Exorcism Lessons in the Heartland, Cara Dees


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Navigating a landscape of loss with language that is both lyrically charged and freshly brutal, Cara Dees has given us a first book that is unexpected and burning with life. The weight of absence fills the pages, but the world is not without light and resurrection. Both suffused with feeling and fueled by a restless search for a way of being in the world, this is a beautiful book alive with humanity.
—Ada Limón

Cara Dees’s Exorcism Lessons in the Heartland is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and sometimes feisty poetic exploration of the vast linguistic gap between things as they are, and how we would have them be. At the center of that abstraction, waiting to be unpacked, resides the concrete, inescapable experience of suffering: the illness-ravaged bodies of our loved ones, dying; the mute victims of animal cruelty; the silenced survivors of eons of sexual violence. This is poetry for grownups. Grounded in a gasp-inducing, massive lexicon, Dees’s complicated, tragic vision ultimately transcends itself. “For this moment, too, the rarest/words,” she writes in the last lines of the last poem. “Even in this world/an arc must still be possible.”
—Kate Daniels

In Cara Dees’s elegiac book, loss imbues experience with its contours, textures, its sensual being and presence. The poems, complex and brooding, repay close attention and their gift is deep intellectual and emotional understanding, an erotics of grief. The effect is strange and compelling and unlike anything I have read in contemporary poetry. And one more thing, the series of poems that address the Supreme Court of John Roberts, regarding its rulings about a woman’s body, already read like classics.
—Mark Jarman, author of The Heronry

To the Next Supreme Justice

There were also a few hundred looking into abortion through bleaching one’s uterus…
                                                                       —The New York Times

                        Madam or most likelier       Sir, surely by now
                                 you have noticed the salt-       dark smell of sulfur
flour, flower, sweat       that lifts from women’s
           downturned limbs       after their close afternoons together.
                          When I go milking       it seems my smell is everywhere
                                   & if my letters to your co-       elder-judges survive,
I like to think       my bloodbreathing scent       has been driven out
          of their pages until       almond, cream, clean       grass alone remain,
                       smooth & blank       as brochures.
                               I tell myself I must be       a fresher midwest.       I must be
cleaner than any harvest,       a pasture swept of dust,
          all my beasts housed       elsewhere. I tell myself       one must allow oneself
                       to be kept, from time       to time one must accept being
                                stripped down & stored.       Such is what the midwest
was unswamped for       so arms stippled pink with timothy &
        the lustier mosquitoes       can prepare various proteins
                for the use of those       better compensated. Future Honor,
                            the fact is I need counsel:       how best to go on
correctly, to go on     with correct living (to go on       with living), e.g.
        the film in which       men lock an iron clamp into
                   a cow’s butterfly haunches       & hoist her bodily
                            from her rank bed of straw; thus       she rose more quickly
for their morning chores.       A necessary pain.       Or the tumor
         on my mother’s wrist       purpling, sharpening, until
                      she smashed it with a dictionary     collapsed      from the blood-
                               edge drumming into her      until she balanced
back over the gravel       to return to barnwork.
          When she settled into death       a penny-sized violet
                      still swelled beyond       her yellow wrist.
                                  Un-      faced, Un-      fazed:
the body ungoverned requires strategy      just as mares overrunning
          a snow-veiled electric fence      are wooed back into a warmer calm,
                      & after, the wires      re-stitched, the current
                                  re-switched     her herd held in place.
Sometimes       I dream of the road thinning
          into a distance hidden       beyond this farm & all along it
                       snow, wire, current.       l await eagerly your response,
                                    the response of your brothers,       in this hour of
bleach, the year       two thousand sixteen.


Cara Dees holds an MFA from Vanderbilt University and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati. The recipient of a scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and an Academy of American Poets college prize from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, her poetry has appeared in journals such as Best New Poets, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, The Journal, Poetry Daily, and The Southeast Review. Originally from rural Wisconsin, she lives in Ohio.