“long way down w/ the ophelia brass band.”; “hacksaw w/ torch song.”; “not one of his bones shall be
By: Brandon Thomas DiSabatino
“long way down w/ the ophelia brass band.”
she is selling furniture
while the house
is on fire behind her
forcing the noun of love
in my hands
(like an heirloom) –
her skin the color of autumn
in a made-for-tv movie
another modest thief
to a light
that has bowered
– for this –
which in loss
bore teeth through the bone
only to burn in the shadow
of whatever altar would take it;
gone wrong from its roots
its birth-soil wombs
for what it has taught me
how they call you
by your name
like a bantamweight, begging
you back to a fight you abandoned,
how you can walk
all the while dying
for the fucking thing.
the un-mourned sport
of this miracle wanes
- this ache –
to be anyone’s masterpiece.
“hacksaw w/ torch song.”
burning through killdeer plains
where hourglass branches
of alders rupture
to blossom – this cordwood sky
littered w/ can-lids, painted
in slow horses
/n bath scum;
where the radio has been awake
if i place faith
in a left turn
where i have previously gone right
these faces that hang
like headshots of actors
who never became famous
in my mind
will be arranged
in new faces, new history,
the jukebox of their birds
to new song –
a superstition like turning
your back on a mirror, stealing mail
from the houses you’ve slept in – seeing
what’s left killable
(in all the light out there)
in the manner you did.
“not one of his bones shall be broken.”
devium ventus hung on a chalkboard slat above the door of the wayward wind – the last place in a 10-mile radius open till 2am where no one would ask about my divorce. it was a place of discretion – class – outfitted in tin walls, fake rubber plants, w/ a confessional booth in back where erik the bartender gave legal counsel. his consultation fee was 4 dollars but came w/ a shot of weak, bottom-shelf bourbon.
i needed discretion. i’d been drunk driving at some point /n slammed into the ass-end of a delivery truck downtown. the impact from the crash sent boxes of honey glazed ham through the windows of the warehouses, /n knocked-out most of becca’s teeth – from the front row, all the way to the molars. she was suing me, apparently, for punitive damages, dental fees, distress. a face from the near past, demanding money, as most faces from any past of mine do.
she had planned on moving to atlanta to be an actress in toothpaste ads. she’d changed her name, even, to donna, for what she called a little more “wow.” atlanta was where it was all happening she said, /n a leading woman in the business needed a good amount of “wow.”
“now how will i get any work,” she asked me, lisping like a cat through the gaps in her teeth.
i was tired of people asking for answers i couldn’t give them.
becca had given up opiates, /n like most people who go clean, she became fanatical about
anything else. some take up antiquing, the zodiac, yard work – they organize a local sobriety dance. one woman i knew got into yoga. i’d taken up drinking. but becca had gone to some dentist two towns over, who – marveling at his own work – told becca it was nothing short of art. she was obviously, he said, a natural. now she carried this dentist’s business card like a memento of baptism in her purse. the kind of asshole in a bar who wants to show you something when you’d rather be falling in love w/ a fanblade or an overhead pipe.
all night the bottles had passed like legless beggars between us. i understood i was there to celebrate. “these will make me a fortune,” she said, flashing her teeth like a box of new light bulbs, but i was well gone by the time we got in the truck to leave. i remember, though, she told me she was going to be famous. she was the first person i ever knew who ever told me that. i tell this to erik, the bartender in the booth, as i polish off my bottom-shelf shot.
“so this is a matter of fame,” he asks me – his cigar smoke pouring through the gored, cork wall of the confessional.
“it’s a matter of roughly 40-grand.”
“i can tell you about fame,” he began, “about a friend of mine who made door hinges in a
factory, by hand – his life’s work, you could say. one day, a man w/ a big, white hand came up behind my friend – placed his big, white hand on his shoulder. he told him, he was being replaced by an automated whirligig that made door hinges in a more economically sound way, but he would be retained, to watch over /n monitor the automated maker of door hinges – which he did – until the man w/ the big, white hand came back again, replacing my friend as a watcher of automated hinge-makers w/ a machine that monitored all the automated making. he slept in his truck for a month after that, refusing to touch so much as a can-opener. he had never considered himself a political man. but now everybody knew his name – the unemployment department, child services, on-down to the salvation army – famous. of course, now i can’t even remember his name, /n that’s as far as it goes, you know, fame or anything else – one thing to another – a changing of form.” “what does this have to do w/ my case,” i ask him.
“i figure you’re fucked – but perhaps – you’ve passed into something different.” i can tell from the creaking of the cypress bench where he is leaning, he is moving his hands, maybe symbolically.
i walk out of the wayward wind, not knowing what to do w/ my new life or where it will find me, when i am still in the same place, w/ the same air dreaming itself around me, where the billboards of christian missionaries have risen to meteorology. i read their weather reports forecast in black fonts above me.
eternity, it seems, will simply go on like this.
Born in Canton, OH, Brandon Thomas DiSabatino's work for the theater has been performed in NYC and Cincinnati, and he has worked in collaboration with FEAST, the Tank NYC, Green Hills Theatre Collective, the Citizens and Primitive Grace on dramatic projects. His most recent play, "Sand in a Memphis Glass," was nominated in the Best Actress and Best Play categories at the 2018 WinterFest, with subsequent Off-Off Broadway performances. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, Belt Mag, After the Pause, Stereo Embers, Caught in the Carousel, Silver Needle Press, and his work was recently featured on the Slush Pile Podcast. His first full-length book of poetry, "6 Weeks of White Castle /n Rust," was released in 2017 by Emigre Publishing out of London. He is currently at work on a second full-length collection.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press: How long have you been writing poetry?
