Library of Small Catastrophes
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“The range of Rollins’ poetic skill is remarkable. The result is a collection of poetry which is magnificently crafted, readable, and crucially important.” ―New York Journal of Books
Library of Small Catastrophes, Alison Rollins’ ambitious debut collection, interrogates the body and nation as storehouses of countless tragedies. Drawing from Jorge Luis Borges’ fascination with the library, Rollins uses the concept of the archive to offer a lyric history of the ways in which we process loss. “Memory is about the future, not the past,” she writes, and rather than shying away from the anger, anxiety, and mourning of her narrators, Rollins’ poetry seeks to challenge the status quo, engaging in a diverse, boundary-defying dialogue with an ever-present reminder of the ways race, sexuality, spirituality, violence, and American culture collide.
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Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication Date: 04-23-2019
Product Dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)
Alison C. Rollins, a Cave Canem fellow, is the recipient of a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation.
She reads the Atlas of World Languages in Danger
of Disappearing while on lunch break. With turkey
sandwich in hand she types a note in her phone:
Experts expect 90% of the world’s approximately
7,000 languages will become extinct in the next 100 years.
She thinks linguists build houses they can’t afford
to finish. She thinks in theory, we will make it out
alive, the monsters under her bed are outdated,
they speak pidgin and bleed alphabet soup.
She garbles words so the monsters don’t get her,
can’t locate the whereabouts of her body in the dark.
On her nightstand rests: A Street in Bronzeville.
She plays word search puzzles in neighborhoods
of vocabulary before the night swallows her whole.
The librarian is not the Spanish princess in Pan’s
Labyrinth. She is Topsy from Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
She spect she grow’d. She don’t think nobody ever made her.
Autopsy comes from the Greek autopsia meaning:
a seeing for oneself. In her bed, when she makes love
she dissects the sounds, peels each syllable note
by note, deconstructs the prosody nail head by
nail head, until the clippings litter the omniscient
floor—already a wasteland, all the floorboards
pages of poetry in blank verse.
On Sundays sitting in coffee shops she wonders
if a computer can write a poem, if a machine has a
conscious. She finds the mouths of men stag(nant)
sees them as horned beasts in their verbalizing.
Don’t just talk about it, be about it, she contends.
She is from the show-me-state and people from
Missouri like to compromise. They bring slaves in
wicker baskets to picnics. The accompanying slices
of watermelon only serve to suggest sincerity.
Today the librarian learned that only humans can pick
up on sarcasm instinctively, that AI has yet to grasp
these finer nuances. The librarian lives in the grey,
she never mistakes what it looks like for what it is.
The Turing Test serves as her bible. She has better things
to do than watch the eyes of people move who don’t love her.
To love is to fear by choice and fear is a particular religion.
Keep your day job, the professor had told her. You could never
make a living as a poet. But this is good work, she thought
placing the black spines back in order, cupping
mouths of things that need to be shelved.
She believes every throat is a call number.
She puts each one back where it belongs:
808.02 C449T:E, 810.98 M882P, 814.54 L867S
Her mother taught her, you should never look
a gift horse in the mouth so instead she feels
inside their covers. She was named without
her consent. Pandora means: the girl with all the gifts.
Skinning Ghosts Alive
In the beginning, there is no yes.
The amniotic sac a dust jacket
for the book of trauma. One plus one makes one.
There is a nomenclature to this math, a method
to the madness of creation. There is no he.
There is no she. There’s just a girl expelling
Y from her loose jowl maw. The residue of jargon
staining her lips boy red. We are never our own.
This is why we are so lonely. Why lightheaded stars
nestle their knives in the sky’s black chest. Why we
eat men like air. Celestial bulb expelled like hangnail
curved as comma. Straight as the line reading you
your missing period and the knowing that this statement
cannot be allowed to continue. This belly not permitted
to raise a question. Even lightening shakes the earth by its
arms. Who am I to object? Point fingers at the order.
