Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

The Poetry of Connie Voisine: Finalist, 2004

The Poet at 37

The Beginning of Things

We Are Crossing Soon

The Internal State of Texas

Big Song

Tonight the Moon is Mexican

This is for the silver of highway

Calle Florista

New World

Unfinished Letter to Death

The Poet at 37

I drive to work--but not every day--through construction
            barriers, dumptrucks and backhoes, distracted
by what I have to say that day and to whom.
            Lujan's is on the right where they make little biscuits
of molasses shaped like pigs in the local tradition. Carl's
            Jr. and then I turn. A friend told me she saw a girl
get it crossing this street, described the arc, how the body
            flew up onto the car, and she bounced
back onto the sidewalk. A human being, all those
            intentions. I eat strange meals, often standing,
of bits of things-a cracker, an apple, a bowl of cereal,
            alone. I sometimes think, this is my life and push
away the edge of despair with my hands. I think
            of Moses. How he begged god for only one thing.
The god he had obeyed for years without
            question-he wanted to see his face. What face
would he have? This desire is clean and pure
            as a child's. Show me your face. I spend nothing
and am never extravagant. Sometimes I go to Mexico
            on the Stanton Street Bridge, and for 25 cents enter diesel smoke,
bodies, vendors, well-oiled hair of street musicians,
            the blind couple. She has holes for eyes and sings with
a can between her knees, the coins, percussion. He plays
            a catalogue guitar and has dark glasses.
And a watch. There's a man in Juarez who paints
            landscapes the size of a postage stamp, one American
dollar. See the pond, the waterfall, dense willows,
            two swans, necks linked on an easel made of toothpicks?
See the elderly waiters in their Eisenhower jackets,
            sentinels at Martino's plateglass window?
They wait for the sun to go down. Which always happens,
            fortunately. Sometimes I climb the nearest mountain--
the bald, dry mountain, a whitewashed A on its side, an A
            I can't see once I have achieved it.
There are other landscapes here of geologic interest:
            the desert of white sand soft as snow, so bright
it is said astronauts navigate by it. There are quartz peaks,
            purplish and severe. Sometimes wearing a skin of snow.
And new this year: I feel like there is a before and an after.
            And this is the after. I read the Medievals
who believed in divine order (for comfort?). As William
            of Conches put it in the tenth century,
the world is an orderly collection of creatures, and
            like a great zither.
A tuned instrument,
with purpose and scale. My mechanic sends me a Christmas card
            reminding me to reflect on my blessings. He's right--
I have a good job, my health, and the war hasn't started yet.
            One anonymous disciple of John of Fecamp asks, who
shall give us wings like those of the dove so that we may
            then fly through all the kingdoms of the world
and enter within the southern sky?
Show me your face.

The Beginning of Things
                                    for Rus

Your west each
            gives doves--night

dissolved by torrents of
            and of doves--a

constant coo, coo
                        stretches into
            your room. Here, no easy

song. Melody,
                         with its grace
            note skitterings above

avoids these empty (rusted blades
                        of a windmill,
            a radiotower, browned peak)

skies. It's only
, and you pull
            towards my back,

pull back towards
                        sleep where you don't,
            you tell me, dream. I doubt

daily--though here's
                        heat, body, the weakness
            (giving in) to your scratch

and pitch, voice. Flesh
                        is grass.
            high meadow of which I

might dream?
                        Or meaning everywhere,
            like the ache

of miles of desert, the beaten
                        armor of mountain? And doves
            insisting, wherever

they are. Waves of alto and the
                        blue square of window holds
            nothing tangible

again: flat light, jets
                        evaporating into
            white, heat that stands

like a man with a sword,
                        this sudden need
            for belief. My new love.

Soon you won't
                        even hear them. White
, you said and still

I listen. I hear
                        a steady
            question, who?

Who are you,
                        narrow stranger? Trust me,
            you said one night,

swung a heavy stick
                        into the hive-shaped tree
            they're in there.

And dark bodies
                        flew upward
            a hundred in one teeming cloud.

We Are Crossing Soon

It was hot. We wandered on the pavement.
We knew that soon we would get there.

We thought we were prepared-one says goodbye
and looks for a knife and a proper comb

and while doing so avoids a crying person.
Soon we would get there, or not soon but

we would, the bridge not too crowded, the agents
distracted, and the water would not be too wet.

The desert weeping manna in the cool morning will provide.
The streets of El Paso will provide.

We surfed on the ocean and kissed blond girls named Melissa
with each other astride the dumpsters

behind the TV factory. We were not suave
and we wouldn't like living alone, wondering what our

mothers were doing at that moment. At that moment
our mothers were sewing small pieces of old clothes.

