Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Thick as a kiss or a jerk
and orbiting that place
where it is not,
it carries its empty plexus
into your belly
in shove after shove
of broken sweetness.
A tumble of auburn crumbs,
a pouf of powder,
a flirt after the fact
when it has fallen
into leaden memory
of that mindless tryst
between bed and desk.
Moving on...this is draft 1.5. Draft 1 was written in the past 10 minutes or so.
On the side of St. Matthew's where there is no stained glass,
only a shortcut for a lunchtime fix, of one kind or another,
I see the man in plaid flannel who asks me,
twice, for change.
He is a piece of creation, no more or less than
that weed, unrooted, clenched on the alley brick,
but I deny my money for fear of opening my purse.
I say "Sorry" and make my face say the same,
after a quick rehearsal in my mind. I am sorry.
I do not say "God bless you."
This is on me. Why make him hate God?
I mull over going back, after reaching safety
like a child at tag at his temporary home. I do not
go back this time. This willfulness is grace,
however ungraceful/ That I can walk, and speak,
and sit at my Dell fixing grammar for dollars
or typing this poem on the clock.
Maybe I should rejoice this grace. I do not care to.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Tight rolls of stores in the satchel,
chosen for light. Dark covers
to ward against dirt and wear,
all the living parts scrubbed and draped.
Soft support for making tracks.
Loose bands to bind. Clean lenses,
clear eyes, uptilted chin
to kiss the new day.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
O Toni! It was under
your hat all along
and on the tip of
the bitten-off glove
the bright bird you wore
to impress her
Your bright companion has your love
10 chunks of your young hopes
and your heart in
your hat and
wound in your half-caste
your young banned dreams
Misery is a tepid soup that yet sustains,
cruel gruel and not-quite-cold comfort.
Familiar as a mole, or the farting cat
who sleeps nightly on your chest,
you can't chase it because it'll double back,
dog you, lick your heels
with its version of a kiss. You've worn
the shape of your body into these jeans,
and even as they tear, you feel
their rough grasp on your thighs.
That "rough" is definitely not the right word. I have tried "stiff" and "cold" and "cool" and none is right. I want that feeling (and sound) of a tough fabric that gives but is not entirely relaxed, that sort of holds you together even though it's not a cuddly embrace.
Arcane Diner (first draft)
The sign of the ketchup,
bottle upended on bottle,
means renewal by a kiss. Vinyl
is eternal. Whose jawbone
made that coffee cup?
Its pores are yours, a hard thing
that stains and weeps
even as course after course of
paper-capped kids rush to make
everything look clean.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
I'm sorry. I'm having some kind of posting problems tonight--I can't get this damn poem to single-space to save my life. The hell with it. At least I wrote it, even though it sucks. Grrrr.
He said filling in the pond
would improve the drainage,
would keep the mosquitoes down.
What did I know?
He was the man.
When it was done, we had
a great gray plain, suitable for foursquare
or hopscotch. Perhaps a place to park
his motorcycle, if he hadn’t taken it.
When nature reclaims this tract,
when this empty house and its kin
are gone, will some tortoise wander back,
looking for water? Will some blind osprey,
dive into the still, hard lake?
Friday, September 4, 2009
I decided to play MadLibs/Match Game by taking sentences found on nearby bits of writing and changing out many of the words. Here's a template.
The NOUN was first PAST VERB PREPOSITION a ADJECTIVE NOUN with SUBSTANCE. From the NOUN we VERB, we could not BLANK the BLANK. The NOUN does not seem to BLANK. PLURAL NOUN of the SUPERLATIVE NOUN harbor many PLURAL NOUN. We could not BLANK the BLANK. Be sure the BLANK is closed. Be sure you BLANK before you BLANK.
I'm gonna work a few variations on this one and see whether it gets the juices flowing.
The sulfur was first drunk from a silver goblet with gauze. From the bucket we carried, we could not propagate the marrow. The basin does not seem to dance. Carillons of the highest tones harbor many murders. We could not anticipate the sorrow. Be sure the lock is closed. Be sure you speak before you walk.
The fall was first found under a green flask with Rohypnol. From the chance we tattled, we could not deliver the goods. The door does not seem to hear. Maenads of the bluest nation harbor many cups. We could not force the gate. Be sure the wrist is closed. Be sure you gallop before you swoon.
By the time I started on the third one, I'd switched out "closed" for any adjective/past-tense verb I wanted.
The capsule was first enchanted using a pocket compass with bravado. From the marshmallow we nosed, we could not rake the missile. The missal does not seem to break. Divers of the most sacred drum harbor many handles. We could not hush the scarab. Be sure the skein is buried. Be sure you name before you swallow.
The bell was first scratched with a broken spoon with eyes. From the hair we ruffled, we could not see the sea. The cat does not seem to miss. Umbrellas of the tallest timbers harbor many fungoes. We could not paste the moon. Be sure the lathe is limber. Be sure you melt before you burn.
One more, and then I'm home to ruminate.
The dress was first fried using a summer day with raisins. From the mess we made, we could not calculate the pitfall. The crutch does not seem to budge. Diadems of the bleakest chanteuse harbor many flies. We could not make the gravestone. Be sure the tide is closed. Be sure you overturn before you tumble.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Atop the spinet she left the score,
one word underlined in red,
for the cops:
glissando, too pretty a sound
for the deep fall, unhesitating.
from the ledge. That mark
she left, emphatic, echoed its coda.
