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Poems

Currency

I stare at the edge

until the word
tulip

comes up
where I thought it might.
But the lag-time
is a problem.

The swollen, yellow
head of Tweety-Bird

now offered
at the border

as balloon
or ceramic,

as baby
plus crucifixion,

as distended
incredulity

held towards the cars,
as silence2


(From Up to Speed, Wesleyan University Press, 2004, page 4).

2 In the review of Up to Speed in the July 2004 issue of The Women’s Review of Books, Adrian Oktenberg wrote about this poem: “… it helps to know that Armantrout lives in San Diego. The poem can be read as a sort of abstract landscape of a scene at the border: the lines of cars waiting to cross at sunrise; hawkers selling novelties and images of the Christ-child and crucifixion; and an attitude or mood. It could be that. Or something else.” Armantrout admits that Oktenberg’s reading is partly right. “So why didn’t I make that clearer or easier by saying something like, “As I was waiting to cross the border, I saw many vendors selling Tweetly-Bird balloons,” etc.? Then Oktenberg wouldn’t have had to second-guess herself. The answer is that I want my poems to move at the speed of thought, to have the immediacy and urgency of real-time thought. (…) And what about the reader? I’d like her to participate in/at the inception of experience, if possible–not just hear an after fact report. As an experience coalesces, we aren’t telling ourselves where we are.” (“An E-Mail Interview with Rae Armantrout by Eric Elshtain & Matthias Regan”, in Rae Armantrout: Collected Prose. San Diego: Singing Horse Press 2007, pages 86-102).