Thursday, April 29, 2010
Down below the part that’s healthy, the ectoplasm
where industrious bacteria feed and fuck,
there lies the prize, the bliss-rising fruit
of the cacao bean, that dessert for the virtuous,
ambrosia for the fauxhemian saint. Yesterday,
some full-grown coworker asked me
“What is macrame?” The cutoff date: 1965.
Born later, and you missed everything.
Still, these tall kids in the office, with their
earbuds and tramp stamps and superior hair,
they’re buying the same stuff as me
these days, the organic-guaranteed brand
with the mellow brown cows on the cup. They’re
sucking up the same mind-altering sweet bugs,
stirring and stirring until the nutraceutical goo
is engulfed by the good stuff.
Chocolate Underground, baby. Dig it.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The Neverending Fender Solo
What matters isn’t that he plays it loud.
What matters isn’t speed. What matters is
the way, when all seems done, he comes around
to find a lagniappe, a hidden clover
bearing four leaves, deep buried among threes;
as if God gave him elemental breath
attenuated, never labored, bright;
as if each of us dreamed of being trapped,
our streetcar barreling down Lombard Street,
with switchback after switchback bringing thrills,
or fatalism, fear, raw ecstasy,
and when it seemed we’d hit the water’s edge,
that trolley would create another track
stretching before us, unbelievable,
longer than any one of us could breathe.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
You gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die.
This was my grandmother’s adage,
told me by my mother. I remember Grandma only dimly:
after a visit to Natural Bridge when I was three,
where I fell and cut my knee, she bandaged it
as I wailed.
No. That, too, is a memory that was told to me.
All I can see of her, truly see, is a shape under sheets,
too scary for an eight-year-old to approach,
as she lay dying of cancer in Aunt Cleo’s bedroom.
I knew her best by the things she owned: the waterfall furniture
in the room where she last breathed, the brown jugs
that held lemonade at the family reunion.
Her golden slippers, small enough for me to wear
after she died.
I know stories: how Granddaddy loved her at first site
in her mother’s boarding house, how his hands
just spanned her waist. I know love leads inexorably
to death: within a year after they set the stone,
Granddaddy visited each of his 10 children and then
joined her once more.
I knew her by words. Mama called it schmierkase,
Mom said, scooping cottage cheese. I knew her picture,
hair pulled back, thin metal glasses softening her,
looking so much like her daughters, so little like me.
Daughters withering like daffodils, worldly goods
gone to estate sales, memories fading: how deep
would I have to dig in those mountain valleys
to find who she was, as everyone who knew her
is swallowed by the earth?
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
It’s a day that dreams died. If I could learn
to confine all mourning to twenty-four hours,
this day would be the one: amid spring,
as like to shower as shine. Here, I have inured
myself to the joyous redbud, another year
my mother won’t see it. Here, the pollen:
fecund, throat-clog spume across the blacktop,
here, road workers set up their fruitless repairs
(the storms of winter will again bring potholes).
Here, in this particular place, I am pricked
by recollections I want to wipe away,
phantom pains in places I’d forgotten.
Who knows where the time goes? I do.
It doesn’t go. It lingers, festers, flowers, falls.
My wounds and sorrows are so small;
why must they swell in April? I reject
that folderol about the cruelest month.
I sleep with my window open to the bay.
The courting birds cry at night, emotions
and species I can’t discern. Life renews.
Not for all, but for some lucky few.
According to Melinda,
art must be beautiful.
According to Jake,
each line should begin with a capital letter.
According to Rainer,
a poet who has not loved, lost, drunk, drawn blood, seen death,
and ideally done the killing is no poet at all.
According to Justin,
women can’t be funny.
According to Alex,
true poetry died with Sinatra.
According to Leona,
the letter “t” always symbolizes the risen Christ.
According to Stacy,
black is slimming.
According to Tina,
a line should never exceed eleven syllables.
According to Lucas,
one must never use the following words in a poem: heart, soul, moon, sun, languid, orange, moist, Nantucket, uterus, wine, couple, poet, poem, poetry, poesy, rose.
According to Carmen,
rules are made to be broken.
