Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Guy Fawkes Day is coming


I envision what I will burn:
the form of that beast that pulls me down,
the pictures of evil, the memories of sins
everyone but me has forgotten

and some--but never all--
of my cravings.

Another one recovered

One of the poems in my head as I tried to sleep this morning. It doesn't have a title.

the giant snail crossed the sky
like the universe’s slowest meteor
suspended by the trail of its misery
blotting out the winks of wishes

some hid their faces
some raised their lenses
some sent prayers through the slime
some cheered and chugged

when its work was done
when God was good and ready
when the book was three pages from Fin
the rain came

washing them in the muck and springwater
baptizing them under the knowledge tree
staining tuxedos and burkas

maybe it was the beer that melted it
maybe it was x-rays
maybe it was never there

and they added tears and snot to the rain
the marks of their fears, their weakness
the ugliness of midnight

the shell is there still
mirroring the spiral moon
once every day

the sun slips behind
and for an hour
they dream of salt water
and clean edges

Two to go!

Hell, I might actually eke out 30 poems in 30 days, if I can stay focused later.

I wonder whether such acquisitive creation is a worthy goal. I have in front of me a Walgreens shopping list, on the back of a quote by Stanley Kunitz: "Poetry isn't written on a schedule."

Off to Walgreens.

Been trying to write this one for years.

Not quite there yet.


When the meds are right and his wife’s away,
he is the mayor:
debonair in his seersucker robe,
strolling in flat-tire slippers
past the laughing fallen, the stunned stoned.

He carries, inside the pack of Kools
(for which he gets lights from the ladies
behind the double glass),
the Virgin in vinyl crocodile,
half-sewed bugle beads, faint tiny photos
of some baby with a tinfoil crown.
Some Catholic thing, given to him
by that Mexican fellow in the Guard
who ran onto the marksman field.

Could be luck, he thinks, but he’s never sure:
his only sureness comes when it’s time
to go back to the tiled halls,
flirt with the nurses, throw back
the dope in paper shotglasses.
He thinks about giving it away
to that pink-haired boy
with the wrist straps, who bums
his cancer sticks and laughs sometimes.

But when he’s gone, the tiny parcel
is in my hands: his daughter, who carries
half his illness in her coils,
who wonders what god’s luck
this token brought him.

Vindictive tombstone

This is the tombstone I cited the other day in the poem about Huffman Cemetery. I didn't get the wording quite right in the poem; It's even more mordant than what I remembered.

I first saw this stone about 15 years ago, when a friend and I were in the same cemetery, looking for the grave of an old friend of hers. I was pretty astonished by it. But maybe I'm just misinterpreting it?

Of course, it pales next to the recent whopper of an obituary that was widely publicized.

I mean, I get that it's satisfying to have the last word, but maybe it's better not to say anything, let the unmarked plot be covered over by foliage and Coke cans. Or flush the cremains down the toilet, if it helps.


So I stayed up late last night (this morning), had maybe one more glass of wine than I should, got to writing. Got a little tired, willed myself to bed, only to lie there and compose about four poems in my head. That last one was one of them. I wonder whether I'll remember the others.

I had that struggle I have, sometimes, when I wonder whether to get up and write and write and write, or stay in bed and try to get on track: a decent night's sleep, an early morning. I will be starting work again soon--the kind of work where I remain upright and shower and get paid, not art work--and I'll need to maintain such salubrious structure.

I wonder how many poems I lose when I'm good. But I know that the other way is not a healthy way to go, not all the time.

I just wrote this one, based on last night's dream. I see from my old semi-informed pal Wikipedia that "planchet" is an unprinted coin. I might have been thinking of the Ouija planchette, or of some French word I can't quite remember.


I dreamed that you,
lecturing your followers,
asked us the French for table.

The woman in front of me
on the bus declared:
Planchet. I, timidly,
mining schoolgirl memory,
offered table. You didn’t hear me.

The thing is what it is,
not some hunk to be molded
into coin of our choosing,
some base metal
redeemed by a fancy half-face.

Hard wood, sturdy legs,
a smooth surface for work.
From this we should eat.

