Summer in Prague

Opening Poems and Foreword
James Ragan and Viktor Tichy

Student Preface: The Supreme Fiction
by Tobias Deehan


USC Program Overview

~ . ~ . ~

The Supreme Fiction
by Tobias Deehan

I walked atop a mountain
after the morning rainfall,
listening to birds cracking open spaces;
that language is language too.

At Charles University, classroom lectures on the breakdown of poetry, societies and breakdowns of languages flowed four weeks. The students of the University of Southern California's Summer Writing Program in Prague were surrounded with a new life, or a new way of living, learning not only the accent of 20th Century poetry but how to become one with living poetry.

On long walks through Old Town Square to outdoor cafés atop ancient cobblestone, the professor, like the greatest of guides, introduced seven students to live poetry. Students walked to the opera as the summer light, which seemed not to end, like the river Vltava and her motherly current, squeezed more time, turning time almost around. In the classroom, they ran through free verse, became the new Neo-Classicists, New Critics, and read, "Whatever it is, it avails not…distant avails not, and place avails not," (Whitman) by a sculpture of the innocent, atop Charles Bridge.

And even through rain and the sounds different rain can make, their conversations rose in places candlelit, beneath heavy, curved, grandfatherly stone, over meals, inviting all to bear witness a thousand years of knowledge, of creation and toasting to a thousand years of new creations and peace and art. Rain can last weeks in Eastern Europe.

Professor James Ragan kept insisting a welcome to live poetry that some tried to refuse, like the adventurers, feeling they had learned enough to take the doorway through. But he accepted them, and the city of Praha accepted them, all of them, let them stay. And it was done with the fragile balance of being and the study of scholarly letters. One may take it that education is natural this way, passing knowledge through living what is being taught.

Within the lectures the students listened to flux the "under real," looking to dreams for duty. Fleeting moments of few strokes painting the effects of substance fading cold fact home, buried to Nada, giving hope to landscapes while poets brought back to trial in cages alongside gorillas and condors; portmanteau, words colliding, breaking off and away to the naked perception, to mirror oneself. The need to intellectualize, the need for order due to unrest, fragmenting the world. And when the professor led the final at Vysehrad Cemetery along celebrated stone and raising wine, the students read their poetry to the dead artists, writers, composers and sacrificers who seem to be living among us, in us, beyond us, still astonishing every measured rhythm and every unscanned verse.

Is science God? Or was the symbolist right--Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud--by pushing farther into this most difficult world, powerless to do anything in the world while identity was too easy to lose and to give up? Is it safe to say imagination is God? But the students understood: The supreme fiction is poetry balancing the domain between what is real and what is fantasy. Sartre wrote, "Man alone is responsible for his existence." The students became aware of themselves so far from home, learning not to leave the world behind, married by tradition and free verse. They all went to see The Swan King in the evening and watched poetry in dance without a word spoken.

. ~

Because You
Are the Fourth

live poetry
in café

toasting wine
some for
lost friends

live poetry
the greedy
(brothers and sisters)

live poetry
so that
all can set free
(losing my hands in yours)
no guide books
no sure way
live poetry
live poetry
every waking time

let your breath
be the first breath

let your touch
begin to touch again
you are poetry
I sing to thee

say it three times
because you
are the fourth
the one whole
the beating
of Whitman's
the howl
within us

shoulders of a giant

I sing to thee
Big Jim Ragan
I sing to thee
living poetry


~ .


Laurel Ann Bogen
Vocation of the Chair

Gannon Daniels
Crows in the Trees
Artist on Cervena St., Prague

Tobias Deehan
Where Three Are Gathered

Bryan Dietrich
Mutegod: the failed romantic

Alan Fox

Katherine Goodman

Keelyn Healy

Thea Iberall
Sea Lion Looking Like Elephant Attacks
Toyota on the Shore

Roy Johnston
Where I Find You

David Joseph
At the Old Missile Site

Kwala Mandel
The Emperor Colonies

Linda Mastrangelo
Girl with Star of David Whistling

Karen Schiler
St. Bartholomew's Bells

Brian Townsley

Patricia Wagner
Wenceslas Square

Maya Wong

Melissa Yancy
Song Sung by a Saw

Matthew Yium

~ . ~ . ~

Vocation of the Chair
Laurel Ann Bogen

It longs to be one
who holds you, keeps you
from falling, its curved legs
shapely as a bride.
The chair that would be saint,
martyr, acolyte. Your little
sins of omission and false pride
cannot sway it — the chair believes
in you. It grows taller in the dark.
Soon it will fill the room,
its cushion of praise all you need
in the crude and faithless light.

