“Woman Dinking Absinthe” Now Available!
Katherine E. Young's evocative new collection of poems, Woman Drinking Absinthe, is now available from Alan Squire Publishing.
Katherine E. Young's second collection follows up the critically acclaimed Day of the Border guards and was written during her tenure as Arlington County Poet Laureate.
The poems in Woman Drinking Absinthe probe the extremes of passion and transgression, desire and its aftermath. The mood is Paris, the morning after a debauch: bitter hot chocolate, a croissant, and a strong aftertaste of the previous night. The setting is Art Nouveau, with its ornament and excess; the playlist is Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Puccini. Although we are firmly in the city, there's a whiff of the forest’s folktales and monsters, bears and Bluebeard.
The women of these poems, from the naïf who willfully ignores evidence of Bluebeard’s crimes to Manet’s dispirited barmaid at the Folies-Bergère, brush off convention at their peril, even though convention imperils their bodies, their spirits, and their art.
Bar at the Folies-Bergère
It starts with the scent of lavender as she
buttons clean pantaloons, laces up stays,
smooths her bodice and shakes out the frills,
ties the black ribbon about her neck.
Her costume smells, as they all do: mingled
sweat and makeup, the fabric itself,
splashed, perhaps, with the licorice twist of absinthe.
Then come powder and rouge, the small earrings,
a pink and white corsage already starting
to droop. Her props are placed on view: beer bottles,
champagne, a vase containing two pale roses,
cut glass bowl of oranges that may
or may not indicate a certain kind
of availability. Leaning against
the marble bar, she doesn’t look at you
(Why should she look at you? Can you give her
what she needs, or even cab fare home?):
posing, perhaps, or perhaps beyond posing,
her face bleak, artificially rosy amid
the moon-pale globes and crystals shimmering
in the ersatz heaven of the cabaret.
Perhaps a man inspects her in the glass,
perhaps he’s looking past; neither of them
seems to see the woman on the trapeze,
feet squeezed into ankle boots of lizard green.
Later, she observes his red-gold lashes,
watches his still-young face slacken in sleep,
breathes in his scent of cigars, cheap brandy,
scent that clings to her fingers like orange oil
as she works her nails beneath the skin,
methodically stripping the pith to find
whatever’s left of the fruit’s sweet flesh.
Katherine E. Young's poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Iowa Review, Subtropics, and many others. She is the translator of Farewell, Aylis by Azerbaijani political prisoner Akram Aylisli and Blue Birds and Red Horses and Two Poems, both by Inna Kabysh. Young’s translations of contemporary Russian-language poetry and prose have won international awards; several translations have been made into short films. Young was named a 2020 Arlington County (Virginia) Individual Artist Grant recipient, a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts translation fellow, and a 2015 Hawthornden Fellow (Scotland). From 2016-2018, she served as the inaugural Poet Laureate for Arlington, Virginia.