James Hampton

James Hampton, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly (ca. 1950–1964)

Tossing away sandwiches,
chewing gum, cigarettes,
he made his heaven from wrappers,
commerce’s carapace. Who would discard

the meat of the thing: shake out
the book and bow to
the empty jacket, feed on
Baggies and shells, expect

twenty-four blue robes to rise
and offer a requiem? Recall, then,
that this temple of trash was made
in a garage: a heavenly vehicle,

we, entering, fuel.


OK, so if I want 30 poems in 30 days, I have to do five more today. Pretty darn unlikely.

A poem from five minutes ago

Made the last post, swigged a bit more of this tasty red wine, and knocked this one out.

The title refers (on its most literal level) to a line of fashion dolls made by Mattel in my childhood, now sought (along with their cousins Dawn and her friends) by collectors, including me. Gotta be a bit of Winehouse and one or two groupies of my acquaintance in there as well. But I'm explaining too much.


heads turned backward, joints loose,
knees blue, lashes shed,
feet chewed: they age
like the dissolute young,

not like the dollies who once
looked up to their hard breasts,
twist-and-turn waists,
feet on perpetual tiptoe,

and who now put them
(frocks torn, lips smeared)
behind glass that reflects
chins, crow’s feet, and—loveliest—

laugh lines.

A poem from September 26

I wrote it in a parking lot somewhere near Arcadia, Virginia. Just revised it a teeny bit, but it's got farther to go.

Fairport Convention, What We Did on Our Holidays, 1969

It doesn’t matter
whether the lyrics lie, the rhythm section
grumbles like the old folks
upstairs, the keys sputter
like a hophead’s fingers.

You lie beneath. In time,
you leap out of bed, throw off
the stinking covers of night.
You are the crowing cock,
the snap of bacon,
the sharp sun that wakes
the breeze. You are
banners, mortars, Mardi Gras,
the guileless full-face span
of the baby just learned
to smile. You fall
like a vole-bound kite.

Then you go under again,
back to the cave of counterpane,
to find him gazing at open hands,
wondering when
it will come back.

Yeah, I've fallen behind

The traveling sorta did me in. I was with relatives, and I didn't find much time to myself. What poems I wrote got written largely while I was driving. I mean, literally, sometimes. Little scribbles that would tide me over until I could pull over and write longer scribbles in my notebook.

Then I got home and was pretty much sans inspiration. I would love to make better excuses, or even to be sorrier. But so it goes.

I'll try and play catch-up, a bit, in the next couple of days. And I will probably continue on into October. My friend Joan has sent out a list of poetry prompts that might get me going for another month. (A month that will be crammed with travel and work and the usual stuff one has to work around--or draw from, if lucky.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Out of town

I've just come from the mountaintop, chilly and verbose. This will need work. Also, my camera has lost its mind or its energy or both, so I can't look at the pictures of the tombstones to confirm some of this.


Why do they put them on the mountaintops?
Further from hell, I guess, or closer to heaven,
they hope. Further up
than the real town, further than the trees
that nod like geishas,
up where the wind whips.

A deadly place:
they make you wear dress shoes,
then send you tottering into the sod.
The wind whips, and you wonder
how many people catch their death
at someone else’s burial.

Here’s the stone I’m looking for:
Frank Looney. Dollar signs flank the legend


Who put this man to such uneasy rest?
Couldn’t be Maude, slumbering, overgrown,
at his feet, dead fifty years before him.
He seems alone otherwise, though the settlement
bears his name—vanity, maybe,
but surely not luxury.

There is no one here to ask. Farther up,
by the gravel road, lies the man who did the burying.
That same man, ten months ago,
was called from his bed
to bring the gurney across the road
to take what small parcel
my mother left behind.

A scant two months after,
he was gone, laid under granite, sharp-lettered,
just uphill from his son, who buried my father
eight years before Mom and died two months before—
one of her last stories, to me, the tale
of the wreck that took him.

He was my age, left a new wife,
no children. Father and son
with their customers: who will bury
the rest of us?

Saddest are the small stones with their lambs,
worn to near-anonymity. They mark
the ones who lived a February day.
Loretta’s day was four before I began
my grateful slog. I once knew

a Loretta my age, a snaggle-toothed
cocktail girl who brought mai tais
to my boyfriend and me,
when we were all eighteen.

