Monday, June 6, 2016

Prose Poetry By James Reidel and a Surfing Illustration By Jenny Mathews

James Reidel is the author of the poetry collections Jim's Book (Black Lawrence Press, 2013) and My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg (Black Lawrence Press, 2006). He wrote the definitive and only biography on Weldon Kees, Vanished Act: The Life and Work of Weldon Kees (University of Nebraska Press, 2003), and edited 3 Entertertainments (Knives Forks Spoons Press, 2012), which features three of Kees’s works for film and television. Reidel received a National Endowment for the Arts translation fellowship in 2009. In 2013 he was a resident poet at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut. Reidel's poems have appeared in numerous journals, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, The New Criterion, The Adirondack Review, DMQ Review, and the inaugural issue of (ĕm). Reidel’s translations of Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh and Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand were published by Godine in 2012. His translations of Thomas Bernhard's In Horas Mortis and Under the Iron of the Moon were published as a single volume by Princeton University Press in 2006. Reidel lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Three Prose Poems Written too Close
to Each Other
James Reidel

Surf City
Some Atlantic City casino’s offer struggles on its line far behind the tailplane. The pilot of the banner tug must see the many clotheslines strung up along the dunes. One conversation with him would prove its existence—from house to house, pole to pole, for nearly a hundred miles, give or take. The colorful beach towels and swimwear, tops and bottoms, the cutoffs must flutter like this incredible and accidental display of prayer flags. I felt the awe you didn’t feel—and with those words I would end it at the bar near the municipal field, where such pilots must drink away the boredom of their flights back and forth, up and down.
Now, against the wind, the tug almost comes to a standstill in the thermals rising upward, their columns stoked by gulls and the oil and yellow smell of the lotion and paperbacks. The latter come from this other accident found along the Jersey shore—the lending libraries every beach house has, stocked with the vacation reading from the years before. I have proven at least one exists—and like every opinion, experience, that would almost be enough. I look out from under the open pages as though from a turtle’s shell and my eyes smart in the brightness. I contemplate the free crab legs drifting away now. I would need a pair of them, for the sand is hot, long and sturdy stilt ones. I could throw them away like crutches as soon as I stood on the wet wood boardwalk leading to the shower stall. There the green plastic hose lies in a coil and tempts one to drink from it, while it sprays from its dull brass couplings and makes a rainbow attended by a cloud of biting flies. The silver spray handle gives one a sidelong look so old, so dead-on asking for it, to be trampled by my whitest of feet, to pull the trigger, to shoot myself in the foot, in them both, fish in a barrel.
The beach tar, of course, will never come off without a good rubbing of Crisco. And then what do you do with your hands in this gray lather? The ink at the corners of every page would fade. So, I go back to reading in my little piece of shade. Maybe I shall just wade out into the water, just up to my ankles, where the waves might subtract a few inches from my loftiness, where I can give my tender, sunburned shoulders a big self-hug properly scored (more at modesty) and listen for the bells of the ice cream vendor.

Cowabunga Dude from Jenny Mathews Tiny Drawings
The Electric Herd
„weidmännisch jagt, wie sich’s gehört“
No one would dare me as the snow crunched underfoot. No one would hold my little green bottle that kept me warm between bars. Along those dim avenues lined with enormous wreathes the color of moss, that kind that ropes the forest from bough to bough, and red ribbons that flapped in the wind from the gaslights. I pointed toward the public crèche and the electric herd, which even had an albino buck. This compelled me to relate the story of the tame white one the god rode through the forest around the Nara temple. Since no one had ever heard this story before, nor knew that such stories began with some incredible mortal, someone quite ordinary really, who did some incredible deed, some feat, such that no one would ever forget, never get out of their heads. Their children and their children’s children would be born with it or, at least, have some inkling for centuries afterward. So, I thought I should demonstrate since no one would think to dare me and if you want something done right, you do it yourself. I asked the youngest of my companions to hold my bottle and he did, as young people do, smiling in that sly way before being entertained. I said watch me cover my consort and I did, across the street, in the commons, until her white wire legs buckled under my weight. I could not help but to pitch forward and suddenly trample out the wineglass thin bulbs of her antlers which made them all go dark before coming to a stop, to kneel on my cold bare knees, my arms raised, as they might think in the shadows across the street, for a “touchdown” that, in hindsight, was not.
Beech Snow

Wading out into the stream in boots that look like a fireman’s—maybe that is why you are so brave. You step deeper and an escort of water skaters leaves you alone now as the stream rushes higher around the rubber shafts. There is even a semblance of undertow, but you feel the flat rocks, the fine gravel give through the gum soles. It is the same place, it is just the insistence that is not. This becomes more so as you go out further, to where you feel your “sea legs,” where the water still has some of its winter chill. As you wade deeper the stream begins to press on the skin of your legs, to where you might feel something like this other false companionship, that of a good, stout dog at your side. Here you could tell the stream something you appreciate—even as the water holds its ears and falls lalala into a pool where minnows dart from your shadow—that a creek really does aspire for bigger game, for watertight bulkheads, funnels, not just boots and your wool socks, that all water takes itself seriously, that old saw about drowning in a teaspoon. You wiggle your toes as it answers with all the crush depth of a shoe salesman thumb. And there is safety in numbers. You regard the gray roots all around on either bank, firmly planted, ball-and-claw along the slopes, some encompassing rocks, roots that rise into the mammoth legs of a beech stand, with the younger trees like calves amid the protection of a herd. The beech are in leaf now, and when the breeze blows, the tissue casings of the spring foliage come snowing down as though torn methodically from a brown paper bag, what you would chewed to the same points, like sable brushes. You remember how your spit tasted now, how sour it was while waiting for the lunch bell.


  1. I have read your poems just now and I liked them a lot. But why are the sentences so long?. They sound cool but they break the tempo in the middle.

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