~ . ~

Crows in the Trees
Gannon Daniels

The stones have married themselves
into one large tomb. They rise, lifted
by the roots of trees, bend toward
each other, angled by overcrowding.
Worn by weather, moss grows close
connecting names to names to names.

The tallest elms in Prague stand in one
triangled city block. The old Jewish
graveyard lives in their shade. In their
leaves live the crows: ranting plaintiffs
of wedging black wings, left unheard.

Linked chains as high as a shin keep
us from walking on the bones and balance,
keep us from reaching out for the trunks
which house the birds that cup the cacophony
in the dark canopy hovering us.

Because the young Jewish boys chant
their long curls into circles, their eyes
guided by memory and mouths round
vowel sounds in Japanese or Spanish;
explaining the plight of a body after
death, the stigma and sanctity.

We all walk along the cobbles between
the sleeping stacked under us; their private
burdened place. Our grief has a tune that
does not listen, our silence continues mourning.

The roots derive strength, bypassing
buildings to nest the voice of when
that repeats and repeats to crescendo
linking the limitless with the passing.

~ .

Artist on Cervena St., Prague
Gannon Daniels

In a stray ray of light
I found her, touching each grep
before pulling one to her mouth.
She keeps some back-of-the-head eye
on potential thieves, while she raises
her feet to an empty chair.

I have seen her before.
As I steady my own noise
of camera clicks and chewing
gum, I watch her consider
what the people prefer;
She will have to make more blue
birds in the coming week.

She has been in my dreams.
Her frame, the shape
her toe-to-head sprawl
comes at you, though
she sits still, no movement
save for the hair outside her
hreben, which she uses
to scratch her scalp
with a slow angled arm.
I have eaten her brambory.
My mother collects her crystal sklo.
My Babicka bends her bones.
It is a trade secret, so I've been told.
I have invented her.
She has asked me to stay.

~ . ~

Where Three Are Gathered
Tobias Deehan

And in between rains,
we remembered dishwashing
along the Vltava
and the twisting of red towels
across china and crystal.
We have forgotten most of our lives
burrowing close those banks
where tiles jumped red, then green,
then red again, then round.

There, sparrows bobbed along the grounds
drinking of rainwater pulsing off grass blades.

In between rains, slipping centers,
in hunched approach,
an overripe harlequin
with horns, like party hats,
mounted out above the brow,
greeted us as Lucifer and said,

"I tell you, brothers and sister,
come, become, go.
Today will be less tomorrow.
Graves will not stop,
even in German wilderness.
One may leap to fire
and come back,
each time, a new mask strapped."

We see only one
side of ourselves.
We twirl and spin
yet still,
just one.

But he had little time
on tiptoes for us,
suggested we follow the moon,
coming out from broken clouds,
follow the descending waves of bread,
steaming, unbroken,
hovering just above mirrors
and black ink.

Unsnapped his pants,
covered his face with leather
and focused on orange rooftops.
Untied our wrists and ankles.

Left us to free will
and the making
of our own religions
and the fears
that must be earned.

On the hillsides looping after the fires,
cherries fell fat and leaves adjusted shape,
reflected shoulders, calves, spines,
breasts and cocks, trying,
from empty spaces
beyond the one-sided ground we stood,
giving ourselves away.

