The Poetry of Katherine Williams

Claire Bateman Weekly Hubris Banner 2017

“We can eat contraband creek shrimp and Vicodin,/drink oysters steeped in white lightning./I can show you houses in glory and in decay,/show you pelicans above and dolphins below/our seven black rivers that flash/their bright inscriptions through the dark./I can present you at the court of Queen Skreet./Everyone will lose their illusions/and look for better ones, compose/ bagpipe threnodies on your divorce,/bring you collages of sweet-grass and shark’s blood.”—Katherine Williams

Speculative Friction

By Claire Bateman

Poet Katherine Williams. (Photo: Holladay Mason.)
The poet Katherine Williams. (Photo: Holladay Mason.)

Claire Bateman

GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—March 2021—Poet Katherine Williams started at the College of Charleston at 16 and finished in French after burying her mother and sister. She drifted around on the beach making pocket-money in food & bev and graphic art, got sick of it all, took a few classes in chemistry, and then wasted 35 years in biomedical research. Meanwhile, she moved to Los Angeles, buried her father and another sister, read good books, went to good galleries, and had an epiphany at a poetry reading at Self Help Graphics. Nine years later, after a Pushcart nomination and readings at Beyond Baroque and the LA Poetry Festival, she met Richard Garcia, saw how little she knew about poetry, threw away nine years’ worth of work, and started over. She has published three chapbooks and self-published several more, and is shopping a collection while compiling another two. Her work appears in “Spillway,” “SC Review,” “Diode,” “Measure,” and elsewhere. After returning to South Carolina with Garcia, and while continuing work as a technician, she served on the board of The Poetry Society of South Carolina, established the James Island Arts Council, and founded Poetry at McLeod.

The Plumbing on Oak Street

Unit 4 colludes with Unit 5 to remove
the dark neighbors and install lighter ones.
Housekeeper holds sign to window:  Llame Policía.
Pipe drips rust into subterranean garage.

Nice law student in Unit 6 floats in her trust-fund
bubble above her husband’s kitchen drug business,
the kids always with breakfast in their hair.
Dark trickles from front gate to apartment door.

Newlyweds in Unit 3 always flash the oversize
flat-screen, the Infiniti, the Dolce Gabbana,
nasty gossip following their big white hellos.
In Unit 2, the ceiling light is hemorrhaging.

Unit 1, absentee owners, seven years behind
on the regime, pay the judgment upon sale—
to a family from the Moonie Wedding.
Upstairs, the tub is filling from the drain.

The child in Unit 2 screams constantly,
interesting the authorities, in turn causing strife
with Unit 6. A breadcrumb trail shows the way.
Plumber says, Lady—for this you need a priest.


Leave Venice now, its atmosphere of ozone
and Xanax, its architecture of crack and tinsel,
stride like Santiago Burn across the desert
to the trochaic meter of your inner clock.
Flights are cheap, the heat has fractured,
the waves are running in sonnets out of the south.
Leave in your green velvet pumps
and your rhinestone wig,
with your silk hem trailing sparks,
your head on fire and your tongue on fire.
Leave your vagrants, your yoga-ninnies and cineastes.
Come with new drafts and a fifth of Campari,
wearing that slight censorious frown.
Today, facts and trawlers sparkle at the surface:
Charleston is awash in self-deception.
Above bad movies and their consequences,
in spite of shadows roiling inside your head,
if not flying, then by whatever means at hand.
For whom our insipid museum will acquire
the collected works of Lucien Freud,
for whom our mayor will devour the Decameron,
for whom the Citadel cadets will parade in anapests—
boys on tall ships are lining the yardarms in salute.
We can hold hands and scream bloody murder.
We can eat contraband creek shrimp and Vicodin,
drink oysters steeped in white lightning.
I can show you houses in glory and in decay,
show you pelicans above and dolphins below
our seven black rivers that flash
their bright inscriptions through the dark.
I can present you at the court of Queen Skreet.
Everyone will lose their illusions
and look for better ones, compose
bagpipe threnodies on your divorce,
bring you collages of sweet-grass and shark’s blood.
Come you, like Shoemaker-Levy, blasting above
those seven bridges, high across the marsh,
before a long inscrutable streak of words,
from Venice, over the Cadillac Ranch,
across the hollowed-out eye of New Orleans—
this very minute, leave.

The Summer of Nothing Moves

It is the Summer of Star-Maps and Brad-Pitt-stories,
of Can I go on a date while I’m out here please Auntie.
Summer of Sister’s-only-child-bursting-out-at-twelve.