Dog-ears drew back, children stammered
as they passed. It was an ugly effort,
inferior to her schoolgirl debut.
That crank from the Times,
shameless: She just went downhill.
That break, midface,
a death by misadventure
he called a smile.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
A thirty-year-old man was brought to us
from the field hospital three days after
his platoon, on patrol, drove over
an improvised explosive device (Figure 1).
Samples were taken, and clinical doses
of drugs were delivered to his mouth and,
later, when dehydration set in, his veins.
Cultures were run in three separate laboratories
far from the field. Studies revealed
a new variety of sporulating fungus.
Death calls to life, and in the empty places
the authors found these flowers,
framed in slender dishes (Figure 2).
These were assayed and identified as
beauty that could not find a root
in metal and therefore yearned sunward
from the place he kept his wallet, the place
his savior bled, the place he waved goodbye.
Identification came too late for antifungal measures.
His family requested palliative treatment.
The isolate, a member of the order Mucorales,
was named for the field.
Figure 1. An IED.
Figure 2. Flowers are better than bullets.
Figure 3. A roadside in Kabul.
A first draft. I got out of bed to write it. Rob is worried that I am thus losing sleep.
I smell the blue cotton
of your dress, taste your smoke,
touch the red hairs of the dog
in that other room behind the sheets
in that other place my copy lurks
a demi-me, a portion, what little soul
will slip through the barrier
a pair of hands, a pair of eyes,
some half a mind, heart split
as, elbows bent,
I search the room spied
through the dim glass
with only music to bind us
they say you can never enter a room
without taking something
without leaving something
and I wonder what dust of my skin
I leave on your body
as I pull back
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
She crouches on the cold seat
and picks at the milky-green flakes.
Each day, the land expands,
acre by lead acre. It never matches
the maps on the school globe, so she knows
it is a place she’s made
on this hard planet,
this quadruple arch, sometimes too hot
to touch, usually chilly, always with
that bird’s head, beak down, crown pointing
toward the door.
A valve, with the paint
of countless careless landlords
frozen into a beak.
She knows what it is, but she makes it
that creature that carries worlds
on its hard back, a bird that might even
break the pipes and fly. That sad fist
of a girl, making voids into continents
while she pees.
I'll post today's poem later today. I wrote it in my head in the car. Does that sound right? ("As opposed to my head in the house"?) Oh, jeez, I guess this editing job is affecting my sense of freedom as a writer. I've got to find balance somewhere, somehow.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Before the garbage trucks break the dawn,
before the gangbangers’ boldest feints,
I face you. I have gathered for days, and all of it
is headed straight for your straight faces.
Sometimes I fling it and the worst bits
bounce back: the mud from the bootsoles,
the stink of the swollen bags. But I’m here,
I’m decorated, because most of the time
you eat it: jaws flapping, eyes pressed shut
by the muscles that force open your mouth
and throat. Choking with it. If it all goes down,
when I retreat, the captain, behind the blue drape,
will smack my shoulder and bellow proudly,
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Van Gogh cut off his ear,
not his hand. He didn’t need it to hear
what he heard: the sussuration through
sunflowers, the thud of stale bread
on cracked wood, the faint but very real
whoosh of a spiral of stars.
Yesterday, Robert Lee Brewer's blog posted a prompt: Write a sentence beginning "Don't you...." and use it as the poem title. So I just tapped out this one in, like, seven minutes. Gotta do something.
Don’t You Dream About Me
Don’t you dream about me. You got your papers;
you’ve gone up the coast. There are seven tracts
of land between us, five of which are farms
the government doesn’t know about. There are seven
months of bitterness. Things you think are secret
will be read in the lines between
north- and southbound lanes, classifieds,
curtain calls, eyes. So when you close the covers
over those bony ribs with the tiny star
under your right breast, when you close your eyes,
let your subconscious stray no farther
than those seven farms and months,
some of them guarded by triggers
that could flick in a blink.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
The sandwich board of the guy in the middle
of Donnell Drive proclaims:
If I were a betting woman, I’d wager that the date
has been pasted over “To Meet.” Pity;
that’s the important part. I would like
to meet my God, though not on Memorial Day weekend.
The truck driver next to me believes
there’s a gun under the boards.
The woman tailgating me believes
she’ll get fired if she’s later than nine.
The minivan mom in the oncoming lane
doesn’t see the prophet, and won’t
until she’s jumped the median
and moved up his meeting time.
And then no one else will know to prepare
except for Delmonico steaks, graveside flowers,
and that first purchase of oils and lotions
to save our thin skins from the sun.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Today's prompt from my Baggie: "poem inspired by a work of art (ekphrastic)."
I don't have time to write an ekphrastic poem on a Wednesday. Maybe late at night, after choir practice, if I'm somehow inspired by Haydn. And I haven't done the Beatles one yet.
And Robert Lee Brewer's Wednesday prompt is "a poem about spring." Ugh--sounds easy to write badly for that one.
