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Lisa Allen Ortiz

Visiting Poet

Lisa Allen Ortiz

In Lisa Allen Ortiz’s Guide to the Exhibit (2016), she explores the tension between the pleasure of collecting and cataloguing pieces of the world and the deep sorrow for their loss or neglect. In “Innocence,” Ortiz asks a truly universal question to which there is no answer, but which still feels necessary in the asking: “How can I make it last?/How can I save it all?” Chase Twichell writes, “Ortiz works in the overlap between self and world, showing us that time does not honor human consciousness, nor even recognize it. Yet the world is all we have, and what we are is part of it.” Ortiz’s speakers are collectors, namers, and mourners for a world that is rapidly disappearing—and yet, they manage to celebrate while they mourn. The speaker of “The Self Museum,” perhaps, puts it simply and best: “What a gorgeous mess we are.”

Select Poems

The raven lived behind the woodshed,

and for a while the chickens lived there too,

but the raven spooked the hens with his shadow hops,

his devil voice, and they would not lay eggs,

so my dad made them a bigger coop and gave

the raven theirs, and my sister and I

would stand beside the raven coop

and shout: Hello! Hello!

The raven would ignore us, standing on his

perch, mean and mute. If we put our hands

in there, he would bite them, and it hurt.

He loved my dad.

The raven learned to speak:

hello and no and never more

and the sky is falling. Mornings, the raven

would call my dad by name.

He fed the bird meat or kibble, and the raven

would make little kitten sounds and crawl

up my dad’s shoulder and nibble at his

ear and hair, and my dad would walk around

and everybody loved those days,

there were parties then, my dad

with his leather vest, his artist swagger,

guests who came with the wine and bluster,

and the raven on his shoulder cawing: The sky

is falling! The sky is falling!

Everyone walked across the meadow

two by two, flowered dresses, lace shirts, glass plates.

My sister and I climbed into the trees ––

so many things we didn’t know––

and watched from branches, but we knew animals

were all around us in the forest,

and we knew that animals could speak.

We whispered in that tree: hello, sky, falling,

and we waited for something dark with wings

to call our names.

From GUIDE TO THE EXHIBIT (Perugia Press, 2016)

A painted meadowlark on a painted fallen log.

sketch of canyon and field done in ochre strokes.

The snake inside is still as art, convict-striped,

glass-eyed––and real.

Snake, I also was born in the forest and I also danced

on a done-up stage, hair ribbons pressed over my ears.

Back then each animal had is lair. Now the meadows,

the trees area all painted to give us a feel.

Only a fool holds onto place. To survive, make the place

you are look like home. Snake, this is the song of the kept.

See the crack in the painted sky? Soon the herpetologist

will open the back of your world. He’ll reach in and lift you

to twist in the air, coil the length of his arm, your primitive

three-chambered heart will shiver in its three-chambered sac.

This is affection––this tender art they made of you, this use.

The man will study your eyes and skin.

He will measure and weigh. He will note your mood.

Let him study. Let him see.

From GUIDE TO THE EXHIBIT (Perugia Press, 2016)

The bears again,

the coats of them, sheened claws––

a crush of bears down by the creek, and me

eating fish and pawing mud and rocks,

damp and growly, and maybe I was a bear

or maybe I was myself,

but anyway I pushed and dug between

the bears’ slack skin, their swinging heads.

I thought: I’ve missed so much of you. Why do we plan

and mend when we have flesh and hair?

Baby, my longing for you swam in me

as if longing were a force

that lifted the bears and me above the trees

so we grunted and pawed the air,

sparks and embers and bellowing bears

keening through the vast odds of space,

the stars slid down my arms––and from

the dark height I could see you

curled like a wisp in our fog of bed,

the yellow light, tiny steps and trees,

and even from that height, even with

my honey-claws, I could not scoop you up––

not your slumber, not our house,

not the wrap of porch, our daughters

in their bunks, not the moths colliding

with the light. Nor could I whisper

with my inky lips and teeth,

my awkward bear-like tongue,

how much I want to keep––

and I know it’s imperfect to be so close

but up there in the dark

where bears hunt planet fish, where nebulas

spin and distance shifts with time, it’s so beautiful

and so terrifying. Wake up, Baby.

I want to tell you: this is normal. Every night,

a sky with bears made out of stars.

From GUIDE TO THE EXHIBIT (Perugia Press, 2016)

About Lisa Allen

Personal Website
Poetry Center Reading Dates: October 2016