Also according to Lucas,
a poem should not mean, but be.
And it should take off the top of your head.
And maybe something else. It’s in the notebook somewhere.
According to Warren,
ignore the stuff you hear in workshops.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
for, but not about, Wavy Gravy
All that he did was money in the bank
for this ragged old age. Time was
we hijacked a plane, with love and hugs.
It’s our trip now, we said. We hung flowers
around the stewardesses’ necks--
you know, they all got lei’d! He rips a fart,
mutters Sorry, like respectable company.
There were even boy stewards.
We didn’t care. He hacks up
a few more memories, deep in his chest.
We never dosed anyone. Those were lies.
You make your own karma. We never wanted
to hurt anyone. Some boy with a bad trip,
we’d give him ice cream. It’s OK, kid,
you just swallowed the snake.
It’ll come out the other end, you’ll be fine.
Big cough now. He pats the sunken Zig-Zag head
between his withered nipples. We always said the weed
wouldn’t poison us like nicotine. We were wrong.
Asked, Do you regret anything? he brings a knuckle
to the place where his right eye used to be,
gives it a twist, winces a wicked grin, says,
I wish I’d given those kids on the plane
more than flowers.
God made him from rubber clay,
stretched and twisted, set to spring
but who could see, back in the days
of schoolcaps, of knee pants, the
that cracked the world
bent the frames, made the moon roll
such a fire needs fuel
booze and breasts and boasts
charlie, chewing gum, china white
burning to black
till black lost its meaning
what a machine
to keep that jittery, unsteady roll
down years, not gathering moss
but shedding all but the essential
Monday, April 19, 2010
Who would have expected genius from Gert?
That name so squat, dull as soap,
the face (some would say) likewise,
even the Belle couldn’t help. She never married.
Daughter of a dentist in the Bronx
admitted free to Hunter College with the other girls,
she missed the slot for nursing school,
was denied a graduate assistantship.
A lab tech’s hands thrust deep
into assays and poisons, dark steams
and cold glove boxes. An academic mind
formed microscopic military strategies
to kill the enemy, spare the civilians.
An upper-class Jewish suburban life:
opera, vacations, playing with nephews and nieces.
She never had children. Between everything
was work. She was Dr. Hitchings’ assistant.
HIV pushed back, pathogens held at bay,
liver transplants thriving. What did she see
as she dressed for work each day,
combed the curls, fastened the brooch?
Was she a role model? Was she happy?
In 1989, New York Polytechnic gave Gertrude Elion
an honorary Ph.D. It came a year
after the Nobel.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
It helps if you can shrink,
fold yourself into the corner of the envelope,
maybe under the stamp. Or work
your wormy way under the jars
under the sink. You might slide
down the drain—things get lost there—
or climb the walls to hide
atop the blades of the fan.
Sometimes avoidance can be work.
The house is your burlap sack.
Don’t answer the phone. Let it shriek.
Let the birds, the cats, the kettle shriek.
And you? You laundry layabout,
you call in sick to work
for want of a shirt.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Throwing myself onto the barstool
as if it was a bomb and the bartender was you,
I found your note under the Bombay Sapphire and tonic.
Some would say
I arrived too late. But the note told me
where you were.
You died before I was born. That juniper and quinine
flowed through my veins, a mild intoxicant,
not a poison. I have your laugh in my pocket.
I never needed to save you. I swallowed
the map. You dance here,
tipsy, in my heart.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I would like us to climb into the shell and ride
the waves to where they sleep.
There we would press our fistfuls of sand
into panes and build a clear house
with ocean floor, sky ceiling. This
would save us for a few years.
But I know that as we drift in dreams,
the sand would remember the earth,
crumble from the walls, fill our eyes.
We would wake crying.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I don't like the prefix "anti-." Call me naive, but I'm no cynic when it comes to love. I've been lucky. And while happy families are not all the same, I do find it hard to write love poems about my beloved husband.
So I make up lovers. Sometimes, as with this poem, I take a person or circumstance or story from life and then pull it away from reality into, I hope, some other sort of truth.
This is neither love nor anti-love.
Ode to the Guy from Drafting on Whom I Had a Fruitless Crush in 1982
We never got closer
than the cafeteria table
where you held court.
