Lily Poetry Review Books: Building Alexandria by Clarissa Adkins

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Building Alexandria by Clarissa Adkins

Poetry by Clarissa Adkins

$18.00

Clarissa Adkins has a mind I’d love to inhabit, fully attuned to the strangenesses of love, parenthood, mortality, and fleeting beauty.  These poems are playful, sharp, dextrous, and witty—but they’re also filled with sonic brilliance, her mastery of the musical possibilities of language evident throughout.  This is a terrific first book, one that I’ll return to with great pleasure.  

Kevin Prufer, author of The Art of Fiction

           Building Alexandria

           Artisans still raise the curbs of D.C.
           after more than 200 years 
           into new Alexandrias. In 1978, her mother 
           held her little, old hand as they walked 

           to buy groceries across the street, then returned 
           to the Brutalist apartment—slab-brown brick; metal
           tube railings; erratic edges of flat-mud beige—and just beyond 
           the neighborhood compound, contractors groomed sites 

           prepped them into mounds of orange, 
           iron-rich clay—future shopping center plots, 
           to one day soon, shoot up from the bog,
           a sarcophagus city ascending from excavators.

           The mother let her climb one of the dirt hills, 
           where maybe she saw the phallus of Washington 
           in the distance. Before the child could reach the top, 
           several boys, kinging the cap, kicked down the just-dry soil 

           until it avalanched into her mouth, 
           her eyes. She didn’t know where 
           her mother was as she panicked— 
           not knowing was just a part of the 70s.

           She climbed with other kids, after mass, on corrosion 
           barrier ramps, at the lower exit of Queen of the Apostles—
           a Vatican II, stained-glass colossus. But soon,
           parents would yell it wasn’t built to be a playground.

           On the way home they’d stop at the white-washed 
           Evan’s department store and the little thrift shop 
           hid along the tiny strip raised in the 50s. 
           And this store, nameless in her memory 

           hypnotized her with its selector motion display case—
           press forward, press back,
           a level of jewelry, a level of coins, 
           a layer of watches, buttons of Vote for Nixon, Vote for Ike.


           They wouldn’t ever buy anything
           but she always kept pushing the buttons,
           that motion forward, that motion back,
           the tie clips and oxidized lockets—one folding 

           one upon the other, disappearing—dizzying
           like the citron and magenta,
           paisley dress on the headless mannequin
           at the back of the store, a sentry remnant of the 60s.

           Maybe the masons once passed the antique coins 
           from hand to hand, buying and bullying 
           fresh Alexandria into existence—
           That terra must have turned 

           more than a hundred times her footing up the hill 
           and still rotates and recycles to the top today, 
           one building comes down for another—
           but never recedes enough for the child to breathe.

About the Author

Clarissa Adkins lives in Richmond, Virginia and earned degrees from James Madison University and Lesley University. As a high school English teacher, she co-coordinates her school’s Poetry Out Loud program and is a research member of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Culturally Responsive Teaching consortium. Clarissa’s published in The Pinch, Whurk Magazine, River City Poets’ anthology: Lingering in the Margins, Passengers Journal, and more. She earned a Best of the Net nomination from Parentheses International Literary Arts Journal and was a finalist for the 17th Annual Erskine J. Poetry Prize. She reads for Sugar House Review.