James Cagney is a poet and writer residing in Oakland, Ca.
This is the full bio from a man who has poetry flowing through his veins like lava- when cut, he bleeds scorching synechdoche, smoking similes, smoldering and too hot to touch images that sear and brand the imagination lingering long after the page has been turned.
He says about himself:
My imagination works like a snowball– the tiniest stone grows larger, collecting more weight as it continues on its journey. The road to this story diverged from two places.
Last month, my list serve shared a recent discovery of a black penguin. Being writers, many of us were alarmed at the language the media used to talk about this rarity. Even the link above uses the sinister word ‘mutant’ to describe her. The animal is provocatively beautiful and certainly draws my imagination. The problem is the word ‘black’ and how my mind lazily defaults towards easy archetypes and stereotypes in order to have the animal ’speak’. Could I write a poem for an animal without leaning on easy smiles and images and even straying away from feeling forced to speak about blackness at all? I’ve thought about her for a month without being able to write anything; googling again and again photos of an adult black penguin just to admire.
Around the same time, one of my coworkers and friends on Facebook posted a random status which said something like: Forget it! I’m going to chug everything and move to Antarctica and live amongst the penguins.
And I saw this and without thinking replied: don’t do it. If you do, get separate beds. They snore, their farts smell like fish, and their feet are cold as ice. And I implied having to forgo a relationship with a penguin over cold feet or however I’d said it.
Both of these ideas crashed together over breakfast this morning, at a time when I’d been reading the work of James Tate who specializes in writing these beautifully dreamy prose poems that somehow grow in the oddest directions sentence by sentence. He is my role model here as i imagine myself shoveling snow on the ‘lawn’ of an igloo. All I needed was an image, THAT crazy image, and I stared at it like a psychic with a bad antenna until it cleared up on the page.
My Ex-Lover or Fuck Somalia
She stood in the doorway of the igloo and said, This isn’t working. I was shaving
our ice lawn and saw she stood barefoot with her flippers crossed sternly.
You’ll catch your death, I said. Put on those slippers I bought you off Ebay.
And where’s your headscarf? Its hand dyed silk from Somalia.
Fuck Somalia, she said. I’m not African. I’m a penguin.
And I want to be alone and single again.
I didn’t know what to say. So I held up my ice shaver in Moses pose
and the mosh pit of penguins parted cleanly on the ice shelf.
This time she didn’t laugh, just pretended to smoke and look disinterested.
What about the children, I said. We don’t have children, she said.
I was shamed. I could never get a full erection around so much ice.
Are you going back to mother, I said.
She disowned me because of my mutation, she said. I’m staying
here and asking YOU to leave. National Geographic
is giving me my own reality show. I’m going to be famous
and invited to all the glamorous parties and movie stars
will kiss my ass and send me screenplays. And you’ll just be
the footnote in my ghostwritten biography.
Last night I had a dream, I said.
Is this another reference to Malcolm Luther King? she said.
No, this was a real dream. I said. I dreamed
I was Pablo Neruda and I wrote an ode for every Eskimo
word there is for snow. I made them all complicated
love poems where the first letter in each line spells your name vertically.
I wrote these poems in cayenne pepper on the snowbank
above our igloo. Every morning at sunrise the words are illuminated
with lemonly light and my poetry rises in the mist of the dawning
air, swirling and raining around us as we make love, our skin steaming
making our kisses hot as if our tongues were orange habaneros.
I’m going to need you to leave before the camera crews arrive,
she said. They’ll think I’m crazy for ever having loved you.