Provenance

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Winner of the 2008 Washington Writers’ Publishing House Prize

Finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards, 2008

 

Praise for Provenance

…great verbal richness and ingenuity of word and mind; such a project shouldn’t work, going through the alphabet for poems, but obviously you torque and twist and personalize it; the poems are beautifully written meditations at lots of different distances. Really striking. Beautiful book!

—Tony Hoagland

Sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued, sharply etched and sharply worded, Provenance is a book of alphabets and fables, of narrative precision and verbal passion. Across a host of exotic locales, and through the labyrinth of etymology, Brandel France de Bravo is a poet of restless travel and linguistic inquiry—what luck for the reader who accompanies her on the voyage!

—Campbell McGrath

In Provenance, Brandel France de Bravo writes with urgency of continuous displacement, an exile status rendering her exquisitely sensitive to the textures of daily life. She is forever a stranger among those who do not ask “where I’m from, but where I’ve just come from, / which country I left last.” At home in many cultures, at home innone, this gifted poet transforms a search for identity into a voyage through language, and finds her true roots in the alphabet letters that generate experience. This is a remarkable first book, and an important one in our time.

—Grace Schulman

Sample Poems from Provenance:

Apricot

A sarcastic Egyptian always speaks
of apricot season, which comes and vanishes
faster than dreams over morning coffee.
Oh sure, he’ll take care of it—in apricot season
which falls between mañana and the cows coming home,
a time so fleeting, ephemeral,
it might as well be never
or what we cannot recover:
the buoyant forever when we held our noses
underwater where no one could see
and touched tongues for the first time;
the certainty that certain transgressions
meant no turning back.
It isn’t innocence we miss
but the thrilling moment that we let go,
a stem splitting from the branch, fruit in free-fall.

Cecilia was the first among us to ripen,
breasts at eight, and shortly after
rendezvous with boys in the bushes.
No one called her “slut.”
She floated above us
like Mary in a procession,
her wooden robes fluttering in the breeze.
We supplicants longed for a guilty glimpse
of her panties, her early bloomers,
named for Amelia Jenks Bloomer,
who like Cecilia was ahead of her time.
While others fought for suffrage,
an end to slavery,
she dreamed of simpler underwear,
a garment so free, it might as well be nothing,
loose as an apricot,
that precocious apple,

Lolita of a peach.

Ostracism

The time has come, the poet said,
to talk of many things:
of shoes and ships and sealing wax
and exile’s cruel sting.

In agoras of ancient Greece
if six thousand agreed
by casting votes on oyster shells,
shards, you would—like a weed—
be uprooted, cruelly cast out,
your absence un-grieved.

Socrates, tried by a jury
and found guilty, might well
have been banished from Athens.
Rather than face that hell,
he chose to quaff hemlock, dying
with panache where he dwelled.

Let us not speak of suicide
but murder on the beach.
The walrus and the carpenter,
daring more than eat a peach,
invited bivalve pals to stroll
with them, hands each in each.
They led them to a lonely spot
and made that little speech,
then devoured their briny friends:
an aphrodisiac feast.

The sun still shone upon the sea.
No birds were in the sky.
Not even a lone ossifrage
dotted the clouds on high.
The long-in-tooth and sated pair
with heavy-lidded eyes
reclined against a rock
and heaved several happy sighs.
The surf had long erased
the memory of mollusk cries.

The empty shells—once ateliers,
coats—lay in bony heaps,
like an ogre’s ossuary
overturned at their feet,
or the aftermath of some election
where winning spells defeat
and the popular are sentenced
to peristaltic heat.

In this sultry Siberia
the thermometer always reads
98.6 Fahrenheit.

Yawn

I can see every one of my dull metal fillings
in my mind’s eye when you talk like the time
my friend, bearing down, screamed out her baby,
because there’s a chasm between our interests in this instant
and no bridge spanning the two banks of your tongue
which flows on lazily. I’m just a tourist trapped
in your glassed–in boat with the spitting intercom.
It’s drizzling outside and I drink flat Fanta from a plastic cup,
make up mantras to fill the gap, anything to keep my eyes
from glazing over, jaw from going slack, mouth

agape.

If you really loved me, you would let me
feast on silence—I’ll feel fuller
looking at an empty plate.
Even the moon goes on hiatus,
and truth, like water, doesn’t need
more than a fissure
to slip in.

 


 

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