Poetry / Barbara Tomash
:: from Her Scant State ::
an erasure of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady being an American crimes of violence rustled, shimmered a beautiful subject the alienated woman in prophecy sat under the trees irreducible flower indifference to masculine pinion stretching away beyond the rivers
For what. Do. You. Take me. All climates die. Continue, resume, insist, I mean I should have settled at the fire, put the question three times, liking the explosion. Winter was to imitate a woman. In trouble. Prove it a crime, her marriage, her scant state. Finger this smoothest bead.
tinged with rumor reverence they read nothing at all a thousand zigzags, she escaped from a trap to flame without parents, without property a lapful of roses gratified a need in the center of property the earth itself expected to have emotions full of kindness stars and stripes “nothing in this world is got for nothing” the taste of an October pear, the shadow of a deeper cloud
Dusk appears as a servant. A neat plain face in a drawing. Waits to appear. Perhaps not in the American sequence. Exposed to the air of a certain notorious. A strain, a tune. Devoted meditation of the last two centuries, small and densely filled with furniture. “I love my things.” Flushed with a perfect little marrying—to make use of teacups get broken. Absence is a source of income. Pardon me, I say that coldly. Find out how a person wishes. To conceal the world? Push it into your arms.
the flatness of exile the fragrance of fruit in a poor translation bursts of wildflowers niched in ruin property of the observed thing the imagination loving the riot she’s my _____ she is not his a sense of property allowing her two countries with a laugh as good as summer rain a land of emigration of rescue a refuge their superfluous population
I’ll say nothing. No allusion—an American man arrived last night, an American truly, an American great fact—no open questions. Ask. Shocked by. In spite of. Really worse. No nearer beauty. Does little to mitigate. Blighted, battered. The exorbitant, loose jointed cause of the want, his view of the world. Small? Immense? Describe scientifically, impersonally—“You go too far.” Poverties dressed as a face of elation.
the people in America rang for a servant to measure and weigh the wind in a dozen different lights to rise to immediate joy to transform a poor girl to a rich one first, take care of your things
That precious object. It already has a tiny crack. A false position. A fault. She said, “If I had a child—!” Now the wildflowers (when they are allowed) bloom in the deep crevices, the pale red tone plunging.
a theory about me I won’t be thought I protest my own nation for a lifetime
Wait a little quaver. In the autumn titled “Moors and Moonlight”—nothing—I couldn’t imagine. Odd winter mother always wears a mask—true lines taunted—this is not an expression. Later she might paint on it. Representation lost her child, brushed it away as a feather. Poor human heart. To represent things. To exhaust all remedies.
From the writer
:: Account ::
My early artistic work was with mixed media, creating assemblages and installations from the assortment of bulky found objects I’d drag home in my small car. I have carried my love of working with a mass of collected “stuff” over into my process as a poet. For Her Scant State my found material is the vast (and exquisitely elaborate) lexicon of Henry James’s 1881 novel The Portrait of a Lady, and my method is erasure. The process involves keeping strictly to the novel’s word order, but I allow myself free rein with punctuation and form on the page. In Her Scant State the first half of The Portrait of a Lady runs across the top of each page and the second half of the novel runs across the bottom of each page, beneath the line. Entering James’s text as source material, I have been grappling with America, my native place, as a landscape carved by floods of competing ideologies. As I worked, I found myself stripping away the layers of James’s narrative with the urgency of my current political distress and my ongoing preoccupation with the lives of women. I discovered money, money, money on every page. While my inquiry focuses on women, my point of view must shift in this novelized America made of many erasures. Perhaps home can never be described if a personal and aesthetic dislocation is not risked. Isabel Archer, loved by James and by me for her generosity, suffers the cruel joke of a blisteringly transactional marriage. The novel is set in Europe, but it is hardly free from American capitalism—then, as now, aspiring, hopeful, and often violent.
Barbara Tomash is the author of four books of poetry: PRE- (Black Radish Books, 2018), Arboreal (Apogee, 2014), The Secret of White (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009), and Flying in Water, winner of the 2005 Winnow First Poetry Award. An earlier version of PRE- was a finalist for the Colorado Prize and the Rescue Press Black Box Poetry Prize. Before her creative interests turned her toward writing, she worked extensively as a multimedia artist. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Web Conjunctions, New American Writing, Verse, VOLT, OmniVerse, and numerous other journals. She lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.