Gone Lawn
a journal of literature
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Gone Lawn 8
Summer, 2012
guest edited by Edmond Caldwell

Featured Excerpt

New Works

Valerie Witte

Selections from Flood Diary

February 3
Then let's come to an agreement: a relationship in terms, within conditions and limits of our own fallible bodies; there is only so much we can do with ourselves ~ devise methods of protection, an alternative world, insulated ~ where women at curious angles of light overhead can't pretend to be prettier than we are ~ or durable, at times broken, where sun strikes, like artillery ~ a convergence of accepted boundaries and betrayals ~ an intrusion of those we know better than admit no matter how willing ~ remember: night vision is colorblind; seal the exits and wounds; when hunting do not blink, a membrane to cover the eyes roll backward; be quiet and still or they'll come for you.

February 10
Laundry pitched over the banister to dry, conversation following its own slow noise ~ windows, a draft of intermittent air, what the rooms wanted ~ a space borrowed, ours only for a time, as if no one truly lived here, or those inside to vanish ~ a painting leaned against a wall, unhung.

February 12
We needed a place to ask permission, to enter on both sides like a river ~ he didn't even mention Missouri, which observing conveys vacancy ~ to trace the route of the same low point: have you been there, was it safe ~ if we could allow uncertainty, I could go; I could go on, like a river ~ my perception of depth may have differed but in that circumstance were we not ephemeral, as voices are a current rippling ~ carried into another phase sustained; when messages are murmurs we want to hear ~ I've known you so long we are sand, patterns made by wind, crosstalk ~ a register reminiscent of rising indefinite (defiant) when an unexpected obstacle emerges ~ I had nowhere to go but over ~ what could have been offered or forced ~ I didn't want to give anything.

February 20
Toward a beginning I remember feeling flagged ~ how outgrown things pull apart ~ warp and bend, tending wet ~ a discordant progression of thoughts trending cold, analogous to what happens on paper in spring ~ I remember feeling ~ jagged ~ a poor carving out of a body ~ I saw a picture, a woman in outline, framed, craving space ~ made of space ~ a woman strung as a doll cut out, replicated and hung ~ I thought it was an opportunity ~ I stepped out, transplanted between misery and relief ~ a stranger spoke of cancer, the curious behavior of cells held in water ~ to look in the face of the scariest thing and finally feel ~ real.

February 28
A woman keeps thinking about regret ~ a difficult field, especially in rain ~ where is her umbrella, in service of the storm ~ when the impact of damage is greater than the amount of water, fallen ~ to contest the discrepancy a woman tries traveling ~ at the origin a portal, what follows ~ when a man's face resembles distance ~ a direction she tries to alter ~ to find another destination a woman looks upward ~ she has never encountered such a downpour ~ when a vehicle covers tracks, a man drives away, a body dislocated ~ a woman on a platform waiting to be ~ collected ~ she exits at the other side of the tunnel, wondering why it won't stop raining.

March 29
She was largely unaware of the tendencies of her own body ~ lips opened inadvertently, how her beauty helped her to a clever way of listening ~ an emphasis on grammar, interruption ~ position shift weight creak wood under cushions: her acoustics were impressive, hand raised to mouth, emitting a quiet ~ concern for independence: femininity as a record of progress or how dynamics remain ~ terrain overrun as socked feet against a rug pressed floorboards, a hall as a place of conveyance ~ one person's boundary intersecting another's pointed edge.

April 9
I read "women in danger" as "walk in a jar" and thought of containment, physicality, direction ~ which is better, before or after ~ what is left to demand, given up or away ~ our underlying currents reduced to patterns.

April 22
These are someone else's rooms she's moving through ~ where mannerisms begin to interfere with acceptable rates of exposure ~ what she could take out of a person ~ my tolerance tapped, I'm forgotten like a drain ~ in trying to predict disasters or one miracle after another ~ always, always running downstairs ~ pretty soon you exhaust yourself looking for an escape route.

May 23
A difficult field, especially in rain ~ to prevent unmooring we reinforced corners ~ grommets staked down all four sides ~ or sandbags, despite our efforts we've become trained in collecting damages ~ protection cut in the shape of a diamond and laid ~ with chains ~ because we've a tendency to tear ~ survivors held to the edge so wind can never lift us ~ when we needed cover ~ what constitutes calling: ground swollen, unable to hold any more, an admission weighted in the hem ~ what purpose hurting, submerged beyond repair ~ don't let doubt congregate ~ a large tarp folded distributing pain, a soft roller to push away patience if it pools ~ if ignored a small hole growing will enlarge as soon as the boundary is ripped ~ when to give up on a field, loaded.