If you were in the Major Arcana
you’d be the King of Oranges:
orb in one hand, pocket folding scepter
in the other. “Navel gazing,”
you’d deadpan--you are the King
of Deadpan--that empty dish
beside your throne
filling with fragrant layers. You count
our years in circles of pulp and zest.
You absorb the citric acid
and spill it in riddles, which I imagine
are your valentines. Passing
in the corridor, you mutter,
What’s bright, has a round end,
and lasts forever? And as you leave,
not waiting for an answer,
I watch your Dockers and think: You.
Monday, April 12, 2010
From the day I got my name I was destined
for you. Thirty-four years later,
jet-lagged, I sat in a park, watching leaves dance,
realizing how people came to believe
in fairies. Maybe enchantment came
because I looked for it. Maybe
blood speaks to blood.
The quirked mouth, the rising inflection,
the low droll drawl of you. Smiles
with mouths full of humble pie. Green swards
full of small white men with paddles.
Tunnels worn by centuries of pilgrim’s feet,
scratched metal boxes full of musty anoraks.
The satchels you carry.
The rooftop cats, chimneys, the curry houses,
the charity shops. Cakes with strange names:
Banbury, Banoffee. Baps. Baked beans
on tepid wheat toast. Pub windows
washed in whisky and water. The marriage
of disparate minds in the back of a cab.
On the bank by the art factory,
near the bridge disguised as rain,
the cool breath of the Thames
filled my lungs
and my immigrant heart.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Portrait of “Rags,” by Gacy
An old lover bought it. He claimed
he felt sorry for the clown. I think a surfeit
of snark did him in. The lover, I mean;
he disappeared one morning after the night
we read poems to each other. There he hangs—
the clown, I mean—great caterpillar brows
tent-tilted in sorrow. Did murdered boys
see those sloppy lips, that streaky pallid brow,
No, I can’t go there.
Neither could John Wayne Gacy.
So he painted these simulacra of pathos,
and he killed.
And I write poems that I read
to no one.
Friday, April 9, 2010
One of the stories my face tells
is of a winter Saturday in 1968. Takoma Park
is full of hills; this was the next one
over from mine. The snow and ice
slipped down Willow Avenue,
irresistible for sledding. There was an orange barricade,
mark of official approval, where we gathered
to slide down.
Mom climbed on the Flexible Flyer
behind me, I tucked in my gangly
and down we went.
What caused the sudden veer to the right? Mom had
taught me to steer. Who held the rope? What was
the make and model of the car? Daddy would
have known. Let’s say a ’56 Chevy,
bulbous and hospital green, with a hard bright bumper.
Why, the adult me asks, did they let kids
sled down a street full of parked cars?
My head slammed the metal.
A stranger’s red washrag at my head. You can be killed
by a blow to the temple, someone said. I tasted salt.
Mom had not stopped crying. The bigger boys
scudded on by, joyful, unaware.
Daddy appeared with the car. I lay in my room
away from home, the big back seat,
fascinated. Mom. Mom. Look. I bit my tongue.
She turned, tearful, from the passenger seat,
murmured muddled comfort.
How strange and wonderful to lie on the white table,
watching white thread go into my right brow
and come out brown. I felt nothing. I learned
so much. I learned about concussions. I learned that
girls with scars on their faces
are supposed to hate them later.
I learned how my hillbilly tomboy mom
could be most deeply injured.
I got nine stitches. I never had children.
Scars are too simple.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Frankie put it on his head and ran around the yard.
shrieking, “I’m a moon man!” Armstrong would take his step
later that month; the moon was still ours to imagine.
Mom had some nonsense about green cheese--who ever
saw green cheese?--but I knew it was like the dough
she formed into gnocchi with her small hands. Flecked with flour,
then dancing in the water, then made perfect
by a passage through that helmet I wrested from my brother--
yes, I washed it first--it glowed under marinara
on the Melmac plate. Years later, I would learn,
that if you didn’t shake the colander, dry the little orbs,
the whole thing would go limp, thin, and useless
as Frankie after the Harley crash in ’98. That night,
the three of us encircling, I gazed at my favorite food,
thinking, Someday, I’m gonna eat the whole moon.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Until the Words Are Gone
As they fled, slowly,
the Powhatan Nation left footprints on our maps:
Appomattox, Pamonkey, Chickahominy. Laughing
at their rude music even as we use
the names we borrowed, we slip on moccasins,
chase raccoons and opossums, cheer
the Maryland Terrapins, place a persimmon on the hickory table.
