Karen Kachra’s “Do your recognize me without my tomahawk?” won first prize (and $600) in the 3rd Annual Geist Erasure Poetry Contest. You create erasure poetry by removing letters and words from an existing text in order to create a new poem.
This year, the work being erased was an excerpt from the prose poem, “Cottonopolis” by Rachel Lebowitz. Cottonopolis was the name given to Manchester, England, during the Industrial Revolution, for its prominence in cotton production and trade. You can read the excerpt from Cottonopolis below Karen’s poem.
Do your recognize me without my tomahawk?
a cut up killing
for to break us
a time to
line up quiet
people are just quiet
get your soup, Indian, and—
Some see me. Some do.
Blankets and boxes and bags of bitter money
sending us to slavery
across the City.
And the family on the ground
wind cold, sun shining,
a man’s daughter singing her thin goodbye;
maybe her son he gone too
a branch in bloom—
Karen Kachra has published poetry in FreeFall Magazine and short fiction in Maple Tree Literary Supplement. Her work has received honours in The Malahat Open Season Award, The Writers Union of Canada Short Prose Competition, Writers Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition, and at GritLIT. She teaches literature classes in Seneca College’s Continuing Education programme and freelances as a copywriter and editor.
From “Cottonopolis” by Rachel Lebowitz:
A rookery of dead ends and curved lanes. Everywhere heaps of debris. Pigs rooting in eyes.
Swine packed tight in the hold. Crates of bacon, sweet peas, wildflower honey, beef pour les rosbifs. Ninety-one thousand firkins of ’47 butter: Ballina, Ballyshannon, Kilrush, Killala, Tra-la, Tralee!
Then come the Micks. And oh, how they love their pigs! Their children play with them, ride upon them, roll in the dirt with them. Black snuffle, snort, stink. How happy this swarm of fat.
Try to keep up with the latest London fashions. At dinner parties, tie pillowcases to those slim white ankles to ward off muskitoes. Cholera belts should be worn at all times. The best one for nightwear is ordinary silk or woollen pugree.
Serve your guests food from British tins; shake out your books before reading. During monsoon season, take down the pictures or they’ll rot on the walls. I am sorry to report your hairpins will rust overnight. Place your kid gloves in a bottle with a stopper, your best dresses in boxes lined with tin.
The air will smell of dust. The sun will kill your roses. You will buy your cloth from the box-wallah: shawls from Kashmir, cotton grown in Bombay or Georgia and woven in Lancashire. The weavers here no longer weave. Some have no thumbs. And their bones, it’s said, are bleaching the plains of India.
No matter. Such a lovely dress: your durzi’s so skilled with his needle! Fish the ants from the sugar bowl. Warm the teapot. Boil the milk. Serve, stir, sip.
And look at Cottonopolis now, holidaying on the Isle of Man. From this cliff, see the scavengers dart and weave about. The lambs of course are darling. Pay no attention to that soot on their coats. It’s nothing, nothing.
Almost five hundred chimneys in Manchester now. And in the seams, women with chains between their legs crawl on all fours, dragging coal. Strike of iron into rock, of workers’ clogs on cobblestone streets. Cotton on the noonday bread, fluff in the throat. Emetics will clear that away. And if not, not.
Look at this girl. Barefoot, bare head, bare breasts. Iron clinks between blackened, open thighs. Behind her, a cart of black gold. High above, black lambs on green grass. Seagulls wheeling in the western skies.
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