Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rave On

I'm actually kind of annoyed by M. Ward's lorazepamly cover of "Rave On." But when I saw it on the KHUM playlist this morning (I just missed hearing it), it inspired me to try writing a poem of the same title and infused with the same idea.

(I hesitated when I went to use "careen" here, thinking it was one of those "forbidden words" some poets have. I went with it--it's just a first draft, right? Now I see that I also used it yesterday.)

Rave On

You keep it under wraps, let it slip
when it trembles. It spills from your cloak
like contraband at the security gate,
some living creature that yearns
to be found out. It will go running
if you don’t keep your grip, a gay careen
down Connecticut Avenue, dodging cabs
and catching the kiss of bruises
from bike messengers. Yesterday,
behind the Starbucks, a man in a nest
screamed, full-bore, at homegoing passersby.
His words were curses, petitions to God,
mental straws he grasped to hold on
to whatever ground he had. You think
this knotted spirit will be you
if you rise above that whisper.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Not a tower of song


It’s a luggage belt gone wild, baggage careening
all over Arrivals. It’s a tsunami. It’s cabbage,
bubbling and squeaking in the pot,
stinking up the kitchen. It’s fear of space,
a fearsome place where there is nothing to read
but another face. It’s a failure to communicate.
It’s music without lyrics. I could duet
with it, try to drown it with my sax, drum it
into lockstep. You have something to say,
but it’s not in that nitro-burning, ear-piercing,
palpable pummel of words.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

From yesterday afternoon

Get the Red Out

Mr. Sandman is sunlighting over on L Street,
tossing road junk into the eyes of trudging research assistants
and assistant executives and senior researchers and executive
assistants and program researchers and research specialists and
assistant program executives and seniors.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I misread a Nick Drake title

"Paradise" for "Parasite." So it came to this dark place.

Paradise, Parasite

On the party barge the freshman lounges. Two months
and she’s back in the yellow rooms, taxing her eyes.

Alcott lent Thoreau his axe to chop fuel for heaven.
Thoreau complains that it’s dull, sharpens it for him.

The biographer gives up her job, roams the world to bother
the survivors, calls home for a new set of clothes.

Nick Drake pulls out our secrets, steals the air from our lungs,
and pins it all to a stone in Tamworth-in-Arden.

A father watches his job die, his marriage die. He picks up
the sharp axe. When the work is done and all are sleeping

he detaches the floating dock and pushes off, singing laments
that no one will be left to hear. The sun goes on shining.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How old am I?

I was a grownup, and then in parts of this poem I was 19 or 16 or God knows what. Which shouldn't matter to the reader.

I probably had my first Anchor Steam at about age 33.

No Rest for the Restless

I reckon love isn’t for layabouts. I reckon
if I have it, I have to get off the sofa and boogie.

Trouble is, I can’t tell if love is dream or reality.
I might well have had one too many Anchor Steams,
dozed off between soaps, absorbed the suds

of ruffle-haired swains, plastic blondes, neighbor
nurses with a surfeit of eyeliner, perfume execs
of dubious predilections, and all their attendant
couplings in counterpoint to Pachelbel. Or

I might have talked to that redheaded usher
at Guys and Dolls or felt the hint of a flirt from
Dan at the deli counter. Or I might have looked

deep into my own heart, which dances
in this indolent chest, and seen a movement

toward a dance with you, whether you like it or not.

Staring at my desk fan, I write....

Summer in the City

I want to climb inside this fan,
feel the cool breeze from its inside. The wind
is coldest at its core, I think. Then again,
one July day back in the Maple Avenue flat,
Mom and Daddy and I watched as the gray-blue
box fan in the bedroom window became
some Independence nightmare: a shrieking whirr
and a barrage of yellow barbed sparks
shooting across the polyester bedspread
as the blades drifted to death. Like Satan himself
was hiding, not in sinners’ hearts like Billy Graham said
on the TV that kept me up at night, but
deep in the heart of this human device made
to keep us comfortable. Serves you right.
Who said that? Everyone. Pride goeth
before fire. Air conditioning was for people
who deserved it, the normal families
in full houses with wall-to-wall and dogs
and cars. Everything worked in the Bradys’ house.
The Waltons slept in open-windowed virtue.
I whined at the heat. Now, nearing fifty,
I sit in a grownup office in a big city,
a fallen woman who watches talk shows on Sunday,
and wish I was standing in my childhood kitchen
with my shaggy head stuck in the freezer,
smelling aging burgers and sweet Birds-Eye peas.

