Beauty’s Nest by Robin Coste Lewis

   JIM CROW WELCOMES YOU HOME
AFTER THE WAR, JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT
GRAND CANYON: 1951

Beauty’s nest
renders the body
mute. An elegance
so inconceivable,
it’s violent. Extreme. It hurts
the heart to see
something so vast and deep
can also be made of dirt.

And if it can be
of the earth, the body
ponders, might
such a landscape
exist also within me?

The four of you stand
silent, uniformed on its rim,
while the imagination tries
to conceive all the things
it is still too dark
to see.

You jump back
into your wide tan Ford
and begin to drive
again — again — past
all the motels, and their signs,
which, were it not just
after midnight, you know —
and could see — say
WHITES ONLY

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Beauty’s Nest by Robin Coste Lewis

Class Notes: Week 2

  • Whitman – naming victims to add humanity
    – Details -> close focus
  • Melodrama of Whitman’s prose
    – Sexy: Sense of desiring the bodies even in their death
  • Tones of Whitman’s poems changes after he works in a military hospital
    – diarrhoea + discharge
    – reflective
  • In theory we are all equal
    – Union Patriotism vs. Far-reaching – for all dead
    – Too much PLURALITY?
  • Repetition
    – Is it overwritten?
    – Form following function – “war is too much”
    – American bigness
  • Lists
    – What does a list do, grammatically?
    – Lists as a democratic, equalising form
  • Info point: Diagramming Sentences
  • Democracy is partly lyric
  • bivouac – “hard camping”
    – How does “By the bivouac’s fitful flame” work as a poem?
    – Private, tender moments, philosophical considerations
    – Poem of bonds + equality
    – “homosocial”
    – Juxtaposing beauty + battle
  • Sketch artist
  • How does photography influence our perception of the truth?
  • Is Whitman writing from experience or from a photo?
  • Whitman as a formal response to the idea of America
    – What does the poem do?
    – Whitman tries to make himself a metaphor for America
    — Whitman becomes a metonym
    – What does the journalism do?
    — Journalism as one of the things that “make America great”
    — Journalism as the foundation of American equality
    — Ethics question of writing about the war without fighting
    — “I can’t write the truth”
    — War in Iraq: Whitman as first embedded journalist
    — Whitman didn’t fight, but he still helped by bringing letters and supplies, green tea, searched for his brother
    – Whitman stops being a journalist, wanders around the city, produces Leaves of Grass in 1855
    — Whitman worked as a journalist for the Brooklyn Eagle
    — Explosion of the printing press in New York at this time
    — How are the journalism and the poetry relating to each other?
    — Poems -> journalistic details -> cameos, place names
    — journalistic gestures vs. poetic gestures in the collection
    — Leaves of Grass: Anonymous Review! (written by Walt Whitman)
    — DESIRE / idea of being solidified by affection
  • Apostrophe
  • What happens when you talk to a year, or to a month?
  • Assignment: Write a poem “to” a year or month etc (as in Whitman’s)
  • Romantic break ups
  • Activism? Whitman cared about open space in the middle of the city, lungs
Class Notes: Week 2

Plantation by Robin Coste Lewis

And then one morning we woke up
embracing on the bare floor of a large cage.

To keep you happy, I decorated the bars.
Because you had never been hungry, I knew

I could tell you the black side
of my family owned slaves.

I realize this is perhaps
the one reason why I love you,

because I told you this
and you – still – wanted to kiss

me. We laughed when I said plantation,
fell into our chairs when I said cane. 

There were fingers on the floor
and the split bodies of women

who’d been torn apart by horses
during the Inquisition.

You’d said, Well I’ll be damned! 
Every now and then you’d change

from a prancing black buck
into a small high yellow girl: pigtailed,

patent leather, eyes spinning gossamer, begging
for an egg salad and banana pudding.

Or just as quickly you’d become
the girl’s mother, pulling

yourself away from yourself.
Because my whole head was covered

with a heaving beehive, you thought
I didn’t notice. I noticed. I cried honey.

And then you were fourteen, and you had grown
a glorious steel cock under your skirt. To brag

you rubbed yourself against me. Then your tongue
was inside my mouth, and I wanted to say

Please ask me first, but it was your
tongue, so who cared suddenly

about your poor manners?
We had books and a waterfall

was falling in the corner.
I didn’t tell you I couldn’t

remember what that thing was
you said to me once, that tender thing

you’d said I should never forget.
The moment you said it, I forgot it.

I wondered if you thought we were lost.
We weren’t lost. We were loss. 

And meanwhile, all I could think about
were the innumerable ways I would’ve loved

to have eaten you, how being
devoured can make one cry, and I hoped

you liked the fresh, pleasant taste
of juice cane. You pulled

my pubic bone toward you. I didn’t
say, It’s still broken; I didn’t tell

you, There’s still this crack. It was sore,
but I stayed silent because you were smiling.

You said, The bars look pretty, Baby, 
then rubbed your hind legs up against me.


This is an incredible piece I wish I’d come across sooner. I’d love to try and talk about the beehive section (Because my whole head was covered / with a heaving beehive, you thought / I didn’t notice. I noticed. I cried honey.), but will obviously have to research the poem and subject more before I can even think about doing so.

Plantation by Robin Coste Lewis