sporklet 16
Linda Norton
from Cloud of Witnesses

I had been teaching and tutoring online for two years when the pandemic hit and I got sick. Alone in my apartment I stacked books and perched my computer on them, tutoring, Zooming with friends, watching movies and TV shows. I have used the cento form in both of my books, and now I started to make centi (collage poems, appropriations) from the books in my stacks. These are found poems, not made, exactly; I was too numbed by events to do anything called ‘writing.’ But my preoccupations, my unconscious, and events of spring and summer of 2020 (and centuries before, really, in African American history) certainly informed what I found in these random piles of books.—Linda Norton, Oakland, CA, November 9, 2020






From a distance, 
It has the appearance of a
High-tech Bedouin encampment.



She made a sweeping gesture 
In the direction of the shoes and towels
Scattered about the room and said,

"After my death . . . " 



The rest is
A few dark statements
Thrown out to me by Joe.





Did you say thirty pages?
In diamond type on India paper? 



This family of refugees
Had suddenly filled the whole village. 



The architecture was delightfully absurd.
One of that seductive chain of technocratic restaurants 
where a nickel could buy not only a cup of coffee,
but a magnificent sticky bun.



Attributions: Norval White and Elliot Wilensky, AIA Guide to New York City; Natalia Ginzburg, All Our Yesterdays; Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler, 1951-1991, edited by William Corbett. (In reverse order in "Lowkey.")



5.20.2020 (FQH)


The day they burned the books
We had several resident romantics 
Who had fallen in love with the moon
It had all been a mistake
A Poet is the most unpoetical 
Of anything in existence
Because she has no identity
How to be and how to be here
Without making one's neighbors angry? 
What they recognized in her was sacred.
Why aren't you here?
"Come back, you devil!"
It was quite a party.



Attributions: Jean Rhys, Collected Stories; Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy; Letters of John Keats; Cesar Vallejo, Complete Posthumous Poetry; Summer Brenner, My Life in Clothes; Bernadette Mayer Reader; Denton Welch, In Youth is Pleasure; Robert Caro, The Power Broker.





I came to realize
I didn't know any girls;
Beauty is something to be eaten
But will learning ruin 
Your instincts? 
Outside the church
I pretended I was with my man.


What I wanted to say 
Is that the word "two"
Is a joke.
That's why I am always


Later there would be
Weeping and wailing.
Writers do not have to be
Professors of morals





"A divine enticement," a "labyrinth," a "trap": 
They all sat very still.
In dreams you see through solids!
How like looking through seawater
Is the work of memory.
I knew only that I was composed
Of several breeds,
A different thing altogether
From knowing that one has to go on 
Indefinitely, repeating the same order,
And we never become known
To the larger public. 


Attributions: Simone Weil Reader, ed. George Panichas; Fanny Howe, The Wages, Fanny Howe, The Lives of the Spirit/Glasstown; Fanny Howe, Tis of Thee; Fanny Howe, What Did I Do Wrong?; Simone Weil, The Need for Roots; Robert Hershon, Freeze Frame. (Poem 1: lines taken from reverse order of books.)





A young woman who was my student
Simply stopped returning my phone calls
(The observations above
have been necessarily simplified,
a self-portrait in a convex mirror)
I was carried shoulder-high
To my little house.
I am her sorrowful
Terrible heir.
The difference between
The neurotic
Nursing his guilt or sin
And the hero
Is the dramatic gesture,
The formal imperative,
The solid houses in the mist



Attributions: Elizabeth Robinson, Reply; Moreland and Fleischer Latin: An Intensive Course; John Ashberym Selected Poems; Bertholt Brecht Short Stories; Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Robert Duncan, The HD Book; Charles Reznikoff, Poems 1918-1975.  (Changed pronouns in some lines)



6.9.2020 ("Because I felt sad")


She herself could not eat or sleep
"Como me sentía triste."
The execution of ____ ___________
Was "something that the sisters
Had done together,"
So the stars must be in a good mood. 




All the while she stares at a little girl 
On her mother's hip
On the opposite platform.
It's the only sustenance available. 
In the left-hand version of the third example,
The reader's heart goes out. 




"I saw it happen," 
The monk said.
"I saw it all."
Trying, imaginatively,
To carry that intuition
Into new forms 
In a new world. 



