Excerpts from Catherine Theis’s poetry manuscript, Sophia, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.



Sleeping. Dream

-ing. Dead. My head

washes ashore.

The female reoccurs.

The blackest hair

free from robe,

a hanging bob

under a single-dang

light fixture.

Faith does not

limit, doubt does

not limit,

imagination itself

is belief system.

Both rustic glass

& open flame,

the sweetest kill.

Hair longer than

neck & neck perfect

pitch in tower-dark

ruin. Little metal trays

under all served.

City of sweet tea,

divans, Ottomans,

eggnog softness, salep,

one hangman claimed

in the adoption of

uniform. You need to

buy a separate ticket

for the harem. So we did

closing down choice.

Tile magnified in blue

ossies, knucklebones

of concubines who

sat on marble counters

chewing stones.

The first Open Studio.

Gold leaf splinters

bedded down, up the

backside, inlaid work,

unreal mother-of-pearl.

Chimney stack in need

of more fuel. So she is

bored reading verses off

the wall, milky-white

ostrich lay up. Later

a whole wall of

extinguished cigarettes.

O love! turbulent,

unwelcome, magnified

in darkened dioramas,

the farthest from innocence

I’ve ever been, magenta

lipstick worn first as

practice, then chore.

What a kingdom,

the first socialization

of herself in secret,

private soldering.

Beauty fills & empties

at the same time.



I allow St. Anthony

of Padova one wish.

A vanish, a let go.

Ourselves blue light

illumination & brochure.

Ceiling bound, Constantine’s

capital alienates,

enshrines an empire—

Avignon, another example

of how the spider bit

my cheek in my sleep,

how I slept in a bed

that lit up from

underneath, a florescent

nightlight hooked

to a motion sensor.

Dancing in a Turkish

nightclub in my dreams.

I woke to dress

my wound & listened

to the cats hissing

in darkness. The photo-

grapher rocks (mad

motion) in time

to the swinging

light, her pilgrimage

is chanting silent

motion, the fall

off stool. What’s the

duration here?

How many times

could it happen?

She’s in the gallery

right now, black jeans,

black tank top, oversized

white button-down shirt.

I don’t notice

her shoes because

she’s talking about

her notebook: photos

pasted in, then

photographed again

with a cheap camera.

No trick—it doesn’t

close. The milky white,

a glass of clear raki

clouds into prominent

white when mixed

with water. “Are you

religious?” “No, I don’t

pray, but I do make

photographs.” “I make

pilgrimages.” “Mysteries.”

“God be with you.”

Con Dio, I whisper

to myself, drunk

in a side street café

well after midnight,

whirling dervishes

fueled by candlelight.



The call to prayer

five times a day,

strained throat,

a sunniness to cold

choice, the Italian

consulate at the top

of the hill we walk

down in search of

espresso, a lover’s

cough, shakiness, a drawing

itself, the glint

of mackerel’s skin

before shoved in

toast, a passing

shimmer. In a photo

I took two nights ago,

a man eyes us, his cigarette

uplifted. It’s not sexual, but

it’s not innocent either.

If we smoked we could

sit on carpets, watching

taxis & small trucks

jam up the street.

The photo is outside,

but what happens

inside me? Dearest angel

Gabriel, tell me how

it ends—does the spider

transform into two

butterflies & the inchworm

split several times

from its mama part?

The Sea of Marmara

opens just enough.

Ancient City, keep me

covered in red-halo,

salty recklessness,

dried chiles & fishes.

No new messages.

“Being happy means

being close to the one

you love.” No short-

cuts please, no suspicions,

no vanishings.

Related dreams: Sugarcane,

Home, Center, Tent,

Butterflies. I finally slept

through the night.

Related dreams: Coins, Rings,

Incense, Purse, Metra,

Pineapples. To drink pineapple

juice alters the taste-

appetite. Related dreams:

Saltwater, Cigarettes, Raki,

Mosaics, Pilgrims. When the

monster came, I longed

to be eaten alive

but woke to an empty

bed instead. I carry

a swatch of felt as

talisman & darken deeper.

I kismet embrace

the lights in photograph.

Paint is irrelevant.

The realization that I

scared my own monster

shamed me. Starry

night, open mouth—

you are my beginning

& beloved—skycrack of

tuberose & fruit.




catherine-theis-photo-450ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Theis is a poet who writes plays. She spent her childhood summers in Sicily, where she swam in blue coves and ate gelato before dinner. She once composed a sonnet to the sun and moon with ink from an octopus. Her first book of poems is The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt Modern Poets, 2011), followed by her chapbook, The June Cuckold, a tragedy in verse (Convulsive Editions, 2012). Catherine has received various fellowships and awards, most notably from the Illinois Arts Council and the Del Amo Foundation. Her play Medea was a finalist in the Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Woman Playwrights. Catherine is a Provost’s Fellow and PhD Candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, where she also translates contemporary Italian poetry into English.


Little Oranges

Longer than a minute

or a density of teeth time.

Pagan or libidinal energies

take up a lot of space.

That’s precisely point, no?

The poems in Sophia are about women, and the clear sound of a woman’s voice. In February 2013, I traveled to Istanbul and Rome with my dear childhood friend. If I remember correctly, the poems in Sophia are like a controlled hallucination, where visual and sonic layerings occur in the shortest lines imaginable across the long poem form. As usual, I wanted to write the experience of acuteness and contrariness into my work since I’m fascinated with themes of extremity. “Austere yet luminous” & “formal and conversational” is how I wanted the language to sound. For me, sound is the way to meaning, and sound works in measures of new and old time. Mostly, I feel like a tuning fork, my body sensitive to the pleasures and decadences and brokenness in love, in art, in darkness—knowledge blooming as corrupt white lilies. Sophia comprises of three long poems interrupted on both sides with aphorisms and photographs and the fate of a family. Yes, always the interruptions—


A Work of Art