Monthly Archives: September 2011

Blessed.

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I am so lucky that every (afternoon) as I have my morning coffee, Joel ambles up to the river bench and smokes with me, and we look at flowers and talk of poetic syncopation and the gossip of last night, and invariably he offers me a new name, a new poem, which he thinks I would like. He is usually correct, smart soulful man. Today it was Mary Oliver, and how hot the sun suddenly, on our black attire, on our toes, the coffee burning more than my lips and his warnings that she may make me cry, but in the greatest way possible, the way only poetry can do. Enjoy today’s tidbits.

Wild Geese

Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

 

Iowa City Blues

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Random thoughts on a grey afternoon.

 

Iowa City blues

Iowa city, 17th Sept, 2011.

 

That river, once blue in your mind’s eye, is swirling mud green,

you can feel the squelch in your toes and

the vile teeth of creatures that mean you harm, even

if distant, even if voiceless.

The clouds are in gestation, their grey omnipotence harkens

whirling gusts of sorrow.

Please rain. Perhaps that will distract from

a small desert I have put through a sieve,

inside my gathered splintered spaces.

There was a promise once made to never write of nature, but

a midwest rakes a brow,

unending,

and there is an understanding of why they wrote of birds and flowers.

I would like to write of your shoulders and

other homes I have relinquished.

I would write of wars enclosing,

and even your words would be part of that assault.

But the clouds are pregnant with witness,

I share a landscape with no one but my sobriety, and on days like this,

the flushed rose of hips is alchemy, now blubber, where

beached whales of my perception of self are choking on a bed,

charting an ocean between us.

I promised to not write of the river, but

but water is reflective, and

it has not rained.

 

Can’t keep up…

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With the pace of what’s happening. Yet, I am always inside my own head. And can be found alone, often. Or hiding. Or laughing in semi alone privacy, when there was a full moon, a roof and so much light creeping through metal, through trees, our silences and sentences and lit glowing tips.

I wanted to write and tell you about Pittsburgh and Sonia Sanchez. Her genius. She is 77 years old and put on a roaring show. The energy vibrating through her was ricocheted all throughout our bodies and smiles. She eats macrobiotic food and hugs everyone. Called me sister. Is there anything more beautiful than the African American habit of calling each other sister and brother?

I could have told you about the audience. And how shiny I felt, on the inside. How many people loved Palestine and came up to me in tears after, to say so. What a blessed experience. I don’t have the will power and the inspiration to write a lot today.

I have fallen in love with Stephen Dunn. It is official. I always suspected it, but now it is confirmed. I don’t care if he is in his fifties, married, with kids and way out of my league, I have fallen in love with Stephen Dunn. I will write something this week about how he took over my brain for two days, probably why I am not in any shape to write much today…

Here are some poems. It is impossible to pick ones that would explain how reading an entire book makes one feel. Its not fair, to choose a couple. I have previously posted some of my favorites. A little (lengthy) stalking of this blog will send you back to them. Yes, yes, I know I should start tagging. Sigh.

Sister

The sister I never had
enters my wife when I am
sleeping next to her.
So many times
I’ve watched my sister
come from her separate room,
the room that long ago
in a house of brothers
was an extra room
down the hall from where
I would dream her alive.
She climbs into bed
on my wife’s side
and I touch my wife awake
for now my sister and she
are the woman I must talk to
about incompleteness and love.
Awake, she doesn’t know
my sister is in her,
she doesn’t know why my embrace
has so much gratefulness in it,
why my questions are all
whispered as if
a father could overhear us.
She thinks I want to
make love but I remove
her hand and hold it,
ask another question
about high school and loss,
the kind of loss
that repeats itself every day
like being born
without a leg.
I watch my sister leave
as my wife takes me
in her arms, says hush
you’ve been talking again,
sleep now,
and I curl into her
as if it were possible
she could be everything to me,
alone like this,
just ourselves.

Beautiful Women

More things come to them,

and they have more to hide.
All around them: mirrors, eyes.
In any case
they are different from other women
and like great athletes have trouble
making friends, and trusting a world
quick to praise.

I admit without shame
I’m talking about superficial beauty,
the beauty unmistakable
to the honest eye, which causes
some of us to pivot and to dream,
to tremble before we dial.

Intelligence warmed by generosity
is inner beauty, and what’s worse
some physically beautiful women have it,
and we have to be strapped and handcuffed
to the mast, or be ruined.

But I don’t want to talk of inner beauty,
it’s the correct way to talk
and I’d feel too good
about myself, like a parishoner.
Now, in fact,
I feel like I’m talking
to a strange beautiful woman at a bar, I’m
animated, I’m wearing that little fixed
smile, I might say anything at all.

