Poem Scrawled on the Back of a Funeral Pamphlet; every 12 minutes, remember this; Lonely Nights in Atlantic City, Following the Replacement of the Taj Mahal Casino
Poem Scrawled on the Back of a Funeral Pamphlet
I go to the banks that once knew you
as a body that moved and watch
cold still the water’s rippling.
Often, I find myself wanting
to be the river,
to freeze with a little spring
left somewhere within the depths of me
before your voice disappears
into the wind’s howl for good.
Nothing ever comes back
from the dead,
but sometimes I think about it.
I have to think about it.
To believe one day I will find
a marigold with the roots of you,
keeps the winter from driving
the two of us deeper into the ground.
It’s the only thing.
every 12 minutes, remember this
hands on the steering wheel
like you have god in a chokehold,
the smoking rubber soaking
the highway in the scent
of burning skin. your skin.
mom rings you for the 5th time
(where are you? you’ve been
gone all night)
6: 00 am
after some deliberating, you call her,
telling her you will be back
soon. You hang up before you can hear
the sirens in her sigh
that try to bring you home because
she somehow knows.
and then you head east
to the bridge in frisco. you park on the shoulder
and move yourself to the fingertips—
the air loving you enough
to be still, not swaying you to
escape this earth’s body.
though you want to. your feet
remain unmoved, like they are
made of lead,
but they don’t fall like it.
there is more to this flesh. this
flesh is of Feather,
the same feathers
spring calls home every year.
this winter has been a long one,
the cold becoming the breath
of your lungs.
you think that sunrise
will never come for you
again—will never shine through
the cage of your bones
to bring the rest of you home again
But it does. It always does.
Your feet begin to float.
Lonely Nights in Atlantic City, Following the Replacement
of the Taj Mahal Casino
I should not be here with you, roaming
clouds of choking smoke in a casino
built upon another’s burial ground.
Love has never lived within this
architecture of walls mocking—the dome ceiling
fashioned with angles that cut like a blade.
This time last year, dust paled the sky—
the minarets thrusted from pavement
to make way for Elvis’s jumpsuit.
Our bodies shake like the ghost of his hips.
We walk the shore to escape the smoke,
where I find cement from buildings gone
unloved by boulders that moved them
in ways they shouldn’t have.
The skyline is not missing them
tonight. Your arms swing toward me,
fettered with chains.
Our skins collide when they shouldn’t;
my unhinged jaw cracks against the steel
of your shoulder bone. Forgive me.
Lori Noto is an amateur poet from the Southeastern Wisconsin area. Previously a disillusioned business major, Noto began pursuing an academic career in English Education at UW-Green Bay in 2016. Since she has garnered enough courage to share her writing, she has had five poems published in Sheepshead Review. In Spring of 2017, 2018, and 2019 she was the winner of the Rising Phoenix Award for poetry, given out by UW-Green Bay. She also has been published in Burnt Pine Magazine and High Shelf Press.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Surprisingly, this is a tough question for me. I have read poetry since the fifth grade (yeah, I don’t know how a 10-year-old would read poetry for fun, either), so one would think I would have no problem thinking of the first poem that made me fall in love. However, I have fallen in love with so many poems, that I can’t even recall the first one I loved (risqué, I know). Still, a poem I have known for a long time and still come back to is Robert Frost’s “A Server of Servants.” That poem showed me the type of emotional reaction writing can get out of a reader.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
One of my favorite poets is Jamaal May; I originally found him during a late-night Button Poetry binge (better and cheaper than Netflix). If you’re not familiar with his work, check out “There are Birds Here” and “The Sky, Now Black with Birds.” I also find myself simultaneously envying and adoring the works of Audre Lorde, Craig Arnold, Jack Gilbert, Mary Oliver, and (predictably) Robert Frost.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Well, my process goes like this: I get upset about an event in my life (though never intentionally), complain about it, cry about it, send passive-aggressive texts about it, sometimes even drink about it, and then eventually write a poem about it. Though I say that cheekily, I do think the most important part of my process is the hardships that inspire the work. Like anyone else, it’s hard for me to accept when awful things happen. However, repurposing the least favorable moments in my life as poems that perhaps resonate with other people makes me hate the pain a little less.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form
in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I see the process of finding a form similar to a dress fitting: the poem begins as an untouched, ill-fitting piece of cloth with lines as untidy as the frayed ends of fabric. As the poem becomes more developed in its limbs of enjambment and curvaceous stanzas, I tailor the form to fit it. To put it simply: I let the poem dress itself, and I make adjustments in all the right places to create the perfect fit.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Sometimes the hardest part of writing poetry is not finding one’s own voice but finding an audience to listen. While that seems like the most cliché thing I could have written, I believe it is true. The best thing a poet can do is trust in their message and trust in how vital it is for people to hear it. If a message is worth learning, someone will hear it, even if it is just one person. And I would call a poem that even turns the head of one person—even if only for a second—a triumph.