Such unspoken things:
like praying with your eyes open,
never sure what to do
when you meet another’s open eyes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I scribbled this in a notebook on route 81 south yesterday. I think I was stopped somewhere--I don't think I could have written this while driving!

Apologies for the late post.

and when you slammed the door
you nearly caught my fingers
and I curled them
into fists and knocked
until my knuckles went red

with rage and fear
I ran
but where?
caught on a mill wheel
working for ruin

who was it rolled the boulder
into the road? who ran
down to the station
to set the flags afire? who was it
ground the planes
under an icy palm?

all the little salves
were my salvation
my bruises a sunset

and in the dawn
clean hands, strong hands
ready to turn the wheel
tear the ticket
hold the pen

Monday, September 22, 2008

A very rough first draft

the girth of a tiger
is the fat of dreams
where the paws walk rivers and mountains
the teeth shine with purple blood

the cub grown to fulfillment
accretes the hopes of fallen pronghorns
the dreams of meaty belches
and its stripes widen and blacken
and its orange tawns

and it feeds on its own lusts
till it is hard, unbreakable, perfect

An issue of limited relevance

Well, I'm gonna be on Jeopardy! this week. It taped back in July. I was in the audience for all of this week's shows (except when I was on stage, of course); it was a fascinating and weird experience.

I did get to talk about poetry a little. Very little. It seems to be an area that interests Alex.

I'll be leaving town to visit my Virginia relatives for the broadcast (pizza party in Craig County!), so my posts might get sporadic.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Telling it slant

I did have an uncle who opened a liquor store when I was just barely of age, or just underage. Other than that, this poem is fiction.

LATE ‘70s

I gaze through the cabernet
through the glass
at all the closed books,

on my shelves
remembering my sixteenth summer

when my uncle
opened his liquor store
led me to the stacked crates

(branded like the planks
cousin Bruce played cowboys with:
brandishing his hot wand, his weapon)

for the tasting.
it was sweet and a little spoiled
clinging to my lips, my tongue,

like curses
as he stared at my fingers
(at cross-my-heart level)

wrapped around the paper cup
so tight, their nails
so clean

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Again, I'm nearly missing my deadline

So...some doggerel.


buying a farm is like
trying to braid water

climbing the hill is like
buying the hill

being alive is like
peaches in your pajamas

growing carrots is like
combing the rain


being alive is like
buying a farm

buying the hill is like
climbing the hill

combing the rain is like
growing carrots

peaches in your pajamas is like
trying to braid water

I'm not getting anywhere yet. I wrote a bunch of surreal similes, then sorted the lines (minus "is like") alphabetically and re-paired them.

trying to braid water
no better than combing the rain

so strange that the stream
can cut stone, kill children,
feed carrots and refugees

when you can watch the yellow slickers
behind Niagara

or the smooth belly of your lover
in the shower

as if through some imaginary barrier
some checkpoint of clouds

Yeah, OK, whatever. I've got to start earlier in the day if I want real results.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I continue my fascination with Timothy Treadwell

Many words, lines, and phrases in this poem came from episode 7 of The Grizzly Man Diaries.


“Perhaps there was room in his doggy heaven
for a person like me.”

Had Treadwell never spoken,
what would we have? Green and white,
gray trunks, gray toes,
gray wolf, red fox, tawny-maple bear;

the gray of the timbers fallen
like fence along the raging riverside;
the dirty azure of the North Face,
on the prime cut of the Big Green;
the grungy rainbow of wool wrapped
around hair like fresh straw.

It is silent since the earthquake:
preceded by the cries of foxes, their clicks and whirrs;
(I hide and shake)
followed by the soft thuds of cliffs failing
(I’ve gotta be able to hide…)

the moose bull-huff call as he lumbers
through Queen Anne’s lace
(…and be a witness…)

The bear lies back, lazily, slowly,
to nurse her cubs; the fox nips
his callused finger, pulls at his satchel,
and all is in balance:

no swell of river, no rush of rain,
no scattering patter of twigs on roof.
One small moment at the center.

Away runs ruddy Timmy, trailing
his bent brush of tail
trailing, into the maze, the words:

was it our last season together?

