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Sunday, February 22, 2009


by Rochelle Owens

When you are hearing Tahitian
speaking through fingers shaping fingers
forming a hole a circle a spiral
a hemisphere a terrain
then an island
                              The shape of a woman
                                             out of a corner
                                                            of your eye
A woman with purple blossoms
in her braided hair and on her head a basket
filled with dried husks of fruit shells
teeth and finger bones the dry bones
give out faint light
                              The muscles of her neck
                                             tropical orchids
                                                            twined around
your brain––the final domain––vibrations of air
the death rattle of Gauguin a hollow tube
filling with pigment O islands of epidermis
deep ridges of malachite layer by layer
layer by layer the skin
breaking down vascular tissue
pumping stomach gut bladder pancreas
intestine anus
                              luminous membranes
                                             blood in blood out
                                                            organs liquefying
And in a single rapid stroke swarming insects
like star clusters––a colony of fungus gnats
lay their soft eggs
The skull filling up with blue-green algae
with the sea and air the skull of Gauguin
filling with strumming plucking sounds
filling with the sounds of Tahitian
The dry bones give out faint light

Rochelle Owens is the author of eighteen books of poetry and plays, the most recent of which are Plays by Rochelle Owens (Broadway Play Publishing, 2000) and Luca, Discourse on Life and Death (Junction Press, 2001). A pioneer in the experimental off-Broadway theatre movement and an internationally known innovative poet, she has received Village Voice Obie awards and honors from the New York Drama Critics Circle. Her plays have been presented worldwide and in festivals in Edinburgh, Avignon, Paris, and Berlin. Her play Futz, which is considered a classic of the American avant-garde theatre, was produced by Ellen Stewart at LaMama, directed by Tom O’Horgan and performed by the LaMama Troupe in 1967, and was made into a film in 1969. A French language production of Three Front was produced by France-Culture and broadcast on Radio France. She has been a participant in the Festival Franco-Anglais de Poésie, and has translated Liliane Atlan’s novel Les passants, The Passersby (Henry Holt, 1989). She has held fellowships from the NEA, Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and numerous other foundations. She has taught at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Oklahoma and held residencies at Brown and Southwestern Louisiana State.