Cyan James

Introduced by
Karyna McGlynn

This series is from James’ unpublished book-length poem, The Watchtower. Its anachronistic southern orality is deliciously dark and reminiscent of Frank Stanford. The experience of reading James is—if you can imagine—akin to standing amid a pack of possessed feral dogs as they sniff each other’s tails, and worse. It’s probably not for everybody. Nothing is taboo in these poems, yet James manages to avoid the pitfalls of pure shock value.  In her world, taboos are skinned, gutted, and hung matter-of-factly from public bridges. It’s impossible to look away, and so we consent (with pleasure) to play voyeur as she leads us deeper into the swamp of human sensuality. [KM]


            it’s dog-sick Jaelin is
            that’s the sick that is
            simply more than the prison can take
            and they leave him where he won’t disturb the others


with tooth-grinding
 with impacted jaw pain
that kept him foaming
like a horse in a night-sweat-box
like a photographer under his blanket
going crazy with all his chemicals

going selenium / going purblind and undone
in the numbed tips of fingers that slipped their cauls
of proper pruned skin / of human paper




these men, they’re maddening me
I need to look away from their chests
take my hands off whatever silver muscle they left
with the flailing of their tongues

ah hell
get me a gin & tonic
get me a sliver of peace under my fingernail
fret me good-down now



Henry lay in the de netting, wild,
while the brainfever bird did scales;
Mr Heartbreak, the New Man
Come to farm a crazy land;
an image of the dead on the fingernail
of a newborn child




I’m going to pick blackberries
Don’t know when I’ll be back
Shut up now deep-low









more of Jaelin’s symptoms:


            a loneliness



                        grief the marrow in the bones
                        the bones still the framework inside
                        the animal running out there
                        the fallow deer Jaelin’ll need
                        to hunt down and gnaw through

                        grief the bones in the animal yet to be killed
                        grief the bones yet to be gnawed
                        grief a different gruel than pain



                                  and no-one left to mourn him
                                  no-one left to mourn him




they’re all out watching Sally Tree

through the hazes and dullness Ethan enforced with tonics

through the griefs they hunted down themselves

and took into their very beds


                                                    where they tossed and swore

                                                 they hurt worse than Jaelin hisself


                                                            Why I Care:

                                                            a) the day’s composed of pleasant rain
                                                            death is the spiderweb in the fence-corner
                                                            I keep walking into, I keep stringing across
                                                            my face, waiting to run that recluse to ground

                                                            b) I’m a sucker-fish for helpless men who work
                                                            behind bars and try to teach themselves, try to make
                                                            of themselves something someone could love
                                                            —I attach myself to their photographs
                                                            I lap up the tarnish on their silver, by God I Do

                                                            c) the minerals in dirt taste the best, & I’m a deer





   If I’d been younger
   I could have learned the way Sally Tree grounds
   his steel violin across his lap like electricity
   like an electric fence, rubber in his pockets
   his only barrier against the infection
   of electrocution

   of being startled at  something
   other than you existing
   of bearing sear-scars
   and the story of smelling raw ozone





Dance with me
dance/dance with me

I’ll let you scald me
with your copper wires




                                    the dogs are barking
                                    the dogs are barking mad
                                    and digging up the banks
                                    to leave their wastes in the sand
                                    while the men are out rolling logs
                                    under their bare, barked feet





      it takes cat-like to avoid the fate
      that gets you nonetheless down the throat
      its tongue lapping in your every hole
      it takes every nine





In watchtower I'm exercising my obsessions with physicality and movement, with body rhythms and with sickness as a source of off-kilter beauty and fascination. I'm attempting to use words in an almost physically textured way, and I'm trying to hint at what larger beasts might be swimming about under the languages we employ.