You were electric. The way
you mawed the light, flicked
earthquake from nimble fingers.
O how the soft animal of your body loved
what it loved! Lank-limbed
keeper of outrageous narratives,
of all things tender and wild with
Technicolor hunger. O visionary
of sweet strange suburbia, its lambent
poetry of teeth and belly made
flesh, dwelling among us. Once
you even caught the jawbone of God:
work-worn, weary, singing
all alone in the dark.
–after William Eggleston: Democratic Camera
The Makers of Memorials
They sing. The sing blue songs
their mothers wore.
They sing grief, bone-thick & left-handed.
They sing songs cross oceans, cross sidewalks.
They sing skies sealed shut.
They sing men born wearing walking shoes.
They sing women born palms up.
They sing from mouths without lipstick,
charts without notes, pianos without tunes.
They sing back-door songs & apron-
tied-low songs. They sing.
Unmaking the made into something less
teeth-breaking. They sing
dead crops, dead gods, men
put down, men put out,
dreams put off. Off key, off beat, they sing.
Steady. Loud. Relentless. They sing
instead of, in spite of, next door to. They sing
in clinics, in bedrooms, on corners. They sing.
Women in blue & purple, in thorn tiaras braided
from agains & nevermores & never minds.
Songs of children lost, of savings lost,
pawn tickets lost.
They sing. They sing. They sing
blue songs of our mothers,
holler-songs of our blue mothers.
They sing the slow leak that will drown
the world. They call God home
for the re-making.
–from Voice Lessons
I got a voice like an angel
that I use to break hearts.
I sing baby with the accent on
the ee so it punctures.
I want to be a precise angel.
It starts with my glittering mouth
flies up to my eyes & then
I’m shimmering Bud Powell’s
wailing piano wall, shaking
my black, blue & serpentine
just like Ma Rainey.
They always ask me to sing my glorious
knifey song again & again.
I can tell you my whole story
in one sweet, heart-cracking note.
I sing low down & kicked around
right out of the Hallelujah Chorus songbook,
a tangle of heartbreak & bamboo
sting, singing chords made of nothing
but their biting middles.
–from Blues for a Pretty Girl
1. Praise the stutter of sound on the blue page. Each full stop, each interrogation.
2. Praise the heart, the lungs, the truculent nape.
3. We are all God’s hands. Hallelujah. We are all God’s handlers. Hallelujah. Praise even the ill-mannered fingers, thick with mistake.
4. Praise the vague ache just out of reach of language. Praise the jaw’s dumbness.
5. Praise the shape of the mouth, its story howling out.
6. Praise the doubtful, doubting side of the tongue. Praise whatever it can know so long after the tower’s fall.
7. To find the language is to explore the gaps..
8. The poor, exhausted thesauruses. The lambent syllables. Hallelujah.
9. Rejoice in what darkness found illuminates. Give thanks for what the bound light does not.
10. Light next to light next to light . . .
11. Praise the sword’s edge, the palimpsest, the blank forehead. Hallelujah. Praise the tongue dead, heavy. Hallelujah.
12. Raise the hollows of the empty palms toward heaven. Raise the mouth’s new radiance toward heaven.
13. Praise the fallen. Praise the broken. Praise the lapsed.
14. Dance like David danced, naked, howling. Hallelujah.
–from Voice Lessons
I wanted to find the bird that had cracked and clawed its way from my father’s back.
I wanted to find the bird that had planted its wing in my father’s back like a sticky benediction.
The birds kept gathering long into winter. I shouted, Why can’t you keep to your season?
Fooled by tricks of light, I always believe things are what they should be.
I am not the type to recognize the poison ivy or the mockingbird.
Sometimes I said, Yes, Daddy. Sometimes I pelted the birds with the small flat stones weighting my eyes.
By the time my father found his last words, his beak had grown too small to shout them.
By this time my father had grown so small that I would often lose him in my pocket for days and years.
The bird too witches flight from air and longing.
The forest of wings is growing very large. Am I growing smaller still or staying just the same? Am I bird and do not know it?
The women gathered. The priests were gone and the temple was bitter with corpses. Still the women gathered. Still the women wrenched the heads from the doves in the traditional way. I wonder if the birds wept.
Paulette Beete’s poems, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in journals, including RHINO, Crab Orchard Review, Cake, and Provincetown Arts, and in the anthologies Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC and Saints of Hysteria (with Danna Ephland). She is the author of the chapbooks Blues for a Pretty Girl (Finishing Line Press, 2005) and Voice Lessons (Plan B Press, 2011). Beete received her MFA from American University where she was Editor-in-Chief of Folio. She blogs occasionally at The Home Beete, where she posts stuff she likes. Plus, she can really sing!
Paulette Beete’s blog
An interview with Paulette Beete