Still, it’s better to treat a beautiful woman
as if she were normal, one of many.
She’ll be impressed that you’re unimpressed,
might start to lean your way.
This is especially true if she has aged
into beauty, for she will have learned
the sweet gestures one learns
in a lifetime of seeking love.
Lucky is the lover of such a woman
and lucky the woman herself.

Beautiful women who’ve been beautiful girls
are often in some tower of themselves
waiting for us to make the long climb.

But let us have sympathy for the loneliness
of beautiful women.
Let us have no contempt for their
immense privilege, or for the fact
that they never can be wholly ours.

It is not astonishing
when the scared little girl in all of them
says here I am, or when they weep.
But we are always astonished by what
beautiful women do.

“Boxers punch harder when women are around,”
Kenneth Patchen said. Think what happens
when beautiful women are around.
We do not question
that a thousand ships were launched.

In the eye of the beholder? A platitude.
A beautiful woman enters a room,
and everyone beholds. Geography changes.
We watch her everywhere she goes.
-Stephen Dunn

 

 

Waiting with Two Members of a Motorcycle Gang for My Child to Be Born

by Stephen Dunn.

 

I was talking to “The Eliminators”
when you were born,
two of them, high as slag heaps and
uncles to be,
all in black for the occasion,
All you wanted was out;
you couldn’t have known that you
were Life;
when you came, or that your father
was let loose
from graduate school, a believer
in symbols.
I expected “The Eliminators” to
disappear, snuffed out
by a stronger force, a white tornado
of my own.
That’s not what happens, though,
in life
as you will learn. They smiled when
they heard of you
and shook my hand. And another time
it might
have been my head. May you turn
stone, my daughter,
into silk. May you make men better
than they are.

 

some things i wanted to say to you

If the horse that you ride

is blind it’s good

that it also be slow,

and please stroke it

a hundred more times than you would

the powerful dazzling one.

To be generous is one thing,

but there’s a clerk in some of us,

quick to say yes.

Worry about the command

in the suggestion.

Worry about smiles, and those men

whose business is business.

There are joys and enigmas

of an evening alone

to appreciate.

There are always the simple events

of your life

that you might try to convert

into legend.

Did you know

a good dog in your house

can make you more thoughtful,

even more moral?

And sex without conversation,

sex that’s erotic or sleepy…

oh don’t let anybody tell you

there’s a wrong way to have it.

Tell your lovers the world

robs us is so many ways

that a caress is your way

of taking something back.

Tell the dogs and the horses

you love them more than cars.

Speak to everything

would be my advice.

 

 

 

 

Shower.

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I wont comment too much on the poem below. Allow inference. I am stranded in another airport for another few hours and the sunlight hates me. The big city vibe of this airport is nervous after the Iowa river sunbathing and its midnight conversations. I want to hide in poetry but the airport is never quiet, is it.

I wrote this poem a few days ago, not sure why. I am on my way to perform poetry at the City Of Asylum Jazz poetry festival in Pittsburgh. I have to choose a poem that a jazz collective will play to. Sounds a little frightening. I havent chosen the poem, I cant seem to. Should I be Palestinian? Or a lover? or a mourning daughter? or none of the above.

You get one shot to claim a persona for an audience of strangers. I might leave the choice for another person to make.

It is dangerous living with nothing but poetry on your mind. Everything real is so distant and I know the crash is coming. But what delight to have the labour of your day fulfilled by emails for poetry, blog posts on poetry, plane rides for poetry, updates to letters on poetry, and the reading of poetry on airplanes, turbulent.

I may have died a little and gone to language heaven. It will be a rude awakening come November.

 

Shower

Iowa City, Sept 6th, 2011

 

I have littered the room with cups of coffee,

all bits of bitter sludge

in the attempt aftermath,

all almost-but-not-finished.

At night, the scent of hazelnut- fake chemical– is noxious

in the room, but I keep them,

thinking maybe less sleep

is a gift given or dream interrupted or a chemically induced state of

resurrection of self.

Instead,

I have vacuumed into my belly a hundred poems today

in torpor and angst

the arms ache from shaking across screens -transcendent lines-

whose words now combust with the radioactive

remains of all that brown sugar and late night thoughts of kisses I digest,

but even after this cleanup,

nothing is clean

not yet

sentences wobble on dust motes

the sun is phosphor glowing through

drooped eyelids stubborn but the rain would have told better

stories- I know, I have read them-

I tried to sleep

I am not sure if the poem is what always awakens you.

