Two Poems by Darcie Dennigan
Introduction by Daniel Bosch
Darcie Dennigan is a player. I don’t mean only that she’s a member of team poetry. I mean that she’s one of the sharps, one to keep your eye on at all times, the one to whom you pass the ball when team poetry needs to score. Her fancy is as consistent as her footwork.
Both poems below play by rules. The first takes the identity principle of the verse poem — “my unit of construction is the line” — and twists it, declaring, “my lines have palindromes in them.” The second poem deploys an Oulipian strategy you can read about here. Devilish endeavors? Dennigan delivers.
If Dennigan the player is what we sports enthusiasts call “the franchise,” she’s self-enfranchised, self-ruled. As with blue-lined paper, the field is wide open. In his necessary book, Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga wrote BOTH the following statements:
…play must serve something which is not play…
play…is free, is in fact freedom.
At the great reunion to come, when team poetry and team humanity party, Huizinga will recognize in Dennigan’s poems how hard she played for both sides.
Sit on a Potato Pan, Otis
It is such a rainy day I had to write you
from my potato pan to prove I really do exist—
it’s just long ago I stuck my head in the sand.
Ostracized by ostriches, I made friends with tubers.
I guess the dirt is lovely this time of year.
But make me an offer
of your pity laced with phlegm, and you will have
my belly as a pillow for one exquisite afternoon.
Otis, The Guy Who Sells Trinkets at the Mall
I was buying sunglasses from him as he wrote this missive,
and begged to mail it on his behalf, which I did. Did I
first peruse the envelope? Yes—and when my eye saw this address—
To We Few of the Dirt— I prayed that the Dead Letter Office
would take his SOS and burn it , so that the ash, raining to earth
at noon, would be eaten by the worms, his dirt brethren.
Fire blazes the best path to the dead, to the forlorn solos—
let no tuber rebut. And Otis letters by the cartload get gutted,
Yet, later, while kayaking with a postal inspector,
I was informed that the deified Dead Letter Office was dead.
To whom can the reviled deliver themselves now?
All the mail is posted and gone and there is so much letter left.
Dear Otis, if only your dispatch could reach Sito, the ice cream man
who all day long pushes his ghostcart under the radar,
Sito, who walks a line in circles then walks his dud cart back again…
but O pale man, my dad, my little boy, what post office
will receive you, who’s drawn inward enough to carry you there?
Of the game n+7, or, in French, s+7, even Queneau himself said, “The results are not
always very interesting… It seems that only good texts give good results.”
What follows is, I acknowledge, a result from a not-good text. But in its attempt to
kill a particular rhetoric (“Rhetoric, why should I recall your name? You are no longer
anything but a colonnaded word, the name of a palace which I detest, from which my
blood has forever banished itself”), it is earnest.
THE PARVITUDES SHALL HAVE JOINT CUT OF THE CHILIAD, WITH SHARED PLAGUE BETWEEN THEM
ALL QUETZALS PERTAINING TO THE REMBRANDT’S HEART, EFFECT, SUN ACTUATIONS, AND WHEAT
SHALL BE DISCUSSED BY THE HUSK AND THE WIGHT JOINTLY, AND THE HUSK AND THE WIGHT
SHALL CONSULT THE ORACLE AS OFTEN AS IT MAY BE NECESSARY REGARDING ALL SUCH MAUDITS,
WITH A VIEW TOWARD ARRIVING AT MAJOR DECLENSIONS THAT PROMOTE THE REMBRANDT’S BEST
and now, the poem:
We Will Split 1,000 Years of Suffering between Us in Concern for the Bright Colored Bird of Our Painting
… That was 999 years ago now we signed the agreement. And how poor we have
been. And how old we are now, too pocked with plague even to make our slow way
to the humid highlands where we last heard the bird was living…
Though the painting itself, the painting of this bird, has continued to grow in value.
So much so that last week I hired an expert to X-ray its layers and write a report of
its meaning and worth. And this week I find the expert’s report here in my hands. It
turns out that the painting is of a bittern, not a quetzal. It turns out that the bittern
in the painting is dead, murdered, and by the hands of the painter, who, in the
painting, is dressed as a hunter. And thus it is, as we never knew, a self-portrait, and
the artist, by dressing himself as a hunter, has “taken on an aspect of his own
painting,” and it is that while there appear to be two levels of reality— the painting
in front and the studio behind—“there is really only one because the entire scene
takes place in the artist’s mind.”
The report also notes that the painting has deteriorated in so much sunlight, that we
as its caretakers should not have been sipping with such reverence the pigments
dripping from it, and that we should not have been stroking the depiction of the
dead bittern, which we had mistook for a rendering of a live quetzal. The expert
included many calculations on parts, wholes, and handsweat therein.
Much of these findings are disorienting. If the painting is a self-portrait, then it is our
own effects we have made; we are the Rembrandt in the analogy. Or rather, I am. I
should be not the Wight, nor even the Husk, (though I will, risking sentiment, state a
feeling of Husk-like-ness), but the Rembrandt. But it all falls apart. Really this whole
experiment is all a failure. Really it is my child who is the painting (and the
painter?), my child in the non-figurative sense, which is to say, that it is not my
painting nor my poem nor my product but a real child. Marry and you will regret it;
do not marry, and you will also regret it. That is how the expert’s report ended.
I became, in real life, very confused by my substitutions and analogies. So confused
that for a time I was again selfishly very happy.
Cover image by Flik R
About the Author:
Darcie Dennigan teaches creative writing as poet-in-residence at The University of Connecticut. She is the author of Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse (Fordham University Press, 2008), Madame X (Canarium Books, 2012), and Dept. of Ephebic Dreamery (Forklift Press, 2012).
“Sit On a Potato Pan, Otis” was published in Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse, p. 62.