64 Parishes

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Poetry

The Poetry of Cassie Pruyn

Selected by Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack Bedell

The Poetry of Cassie Pruyn

Nam Vũ

Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans.

The first time I read Cassie Pruyn’s work, I nearly lost my breath at the fearlessness she has for closing distance in her poems. Both in terms of emotion and in the way she employs technique, Cassie creates immersive space for her readers. This is certainly true of the poems in her award-winning collection, Lena, and it’s the hallmark of the poems selected here for 64 Parishes. I love Cassie’s use of syntax and topography, and I’m always drawn to the details she chooses to feature. More than anything, I admire the energy Cassie Pruyn brings to the page, and I definitely count her voice among the very best Louisiana poetry has to offer.

—Jack Bedell, Louisiana Poet Laureate

 

STAGS

They leapt from the walls across the darkness

that swept ocean    island     forest    cottage

guest bedroom    the box of it    annihilated

by blackness so thick it was material    The stags bounded

above my body    age four    emerged from knots

in the walls    became the knots    bands of energy

coiling between them      wood knots unraveling    wild remnants

of trees      drooling amber     those rough black edges they offer

if you wriggle your finger in

that night they erupted in stampede

The stags were angry    They’d invited me

It wasn’t anything I’d done

or not done    It wasn’t me    They were angry as if fleeing

a forest fire    made of darkness   hooves like rapid gunfire deafening

and silent    It was 1991    or thereabouts    but I wouldn’t have known it

the darkness ate the year

Why had I been invited?    Couldn’t

ask in the moment have never stopped asking

I write poems about the stags and then forget

Find stags in an unfinished manuscript

Just yesterday found a note to myself folded up between books

write poem about the stags     the memory

replaying    multiplying     antlersantlers     a whole house

of stag-rooms    the cottage

drowning in midnight   beneath

an avalanche of stars   I was lost    my parents

in the room with me but I couldn’t see them    I lay frozen

while the room fluttered and thrashed   The stags

knew their way around the blackness

traversed at full speed    its portals and pathways    crested

invisible arches   They found me    They find me

They have not hurt me yet

 

Childhood

The image—the presence—of a thumb would take over my mind in the moments before sleep. Oscillating frenetically, jerking between roughness and softness, between right-sized and cosmic hugeness, would wrench loose scale and time, confuse my body, make me bodiless. I saw it the same way you see a ghost, imprint without the imprint, jittering and throbbing, exploding my sense of me. Me (as visceral amalgamation), infused with energy harnessed in my shape, the thumb took it, turned me infinitesimal, a speck in space, and also massive, bulging and spilling to fill the room, as if right size were trying to lasso me but I kept swerving, the thumb jolting and vibrating, the room swirling, no bed no gravity. I was the thumb and I wasn’t the thumb. Nondescript but sentient, its wrinkles grinning. I was afraid of the thumb but was more afraid I’d never get my body back.

 

Cassie Pruyn is the author of Bayou St. John: A Brief History (The History Press, 2017) and the poetry collection Lena (Texas Tech University Press, 2017), winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry, and finalist for the Audre Lorde Award. Her poems, essays, and reviews have been widely published. Born and raised in Portland, Maine, and a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, she lives and teaches in New Orleans.