Wednesday, April 30, 2008

All done for now

Thank you for reading. Maybe I'll be back next year.


Great brown-black husk torn from the living,
it rests in deep water,
a palace for fishes. Robots or human hands
explore for all the bright spots,
the riches.

Out past the pier the child sees
water and sky, only sometimes the vista is
punctuated by a dark slant line or a blob,
like his crayon scribble
on the kitchen wall
a lifetime ago, when he was too young
for clearest vision.

The painter sits shoreside for hours
to capture the image.
Historians quibble.

No one alive remembers
why the ship sank.
The horns are long muted by water.
The survivors sleep in firmer beds.
To the drenched men who skidded down the deck
into death, it was the final page
of a sacred book. But it’s not
our disaster. No longer
a disaster.

The dumb-tongued wreck and its kin
carry no ghosts, unless our rabid dreams
put them there. The earth
fills them up, plants them in itself
like the trees they once were.
Now they are beauties,

objects of pleasure,
for plunder or
for picture.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another true story

Oriskany, Virginia, 1958

She married him because
he made her laugh. It was later she learned
of the worm in the apple, that flow
of sweet juice to bitter poison and back
that had left him on the shelf.

But this was the rise of honeymoon. She took him
to the farm where she was raised,
away from streetcars, nightclubs, filibusters.
He might have been in Atlantis
with barely a tank to breathe.

He persevered. Someone had told him
how you call pigs, and he walked out
past the pumphouse and up a green ridge.
He carried a tin toy horn, for some reason
no retelling recalls. Probably to make the missus smile.

Soo-ey! he called, half-self-mocking. From the porch,
Mom and her sisters watched
as a Confederate regiment of swine
rose over the hill, hell-bent on avenging Daddy
every bacon sandwich.

Later, tumult over, the couple safely
back inside the Beltway, learning
the sickness portion of the vow, an uncle
found the tin horn trampled in the shit.

Luke 8:26-39: the people of the Gerasenes
called the young holy man to heal
the man called Legion. Jesus cast his demons
into a herd of pigs, who fled, light-blind,
into the sea. Gerasenes cast out the healer.

I like to think that the pigs of Oriskany
brought Daddy not Legion’s hand-me-down demons,
but some small light
that stayed in his heart through Sykesville,
psych wards, shocks and sorrows,
some smile-making charm
bright and wee as farm sun
off a dented tin horn.

The ladies


the ladies
bosoms in bunches like roses
canes and colognes and the weekly perm

rattling plastic their music
delicate sitting on hips arthritic
regimens vigorous willing the digits
accruing like pennies

wheat fields in their eyes
behind spider veins
gossamer in their breath
murmurs under croak of larynx
beneath the bunions the wings of angels
pull them into improvised dances

threads so strong but unraveling
songs no one knows anymore
photographs of strangers
that seven years hence
will fall into the hands of antiquers

who will mat their sepia charms
into frames as becurled, as baroque
as they were
but never an iota
as gold

Penultimate day

This little experiment is almost over.

I can't say it's been what I thought it would be. On the one hand, it plays to my lazy strengths. How easy it is to turn out something with a flash, a fillip here and there that might trick the reader into thinking something great is happening, then excuse its shortcomings by saying "Oh, that old thing? I just dashed it off..." That skill got me through a dozen and a half years of school and a career as a journalist. It's ever so much harder to buckle down and aim for the heavens. (Yes, I know: mixed metaphor. Unless there's some kind of weapon that takes buckles. Perhaps a really fancy slingshot designed by Michael Kors?)

It can be humbling, even discouraging, to see page after page of one's middling, unfinished work up there for potential public consumption. What I need to do next is take it and see what I can find to work on further.

I have not developed better work habits, although I've been faithful to the project, and that's an accomplishment I'd like to make into a habit. I guess I envisioned setting aside some period at the same time every day, when my schedule permitted, to Think Poetic Thoughts and write something. That hasn't happened. Some days I've put a lot of work into the draft; some days I haven't. Some days there's been satisfaction or even joy in the attempt; some days, not so much.

I do look back and go "Wow, thirty-some poems." The quantity impresses me.

And it matters a lot to me that I've actually completed, or nearly completed, what I set out to do.

Now tomorrow's gonna be tricky, because I'm headed to JazzFest in New Orleans on a very early plane. I don't reckon I'll be finishing with anything stupendous. But I'll show up, at least.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Off on a Jag(ger)

Still watching this Drug Years series on VH1 Classic--great stuff. Images of Vietnam, of needles in veins; Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. Someone telling Keith he's at the top of someone else's death pool. Keith is not amused. His teeth look like a crack whore's. His eyes are pinballs. And Keith never went to Vietnam--just fought his inner guerrillas, I guess?

in the narrow black vein that travels
along a crooked path
around a spiral groove
to the heart of jungle darkness

an offering
from the warrior in the theater
of his skull
to the warrior in Nixon’s army

I dunno; once Nixon showed up, I thought the poem was heading in the wrong direction, so I stopped. It's here in case I don't get back to doing something else today.

The series is really good. I do wonder why Liz Phair keeps showing up; we're only right around the time when she was born. Well, actually, we're somewhere in the '70s now, with footage of people who look like me and my high school classmates. That Kiki Dee sorta hair. I barely even tasted booze before I was 18. We had narcs, or rumors of narcs, though. And I could've had lots of stuff if I'd wanted it. Ah, nostalgia.



Who knows what stung him,
made him bitter enough to pour harm
from a heart that festered.

Clearly not an accident of birth, but
some insect predator, equally innocent,
that marred his goodness. Maybe

I missed a small mark on his hand
as he took my hand (my skin
thin, yes, but unbroken)

and when I clasped, as one does,
I set it moving through him. I never chose
to have an enemy. That poison

probably hurt me more than it hurt him.
Nearly killed me. Now I am alive
and he is dead. I pray he had,

apart from the scar,
clean blood and blue sky
and the light in his eyes

as he walked away from me
into that scant blue decade left to him.
I hope he laughed.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another sleep poem, apparently

I culled this from that Rivard exercise I did the other day. The ideas and the form are still a bit shaky.


