Evangeline Downs by Micah Ballard
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2006)
[First published in House Organ, Fall 2008, Ed. Kenneth Warren]
Open to the Night
Not everybody gives in to the norms, “poets are born” as the saying goes… Among few goes one. One is the number, not zero, when one’s concern remains with the poem. Micah Ballard is a friend of the poem. Friend, that is, with all which such relation entails. The tenderness, open feelings; harsh disagreements, sleepless nights of worry, fear, & dread— to wake among the eternal company, warm and friendly. Life is a trial. A challenge Ballard greets with the poem.
His latest collection, Evangeline Downs (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006), elegant, both in form and arrangement, steps up the company of previous endeavors, here are presented the meaty chunks which constitute the man the poems grace.
right pec & serpent
with jaws open
on right shoulder.
with Exodus 18:11
across back, Playaz
on nape of neck.
Christ in crown
of thorns & flames
on left biceps
Heartless with skull
& crossbones on right.
50 Niggaz over sternum
Fuck the World
in script across shoulder
blades & trapezoids.
Laugh Now with mask
of Comedy on lower
sides of back, Cry
Later with mask
of tragedy. Outlaw
down left forearm
Thug Life with bullet
(or, if you like, in Spanish as rendered recently by Guillermo Parra at http://venepoetics.blogspot.com/2008/11/91396-micah-ballard.html)
pectoral derecho &
en hombro izquierdo.
con Exodus 18:11
cruza espalda, Playaz
en nuca del cuello.
de espinas y llamas
en biceps izquierdo
Heartless con cráneo
& calavera por el derecho.
50 Niggaz sobre esternón
Fuck the World
en cursivo cruza
omóplato y trapezoides.
Laugh Now con máscara
de Comedia en la parte
baja de espalda, Cry
Later con máscara
de Tragedia. Outlaw
baja antebrazo izquierdo
Thug Life con bala
The hand before the books, not popular cultural jump from reference to reference, but meaningful, lived tribute to one of the Masters behind the tongue the poems belly in on: Tupac beside John Wieners, Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley, Joanne Kyger just a step away, examples of the living faith by which the poem pays visit.
Dragon’s Blood $ .50
Love Powder .25
Sacred Sand 1.00
Black Cat Oil 1.00
Goofer Dust .50
Easy Life Powder 2.50
Boss-Fix Powder .25
Controlling Oil .50
Get Together Drops 1.00
(with Cedar Sigo)
Pharmacy wish list, mixture from off the shelf street life of a fantasyland where a dragon’s last drops of life end with a glimpse of hopeful physical contact, ideal for poets tending toward the darker elements dwelling within the rosiest of hearts. Robert Browning on William Burroughs’ chopping block.
Names run throughout the collection with 3 collaborations, mixed with fellow word chemist Cedar Sigo, and dedications to quite a few other individuals, friends and lovers alike. Coterie there’s no need to curse or praise. If the reader hasn’t seen Will Yackulic’s infamous blue cube paintings, there’s nothing to worry. For “his pyramids” may or may not be the reference here, ancient Egyptian excavations and cemetery strolls being avid interests and preoccupations of Ballard.
ODE TO WILL YACKULIC
Fortified by the hand of modern mediums
almost all his pyramids contain the remains
of our two largest legacies. Undergoing
many transformations he stands over
our tattoos & cares not for ridicule.
Crushed over bones let there be no headstones
for only these preliminaries serve to prepare
our consecration. Despite other tries this one
died just once & the later twice. “The light
that loses, the night that wins.” Before then
he would place their ashes into three pendulums
the first of which could render its wearer
invisible. Now, fated as the most skilled
dissector of his time we prefer the others
to be swallowed, used only for channeling
& taken out the mouth like this.
Lines that offer themselves up, giving as though “the mouth like this” was itself present. This is not to be taken light of heart. The utmost value of the works in this collection inheres in the sincerity with which they hinge upon the page. Those who would be piddlers, dabbling as it were, better keep at a distance. Straight on confrontation of what the poem has to say is at hand.
The poems arrive of their own accord. In a different age there would be great, wide-ranging proclamations, not here. A man committed to his wits as well as his intellect, Ballard refuses insist his own agenda over what presents itself. “The words to deny / what others want” (NIGHT PRAYER) read “Ballard” here for “other[s]” and you get a drift for it. Ballard remains a man committed to the life which has chosen him and there’s no need for proclaiming anything when one is on such a course. He writes without choice. The forces at work are not ones he seeks control and the poem not a place wherein he cares for adolescent popular culture constructs, running gags of electronic randomness, or heady discourse of overly researched academic brain trusts. The ritual, defined by John Donne, William Blake, Paul Celan, Lorca, etc is the case here. No other courses need be admitted.
The racetrack received as graveyard. Failed scores, old bets paid off, the tragic alongside the joyful; this is the measure of landscape here taken in by Ballard’s latest verse. Louisiana is his home but San Francisco shall always remain his birthing place. Old friends of recent years dwell upon every corner for him as his residence lengthens through time. This magical city welcomes one so aware and accepting of the powers which go unspoken in a locale full of such lore. The art of graceful acknowledgement is so rare a bird.
San Francisco, Fall 2006
This piece originally appeared in the fall ’08 issue of House Organ. Ballard is both friend and confidante; this writing required the rarest of things: a critical heart. Look for Ballard’s latest collection Parish Krewes (which includes much of Evangeline Downs and so much more) to be appearing towards end of ’08 from Bootstrap Productions.
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco, his poems recently appeared in Big Bell and are forthcoming in Vanitas.