B.A. Van Sise

B.A. Van Sise, Photo: C.S. Muncy

Photo: C.S. Muncy


I have been asked to teach
a workshop at the public library
about found poetry and I
do not know what that is.

I suspect it’s like pornography,
or the Pacific: you know it when you see it.
See, the truth is that most found poetry
is about finding yourself, since
yourself is often the hardest thing
to define.

Still, the public demands
I give them an explanation,
and I ride the subway in trying
to put my spin on something
everybody already knows.

On the platform, two young women
have a lover’s quarrel. Mute, they
sign at one another and even to
the unfluent the argument is obvious:
something everybody already knows: that
sometimes eyes wander. Hands, too.

To shout in sign is to conduct
a silent orchestra: a denial
drives a performance Bernstein
would have admired, and a crowd
of New Yorkers, pretending not to watch,
misses their train.

The fight continues and commuters,
from their windows, watch in awe
as the lovers shout it out with
their hands. I leave, walk a few blocks
to teach my class, who ask-

as they’re supposed to- what found
poetry is. So, I lie, but try
to tell them the truth: that
it’s what you feel, but -in a way-
must wait for other people to say.


My mother’s pottery shop
kept all the smallest stuff
on the bottom shelf. That
was the real income: tiny
curious hands that would
knock unpainted statues,
bopping them onto the floor.

When they’d hit, the crash
would sound like a cash
register. She’d calmly
explain, the prattle down pat,
that if you break it,
you buy it, and one
sighing mother and

another and another
would hand over their
cash to my understanding
owner. They’d never
buy anything, otherwise,
but sometimes out of guilt
they’d add an unpainted

pot, or a little cat with no color.
She’d run them up, let them know
that card is fine, but paper is better.
They’d apologize, again, for the
mistake they were made to make.
Business, as usual. It’s okay, she’d say,
with a pat on the hand. These things happen.


At the hide-dyers’ pit in
Morocco the man assigned
to Yellow told me about how,
right before the color would
set, they’d take a little cup
of vinegar and splash it over
all the leather: thousands
of dollars of splotched
merchandise. Only Allah
can make something that
is truly perfect, he told me,
so we make sure to make
a mistake before we let it
out into the world.
Tehran, the man trying
to sell me rugs to trample
en route to the kitchen says
that every carpetmaker will
miss a third stitch here
and there. A Persian Flaw,
it’s called, just in case a
man in a dirty room
accidentally threads
into perfection and
unravels the universe.
At home, they put
Elly into my arms:
a new niece, a day old.
A shame about the mole
above her lip
, the aunties
tsk. You know, she really
could have been
a great beauty.

B.A. VAN SISE is an author and photographic artist focused on the intersection between language and the visual image. He is the author of two monographs: the visual poetry anthology Children of Grass: A Portrait of American Poetry with Mary-Louise Parker, and Invited to Life: After the Holocaust with Neil Gaiman, Mayim Bialik, and Sabrina Orah Mark. He has previously been featured in solo exhibitions at the Center for Creative Photography, the Center for Jewish History and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and numerous group exhibitions; a number of his portraits of American poets are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. His short nonfiction and poetry have been featured extensively in an array of literary magazines, and he has been a finalist for the Rattle Poetry Prize, the Travel Media Awards for feature writing, and the Meitar Award for Excellence in Photography. He is a 2022 New York State Council on the Arts Fellow in Photography, a Leonian Foundation grant recipient, a Prix de la Photographie Paris award-winner, a winner of the Lascaux Prize for Nonfiction, and an Independent Book Publishers Awards gold medalist. 

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