Arsenic Lobster poetry journal
Issue Twelve
Winter 2006
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Issue Twelve,  Winter 2006
Heat, Sweat, Heart, Sweet, Hearth

“There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart
so heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.”
     ~ John Berryman, from Dream Song 29

“—Once more the poem woke me up,
the dark poem. I was ready for it;
he was sleeping,

and across the cabin, the small furnace
lit and re-lit itself—”
     ~ Brenda Hillman, from Little Furnace

I recently heard the notion that all writers have a 'furnace image'— a mental imprint of someone or thing that first ignited their urge to write, and that never fails to fire them up. For Berryman it was, ostensibly, his father's suicide. We all have our own versions of this image.

And as the days quickly darken to their shortest length in the calendar year, many of us light our pilot lights and wait expectantly for that first blast of heat. Often it arrives violently -- banging and clanging like a call to arms -- into our homes.

That furnace image can appear just as forcefully. As Hillman suggests, it might rouse us from a long Rip Van Winkle-like sleep. For others, like Berryman's Henry, it can be so haunting as to never let us rest.

In helping to select poems for December's Lobster, I looked for those that woke me up, that lit my spark, the verse that, in contrast to its very darkness, helped me to see.

Jane Ormerod’s The Birds pushes and pulls at my heartstrings with all the insistence of a child tugging at her mother's hand for one undivided moment of attention— while her mother, oblivious, sexed the world around.

Regina Smith's Ophelia in Winter might have survived, been institutionalized, and kept under the watch of some sort of voodan night nurse, who recounts Ophelia's plight in her singular vernacular...she says scars give pain texture.

Submission, by Lane Adamson, makes me anxiously turn on my porch light to peer uselessly into the trees for strangers duct-taped in plastic bags, as the nights are suddenly too long and too dark.

All by themselves, the three poems by Jason Fraley could keep me busy through the frigid months ahead. With their brain-twisting turns of syntax, there’s a surprise around every corner where the last lighthouse splits and seals the night.

Jennifer Pruden Colligan’s The Cooktop Was Smooth as Glass awakens me from a perfect Norman Rockwell fantasy with the hissing of curiously wild cats, reminding that beneath every smooth surface there is an energy we can not control.

And yet, with tone as evenly maintained as rows of shorn corn stalks, David Hurst’s the sawmill paints a vivid fire, while his hyacinth grieves as delicately as wind in the pale glow, downcast, the pure purple of divine regret.

Lobster Feast by Beaman Cole
Lobster Feast by Beaman Cole
About the Artist

No regrets for the couple in Christa Mastrangelo’s Dancing the Blues, which turns the heat up yet a few more degrees with a potent mix of potables. My blood warmed to the whiskey, as I am sure yours will, too.

Contents of 75, by Peter Grieco, describes an emptiness so empty that the bottoms of dresser drawers bottomed out, a home where once useful objects have been left to decompose. It awakens me to how fortunate I am to live in a home that has heart as well as heat.

On the other hand, John Thomas Allen’s dust invokes a place where inanimate objects heave with mutely ominous intentions, and a narrator who seethes with a loathing so bitter -- your mouth reeling celluloid stuffed with black feathers -- it could only be the flip side of love.

Who has not felt that bitterness, who not exactly like the one who dream-kicks a bunny across the sidewalk at some point in time, yet it is Jessi Lee’s Epiphany that jolts us into awareness of this verboten thought lurking somewhere in our collective gut.

And with the last of the stubborn leaves parting from their trees, so does Kit Kennedy’s Stripped deconstruct into its most elemental shapes and pixels....tufts wiry grass stencil air. The restraint of her narrator seems to speak to those images seen through a third eye.

Finally, experience the ultimate act of creative heat -- the harvest your wanting carried on steel toes -- as viscerally portrayed in Elizabeth Pavlov’s Push. I promise that it will leave you in a cold sweat.

I invite you to gather your own harvest before that first frost. Light a fire, a candle, a furnace, or perhaps a gas flame under a pot of boiling water, as Beaman Cole's bright red lobsters seem to have been dipped in. Popping hot against a checkerboard tablecloth, I can't help but wonder if his Lobster Feast is set out for human consumption, or is some sort of crustacean front-line.

I leave it to you to grab your side of melted butter, and bask in the sweet, meaty heat of a winter Arsenic Lobster.
Lissa Kiernan
Associate Editor, Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal

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