Sleep forgives all sins, for a night,
places the shards of the broken pot
in the shape of a bowl
to hold the falling clouds.

Whatever transgressions
have fractured us transform
into transient truth.

But what our spirits attain
our bodies seek to murder.

Our bodies, captive, cannot touch
the prince, kiss the horses,
recoil from the snap of static as our fingers
grasp the metal knob.

We are bound in rope after rope
of secret wishes, half-remembered lies,
and so we twist against them,
unravel them with the yanking of our waking.

We shake off the lint of our dreams
like a shower of stars, beat out
the footworn magic from the bedroom carpets
and sneeze at the first ray of sunlight.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tiny verse at sunset


a slant
pink light
dusts the frame
petals falling

still water
lonely blue birdsong

Friday, April 25, 2008

Two and a half poems, probably

Can you tell I've been watching The Drug Years on VH1 Classic?


I gather
was a wilted flower

I was a child of the sixties
nine then
pink-elbowed and
almost pure

believing in love
blind to war
barely aware of people
who gazed into magic smoke
to see what I could see
with child’s eyes

there were always flowers
and they always came back
and the wild ones would grow
(probably even in guns)

later I learned
once you started planting them
that’s when they died on you
the trick of the right nurture
so hard to master
while in the driveway gravel
the violas sang

Thursday, April 24, 2008

OK, so here's one

Yeah, I'm quick.


The humidifier, the air conditioner,
smudged like a crime scene with rust and gray.
How is it our breaths are so filthy?
Or is it words caught in filters,
hidden like forbidden prayers,
clogging the mechanisms,
gumming up truth:
the exhaled mortar
of the path to hell?

Another between-the-lines, building

I grabbed a chunk of "God the Broken Lock" by David Rivard. I was trying to get a line that included something about God being a hangnail, but I missed it. Here's what I worked with:

And a million others might be like me, our hopes
a kind of illegal entry, a belief in smashed windows,
every breakage
like breaking & entering into a concert hall,
the place my friend & I crawled into an air shaft, & later
fell asleep. After breakage
there is always sleep.
We woke to gospel hymns from the dressing room
below, songs commending
embrace to the fists, & return to the prodigal.
And hasn't my luck always been a shadow, stepping out, stretching?
I mean I trust what breaks.
A broken bone elicits condolence,
and the phone call sounds French if the transmission fritzes,
and our brains--our blessed, desirable brains--are composed
of infinitesimal magnets, millions of them
a billionth-of-a-milligram in weight, so
they make us knock our heads against hard walls.
When we pushed through the air vent,

Here are my "response" lines. I might do what I did with the Morrison poem: run them all together to further muck up the expected bits, the obviously sensical bits.

scoffed like shoes by the smart passersby
as an oracle for the subconscious, a way in
ringing like a glass harp
while the music is playing, forbidden to enjoy or be moved
couldn’t get back out. One of us had to die.
because sleep forgives all sins, pieces the broken pot.
No one can rob us of what we have in our mouths, our skulls.
practicing for God, pseudo-prayers, salvation as theater
some hell-beast, perhaps ironic, perhaps sincere
reversion to some lost, innocent, pugnacious girlhood
It wanes at noon, grows thin and chancy at four.
Fatalistic, I dive into the quarry.
scrawls on the smelly plaster, alliances that break with the saw
because confusion makes us all half again as eloquent
when we sleep and unraveled with the yanking of our waking
like stars pulling us heavenward
tiny a moth could sneeze them into smithereens
as if we could shake out some smarts, or love, or sanity
pulling the grime of breath with us on our coats,

Rivard's full poem is here.

I'll have a draft of something shortly.

The three-by-five philosophy

My frequent, wonderful teacher, Rod Jellema, used to exhort us to carry index cards and use them to jot down anything that inspired us: any germ of a poem, felicitous turn of phrase, whatever.

Of course, I keep losing the damn cards. Digging around for them a little earlier today--a process that also yielded the earlier "Poor Spoon"--I found a bunch, surely not all. My friend Barbara recently gave me a pouch that fits them perfectly; perhaps I will get myself organized before I die.

Anyway, I'm looking at them now and feeling not merely uninspired by, but downright hostile toward the words on them. Which probably means it's a bad time to even try to write. I'll see whether I can get something out of them later today or later in the rapidly dwindling month.

A "Poor Spoon" story

Early in this blog I wrote a poem I called "Poor Spoon." It was a phrase about which I'd written something a few weeks earlier, but I didn't have the draft at hand.

I just found the earlier "Poor Spoon." It's marked "March 10, 2008, 3:46 a.m."

I pick you up from the corner
where you have fallen,
turn you over to check the mark
on your back.

How often I have searched for your kin
in the great cracked plastic bin
at Goodwill:
lifted it and spilled the clatter
of 10/18 and tin, now and again
something fishy-golden that is silver

Lady Charming is long gone,
bypassed by style after style, the migration
of manufacture,
crowded out by stamped tools with uncertain edges.
You could bleed from such a spoon.

You all smell of blood,
and you bleed gray,
and I don't know the test of your mettle.
I only want your handful of flowers
and your serene, smooth glow
delivering my soup.

There's a spoon in a corner in this one, but that's about it for similarities. This one is pretty true to personal experience, and in its unforcedness--except at the end, with the soup--I prefer it to the one I wrote for the blog, though I suspect most people would disagree.

I remember having this one in my head, getting out of bed, walking to my home office, fumbling for light and scrap paper, scribbling it down--I ran out of room at the end--and going back to bed, all in a very short time, a few minutes.

You know what I like about this one? The sound, the shape. I hear the spoon in this poem, and I see the spoon in the sound in this poem. (I don't think I truly have synesthesia, but I do tend that way.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The lost village I wrote about on the 20th is a real place: Bara-Hack, aka "the village of lost voices"--a concept that's almost ludicrously poetic: old foundations, graves, ghost stories, etc.