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I'm reading The Blue Hand, a book about the Beats in India. I've just read an e-mail from a friend who recommends the book The Geography of Bliss. I have been playing with my cat Bear, who nearly died and who might not yet be well, but who is acting like a healthy cat. I drop a ball of paper in front of him and he scrambles for it. I bounce it off his chest and he stares at me. I toss it on the floor and he looks down, from his spot on the couch....not well yet; one step at a time.

I just did this freewrite.

crumpled paper rumpled rupees
stumble on the geography of bliss
cattle purr mountains move
celery stalks waver on the hill
I am going down to the water
I am going to write my name in water
I am going to float my name on air
down by the river
where the wild oak grows
gnawing at its own roots
urging to go down the stream
to become a dam
a wall
a building
even a book

land is aside, the middle is grass
inside the grass is grain
inside the grain is rain
inside the rain is some kind of pouch
full of dryness
maybe old bones
maybe the laughter of the dead
maybe hate

hate that tumbles
picks up speed and weeds
and wanderers

in my heart is an arrow
with a tip that points to the Ganges
a picture of a stone tower in my wallet
crumpled by workaday life

Red things

There is a lot of great writing on alcoholism out there. I don't think this will ever match it, but what the hell.

It was inspired, in part, by Lal Waterson's magnificent "Red Wine Promises." (YouTube has audio--with photo, no video--of Tony Capstick singing it here.)

Also by many ruddy people I met among the aging rock-star world in England (hence a few double meanings, in the title, for example), and by a family member now lost, or at least misplaced.


He has gathered the red from every sunny day
and a few false suns (klieg, votive, cigar)
to wash his skin:

youth is red, and cherries, and wine--

but the wine
is hidden behind the soup tins. There is no wine.

Morning bathes his face, his squinted eyes
like a newborn’s, a refugee’s, a beggar’s—

but beggars
choose their gutters. It is not an illness.

Bosses oppress, shopkeepers discriminate,
because the world now belongs to the Barbies
with Blueteeth and false wisdom
and the fresh, red organs
of teetotalers.

Every few steps, a stop,
a new start.

Every light he barrels through
is red.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Partial credit?

It’s the careful time, the eyelash time,
breeze still as blame,
when the XXX the XXX
come down the narrow track
bent on your name.

You can run till the air you move chills
chaps your soft face
or face the blade and XXX your eye
quick and crisp as a Northern Spy
safe in your grace.

I don't mess with formal poetry much. I want my meter to be either lockstep-rigid or so subtle that only I can find it. Playing with Mister In-Between, as I was doing here, makes me uncomfortable.

I don't know what those missing words are, and that's bad, because the ones in line three are pretty much what the poem is about, if it's about anything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Maybe I should do a chapbook of TV poems


Death should be clean, contained,
overlaid by humor,
set to allegro strings,
surpassed in sixty minutes.

Look closely: The ghosts
of hundreds of murders
cling to her twin set,
her sensible shoes, like thistle pods.

So she scrubs hard, picks nits,
pours buckets of softeners,
entrusts the brisk Maine air
to keep the sweaters cozy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

pretentious lowercase twaddle to fill space

Sooner or later, my life will get easier and my real inspiration will come back. Right now I feel like I'm just going through the motions.

in re:
weight words wounds

is tying
better than buttoning
or does it allow
more wiggle room

at least it’s bondage
topped with a cute bow

Sunday, September 14, 2008


In another last-ditch effort to get something done for the blog, I just went poking around Wikipedia, randomly, looking for inspiration. I finally landed on the entry for "Wildlife of Kazakhstan" and this photo.

The lynx presses his eyes together
in prayer. His ears are antennae
to heaven. In his sleep he hears
the call to the mountain.
His feet move, his claws tear the grass.

He might as well be swimming in air.
He will not reach the mountain top.
The battle will go on, while he turns
to bury his ear under his tawny shoulder.
Death cries effaced by soft snores.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Writing about things I know nothing about

I'd like to write more of this, but (a) I would have to refresh my memory of Wallace's work and (b) I'm really, I confess, rushing to get something, anything in before midnight.

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

Like Treadwell
striding off
into the
Grizzly Maze,

like some half-
assed high
school actor
his next line,

he loses
his place.