Certainly we would arrive the way birds arrive, not through
maps and memory, but some other dark

knowledge, though we knew some would drop
dead from the sky. We had cousins. We smoked cigarettes

whenever we could and the avenues yawned, flustered
with feet-it was so hot-and beyond lay the river

in its cement trough, the highway, the fields
of peppers. We shined your shoes with a vigor

unexplained by democracy, our boots crooked
but shining, then your shoes were shining,

spotless down the dusty streets, the quarters
in our hands were shining like a teakettle we would own.


The Internal State of Texas

This much is known:
It's large and largely dry.
It's been called terrarium-like by experts.
At first, I felt it slowly growing
the requisite cactus and coast.
I wrote letters to the president
but he vacationed inside me for months at a time.
I can't say Galveston was anything
other than sweet heat and water,
though Dallas was a bitch until I passed it.
It was the fighter jets that got better and better.
They came to appreciate me too.
In those fabulous formations they swooned
curlicues on those bluest skies,
burning elaborate fuels like there was no tomorrow.
"Dear President,
the streets of downtown El Paso
are quite dirty and packed with people
vagrantly wandering."
He was photographed
inside me, with chainsaw,
concerned about longhorns.
I wanted something
even though the dollar stores simmered
like hens on their nests of cleaning supplies,
spatulas, and hair ties.
"Dear President,
I had wanted something, I don't know,
prettier for myself by this age.
Please advise."
Meanwhile, men unscrolled miles
of scotchguarded materials.
Ezekiel Hernandez was shot
herding goats and Krispy Kremes
blindsided everyone. But I was younger then,
before the daring, handsome surgeon
who wore cowboy boots,
before the long convalescence
and all that doctorly handholding.


Big Song

I have tried it. The brag, with permission
of democracy. The royal we. The big
words, like courage, excellence and power,
brilliance. Have tried to supercede the bound-

aries of skin, hair, scarred hands, the fatigue
housed by the majority of my bones,
to launch a spirit large as a whole group
of people--waitresses, sisters, women,

poets, lovers, mammals etc.--
so that I could be the throat, the tip of the
tongue expressed. Oh, the vocabulary
of it all, filed beside Whitman, Ginsberg,

with snips of the old testament,
the syntax of presidents and most
romantic poets. I am a student,
with flash cards and coffee, of the necessary

exuberance, the jaunty-angled hat,
the workingman's clothes, the apoplexy
of the pilgrim, the V-Day. The cock's strut,
the virtuoso flourish, the chest swell,

that crescendo of being that shoots through me
and explodes into the perfect us-ness
of the larger sentiments, inspiring
love and generosity in the afterglow. I have over-

studied the sweet, opened door, the letter
that solicits, the look backward with smile,
all phyla of permission, I should just
photograph them like South American birds

and be done with them.
I over-respect the bigness of some--
their unselfconscious motions to include--
and guilt's smallnesses in others.

Some arrive at big through abnegation--
the potlatch, desecration, the holy
stamina to blaspheme has its own stuff,
its lovely scatology of excess,

the spangles of self to burn. I have tried,
analyzed, faulted, pushed, and faked,
spewing from my fist-tight lips
like a girl spinning in her mother's chiffon,

stained prom gown, thin and scared.


Tonight the Moon is Mexican

and so is the wind
and so are the oleanders
the wind is bothering.
The porch light is no longer
anything but Mexican.
It's true; tonight
is full of this miracle.
The river
has returned to being Mexican and
the house we live in, the bar
at the corner and the rocks
in the yard. The car is Mexican,
the highway, the gas tank,
your shoes. Mexican
as the stoplight, the cat
skittling across the yard,
as the 7-11 and the father
you thought had forgotten.
What isn't Mexican,
here, my love, tonight?
All thinking has turned
Mexican and don't forget the cops
and the bodies of
Wal-Mart shoppers-all
of them, I am pleased to announce,
are Mexican. Tonight, how
do you pay your bills?
In Mexican.
How did you hurt
your hand? Mexican.
What did you say?
How do I love you?
Mexican. Mexican.

This is for the silver of highway

through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, for
the idea of open road, how it makes of the world
a camera lucida-a timeless, illuminated room.

The psalmist felt this shine, wrote the womb
of the morning, wrote the mountains skipped like rams,
and the little hills like lambs. David Copperfield

begins tenderly, his voice earnest on the first
of eight tapes of the BBC radio play,
announces his desire to tell us the journey

of his life, while one October, in Wyoming,
herds of black cows turn into mythical animals
because they are black and shiny and stand head to toe,

bodies fusing in the bright sun, one tar-black body
with two opposing heads. Tar, tarmac, macadam,
asphalt, highway, freeway, interstate,

scenic byway while Copperfield is rescued
over and over by ignorance and luck combined with
his own good soul. Where am I? I ask gas station

attendant, cashier, hotel clerk. One August through
Ohio, I sweat up the steering wheel, seat, lay bags of ice
across my lap, hurtle past exploded tires,

wild anemone of wire and rind. You torrent,
you headstrong, they whisper. September, an Iowa rest stop
hours from anywhere, I watch a man unload

