Alice Fulton has received fellowships from The MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, among others. Her books include Cascade Experiment: Selected Poems (W.W. Norton), Felt (W.W. Norton), and Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry (Graywolf). Felt was awarded the 2002 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress. This biennial poetry prize is given on behalf of the nation in recognition of the most distinguished book of poetry written by an American and published during the preceding two years. Fulton's fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, and she has received the Editor'sPrize in Fiction. A collection of linked stories, The Nightingales of Troy, will be published by Norton in July 2008. Alice Fulton has taught at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA, among other institutions. She is currently the Ann S. Bowers Professor of English at Cornell University.


Cascade Experiment
Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry
Sensual Math
Powers Of Congress
Dance Script With Electric Ballerina

"About Music For Bone And Membrane Instrument ==" is from Alice Fulton’s Felt (W.W. Norton) and is reproduced by permission of the author and the publisher. Copyright © 2001 by Alice Fulton. All Rights Reserved.

Alice Fulton's web site
W.W. Norton & Company
Academy of American Poets

One Poem by Alice Fulton


chords unfurling in arpeggio, that fragrance
we called Storm the Stage, Fan, Eventail, Ogi, This Girl

Who Collected All Things Japanese.
How she got me into it. Into all-night sessions
that made us late for school.
We’d paint the leaf, the paper part, then fold
the tissue back onto itself
in anticipation of a moment that came down
to open == close. To this girl
who used bitchin wicked boss or tough
as praise saying isn’t it
stroking the thing with her tone, wanting me
to agree, no, not agree, feel
what she felt, succumb to her taste her
fatuation – beautifully pierced, outlined with gilt
– and I’d run

one finger down that
interrupted nocturne, the crevice between
sharps, touching substrates and binding sites that
dilate into color and design. Into extremity

pink folds and pleats,
handheld compressions, corrogations of
recluse, release.

That arc, that parabola. That phoenix and the o-
varies. That obsession that
makes the world
smell like the inside of your nose.

* * * * *

In the 18th century, the fan had a language:

Running Your Fingers through the Ribs, I wish to speak
Hiding the Sunlight, You are ugly
Opening and Closing, You are cruel
Dropping the Fan, We will be friends
Leaning Close to Admire, I like you
Placing the Fan Behind the Head with Finger Extended, Goodbye

* * * * *

The handling of the fan is difficult.

It’s a short leap between collecting and becoming.
Fall on your knees
while they perform their musical procedures. O hear

the mortals singing. Tear the lungs from your body
while standing on a folding chair.
While they do some musical violence to your life.

The fan is made to whirl or spin to look like wheels.

Grab the binoculars. Close enough to see their crowns.
Their long incisors. Grab a press
pass to the labyrinth behind the curtain

calls, to close brushes with the creases
in their throats, instruments fretted with pearl
pick guards acrylic bodies catgut strings guytrash.

The singers produce their fans and lay them

before them, taking them up whenever they wish
to speak. For the greatest artists,
the fan and the hand are one,

though the dark areas omit detail from
material brought to light. "Are you decent?"
the roadie yelled before we ==

because she’d won the contest and requested the backside
of their necks. The spine’s highest
chakra. So small

a compass may be compensation. Come
grayish briney harsh and salty
when she really wanted some sweetcream something

else. Wanted to be other
people. Wanted say Arpege. The lungs torn out
and smoothed would cover a stadium

though what a lot of pressing
that would take. There are substantial losses
in this delicate flatwork.

They often use two fans, repeating each trick

of twisting and turning with the right or left
hand, the fan being an extension
of the arm, the arm an extension of
the song. And when they finish,

the fan is thrown, spread open, backwards over the shoulder

to an attendent who catches it mid-flight. Guytrash
is English dialect for a specter
in the form of an animal. Sometimes she said

the fan is tossed so as to turn over and come

back to the hand. And this girl bit one
there while snapping shut.