But the body must rise,

brush off the orange and purple

glance discreetly at the mute TV where they can sell me myself,

when I have lost everything. The body must rise and not stop to wonder-

who are these people yanking and shoving and screaming their lives out, like soda pop water, my mother used to always warn…It’s nothing but water and sugar and will rot your teeth..here, some fruit…how could they also share a world where your remembered lips are still so round, little tongue, mango fuzz,  clean, little slip triangular at my unbecoming blushing, the dismantlement of all resolutions of resolve, the opening of thighs for life anew –

the body must rise, even to cold coffee cups and

a swollen tongue,

lingering of bitterness, teeth shooting complaints, fire.

Unfetter the eyes from glasses,

the hair from wrapped entanglement,

run water

run water

run water on everything you could not heal with a hundred poems.

Be naked with the silent TV, outside your

bathroom, where you question

your waistline

and how far your fingers can reach.

Then you must paint.

And

sew

and lace the body further –prettier, smarter, softer, healthier, stronger, better, feistier, forever-

set the sun outside for yet another meeting

of literary minds

who will speak of such calamities- of thousands killed in buildings that reflected another sunset

your own longing

is minute now, a tremor.

Perhaps, you think, I can still learn something,

which is not read by a sorceress from the remains of a

coffee cup, the

way your grandma used to –the passing down of her Nazarene dreams,  her warnings

you should be able now to hear the door crashing behind you,

don’t forget your eyeliner –armor

and you must then

-this here might need some preparation-

say thank you to the man who opens the hotel front door,

and you must find the right sentence that commands thighs to other motion,

and you must walk,

even after having spoken to no one,

even after being without.

 

Quiver.

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This is the saddest excerpt from a poem I have read all week. I read over 120 poems the past few days, which causes a certain madness in the brain and a certain un-quelled longing in the gut. In discovering Robert Hass, I came across this, and it moved me. Then I was meandering online, and it popped up again, randomly. I figured I must share it. Maybe it will mean nothing to you.

(I only realized how appropriate the title of the full poem was, till now. Magic, it exists. I swear.)

 

September Notebook: Stories

Robert Hass

 

He found that it was no good trying to tell

what happened that day. Everything he said

seemed fictional the moment that he said it,

the rain, the scent of her hair, what she said

as she was leaving, and why it was important

for him to explain that the car had been parked

under eucalyptus on a hillside, and how velvety

and blurred the trees looked through the windshield;

not, he said, that making fictions might not be

the best way of getting at it, but that nothing he said

had the brute, abject, unassimilated quality

of a wounding experience: the ego in any telling

was already seeing itself as a character, and a character,

he said, was exactly what he was not at that moment,

even as he kept wanting to explain to someone,

to whomever would listen, that she had closed the door

so quietly and so firmly that the beads of rain

on the side window didn’t even quiver.

 

For the full poem go to:

Privilege of Being

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We had an all American lunch yesterday, lots of meat, little veggies. The sun had blossomed beyond description and it was the calmest breeze I ever did feel. We wandered around looking for coffee and food, as everything in our hotel had shut down for Labour day. On our way to food, we stopped by Prairie lights to pick up books, at least the guys did, and this made all the difference. What went from a warm, languorous afternoon, with beautiful people and a very cloudy sky, to a poetry fest at lunch. Evidence below. It was the most poetic french fries I ever did ingest. I was introduced to the poetry of Robert Hass, which also made my afternoon spiral into various directions, all luminous, all flickering with lights on water moving, the way the young man took his sandals off and read by the trees, the loud girls taking photos on the bridge screaming about being cover girls and so hawwwttt, the way you could almost forgive them the defilement of silence as they were so young and beautiful and unaware. I enjoyed the book a lot and the rest of my mad evening, which is another story altogether. This is the poem I was requested to read out loud at lunch, by Joel. It is gorgeous.

Poetry lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Privilege of Being
Robert Hass

Many are making love. Up above, the angels

in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing

are braiding one another’s hair, which is strawberry blond

and the texture of cold rivers. They glance

down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy—

it must look to them like featherless birds

splashing in the spring puddle of a bed—

and then one woman, she is about to come,

peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says,

look at me, and he does. Or is it the man

tugging the curtain rope in the dark theater?

Anyway, they do, they look at each other;

two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,

startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet

lubricious glue, stare at each other,

and the angels are desolate. They hate it. They shudder pathetically

like lithographs of Victorian beggars

with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags

in the lewd alleys of the novel.

All of creation is offended by this distress.

It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,

rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,

it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that

they close their eyes again and hold each other, each

feeling the mortal singularity of the body

they have enchanted out of death for an hour or so,

and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,

I woke up feeling so sad this morning because I realized

that you could not, as much as I love you,

dear heart, cure my loneliness,

wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him

that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.

And the man is not hurt exactly,

he understands that his life has limits, that people

die young, fail at love,

fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks

of the sadness they have gasped and crooned their way out of

coming, clutching each other with old, invented

forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready

to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely

companionable like the couples on the summer beach

reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes

to themselves, and to each other,

and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.

