Excerpts from Annette C. Boehm’s poetry manuscript, The Knowledge Weapon, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.
THE HOMEMAKER’S RAIN DANCE
Go right now, layer the house with books.
Sixteen inches for ample shielding.
Accidents are happening
everywhere to everyone;
it’s a wonderful time to be alive.
Fallout: a light dust. Wipe it off.
Scrub and peel inanimate objects.
They will be perfectly safe to eat.
They are too small to hurt you.
Locate salve, powdered milk,
a hammer. Get on the floor.
The State Orchestra’s Conelrad rendition
for an hour or so.
Our house silent, windows
boarded over, breath
held, we pried
with small hands, as spies, for a crack.
The neighbors borne from their house
limp, delivered like meat
half a pig on a man’s shoulder:
The pale-faced boy.
The dad was big, took two
to carry, one hand trailing —
Two girls in school dresses, hair
undone from play, we could not allow
the world to be in colour.
I wanted to kiss her for being
alive, with me, in the attic confine.
ACTS OF VOLITION
1, 3 and 5 are loitering at the bus-stop.
If they look your way, walk faster, then run.
You choose to stop for chips on the way to 19.
If you drink her warm Stella, 19 takes you
to a strip club where you bump into 11
whose lover ditched him for another choice.
At the club, 7 is dressed as a sailor. 7 grinds
polyester against warm steel. Choose if 19
has had too much. If 19 is an angry drunk. Choose
if 7 stays cool. If you couldn’t care less. If
the bouncer kicks you out as well. If you choose
to leave. In the street, 11 is waiting to meet 21.
11 is waiting. 11 wants to introduce you to Elvis
who now lives near Clapham Common.
You ask 11 for a smoke. It’s his last one.
If you take it. Elvis swears at you. Elvis
doesn’t swear at you. Elvis takes a swing at you.
Elvis thanks you very much.
7 appears. She wants Elvis to walk her home.
Choose if she’s pissed. Choose if she wants to talk,
if she wants to throw up, if she wants to fuck.
Choose if they get into a fight.
Which isn’t a fight. Which is. An accident.
An experiment gone wrong. A turn.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Annette C. Boehm is a poetry reader for Memorious — a Journal of New Verse and Fiction and her poems have appeared in print and online in places like the New Welsh Review, Journal for Compressed Creative Arts, Hawaii Pacific Review, elimae, Chariton Review, Terrible Work, and Barely South Review. Her work was a finalist for the 2015 New Issues Poetry Prize. Her chapbook The Five Parts of Love — Confabulating Sappho was published by Dancing Girl Press. She just received her Ph.D. from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she also taught Poetry Writing and other undergraduate English courses.
As the daughter of two teachers, I learned early on that knowledge was important. Only later, gradually, did I learn that knowledge isn’t just a positive force, it is power that can be weaponized. For the most part, I was the kind of kid you’d find sitting in a corner reading the encyclopedia for fun. (Mind you, I also spent a lot of time sitting in trees. It’s all good.) Today, I still regularly fall down rabbit holes: Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, and the many archives and reference resources the Internet puts at my fingertips. It shows in the diversity of the poems in this manuscript: from Victorian mourning etiquette via fallout shelter instructions all the way to a message from the space probe Voyager I to NASA, the collection covers a lot of ground.
The Knowledge Weapon poems aim to (re)create — rather than explain — the experience of what we know suddenly not fitting the world around us. One example is the poem “Stillborn” (above). For about a year before her death, my great-grandmother drifted between the present and a number of disjointed memories like this one. When she shared this particular scene with me, it was not a memory, it was real, and she was not my great-grandmother, a woman in her 90s, but the young girl trying to make sense of what she saw.
The poems in my manuscript are very much concerned with questioning what we are told is — or assume to be — true. I’ve been interested in the way it language is both a result of and an agent for perception, how it both describes and shapes the way we see things. Because of this, my poems often appropriate language from specific contexts (such as etiquette manuals) or eras (the early Atomic Age), and then subvert or fracture it (“When to Raise Hat” is an example of the latter). They play up the underlying threats, the use of knowledge as a tool to maintain social or political power, the absurdity that is already there.
An earlier version of “Stillborn” appeared in Barely South Review. “Acts of Volition” first appeared in the New Welsh Review.
“A is for Atom” at Hawaii Pacific Review
“Burke’s Handbook on Beauty” at Hawaii Pacific Review
“When to Raise Hat” at Product Magazine