I'm too busy at work right now to make time for this. I will try to get back before midnight.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
the pilgrim tends his paper boat
in robes once saffron, then once white
he cocks his craft into a hat
and bends his head for waterflight
among the lilies and the weeds
he blunders, sodden as a cloud,
until he must engage his mind
and ribbony streams shake from his head
and what is paper when it’s wet
and what’s a boat upon the heath
and what’s a pilgrim when he’s still
and robes that can’t hide what’s beneath
and what is saffron when it’s white
or white when colors blur, suffuse
an accidental rainbow raise
to strike its wonder until night
and thus he has become the rain
folding his dreams into a cloud
and shaking the page onto the land
and washing wild violets onto the road
On a Photocopy of the Ace of Pentacles
The Hand of God is bowling
with a Godhandful of coin:
one coin, in a currency
that doesn’t seem
The coin is gold. The sky is blue.
What color is the Hand
of God? I’ve forgotten,
so I can’t fill it in
Down below is this random shrubbery,
a tangle of green, the most enticing image,
upheld by one half-hearted arch.
Beyond the arch are two mountains.
They look like the ones in Boulder:
not to be trifled with.
If this great colorless hand
emerging from this colorless
dropped that big cent in an Eastern valley,
it would have nowhere to roll.
it would take out the shrubs and
the arch and maybe even
that colorless mountain.
I guess this particular God,
with his perfectly manicured nails,
is a flying Ace.
Here's another, so I can maybe fill out a couple days' worth of poems (we'll consider Flannery "unprompted"):
"poem based on a playing card, tarot card, or other iconic image."
OK, that one sounds like fun.
But I've had this Flannery O'Connor poem knocking around in my head for a few days, ever since I saw someone who looked like her on the Metro.
I've been reading Brad Gooch's biography and enjoying it very much, though the busyness of my life has kept me from reading it very quickly, just as it's kept me from my poems for a few days.
My wild-minded friend over at Capitol Cougar had a thought-provoking post about this book a few days back.
"If you want to say that the wooden leg is a symbol, you can say that. But it is a wooden leg first..."
I saw Mary Flannery on the escalator
at Dupont Circle. It was not symbolic
that she was going up. If she held herself
on a single crutch, under her right arm,
it was not political, but merely evidence
of the trail of the wolf through her blood.
(She might have easily supported herself
on the left, or both sides, or none at all.)
And when the long-haired messenger
on the step above suddenly flung out his arms
in a T and fell back, and she caught him with
the quick upswing of the crutch-arm,
and when neither one lost balance but
were secure at the top of the one-hundred-and-
eighty-eight-foot moving stair, it was not
an allegory--just Southern efficiency.
Now when the pigeons parted to let her pass,
wobbling, centuries older than thirty-nine--
well, that part was providence.
Friday, May 1, 2009
It was a misty pool, like a primeval lake,
atop the bar, below his honey-stung lips. His skin
was dull, the last leaf of winter, under
the white sky of his hair.
He crooked himself around the heavy glass
as if to save it, a jewel of great price. Around him
moved the barkeep, placid as a doctor,
the ladies young and old whose many colors danced,
the suave silverbacks of his father’s peers,
young shining hotshots, all caught
in mirror after mirror at cool remove, not a soul
within reach of his flaking hand.
A shimmer of muscle upended the glass, and
liquid amber swirled with saliva over cherry wood,
blurring the edges of a paper fortune:
You see beauty in all things.
I just pulled out a little folded/crumpled piece of paper. Let's see what it says....
There's a movie in which a character says she got a fortune cookie fortune reading "You will never amount to anything." Come up with a "bad fortune" (whatever that means) and write about it.
OK, see you later.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
"Farewell" is hard. There are places too sad to go, and I can't come up with a good "good riddance" sort of "farewell" poem. I just waited until an image came into my head and then went with it.
June Before Appalachian State
The kid on the raft
stirs the river with his stick, a trick
he learned from Huck Finn
in the movies. Already his shoulders
are pinking from the sun. Already
his mother has left the pushoff point
to start the Subaru. His dad watches
as the figure, straining to look downstream,
grows smaller and older. So many
adventures to come that summer, and
so many warnings of pain. He squints
at that last sight of his son, and the hat
the kid brushed off, brusquely,
is knotted and damp in his big hands.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
You’ve got the knots of metal where the strings start,
the trail over the body, like a lover’s hand, to that wooden palm
at the top. You’ve got curves and abrupt angles. Holes that invite,
with barely visible words within. A broad, slightly humped back,
like an elderly swimmer’s. White look-at-me edges.
Brown places that shine when the body is moved. Discs that beg
to be turned. A perpetual faint echo
of tones and overtones.
You get all that, and it doesn’t tell you a thing
about where that voice comes from.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I picked some words--with thoughts about the laundromat in the Garden District of New Orleans where you can get pizza, play pool, and wash your socks.
St. Charles’ Laundromat
Years later, she would reckon it "the folly
on the trolley": the day they took the sheet
and blankets on the streetcar down St. Charles
to the bar-laundromat combo. A burr
or two had hitchhiked, but it could be hand-
picked from the blanket’s countenance. Truly,
she wished their tryst could twist so free, for truly
she recognized her hurricane-soaked folly,
her primal flush when, like a wing, his hand
fell on her shoulder, then dropped like a sheet.
"Daisy,” she'd breathed—an alias. In a burr
of Edinburgh—or Pittsburgh--he'd said, "Charles."