Attributions: Mark Nowak, Social Poetics; Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing: A true Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland; Our Irish Theatre, Lady Gregory; Baboon, Naja Marie Adt (tr. Denise Newman); Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father, Richard Rodriguez; William Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style; Joseph O'Neill, Blood-Dark Track: A Family History; The Fifth Week, William J. O'Malley, S.J. 



6.10.2020 ("She kisses her killed boy") 

Then I won't remember 
What I did to deserve it
After the murder
After the burial
Singing in the dusk of the poor
Because the important thing
Is the shock of recognition,
An explosion of ripped vinyl, 
Towels, and duct tape
("Don't say 'we' to me!")
To keep the silences from 
Becoming too frightening
This could be her sound



Attributions: Fanny Howe, Second Childhood; Gwendolyn Brooks Selected Poems; Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roman Poems; Deema Shebai and Beau Beausoleil, eds., Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here; New California Writing; Nuala O'Faolain, Almost There; James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; Fred Moten, The Little Edges.




6.14.2020, "A deeper indigo"


Or just look like one
And now losing a grandson
One of these stories
Very much her own

I don't know what to write,
I write.


On the desk was a book called
The Bigness of the
Fellow Within
Virginity o 
My virginity
Where will you go 
When I lose you?  


The correct way 
To approach this business
Is to begin when [she's] very young
By being drawn towards
Beautiful bodies
Where they kill lice 
With their teeth


Like his family dream
Priests and birds 
Chanting the Ave



Attributions: A. L. Nielsen, Tray; Sara Blackburn, ed., White Justice: Black Experience Today in America's Courtrooms; pallaksch. pallaksch., (from a poem by Colleen Lookingbill); Angela Pneuman, Lay It on My Heart; Keith Waldrop, Light While There is Light: An American History; Sappho, tr. Mary Barnard; Plato, The Symposium; Sasha Steensen, Thirty-Three Hendes; Eleni Sikilianos, The Book of John; Odysseus Elytis in The Vintage Book of Contemporary Poetry, J. D. McClatchy, ed.; title is from 'Funeral Sermon, Soweto," by Wole Soyinka, in the same anthology. 



6.16.2020, "let the la be free"


Empty chairs all over town:
It was terrifying.
She worked in the negative,
She worked against herself,
She would walk through the field
And talk to people, asking 
Simple questions—"What are you




The artist has aggrandized
Her vision of entropy
Executed with surgical precision
And lyric genius, has
Taught herself to spy
Walking home alone at night. 
"My mind made itself up."


As for dying, 
I say: 
Come on you.


Attributions: Fred Moten, Hughson's Tavern (first lines and title); Eileen Myles, Chelsea Girls; C. D. Wright, The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fires & All; Fleishhauer & Brannan, Documenting America 1935-1943; Jess: O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoterica; Ida Applebroog (catalogue); Walker Evans (Aperture); Dorothea Lange (Aperture); Elizabeth Partridge, Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life; Unclassified: A Walker Evans Anthology.




6.20.2020 ("You wet, Little Miss, you wet.")

And to think that only recently my nose 
Had been a small thing, the size of a rosebud, 
The soul of every girl.

We know that 75,000 people 
Eventually bought Pussy Whipped. 
MacKinnon can be a little intense, 
Especially when writing about hot wax 
Poured on nipples near swamps, 
by stonewalls, by ice cream shacks. 
"Are you Italian?"

They will give you the moon so long as 
You don't seem needy.
I'm talking about folks in Oakland, 
Folks in Richmond, pilgrims en route

The motif of searching,
The creative process.


Attributions: Jamaica Kinkaid, Annie John (title and first lines); Sarah Marcus, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution; Stephanie Staal, Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life; David Blair, Friends with Dogs; Denver Quarterly, "Pupa," by Gail Aronson; David Blair, Walk Around; Mountain Movers: Student Activism and the Emergence of Asian American Studies; John Norton, Air Transmigra; Susan Howe, The Nonconformists Memorial; Stuart Spencer, The Playwrights Guidebook.

Linda Norton is the author of Wite Out: Love and Work (2020), a memoir with poems, and its prequel, The Public Gardens: Poems and History (2011; introduction by Fanny Howe), a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She was a 2020 columnist-in-residence at SFMoMA’s Open Space; you can read her five essays and see her collages and photographs at https://openspace.sfmoma.org/author/lindanorton/.