Rochelle Owens: 'Hermaphropoetics' / 'Brown Dust'

[What follows is the sixth installment of Rochelle Owens’ Hermaphropoetics, a work in progress that continues the poetic & mythopoetic reach of her oeuvre as it has come to us since the 1960s.  For me she remains, as she was when we first came to know her, a poet who bends the resources of language toward the revelation & creation of a new & always startling vision of the real & more-than-real.  As I wrote of her back then: “There is a voice in Owens’ work … like a fierce and unrelenting force of nature. Sharp and visual, she combines a landscape with a poetics, the domestic with the mythic, machines with the organic living world from which arises a construct and a fused vision: poetry and life.”  The photo image of the field on Mars that accompanies “Brown Dust” is a good example of what her work makes possible. (J.R.)]


The camera zooms and pans

blinking in and out   sunlight/blackness

a glass of ice water sparkles



The hermaphrodite

seated on the stump of a tree

his teeth overlapping

out of her mouth protrudes his tongue


Hibiscus   goose grass   leaves   mango


she could feel the shape of colors

the flesh of the apple   drinking colors


Blood of the months of the year


Four bearded elders linking arms

circling clockwise

every day bears the data   sweat   mucus 

tears   urine   corkscrews of earwax


A strange rain   vertical/horizontal

layers of brown dust   light   heat

see the subjects

spectacular the photos  


Photos of a master photographer

focusing her lens

the physical poetic   eyes seeing

an asymmetrical form


Blinking in and out   sunlight/blackness

eyes seeing

the size of the skeleton   the bones  

the shape of the head  


Micrographic photographs 

eye sockets   thickness of fat layers

eyes seeing a slit in the stalk  

blood seeping


The hermaphrodite emptied of allegory

 seated on the stump of a tree


The hermaphrodite

her/his body swaying side to side

one foot sunk in mud   a hand dangling

out of the frame


A flush of wet hot air burning

her neck and face

five musicians chanting   drumming

squatting on their heels


Sinuous the rhythms beneath the skin

the nerves   spirals of veins

fibrous tendons

twisting   zigzagging


Six bearded elders linking arms

circling   circling clockwise

a boy warrior with pierced nipples

Her soaring paper thin shoulderblades 


green and pale the scrotal lily


The muscles of his onion-shaped calves

spasmodic in the dust

an impure creation captured after the siege



Teasing femme/homme

her henna-dyed palms   his fingers

working black kohl  

the inner and outer eyelids


Rose gold the eyes of the hermaphrodite  

molecular the creeping tension

the flow of hormonal forces



Every day bears the data

a master photographer  altering

perception   the ruinscape disappearing

signs and wonders


In the concrete space   audio recordings  

fluorescent bulbs protruding  

a little girl dangling

a  vinyl mask


A little boy wearing harem pants

fickle he saunters by   the taste of her sweat  

seawater   his/her body  



Wedding bells   Wedding cake  

berries and apricots under the veil 

joyful the bridegroom

lifting the veil


A long curved fingernail

tracing the cleft  

pale and red the folds   slashes

of color seeping


the flower vulva cut away


Eight warlords singing

linking arms   circling   circling clockwise

bulbous and blood-packed

 their lips


Nine chanting the legend

waxing poetic  

a legend of a child falling out of the sky

see the photos   sunlight/blackness


A white swan shimmering

in scene after scene   a strange rain   vertical

/horizontal   blinking in and out

piles of rocks


Fluorescent bulbs protruding

a figure trussed and lying down

A camera flash

a glass of ice water sparkles