Some skull yanked
from a hole,
with the dirt
shaken off.

Some joke,
the kind that
lasts beyond
the grave

Friday, September 12, 2008

A dedication

I want to dedicate the pencil poem to someone called Sars, someone I've never met. I knew her first as a commentator on Television Without Pity, a site where I used to spend a lot of time before they ushered out most of the really great writers and ushered in too many bells and whistles.

A few minutes ago, I read about Sars' 9/11 experience and her search for a fellow who helped her that day. (The story here, here, and here.) If you want to believe in angels, it's great evidence. If you don't, it's a lovely story of the kindness of strangers, of human goodness.

There is a bit in Sars' 9/11 recollections in which she anthropomorphizes the falling tower. It's breathtaking. Somehow, it got me past my own writer's block into looking at an object from a different perspective, or perspectives.

Go for the concrete

That's the trick to writing while depressed. Avoid those pitfalls of writing about depression, lack of sleep, your mother's death, 9/11. Go for something concrete.


We like it when it is new:
flat, unsharpened.
We like it more when the point is narrow
as a mind. We don’t like it rounded,
smoothed down by work,
its words uttered thick and dark gray.

We like it school-bus yellow, fake-cheese yellow.
We like it without the mark
of a schoolgirl tooth.
We like the name on its side
in cursive, an example.

We need an eraser. A giving one, a clean one.
Not one hard and anger-colored,
leaving its own gray whines
across our errors. We need it tight, neat
in its tin cummerbund.

We use it
until perfection cannot be renewed,
until the mill won’t grind it
because it’s too small, too overworked
for fingers to grasp.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I've got so little to say, and so little beauty with which to say it. This is my favorite season, so I should be perkier, but instead I feel like I'm running from something that scares me, hiding, denying. It could be that this time last year, I was about to realize that my mother was dying. And it's September 11, and my cat is sick, and my sleep patterns are screwed up.

I'll try to do better. I started to write a poem about a girl on a train on the way to college, but it started to depress me as well, so I stopped.

It’s always cold on the train
and I pull my scarf tighter. Not Isadora-tight;
we haven’t reached that place yet.
Behind me is my first love. Before me,
maps with scales I can’t read,
books thick as pedestals,
other young people unzipped,
chapped, bruises on their knees
under paisley skirts.

I really need joy to work. This gloom just smudges everything it touches.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nocturnal omissions

Oh, yeah, that's a bad pun.

Look, I've been ridiculously out of sync with not only a diurnal schedule, but any kind of schedule at all.

Yesterday I was sure I'd written something early in the morning. I realized later today that that wasn't the case. But it's now nearly midnight and I was up all night and...well, I'm giving myself a break. I can't work like this.

I'll return to the poems tomorrow, because I hope to return to a normal schedule by then as well.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Paging Rod McKuen?

This one sounds like it could be going for some kind of bathetic parody. Maybe it needs the title to make a difference--imagine if it were called "Abortion." "Diet." "Grief." "Lipo."

There’s a hole in my middle
that nothing can fill. A hole I notice
because it is
a hole.

Air or water or love or lettuce
might rush in. Or doughnuts.
But it will still be a hole,
because what is meant to be there
is me.

Not mouth, not postbox, not portal.
It is a true void. Me minus
part of me.

How much of me can be gone
and still leave me here?

Irrelevant in my pajamas

Up late reading the latest Nevada Barr novel--what a stunner. Maybe the best one yet.

So, before turning in, I thought I'd knock on the muse's door, or whatever cute metaphor you might want to use. I guess I saw a picture of an elephant in Amazon.com's "peek inside" for Hollywood Babylon. I wanted to redeem the elephant somehow, take it out of that sordid setting. I thought of Ganesh. But I got no farther than creating an elephant protector when I just kind of wandered.

That elephant isn’t going anywhere.
Stoic, or perhaps drugged, he stands
at the tent opening,
skin cool and dry as stone,
eyes drooping like melon seeds.

He was called there,
to guard those within,
and he has made of himself a wall
with no gate,
a gray impediment
more powerful than the saffron canvas.

Since when does evil seek a door?
Can it not rip the house to tatters
from without, within?