Hey, still around

OK, yeah, not quite getting a poem a day. And you know what? I was going to type "And it's not for lack of trying." But it is. Life gets in the way. A little inclination, and I can get at least a not-entirely-embarrassing first draft.

Such as....

Gold Records of the Seventies

I was 17 when Bobby Caldwell wailed on WPGC
I came back to let you know...
in the sort of agony brought on by a bad landing
on the pommel horse. How those boxes, rails,
mats frightened me. Nadia Comaneech was my age,
but she was foreign, and beautiful. I could’t pull
myself up on the bars (Got a thing for you,
and I can’t let go
). I couldn’t keep my footing
on the hip-high beam (What you won’t do
for love
), my body a strange and heavy thing
on size 6 feet. The mat, smelling of legs
and necks, deceptively soft (you’ll do anything),
taught that even being on the ground
wasn’t safe. Worst of all
(you won’t give up)
was the vault. Try though I might, my heart
would stall, my feet stop before my palms
hit the top, before I flung myself on mere arms
into the space above Miss Wells’ head. Kid I was,
I came back to let you know
you’ll learn the turns and tumbles.
Take your time. It’s not about the medals.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Movie poem

For this one, I mined old prompts from Robert Lee Brewer (today's prompt didn't appeal to me) and came up with "write a poem based on a movie."

The Accidental Tourist

My logo is a chair with wings. This gets me
no closer to heaven than being with my child.
Blue-eyed boy, swinging at a pop-fly
was as close as you came to violence
until that dusk visit to the convenience store
a bullet’s-length behind the guy in the ski mask.
Now you lie under the Homeland snow,
your mother lies under her new husband,
and I remain where I was that night:
my academic’s weedy body in the wing chair,
my mind on the other side of this mortal world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

JazzFest on the brain

True story. Thanks, Festival Tours.

Big Fine

God laughs at me,
fat middle-aged white lady dancing.
My fifth-grade classmates come forward in time
to laugh at me. The ghost of Isadora
laughs. The ghost of my sainted mother
tells me to stand up straight.
My pastor says “Bless her heart.” My husband
hides his face, asks kindly
if I’m up on my meds.

My hips get it. My feet get it. My cardiovascular system
gets it. My gray hairs get it. All of them
have a beat. Getting down
‘til they’re six feet under.

And in a barn outside Eunice, Louisiana,
a place so foreign I think the barbecue sauce is an entree,
as grinding zydeco shamelessly, cool-lessly raises the sweat,
a stick-figure man in low-rider jeans
has his say.

Big fine!


You BIG fine! And he puts his gold band against the place
his hip would be, elbow swaggering, chin tilted to heaven.

He’s not teasing. You got a husband? I tell him I do.
Naw, that’s all right, baby.

Big Fine. I wish I played poker, so I could toss it on the chips,
say Raise. Maybe the Red Hot Chili Peppers get it. Maybe
James McMurtry gets it. Maybe the Lil’ Rascals Brass Band,
kings of the Sixth Ward, get it.

And maybe I’m wrong about why God is laughing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Barely trying to catch up

You'll have to take my word that I've written a couple that I haven't posted--and that I've been sick and otherwise unable to be here every day.

I just did a reading-between-the-lines exercise with some lines from Richard Wilbur, which spurred this first draft.

In White

White gets extra credit. White teeth
crowd the mouth of the Bollywood idol. White gloves
clasp the flag. White veils wrap
the nymph cicada. As if our off-white lives

have no meaning. As if our amber ale didn’t spill
from brown bottles. As if our manycolored houses
should be crushed and dumped in the skip. As if
our gods weren’t blue and green. In white

we elevate our mortal skin, our unseen
and utterly meaty heart. We pray for succor, satiety,
sauce on the side. We chase apocalyptic horses
from our lawn of dead snow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Science for beginners

Yup, late again. I'm having a sort of bad-psyche day or days. The anxiety monster is afoot. I'm a stress monkey.

That's not a poem. This is. Or, maybe, it's one (first-draft) section of a longer poem on a nonscientist's view of science.