* * *

{marginalia} allowances made for neighbors

demolition / in an instant shades raised

but we prefer dismantling patiently / I tried
to block out rushes / take apart / rain

channel away / moaning on the porch where
we are most exposed / performative if

loving could bring a house down / pillars
to support the weight of smoke, faces are skins

permeated, worked into malleable shapes open

to limited ventilation / in rental relenting
to a poor filtration / while upstairs the best laid

rugs can be afforded to provide insulation

let's locate the safety inside where it's cozy

and close / though heavily blanketed you
could never hear the foghorns from my window

{marginalia} a record of mistakes today

I asked the others playing a lot of questions
to oscillate backward / overflowing / taken

to the floor, the path of least resistance / I
read the world for reasons, a conspiracy

of relationships executed / I sent you a picture
to safeguard my body, my / mistakes / hung

in a locket / avoidance considering cyborg
women clung to comfort / something about

eating me / caught in a book of faces
opened another profile / I answered a lot

of questions / a bracelet taken around
the wrist / fetishized machines / I'm stuck

in a feedback loop, my story breaking / told
the truth unintentionally entered unconditionally

forgetting the water on / letting her in

{marginalia} what means to repair

in this maintenance or regret I'm trying
to forget in reverse to plaster over missing

the greatest game or / observing the peculiar

formation of pairs / the promise of resurfacing
a replay can capture the moment of surrender

before crossing home / if winning meant

removal of the offending agent / an adversary
defeated as understanding unraveled or fixed

recollection driven away or stripped but some

things can happen only once, surprise
and it's finished / tiles cut out, baseboard

glued and sealed / then paint over what's

growing there and pretend you never saw it

July 9
She listened into dark landscapes ~ how she loved catacombs ~ nostalgic for metal, voices we once were sisters have a different way of hearing ~ selecting and grading language, as one might evaluate memories distorted ~ to evacuate a story distilled I tried lightning, a searing sun, smoke, a jaw's eyes wrapped in ice ~ and now strangers longing for a joke, I meant to bring my heart but ~ I meant: to wring my heart out ~ I didn't want to go home; it's cold there ~ if we could go back, lie for love, I'd hold her hand and wade into weeds, inside that history, dreaming.

July 12
A woman liked the sound of the word baseball ~ as lips, could stop ~ when voiced upon touching, drawn in surprisingly, a parting ~ release and follow ~ the tip of a tongue stilled ~ a channel resulting in a hiss as characteristically pissed ~ what was wanting, a narrow left unmeasured ~ an act pressed too soon is intractable ~ to deliver an acute and localized pain, cursing at the inability to please ~ as a wit is cutting ~ to suffer stung a performance stilted, then further, forced over vocal chords, what shape a mouth makes, frustrated ~ then pause to receive a smarting ~ a cold, devoted motion to memory, taken to the sharp edge of teeth ~ a refusal to soothe yet a rolling, habitual loop ~ let loll as an indolent lover ~ such an effort ~ to give ~ control ~ one could lie all day awake, articulating the fundamentals of baseball.

* * *

August 22
She wanted to help them ~ disappear ~ an act of generosity, or what one might call ~ a breakdown: the first time she heard ~ noise, their voices shook the inside ~ then tightening, closing in where breath had been ~ suffocation: an overwhelming sense of self ~ disrupted ~ a narrow of valves reminding, remaining calm ~ how years could dissolve instantaneously ~ she missed lightness, wings, a means of flight ~ what one might call ~ a blackbird.

September 2
So often exhumed, these are bodies you can play with ~ a touchscreen, a joystick, abstractions such as love and other mobile devices ~ just take one, fiddle around, build your own distractions such as dolls ~ and when they're used up, bury them deep where no one can find them ~ yet they function as a warning: virtual civilizations are almost as real as the real ones.

September 15
To deconstruct a narrative consider ~ what's real or fabricated ~ you came to disassemble ~ a way of perceiving whether native or contrived ~ to find comfort in organic things: a light fixture, the formation of trees rooted resisting rot, and fir ~ to occupy this landscape a forest seemed a subtle invasion ~ on arrival, insidious phrases ~ we were easily worked into several shapes, heavily molded, a relationship of pains, lights of glass, a sash ~ you said: nothing is ours to build ~ but let's not argue wainscoting, a rigid projection, when I wanted simpler, open spaces ~ protection from the edge, or a stoop ~ I said: we built everything here, whether admitted or denied ~ sugaring.