I was born bad. A train of yeses parading round
my hip’s border. A trail of forget-me-nots sprouting
from my Father’s chin. This tongue needs shepherding,
as do the bones. I clench and carry the pain of my Mother
in my teeth, at the root a canal of fear. The space between
each molar the size of the closet door my grandmother’s
mother locked her in as she cried no promising that she
would be good. So naturally my mouth’s second nature is
naughty. This is how you end up leading the shell of a man
to your bed. How you crack your peanut colored self
until the sidewalk of your cheeks are caked with salt in April.
Your lover’s eyelids half-lit houses with terror veining their way
down the stairs. It is cold in this thing we call a body.
Who will tend to the fire with so few hands to go around?
Even snakes lose themselves in their skin.
Their life’s throat peeled back in molting song.
A second me lies somewhere on the ground.
Hollowed as the cicada shells I collected in the woods
as a child. Knowing even then that the anatomy of loss
was worth picking, even if only to acknowledge that
something has shed and not died, something brown as me
has left its skeleton behind, more perfectly intact than broken,
as if to say we are living
and dying just the same.
This is why we are so homesick,
why we hull ourselves in shadows.
Self-Portrait of Librarian with T.S. Eliot’s Papers
In the year 2020, T.S. Eliot’s papers will be unsealed.
Let us go then, you and I. Let us take the dust in
our claws, lap the hundreds of letters spilling secrets
into the waste land of our irreverent mouths.
Have we no couth? Have we not been trained
to know good things come to those who wait?
Each year we gather ‘round the cave. We don our Sun-
day best, come to see what young muse has risen
from the dead. Tomorrow brings the past wrapped
in plastic eggs, the seal of history broken in present tense.
Storage units preserve our culture’s haunted houses.
The canon is merely a ghost story. Write a poem after me
before I’m gone, and please do not include rest in peace,
only those that are forgotten go undisturbed, only things
kept in the dark know the true weight of light.
I A Woman of Means 5 Skinning Ghosts Alive 7 Original [sin] 9 Mis-ery 12 The Fultz Quadruplets 13 Child Witness 15 Lost Causes 17 On All Fours 18 Water No Get Enemy 19 The Path of Totality 21 Self-Portrait of Librarian with T.S. Eliot's Papers 22 To Whoever Is Reading Me 23 All the World Began with a Yes 24 II The Library of Babel 29 Free Radical 30 The Librarian 32 Ophiocordyceps unilateralis 34 The Code Talkers 35 Report from inside a White Whale 38 Elephants Born without Tusks 39 Portrait of a Pack Horse Librarian 41 Fiery Young Colored Girl 42 A Valid Archive 43 Public Domain 44 Library of Small Catastrophes 46 And Then There Were None 50 Oral Fixation 51 Five and a Possible 54 How Not to Remember 56 III Born [again] 59 Mer-cy 60 Cento for Not Quite Love 61 Viva Voce 65 For You 66 The Beastangel 68 A Rock Trying to Stand 70 Why Is We Americans 73 Manifesto, or Ars Poetica #3 75 Word of Month 76 Overkill 79 What Is Tragedy? 81 Object Permanence 82 Notes 86 Acknowledgments 89 Many Thanks… 91 About the Author 93
Table of Contents
A Woman of Means 5
Skinning Ghosts Alive 7
Original [sin] 9
The Fultz Quadruplets 13
Child Witness 15
Lost Causes 17
On All Fours 18
Water No Get Enemy 19
The Path of Totality 21
Self-Portrait of Librarian with T.S. Eliot's Papers 22
To Whoever Is Reading Me 23
All the World Began with a Yes 24
The Library of Babel 29
Free Radical 30
The Librarian 32
Ophiocordyceps unilateralis 34
The Code Talkers 35
Report from inside a White Whale 38
Elephants Born without Tusks 39
Portrait of a Pack Horse Librarian 41
Fiery Young Colored Girl 42
A Valid Archive 43
Public Domain 44
Library of Small Catastrophes 46
And Then There Were None 50
Oral Fixation 51
Five and a Possible 54
How Not to Remember 56
Born [again] 59
Cento for Not Quite Love 61
Viva Voce 65
For You 66
The Beastangel 68
A Rock Trying to Stand 70
Why Is We Americans 73
Manifesto, or Ars Poetica #3 75
Word of Month 76
What Is Tragedy? 81
Object Permanence 82
Many Thanks… 91
About the Author 93Show More