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What doesn't fear my hands? The crush of my thumb, my fingers that make a fence. The deer stand on one side, watching. Among the trees they are hard to see, their skins smell of leafmould. If they would let me, I would trace the grain of their pelts, its marks like a secret language. I would put my hands upon them, and their eyes would roll white.
--And then we are in a green room, the stag and I, his brown eye turns like a globe, leaves fall
The leaves, then the trees.
The trees fall around us. We watch them through the window. The trees fall, and then the deer fall. I want to speak, to stop this, but my voice box, I see, is in the palm of my hand, closed as a seed. First the antlers fall, then the hides dry up and blow away and the bones erode until they are only eddies of sand. The stag closes his eye.
Out of the wreckage, deer-shapes of light rise and walk toward us. They walk through the window, they walk through the wall, they walk through every fence I make between us.
. . . . . . .
. . . the antlers are heavy.
They drip blood into my eyes.
They bow my neck until I am doubled,
until I am savage, and forest, and endless.
CRACKBONE carries the lamb
bleats himself into silence
effluvia in the throat-hold, earthwarm--
from the mountainside
Spore of sheep, wind-bred,
spread, springing up
in clutch & tussock, fun-
gal, many-footed, blight of teeth
Sheep at the sea edge, reef
of driftbone, saltwhite
the amniotic scree
out of which I walked
on the grey rock on the red rock
--Shepherd my tongue into the pen
Crackbone carries lamb.
First, there's a hatching
in the crawlspace, the kindling
of hair. Something getting out
of hand. Then, riots in corners.
Water-scrawled walls. She's aware
of the changes, the ringing
round her eyes, fur around her mouth.
Unbecomingly a foxing. A murk
at the center. Something
is eating at her. Located in the velvet.
Dressed out like an animal,
she thistles & fickles. She fawns
in a murmur of milk. Grows feral.
Febrile. Soft as the inside of teeth.
-from Sing, Mongrel, selected by Guest Editor Phillip B. Williams
BIO: Claire Hero is the author of Sing, Mongrel (Noemi Press, 2009) and three chapbooks: Afterpastures, winner of the Caketrain Chapbook Competition (2007), Cabinet (dancing girl press, 2008), and Dollyland (Tarpaulin Sky, 2012. Her work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, A Public Space, How2, Pleiades, Octopus, and elsewhere. She lives in upstate New York.
A Place is a Body I Can Dream Inside by Claire Hero, first published at Atticus Review
Place for me is animal. Neither mountain nor monument can make me feel as present, as aware of my surroundings, as the glimpse of a deer leaping between trees, or the sight of a skunk skulking by the garbage cans. When I lived in New Zealand I was profoundly lonely. Mistakenly I thought the source of my loneliness was the distance between that sliver of island in the South Pacific and the country of my family, accessible only by a thirteen-hour plane ride. But returning to the United States to visit my family I found myself near ecstatic at the sight of squirrels and woodchucks and realized the source of my loneliness: there were few mammals in my borrowed country. New Zealand is home to only one native mammal – a flightless bat – and a few introduced mammals, like the possum and the rabbit, mostly accursed, bodies barely glimpsed around the borders of human habitation. And the ever-ubiquitous sheep.
I have never been at home. I have bounced around the planet, from the Midwest to both coasts to the islands of New Zealand, and no place has ever made me feel that I belong there, that it is mine or I am its. Sometimes I think ex-pats are born, not made, and even now that I’ve returned to the country of my birth – though living in a region halfway across the country from where I grew up – I still feel like an ex-pat. I like upstate New York better than anyplace I’ve ever lived, and yet I am restless. I pass through places and think, could I live here? I drive the winding roads of western Massachusetts, with their tobacco barns and dairies and broad-avenued college towns, and think, yes. Yes to Detroit, with its grand mansions graffitied by blight. To the bush towns of Australia ambushed by sand. To treehouse villages hidden in Costa Rica’s interior. I could live anywhere.
Or nowhere. I think of my writing as being about place, and yet the places in my poems – when I go back to look at them now – are elusive, imaginary. They are places that exist only within language: the forests of fairy tales and the architectures of apocalypse. I can build palaces of water or empires of grass and install my imagination there, for a time, to frolic and fruit and flower. These places of my imagination are shaped by the needs of my fancy. They are colonized, they are destroyed, they are devoured.
Sometimes the places in my writing are the body itself. When one moves a lot, one’s body becomes a space to inhabit, a home, and it too changes with the geography. It is how one negotiates a new terrain. We feel a place inside of us: the thin air of mountains, the irradiating sun of New Zealand, Minnesota’s arctic dryness, St. Louis’s unbreathable summer air, the humid lushness of New York. These are places I have moved my body in and out of, and though many of these places now look alike – the same chain stores and car models and food brands – it is the way one’s body responds to the environment that reminds us it is new and we are there. How do I write about myself without writing about place? I cannot forget that I am a body in the world, having that place pass through me.