~ . ~

Mutegod: the failed romantic
Bryan Dietrich

He hits the pavement
like a heavy bone

If he looks up
at blood
coloured graffiti on walls,

if he looks up at a burning
car standing in the street
like an iron coffin-box,

if he longs
for the taste of exploded cigarettes
lying on the sidewalk beside his head,

if a Negro woman
leans out of her window
and screams obscenities,

if he sees a naked man lying in the gutter
with a streetlight striking shadows
behind moist buttocks,

if in his mind's eye he sees water
and lilies being poured on the genitals
of a dying boy,

if he dreams of getting hit in the eye
with the butt of a gun and of his blood
running down the barrel,

if he sees bits of butterfly
blowing like tissue
down a length of railroad track,

will he speak?

~ . ~

Alan Fox
For Frieda Cooper Fox

In rain, peculiar here
in years of drought, a yellow
back hoe down the slope
unroots another field.

Umbrellas grow.
We gather earth
to unearth (my father
mourns to touch my shoulder)
a plaque to bronze
our mother's stone.

None of us can know
much about another, how all
music and voice are muted.
The kitchen fragrance of chocolate
and burnt carrots
return now, buried in the mind.

One day our sons and daughters
will weep and root an aspen
or a father's memory
in this place, or of some other
back hoe and umbrella.

~ . ~

Katherine Goodman

The night train is our transport
at the border between
dobry´ den and dzien´ dobry.

On the adjacent bunk
my friend wears stripes
of sodium and night
and listens
to her blood, which whispers
that traveling this way
means death.

My veins stay
hushed, having moved across
the Atlantic before Halo
turned Heil--
Johann Heinrich becomes
John Henry and our family feeds
the same Holstein heifers,

And sings the same hymns,
as Good Friday reminded me
had we been there,
we would have cried
Crucify! Crucify!
along with the mob.

At Auschwitz, my friend and I
see all that remains of what
hands like mine stripped
from bodies like hers:
a wreck of false limbs,
age-pressed baby dresses,
a wall of hallowed shawls.

Now my blood chants,
but for oceans and years,
my friend, my friend,
I would have forsaken you.

~ . ~

Keelyn Healy

It can be bug-eyed flashlights
behind blankets, or the sun
pushing through fog, it's still
a lie half-seen. --


Treading through
the bramble of blackberry, I
pinch off a year, like 10, like
beads of sweet swollensour,
the seeds still stuck in my teeth.

Rhododendrons walk me up
the lengths of gravel driveways,
I'm forest beached to ten again,
back when my eyes were in
the shoots of angels' trumpets,
trailing the song of smoke,
smuggling space from huddled evergreens.

In those days wind would rush
death to deciduous
swirling in skies
until rain made fires on split
wires sizzle, and our house was left
like a tuning fork to the sound of Puget,
everything unstrung, level.
Sometimes it was two weeks
of wading in sick seas,
shades of elephant skin.


We each had roles, step-
dad lit lanterns, blackened palms
in crumpled newspaper, took
a hatchet to twigs, hoping
he could make more
than there was.

My mom would pine over
what two cards add up to 15,
and what black dots make
multiples of 5, rounding her
love up, and over a series
of sexless years, settling
in a robe, rubbing thumbs
against well-suited Jacks and Kings.

I learned rules to games,
how to bluff straight-faced, I
learned fire-crackle lullabyes, saw
a sun spilling over the Olympics,
slivers sifting through shark teeth,
skinning a shingled house
powerless on Horsehead Bay.

~ . ~

Sea Lion Looking Like Elephant Attacks
Toyota on the Shore
Thea Iberall

The crowd ascribes
meaning to this random act--
anger, sexual satisfaction
a plea for help from teenage beachgoers
like Apollo shape-shifting at Delphi

or was this ocean-drawn mammal responding
to us sending our bits--oxidized icons and car parts
into their watery home? Will more pinnipeds follow
driven by peromones like ants along a sugar trace
the call of rust, whales coming aground for more
of that familiar smell or a porpoise on bent flippers

defying his fate but isn't that evolution?
An act innocent, easy--
extending a breath or a glance just a touch too long
the moment impressed into genes passed
as a remembered longing

to be like a god over
and over again.