For more about the place (which is private property), including photos, see here.

It's fascinating, all right, but maybe not my favorite place in Connecticut; that might be the Book Barn in Niantic, or the late lamented Sanctuary of Love. (I cannot find photos on the Web that even begin to do justice to the latter creation in its heyday.)

Pinsky on poetry

Robert Pinsky has a snarky, occasionally informative Q-and-A on poetry over at Slate.

I'm grateful that he reminded me of a Marianne Moore poem I used to love but hadn't seen in some 20 years. And also that he quotes both Thom Gunn and Edgar A. Guest (!).

Up all night

I tried to take a picture of Bear at the back window, but he caught on and sauntered away.


Elbows on the windowsill
at dawn
he’s looking for the fairies
who shimmer on the lawn
you can see
in his half-human eyes
that he sees them

and you gaze until
the floaters tremble
a lash falls and you think it’s
a star
but you can’t quite summon
what he sees

He murmurs
his haunches tense
he is an animal
he wants to hunt down magic
play with it
swallow it whole

Tuesday, April 22, 2008



She was a stranger,
a picture, an imagining. We created
her, up from dust and threads,
a sort of Galatea. But
we did not know ourselves
as sculptors, and as our hands
worked night after eye-bright night,
we came to know her.

Not that we could see her, really. We would try:
some woman in a white dress,
poised in a doorway, yesterday’s light
casting her into shadow.

(Like the photos our parents took, remember:
some failed, black-and-white
evocation of a sterling, passion-full moment
reduced to shadows on dull paper.)

She was in our dreams, and she was
under our skin. Then,
injured—but never by her quiet hand—
we turned from her, washed her golden rings
from our ears, our eyes.

And now, after time’s cure
and memory’s relapse,
we wonder if we knew her,
if we dreamed her,
if we made her.
What she would have thought
if she could have awakened
and seen us
instead of just

Monday, April 21, 2008

Richard Not-That-One Thompson

This one is the wonderful Washington Post cartoonist. Here is his National Poetry Month quiz. (Thanks, Scott.)

Just under the wire

Hey, I've been in the car for 9 hours, with no access to a computer, and socializing nonstop between awakening and ignition, so be gentle.


They say she wrapped a shawl of blue
around her white raiment, tinted perfection,
hid her bushels. No one knows how
she kept her skin an alabaster chamber
as she pruned the hollyhocks
in the June sun.

How the heat must have burned her,
drawn the moisture from her! Yet those
thousand sonnets she pressed in her books
lost all their juice,
her flowers curled their fingers on the vine,
her skin collapsed.

Under the moon
the moths of her town
are the fattest in the world,
barely airborne, faintly azure,
rising from some web of wool.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

True story


One of us had found a lost village
in the Pomfret woods, so we set out:
intimates of decades, now women in the middle,
laden with jackets, Dr Pepper, pocketbooks
(and I in borrowed boots): the two of them
professionals of mind, and I, the occasional
mental mess—so I would joke:
the healer and the healer and
the healed.

We found the village: flat stone upon flat stone
surrounding heaps of leaves. It was mud time,
the least remarkable of the seasons: no flower,
no lush wet green, no last-gulp color—
save in the soda cup, and in our hair—
no starkness but those strange man-built
half-walls of rock. Here and there, a standing stone
we snickered at, with college-girl wit,
remembering certain long-gone venerations
of obelisks.

There was a graveyard, one of the healers said,
a little farther out, said to be haunted. Some of us
believed, some willing to harbor possibility.
And on we went, crossing two or three streams
(I don’t remember which), each of which
called up thoughts of past injuries and future
brittle bones.

Around us, trees with roots too weak
in mud time’s loose ground had fallen on their sides,
their mucky, gnarled bases standing like
slightly tilted wheels, bigger than a woman.
And also trees that had been cut, perhaps for fuel,
stacked like the dead.

On we walked, turned back, walked in growing dark,
missing the graveyard—symbolism
we’d just as soon not contemplate. An owl called.
Not whooo; some other sound. We never needed

Back at the car we ached, scratched, grew grumpy.
Ate, talked, slept, went on.

And now we part.

There may come a time
our friends grow wide, or winnow to old vines
and fail to recognize
and all the trees are gone and in their place
McMansions rise. But I will remember our hands
across the brook, our feet on the narrow plank
and mossy rock, so careful, so slow. I trust I will recall
that one time I made it over first,
surprised, in one strange flurry of courage,
and reaching over, gave a hand
to friends, the healer and the healer.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Half-assed metrics

I was trying to write this poem the other day, or at least a poem with this title and the opening image/line. My deadline approaches, and my companions probably want my attention (hard to write when you're not solitary, it turns out), so I'll throw this out there.


Yellow scarf around his head
fingers utter on the strings
hearts are falling in the aisles
praise to God for foolish things

Krishna walked along the bank
where the worship women lay
fingers uttered there as well
each transported in her way

Modern women theorize
too remote for passion’s spell
Find the note that resonates
Holy fools become as well

I tried! Really I did!

I was writing in a Dunkin' Donuts in New Jersey at 11:50 last night and tried to hit "Send" at 11:57, but the network to which I was trying to buy access wouldn't let me in.

Here's what I was trying to send then. I've been wandering around the woods of Connecticut today and have barely begun to write for today yet.


In some vest-pocket hour of the morning
she twists her roads around pink curlers
and then, just when the strangers arrive,
lets them down in an oily tangle.

She steals letters from borough and Shop Right,
buries them in the crooks of the jughandles,
sleeping policemen.

She bats her lights like lashes,
sends us astray.

I once loved the road
for the one it took me to,
but now it has ensnared me,
stashed my soul in a Dunkin Donuts cup
tossed along the turnpike.
Keep to the passing lane.
Be careful.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Promise keeping

I am about to go on a road trip, where my wifi access will be spotty. I *will* write, and I *will* do my best to post a poem every day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

For Karen

A friend recently had an allergic run-in with nature's dark side while hiking outside Las Vegas.