And there it was, that stain, that thing with Charles:
a wart she’d like to burn away. Truly
she’d wronged her Dean, looming like Raymond Burr
in Rear Window in her mind, a man sans folly,
his countenance six-hundred-thread-count-sheet
smooth. And three weeks hence, her father would hand
her off, and Raymond--Dean--would take her hand,
never again to tipple at St. Charles’
launderette, her sins washed clean. The sheet
would wear thin, and the kids would make ghosts--truly,
she didn't want kids; but thirty meant folly
should be flicked off, discarded, like the burr
blanket-caught when this fake stranger's fake burr
warmed her ear, when his faux-Romeo hand
stroked her breast. (She faked nothing there.) Folly
was to be sent packing, along with Charles--
if that was his name. You know, truly,
she’d ditch them both and start with a blank sheet
for the next act. Her head spun like the sheet
now twisted lewdly—then, razzing a burr,
it clunked still and just lay there. She’d had, truly,
enough of it all but Abita. "Hand
me the basket, Charles," she asked.... "Charles?"
Texting someone’s fiancee. The folly
on the trolley was thinking that that sheet
would ever cover Charles again. The burr
and life in hand, she rejoiced. Truly.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I remember, in a misty, paisley way,
when it was different, when I moved lightly through the lines
like smooth ink making my telling shapes. Now I am lame,
a cast on my arm, a brace on my spirit. I have forgotten
that I was this way before, when I started: when all was strange,
every change a challenge, every move close to a buried mine.
I look back only as far as when I was quick and beautiful.
I don’t long for the past; there is far too much of it.
I long for that moment--maybe thirteen years ago,
or twelve, or never--that was so perfect
I didn’t even know it.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
This is a first draft.
His head tilts as he watches her mouth.
Tad. Tad. It’s the sound she makes, the shape
her lips make, when there is food, or bone,
or cuddling. But she is wrinkly like
the shar-pei at the dog park, and there is no
come here, Tad, just this sagging sack
of a face. He lifts one ear, because it always
brings smiles and treats, but she isn’t even looking.
Is there another Tad? He runs to the door,
but there is no canine whiff, not even the
ringing of keys and the oily smell of the man,
her mate. His stomach feels rumbly.
In his new home, when the children say,
“His old master is dead,” he learns
another word, and he wonders
why the name for sorrow
is just a whisker’s breadth
from his own name.
"Oh, good," I thought. "I'll have time to write my poem." Time is one thing; motivation is quite another. I finally got going less than 45 minutes ago. At least I started before midnight.
Writer's Digest: write about an event, I think it said, or an occasion. This is another minefield for mawkishness, for autobiography that matters to no one besides the auto, for a Jenga-tower of cliche. And I have not done my subject justice. But the story is a lovely one.
After the war, Maja Capek returned to Prague
to join her husband, Norbert. She was never again
to touch him.
Born Catholic, raised Baptist, turned Unitarian,
he had been taken to the Priesterblock of Dachau
and died among others so heretical
as to follow their consciences.
He left behind a custom. When spring is reborn
you walk out to the yard, or maybe to the market,
or perhaps to the roadside,
to find one blossom.
You take it to the sanctuary,
where the skilled hands of warm-faced ladies,
or maybe the fumbling fingers of a youth group,
arrange it with the others in a bucket.
You listen as an old story is told,
a tale of a man who found a way to unite
the motley, the ephemeral, in remembrance.
You stand in the queue until
a minister, or a child, or someone—
it doesn’t matter who—
hands you a flower.
You look at the flower.
Maybe you traded up. Maybe you feel cheated.
You quickly realize that market value,
skilled cultivation, even perfume
all cease to matter. The flower is the conduit
from hand to hand.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Writer's Digest: "travel."
Tappy trod the vaudeville boards, serenaded the doughboys,
shook hands with Elvis. So many duffels, trunks, and Gladstones
fallen off the train since he picked up that uke.
Now all he carries are the nitro
and that pressboard case. Were he to forget one,
he’d prefer to drop the pills.
Still singing, still playing at one hundred and one,
his voice carries a perpetual sob, as if, despite his best intentions,
he mourns all he’s lost. But his fingers gather from strings
skeins of joy, ache, laughter.
Everything but anger. There is no anger in a ukulele.
He thinks, then, that heaven will be like the home
he’s carried for nearly a century.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Today's prompt: "regret." As soon as I read the word, I saw in my mind's eye cardboard boxes.
It was as if her life caught fire and she ran
to escape the flames. Left behind in cardboard rooms
are the pieces of her life, unburned. Scraps,
binders, diaries. Insurance cards. Photos of children
now turned to adults, their faces no longer known.
Sheet music for her childhood lessons, inscribed:
“Sandy--Tempo! Largo!” A card from a fan:
drowsy cat on the front, inside: “Your music
saved my life. I have quit the drugs
and gone home.”
Box upon box--but these boxes
are under another, her husband’s things. All of these
boxes, this miscellany, kindly proffered by Elizabeth,
his second wife, his widow. Just inside his single box,
more carefully prepared than the others, is a letter--
not from here in Australia, but from halfway around
the world, two miles from where I live.
From someone I know, who, like Liz, was luckier
than me, maybe luckier than them:
“Trevor, I was so sorry to hear about Sandy.
She will not be forgotten.”
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I guess it's ironic, then, that the Writer's Digest prompt today was "work." I flashed back to my days as a music critic.
One of the most insulting things that happened then: I was at the execrable Nissan Pavilion to review Red Hot Chili Peppers for the Washington Post. I love this band. I didn't love being seated next to this rather chatty dude who, before the show (possibly during Queens of the Stone Age?), was droning on and on to his girlfriend. She finally said, "Be quiet! You're bothering the older lady!"