Scholars call the language dead.
Here in Tidewater country, we walk on dead words,
but their ghosts rise, trailing rich scents,
even as we write our white papers.
(Chickahominy: grain cracked by grinding.)
In my dream, your hotel had bone-white walls,
the plane trees stark against them,
the sand stilled by the baking sun. Cheb i Sabbah chanted
from some inner room, where I understood,
without being told, that the dance goes ever on.
A place remote, with music in its hidden heart,
is not where you live.
I have not seen your house, but you talk
of tinkling creeks, rising loaves of seven-grain bread,
and white blooms, mosquitoes in their orbit,
floating, tethers obscured by the rippling surface.
Nomad of sharp tongue and sharper ear,
narcissus hair and rosy cheek, I don’t know botany,
and for all that I see you in city after city,
for all that I trust your hand and ear and eye,
I don’t know the name of that water flower.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Jessica Biel as Pocahontas, by Annie Leibovitz
She is pretty, and she is running. No. She is pretty,
and she is not running. She looks like she is running,
but in a pretty way. She will get nowhere,
except, possibly, by being pretty.
The deer is also running. The deer is, possibly,
dead, or Photoshopped, or both. The deer’s tail
is a blur. The deer is pretty.
The leaves are a blur. The leaves are a dream. The leaves
tell you that it is autumn. Autumn is Indian time.
Jessica Biel is not an Indian. Jessica Biel is an actress
from 7th Heaven and The Illusionist. Jessica Biel is pretty.
Jessica Biel is, nevertheless, Pocahontas.
The word callipygian means possessed of shapely buttocks.
If the word callipygian were commonly used, the word
callipygian might be applied to Jessica Biel. In this picture,
you can’t see her tail, but it is not a blur.
Woody Harrelson sang a song about callipygian
on Saturday Night Live. Saturday Night Live used to be funny.
So did Woody Harrelson, who has since done
some persuasive dramatic work.
I used to be a critic. I used to be paid to write words like
persuasive dramatic work and, possibly, callipygian.
I am not callipygian, or dead, or Indian, or pretty.
I am, possibly, a dream.
I used to be a critic, but sometimes truth got in the way
of art. Or vice versa. I don't know. It's a blur. Now all I know
is what I think I see or what I read in the gossip pages.
There is a ship on the horizon. The ship heads
toward the fake fall leaves. The dead deer’s dead eyes
look toward the callipygian part of Pocahontas.
She looks--where? At craft services?
This is a pretty picture.
Quick first draft, written beginning to end (the title was the last bit).
For Rusty Breitbaum
A chipped, cheese-colored plate soaks up the history
at this mouth-shaped spot where it lost its glaze:
cherry pie, chicken broth, salmonella, salt. In this case,
two or three snows: I found it out back, years after you left,
under the stairs where we played. Fiesta, your mom called it.
We would gather the black cherries from the tree between the yards,
pour them into her apron. She would go back inside while we made
our pies of mud, so grainy, so not like the chocolate we wanted.
I never passed through your door.
Rusty, you went to Vacation Bible School with me,
your aproned mother in the rutted yard with mine, waving us off.
We rigged up tin cans and string, my dreamy mother’s idea,
and talked between our kitchen windows. Your voice a buzz,
a boy’s whine. We looked for Godzilla to pound up Maple Avenue.
And then you were gone.
Takoma Park apartments were tucked behind walls, over garages.
You never knew what you’d find behind the doors
of the Queen Annes. Folks came and went as circumstances changed.
My family, the steady working class, stayed timidly in our flat,
never brave enough to buy. Maybe yours got lucky. Rumor was
that you, like the stars, went to California.