When I was falling asleep last night, I had three poems working in my head. One was the airplane poem; the other two were rhymed and metered. One of those was a sort of faux-Dickinson sprouting from the incident involving Karen.

I was finally gonna get to sleep at a decent hour (well, 2 a.m.), so I resisted the impulse to get up and write. Turns out I lost a whole lot of the poetry. Or maybe misplaced it. Or, you know, maybe it was terrible.

In the meantime, I have nine lines of the 12-line Dickinson.

Along the Red Rock Canyon
My tourist feet were bound
Beyond Sahara and Mirage
I found authentic ground

A poison plant—a Crown of Thorns—
Ensnared me as I passed

Amid great Nature’s majesty
Are freckles of delight
And dimples of mortality

- - -

I think I had all of what is now stanza 2 in my head last night. And there might have been a different third stanza--or maybe my drowsy mind was mixing this poem with the other metered one, which is about a musician, because the last thing I remember thinking before falling asleep was whether one could get away with the word "roadie" in something so Dickinsonian, and the other poem really isn't Dickinsonian.

(Whatever. I'm up for business hours.)

I don't like "authentic." I also don't like "great Nature's majesty." Maybe "Upon great Nature's countenance"? Except I don't really like "great," either.

I am resisting mightily the impulse to write lines 7 and 8 as follows: "And with its wide Golgothan teeth/It bit me in the ass."

Fragment, born while listening to a 2 a.m. plane

Airplanes are for forgetting. Every ascent pulls out
particles of past. You lost
your kindergarten teacher’s name
hurtling into the Cuban sun. Somewhere
over Patagonia, Pythagoras and Icarus
fell from you. And, to the right of the craft,
passengers may see, dropping into the Grand Canyon
like a castaway flare,
your first kiss.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Result of the exercise

This first draft came quickly, though I was interrupted near the end by, ironically, a call from the sleep-disorders clinic where I've been trying to make an appointment.

The address is fictional; if I hit upon your real address, please call to complain at 867-5309.


One drugged night I roamed the yard, looking for meat
or wild onions. My pantry was full. Something deep in my marrow
called for the hunt.

In the trees, an occasional scrabble,
perhaps some escapee from Eden, bored out of his skin.
In the rushes, the cat I call mine, the cat I call Reilly,
who has also gone feral, makes a wet mew
as he strangles a vole.

I think I have wandered, but maybe it was a dream.
The sun draws the dew out of the yard
with its rising, and Reilly is on the sill, looking in,
and I am behind him, on the porch step,
fingertips green and stinking.

Next step (not a poem)

OK, so I wrote between the lines of the Morrison text. Then I stripped out the Morrison text.

Then I ran all my lines (which were wildly varying lengths and not necessarily thematically connected to one another) together as one block.

This is what I got: the scrap pile from which I'll sew whatever comes next.

texts thrown into the fire, shoes, whatever we can for warmth sign by sign, a tongue the hearing will never comprehend their foxed leather covers, still so tempting though fragile one drugged night when I roamed the yard looking for meat or wild onions in the trees was just the dance of some snake, bored out of his skin window but missed, hitting the sun, and it rained—or so I dreamed as I walked strange calm after the levees collapsed. X marks, numbered codes, red on the doorframe, government Passover, seder of dry beans and wet books a stash of coffee in the pantry and will wake us all up from this stupor even though your face has withered like a dream in noon sun replaced by platitudes, like a meal of crackers and flat Coke Be careful where you put your head. Mind your scarf. Mind who you let embrace you. because you’re family, so I have to love you even if I don’t like you It’s like sharing a kiss, or blood. Elemental bonds, a bone marrow marriage Spanish moss, no moss at all, just green nooses dying from the death of hate, peace flags in the swampy air

If it makes sense to you, please contact your physician.

Variation on "between the lines" exercise

Have you seen the poetry of Jim Morrison?

It's the sort of sprawling, uneven, grandiloquent stuff you'd expect.

I did this before, and I'm doing it again: I copy a stretch of Morrison's writing from the site referenced above. When I paste it into a Word document, for whatever reason it removes all of the line breaks. I use this to my advantage by re-breaking the lines--again, I caution, without reading too much of what I'm working with.

This time around I used the three-inch marker on the Word page as a guide for line breaks. Here's the chunk of Lizard King:

Forest strong sandals
 burnt geometry
around a fire 
reading history in
 books, charcoal silence 
moot splendor

 Sire, we met
in Eden
 The troubled time
 we had 
in the night leaves
 a sniper aimed at our
a kitten mewing in the blasted

strong air 
I must go see

-You've found
your Voice, 
friend, after all else 
I recognize
fast the
 Strong sure tones of 
a poet
it a question
 Search or of strangling?

I wonder
 We never talked 
But welcome
 to the camp fire
 Share our meal

w/ us
 & tell us of your life
 & the hanging

Now my task is to 'respond" to each line, thereby getting a bunch of raw, probably imagistic text from which I can make something like a poem. More on that later.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some peaceful bee in my wakeful brain

The carpenter bee, which I know from my Takoma Park childhood, does not, generally, sting. The males cannot; the females can but tend not to.


I choose
to see the peace
in the bee.

I want to cup him
just a moment
in the clamshell of my two hands,
feel the quiver of his hover
whir through me,

make me a worker. I do not believe
in his sting.
I have seen him and his crew
as they swirl through the shrubs
in search of the random
January rose.

I have seen him
burrow his home into the porch rail,
smelled the sweet wood
of his leaving.

I would ride
in his wandering wake
if I could, brush the hint of my danger
against bare legs
if I could,
but never swap my life
for the power to close
an enemy’s

Monday, April 14, 2008

This happened to me today.

But the osprey delivery happened to my friend Barbara, and "sleeping the churchyard sleep" is an Emily Dickinson reference I ran across earlier today.


In the middle of the road,
a workman’s glove, like a bodiless hand,
index finger pointed the way I’m bound,
toward home.