* * * * *

A gash will turn to gush. Isn’t it exquisite?
I can live with it. With

a wig made of pubic hair, a one-inch capture of
slept-on sheet, fab skins gathered from
French page, a lifesize portrait executed
bodily fluids, puncture jewelry, tongue studs,
fragment of apparelling, a letter mutilated by eraser burns
pencil smut. I can love with it.
secret enthusiasm, the paper is forced into this shape

* * * * *

much as Kafka thought
the world had precipitated
into Felice Bauer. He collected her

gestures because destiny
hides in the trivial,
and to extract the vast from the little

is a gift, like perfect pitch.
He turned her photos every which way
but she still looked elsewhere

with almost supernatural ease. That is,
if you saw a brick wall looking thus
you’d be highly surprised. Some

considered Starseyes full of Sadnesssome
Starseyes light up & glisten with golden Granulesor
pensive or Forbiddingsome
Starseyes imbued with now a mild now a corrosive Ironysome
in Starseyes surprise and a strange Cunningsome
Star pursuing star’s enigma thought that Starknew
of which nonstars knew Nothingsome
Starseyes impenetrable Andsome
believed that a stony calm a mortal Voidafunereal
ment dominated Starsgazesome-

one wrote of Kafka’s eyes.

* * * * *

Higginson called Dickinson his
cracked poetess. A crack is a nasty, dangerous thing
to have around the house ==
      any bolt or dovetail is
      less efficient than a knot or splice ==
I find I need more veil, she wrote.
Her mind was a wire too fine to see
by ordinary means. So she persuaded
birds to perch ==
      lashings, sewings, and binding are more efficient
      than metal fastenings or glue ==
birds after birds, until the wire floated more
      It expands waves flutters is raised or lowered
      closes. She wrote her eyes
were like the sherry that the guest leaves
in the glass. Float of the peephole, slit float.
      The picture on the leaf retains
      its creases even when open.
      The leaf retains
      its picture even when shut.

* * * * *

I still have the clothes I was wearing:
the very jeans and retro satin blouse.
The style rose

from the ovary with a maiden
hope and happiness before unknown.
The very see-thru sandals

have been lost. They gave good surface
and they gave good depth.
And when they sang their fans’ multi-flap

anatomy with mobile shutters began to
imagine itself right down their open mouths
into their organ meats and things.

Insect-small they looked
through the binoculars and sodium
vapor glow. Like bees they gyrated to speak

and kept time in the dark.
Some wanted to rend their bodies and
blazon the parts – hair, nails, etceteras –

in private and in small.
One wanted a shirt pick contact
filling sock gum or butt.

One wanted a catalogue raisonné.
One studied ways of etching
dislocations using acid brews

that accept no substitute.
To fan is to starve. This girl lived on the clippings,
adding horsehair and stiffening

till they felted and became a cushion
for a single hammer in her

* * * * *

Felt is often a small or hidden part
of a familiar == and thus
escapes attention. Plus one

can never hope to see things smaller
than the wavelength of the light
used to reveal them. This girl recalled the details

of Kabuki plays. Like finding it hard
to carry water, he fills his mouth and forces
the liquid between her lips.
Or pulling up his circular net
he finds a ghost in its folds.
I need French silk. This one

was talking about chocolate cream pie, but she
sounded threatening. A heavy
woman with little severed ears around her neck,
from which a miniature music, a big sound compressed
to fit the tiny sieves, cheeped forth.

Float of the peephole. Slit open float.

First I used rubber but that did not satisfy.

It was intractable, an obstacle
that could not be wrapped, boxed, or prevented

from extending to forever.

* * * * *

The god fan unfurls to phoenix, an unbirdly bird
whose molecular sensitivity is such
that when it is about to die, it pours
from its lacerated beak exquisite
shards that bloodcurdle listeners yet

is remembered only for the ashes
from which it manages to soar seemingly
without effort, a nonce projectile
whose alliance with the everduring proves stronger
than the tenets and godtricks of physics,
this girl said.

* * * * *

For years, this composer was paid to be the fan
      No well-dressed man or woman should be without one
of those who wanted to write music. Composer
was their guilty ID.
      Enthusiasm, an ethereal medium
      transmits knowledge
      in the manner of a contagion, a finished excitation
      you can’t sleep off or cauterize.
She couldn’t get her mind around it.
She was paid not to write music

but to inspire others to write it,
to adore their work as if she’d given birth to it
since nothing less could ever draw it forth.
And she did love. And she did good

sometimes, as she did fan. She tried to give
self-lubricating frames. She had sayings:
The Notes Are Forced Into This Shape and
Comfort Him Or He’ll Spray.

