The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Code by Charlotte Pence

T. at the Limits of the Possible

“…At least one child had been lifted by an adult to produce
some of [the cave art]. The process had been relatively
complex as the adult had moved a distance of several
yards while the child marked the surface of the ceiling.
So, it was not a case of simply producing the drawings
just anywhere… This all suggests that creators wanted to
produce tracings at the limits of the possible.”
—Jean Clottes from What is Paleolithic Art?:
Cave Paintings and the Dawn of Human Creativity

I read the caves are often conceived as female.
The art itself considered the oldest: 40,800
years. And I know we have to go, be a part
of something that lasts. “Help me pack?” I ask her.

She drops a plastic dinosaur into her sneaker,
then trots away. I want to take her hand, pull her
into my lap, tell her again of Spain and the art
she’ll see, caverns larger than any house, time

longer than any dream. I wish her mother were here
to see it. Grief, like art, continues to teach
the limits of the possible. I want to take her hand,
lead her through damp-dark to where a child

years ago was led by her father to mark
the cave. Handprints reveal an index finger
shorter than the middle, a fact divulging
the artist was a girl, barely older than mine.

I will take her hand and walk along the slipping
mud floor wet from the mountain’s slow
weeping. “Up there,” I will say, pulling her
onto my shoulders, her body plus mine making us

as tall as a crow’s nest. Up there, he too
must have said, holding fire burning on bison
fat, holding shell of red ochre
mixed with cave water. There? she must have

asked, pointing to what was almost out
of reach. Something on the edge of something.
Here, she decides, poking the ceiling’s moon milk,
that wet, soft carbonate sparkling like stars
under the forked flame. I start to sway; she steadies
her torso, begins singing Here, here, here, combing
her fingers through the ceiling’s fur while I roll
and bow, circle round, her fingers now flutes,

now waves, now stone, now snow, all rolling
through glitter, time, and space. Here she has
been born. Here she will stay. A part of this clay,
this cave, this moonmilk, mountain, mother.

This selection comes from the book, Code, available from Black Lawrence Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Danielle Hanson.

Charlotte Pence’s first book of poems, Many Small Fires (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), received an INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews. The book explores her father’s chronic homelessness while simultaneously detailing the physiological changes that enabled humans to form cities, communities, and households. She is also the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks and the editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have recently been published in Harvard Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, and Brevity. In July of 2020, her next poetry collection, Code, will be published by Black Lawrence Press. A graduate of Emerson College (MFA) and the University of Tennessee (PhD), she is now the director of the Stokes Center for Creative Writing at University of South Alabama.

Danielle Hanson received her MFA from Arizona State University and her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  She is Poetry Editor for Doubleback Books and a Senior Reader at Atlanta Review, and was formerly Poetry Editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review, and associate editor for Loose Change Magazine and Carriage House Review.  Her work has appeared in over 70 journals and anthologies, including Poets & Writers, Iodine Poetry Journal, Rosebud, The Cortland Review, Willow Springs, Roanoke Review, Poet Lore, Asheville Poetry Review, and Blackbird.  She has been on staff at the Meacham Writers’ Conference and the Chattahoochee Valley Writers’ Conference, and completed residencies at The Hambidge Center.  She has received several Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations.  She is the 2017 recipient of the Codhill Press Poetry Prize, Finalist for the 2018 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Poetry, and 2016 recipient of the Vi Gale Award from Hubbub.

Her second collection Fraying Edge of Sky (Codhill Press, 2018) won the 2017 Codhill Press Poetry Prize, and was previously a Finalist in the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry in 2017, the Wick Poetry Prize in 2017, the Codhill Poetry Award in 2017, the Antivenom Poetry Award in 2016 and 2017, and the Richard Snyder Prize in 2016 and 2017; and was Semifinalist in the National Poetry Series in 2017, the Crab Orchard Series in 2017, the Elixir Press Prize in 2016, and The Washington Prize in 2016. 

Her debut collection Ambushing Water (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017) previously was Runner Up for the 2012 Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize; Finalist for the 2015 and 2016 Robert Dana Prizes for Poetry; the 2015 and 2016 Blue Lynx Prizes; and the 2014 Codhill Poetry Award; and Semifinalist for the 2015 Miller Williams Poetry Prize; the 2012, 2014 and 2015 Crab Orchard Poetry Series; the 2013 and 2014 42 Miles Press Poetry Awards; the 2013 Elixir Press Antivenom Award; the 2015 and 2016 Codhill Poetry Award; the 2015 Washington Prize; and the 2015 Richard Snyder Publication Prize.  



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