Driving on, I ponder what brought me
from gentle suburbia to this place
where possums sleep the churchyard sleep
by the roadside, squirrels eat power lines,
ospreys drop half-fishes on the porch.

Then I see the second glove,
on the double yellow line,
palm up, as if waiting for providence
to fall into it.

Own that insomnia!


Gray faces, gray eyes, gray couture beaming down
from some satellite as if from a planet
where it’s always 1953.
Gray, but not dead:

Arlene’s mobile earrings bounce, Steve’s wit zings,
Joan’s arm thrusts the pick-me wave
of every teacher’s pet.
Hornrim glasses.

Cigarette ads. Spray deodorant in swank bottles.
Swanson dinners. A parade of gray ordinary
people, innocent of YouTube,
let alone Living Color.

It’s those women in their pinned hats, pimpled
smart alecks, squirming immigrants
condescended to, coddled, handled
like unexploded bombs

by the hornrim men in Cardin and Vitalis
who seem most like aliens, recovered
from a world where no one knows
when to look at the lens,

when to look away.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Insomnia, again, just a bit

Mostly, it's productive insomnia, of the "I've got to get up and write" variety.


Just one of the Murray photographs:
Aunt Helen side-by-side with a drugstore silver tree.
One of them is merry. My father’s sister stands
tree-stiff, hands burrowed into satin skirt,
pearls as white as her hair, eyes as dark
as an open grave.

Those eyes: I saw them on the grandmother
I never knew, who died, Daddy said,
from having too many children. Saw them
on Daddy, in the flesh, and on Daddy’s little girl,
in the mirror.

I don’t think there was ever a blue eye
on Daddy’s side: all of them warm as cocoa,
time and again, with love or rye,
but dun-brown as a muddy river.

And time and again, I’ve thought myself
wading into that river, pockets full of stones.
But I am also my mother’s daughter,
she of the valentine face, the valiant heart.
I know, though I walk deeper into the dark flow,
sooner or later I’ll remember
to shuck off that overcoat.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I'm not quite there yet. Just working off rage about the latest political fracas. I understand why Obama's words about "middle America" were seen as condescending. But...I guess I'm next to him on the condescension train, because I agree with what I think he was trying to say.

What irks me most is this tendency to look for every possible slight in every possible utterance of the candidates. I'm not expressing this annoyance well--either here or in today's poem--but it's about appearance versus substance: both the appearance of eloquent perfection the candidates are pressured to maintain and the appearance of moral rectitude so many Americans, middle and otherwise, flaunt.


Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
--Robert Frost

In Jamaica, the locals called the new resort
the zoo—the place where they locked up
the animals. In America, we lock up

Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes alike
in favor of architecture: solid vinyl,
through-and-through color integrity,

lifetime guarantee, glossy and uniform
and impermeable enough,
when the next holocaust comes,

to float their dry selves down
to the waters under the earth. They are safe
as houses, wrapped in the Tyvek of assumptions

shingled over with all that is right and proper.
Suffocate every inhabitant with insulation
but, pray you, don’t scratch the façade.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Five minutes of doggerel...

...inspired by the word "thicket." I "wrote" the first two lines in my head last night, while trying to sleep, and decided that today I would try and flesh them out, sticking more to rhythm and sound than to meaning. (Perhaps it's ironic that I ended up with a poem about the loss of meaning.)

He hid it in a thicket
where she could never find it
and with him gone it withered
and crumbled into ether

and on his way he rambled
as if it never happened
as if he hadn’t squandered
this morsel of his spirit

And from the earth it rumbled
and leaves began their leaving
as nature saw the missing
as punishment for thieving

And in her room she heard it
and wondered at the tumult
and thought again of loving
but closed the blinds against it

And measure after measure
the music shook the mountains

He saw it in the paper
and closed his eyes a moment

deciding that the rhythm
was suitable for dancing

It’s now at Number Seven
He’s headed for a Grammy

He’ll thank his agent, Jesus,
the fans, and this great nation
where anyone, transcending
can cleave their art from feeling

Personal blather

There is still something terribly disrupted about my sleep.

I was still up at 3:30 a.m. and slept until 11-something. I got up and did a bit of a proofreading job, then set out to run some errands, whereupon I found that I felt brain-dead. More precisely, it was as if I had this void in the left side of my skull, roughly equivalent to the size of a dinner roll, or perhaps a pony bottle of Rolling Rock. Like I really wanted to just close my eyes for a few minutes, which wasn't gonna fly, as I was driving to Northern Virginia.

This muddle-headedness may be why I accidentally went north when I should have gone south, ending up in downtown D.C., which was not a place I needed to be on a Friday afternoon. And I really thought I was gonna keel over at the fireplace store.

The vagueness and the feeling of a permanent yawn in my brain worsened on my way home, especially when I found myself in 5-mile-an-hour traffic down near Springfield.

Running the iPod helped immensely, and I'm still trying to figure out why. I did my usual shuffle-play-with-edits--in this case, skipping over a lot of the slower stuff. Wild Magnolias, Joan Jett, James Booker, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Prince, Joe Walsh, Matthew Sweet...I could feel the fog lifting. I had a hankering for Richard Thompson's "Needle and Thread," so I put it on right about the time the traffic clog began to clear. When the shuffling resumed, I got Sleater-Kinney and Joe Jackson and more RT--this time Richard and Linda doing "It'll Be Me." By the time I sailed into my little town (undoubtedly speeding) with "Subterranean Homesick Blues" blaring through the car, I was totally better--and wondering why.

Maybe when I get the sleep study I'm supposed to have done, they'll find the brain receptors for electric guitar and New Orleans funk. I envision them as lighting up in lime green and grape-soda purple, respectively.


So now I'm looking at yesterday's poem and thinking that if I were my husband, I'd be quite taken aback!

I was trying for an upbeat ending; instead, I jumped all attempts at transition, making it look like consummation was devoutly to be feared or something.