I always picture the hands of God,
big and a bit gnarly, one on either side
of a blobby, freckled, sunny-side-up
microbe, pulling the edges like
Silly Putty just to the point at which
if this wasn’t God
the yolk would split and a stream
of life, like a wet soul,
would spill on the lab floor.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Name not changed to protect the innocent

I had an assignment, for a class tonight (yeah, I'm a procrastinator--I've been meaning to mention that) to write a syllabic poem. For God knows what reason, I took as my inspiration a recent Facebook discussion--one of those silly things in which I commented that I wanted sugar and a friend replied, emphatically, "Carrots."

Now, this friend's name is Andrew. And he did indeed visit me once. And he does make great music.

None of the rest of the poem is meant to be documentary. Hell, I don't even have much of a sweet tooth--and I love carrots (but not carrot cake).

So I should probably change the name in this poem. I hope that Andrew, if he reads this, will forgive me if I don't, at least for now.

Andrew’s Nostrum

A folksinger came to stay
at my house for two
weeks last summer. He made good
vegan chili, made
great music. Can’t tell
you how he made love.

Carrots, he said, are the cure
for any weakness:
acne, adultery, fatigue,
crooked politics.
Eschew white sugar.
Fill your gut with orange

and green vegetables. Stop warts.
Cancer. Debt. Dandruff.
Andrew’s nostrum makes the sun
shine bright in your heart.
Even on Christmas.
Carrots dangling like orange

icicles between blue balls.
Carrots’ demure green
heads poking from your stocking.
Carrot cake, sans frosting.
Pah. I’d rather die
fat and sweet and young

than old, virtuous, and orange.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Making up for yesterday

Rumple Minze

The peppermint liqueur…has a high alcohol content at 50% alcohol by volume….It is commonly taken with a "chaser" of chocolate sauce which allows the drinker to consume larger quantities faster, with little or no heavy alcohol taste.

The engineering grads’ campout: our first trip

together. Wise old Jack has poured Rumple Minze

with a chocolate chaser: a sure ski

down the slippery slope. Hours later,

you erupt from the tent, stagger through brush.

You retch and retch.

It must be two a.m. I think, “Everyone will hear.”

I stay in the sleeping bag. You return, apologizing

and reeking. You are so warm.

I draw you to me, my first love.

I smell the real smell of your hair. I think of you

outside. It must be two fifteen. I think,

“The stars must be beautiful out there.”

Fake translation

As I've said before, one of my favorite creative exercises involves taking a poem or other text in an unfamiliar language and "translating" it. Sometimes just a few words become a jumping-off point. You can return to the well again and again for ideas that startle you out of the ordinary.

I started here with a piece of a poem by Neruda. I don't know Spanish, but I know enough that I probably could have figured out a lot of the poem, so I didn't use it for much beyond the first line.

Poisoned Poem

The rule: write a sad poem each day. Thursday’s should be

saddest. Write, for example: “The stars are falling, o my love,

falling on your house.” Keep at arm’s length the vision

of the drapes, the bed, the cats aflame. Make the sorrow

beautiful. When the night comes, kiss your lover,

your children, kneel at the hearth, and throw the poem into the fire.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I hope to do something better this weekend than just recycle memories.

The "hubris" sentence doesn't make sense. This is just a first draft, off the cuff, in a hurry.

New Construction

Nine trees don’t make a wood,
just a builder’s folly. This house, while new,
is unsound: warped shingles, burst lines,
sinkholes, snare after snare. The hubris
in having something built for you
and having it be a disaster
reminds me of being seventeen
in a shabby Victorian conversion:
five apartments where one upstanding
Republican family once lived. Noises
in the night, inside my walls; I thought
I was dreaming of devils. One night, as I read,
a small black hand burst through the plaster.
It was a raccoon. The landlord
screwed a square of paneling over it.
I taped a Rockwell in the middle. Soon,
the death smell began, worsened, ended.
And I was still happier there
than on this train-set cul de sac
where the birds never come back.


I wrote a poem yesterday afternoon, but I left it on my work computer, so I couldn't post it last night. It isn't very good. It's the result of a class assignment to write a poem with specific line lengths. I picked a pattern of syllables: 7-5-7-5-4-5. This is what I got (first draft). You can see how I just started playing with words that occurred to me; as the first two stanzas progressed, I found a direction. The title came last.

