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Angel Hair feature

Kenward Elmslie:

Feathered Dancers


Cover of Angel Hair anthology

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Inside the lunchroom the travelling nuns wove
sleeping babies on doilies of lace.
A lovely recluse jabbered of bird lore and love:
      ‘Sunlight tints my face

      and warms the eggs outside
      perched on filthy columns of guilt.
      In the matted shadows where I hide,
      buzzards moult and weeds wilt.’

Which reminds me of Mozambique
in that movie where blacks massacre Arabs.
The airport runway (the plane never lands, skims off) is bleak —
scarred syphillitic landscape — crater-sized scabs —

Painted over with Pepsi ads —
as in my lunar Sahara dream — giant net comes out of sky,
encloses my open touring car. Joe slumps against Dad’s
emergency wheel turner. Everyone’s mouth-roof dry.

One interpretation. Mother hated blood!
When the duck Dad shot dripped on her leatherette lap-robe,
dark spots not unlike Georgia up-country mud,
her thumb and forefinger tightened (karma?) on my ear-lobe.

Another interpretation. Motor of my heart stalled!
I've heard truckers stick ping-pong balls up their butt
and jounce along having coast-to-coast orgasms, so-called.
Fermes, tous les jardins du Far West, I was taught — tight shut.

So you can’t blame them. Take heed, turnpikes.
Wedgies float back from reefs made of jeeps: more offshore debris.
Wadded chewy depressants and elatants gum up footpaths. Remember
Ike’s ‘Doctor-the-pump-and-away-we-jump’ Aloha Speech to the
                                                                                                                            Teamsters?
                                                                                                                            ‘The — ’

he began and the platform collapsed, tipping him onto a traffic island.
An aroused citizenry fanned out through the factories that day
to expose the Big Cheese behind the sortie. Tanned,
I set sail for the coast, down the Erie and away,

and ate a big cheese in a cafe by the docks,
and pictured every room I’d ever slept in:
toilets and phone-calls and oceans. Big rocks
were being loaded, just the color of my skin,

and I’ve been travelling ever since,
so let’s go find an open glade
like the ones in sporting prints
(betrayed, delayed, afraid)

where we’ll lie among the air-plants
in a perfect amphitheatre in a soft pink afterglow.
How those handsome birds can prance,
ah... unattainable tableau.

Let’s scratch the ground clean,
remove all stones and trash,
I mean open dance-halls in the forest, I mean
where the earth’s packed smooth and hard. Crash!

It’s the Tale of the Creation. The whip cracks.
Albatrosses settle on swaying weeds.
Outside the lunchroom, tufts and air-sacs
swell to the size of fruits bursting with seeds.

from Angel Hair 4, Winter 1967–68




Kenward Elmslie, Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh, Westhampton, NY, 1968. Photo by Joe Brainard. Photo courtesy Larry Fagin.

Photo of Kenward Elmslie, Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh, Westhampton, NY, 1968

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