sudden the homecoming
coyotes have learned to build traps
made of endings from the center of the earth
dressed as wolves they give them
to their loves who live in houses
with pink curtains and weather
dictionaries and streaming services
according to locals
all the luck in the world lives in a horseshoe
where horses have yet to wild on the flat
or so they say
according to Oxford
the earliest definition of arrive
means to be brought by water
there’s a word for the sudden
scarring of a branch when a leaf falls
and it sounds like a song
you have to hum
come, my love, we’ve arrived
at an impasse shall we stop
the pendulum stroking the clock belly
scatter the last of the tick tocks
and play, you and I, a high
stakes game of Knucklebones –
that’s what Palamedes called it
in a B movie where he sailed
with the Greeks to Troy
and pointed Odysseus toward a goddess
in a swine pink party dress
Statement by Julie Beach:
I carried around the image of “coyotes building traps made of endings from the center of the earth” in a notebook for close to four years and tried to work it into various poems. It never worked in any of those poems, but I couldn’t let go of it. When Janice Leagra’s collage appeared one day on my Twitter feed, I couldn’t stop looking at it. It’s unclear who is the predator, but it’s certain that a trap, a thread of multiple deceptions, has been set here. The poem was written from, rather than toward that image. Everything I needed to spend the image was in the collage. The last line of the poem is an homage to Tori Amos’s “peach party dress”, a reference to the pink dress in Janice’s collage, and a nod to Circe, who played the game as well as anyone, despite being crushed by it. At this point in the collage, as in the song, you know something dreadful is going to happen. Janice is one of those rare visual artists who can thread the needle so delicately and precisely you don’t realize exactly how many times it’s been threaded.
When Heather Derr-Smith planned her reading at the border in Clint and asked friends to send their poems, I was both honored (it sounds cliché, but that’s the word) and panicked. I don’t consider myself a political poet, despite knowing that all language is political and that metaphor is the highest politic – an idea firmly established by my first poetry mentor and confirmed by every other mentor who followed. I didn’t want to disappoint Heather. Poetry matters. Čuvaj Se matters. Her heart in this project matters.
There isn’t a poem that can speak to every failure, every violation occurring at the border right now, but after listening to Heather read the poem, for the first time I heard the depth of betrayal in the poem: a promise that was betrayed. It’s a connection Heather, rather than I, made. The detention camps are nothing short of a trap made of endings – the end of a journey, the end of hope, the end of a promise we made the world. We spent a century promising to be a nation that welcomed those, especially women and children, who need solace and place to call home. For all the wreckage we seed everywhere else in the world, we baited the trap with promises of a better life here and we betrayed that promise. We promised to be something we clearly aren’t at this moment. Because of people like Heather, I still have hope this is not where our pendulum stops.
Watch “sudden the homecoming” by Julia Beach read by Heather Derr-Smith, Cuvaj Se Poetry Border protest. From a YouTube compilation of the Poetry Border Protest Project.
Statement by Heather Derr-Smith:
In Bosnia I have worked for over twenty years in the recovery of a country destroyed by nationalism. Bosnia continues to resist the forces of fascism. It’s been a long hard struggle and the country remains on the brink of collapsing from the same forces that arose in the 90’s. The anti-Muslim and fascist propaganda has continued unabated.
Alexander Hemon, a writer who fled the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early years of the war said that he knew a woman who had survived the siege of Sarajevo and seemed to have escaped any lingering effects of trauma.
Until the election of trump.
Watching a rally on the television she started to shake violently. She called all of her friends and family who now lived in the United States after fleeing from Bosnia as refugees, and told them they should come back to Bosnia. She was terrified by what she saw and recognized it as the same forces of nationalism gathering power that once overtook her country.
I recognized it too, and I was terrified. I recognized the names of Serbian četniks and Croatian Ustashe at Charlottesville. I saw the support Trump had from extremists in Serbia & Croatia and the support he gave in return to their extremists in Bosnia.
When I returned from teaching in Bosnia the news reports of the camps holding children and the documentation of inhumane treatment of children on the US/Mexico border was in every major newspaper and tv station. The media covered it initially, but again cynical politicians pushed the distraction of a debate about language, and the right once again used the holocaust to denounce the word “concentration camp.”
I knew I needed to go and be present in these places where crimes against humanity were being committed.
Sometimes there is very little we can do to resist the power of evil. But I have always believed in the responsibility we have as individuals to respond with action, to speak out, to bear witness to the truth when the truth is being distorted and lies proliferate. It’s a personal commitment for me, but I also wanted to invite others who do not have the privilege I have to just “go” so I asked friends and strangers to send me poems I could read in those spaces, at the detention centers where children were being held, on the border, at the wall.
I didn’t have any goal except simply to be present at those places at this moment in history. I was deeply moved by the poems people sent and felt honored to carry their work with me.
Julie’s poem resonated with me in its work of creative reimagining of the landscape and creatures and the connection between the natural world and our human separateness— and the walls and borders we build to try to delineate ourselves from the whole, leading to our own isolation and alienation and compounding the suffering of the world. Her poem bridged a gap there, inviting the reader to break down all such imposed and self imposed barriers and come home to a new creation, an embrace of the one we already have and a healing of its wounds and our own in the process of homecoming.
Julia Beach holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Barren Magazine, Occulum, and Cabinet of Heed. She lives in New England and works as a freelance graphic artist and content writer. You can find her tweeting about poetry @ElderflowerJam.
Heather Derr-Smith is Sufi & genderqueer and leads poetry workshops in conflict zones and post-conflict zones with survivors of violence, war, and the international migration/refugee crisis. Derr-Smith holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has published three books of poems, Each End of the World (Main Street Rag Press, 2005), The Bride Minaret (University of Akron Press, 2008) and Tongue Screw (Sparkwheel Press, 2016). Their fourth collection, Thrust won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize at Persea Books (2017). Tweets at @Hderrsmith.
Janice Leagra is a mixed-media artist and writer|Bridport prize shortlist ’17|Best of Net nom ’18|Spelk, Ellipsis, Riggwelter, et. al., She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram: @JaniceLeagra and is the Visual Editor of @Splonk1 .
Robert Frede Kenter a writer and visual artist. He is guest editor of BHP for July, 2019, co-editor of Ice Floe Press @IcefloeP w/Elisabeth Horan, and is the author of Audacity of Form (Ice Floe Press, 2019). A widely published poet and visual artist, his work is in journals including ARC, New Quarterly, Grain, Going Down Swinging, Burning House Press, Mookychick and many others. Tweets at @frede_kenter.