Washington in Fall

the telegram arrived
faster than a kite
bearing the news of peril
purple and discreet
Who sent that box?
His name extinguished

powder, sick perfume, alarm
rising like the moon
safe alabaster chambers
now cold fortresses
sweat on the brow
check is in the mail

I remember when they fell
I was sleeping well
someone woke me with a shout
all was turned around
How could this be?
Don’t know where to run

Mom, in the mountains, begged me
Come home now, honey
The mountains were not my home
City born and raised
Daddy’s daughter
Eyes closed to the sun

Papers falling, people I can’t
talk about, years later.
Just months hence, the sniper attacks
Zigzag to the car
Death at the Depot
No one has a home

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sodalis, or Jackknife, or Symbiosis...a first draft


I do not know what Sodalis means.

It puts me in mind of a combination watch/compass, some device that tells you where and when to go.

I envision it at the pivot of a double-bladed jackknife, its edges cutting their own stories into the air, setting their own beginnings and endings.

I am trying to edit a microbiological manuscript.

I have a four-day headache.

I grow distracted and look at an old story, the one about the two filmmakers who, face to face, shot each other.

It’s an irresistible riddle: how they managed to die together, one earthshaking grand mort.

I lie.

A play on words is kinder than the truth: how she swallowed enough drugstore pills to die, how he went missing a week later, clothes and wallet on the beach.

How many days alive without her? Six? Seven?

Too many to fathom.

I knew him by name. By face.

I see him in my memory, walking down Philadelphia Avenue by the Takoma Park Library, a ten-year-old curly-headed boy in a peacoat, so solemn, dark-eyed.

Going to bed early--did I play with him?--and leaving me, his sitter, to ponder his mother’s bookshelves, read the books the library wouldn’t let me have, wonder whether the thin, bearded man in the poster with “ZIG ZAG” under it was her single-mom, agnostic Jesus.

I lie again. Who thinks of such things? I remember

that he was an uncannily handsome child. That is a surface, and I never got to see anything deeper. Maybe in his art. Maybe in that final stroke of tragedy. Did he walk out like Virginia Woolf, or did he find some height

and jackknife into the waves? And what of where I started,

with Sodalis? “Sodalis glossinidius is a maternally transmitted endosymbiont of tsetse flies,” says Google.

I could make a metaphor, but it would mean nothing. A mother, who loved him. A lover with a sickness, who slept. Image after image of colors merging; room after room of the Winchester Mystery House,

the folly of a woman who lost everyone and built room after room, a maze to stave off the reaper’s staff. A bug in the gut of a fly that can be caught easily with an electric-blue net. How do I make it mean anything?

Mostly a true story


At fifty-two, he washed the company out of his life
with Gilbey’s. I never met him, just heard of his adventures:
the budgets padded to soften the clatter of minibar bottles
into gray wastebaskets, forming sticky glass mountains
from San Jose to Wichita to Charlotte, atop one of which
his body was bent, two days dead, a week before the
quarterly report.

Three years later,
the 2003 Pontiac Bonneville still hunkers in the corner
of the lot: gold-green with pollen, its windows
pigeon-dotted, its front vanity plate slightly dented.

I’m going to dent it again. I feel no pity
for the plaid scarf that droops over
the passenger headrest where a head
never rested, the jowly tires, the yellow ribbon
glued on the back glass. This sad man,
given the company passed from son to son,
left it dispirited, twitching. The underling
who hired me was fired a week later.
The work is too disorderly to pack into
a boulder to push up the hill.
I was promised parking. Five years dead,
this fallen leader
still takes up space.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pro Forma

This is a tiny bit of reverie, mostly here to keep me honest, in case I don't get back here later today with something better.

pieces of the plan
scattered on the cellar floor
covered with a box or two
never go away

all the little horses
running through your head
feel the rafters shake

sizes of seismic selection
shake out a shard or two
somehow that broken piece
will emerge

and you’ll trip
with an armful of sheets
you’ll fall into your own
old dreams

Monday, March 1, 2010


The Bad Movie

Why choose it, when you know it’ll suck
the intellect, the compassion, the gravy goodness
out of you? Why trade two hours of life
for this? It’s not a trip you take alone,
or sober: in the night’s wee smalls you gather
at the screen, jabber like soothsayers, all the while
watching, hoping your laugh
meets theirs in a piss-take
that passeth understanding.

Coming back

I'm hoping to do this exercise again in March and April. I don't know whether it helps me succeed or merely gives me willow switches for flagellation when I fail.