Thirty-some years later, up late searching the laptop for things
possibly not worth searching, I found a Russell
with your strange surname, dropped a line: By any chance...?
The reply was from your father. Rusty changed his name
when his mother turned him against me.
This thing called Facebook accounts for the changes of my sex;
we go both ways. Michelle Jackson Jabari. Kelly Greco Woods.
I changed my name to make new kin; you changed yours
to break off. Did you mourn big losses and small? Your father?
Me? Did your mother cry into her apron
for that lost Fiesta dish that became the start
of a poor girl’s hope chest?
I have cabinets of Fiesta now, old and new. I don’t need
to think of childhood when I hold this plate. I haven’t bothered
to repair the broken spot. God knows what’s gotten inside.
Monday, April 5, 2010
I am not a devotee of scatological humor, in general. Nevertheless, my rescue cat's tragically inbred digestive system rather fascinates me. Her stinks are so bad that we nearly gave her back to the rescue agency from which we adopted her. (She was part of what was, at the time, the largest animal rescue in Maryland--over 300 animals, many too sick to save.) I am lucky that, unlike my husband, I have a relatively poor sense of smell.
So here we go. I'm rather embarrassed to have written this....
Neko, Maryland’s Most Flatulent Cat
Like a fuzzy, olfactory Basquiat she paints the walls
with stenches organic and chemical: vinegar, diesel,
dung, death. Artistic remove is her aim: take in the work
and stagger back, wonder at the creator even as you flee,
hand to mouth. She was raised in chicken wire
among hundreds of neglected cats; puny when rescued,
she immediately expelled a stillborn litter no one knew
she carried. If this Guernica of stink is her protection,
it fails: when cuddled, knuckle-petted, ear-rubbed,
she soaks you with sulfur, and when you stop your caresses,
a candy-pink-toed paw, claws lazily in transit,
reaches to smack you gently, to demand you get over it
and love her again.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
the undertaker birds
with plucked pink wrinkled heads
don’t care where you came from
they care where you made your last trip
where you lay your burden down
education, money, beauty
escape their baleful gaze
when they assess, muster their colleagues,
bend to close study, all that matters
is a modicum of taste.
Locked in the castle of her brow,
a marble edifice, beautiful forever,
she struggles to turn thoughts into winks,
words into wine. Her eyes are framed
by the finest mink, her lips as sweet
as cocktail cherries. How will she
summon or beckon but by the luck
that luck will spy that perfect face?
How will she breathe through a nose
like a hazelnut, a piece of great price?
Still, it’s a sweet gilt-edged shelf
she sits upon, looking down.
Friday, April 2, 2010
mudluscious, e e cummings said,
digging his lowercase toes into the spring
pudding. This is the death of the temporary lake,
April Brigadoon by the pea patch,
where for one afternoon
salamanders sip quick, ants parade,
and the lady in church shoes prays that Old Sol
will toss off his hazy sheets
and suck it up.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Quick first draft here. I'm supposed to be working.
At Seventeen Again
We say we’re the three musketeers,
but it’s a tribe, like certain families and religions,
with a manufactured history. We were children
together. We are bone-deep friends now.
Julia and Jamie reminisce
about things I never did. How many high school nights
did they burrow into a boy’s chest,
their mouths bitter with Bud,
while I watched Carol Burnett with my parents?
Remember homecoming? Jamie says
as we shop for middle-aged chadors,
menopausal masques. I wore out my shoes.
Julia laughs. Remember Rocky Horror at midnight
after the spring musical?
How many brain cells did we lose? Jamie is a doctor now.
We did so many lines that night. Remember the powder room
in Ginny’s basement?
Julia looks at me, open eyes lonely. No, I don’t. And I want to
squeeze her hand, just for a second.
gathering my hair in one hand and pressing
I transform into a pre-Raphaelite
I could cut off my hair, my arm,
my family for love, but it will not come
no matter that I learn to make asparagus risotto
no matter that I can read the Kama Sutra
upside down no matter that I am good,
that I am healthy, that I can love almost anything
once I get used to it
and gathering my limbs and squeezing
I can shape-shift into Shalott, Salome,
Scheherazade of a thousand stories
all of them about the same person