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PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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Issue 23, July-September 2012
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Poetry from Jan Bottiglieri

followed by Q&A

This poem 
is about my boy, in the kitchen, reading to me a poem.  
About my boy, nineteen, reading to me a poem from a book he has picked up 
casually from my stack of books, and he flips it open and begins to read.  

My boy is nineteen, and the poem on the page that falls open 
is called Sixteen, and he reads it aloud to me, he is allowing me.  
It is a poem about a boy. The boy in the poem, the boy in the kitchen: 
they become the same, one a little grown past, the other approaching. 

Grinning, my boy finishes, beautiful. And in the kitchen every thing 
is so: the yellow wood, the scarlet poppies on the porcelain cups 
in the cupboard behind his head, the brown shock of his head. Everything 
he has just read to me, he has been to me, my boy, a poem in the kitchen. 

I am praising his reading, his aloudness of Sixteen, and aloud my boy asks: 
It’s about him, right? meaning the poet, and the poet is a man I know, 
not a young man, and my boy thinks that Sixteen is about this man. I say, 
no, it is about his son, his boy. Not him as a boy? my boy says, and I see 

the wonder of this poem: it makes a boy forget he is not a man; 
he reads the poem and it becomes about him, and he has become the poem. 
He is part boy, part poem – the boy thinking then that he must be 
an old man, or that the poet must be a boy. A poem.

This poem 
is about a man – no, a boy, my boy, and we are there in the kitchen, 
the scarlet shock of nineteen and the porcelain cups.  I hold my boy 
in the way he allows me, and I fall open, holding him.


Sweetiepie, Monkey, 
little genius 
of despair.
I know you

are in there,
pulling levers
behind my dura,
that chintzy curtain.

That’s you, rattling
at two round 
windows sunk
in the bony wall;

you, flinging yourself 
onto the flounced
grey bed. You practice 
volition (those boring 

offices) like a 
creaky violin, 
the same dumb scales
over and over.

When will you take
your drop of honey, 
your dish of milk? 
When will you 

sweeten, sweeten?
You send your
susurrus down the
snakey canal:

I’ll never, I’ll never.
You are disturbing
the world’s 
smallest anvil.

The Fiery Skipper

Could be wings are an affliction,/a different kind of tyranny.
— Li-Young Lee

A fiery skipper–lepidopteran,
small as a cent and colored
summer gold and bronze,

alights in the wide margin 
of the book laying open 
on the grass in bright sun

and first casts a scale from its wing
onto the page, where the scale becomes 
the saffron dot of an invisible i

and next closes its deepest ochre, 
sorrel, sepia, between wings it holds 
like a knife, edge toward sun;

and next regards its narrow silhouette, 
which falls forward from 
the hair’s-width feet and runs

beneath the skipper’s form
to lay plain before it on the page,
to demonstrate its shadow-body 

as human, without wings: abdomen, waist,
chest and shoulders, a round
head that nods once 

beneath twin antennae,
the several legs merging in shadow
to just two. The skipper lingers there,

motionless, for what may seem to a butterfly 
a week of time, all in morning.
Suddenly it seizes the air:

assaults the sky flaring above
the waving tips of grass 
and swings free, 

like the pilot

who ejects, wild-eyed, from the burning 
body of his plane to find himself 
alive, hurtling in space:

and can tell at once by tenderness
that every vessel in his face, 
now bruising grey and golden, has burst.  

Jan Bottiglieri is a freelance writer from Schaumburg, IL. Her poems have been published in journals including Margie, Court Green, After Hours, Diagram, and Rattle. She has received two Pushcart Prize nominations, and is an associate editor for the poetry journal RHINO.


Q: “The yellow wood, the scarlet poppies on the porcelain ...” Here and in “the summer gold and bronze” of “The Fiery Skipper,” colors are intense and organic. Tell us about color in your life and work–what artist paints your vision?
A: I think that word “organic” really does sum it up for me–I respond emotionally more to color than to form or shape. I love the colors of vegetables, of flowers, of anything in sunlight. That must be why one of my favorite artists is Van Gogh. I’m also fascinated by the words for colors. Someone gave me an artist’s tin of sixty colored pencils when I was a kid, and I loved to read them almost as much as I loved to draw with them. Vermillion… cerulean… aubergine… Don’t those words feel great in your mouth?

Q: I think of Robert Hayden’s wonderful poem “Those Winter Sundays” when I read the line “You practice volition (those boring offices)” in “Homunculus.”  Might that have been on your mind? Or perhaps some other reference or source(s) you’d like to discuss for this poem. 
A: I love Hayden’s poem, so I’m glad it’s in my head, though I wasn’t referencing it consciously.  I wrote “Homunculus” during a time I felt derailed by grief. My daily life (getting out of bed, doing dishes) seemed automatic–as if another person was controlling my actions and that imaginary person was grieving, too. Alchemists believed that feeding a homunculus milk and honey would make them nicer, but I didn’t think that would work for mine. One reference I did have specifically in mind was to the “wizard” of Oz, pulling levers behind a curtain; the dura is a membrane that cloaks the brain, and I imagined peeking behind it. 

Q: Did you catch butterflies as a child, and what did you do with them?
A: I didn’t chase butterflies–I much preferred holding very still in hopes that they would land on me. They were fun to watch flying, so why would I want to catch one? I did, however, catch jars full of lightning bugs. I was a kid back in the seventies, when we’d hear a lot about the Energy Crisis, and I remember wondering why we couldn’t just make lamps using jars of fireflies. They were free, and it seems as if there were many more of them back then. At the end of the night I’d let them go because I never knew what to feed them. With “The Fiery Skipper,” I was reading in the grass when the little guy landed two inches from my eyeballs – they’re tiny butterflies, and I’d never had the chance to check one out that closely. I admired its facility for moving between absolute stillness and explosive energy, and I tried to bring the idea of that into the poem.