 

From HUMAN WISHES (Ecco Press, 1989)

Eviction

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This is the first draft of a poetic-ish commentary on the Dean Young reading I went to last week. If you read the previous blog post, you’ll see that it was a benefit to collect money in a variety of ways to help heal the heart of a beloved writer, by his community. They, as poets, were not used to selling things. It was endearing. I thought of how we poison our own bodies, sometimes with garbage food, sometimes with poisonous people, sometimes with our own thoughts. This naturally led to some majorly cheesy questions and the poem below. Those of you who know me will probably forgive the silliness of wanting to write about hearts at a poetry benefit.

Eviction
Iowa city, Sept 5th, 2011.

Sometimes, the heart plunges outside of
the tucked self, refuses
that purpose, its sole ticking mission, crumbles the rules, unwritten by you.
A wastepaper basket of all what should have been.
You can beg it, but it has moved, and left
you no stone trail. In its invisible structure,
decisions have been made,
while you were out drinking,
searching for brighter stars.
The hum of the air conditioning is louder than my heart,
and what comfort. The trees wobble outside, and I know a sunrise can be counted on.
Even the sky is still blue, as I will
it to turn over, close its eyes, so I can be naked.
Some hearts are not so pliant.
You may need health insurance, stitches, your
children, a nurse and private weeping you
may only imagine on your wife’s face, upturned to her own god.
You can perhaps imagine how they all sat in silence.
Expected, respected, your words were
masters, from a far away time we have
not abolished. Poetry is concrete around these weightless figures, in a bookstore,
where not even feet made themselves audible. Your poetry was at stake,
but could also save, could even play
hunter to hearts that fled, with abandon.
Your friends, that word never quite
synonymous with visceral spheres of action
and speech and all that handholding entailed,
your friends have gathered to save your heart.
What is in the heart, but blood pumping common matter?

Why all the squalid love stories?

What you required was money, and what
you could offer was poems. And
in an alternate fiscal system, there was enough to barter.
Beloved
beloved by many
and your heart
and their money
and your words
and their time
and your legacy
and their energy
a young driven woman with tresses
whose older poet lover also sang lines, a stake through my own center.
In poem after poem, we sat,
stood, crossed stealthy our ankles,
remembered, yearned for precise revelations of what
language could still offer,
in the recedes of our faces which knew too much,
a room of books and lovers,
a plain for solitude as far as the mind can think, a brink, the precipice
of expression, tugging at clefts in my own boundaries,
while they kept wading
to save your heart, waterlogged in congenital spells and damnation.
They ventured out as far as the worth of poetry is measurable.
Down as far as the imagined sea pocket was deep.

I kept thinking of my own heart,
not blighted at birth,
nor aging.
I know humans die alone,
but what of the multitudes who will protect you from the journey?
I trembled
in a bookstore where
the pages ought not scare you. My knees shook from all
that I do not know yet. And all that leaving behind of what I once knew to be true.
The questions on inherited heart disease, how
that forms future rows of plastic chairs
and the drinking of wine, and the distribution of song.

What would you store in the heart to brew evil?
How do we ferment what is fresh?
Was I born lucky?

What could you write if you were ending.
Do fingers offer more to the mind on slow decline?

You must wake up, and speak to the body of sunlight,
for a poetry reading can save you.

To hide away from the malice of the heart,
start with a hand on your breast, pray to nothing but skin,
and what comes in between.
How will love live there?
Find an answer.

Brown eyed man, who could not see beyond the breast and my laughter,
who could not unite life force with a history,
I have mistreated my heart long enough.
I clog it up with late night commercials,
with the sugar and grease of traveled gravel and
necessary pit stops, with the filth of
daily news and massacres, elsewhere, stored
and unremembered.
It droops with flashed images of what
is pornographic in its hunger,
harbored,
as the chaste heart gallops, saying I, to every river.

The clouds are still white, and my teeth solid, in anger.

Beaten muscle, thank you.

Set aside the nicotine, and the
caffeine of buzzed skin rubbed on steaming
curved corners, the traces
of salt survival in every vein, the morphine
of happiness we drip like smiles,
clutching at semblances of a lone sentence
to finish one poem that will keep you,
benign, untarnished, sheltered.

This here is
tremor of faith in aortas that stride,
that withstand Palestine,
and the wilting of jasmine flowers,
of humans.
If this fist sized secret can conquer sunlight,
and understand the moon,
it can serenade my sister,
hold a child who deciphers it,
leave always a window open for the scent of my mother,
why would I allow you room for rental?

If a poetry reading can save you,
why summon in the sorceress of malady, the harbinger of sickness?
Brown eyed man,
this,
this here, is notice
is the last paper slip of eviction.