Brandon Thomas DiSabatino: The first poem I remember being totally satisfied with was 5 years ago, written on the back of a receipt at a Dollar General after buying a pack of batteries while on the road. I can carbon date that one. At that point I was writing a play that was being put up and had abandoned poetry altogether. It was a "big bang" moment, and my first book, "6 weeks of white castle /n rust," seemed to come out of nowhere after that. Everything just spilled out. I'd burned through a few hundred pages of poems prior to that, but it was all dressed up in secondhand clothes. So I'd place it around that time. Otherwise, everything before is a year book photo with a bowl cut. CNP: Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
BTD: One of the women who raised me used to sing Hank Williams songs all the time, and particular phrases, the language, would get trapped in my head. Phrases like, "I got a hot rod Ford and a 2-dollar bill" or "the silence of a falling star lights up a purple sky" were magnetic to me at a young age, and they birthed a fascination with language and what it can evoke, that clear, painted imagery. The towns I grew up around didn't have much in the way of bookstores, so whatever poetry I found was in the slush piles of the Salvation Army bargain bins. Blake, Dante and Sappho paperbacks, some Tennyson and Dylan Thomas - at some point, Ginsberg's "Kaddish" and Amiri Baraka's "Dead Lecturer." There were the usual suspects of Rimbaud, Villon and Eluard after that by whatever grace or accident, but the first thing that truly blew me away was Hart Crane's "White Buildings" book. The language went over me like water. CNP: Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
BTD: It's all over the place, but recently Jim Harrison, James Wright, Ed Dorn, George Open, Jack Spicer and Blaise Cendrars. I'd count Merle Haggard among the crowd. Kenneth Patchen opened up a few worlds for me - I was amazed someone like that was from Ohio, like I am. I fall into and out of love with reading poetry rather sporadically. You could measure it in geological gaps. I have to be startled awake or rebirthed to it. My thirsts seek continual renewal. My taste tends to sour with the studied and mannered, the well-groomed, celibate smell of Iowa workshop types, where everything is too clean or formal. Sometimes it all feels as hollow as an aluminum can. I'll go through book after book in search of the source, something to stun me, then, the whole miracle of it opens, the words burst and it's a gas flare. You sit back and say, goddamn, now "there" it is - the fire you were looking for. Patchen's "Biography of Southern Rain" makes that magic. Dorn's "On the Debt My Mother Owed to Sears Roebuck." Recently, Frank Stanford has been my patron saint of resurrection. Same with Anne Sexton's "Transformations." CNP: Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
BTD: Typically everything starts on scraps of paper or notebooks I carry around. I like to carry everything physically for a while, let it germinate. It's a habit I got into while being a forklift operator - kick the phrases around in your brain for a few hours, then whatever images or phrases stick, keep them, write them down. From there I put on some music, usually old Piedmont blues, early country or jazz, depending on the mood of the piece, the dirt I want to stand in. Then it's straight through the typewriter for however many revisions, versions or re-writes. I didn't grow up with a computer and ended up collecting typewriters when I was in high school, so it's the method of composition I prefer. The physical strain of it, hearing the hammers hitting the page, seeing the images materialize on white paper - it's more of a carved thing, a hard reality, makes it easier to see, to work on. My brother-in-law got me a laptop a while back, so once I feel a piece is complete, it ends up on there. CNP: 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?
BTD: The voice of a piece dictates the form, whatever line breaks or stanza breaks materialize, that's completely an automatic, unconscious response - I don't want to tell it where to go, I don't want to get too involved with it and fuck up the inherent rhythm or breath. My writing style, for better or worse, is untutored and self-taught. Without any institutional backing in these things, knowing nothing about the architecture and being alienated from the methods people like Olson developed, I just let it go as naturally as I can. A while back Painted Bride Quarterly did a podcast on my work, and I'm horribly grateful for that. It was bizarre hearing people talk about the choice of form in a piece, why that form was chosen based upon principles and methods I'm unaware of, but having people come to a kind of agreement on that form, why it seemed appropriate was interesting. That, in and of itself, is justifying enough to me to continue letting the pieces arrange themselves, so I stay the hell out of the way. CNP: Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
BTD: What's that Kerouac line, "the voice is all"? I wouldn't know what to say with the exception of reiterating that piece of advice. It's the simplest thing, but it's a direct, no-bullshit matter of fact. Finding the voice, from my experience, hinged solely upon contrasts. The friction between where you are and what you know can open a direct path to what you need to say. I didn't find that voice until I lived far removed from where I grew up and the places I ended up living afterwards. Once I got involved in writing for the theater, as a total accident, but a happy one, the voice arrived upright as itself, demanding pages and bar tabs. Writing for characters and in regional dialects I was familiar with naturally led to the tone, the voice of the poetry I began writing, as well as the lives embedded in those characters, those dialects, experiences I had no idea could be converted into anything remotely marketable as literature or theater. Without a series of accidents and the auspices of chance, I probably wouldn't have found one. I lived in New York for a decade and wrote nothing about it. All the theater and poetry was based in places outside the realm of tourism, but they were my places, and it made sense to me. But the friction of knowing what you can write about from the position of being outside of that comfort was invaluable. CNP: What is your editing process like?
BTD: Fairly ruthless. Some pieces are 4 pages long and then get distilled into a haiku or a single stanza. Others arrive as real as an air conditioner and require nothing but an electrical outlet. Again, it's listening to the piece and where it wants to go, letting it go there. CNP: When do you know that a poem is finished?
BTD: When it's a room I can walk out of