Dear David,

by Lisa Bickmore

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.

Artist Statement:

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.

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Cooper's Hawk

by Lisa Bickmore

November 2019

 

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.   

 

                        *

 

                                      I woke 

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.

Artist Statement:

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.