Sorry, Rob.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Resorting to a prompt

With the day dwindling (gorgeous day, by the way--in the 70s) and next to nothing to inspire me (I feel like an old rag, and that's not a Scott Joplin reference), I decided to turn to fellow poem-a-day-er Robert Lee Brewer. Today, his blog suggests a poem about a location.

Now I'm debating whether to choose a place I've never been, or maybe even one I've invented.

I'm uneasy about this. With every mental step, I see pitfalls, I think "Manhattan" and think "Cliches" or "Too big a task." I think "Wales" or "Negril" and think "Ethnocentric assumptions." Or I could do one about a place called Point No Point, up in British Columbia, but my memories of, my feelings about, the place are, well, too personal for this blog.

Places I've written about: two side-by-side funeral homes in Takoma Park, a graveyard in rural Virginia, the lot in back of Savage's Market in Takoma Park, the planet Ceres, and the train platform at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. There are probably more. Oh, right, I started a poem about the Sutro Baths in San Francisco, and one set on the Staten Island Ferry and in Irving Plaza in NYC.

OK. A few minutes later, here's a draft.

This poem warped me irreparably as a child. I didn't look back at it to write my poem, but it was in my mind, a bit, as I wrote it.


Favorite vacation spot, hospital, likely locus of my death.
Soft sheets the color of mint, cool when clean and smooth,
warm when dirty and bunched. Blanket upon blanket, for
I like the weight upon me. A pillow I gnarl and poke, wear
like an elbow glove, flip for the cool side. Generally,
sometimes unfortunately, a cat. The odd library receipt
or pen, or some bookmark cast up from the depths: airline stubs
from forgotten journeys, the four of diamonds. Once or twice,
the sharp wakeup of an earring. Dreams. Demons. Husband.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

SWEATERS, OR JUMPERS (draft 2-ish)


When the borrowing days of April
are over, and dark things grow warm,
I must lay them in the trunk, nestled in mothballs,
lower the lid, carry them up the narrow ladder
to the attic. The dust is already baking up there:
things scurry. Spring is the time of pests.
I descend to a cool fresh window.

I long already for the time of brown tones,
maple candy, old-lady sweetnesses,
and the rough bunching of yarn against my skin.
Few things are less vital, more comfortably moribund
than sweaters: even if the British call them jumpers
they’re still the pelts of dead months,
thrown over the back.

Between the lines

The trick of this exercise, which I adapted from the book The Practice of Poetry, is to pretend you're not reading ahead, to eschew any effort at total comprehension--to respond to discrete lines.

Here's a chunk of text from a Liam Rector poem, "Fat Men in Summer Suits."

Not wearing a coat of some kind. I love
The coats, and though I love them most
In the fall I still enact the summer code,

I suppose, because my father and I did buy
That code, even though I organized students
To strike down any dress code whatsoever

In the high school I attended (it was a matter
Of honor). And it still puts me in good humor
To abide with the many pockets, including

One for a flask. So whether it's New York,
Vermont, or Virginia, the spectacle
Of the summer seersucker proceeds,

Suspenders and all, and I lean into the sweat
(Right down to where the weather really is)
Until it has entirely soaked through my jacket.

The title of this poem grabbed me. I didn't need the whole poem for my exercise, so I just took about half of it. Mid-sentence, in fact, which doesn't matter.

I copied the partial poem into a blank Word file. Then I looked at each line, separately, and wrote a line that it brought to me. (This is where the mystery comes in, where I imagine every poet will approach the task differently.)

I did not try to make all my lines hang together, but neither did I make an effort to avoid connections and echoes and whatnot.

I did this quickly. "No thinking too much!" as Sloan Wainwright's acupuncturist warned.

Then I stripped away Rector's lines.

This is my set of lines. It is not meant to be a poem.

when the borrowing days of April are over, and dark things grow warm

I must lay them in the trunk, dusted with moth flakes, lower the lid

of running, sockless, down Bay Ridge Drive in the falling sun

those strawberries, we’d best eat them before they rot

to speak carefully and respectfully, avoid the risible, the risque

--hell, to go naked if the whim strikes

of merit to be a magnet student, drawn from poverty to this holy place

to watch the stiff walks of soldiers, so whipped and unmanned by war

the ones where mice have made their winter beds

I take the train to Homecoming, pretend this trench is raccoon, toss my scarf

of brown tones and maple candy and other old-lady sweetnesses

twittering, blue-striped, in the dwindling trees

as if it wasn’t a Sunday and I in my gym togs

six inches under the soil

Then I drop my clothes and dance in the hot rain.

I can tell you some of the extra-Rector sources...

I read in my friend Wayne's Oxford Book of Days that the first three days of April are called "the borrowing days" because they "borrow" the weather of March; April doesn't start until about the fourth (just as the 1970s don't start until about 1972).

I seem to write about going without socks, and about dancing in the rain, a lot. (I often do the former and have done the latter only once, to my recollection.)

And I really did read "seersucker" in the Rector poem as if it were the name of a bird, and respond accordingly, although by the time of my response I knew my "error."

So now my task is to make a poem draft out of some of that. I'll get back to you.

The full Liam Rector poem is here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I hope they're right about how much of life is just showing up. Got a headache, feel like hell. All I have are a couple handfuls of morose lines that formed in my head as I drove home from Annapolis.

Dirt hazes my windshield,
clouds clot the sky, insinuating rain
as I take the road.

All the edges are knocked off
and though my tires clutch the gravel,
though my….

Perhaps new wiper blades. Perhaps sunshine.
Perhaps something that will clear my head.

Maybe I can come up with more later. Right now I'm just here to keep my promise that I'll write a "poem" a day.


I've tried to write formal verse. I did a blank verse poem for a class a couple months ago.

I struggle with it. It comes off sounding singsong to me. (My formal verse, that is; it works perfectly well for folks like Philip Larkin.)

When I feel like I'm writing "in the groove," my words sing to me. I feel a sort of musical rhythm about them--and a music to their sound--that probably would be difficult to map out.

