Shannon Lise’s poems are bursting with image and music. Each poem in this set is replete with so many rich, sensory worlds — the missing limbs of corals, the ducks with three eyelids, the waterfall carrying the faces of a thousand women, the corpses on tides, the sun on pine needles. And then, just as you are about to get lost in these images, there are moments of contemplation and quiet declaration, always fresh, always surprising. I loved the feeling of constantly zooming in and out in these poems: for example, the move from watching “bright rocks foam beneath your feet,” to a lifetime of watching “just one tree until it dies,” to the woman whose “sliced and scarred mouth is stronger/ than empire.”
These poems are meant to be read and reread many times over, and each time, a new image grows some kind of roots, some kind of wings.
— Aditi Rao
The Bombay Literary Magazine
The Body of God
If the world is the body of God,
then God must be a cripple –
or perhaps an alcoholic,
with vodka in her veins.
See the smashed blue tundras,
the corals and their missing limbs
see the drunken blaze of summer,
the incandescent trees.
If the good green earth is the body of God
then God must be a stripper –
or perhaps a suicidal,
with razors in her car.
Have you seen the way the ice fields
shed their jewelry to the sea? The intrepid
gannets diving on the far side of the
world? Have you seen the
cancer growing in the belly of the jungle,
where the pearly lizards go extinct
before they get discovered?
I have gambled on Golgotha
where the skulls come out to play
I have watched the corpses
waltzing on the unresponsive tides
but at night I walk the beaches
coaxing secrets from the stars
and they tell me God is a battered
wife, with too many bruises to hide.
At the Waterfall
you stepped out
onto the glass platform without hesitating,
watched bright rocks foam beneath your tiny
feet, unafraid to fall.
How to pull up everything I have in my heart.
How to watch just one tree grow until it dies.
In a stained-glass photo
that no church has room for
your face is in pieces
alongside the babies with the too-big eyes
who know better than to whimper.
The woman who looks out from that
rock and water world is carrying the faces
of a thousand other women.
She has watched the small people
die for longer than we have been alive
and still she offers tears for each new body.
Her sliced and scarred mouth is stronger
Eyes dark with weeping
weightless with starvation
she watches the rain on the open bodies.
Try telling this woman about the good God in heaven
and the dance of the cosmos –
taste the words go to ash in the throat.
Now my eyes are in the salt, and the world
crashes to shadow
as I watch the rain upon your open body
at the bottom of the waterfall.
Like a Light Upon Your Shoulders
The maples go gold and the days go small.
There are two ducks swimming in the sky.
Here there is no more precision of language.
There is no more grass to eat. The wet leaves
wriggle back into the ground and the sun
shines on the pine needles like the world is
going to end. I hear ducks have three eyelids,
which I take to mean three different ways of
seeing the world. I know how a moment can
become a window, blinking open on a wide bright
place like the tune of a long ago lullaby sung
by someone you loved and didn’t see again.
Daido Moriyama‘s celebrated photos– perhaps his Stray Dog is the most often reproduced– are often grainy, ill-defined, and out of focus. These pixelated verses in the art of the ugly are sometimes mistaken for exercises in wabi sabi. They aren’t. Daido’s aesthetic is an anti-aesthetic; he does not romanticise the beautiful or try to show the hidden beauty in disorder, disrepair, and disjointedness. As Daido said in a 1967 interview with Photo Shoot: “In short, the world, including me, is not beautiful at all, and therefore my photographs are not beautiful either.” It seemed fitting that one of Daido’s photos should accompany Shannon Lise’s poems which speak of a creator whose world is cruel and brutal and violent. We interpreted her poems as a call to acknowledge these aspects, and not aestheticise them into invisibility.
Author | SHANNON LISE
Shannon Lise was raised in Turkey, attended university in Texas, and is currently located in Québec, where she is earning a doctorate in clinical psychology. She is the author of Such Excess of Light (Kelsay Books, 2021) and recent work has appeared in Flypaper Lit, CERASUS, and Agapanthus Collective.