Two Poems by Kristi Maxwell

A Time Before Thought, Bette Ridgeway

Author’s Note

These pieces are part of a series of lipograms, writing that excludes one or more letters. The poems take as their starting place the names of endangered species and emerged out of a desire to manage my own climate despair. Specifically, I’m working with modified beautiful outlaws, which I’ve named “extinctions” (lipograms that do not use the letters in the subject’s name—in this case, the name of the endangered species), to explore what happens when what is endangered is instead absent—gone. The formal strategy of the lipogram nods to the global trends regarding climate change and strategies of elimination (eliminating carbon emissions, red meat consumption, plastic, etc.). 


an extinction

Here’s a beast-less fable, a feckless tale, seasick with rhythm

A trawl’s empire has twelve fish, excess shrimp, yesteryear’s kelp palaces, plastics
as empires “have”                       at the behest, at the helm

a machete clears

Here’s a fable: all the beasts
keep their “all”               Malaise sets, celestial-like, 
a hemisphere at a time

Time is feral after all                   yet trackable

If a library is with bestiary as a wife is with babe
prepare a lap, alter a breast (altar it)

What lives is a liver: a part, a piece                     a meerkat
that’s a clapper             that strikes the mammal bell


an extinction

edified by renewed cells             but, besides insides’ surprise un-ruins, 
terrible               utterly   / /                         delinquent relief          sulking
elsewhere                                in reruns, we review Eden’s western lung
wheezing, punctured by infinite suffering                           this denuded
requiem             just ting beside ting      this single bell         stuffing its
gutted tin pelt                     pretending this swinging pistil will still seed


Kristi Maxwell is the author of seven books of poetry, including My My (Saturnalia Books. 2020) and Bright and Hurtless (Ahsahta Press, 2018). She is an associate professor of English at the University of Louisville.

Bette Ridgeway has exhibited her work globally with over 80 museums, universities and galleries, including Palais Royale, Paris and the embassy of Madagascar. Multiple prestigious awards include Top 60 Contemporary Masters, Leonardo DaVinci Prize, and Oxford University Alumni Prize at Chianciano Art Museum, Tuscany, Italy. Ridgeway’s art has permanent public placements at the Mayo Clinic, the Federal Reserve Bank, and elsewhere. Many publications have featured her work, including International Contemporary Masters and 100 Famous Contemporary Artists. Ridgeway has also written about her work.

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