The Brass Tacks

"Rising Water: A Crown of Sonnets" is a collaboration from D’Arcy Randall, David Meischen, Scott Wiggerman, 
W. Joe Hoppe, Judy Jensen, Katherine Durham Oldmixon, and Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, with a line from Nancy Kenney Connolly.

The authors of this sonnet crown are members of the Brass Tacks, a group of poets in Austin, Texas who meet regularly to read and critique one another’s work.  Most Tacks typically write in free verse, but after D’Arcy published two collaborative crown sonnets with members of the women poets’ group Formalista, five other Tacks wanted to experiment with the form. Seeking a seventh poet to complete the crown, the Tacks invited sonneteer Katherine to join the team. D’Arcy initiated the crown in February, 2007, and as the seasons passed, David, Nancy, Joe, Judy, and Katherine added sonnets until Liz closed the crown in November. At this point, progress stalled. D’Arcy had intended to lead the group through revisions, but curating the Blanton Poetry Project, flying to Australia and back, and trying to learn Spanish in a hurry while teaching non-stop shredded her concentration. The crown languished for months until Nancy understandably published her sonnet elsewhere. The now-crippled corona continued to languish for nearly a year, until David and Katherine led a charge to find yet another poet to replace Nancy’s sonnet. If you think it’s easy to link one sonnet to another, try welding a brand new sonnet into your broken crown! But Scott managed the miracle, and the crown rolled out of the shop ready for the world.




Rising Water: A Crown of Sonnets



Sometimes you feel it lapping round your knees—
the life—that life—the one in dreams that lifts
you out to sea. It’s like a bass line riff
perceptible beneath the melodies,
but nothing you can attend. As if set free
again, it tosses back its hair, stiff
with salt, and aims its surfboard toward the cliff,
across the chops of waves. Who could foresee
it could swerve in time? And not allow the swell
to lift it high, then dash to smithereens?
Safe beyond the grips and tears of tides
you sense its retreat; you could refuse the shell
it tosses back, could-have-been calcified.
Be inland or at sea, not in-between.


Be inland or at sea—not in between
like Prufrock dreaming mermaids, like Henry
drifting at his window on the creek, debris
awash like grief out of its banks, the sheen
of surfaces trapping light, the grey of green
a mask the morning wears, no stone, no tree
unmarked, a veil you can’t tear through to free
the gleam that hovers everywhere, demeaned—
a glimmer chilled and chilling. Let it warm
you, let it seep beneath the bone chill
of skyblocked days. Let in the husks of light
that flicker from the shadows. Even night,
like amber, holds the warmth of sun unspilled.
Hope trembles here like light, like gloom transformed.


Hope trembles here like light.  Like gloom transformed
into a wave’s caress, it licks the skin
and eases cancer’s crushing blow, the twin
discovery that life can pass unmourned
and death has been there all along.  Unformed
pronouncements bristle at your lips, a thin
gray arc of spittle glistening like sin—
but whose?  Were you asleep when cancer wormed
its way into your veins?  You’re now awake
and more aware than ever, pain all night
and days that stretch out like a ghostly moan.
Accept, believe, and hobble through the ache
of living and of hope.  So face the light,
will you?  Dare singe your wings on the unknown!


Will you dare singe your wings on the unknown?
Endure the heat for sake of wisdom's light?
Sweat slicked entombed throughout a doubtful night
illuminated by another dawn
you walk through dewy fields of asphodel
collecting spider webs on your bare feet,
pollen in pantcuffs; this meadow is your Lethe
when asphalt's warmth is reached may your heart swell
to drag you raw and bare along that road
awake aware through panoramic eyes
the comfort of "why not?" urges you on
while each bold step is more than further gone
progress is just successful breath unleashed
within this sweet vulnerability.