Whereupon the older lady, acutely uncomfortable, went up the hill to the top of the lawn and enjoyed the rest of the show from there.
I'd like to get this into a real sonnet--when I have time. (This is a second draft. Still putting my half-baked goods out for consumption here, hoping to get credit for palate, recipe, etc.)
As Kiedis flings his hair about the stage,
as lighters catch the weed and raise it up
to lips and lungs that suck the magic in
and folding chairs slam shut as balding dads
(some younger than the band, older than me),
the kids, the hicks, the prettier girls are raptured
flesh and soul, I check my lens and catch
guitar god Frusciante in my sight.
My hips give thrust to Flea’s marrow-deep thrum
and on my tattered pad my pen might drum
like Smith, though half-assed, hardly Smith-worthy,
and all my notes, disposable, will drift
away while all their notes, unseeable,
endure. This second-handiwork: my job.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
From the new screen porch
Neko sees geese by the creek
Thinks of Nutro Max
You wrap your lasso around the meadow
rein it into a garden
and we rejoice at the beauty
of the rope wall
Here it is.
After the Tour
When she comes home she shakes off
the rain and begins again. Like a dog,
like a crocus, like the chorus of a song.
She is naked and new.
Whatever collects on her glittery dress
will be shed with it.
Whatever catches in her pewter-brown hair
will be washed away.
The sorrows and joys within these walls
cut to the bone, but their scars are
a bas-relief, a story told creation by creation,
a pain salved by beauty.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
They say anger and depression are the same thing, or sides of the same coin.
I wrote about dandelions. We got mowed on Thursday. I think it was today that I marveled at the pretty yellow discs on the lawn.
The Dandelion Mother
Every year when it gets just this warm
I raise my thousand fingers through the earth
and birth my golden flowers. I fill each green blanket
with them, just as my cousin fills his black skies
with silver stars. Well, he did his trick once. Me,
I have to repeat myself. Those stompers send
their wheeled bullies out to gobble what I give.
When I feel their teeth against the tips,
my hands curl into fists. I will give again
and again, but for now I crouch into myself,
wondering whom to hate, wondering
what is so wrong with tiny yellow suns
on green sky.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
People always talked of hitting deer, chasing them
from the garden, looking for the twin orange lights
of them at roadside. For me, they were a rumor.
They were like ghosts. Then I moved house
to the village on the coast. One fall night, driving home
from a poetry class, I ascended and then, over the crest
of that hill past Bristol, skidded to a stop. It was
a doe, sagging midway and skin over bones elsewhere.
Her face fixed on mine; she made no move to dodge
the SUV. Then, as if the dinner bell rang, she leapt
westward over the gully into the brush.
Two days later, in the selfsame ditch, I saw
an upended carousel horse, I thought, faded tan legs
stuck up akimbo. A twisted head below, black nose
the period to the sentence. The body was whole.
A rare snow fell next day. It was nearly Christmas
when a thaw exposed her again. Won’t the county
clean her up? I wondered. That task was left to
the turkey vultures, one of whom stared me down
the next Sunday, and two days after that, and
just yesterday, his meal down to bones but still
shimmering with the truth she’d offered me.
Friday, April 17, 2009
All I Want Is Your Pillowcase
Dear one, please tell these men with their swaggers and badges that
I am no thief. Thieves are strangers. Thieves are greedy, uncaring
swine who don’t even eat the treasures they root out. They are not
followers seeking the sustenance of relics. Furthermore, I would never
break into your house in Topanga Canyon (44 Cherrystone Way, 90290)
or even that king-bedded room at the back of the tour bus. These are
your homes, your private places. I don’t want anything that is yours,
anything you didn’t give on stage. When those bullies, those cretins
found me, you had already risen and gone. I want only that cloth that,
between the post-show drinks with Dirty Dave of Country 92 and
the entry of the cart carrying your eggs Benedict and decaf,
caught your dreams and breath.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
the color of under,
a fundament, somber
deep within roll
ants and ant-cows,
whole worlds of microbes
each with its color, its tone
I hear them all as
a pondering, a wonder:
I pause for
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
My source poem title is "The Large Cool Store" by Philip Larkin.
The Small Cool Store
The small cool store where you displayed
your necklaces and earrings
sold coffee, umbrellas, the odd mug or sticker
stamped with an image of the nearest tourist trap.
Your wares were woven, not extruded,
pieced with care and not a little selfish pride.
Life-minutes trickled away as you fed the thread
to each bead. And when
a businesswoman buying scotch tape
would lift one, weigh it, dangling from the stand,
your heart would leap
and then she’d shrug a frown,
tsk at the tag, and drop it to shove
her necessary bucks at you.
You won’t make that mistake again. Love
doesn’t belong side by side with batteries.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Today on Writer's Digest: love and anti-love.
Here they are, in the opposite order.
Quilts and Love
It’s traditional, beautiful, but not natural. It requires a lot of work.
It’s a warm comfort. Not too hard to mend, though
you’ll see all the patched places. The worst thing
is how hard it is to clean. Too big for your washer.
Too delicate for industrial machines. Sooner or later,
it’ll be too smelly to leave as is. Take it into the open air;
that can help make it fresher. But you’ll never get out
all the stains. On the whole, maybe it’s best to box it up
and shove it deep under the bed. Best to view it
not as something you touch and use, but a beauty you remember.
