Like a leaky zeppelin, National Night Out descends upon our cities the first Tuesday of every August. Some neighborhoods ignore it. Others, unfortunately, embrace it. This often leads to street blockades and forced mingling in the name of community and fun. The sad truth is the same hollow feeling that follows one home after an awkward wedding will very likely escort one through the streets after such a gathering. For poets the great pothole of awkwardness is met when an unfamiliar neighbor asks, “What sort of poetry do you write?” For the record, “human poetry” is my answer.
As an editor, I often field a similar query, “What kind of poems do you publish?” Protocol suggests the professional editor should be thoughtful, forthright, and “creative,” given the possibility of a sale at hand. But in all honesty, we simply publish poems we like. An astute reader might be able to identify a Conduit type, but I believe that same person would testify that we cast a wide net. Nevertheless, I can think of four, five, or maybe six poets who, as a group, might best represent the Conduit poetic sensibility. Since their membership in this unholy cabal is unbeknownst to them, I’ll keep their identities secret. Well, except for one, the author of this week’s poem, “Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975,” Noelle Kocot.
Although we first published Ms. Kocot in “Drunk Genius” (#6) and then again in “Pedestrian” (#7), “Big Bang” (#9), “Extinction” (#13), “Gray Matters” (#15), and “Last Laugh” (#19), I had never had the pleasure of meeting her until last November in New York. That’s not to say we aren’t friends. We have forged a friendship over the telephone and through letters. But it’s her poems that get her published. She’s an incredible poet, a true poet, prolific and profound, vulnerable and victorious in her pursuit of love and wonder.
"Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975” first
appeared in our “Pedestrian” issue and was later included in her award-winning
book 4 (Four Way Books). As this poem
demonstrates, the sestina is well suited to follow the poet’s searching mind
and to contain, just barely but perfectly, the unwieldy stuff of life.
-- William Waltz
Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975
How can I conjure the vivdness of the plastic
Blue and orange chairs we'd slump
Into every morning before the tyranny of fractions,
Each afternoon after the sadism of lunch?
We'd just played "Boys against Girls,"
"Girls against Boys," slamming each other's small bodies
Into a schoolyard fence, as if to add to the body
Of what American feminism had become, its piles of plastic
Dolls dismembered like Bluebeard's wives, only this time by girls
Of single mothers slumped
Into plaid couches, too tired or too drunk to fix those cleanly cut-out lunches
Like the ones beamed into their living rooms through the Cyclopean fractal
Blue-rimmed eye of the cathode ray refracted
By those radio ballads that sent everybody
Who'd ever broken up to sobbing in their McDonald's Muzak lunches.
Why is it that everything smelled like plastic
As the yellow heatwave slumped
Against my salmon-colored building where the girls
Were jumping rope (the older girls
Skipping double Dutch)? Could it have been the fractious
Yentas looking on from sweaty beach chairs clumped
Together in the shade, their widowed bodies
Already melted and annealed to a tanned and cracking plastic?
The housewives who went on serving each other lunch
Like it would never end? I would soon be off to lunch
Myself at Jewish camp with a girl
My age named Rachel, offering her what I'd plastic-
Wrapped the night before, her six-year-old fractions
Of hands fumbling over my body
In return before our midday swim. No Cold War, no economic slump
Could touch us in that Brooklyn; Brooklyn, the word itself seems holy, a Cabalistic lunchbox
Yawning open for all the world to fathom its great plastic
Letters stretched bodiless
Across the level see-saw of the summer heat like the broken balloon of a girl's
Insides, her future a fractal-
Patterned leaf dangling from her family tree of dusty plastic.
And the shoulders on the bodies of the girls
Who hadn't been pinned to their beds at night slumped in the lunchroom
Nonetheless, its fractured spoons and forks still scattering across the dance floor of my
dreams, a threnody of plastic.
-- Noelle Kocot