It is the Summer of All-day-in-front-of-the-soaps,
Since you won’t let me ride the bus to Hollywood.
I guess they don’t teach the word pimp in parochial school.

Honey—if I meet him and like him, and his parents bring him
to the movies and afterwards we all go home—then maybe.
Summer of Last-year-we-played-Barbie-dolls-in-the-yard.

Auntie, you don’t have to do any of that, if he drives
his own car. Summer of Honey-your-first-sexual-

Camping gear in the trunk, it’s now the Summer of Kidnap.
Summer of Breakfast-outside-the-tent, of I don’t drink
tea with dirt in it. Summer of Traffic-jam-L.A.-to-Vegas

Summer of Buck-and-Doe-Road, fifty miles of jagged Mojave
stones, of I-don’t-see-Indians-anywhere.
Nothing moves but my Japanese sedan, and heat rippling up from the hood.

We rattle past one tour-bus, parked outside a makeshift casino.
Nothing moves but our wake of dust. Twenty miles
until the South Rim. Summer of-Grand-Canyon-all-to-ourselves.

Halfway home, we will have a blowout. Summer of Michelin-
like-a-tuna-can-ripped-with-a-churchkey. I will teach
my sister’s only child how to use a jack, how to loosen lugs.

She will pay close attention. In the Summer of Cell-phones-
haven’t-been-invented-yet, I will not mention that, if our donut
spare shreds, we have a tent for shade, and three days of water.

But that hasn’t happened yet. She’s prattling about her choir
trip to France. I explain cell signalling cascades, basic surfing,
photosynthesis. Summer of Can-we-please-get-back-to-Brad-Pitt.

Donut intact so far, we push through acetylene heat out to the edge,
park the sedan, sit on a stone. Nothing moves before this great gash
in the Earth but the slow turning universe, our breathing bodies.

Pura Vida

Looks pretty gnarly and we’re old and out-of-shape,
but we hit the water anyway—hell, we came all this way.
The sun blazes. It’s the devil’s own bathtub.
Sharks smell the chaos; stingrays hover, poised to dart.
Pelicans squadron the surface, scanning for prey.
Deadly little jellyfish have all magnetoed shoreward,
where the tarantula and centipede creep, the congo howls.
Gin-clear shallows part easily under our hands.
Olivine kelp-beds sway, rooted to basalt pillows below.
I am all grom again, that sweet fire-wet dazzle.
The foam is head-high, lightning-white, tastes like metal.
He powers forward, punches the nose under the soup.
I can’t sink my board anymore, so I get blendered.
This is the Pacific, after all, bright hammer of matanzas.
So I gather myself and let the violent sun beat down.
My friend kicks out of a closing section and prones toward me,
taking my hand—somehow this helps me paddle.
The waves soon lull and we both make it outside
to calm unbroken seas, and we wait for the next set,
bailing tides of gossip out of our fetched-up lives.
Making it out is one thing. It’s the getting back in.
A set emerges, dark, friendly, and utterly without mind.
My friend strokes into a peak and sets his line,
launching an aerial into the clouds, and out of sight.
Though spent, I angle into the next wave. As I plant my feet
and unfold my body, the bowl vaporizes under me.
I’m ragdolled in the trough, the lip smashing my board in half.
¡Puta mierda, que desmadre! I body in on a broken wave.
Down the line, my friend’s board smashes against lava rocks.
Its shadow flutters on the bright sand below.
Far above deafening whitewater, he calls my name.

To order copies of Claire Bateman’s books Scape or Coronology from Amazon, click on the book covers below.Bateman ScapeBateman Coronology

Claire Bateman’s books include Scape (New Issues Poetry & Prose); Locals (Serving House Books), The Bicycle Slow Race (Wesleyan University Press), Friction (Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize), At The Funeral Of The Ether (Ninety-Six Press, Furman University), Clumsy (New Issues Poetry & Prose), Leap (New Issues), and Coronology (Etruscan Press). She has been awarded Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the Surdna Foundation, as well as two Pushcart Prizes and the New Millennium Writings 40th Anniversary Poetry Prize. She has taught at Clemson University, the Greenville Fine Arts Center, and various workshops and conferences such as Bread Loaf and Mount Holyoke. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina. (Please see Bateman’s Author’s Page for links to all her publications, and go here for further information about the poet and her work.) (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)