What is your editing process like?
Ok, I will be honest: this question made me feel like the worst poet ever because I don’t have any methodical process for editing. The process for me is rather disorderly and conducted by what I believe influences artists of all kinds to keep changing and changing their work: the instability of self-approval. Basically, my editing process is simple: I edit, delete, rewrite, and temporarily give up until I hate what I write a little less. While I know that sounds like a harshly self-deprecating statement, I believe any art that is cathartic and repurposes the pain (or whatever stupid, unwanted feeling) will always retain a residual hatred from its creator. It is difficult to fully love something that contains hard truths, no matter how it is prettified.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
My hope is for a poem to never be finished. The poem grows with me for a while, and eventually, I stop hammering the return key, and I close the Word document for the last time. After that, I send the poem off: to friends and to publishers. My wish is that the reader finds the poem, they give it a new purpose and see thoughts or meaning in the lines that go beyond my original intention.
About these poems:
Poem Scrawled on the Back of a Funeral Pamphlet:
One of the many boons of youth is not having to think much about death. Death, though inevitable, seems like an intangible concept to most 20-somethings like myself. It is nearly impossible to imagine it when there too much life to be found at college parties, first dates, and other early adulthood awakenings. To put it candidly, death is the shadow we often neglect to acknowledge in the greenest years of our lives since the sunlight that produces it is too incandescent to recognize such darkness. During the summer of 2017, however, the shadow cascaded over everything when I was faced with a cancer scare. I could not help but see the impending emptiness in every bottle at every college party or how a first date is merely the beginning of a journey to the last kiss.
My preoccupation with death was only exacerbated by the passing of my grandmother, who met her demise three months following my cancer scare. I wrote the eulogy for her funeral. While I recited it to her grieving loved ones, I remember realizing that my words and the memories I painted of her were proof that she existed. I also vividly remember realizing that, eventually, the last person to ever retain memories of her—whether it be me or someone else—would perish, and my grandmother, like the millions who lived and died before her, would become an indiscernible whisper on this earth.
Not knowing how else to create a form of permanence, I did what I have always done to eternalize moments and memories: I wrote a poem about it. “Poem Scrawled on the Back of a Funeral Pamphlet” is thereby my way of rewarding my grandmother’s life with imperishability. Perhaps one day, an apocalyptic event will wipe the internet clean of all its information—or maybe Jetson-esque, Black Mirror-inspired technological advancements will make computers a once-loved relic. However, for now, the poem’s publication has fossilized my grandmother’s memory with an imprint through loose iambs that sing: She was here, and I was too. And for a moment, such a thought relieves me of my nearly unshakeable fear of death.
every 12 minutes, remember this:
There is a lot I could say about this poem, but I think a majority of people are familiar enough with the poem’s subject matter to not need an explanation. I will thereby say only one thing: whoever is reading this, please know that I love you, and I am happy you are existing. Remember your flesh is of feathers; remember you are more than the things that weigh you down, regardless of how often they do. Every 12 minutes—or even better yet, every second you possibly can—please, please remember this.
PS: In case you have already forgotten, I love you.
Lonely Nights in Atlantic City, Following the Replacement of the Taj Mahal Casino:
The moment I drove into Atlantic City felt like a scene from a film noir. I had the somber murmuring of Springsteen’s voice playing on the radio of a sexy rental Buick I could never afford. The charcoal clouds seemed stained on the horizon, as if sunshine—undisguised, explicit sunshine—had not shown love to the city in years. It was 4 PM, and still too early, even in the late September days of autumn, for it to be so dark. The only light came from the city’s skyline of gilded casinos that called me in from the highway to the boardwalk like a broken prayer.
Strolling along the boardwalk of Atlantic City, I felt myself learning the language of its history and secrets: the organized crime, gambling culture, and seaside dalliances that obscured happier associations, such as the refreshingness of snow cones or the gleeful screams coming from the Steel Pier’s carousel. Of all the stories harbored by the unofficial Las Vegas of the east coast, its most compelling (to me, at least) was that of the now-non-existent Taj Mahal casino, a gambling wonderland built as a replica of the historic building in India. Choosing the Taj Mahal as a building to replicate and repurpose as a casino is, to put it frankly, simply devastating—especially when one considers the actual Taj Mahal’s purpose of housing a tomb. It is thereby no surprise that the Atlantic City’s Taj Mahal was eventually reimagined as the Hard Rock Casino in 2018, given it was never attached to any deeper sentiment than to simply be a money-making attraction. How unromantic is it to transform a pseudo-tomb into a garish museum for the likes of Elvis’s jumpsuit?
Lonely Nights in Atlantic City, Following the Replacement of the Taj Mahal Casino thus mourns the hollow purpose of the Atlantic City’s Taj Mahal by making it the setting of a seaside affair. In the poem, the narrator comes to terms with how the affair doesn’t symbolize the love they wish it did by comparing its ephemerality to the casinos that are not as timeless as the buildings they replicate.