The next day, the women
bring flowers and sweet leaves
to the stone steps
where once stood a home of curtains,

the steps that look, from a mouse’s eye,
like the knees of an elephant.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I just finished writing a love poem to my husband.

This is NOT it.

This is about something--a cliche, really--with which I have no experience.


A little piece of cardboard
is where it starts
and soon the world
has run amok:

trust reduced to fractured numbers,
a slash through a handclasp

unknown lips
wrapped around
unkindled flame
licking the sweetness
from the digits

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Whatever happened to Rusty Holderbaum?


in the center of Maple Avenue
in the center of Takoma Park
in the center of the universe

half a fake phone
sufficient for talks with Rusty Holderbaum
in the house across the driveway

the password to freedom
from the hiding place behind the Porters’ pool
with a run, a kick

the mortal shell
of the soul
of Chef Boy-ar-dee

someday to be deemed
and sit at the curb

for the men in gray
to take away

to be sent out again
as this charm around my neck

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sticks and stories

This story is sort of true. Or it has true stories in it, along with, as William Stafford said, "stories that might be true."

I haven't found one in a while. At the bottom of this message is the one I found outside the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder as Loudon Wainwright III and Richard Thompson rehearsed one of Loudon's songs--wish I could remember what it was.

I started an "alphabet series" some time ago. I guess I figured it'd be an impetus to get 26 poems going. Hey, it's working for Sue Grafton. I have perhaps three--in nonalphabetical order--that are more ore less "finished" (how do you know when a poem is finished?) and another four or five in the works.


For a time, when I was dying,
I found them everywhere: the driveway,
downtown, a faraway park.
Standing on a hill as the singer
crooned about life as a man
I glanced to the grass and found
this one, with a phantom limb
in its crotch.

They are said to point to water.
I’ve seen them used, in a field by broken stones,
by a codger, smelling of cats,
charming a lady backpacker.
My mother swore her father had that gift.

I have clutched their legs and wished,
looked for the liquid source,
felt the rough bark and unexpected lightness,
a feeling gray and gentle as a Midlands morning.

I did not believe life would go on,
and I never asked why.
Now I go on,
branch to branch,
drinking occasional rain.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The latest in the "what did we see out the car window" series


Celadon explodes
on the road, as if the sky had cracked.
Perhaps the dude with the weed-whacker
whacked it. Perhaps some Flying Scot,
in tow, flew from its trailer,
bow up, into a bank of clouds.

Everything changes here, molecule by minute
by man. Cars take the road
from here to there. Seasonally,
vegetable stands crop up, flourish,
vanish. The Maryland sun
moves shadows of the gravel
as the gravel wanders.

Nothing stays
but the blacktop, and even the blacktop
in some cataclysm of fear
(like mine)
goes blue.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Oh, perfect!

Captain Cook's sextant. I wonder if I knew, somehow, that it had that shape?


Now this thing is just going out of control. Well...look.

Why do we travel
if no one
knows where we
came from? Falling
from arches, the
canvas roof of
the caravan sweeps
over road, effaces.

What is our ruse?
We follow the
trailing finger of
God, our sextant
the thumbnail moon.

Why do we dare?
Our caravan road
winds toward the
sun, burning us
pink and swollen,
frail as babies
too soon cast
from the womb.

Where do we
dwell? In paper
patterns, painted houses,
crooked doors, gates
that sing open.
Crooked patterns,
chiding parrots,
and the faces
we make for ourselves.

I feel like there's too much going on. I tried the technique of moving the questions to the tops of the stanzas, and I stuck to that mostly-three-word-line thing. But I need to stick to the caravan and the road. And I'm bringing home in at the end, but we still have to be looking out a window and seeing those horses with the bells in their manes, the dust flying up from hooves and wood wheels. You know?

Furthermore, if there's a sextant in my poem, I better know what one looks like.


Going deep

Today, while driving to Goodwill, I was thinking about trying to write about a childhood friend. This is someone I last saw in 1983. Two years ago this time, I found out that she had been murdered by her husband. The news came at a time when I was already fragile from several wild winds in my own life; I don't know how well I "processed" the event.

I realized, as words came together in my head, that to do this poem right, I would really have to immerse myself in memories, pictures, information about the event. And I don't feel up to it.