Rob’s Class Ring
That ring, a heavy gold token
that fits no finger. Maybe you wore it
back then, before our first date. Now
neither of us would slip it on.
But it hasn’t lost its beauty or its use:
hung in a window
its topaz-glass stone
hung around my neck
it beats between my breasts
like a second heart
lain in a shallow catch-all dish on my dresser
it’s that foreign thing I find
with my fingers and feel
a rush of delight:
not mine, not quite yours,
just its own sweet self.
Monday, April 13, 2009
He must have been so embarrassed up there,
half-naked, visibly wounded,
that horrible ring on his head. I didn’t know him well,
but I used to see him on the corner,
telling his stories, maybe doing a trick or two.
He never wanted money like so many others.
I think that’s what scared them.
He would have hated all this staring,
the laughing and crying both. This public
humiliation was not his style
of flash. I only ever heard two stories
of his making a spectacle.
Once, he kicked over a table
to shake up those greedy bastards at the savings and loan.
The other time, he waved his hands
over the head of a small girl
and made a clean, bright note come from her mouth.
He continued to gesture, like some lunatic,
coaxing from her a song that shook the temples,
too big for mere earth.
That time, he allowed himself a little bow. I think
his father was pissed off. And then, yesterday,
the sobbing to Dad--I’ll not speak of it again.
It was not his choice to shock. He’d rather
we heard some echo of that song and remembered
what one blessed child of God could do.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
but we couldn’t decide whether to tell them.
We gathered every scrap of seaweed that swam by,
gave it to them with the last fresh water. We sang them
Christmas songs and the Hokey Pokey.
They turned their faces to the sun
as if it made them bloom. Laughing like
the ship had never sunk, they turned red-brown
as apples. My brother took pity
and told them of their destiny. Shrieking,
they flung themselves into the sea and swam
from our clenching bellies.
Now my brother and I watch each other
with eyes that measure love,
speed, and meat.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Date Night Number One
Did they check the papers
for showtimes at Golgotha,
skip the openers--two dull thieves,
the stuff you see every Friday--
showing up in time
for the top-billed treat,
some sleight-of-hand showoff
who needed to be put in his place
with three spikes and a mallet?
Did they show up late,
snacks in hand, chattering,
to see what would happen?
Did the flankers, the Pips,
pockets of their robes outturned
and drooping like their heads,
provide any show? And when
the headliner murmured,
“It is finished,” did they
raise a flame
and stamp their sandals for an encore?
I wrote two poems today: one for the Writer's Digest prompt ("memory") and one bonus one. I sat down to revise and post them at about 11:40, whereupon I decided that the "memory" poem sucked. So I just wrote another one, totally from scratch. And it might be no better...but I'm tired of excuses.
Sitting under the tulip tree on the school lawn
and talking about Ephesians
you pushed your hair behind one virgin ear
with a stub-nailed finger. The fencing trophies
stayed in your room; your mother wanted
a beauty queen,
going so far as to commission a painting
of the child you never were. Her phantom toddler
bears a golden wimple of hair, a blue dress
above plump knees.
Seventeen years later, as the father foe fell,
mother became the enemy. She fought
your evil love, letter by letter, as you won
match after match against masks. You lay
with a woman who loved you bare.
You resurrected the spirit beneath Paul’s letters,
if not hers.
You always saw me whole, found me steady.
But you contained multitudes you couldn’t see
from that grassy hillside in
your seventeenth year.
This is the other poem I wrote, late in the day. This morning, I heard a poem by Kenneth Hart on the Writer's Almanac on NPR. I was quite taken with his work. So I found another of his poems--"Nat & Forrest"--and did a "write-between-the-lines" exercise with it. The lines I generated led to this poem.
As high as it is on this
hot, bright God’s-eye perch,
surrounded by heaps of
and lumber long as a Monday,
we have to hurry
for fear of rain.
We are saving the house,
preserving the family
with galvanized nails
and black tar,
keeping them dry in their beds.
When we are done
the night comes quick:
it drew the dark up to their chins
like an heirloom quilt
studded with stars
that won’t bother them
because our work is solid.
On the ground, weary,
we are not heroes, but men
who sleep in borrowed beds
in the Fellowship Hall,
eat the day-old bread
and watered soup of the white men
who borrowed this land,
built on it,
nailed the roof shut and dry.
I'm really not happy with the way this blog is going right now. I feel a bit like a hack. And I know I'm not a hack; it's just an unusual week. I have to trust that I'll do better soon. Right now it's all I can do to just keep on doing.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Anyway, I'm just damned sorry that I'm barely managing to commit myself to these poems this time around--mostly because of work. I did today's Writer's Digest prompt, which was about a routine. Naturally, I immediately thought of one of my coworkers, who has the same lunch every day. This isn't quite autobiography, then, but it's certainly informed by life.
On My Return to the Office Cafeteria
First go the imperfections of the skin, excised
with a pocketknife your scalpel. Then the bold slice,
two halves. Then the removal of the seeds
and their tough carpels. Halves become quarters
become eighths, until each morsel
fits a bite. You spear each on the blade’s
business end, take it in your mouth.
We last sat at this table twelve years ago.
Your hair was dry wheat. Now there is just
smooth skin above your careful eyes,
a brown spot here and there on your
precise hands—no impediment to
your daily work. The apple, then the orange.