Context for "Sea Lion Looking Like Elephant Attacks Toyota on the Shore":

The Mesonyx was an animal that reached in directions no other mammal did. It was the size and proportions of a wolf and perhaps, had a similar way of life.[1] As one of the mesonychids (with heavy robust skull, sharp canine teeth, round-cusped molars, long tail and limbs, and hooves), it lived about 55 million years ago.[2] By about 50-47 million years ago, there were major climatic changes, global cooling and drying that destroyed the mesonychids' dense forests. Due to these changes, and their inability to compete with other more efficient carnivores, it is possible that the mesonyx slowly evolved into our known sea mammals. One wonders why we don't see evolving animals, or perhaps we do see them but we don't know it.

[1] Carroll, R.L. Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution, New York: Freeman, 1988.
[2] Singer, Ronald (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Paleontology, Chicago, IL: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.

~ . ~

Where I Find You
Roy Johnston

Not under the most
common pebble, shared
on a wandering wave.

Not woven in the
pattern of the stamen,
leaning by a blushed wind.

Not found in a print ­
hand, foot, test tube
or other traces.

In the near spring
of rolling meadows
flora flashing pallet.

I found you on
dancing meadow butterflies
against the arid coast colors.

~ . ~

At the Old Missile Site
David Joseph

The wind hustles through the canyons
where a green meadow talks in whispers,
before spring can be heard.

The dust is singed like parchment,
and power lines no longer trace
shadows into late afternoon.

A tree can tell the whole story --
how the squirrel ran for cover,
or the way the coyote shook his head

the day the fences went up
and the equipment was brought in,
sheathing target-ranging radar.

Now the daisies are flushed with yellow,
and the hills roll perfectly down to the water.
But somewhere out on the backbone trail,

just past Sullivan Canyon, a mountain
lion crawls up California's bent leg,
stands poised, remembers.

~ . ~

The Emperor Colonies
Kwala Mandel

The emperor penguin is the only creature so at home in two
of Earth's most inhospitable environments--the frigid depths
of the Southern Ocean that isolates Antarctica and the vast
sea ice that surrounds it. --
Robert Lee Hotz, Los Angeles Times

So much of the emperor penguin's life
takes place midwinter--in blizzards
and Antarctic ice, behind sheets
of constant darkness that break
in April. Is it any wonder that they march
so resolutely, uncertain bowling pins
bobbing side to side
like a broken wish for reason
to laugh at midnight? Of course
they should belly flop across
the surface freeze, blister
feet and duster wings
for the single, exhausted smile.
They are born, like me, to life on ice, bleak
black and white in frozen tundra.
I would be their king, I think, oversized
with downturned eyes, golden
marbles heavy-lidded--spent
too much time beneath the arctic
water. My curve of tail would surely drag
with barnacle, weighted ballast cutting ice
behind each footfall like warning.
At the tip of the world, this delicate South
axis, I could balance and hold. I could
rule for years, emperor of smaller steps,
and the comedic tilt of head that protects
the clear white breast. All attack frozen,
forgotten for the laughter.

~ . ~

Girl with Star of David Whistling
Linda Mastrangelo

Inspired by a Bohemian child's drawing created
in the Jewish ghetto, Terezín. Of 15,000 children,
only one hundred survived the concentration camps.

In the ghetto, she glees behind teeth,
Prague gurgles in circles of breath
inside her mouth and tests the fingers
of gold that gnaw at her blouse like salted lips.
            Perhaps for a moment
her knees had stopped mumbling
and her temple freed lose
the cooing of her hair,
            in Terezín,
the tightness of barracks splintered
flesh, while the twelve ramparts of start shade
the poplar and shoring blue hills, not
the train bleeding smoke east to Dachau.
            Had she knelt like St. Adelbert
among gray toothed meadows
and prayed for rain,
she might have rain
to rinse the charnel roads of bone.

~ . ~

St. Bartholomew's Bells

Time sounds in footsteps
on crippled stones, ringing
down roads until the gray
tortured mist in starved alleys
and the shriek of silenced words
is no longer a hunger felt,
but a ghost trapped in a dripping
bronze statue that yawns
in a courtyard of Spanish arches
while tourists snap pictures
of brass plaques, clapping at clocks.

~ . ~

Brian Townsley

To B. Fritta, an artist at Terezín arrested for spreading
the propaganda of horror and sent to die at Auschwitz.

