy with her owl
for the world's greatest pickpockets
for mustek
for jan
for herb
for roberta
for tamara
for lauren
for anne
for rob
for kyle
for john
for donna
for jesse
for peter
for sean
for rebecca
for carolyn
for jennifer
for karen
for deborah
for shannon
for erin
for amy
for virginia
for colleen
for susan
for the bone chapel at kutna hora
for the festival at karlovy vary
for bernadette and phil
for wandering lost in the pyranees under an eclipse of the sun
for lola
for sydney
for kim bradley
for sonja
for shelley
for sarah
for bernadette
for reggie
for harold
for sybil
for ron
for chris
for virginia
for kelly
for jennifer
for erica
for peter t
for peter g for introducing me to peter t
for the restaurant in the arbor in croatia
for opatya
for the kvarner
for erica
for susan
for mitch
for lisa
for susanna
for keith
for glenda
for ed
for alexis
for amy
for robert
for jason
for andrew
for rachel
for the giudecca
for the pagan corner of san michel
for the santa maria dei miracoli
for those who read canto 74 and understood
for those who didn't understand
for those who didn't read
for mirah
for puja
for julian
for gabe
for doug
for samuel
for joyce
for sonja
for jen
for jesse
for kysha
for kurt
for sandra
for margaret
for lynda
for thomas
for wade
for mary katherine
for chandler
for joseph
for mary
for james
for lee
for sivan
for bianca
for rowena
for imani
for pandora
for modrea
for monica
for marcus
for spencer
for henry
for krystal
for gwen
for jose at gijon
for jose at recoletos
for jose y amanda
for jorge
for carajillos at midnight
for the whores at recoletos
for the hash dealers in retiro
for the vermouth bar
for the waiter at viña p who ran through the restaurant yelling "nancy es aqui nancy es aqri una mesa para nancy…"
for el pato mudo
for jeni
for anny
for sophie
for erica
for heather
for jeff and courtney
for karen
for thad
for todd
for carrie
for dara
for pat
for judith
for steven
for philippe
for michelle
for sandra
for wes
for vol
for jenn
for mary
for emily
for chris
for keith
for those who got laid
for those who listened to them getting laid
for those who didn't get laid
for those who didn't listen
for those who drank too much and said too much
for those who restrained themselves and were offended
for pamplona
for san sebastian
for playa ballota
for luis in oviedo
for la molina
for jess
for holly
for will
for scott
for connie
for dawn
for michael and susan
for stan
for john
for rick
for chris
for tawni
for merrideth
for eva
for katherine
for john
for bryan
for stephen
for becky
for val
for skip
for erin
for b.d.
for sidney
for sarah
for mollie
for roberta
for virginia
for tara
for cathy
for nate
for nicole
for summer
for dani
for brent
for brenda
for herb
for natalie
for kristin
for nicole
for meghan
for lisa
for kathleen
for jessica
for warren
for jason
for kevin
for grim jim
for those who gave it everything and failed
for those who fucked off and succeeded
for those who fucked off and failed
for the taco truck at insurgentes
for the roach
for la pamplonada
for teo
for davíd
for matt
for michael
for annie
for heather
for rob
for henry
for jessie
for adam
for jim
for allen
for steve
for sarah
for sara
for kristen
for kristin
for bill
for alahna
for ashley
for kevin
for john and sylvia
for susan
for tania
for matt
for dinty
for matt
for john
for crystal
for julialicia
for creighton
for kelcy
for zac
for parker
for alden
for heath
for melanie
for jordan
for kaila
for rob
for christine
for amelia
for sara
for charles
for cara
for crabbies
for the auld toll
for the bowling alley at sheep's heid
for the bartenders at the voodoo rooms
for the vestiarium scoticum
for sam
for stuart
for david
for colin
for colin
for peggy
for jow
for iain
for sam
for nick-e
for kelly
for amber
for dawn
for todd
for lorraine
for kristina
for colin
for neva
for donna
for jeanette
for kay
for glenda
for jennifer
for nick
for courtney
for andrea
for alison
for kate
for jim
for zoe
for rob
for anthony
for katrina
for nate
for joey
for caroline
for lizzie
for gabby
for suzi
for brittany
for jenn
for allison
for lauren
for kara
for megan
for robyn
for anne
for jasmine
for david
for harlow
for joe
for aisha
for tania
for lee
for daniel
for kiki
for larry
for kay
for alex
for chris
for tommy
 

I miss you but

the night is

     clear

          as a bell

 

--Bill Lavender, 9/7/2012

Coming: January, 2013

Vitreous Hide, by Michael Tod Edgerton.

Help us bring Michael Tod Edgerton's remarkable first book of poetry into the world with a bang. You would want to buy the book anyway, so why not contribute slightly more and help with the production?  Preorder your copy now by contributing to our Indiegogo Campaign.
 

 

Announcing

The inaugural title from Diálogos is now available for preorder. Peter Thompson's translation of this lyrical and feminist last volume in Nabile Farès' great trilogy, La Découverte du nouveau monde, presents us with the emptiness of the moments just after Algeria's war with France, and asks us what, exactly, we fight for.  There are no easy answers in this remarkable book, written in Farès' inimitable and heavily experimental style. Preorders are now being accepted for October delivery.


Also, let me direct your attention to our first new release this Fall: Errata, by Michael Allen Zell. Michael Martone called this neo-noir New Orleans meditation "...swollen with meaning... evocative, efficacious, effortlessly magical..."  Check out the book page for order info plus Michael's reading and launch schedule.

Take a look, also, at Whatever Passes for Love is Love, by John Stoss. Imagine a teleplay about the Maple Leaf Bar poetry scene in the late 70s, and you'll have some inkling of this surreal romp through New Orleans culture.

Want a free copy of Errata or Whatever Passes (or almost any other of our titles)? All you have to do is write a review. Email for more info.

And of course be sure to check out the current catalog.


 What else is coming out this Fall and next Spring?

Look for The Alteration of Silence: Recent Chilean Poetry, edited by Galo Ghigliotto and William Allegrezza, before the end of the year.  Also watch for three new Fell Swoop collaborations: What Else Do You Want? by John Miller, Industrial Loop by Joel Dailey, and Under The Sky Of No Complaint by Richard Martin.  Under our new Diálogos imprint, look for new translations of the great Mexican poet Gabriel Magaña Merlo, translated by PEN Center USA's Translation Award winner for 2012, Suzanne Jill Levine. From Diálogos, besides Peter Thompson's translation of Nabile Farés' stunning experimental novel, Exile and Helplessness , we'll be releasing a Donald Wellman translation of Emilio Prados, among others. And from Rebirth Books, look for a new anthology of New Orleans literature, the most complete edition of such since 1949, edited by the incomparable Nancy Dixon.


 

This is only the beginning. Check back in the coming weeks for announcements of workshops, conferences, and all sorts of literary endeavors.

Thanks for visiting the site, and thanks for your support--

 

Bill Lavender

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orders@lavenderink.org

 

Nomad Love

By Youssouf Amine Elalamy
Translated by John Liechty
ISBN 978-1-935084-58-7
Ebook 978-1-935084-59-4
120 pages: $16.95 -- October, 2014
This is a story written entirely with water.

Read more: Nomad Love