My poems tend to arise because of a chance (or sometimes contrived) encounter with a propitious phrase. I was scrambling last night for a subject, decided to see what popped into my head, and got that old Whitman line about lilacs. I then reeled stuff off, words in what sounded to me like musical phrases, referring intermittently to Wikipedia for some bits of information on lilacs. I like what I got, and I think it could become something better.

Does this approach strike anyone as cold? I wonder. So many of my poems come from a sort of aesthetic remove; they sing for their own sakes, and they're not overtly about some personal trauma or deep feeling. That's not to say that they aren't designed, often, to evoke such a feeling.

All that said, happenstance can guide me into more emotional poems. The one I wrote in April, about my father visiting my mother's family, was (is) pretty meaningful to me. There were at least two others that I wrote during that poem-a-day month that touched on extremely personal "hot topics"--including one that was in response to the news of the death of someone with whom I had had one of the worst relationships of my life.

I dunno, though: Sometimes it seems like other poets, especially the ones I meet in workshops, are very much in the business of writing about some very important or meaningful topic. I seldom can get to such a topic via the straight path. And sometimes this makes me uneasy.

Now I have a funny feeling that I wrote some very similar musings in April. Yup, I did. Oh, well.

Continuing to tinker with the freewrite

I found a passage I liked in that recent freewrite and wrote it all out in lines of three words each. (I took out one word along the way.) I was amused to find that it divided evenly by 3.

[EDIT: Oh, crap, never mind. The first line is four words. This is why I don't do formal stuff. Also why they stopped letting me be the cashier at the library book sale in 1985.]

The tail of the
caravan sweeps across
road, effaces. What
is the point
of travel if
no one knows
where we came
from? What is
our ruse? Why
do we dare?
Where do we
dwell? In paper
patterns, painted houses,
crooked doors, gates
that sing open.
God bless America.

Then I started looking at the first word of each line. I couldn't get a reasonable phrase from the whole list, but I found a couple of intriguing bits:

The caravan road is of nowhere.
where dwell patterns crooked that God

"Crooked that God" what?

"smudged with his finger while juggling the planets"?
"ordained for crooked travelers"?

So many fun possibilities.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

This owes as much to Wikipedia as to Whitman

First draft. Just written since about 11:40. What I write here are first drafts, generally, unless I note otherwise.


Food to Svensson’s Copper Underwing, cousin of the privet,
some paschal sprout, pale, like blood under skin,
you mark my coming and going
with your scent:

asexual, Syringa pubescens, vulgaris, spontanea
you are as quick as spring to show and sway,
aloof as a tomboy, fickle as water ice,
lovely and complete and duplicitous.

It is when your bloom is gone
that you will come inside my house:
your sapwood, your heartwood turning
into a twisted flute
for a homely song.

The insomnia returns

I was doing well with sleep for a while. Then I quit my job and started lapsing into something like a 4-a.m.-to-noon sleep schedule. Then I started this blog...last night I was up past 5, and then awoke before 9, when my husband prepared for work, and now I want to sleep again, to catch up, as if I could.

So I was getting drowsy here, while checking e-mail and reading Defamer and Chuck Taggart's wonderful Looka! blog, and I decided to do a few minutes of freewriting while my defenses were down. I'll dump it here and then sleep.

Oh, but one of the reasons I was still up past 5 was that, around 5, I had gone to bed but couldn't sleep because I had a poem in my head. I went and scribbled it down and then slept. So strange.

Anyway, the freewrite.

so asleep, can barely keep my eyes open, breek and breach, shallow, fallow, sane. Rain, reign, rein, rain. Squalls, cabin fever, demented, departed. Broken-down rain in the gutters, shards of puddles, pebbles, caravan. Magic is the whisper of the beast. Callow is the carapace. Frabjous day. Melancholy cabin in the rain. Who is that brute’s father? Why does he call her name? Out beyond the rip-wrap, some truth in the circle of piers. Your boat is not moored; it will sink. Its anchor will pull it to ground. Sand, shale, quell, pebbles. A scatter on the mayfair. Decks all bent. The stars bend the sky. Shy quail. Cat with a pebble. Beaches that blister. Sandwiches. Dust, Rain. Trail of mussels. The tail of the caravan sweeps across the road, effaces. What is the point of travel if no one knows where we came from? What is our ruse? Why do we dare? Where do we dwell? In paper patterns, painted houses, crooked doors, gates that sing open. God bless America.

