Poetry

“A Day of Peace,” “Freud Before Bed,” and “Distortion Formulas,” by Kathleen Winter

A Day of Peace

after Jean Follain

A day of peace, the old man passing gifts to pigeons, to
orioles with the coo of a long-tailed gal. Then again, attend to
the juvenile voltage of night, the plain of hennaed rivulets,
sweet deviant chant engraved by an agent of the world’s end,
post-Christ, less the nuance, the deaths, and after suave hours,
bereft of grave sculptures. These times imply a future
petulance. A child crosses over our path, bearing his own
pigeon, its feet a bracelet—the orbit cannot be detached.
Bearing that long journey, debut of a sodden season. Refusing
to wait at home, the vague young girl tills with her yoke of
blues.

 

 

Freud Before Bed

That anyone, for being Jew, should have to flee.
An airplane’s boom, plume of white noise.

Freud before bed makes for mean sleep.
That scene of gone, piercing the hide—
fever in the jaws of animals.

That a man who thought so well
should have to wait so long.

Discontented with the smell of radishes,
I am no old European
but I hear you,

keen shrill train-whistle of conscience.
There is regret, an indigestion, bad translation.

There is a strict Modernism—
shadow-winged with sound—
that persists conflicted, flies from itself.

Thank you for beauty, for your love of it.
For keeping it at hand.

America, what are we doing here?
our nation is too loud

& proud—of its drained favors.

 

 

Distortion Formulas

for Allison

I hope everything goes pretty well, at least.
Migrations of the headlong sea by bird flight,
organs of sacrificed animals, were declared
auspicious by antique Europeans.

East, believed to be the direction of Eden.

Cartographic projections are conventions of illusion,
said a man who should know he’s been missed.

Against the sun, or widdershins, Saint Auspice wove
cocoonery for divinations. I hope everything goes pretty well,
at least. Migrations of the headlong sea by bird flight
were declared auspicious by antique Europeans,
and organs of sacrificed animals,
cartographic projections of the direction of Eden.

East, believed to be a convention of illusion.

Against the sun, or widdershins, Saint Auspice wove,
said a man who should know.

He’s been missed. I hope everything goes
pretty well. At least migrations of the headlong
sea by bird flight, conventions of illusion,
organs of sacrificed animals believed to be directed
against the sun. Widdershins,
Saint Auspice wove.

Counterclockwise, liquid draining makes a neural shimmer.
What are wishes, but a benign fever?

 

All three poems are from I will not kick my friends (Elixir Press 2018), reprinted here with permission of the press. “A Day of Peace” was first published in Sentence, “Freud Before Bed” in New American Writing, and “Distortion Formulas” in Burnside Review. Winter’s book, I will not kick my friends is available here.

 

Kathleen Winter is the author of two poetry collections, I will not kick my friends (Elixir Press 2018), winner of the Elixir Poetry Prize, and Nostalgia for the Criminal Past, winner of the 2013 Texas Institute of Letters Bob Bush Memorial Award. Her poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies, including Tin House, The New Statesman, Agni, New Republic, Cincinnati Review, Poetry London, and Yale Review. Winter was granted fellowships at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Dobie Paisano Ranch, Dora Maar House, James Merrill House, Cill Rialaig Project, and Vermont Studio Center. She won the 2014 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award, judged by Brenda Hillman, and the 2016 Poetry Society of America The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award. A former wine industry attorney, she now teaches writing at Sonoma State University and Napa Valley College. She has lived on Sonoma Mountain since 1998.

 

Poet’s Note

“A Day of Peace” is a purposeful mistranslation (also called a “homophonic translation”) of a prose poem by Jean Follain, a 20th-century French poet and lawyer. In a homophonic translation into English, the poet rewrites the original using English words that sound like the original vocabulary, with no intention of translating the actual content, much less meaning(s), of the original text. These poems are fun to write, and it even helps to be monolingual—usually an embarrassment for me. Not knowing how to read French, I worked only with my (usually disastrous) guesses about how each French word was supposed to sound. If a word was repeated in Follain’s original, I repeated it in my poem. The challenge of the game was to try to make some sense evolve organically, through the constraints of the process.

The impulse to write “Freud Before Bed” was indeed sparked by my bedtime reading of Civilization and Its Discontents, with a preface that alluded to the difficulties suffered by Sigmund Freud in 1938 as he sought to emigrate from Austria after it was taken over by the Nazis. Freud’s struggle, complicated by his terminal cancer and efforts to save his extended family after his assets were seized by the Nazis, also brought to mind currently contested issues around immigration in the USA and globally.

A poetry collection that has continued to delight me for years is And Her Soul Out of Nothing, by Olena Kalytiak Davis, which includes the poem “Who Cares About Aperture.” My poem “Distortion Formulas” mirrors the structure of the Davis poem, but the content was inspired by a comment my friend Allison Moseley made to me, and by Peter Turchi’s wonderful book, Maps of the Imagination. This book, which explores concepts and vocabulary of cartography and geography, connecting them to creative writing, also helped to inspire several other poems in I will not kick my friends.

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