by Lisa Bickmore
for David Bowie
When I write to you now I write
to one who has left the here for
the beyond. That’s the future, as you know
better than anyone. In the past, that rainbow
zigged across your face, your eyebrows absent
and so your eyes in their sockets went
unsheltered, direct and uncanny. I can remember
myself most clearly when I remember
how unnerving, how the gaze from behind the paint
loosened the strength of what I thought I knew.
All collapsed now, total blam blam.
Each new face effacing the last, a kind
of courage, I think now, an offering and
a refusal at the same time. And why would you
regret any of it? The trick was to give it away,
but not all of it, the unspent light drawing us
to you, to what you sang, with a gravitational pull.
Whatever that secret was, it keeps telling itself.
David Bowie's death in January of 2016 brought on a tumult of memory and music and image. I remembered Bowie as Ziggy Stardust—that recording came out when I was in high school, still forming my own identity—and that dramatization, that theatricality, was alienating but also enthralling. I listened to his last recording, Black Star, many times—it came out at almost exactly the same time as his death, a gesture thoroughly final. The song "I Can't Give Everything Away" seemed to me to be about the gift of art, and the piece of being an artist that is about withholding, about holding some essential self back. I hoped that writing to Bowie in this letter-poem, as I was meditating on that last album, its melancholy, its mortal knowledge, at this moment in my own mortal progress, would be an act of homage to that mystery.
MORE SUGAR SUITES
by Lisa Bickmore
Through the grid of the screen
I see it, barely, something
hopping up and down, then
again, the thing—a bird—half-
circling on the grass, pausing
at the edge of sight: I call to
my husband: he sees it, says
cooper’s hawk, not the first we’d seen
in the backyard taking down
a smaller, slower bird: by virtue
of naming it, I can now see
the hawk’s pounce as a part
of its killing, an ascertaining
of the dove’s death, and somehow
triumphal, both procedure
and conclusion, enacted as it
detects the last stir and twitch,
before it begins to eat.
on the first day of testimony,
my first thought testimony,
and turned on the television to
the drone of a statement: I lay
in bed to hear it, to register
the flow of it, as it moved, a river
eddying around evidence and points.
The dance of questioning, a parrying
of answers. A ritual disappearing
into air. The room had seats
enough for an audience.
Men to hear and men to say,
parsing themselves in their drab
suits, bunching and releasing:
an army colonel, immigrated to
the U.S. from Ukraine, testified
to what he saw and heard, and spoke to
his absent father, saying do not worry,
I will be fine for telling the truth.
A hawk taking and dismantling
a bird belongs: to autumn,
to the field behind us, to
an order we know as natural.
And what order is this? this room,
lined with curved tiers, the onlookers
bored, taking notes, their talk whispered
into the ears of confreres—
—and the hawk finishes its ceremony,
the ring of feathers on the grass the last
of it. Circles without malice or mercy
above the field, taking the last
muscles’ pulse as signal to kill,
to kill harder, the last life in the dove
a directive: made to do it, to take
prey from the ground or from the air,
to eat it, transmute it into
another kind of power: I listen, watch
for what is ending and what will soar free
from this scene, what will be left, only
the trace of itself on the ground.
Translating a verbal work into a multimodal work requires thinking about the specification of the image, and what specifying an image potentially does to the reader's imaginative engagement with words. In this piece, "Cooper's Hawk," the poem began with the intersection of an actual backyard event—a Cooper's hawk taking down a dove and killing it on the back lawn—and the impeachment hearings in the House in November of 2019, which I watched avidly, a television screen mediating my consumption of this event. At some point, the two image sets intersected. In making the video poem, I found footage of the actual vote in the House, which I had tried to evoke in the poem. Cross cutting (slowly) between the video I had captured of the hawk, and the video I had found of the vote, helped, I hope, to create a visual idea of two kinds of violence.
Lisa Bickmore's work has appeared or will soon appear in Psaltery and Lyre, Blossom as the Cliff Rose, Quarterly West, Tar River Poetry, Caketrain, Split Rock Review, Menagerie, Terrain.org, Hunger Mountain Review, Southword, The Moth, Timberline Review, and elsewhere. Her second book, flicker (2016), won the 2014 Antivenom Prize from Elixir Press, and she won the 2015 Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize for the poem “Eidolon.” Her third collection, Ephemerist, was published summer 2017, by Red Mountain Press. She is the founder and publisher of the new nonprofit Lightscatter Press (lightscatterpress.org). She lives and teaches writing in Salt Lake City, UT.