It's something I fear losing when I revise poems, especially poems that come to me quickly and mysteriously. And it's something I wish I could insert into poems that sound more labored and prosy to me when I revise them.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Too much reading about fairies in the wee small hours


I. Janet

Janet never rocks her child. Her crèche
sits on sturdy legs, to keep the baby
close to the earth. She must resist the pull
of the father’s people, that fey wobble,
that hover. His dust still hangs in the afternoon sun,
like pollen.

She remembers the rain, the white steed,
the rider: how she wrapped herself
around him, felt the magic tremble
in the soul in her womb. She has had enough
of magic.

She drapes her babe in the green
of fiddleheads in oak shade, huddles, hidden,
hearthside. She prays to a new god. She stands
by the cook-pot, the corners of her bare feet
solid on the stone, cuddles her child,

- - -

II. The Fairy Queen

The Queen of Fairies spins like a top,
pingpongs. Spring cleaning.
Dust upon dust. Her jewels
are dirty, and no amount of rubbing
can make them shine.

Her heart is a hard red bean that will never sprout.
There is gruel in her belly. In her head,
the massed buzz of every bee whose thorn
she has pressed into a man’s flesh
under her dainty foot.

She watches her face in the rain barrel,
sees the shimmer like love, shudder
across her white brow.

She gazes out to the road, looks for him,
believes yet again
that he can change.

- - -

III. Elene

Janet’s daughter has old eyes.
She sees the row of white birches
at the edge of the wood, where dark forest
meets plowed soil.

All of her line is gone, like the top of the oak is gone,
snapped in an ice storm: the body still blooms,
and, below, a memory of old water.
Something will never be made right.
She digs her hands into the soil, like roots.

She thirsts, like the cat, broods,
like the dove, wonders, like the hound.
She is never quite at home.
Naked, in the rain, she wraps herself in nothing.
Nothing hides her. Nothing comforts her.
Nothing keeps her warm.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

About four minutes, between laundry and Little Miss Sunshine

God is in the details.
God is in the pulled thread. God is in the garden.
God is in the broken chair. God is in blocks
and bustles and bargain basements.
God is in silk.

The worm that yearns itself
into dead beauty.
The casting off of the unused.
The unnecessary beauty. The toys.
The creation of fuel
from comfort. The growing and dying and growing.
The surprise windows opening in ordinary fabric.
The details.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


There was an old man with a beard
Who said, "It's just as I feared--
Two owls and a hen,
Four larks and a wren
Have all--

Oh, wait, that's Edward Lear.

Man, I got nothin'.

Hm. I'm eating salt and vinegar potato chips.

Salt takes the shine off
the grass, turns the roads
to frozen rivers. It eats
bridges, cars, sidewalks, slugs,
sails, scars. It rubs remembrance
into skin.

It separates tap water
from tears. It brings the potato
back to life.

My oven timer just went off. Time to check the pie. No, that's not part of the poem-let.

Friday, April 4, 2008


I always read church signs. Some are funny, some inspiring (there's one up by Muddy Creek and 214 that tends to have broad, hopeful messages that have startled me from a slump now and again)--but so many are so damn sanctimonious.

"Juked" is used for sound. I don't think any of its literal meanings fit here. But I'd like to find a literal meaning that does, because it feels like the right word to me.

Written (in my head) while driving back from Safeway, on a gloomy spring day turned unexpectedly pretty, as Charlene Drew Jarvis reminisced on the radio about the MLK assassination and how many doors it opened.


I’d like to pull all those letters
off your church signs and rearrange them
into messages of joy
words that rhyme
prayers that sing

I know Jesus juked a table or two
with cause in his time but
shit! you folks act like
you can’t shake off that stage beard
and water shoes

can’t remember kisses confusion or gin
never went to the mountaintop
never saw the redbud of your mountain roads
screaming full and purple
in your faces

The first really hard day

I'm a zombie today. Just got out of bed--and the clock on this blog is not incorrect. I'm supposed to go for a sleep study soon, but in the meantime....

And I've felt nothing forming. Very little in the wee smalls, the dropping-off time: there was something about a broken glass, but this time by not writing it down I lost it altogether, it seems.

So back I go to the Richard Thompson-related poem I was reluctant to mess with yesterday. It starts something like this:

I picked up your fallen string
and wrapped it around my wrist.
It smelled like blood and tarnish
and if I reached too far, the winding end
scratched its autograph on my flesh.

I did indeed once pick up a broken guitar string and try to wear it as a bracelet. And it didn't work as well as I'd hoped, as a sort of hip alternative to a band T-shirt; it was kind of scratchy.

By the time I got a few lines into writing this bit, though, I found myself adding a dark tone to the situation. I must have been thinking of fans "reaching too far." I have not done this: not with the guitar string and--for all of my enthusiastic fandom--not, often or dangerously, with my feelings.

But that turn in the poem had me thinking of a real incident in which, waiting in line in the snow for a show at the Bottom Line, I encountered a guy who was very wound up (guitar peg imagery!) and "waiting for Richard." My friends and I were making uncomfortable jokes about John Lennon, etc. Then Richard, who I'm pretty sure didn't know me at the time, came down the street and I blurted, "It's Richard!"

And as soon as I said it, my mind went to a very dark and fearful place: What if I'd called him out for the guy who was waiting for him? Because the guy who was waiting, even though he was very probably not Mark David Chapman, did not seem like a pleasant person with whom to interact.

As Richard walked swiftly by--guitar in one hand, small amp in the other, tightly smiling and avoiding all eye contact--and went into the club, I saw that Waiting-for-Richard Guy was gone, maybe to use the loo at McDonald's. He came back shortly after and was very upset when we told him he'd missed Richard.

Back to the poem: I had some notion of "poeticizing" this story. I had, for example, the image of the guy wearing dingy gray circles into the snow as he paced, again echoing the idea of something "wound up."