Begin at the base, the white earth
      unsettled by the awkward weight
of seamless streaks of charcoal and soot--
this dark carries an accent.
      You are not deaf, you are talking
to yourself. For this piece
the stalks of trees lay bare as bone.
The empty baby carriages cradle
            only shadows of caskets to the ground.

You must shed a skin with each work,
birthing a small fortress of newborn flesh
that toughens when it learns of the patience
      of gallows. The must is in the transport
of the mind from the simple act of digging.
      And that yours is not the loss here.
The bells knelling the city to a close
            taint even the marrow of silence.

~ . ~

Wenceslas Square
Patricia Wagner

Each morning, Vlasta wakes
with construction workers.
She waters the rotting roots

of leggy geraniums in her balcony box;
eats thin slices of rye bread
cut from a round loaf; and waves

hand-wrung laundry from her window.
With her face fragmented into photo,
number, and stamp by a pensioner's

pass, she rides the tram. Her dog
sips the hot air with lips and teeth
bound by a kerchief. Stops

are measured by the fractured
speakers in tones reserved for children:
Václavské námestí.
Príshtí zastávka Vodickova.

In the square, horse dung
on the cobbled street surrounds
the tight herds of tourists.

Pigeon droppings and coal dust stain
the saints lining the Charles Bridge.
Vlasta buys cucumbers and peppers

wrinkled from the heat and sorts paper
wrappers from trash cans. All day,
she searches for the taste of chocolate.

~ . ~

Maya Wong

Coal-stained shadows
of fallen Lenins steal
up the sides of tenements.
Their fingers pluck
at dandelion petals
lining blank eyed windows.
Framed by the cemetery
archway, a woman rests
a plastic shopping bag against
her thick ankles. Her hands,
fragrant with candles and damp
soil, grip a ticket to Staré Mesto
where violins serenade
Saint Mary in Chains.

A wind, deep as a death
rattle, bears a child's voice.
Its words root the woman
to the earth. They grow
like weeks multiplying
through her veins, coiling
around her heart,
draining her dry.

~ . ~

Song Sung by a Saw
Melissa Yancy

There exist queer cities with walls
built from quarries, whose workers, mute,
never discover what worlds
their stones build--
and girls long dead, whose bodies,
now brittle-crack bones, age but do not grow,
girls gone before they were broken
by blossom--
and bat as black investigators unloosed
from turrets and towers and things, unnamed,
housed there--
and worlds of necessity, of tin washing tubs
on kitchen tiles, bathwater reinvented for
every body, father's soot rubbing
into the babe's belly--
and paper used to fashion yarmulkes,
white pigeons staked as dinner meat,
winka-berries crushed to crimson rouge,
and cornstarch fattening every thing.
There are salty old currencies without value,
beveled coins flicked by children
in invented games,
stagnant automobiles used for flowerbeds
and rain-safe storage
and white miraculous wines pressed
from the lives of foul grapes.
There are frequencies our nautilus ears
cannot detect, the warble and tremble
where secret etymologies and origins
and mass graves are kept--
and songs that only tree bark and granite
rock and vermin echo back.
There are ghettoes, akin,
whether walled by earth or light,
where tortoise combs that pull back blood
and lice and grease become crude little
harps, and aluminum cans are kicked outside
of themselves and buckets become drums
and girls barely developing breasts
become martyrs.
There are dovecotes of invention
and crannies of possible things,
where the tooth sharp tool that builds walls
to house bodies and butter, that cuts
wood for fire and shelves for books
and tables for deep meals,
becomes a wailing siren.

~ . ~

Matthew Yium

To know what parts the curtains is nothing
for the wasted moments lingering on
the curtains themselves. Look through their likeness
to the moon, their persistent white lightness
hanging down the glass. They make up the seen
above, the green bulb strung up like a shoe.
The sky is a lace, beneath it darkly
the lizard digs into the earth bracing
himself for a missing day not to rise
as he sinks in obscured from the window.
You cannot think his visions don't reveal
there aren't faces any more than eyes speak:
the myth of living by how it might feel
the night the sun dives in to split the sea.

~ . ~ . ~