And biology tells us that we ourselves are places. I am an ecosystem, what scientists now call a ‘microbiome.’ I am more bacteria than human. Or rather, what we understand to be human is a bound colony of others living within a community, held together by a shared desire for survival. These others communicate down the vast tracts of my veins. They negotiate my interaction with the world. In part the places I have traveled to have changed me. New flora, acquired by my contact with soil and animals, dictate how I communicate with the world, what passes into me and what passes out.
Over and over in my poetry bodies are transformed, changed, mutable. They don the velvet of deer, the hearts of pigs, the eyes of sheep, and step anew into the world. They make their way. They make a place.
An Interview with Claire Hero by Lea Graham, first published at Atticus Review
Lea Graham: One of my favorite things about your work is its commitment to the decaying, the difficult and the odd. Most people when talking about living in New Zealand would mention the movie-perfect landscapes. You focus on its lack of animals. In your chapbook, Dollyland, you deal in surprising ways with the cloned sheep, Dolly. Those poems are strange and elusive in a fascinating way. Can you talk about your drive towards the odd and/or the un-beautiful?
Claire Hero: I’ve got no truck with the sublime. What can one say about beautiful vistas or breathtaking sunsets? There is no imagination there, no language. They are lovely to look at but I wouldn’t want to live there. But the decaying, the unbeautiful? That’s where imagination abounds. My first memory is of finding a broken typewriter at the town dump when I was three years old. That’s when I began writing, and that is where my writing still lives, I suppose.
LG: Talk a bit about growing up in the Midwest. Do you think that had any effect on your “anywhere” or “nowhere” attitude towards place? There is something very “nowhere” and “anywhere” about living in the Midwest. I’m not sure if I can explain it except to say that there’s a feeling of being in the “middle of everything and nothing” to paraphrase the fiction writer, Michael Cunningham.
CH: The “middle of everything and nothing”: that sums it up well. Flat farmland and pro-life billboards, long vowels and small towns. I couldn’t wait to get away. But you could stand outside and watch a storm coming from a long ways away. The horizon was far.
I spent my summers with my sister and grandmothers on a farm on the Rainy River. Canada was on the far shore, and my sister and I would take the old rowboat out and sit in the river, drifting between countries. Was Canada any different? The cows looked the same, and the mud on the beach, but we could never be certain. We never rowed all the way across, and we never dropped anchor. We just drifted and watched and dreamed.
LG: Talk about animals. How are landscapes animal for you? What’s your attachment to animals and when did you become aware of this?
CH: Just today, as I was driving home from errands, I watched two deer sprint across the main street in the village and wished I could join them, veered in my lane as I peered down the side streets, wondering where they had gone. It had been a morning of dull chores and now there was this in the world, other lives running crosswise to my own.
In “Ecology as Text, Text as Ecology” Timothy Morton argues for “the ‘extended phenotype.’’” Beaver dams, he argues, are just as much a part of DNA as beaver tails: “DNA is not limited to the physical boundaries of life forms, but rather expresses itself in and as what we call ‘the environment.’” Our lives overlap with others, seen and unseen. There is no environment without animals, and when we pretend that the two are distinct, that the polar bear, for example, is an ornament upon the arctic, his plight a mere sentiment for environmentalists, or make distinctions about which animals are important and which are not, we fail to see the world we live in. Such myopia limits us, as persons and perhaps as a species, as we are starting to understand with the failing bee population or the depleting oceans.
LG: Talk about a place that you have never been, but want to go to. Or if not an actual place, then talk about your imaginary places that you go to. What do those places hold for you? How are they connected to your writing or a place you write from?
CH: I’m torn here between the ruined and the fantastic. I love abandoned places. I’m drawn to the ruined landscapes of apocalypse narratives, places overgrown and overused. When I was a child riding through snow-ragged Minnesota in the backseat of my parents’ Hornet, I’d long to leap from the moving car into the fields and hole up inside the abandoned houses that dotted the highways, fallout from the failing farms of the 1980s. In New York I love to stumble upon the ruins of some lost mansion in the hills, or track the stone walls that meander through the woods like deteriorating arteries. Perhaps it’s that they signify both the chance to start over, the apocalypse lover’s dream, and the knowledge that it is hard to, that the past endures somehow, that history leaves a scar.
But I also dream of fantastic places, marginal places, worlds underground or up in the trees or villages of rafts adrift in the sea. Where would I go? To the mole people of Las Vegas and the treehouse communities of Costa Rica. To China Miéville’s Embassytown and Lewis Carroll’s looking-glass world. I want to travel with Sir John Mandeville or with Italo Calvino’s Marco Polo. These places take me out of myself. Take me anywhere. Take me everywhere.