Monday, September 1, 2008



Spanish moss
no moss at all, just green nooses
dying like the banners on riderless horses
turned home from the war

the dance of some snake, bored out of his
skin window, bare, powder film on his flesh

the rain on the shingle

prayers unfinished because
you fell asleep
to dream of cabbages, of moth and moon
and jugs of pinot
old math teachers, madmen with crooked
glasses and sagging

turning over: the sheet
beside your half-fisted hand
that glides to the floor


Revisiting an old exercise

Back in April, I did an exercise in which I wrote between the lines of a Jim Morrison poem. Here is what I got:

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

I want to mine this sort of semi-freewrite for some more stuff for poetry. Maybe later today.

A bridge for a fish

It's been a weird and busy summer.

Since I last updated this blog, I've attended two writing workshops (the Tinker Mountain Writers' Workshop and the second week of Naropa University's summer writing program). (The bell in the photo is on the Naropa campus.) Both were valuable creative experiences, albeit in different ways. (I don't know how many writers would find them equally useful; you're probably best off with one or the other.)

Naropa, in particular, took me out of my comfort zone. I was surrounded by people whose aesthetics were generally different from mine. The Beat goes on, for sure, at Naropa, and I sometimes felt like people didn't get what I was doing. But that was OK; they were supportive of my doing it. I had a marvelous workshop with Elizabeth Robinson, called "Mystic Speech." Because it was interdisciplinary, I didn't feel so weird about my poetry being different from my classmates'; it opened me up to less strict ideas of what constitutes poetry. Elizabeth...I really feel changed for having known her, even for that brief time. She was one of the people whose perspectives seemed closest to mine, allowing me then to stretch my vision beyond my own aesthetic homeland.

Tinker Mountain--I want to go back again and again. I have a complicated relationship with the Roanoke, Virginia, area. My mother's family is from there.

[Damn. I'm blogging. Next thing you know, I'll be telling you about my colonoscopy or something. Anyway...]

Without getting too detailed about it, I've always felt like a fish out of water down there. So going to a literary gathering in those same mountains, running up against that accent and hearing familiar place names--and even being able to run out to my beloved Hollins Goodwill, visit Aunt Sarah in New Castle, and take Aunt Thelma out for a little nip at the ABC store--integrated parts of me--or, using the analogy I used with Elizabeth Robinson at Naropa, helped me find a bridge. I am now a fish with a bridge.

There aren't a lot of poets at Tinker Mountain. The ones who are there tend to be pretty serious and somewhat clannish--it's that ecstasy of being with people who will talk about Ted Kooser for an hour and a half, or whatever....I was somewhat under-read for these folks, to be sure. I don't read as much poetry as I should. Because it's got that "should" stamped on it, like a pharmacist's label, I tend to shy away except when I come across it by happenstance.

These were wonderful people, wonderful poets. Mostly women, mostly a bit older than me. I felt so happy, so wonderful, so right there. That said, I think Naropa ended up feeding my creativity more while I was actually there; the creative rewards of Tinker Mountain came later.

Which brings me to why I'm here now. In June, just before embarking on these two workshops, I started a full-time job for the first time in 11 years. By August, I'd quit, for a lot of reasons I won't go into here.

It got me realizing how much I like the trade in which I've had most of my work experience--editing--and how healthy it is for me to work with a structured schedule. At the same time, I don't think I've spent two less introspective, creative months in my adult life, or certainly not since I rededicated myself to poetry. There was the time I scribbled an angry little verse on a menu from my purse while waiting for the Red Line train. And damn, did that feel good. I was upset about something, right on the precipice of depression, when the poetry kicked in.

I need to get serious about this stuff again. I might be starting another full-time job at the end of this month. So I figured I should maybe take September as another poem-a-day month.

I have to start later today. I have some trepidation about this endeavor. I'd go right at it right now if i didn't have to move the laundry to the dryer and check the marinating chicken.