“If you just asked me to give up my horses
I’d give up my horses”
Kiki Petrosino, Fort Red Border, “Sense-Certainty”
I love anagrams. One anagram of my full legal name is so terribly, awkwardly dirty that I regularly use it as an expletive and it is more satisfying than any of the other legitimate swears that I know or can possibly imagine.
An anagram reveals something hidden that was there all along.
Kiki Petrosino, in her 2009 collection of poems FORT RED BORDER, opens her book with a series of deeply intimate lyric poems voiced by a narrator engaged in a romance with Robert Redford.
Washing her afro with shampoo and a jar of water warmed by the sun, he leans over her, flashing a hole in the armpit of his workshirt and
I glimpse the long curve of Redford’s body through the hole.
There’s his arm, stretched above me.
Then a smooth triangle of torso disappearing into the shadows.
His shadows are grey & brown as grass.
So from this opening poem, “Wash,” we are inside another country. One where the craggy face and ginger waves of Robert Redford are familiar, but also one where his most private and unfamiliar moments with a lover are revealed, previously hidden, in fact, entirely fictional, but no less truthful, for that.
We’re in Fort Red Border, and what was inside his name—just arranged another way, and what he would do, and not do, for the love of a woman who could never comfortably live inside the culture he inhabits:
Redford watches as I gather my afro
into a plain elastic hoop. This is how I pull it back: both hands, a ballet
circle of turned elbows, my own putting-off crown. Is this he asks how
your mother wears it? He traces a soft cross at my nape. I tilt my head to
look at him. Not even close I grin. She doesn’t keep it natural. I take my
hands down. Redford’s face goes coltish and aware. Is that how you say it,
from “Dread,” Fort Red Border
Redford takes her to dinner, to exotic locations, seats her in first class accommodations. She alternately basks and bristles under his attentions:
I lean back & Redford traces my spine
with his thumb. I feel as though I’ve done well on something—
my Algebra exam, the fragile zipper on my tightest
dress, my federal taxes.
from “Coffee,” Fort Red Border
Or after an uncomfortable ski trip that underscores their differences in everything from athleticism to what constitutes fun on vacation:
A long time passed without speaking. Now, crumpling
the napkin in his fist, Redford asks: What were you doing out there, with
your equipment? There’s nothing to tell him. With my tongue, I draw a
secret tiger on the roof my mouth. Mostly, I am patient.
from “Crans Montana,” Fort Red Border
The Redford of these poems is as sexy as you imagine, and infinitely more tender than you could.
He is the dream of Redford: as commanding donning a suit and cedar cologne after leaving his lover to dream the morning away in bed as he is wrapping his arms around her while she does dishes, telling her “you float around my house all day/just like a little cloud of sweetness.”
And yet, here is a couple so achingly wonky, they live together at the very border of disturbed. Our narrator is infatuated and yet restless, and our hero is, well, Robert Redford.
We’re back, I think, to the idea of rearrangement and of what is hidden. Robert Redford, the American actor, represents an ideal that is instantly intuited by even his name. He is like, you can say, describing a hero, Robert Redford, and this is an evocative shorthand that somehow reassures your audience that the world will be in good hands. Hands, in fact, that “he slips across my waist, then along/my torso, pressing tightly” while he says “I know the secret shape/in you. It’s in the bone, burning there–/a thing I can’t call. Fine-made.”
If Robert Redford is our hero, how is he rearranged against this narrator? Against the failures of our own culture? Because this isn’t Robert Redford, this is Fort Red Border. A place of the imagination that allows us to see what it is we’ve been missing all along.
This Redford loves our unlikely heroine, but he doesn’t quite hear her, the words are scrambled, and he can never truly capture her like he thinks he should:
But what I’ve been thinking, deciding now—
If I just knew the words to still you down, some sound
to ride by. I’d find a way to keep you with me, then.
from “Sense-Certainty,” Fort Red Border
If you haven’t had the opportunity to spend time with a book of poems, I am recommending this one, and recommending it as Certified Wonktastical. Petrosino’s voice is accessible even as her language is precise and her metaphors intricate. Contemporary poetry resonates for the same reasons we love contemporary romance—we see and hear ourselves and the people we know. This is particularly true of Petrosino. This book is sexy, and heart-twisting, and true.
Fort Red Border has two other parts: “Otolaryngology,” an exploration of voice, including her award-winning poem “You Have made a Career of Not Listening;” and “Valentine,” which is a series of valentine poems that I adore that are the ultimate laugh/cry experience:
You can’t order some of the love.
It’s not scientific.
So you get the wrong love.
Or you get the wrong amount.
Chrysler Building Love when you wanted Dinner Roll Love.
Switchgrass Love instead of Foghorn Love.
Like, I’ve had:
Removable T-Top Love
None of which I ordered.
from “Valentine,” Fort Red Border
So now that all of you are clicking away, ordering this book of poems, here is the part where I also tell you that a commenter on this thread who leaves a comment by 11:59 p.m. US EST on Friday will receive their very own copy of Fort Red Border. Poems and stories about your affairs (real or imagined) with iconic celebrities, are absolutely encouraged.
Also, here is an anagram generator so that you may discover your own hidden truths. Or personal swear words.