But for the most part, I couldn't--I can't--get this past the sort of journalistic retelling. I don't think just putting something in broken lines makes it poetry. I care a lot about music--sound, rhythm--in my poetry, and I wasn't feeling it here.

I'm also extremely loath, even in this commentary, to be linking myself with some freaky fan or linking either of us with Thompson. (Although I do like the image of the guitar-string bracelet as a sort of combination talisman and control: "this far, no farther.")

That said, I'm not happy with what seems to me to be the obviousness of the imagery. I don't care for too much one-to-one-type metaphor--although I had a hell of a good time with it in the "baggage" poem of two days ago, which is probably my favorite of what I've written so far.

In short, the whole thing is feeling labored to me.

Which represents an issue for me in my poetry, in general. I can generally come up with reasonable early drafts. Getting past them is a problem, because I don't want to sand off everything that's jagged and unexpected and perhaps beyond my understanding on the way to getting something "finished."

Maybe I'll try something else, later today, if I can ever wake up and get my other tasks done.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Happy Birthday, Richard Thompson

It's Richard Thompson's birthday.

He's one of my creative inspirations, for sure. Something about his music resonates deeply with me. It's hard to explain.

I had a poem forming last night/this morning involving him, but I've decided to keep it to myself for a while.

- - -

I write about whatever comes down the pike. Which is to say that if I set out to write about something, especially something I feel strongly about, I can't usually do it. I don't know if I've ever written a love poem to my husband, at least one that's any good.

If a poem is personal, it usually comes to me when I'm pretty far removed from the personal subject. I've written two fairly autobiographical poems about childhood in the last several months, and I didn't see either one coming.

I've done a few, a very few, topical poems recently. They tend to be short, and I wonder about their limited shelf life.

"Poor Spoon," below, is another falling-asleep poem. Weeks ago, I was thinking of spoons or of the phrase "poor spoon" as I was falling asleep. I scribbled a bunch of notes about a spoon in a corner. I don't know where they are now; this version was "new."


You can no longer sing against the plate,
poor spoon, head in the corner
under a quilt of dust.

Maybe a baby dropped you
as a man lifted him, struggling, from his chair.
Maybe a man flung you
to free his hand for a woman’s hair.

Maybe a woman forgot you
as she sank into sleep: your shiny face
inadequate to bail the ocean of sorrows
from her leaky boat.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Great Minds....

Over on the Writer's Digest site, a poet named Robert Lee Brewer is--surprise--writing a poem a day for April.

His ethos seems similar to mine: an emphasis on the process itself, rather than on something pristine.

He challenges others to join him in the process, and he's even giving "prompts" every day to get things moving. I think I'll avoid his prompts unless I really need them--which may come to pass--in favor of whatever weird stuff I run across elsewhere.

- - -

In other news: I fell asleep last night with that "Carry On" poem forming in my mind, along with one about my husband's parakeet. As I did with the raisin poem the day before, I decided not to get up and write things down, but just try and keep the lines in my head until the next morning. I don't know whether this was better or worse for the poem than forsaking sleep for writing would have been, but it sure was good to get up at a reasonable hour today.

I was going to work on "Carry On" throughout the day, but I decided instead to just post the first draft so I could get on with my day. (Not the most joyous and rosy way to look at this experiment, I know.)



He keeps them all in his satchel,
his exes: thirty years of tours
have taught him to roll them

for the best fit. Here’s one he could wrap around him
on those coldest nights. Here,
the athletic one—too much for him now; here,

another who made him look older.
This one went well with his eyes.
This one he wore until she wore out.

That one smelled like a fresh Dunhill
and April rain.
And that one he had the longest,

though his wife never liked the look
of him in her.

About his wife: there she is,
as he drags his baggage from the taxi:

brow knitted, lips buttoned,
arms folded as sharply

as a professionally laundered shirt.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Well, now I'm just OD'ing on this project.

This one came to me after I stopped posting last night. (I think I got to sleep around 4 a.m.) I didn't write anything down, just rewrote from memory.


how it drinks its bath
as if the vines brimmed with milky pearls
for crows to gobble

celebrates age and withering
flaunts its wrinkles
flouts the scalpel and the rouge

glows like a goddess
who knows her juice is sweet
rich and redolent of the ages

as a child stuffs it into his sticky maw
it never whispers of its cousin
the wino

Insecurity leads to cross-referencing

By the way, should you want to see what poems I've "finished" look like, go here (issue 5, September 2007), or here, or here.

I've also had poems published in Gargoyle, the Calvert Review, and Takoma Park Writers 1981.

There. Now I can sleep some.


Went to bed. Couldn't sleep for thinking about how much the last poem sucked. Got drowsy. Mind wandered. Reeled off some lines, liked them, decided to throw them out here.

April fish
curls on the plate,
bares its teeth.

Slippery sucker. Revolves, evolves,
pops legs and scurries
across the spoons, down the tablecloth,

back to the March marsh.


I was all wrapped up in a novel and didn't want to go to bed at a decent hour. I finished the book (Compulsion, by Jonathan Kellerman) half an hour ago. There was a character with a neuromuscular disease, as well as several mentions of "myelin." I remembered that the stripping away of the myelin sheath is one of the characteristics of MS.

Somehow I wandered from here to ALS, then to a musician who has it, and I concocted this metaphor-mixing, possibly overly sentimental "poem," with a little help from Wikipedia with medical and baseball terms. It needs a LOT of work, but I might as well get something down here on the blog and get it over with, here on Day 1.

I'm sorry. It's not very good. But it's a first draft.


He rolled his wheels down the staff,
picking off each note with the precision

of Gehrig’s RBI, filling the field
with glorious rounds of song, and touring

town to town, himself his fine vehicle
until the motor started to stall:

his hands too weak to catch
the pitch, his legs wrung from the run. So

he brought on bigger wheels to keep
the tour going, stopping now and again

to pray to the gods of all that is bright
for the sickness to burn out.

And when he stops, the tour comes to him:
we gather around him

and raise up his songs in a circle,
an embrace, to lift the lucky man

on our frail clouds of sound.