She was dying to write, but she hardly had time
to bathe, let alone compose
works with a fragility that outlasts human life.

     This fan is quite dirty. Much worn
     on the outer sticks. There are some splits
     and thin spots. And the color

therapist poured a flask of red
stuff in the tub. She’d never seen such
a vehement soak. As if someone had slit
herself the long way, wrist to elbow,
which can’t be fixed, therein.
     A gash will turn to gush.

Sometimes her students taught her a new word.
"This is a sucky scherzo," they’d say.
From the verb "to suck," which
in the last decade of the 20th century
meant a thing was trash. "My bad," they’d say.
Sometimes they made her laugh.

* * * * *

In the 20th century, the fan had a language.
ran, hid, opened, closed. Dropped, leaned, admired, extended,
I was gonna exchange the same carbon monoxide kind of
We nicked some leaves from Star’s tree. Star saw my Big Star
while I was waiting to greet the limo. I got a dry mouth just
Star in. We went to the studio and just stood soaking. Then
happened. Star turned round and Star made
contact and said Hi to which I found myself saying
Wow. We were floating. Star said Oh HEAVY
My mind was so focused on Star that the edges
and I didn’t click. Then Star went all SPIRITUAL
started chanting. Then Star threw me
candy from Star’s pocket and motioned for me to eat
That’s when everyone crowded close and yelled "DON’T EAT
I knew I could die now and go. Star knew I needed
Oh I don’t know how but I know how
feels. More than the kiss in a way as this was
personal. Tho it probably wasn’t. Tho it did show
was thinking of me as a person. And I for
Star looked right at me with Star’s intense
eyes. Then my brain goes all wet. I was totally lost in Star’s
Star looked long, loose, and very shiny. Getting into a
911 Targa sports car. It was Blood
in color. So I ATE it and Star smiled. Star was so nice and
was so THERE. And Star wasn’t ON at all. Star seemed like a
person I’ll never forget. Then Star threw me
same rose I had thrown to Star. I’d watched Star carry
and when Star threw it to me I was. Because Star. It was so
in my freezer twenty years later. And instead of
we both ended up crying in our beds. And I swear to this

* * * * *

That one is still trying to rhyme orange with Porsche.
When loyal and royal would be perfect.

That piano swathed in tarpaulin before a concert?
With clumps of sound trapped in its skin?

Its legs remind me of a racehorse.
Such delicate spindles beneath a heavy chassis.

And a single atom seen through
a field emission microscope resembles

a sheep in a fog on a dark evening. Guytrash.
The smallest thing one can see is a good deal

affected by the light. Scholars know
the ardent love of perfection in work

which in olden times seemed not too dearly
attained by spending the best part

of a life on a single project inconceivably small
by normal standards: tarnish collected

from the subject’s cutlery, a study of
the muscle that pulls the testicles

close in times of stress, a rubbing or frottage of
an estranged music the fair finish of

which can only be appreciated
through a magnifying glass. Catch

* * * * *

and she tossed me an object

fresh from the acid bath, numinous,
with a purse-like sphincter of circular
pleats, with patina in its grooves and signs
of use: pitted, pocked, etched, dented,
experimented upon. Silken from touch.
An organic polymer perhaps, which comes

expensive, or a material essentially made
from sugar rings joined without folding
whose density was similar to flax
though its strength was four times that
and virtually immune to rot.
Suffice it to say the whole affair varied

in weight and size being a hard
but cushy ball or disc with
an erectile sheen. A maybe crystal
grown from vapor? A once filament
till tiers of new grew down? A nice bubble
in the palm of my bad? In Monastral

Fast Blue, that synthetic pigment used
on innumerable front doors whose atoms
are cousin to platinum. Weight for weight
I’d have to say the stiffness was not quite
as good but it was not so very much
worse and the stuff may well prove something
developed by a private enterprise, the fibers of which

when enlarged show striped and scratched and fuzzy gray
bands running on the bias
into a vast number of layers, sleeve after sleeve & each
perfectly in place till in truth
I could not tell what it was or was
for, only from the way this girl saw it that it was

not nothing, that it had a pointedness, an intelligent
smell about it, like a veil made of birds or maidenhead
or an ostracized muscle that whirs about
an opening or draws a baggy fleshsack close
and that in fact it meant
the world cannot I think be overstressed.