Then eight ounces of cold water.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
These are not a pair.
The Reverend Carlton G. Booze folds my panties
as they come fresh and hot from the Speed Queen.
I guess he lost his church. His is the afternoon shift,
between the narrowfaced scold who watches judge shows
and the five-hundred-pound man. He wears a small cross
on his plaid flannel. I guess he’s touched a better hem
than mine. I try to get there late enough to miss him
so we don’t join eyes as he handles my garments.
The last time, I caught the tag end of a chat
with some wind-reddened sailor: “Yeah, I remember
a time when Booze was my last name, too.”
The Reverend granted
an indulgent smile, passed me the basket:
six days of sweat, cat hair, tomatoes
gone wherever the unwanted things go.
Poetry in the Analog Age
It’s going to be a mess:
you will grow, on your
right middle finger, a mound,
or sometimes a dent,
fierce red or white as bone.
These stains leach from the words
that you press into your fingers.
Along the lateral edge
of the index: a blue streak.
Your palm will catch a painless bruise,
To change your mind requires
tight spikes, like those found
in the record of an anxious heart,
beat out over your cursive. Or,
if you didn’t trust ink to begin with,
a filthy snowfall of pink motes
will cover you waist to knees.
You should have kept things as they were:
immaculate, digital. Instead you
chose to follow the masters,
you grubby romantic.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Today we were to write about something missing. I struggled with this one because I didn't want the "missing-ness" to be the subject of the poem. One could argue that it's the subject, or a subject, of this poem, but I don't think it's the point of the poem.
Marriage, Middle Age
It’s the age of losing things: the name
of that teacher we shared in ninth grade,
the water bill, house keys. Once
we both lost our keys, the same day,
and someone else had to let us into
our own home. Our marriage license:
that went missing in the Reagan years,
along with my perfect dental record
and your twenty-twenty vision.
We don’t quarrel over what slips away,
whether or not it returns. Risky stock.
My wedding ring. Three of our four parents.
Naïve hopes. As long as we both
grow wooly and dim side by side,
as long as we balance our losses, misses,
forgettings, we will have this.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
I'm sure I haven't dodged that criticism, but I tried to anticipate it with some touches of the unexpected.
This is not autobiography. That said, we did have a war memorial in Takoma Park (though not in Spring Park), and I was once skinny enough to slip through the gaps in it. And I did, and do, care deeply about the roots of trees. And I guess it's fair to say I've got some conflicted feelings about war. But "tomboy"? Yeah, not me.
War Monument, Spring Park
I played there when I was nine,
slipped my skinny tomboy self
between the four pillars. Three openings,
like doors on “Let’s Make a Deal.”
What would be back there? The stuff
not worth showing off: poky shrubs,
chewed-up walnut shells, ants
and potato beetles. Out front,
a white apron of stone, making sure
we knew the city called this place special.
Flanking, left and right: tall trees.
I clutched the bark as I walked
root to root, slowing at the pale stone.
Nineteen steps of reverence before
nature was allowed to wave
its branches again. I believed
the dead were down there, you see:
four special heroes, joined by war.
When I stepped, then, onto the next
knuckle of wood, I imagined its finger
grew down into the purple heart
of one of those lost men. Sometimes
I’d hop a little, give him a tickle.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Moving the Aquarium Downstairs
The Great Lifter
has taken us in his arms. My universe
and I are descending
wave by quiver. The green dead man
tilts toward the pink
castle. That chest by his feet
has no treasure. I checked. Anyway,
my treasure falls
from above, from the hands of
The Great Lifter. We who are
caught between heaven
and the muck that stirs
as our universe settles here in this
brighter place, we who
swirl in the green-gray life,
we take power from His manna
and dance here between until we go
the way of all fish: not down
like the stiff man and
his empty box, but
up, as she drifted,
that sad yesterday, up
to the border, to be caught up
by The Great Lifter.
Friday, April 3, 2009
The Problem With Chickpeas
for Joyce Lionarons
The problem with chickpeas isn’t
their mutability. Waxy-hard faces turn
soft in the rising embrace
of bubbles. They will give themselves
for hummus, lay down their lives
to save a sentient protein. They have
many names: garbanzo, cicer, Indian pea,
chana, sanaga pappu. They were prayer beads
for Rumi, though their name to him
is hidden in thick pages. Small imperfect
spheres, collapsing planets, transformative
clay: their problem is not the ways
they change. It is that they are
humble flesh, cheap in the can, and we cooks
expect so much from them.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Here's what arrived in today's mail. It's from a company called WearYourMusic. This one is made from a string played by Richard Thompson on his "1000 Years of Popular Music" UK tour. (Which means I probably never heard this particular string in action.)
It's pricey as all get-out, but the money goes to the fine folks at the Organization for Tropical Studies. And my gosh, it makes me happy to have it resting lightly on my arm.
It's got a little smudge on it--you can see it in the picture. I wonder what music made that smudge?
I paid a bit extra for the charm, which is a small guitar pick.
I was just fiddling with words here and came up with the phrase "soap on the water." (No fire in the sky for now.) I was looking out at the gray flatness of Broadwater Creek and imagining it frothy. So this is a bit of whimsy.