Within, this sweet vulnerability
arrogance — each a fertile breeding ground
for fear. Her lucky bracelet, unfound,
did not keep Earhardt earthbound under shield.
There’s only two directions: gyring down
or forward. Will you be Baker? Coleman?
Dancers rage through the saxophone’s spare span,
ire roils onto the stage, but Coleman’s flown
farther, higher beyond snatches of Baker’s
last lost notes, spinning, twirling ashen moths
torched in heroin’s oceanic froth —
eddied to unmapped shores, sand-swept anchors
rest against sunken salt-pitted engines
of those who dared and, daring, enter legend.


Of those who dared and, daring, enter legend,    
what trembling wing remains to trigger tempests?    
Past your lacrimal crest, tear ducts blend        
salt and silence; no sirens’ song arrests                     
your journey; you sustain facial armor,               
contain all desire within the body--                       
so you would believe.  You’re mostly water—        
who knows what waves pass through your flesh daily?        
You shudder, startle forth a shell-less creature,                
green bottle-flies rise; the moment you breathe                
bare butterfly bones on inner skin quiver--                    
what ear receives the prayer you would sheathe?            
Listen: sea-howls from a spiny conch linger--    
your last indigenous gods will gather.    


Your last indigenous gods will gather,                  
burning wood and salt-weed in your name.        
The rite of rising water’s just a game            
you make a habit of; today’s another            
chance for us to wax and reach together –                         
the tide goes out and now the chances wane.        
Oh, sirens on the half shell, who’s to blame        
for hopes that dash against the rocks or rather        
crack the husks that we have all outgrown?        
What if it’s luck that pulled us up from crawling,        
luck like treasure pulled us from the seas?            
You say that you’d be different if you’d known        
fortune falters (just like darkness falling) –        
sometimes you feel it lapping round your knees.     


W. Joe Hoppe teaches English and Creative Writing at Austin Community College in Austin, TX. His first full-length book of poetry, Galvanized, is available through Dalton Publishing. W. Joe is honored and grateful to be associated with the other poets in The Brass Tacks. Happy Good Success Fortune Thank You.

Judy Jensen’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies such as The Prose Poem: An International Journal and Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po Listserv. Two of her poems are featured in the Blanton Museum of Art’s Poetry Project. She co-founded Float Press, designing and printing poetry broadsides on a 1908 Golding Jobber #6 letterpress to raise funds for charities and literary events.

David Meischen has poetry in current issues of Cider Press Review and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. His work was included in Threaded Lives: Poems from the Fiber World, a collaborative effort of twelve fiber artists and twelve poets, featured at the Rane Gallery in Taos, New Mexico (October 2009). David is a co-founder of Dos Gatos Press. In December 2009 he finished an MFA in Fiction at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Katherine Durham Oldmixon's poems have most recently appeared in The Normal School, Borderlands, Qarrtsiluni and Ellipsis, and in a chapbook, Water Signs, published by Finishing Line Press in January 2009. Katherine teaches writing and literature and directs the writing program at historic Huston-Tillotson University in east Austin.

D’Arcy Randall is a founder of Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and has published her own work in Prairie Schooner, Nimrod, Southern Poetry Review, and other journals in the US, Canada, and Australia. She teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

Liz Garton Scanlon is a children's author and poet. Her picture book All the World (Simon & Schuster, 2009) won numerous accolades including a 2010 ALA Caldecott Honor and starred reviews in Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, School Library Journal and Horn Book. She also wrote A Sock is a Pocket for your Toes (HarperCollins, 2004), and Noodle and Lou (Simon & Schuster), Think Big (Bloomsbury) and Happy Birthday, Baby (Simon & Schuster), all forthcoming. Scanlon teaches creative writing at Austin Community College and has published poems in numerous journals including a recent anthology on Alzheimer's disease from Kent State University Press.

Scott Wiggerman is the author of two books of poetry, Vegetables and Other Relationships and Presence, forthcoming from Pecan Grove Press this year.  A frequent workshop instructor, he is also an editor for Dos Gatos Press, publisher of the annual Texas Poetry Calendar, now in its thirteenth year. Several of his collaborative poems with Andrea Watson have been published in qarrtsulini.  His website is