Editor’s Note: Dec 2019
Dear poets and friends,
Here it is, Wednesday at 5AM. I’m again shackled to a screen, confined to my room to slave for a few staves of birdsong, like poetry were all crime spree and my life the plea of guilt. I can’t help this bird sings sweeter from beyond the barbwire and watchtower of my morning exercise yard of craft. I mug my soul daily for this bit of manna and the only crumb saved for you, dear reader, is this ransom for attention—that you read my confession I’ve dressed as editorial.
If this sounds like incarceration, it is. In many ways, consider this second frak\ture a prison issue, for even these lines remind visually of rigid iron or a black and white striped jumpsuit. Interestingly though, the issue with all prisons is the cage cannot define. We defy the cage because we define the cage with words meant to straightjacket meaning, yet, reality remains a jailbreak spanning centuries. Thus, to give an Alcatraz tour of frak/ture’s second issue is like describing one prison while hunger striking in another—it’s prisons all the way down.
Since meaning itself is suspect, how can any careful dusting of words ever fingerprint a single truth? This, of course, includes all the crime scene I yellowtape throughout this essay…for words are wailing sirens that chase fact in order to serve and protect thought, and, quite naturally, here we are: your screen flickering with each scroll through rows and rows of convicts, yet the gist never quite locked down. Each custom license plate this inmate tongue stamps ends up affixed to a rusted jalopy. These cars won’t start, yet language has never metaphor it didn’t try to hot-wire into poetic joyride. Indeed, some poems prefer you drool over their spewed smoke and screeching doughnuts rather than curb their bolted scraps to deliver substance.
Do you smell the burnt rubber yet? You’d be right to say that, so far, I too have no more than left skid marks before veering toward a cliff. I hear this road’s rumble strips drumming attention back to the task at hand. But, I promise I can beat my train of thought to the crossing…just hold on. VROOM!
frak\ture’s second issue highlights specific prisons: how some bars are bought while others are cast in our own image. Often, to what end hope is a crutch is the crux of the problem; for, so many hobble onward, grasping shadows with a phantom limb of hope while the ever-groping soul, at best, forms a contrived prosthesis. frak\ture’s thesis: a Play-Doh jail can contain the mind. And make no mistake, hope without action is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, it’s all straps and gurney. Must it tether us like a drip bag of sedative? According to Dickinson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Dickinson would prefer to hear her perched pet chirp eternal, but I see grave injustice for such a bird to never leave its nest. Are we such warm homes for the taunt of this misery’s talons? Go fly South for winter. Leave us be to take action. Honestly, hope is more wheelchair than chariot and makes about as much sense as slitting a wrist to keep from dying by snakebite. I’m sure we’d all prefer ourselves found before it runs out.
Regardless of my personal thoughts on hope, Dickinson’s poem often makes the list of favorite inspirational verses. Although a true healing poem need not offer a solution, it best not throw a frayed rope. Hope? I’ve been there and would rather foster the skill to accurately call my shots than rely on lucky breaks. And poetry is indeed a magic eight ball, always requesting we “concentrate and ask again” until the cell is clearly seen well enough for us to fidget.
There are a few ways to move the bars from view. The best but most laborious is to realize oneself jailor, jump bail, and call off the snarling dogs. However, Little Bird by Emma Oleksinski reminds, that though one has found footing to sing outside the bars, one must always perceive that little twig separating the tumble back to the rumble of lock and key: the mind’s fragile audacity to mean what things see, not just see what things mean.
In that regard, realize Daedalus too designed his labyrinth and so knew the key. For you now reading this, there is no spare spool save this single truth: that a poem can thread the eye of a storm and help mend us both individually and together. We have the power to tie one loose end of our faith to a pillar of courage and let the problem unravel as we pass. In doing so, one eventually confronts a mirror—the Minotaur is all myth.
For those not seeking your yarn to knit an exit K2T, an alternative way to move bars is to expand the cell, to pack it with people. Poems prove that one is not in solitary confinement, that human interaction is more than conjugal visit. A poem applies balm when it exposes common ground to assure the reader that some other soul was successfully dredged from the depths of themselves. Sometimes, a poem even conceals an escape route over its surface, the words forming ghostly footprints, not to boast, but to inspire of possible mobility out of a maze of worries scurrying to infest; although, don’t be surprised that the path leads back to where one once stood, confronted by the same beast, albeit, with wiser eyes as in Fighting Words by Lily Kalczewski. But, there is one whipping post portrayed in frak\ture’s latest issue that exceeds one’s own capacity to exit: the Capitalist trap door of poverty.
True freedom is mobility, and too many millions rattle economic chains while wailing for a flood of compassion. The world boasts several wealthy people, but one still wonders their worth…for there is only one precious mettle and one steady vault (to leave unguarded); though, these ribs, too, often resemble bars. The world needs our hand out, not a handout.
The outstretched hands of Sixty-foot Jesus by Daniel C. Smith intriguingly use shadow to spotlight the plight of the poor and show us how a graven image is too easily honored with the eye, but to applaud an act itself requires the selfsame deed. Jesus knew well the human heart and social ails when he insisted “you have the poor with you always.” He foresaw the amount of compassion required would imply that heaven itself were already on Earth. Giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, or life to the dead was a one-time miracle, but it truly takes a village to sustain the poor, for it appears the one act Jesus alone could not perform without his disciples selling possessions to cast a social net.
If these words hang unrung like a cracked Liberty Bell, it’s true: we seldom know the toll to toil for Freedom, yet its unheard clang clings like a longed-for song. We seek some mythic presidential pardon, but never kindly speak the most aromatic words, of which, forgiveness is essential oil. Indeed, we must not only parole the self, but, for others, must also direct traffic on the road to Freedom that, at current, is a one-way street with few stoplights, crosswalks, or speed limits. Many perish at this corner of Plenty and Want waiting for the light and people to change. (What change did you think they were begging for all this time?) It baffles how American culture teaches one to cherish individuality while its streets and policies deem the individual worthless; and, in case these bars weren’t yet visible, let me slam them shut in your face: if one is considered worthless, then such are all; society is mere fair-weather friend.
We peal the air with such power that our very words can call the weary to worship and our unfastened lips sink every warship. We can blot the sun with a pinky and blow clouds away with a wisp of breath. Shall we not also proudly sing while slinging stones at philistine thoughts? What‘s your perspective? I urge you, dear reader, repeat each stone until the message sinks deep: we are bold, brave, brief, and must act with audacity before the only thing groundbreaking we do is die.
I pray these pieces in frak\ture’s second issue sneak a file into whatever bars you’ve built, encourage you toward compassion, or at least provide some solace by recognizing that, though the world may turn on the 9’s and 5’s, the only revolution one needs is the resolution comfort in community brings, that someone else once cried out from your same cell but found an out—their poetry now passport stamped for your transport to sunlight.
Read more poems today starting with these from our second issue until you find the true map to the treasures sunk deep within your shipwrecked breast. Remember, it takes a world of grit for the heart to one day glint pearl—don’t avoid the storm. As a poet, I could receive no higher honor than to one day learn that, all this time, I’ve been demonstrating proper use of scuba apparatus. So stretch out your wet suit and dive in: the poems are warm and the water always wine.
Though I once more smile faceless from frak\ture’s helm and only speak parched words to thirsty ears, I bid you peace on art, earth and hearth in 2020.
May all your dreams roam cage free,
J. L. Pugh
Editor – frak\ture journal