Soap on the Water
minnows flirt with bubbles
try to pop inside
for private pleasures
snakes slip into the ripwrap
and out again into eddies
stirring the pot
under the feet of the mute swans
crabs crawl up from the bay grasses
to wash their cracked hands
the osprey looks down
from atop the flagpole
I went nearly 100% autobiographical on this one (a first draft) and also went back to that familiar ground of musician/audience.
I changed a couple of small things after I posted to the challenge website--one more word in the last line (and I'm still not satisfied with it), as well as some italics I couldn't use in the comment field over there.
The Women’s Showers at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention
A one-pound coin does not weigh a pound, but it has more weight
than the Yankee-come-lately stuff of home. I am led into
the boys’ locker room, once a forbidden zone. There are no boys.
We are women and girls: tanned and toasted, white as ducks,
smacked with red here and there, under a glaze of muddy sweat.
The headlining band has endured forty years, and the gods
like to shake them up. Quarrels, debts, divorces, flat tires
on five continents. Two deaths. They shine down on these hills
like gods, or like people who shower on marble, sleep
under down. But I have seen them, just the other side
of the security fence, in tents no better than ours, chasing
the grandkids, closing their eyes. The bench is chilly.
We are half-wrapped in beach towels, waiting our turns.
Some modest; most not. Wrinkled tattoos, firm flesh
pierced and shining, hair wild by nature or will.
We are our own country these four days. Over the tinny speakers
flow back song after song from previous incarnations
of those old, old boys. Please, Mister Lacey… We approach
the steam singing, swaying, towels falling, ready
to be clean, to go back, cheering, into the English dirt.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Where Babies Come From
That was, in fact, a roll of dimes in his Haggar pocket
at the junior prom. They both came stag,
after talking it over at the youth group. He bruised her thigh
doing the bump to “Brick House.” She didn’t know for three days.
He tore her dress when the music changed
to “Shout” and his size 13 caught the hem. Apologized right then,
mid-hop, said it wouldn’t happen again. Hands flung high,
half-transported, half worried about the whitish stains
of stick deodorant, they knew themselves
to be making memories. They did not do the Gator.
By the punch bowl, sweating, sucking their ice
like a menthol balm, they talked about
Anderman’s pop quiz on Vietnam. Was it a war,
or just a criminal possession? Would they ever get out?
Would the horrors ever come east, to Oregon, to home?
In Eileen’s basement, a half-giddy impromptu party.
Spin the bottle. His lips did not open. She felt
the shock of tongue from Bobby, the guy in the science lab
who fed the snake, the golden hamsters, the fishes.
I seem to have jumped the gun by staying up late; there's no prompt yet for April 1.
I guess as the month goes on I'll end up doing more than a poem a day; I imagine I'll use his prompts to post poems over there, but I might want to do different ones here.
The terrifying task of my first post-MFA-program-rejection poem complete, I'm now going to try to get some sleep. This nocturnal life is untenable; next Monday I start a full-time job like most normal people. The last time I had such a job, I was extremely emotionally healthy and mostly uncreative. The day the job all went to hell, I wrote two poems on the Metro platform after walking out of the place.
I see what Thomas Lux says about a certain degree of tension or discomfort being useful to the creative process. I also see that Ted and Sylvia's son just succumbed to the family curse, that the poets in popular culture are all louts or suicides (or both), and that I really do like a normal life watching sitcoms and staying away from the psych ward. Health is very important for an artist.
And I just wrote this one. This is approximately a second draft.
The dedication is problematic. I'm not sure if it speaks the truth about my feelings about Dave Carter; I think he deserves better than this. But he's an example of an artist who died too suddenly and whose words were then interpreted as prophetic. Go listen to the song "When I Go" and feel the pressure build up in your eyes, especially if you knew him.
Anyway, I'll leave him in there for now. "The Moon and Seven" is what he, or maybe his partner in all things Tracy Grammer, said was to be the title of their next album. That was a few days before his death; I was at his last concert. Later, Tracy released a collection of their later songs called Seven Is the Number.
for Dave Carter
We find our peace in buttonholes and shanks, dress you up
in that black suit you found at St. Vincent de Paul
(once a bargain, maybe a costume,
now a meditation on the open hand,
emptied into the poorbox,
where once bloomed
We need it unraveled, stitched straight: what that was
when you made seven words dance—for sins,
we ask? For weekdays? For veils?
The moon and seven some phrase
from the far valley where
your dreams traveled.
Swift birds became eagles, or buzzards.
Red flowers--chest-high, heart-deep--
broke the pine lid. Was yours the tongue
of an angel?
Or were you only whistling, jangling
syllables like pennies in the palm
after milk and meat are paid for?
Death made the jabber a riddle:
sewed word to deed to destiny.
You aren’t around to witness
what you had meant to say
when you were saying
I need a rhyme
Monday, March 30, 2009
That's not an analogy I want to try to sustain. It takes me into areas too false or too true. For example, "If you'd been flossing, you wouldn't be afraid of the dentist."
In other words, maybe my poetic failings--specifically, that big, recent one, being rejected for the MFA program I'd dreamed about and actually worked toward--are entirely at my own doorstep.
I need to get back on the horse. (The horse that I ride to the dentist, I guess.) So I will do this. I will continue to run the risk of humiliating myself in public by, once again, being a very imperfect poet in front of everyone. I'm a little queasy just thinking of Wednesday.
If there are any other poets reading this: The April poem-a-day challenge at the blog Poetic Asides will not only continue this year, but feature judges, prizes, etc. More info here.