September 26
Still others make it easy; meanwhile currents moving in a contrary direction and inside walls are waves ~ ridden reluctantly because it's difficult, maintaining balance ~ where a swimmer waiting for a low cycle may enter ~ when what's placid becomes disastrous in its insistence ~ an undertow and another, violently disturbing order ~ in writing the unknown to the strange bodies we've become obstacles, the meeting of opposing tides ~ a heaviness prevails ~ when returning broken to flow, one can quickly be pulled under.

{marginalia} remnants of a flood

in a small repair waiting to be abducted
fortification / necks and strings, beautification

a joint pipe, subduction either vertically or
scrambling smaller at the mouthpiece

construction tape, abdomens that danger a stem
and ribs horizontally hung drywall and I'm

finished / rim shank tuning, elbow a crook
a vibration airplane is a throat / is this progress

duct tape / the least I can do / belted

a saddle of electrical tape, two coats vinyl
concrete slabs / cigarettes begging a series

of tapers / slide and we're winding down

now owls are a trumpet or some other brass
I never noticed any other voices

{marginalia} what one expects of water

a means of transport, pooling / rearrangement

of bones stored in ossuaries / let this be
a book of inevitability / tension against river

banks saturated / restrictions placed
on whereabouts located, but she's disappearing

a missing wall or removed as vinyl tiles

sensitivities subsumed under floor slabs
a clearcut derailing of life / a small lot dug

and filled / but how she loved buried things
the moisture collected around them

preservation of intricate details poring

over various metals, minerals molded or beholden
to earthen pressures then realize the more

you pour into a space the more it pulls / apart

{marginalia} the shape of absence

to trace what I'm missing / to fill the spaces
of an incomplete history, what matters

of potential / I could not exist
without a dead brother / we are gaps made

by others / ages / possibility of love, as if

given or grasped / what's mine in deficiency

I've no way to recall what I've never / received
repeat: he didn't even mention Missouri

October 5
Well, as I said, I never liked surprises ~ I listened for the set of paces, waiting for their inevitable passage ~ flights of fingers a curtain passed through ~ how a body creates scandals, disappearing in the pantry, drunk and disremembered ~ or behind pianos, played against our vast vulnerabilities ~ I'm forgotten like a storm ~ inelegant gestures tossed toward the nearest passing stranger ~ how her beauty helped her ~ still I marveled at the unpredictability of charm, acquiescence ~ did I mention she had an alias, what one might use to divert the authorities or an unsuspecting house guest ~ to mimic a figure from another time, and travel, claiming the space as her own ~ what haven't I tried or done ~ to remain unmarried, a way to sustain myself ~ tricked into neglecting to be skeptical or seeing everyone in shades ~ but when I've emptied out my choices, carved a narrow known as denial ~ an apartment is a nucleus of vacancy a way to drain myself ~ I'm forgotten like a phrase, with each utterance escaping a tongue I no longer understand.

October 14
Where an edge meets another unexpectedly ~ lost to a convergence of strangers ~ call it a collaboration when he doesn't even know ~ we collected collisions ~ to borrow, not obscure ~ words masked memory as eyes told lies for love ~ similarities are symmetries discovered; still others make it easy: locating recordings, every moment's locomotives conveying new pairings simultaneously ~ I miss the innocence covers we listened to overlapping ~ partners as lyrics ~ this song a sea of wheels turning ~ to think I needed him—but I always find my sources.

October 26
So strange what comes to you thinking ~ about diseases, viruses carried ~ I remember the painter, whose poems I am still living with, didn't much mind ~ he wanted to keep touching me ~ in shades of grey, an apartment is a nucleus of vacancy ~ in the shower, he thought it would be easier if I were ~ water, eyes down tan lines, a canvas's natural direction ~ we had something to attend to ~ later, lying, when just making noise appealed to me ~ a body has a way of clearing things ~ as falling stars ~ sudden starts, the way surfaces strike each other ~ an object's contrast against the background as color ~ collisions ~ we were too new to quarrel ~ but there's no guarantee you get to lose ~ only to find myself: on the other side wondering why it wouldn't stop raining.

Valerie Witte received her MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco and is a member of Kelsey Street Press, which publishes experimental writing by women. She is co-coordinator of the Bay Area Correspondence School and a member of the g.e. collective in San Francisco, where she helps manage a reading and chapbook series.