a lawnmower from his truck, the motor vivid
in the quiet air as he begins to cut the grass around the latrines.
A congregation of small, brown birds lifts

from the bushes as if of one mind and my body trills
with that highway feeling, of feeling the world
and mind are one. It's a giddy amnesia-history,

responsibility lose their dominion in February, in Nevada hills
mute with sage. It's religious how I remember
July, the air-conditioned relief of the Chicago Art Institute,

where grimy, the road still droning in my arms, my chest,
my inner ear, I want to explain to the becalmed tourists
the velocity of Whistler-the twisted, crossing, intersecting

lines of sight from boatman, wavetip, to wingtip,
to fin. I return to my car and navigate acres
of backhoes, dumptrucks, a massive construction

site ringing the hogbutcher to the world.
One June I get a speeding ticket in Pennsylvania
because the radio's playing an optimistic song

from the 1970's while the speed limit changes
and I am watching instead a farmer harness up
two golden draft horses, pull them right

to the porch of his house and a bonneted woman
emerges to admire them. I admire them.
Where am I? In a motel in Cheyenne,

filled with school kids and their band
instruments and the mountains are green,
because this time it's early, it's May, and David Copperfield

has lost both women he loved, two weak, incompetent
women and still I cry-this is how it happens,
passion and its unreasonable vaults of soul

and what fills me are miles and David's sad love
and the plain face of a girl holding a trumpet
on a Super 8 Motel balcony in Wyoming.

Where am I? The stuff of my life in boxes, thrown out,
whittled to a few books, a computer and some clothes.
I think I am suffering, but I don't know. Here's to

not where I'm coming from and not where I 'm going.
Here's to gypsy movement (as my grandmother
calls it) the ecstatic, the infinity of living between.

Calle Florista

Don't you remember
our little house on Calle Florista,
the calle with lots of flowers?
There weren't flowers so much as
cats, at least a hundred, lounging in the neighbor's yard
while the bushes roiled with kittens.

They weren't kittens so much as
pecan trees and weeds of the nightshade family,
unwatered except on irrigation days
when the whole neighborhood stood up to its knees in water.

And the water was not water, so much as
gravel, and the Calle was not a street, but more
a bunch of rocks lined up in a particular way.
And the "Florista" started last year. The maps
still say Iris Lane.

There were no irises so much as one fat Sharpei,
the guard dog to Chinese Kings said the uncle next door,
as Sassy yowled in the yard.
Sassy was not a guard dog so much as
not very smart,
though Tio was kind of Kingly
sitting in his minivan with a Keystone Light.

What did I do all day?
The boy hit my car with a stick.
His sister stood in the plastic swimming pool.
When would the pecans drop? Tio was waiting.

It wasn't so much waiting as the kids and Tio
worrying about the occasional helicopter
battering by,
the dog and the cats, who were not cats at all
And me in that little house, writing about
our street which changed every day
subtly and in complicated ways.
But for you it was most different-
you were the one who didn't exist,
except as someone
who did not live on Calle Florista.

New World

Here the minimalist sky.
Here antelope (pronghorns) and the burnt, high-plains grasses
bound to the edge of the compound,
the edge of town the edge of, the edge of.
Here glints polish the air to gold.
The antelopes and the few stunted trees
dream about Jonah in the belly of the sky.
Let's have nothing
but gold-it's so pleasing.

One night a man took out an accordion.
So loud, the instrument in this night and so many
romantic waltzes that I wept just
outside the fire's circle of light.

I knew a lot, once.
Wasn't Naturalism about to happen?
And really, the French and the English
why should they quit-a battle here, one there,
and their navies refulgent?
And Levinas, saying such things:
"the night is the very experience of the there is"?
Once I knew
that pastries could have a thousand leaves.
The bishop wore a fabulous hat and forks and knives
were polished monthly, to meditate
in their velvet boxes.

Here the sky cares only about
being blue and large and represents nothing
but itself. The doves ask "who cooks for you?'
(in the translations)
and scorpions sleep in your shoes.
Us, we go along
inventing new ways to die:
by the cutting off of hands,
of hair, death by one dirty blanket and
death by walking.
Death by six pine nuts, by bloody
sunset, by obscure mirage.

Unfinished Letter to Death

Though we've often passed on airplanes, at the library, in the desert, I've never

Imagine my surprise when

First allow me to introduce my colleagues and their

Let's be honest: that dog had already

And we really didn't know that insects

I agree, the arguments for the first attack seemed

Moreover, the sun gets very hot during these months, would it be too much

In the ring, most boxers

Vodka itself is not so terrible if

The tobacco industry has systematically

You see, if I had only been ten minutes earlier,

The toaster and the hairdryer are indeed flawed appliances but

It only took one despot, a painting by Degas, and an angry mistress to

War, to many of us here in the United States, seems a bit

Please, think of the How much would it take to

From now on, I promise to

I can guarantee, not only Geronimo and his ghost

This is to advise you that you are not to come within

Without further adieu,