Posts Tagged ‘poem’

MINIMALISM

January 6th, 2014

Okay, so I’m on a roll here.  People are “liking” the poems.  So, being as I’m a poet, that encourages me to post more poetry!  Funny how that works.  Maybe people will like the poetry they see here enough to buy the book.  Anyway… I’m not normally a fan of poems about poetry, but occasionally I perpetrate one, because what are you going to write poems about if not the things that are important to you?  This one reports on a reading I attended twenty years ago.  I can’t say I’m a normally a big fan of Louise Gluck’s work, either, but that’s mainly a question of personal taste.  Her artistry is undeniable.  I arrived very late, having gotten the time wrong.  Perhaps if I’d arrived earlier, I would have been bored, whereas arriving close to the end the few minutes I experienced retained all their impact.  I’ll never forget the high-pitched sing-song in which she read, or the apparently almost physically painful effort it seemed to cost her, which put a premium on every word.  If that is what writing is like for her, as well as reading, she must lead a life of exquisite torture.  I hope not.  I am not sure what impulse made me give this poem its long, loud, heavy-on-the-prosaic-details title – the exact opposite of Gluck’s poetry – but it seems to work.  Sometimes a title is like a frame.

LAST FIFTEEN MINUTES OF LOUISE GLUCK’S POETRY READING AT McCARTHY ARTS CENTER, ST. MICHAEL’S COLLEGE, COLCHESTER, VERMONT, DECEMBER 2, 1993

 

truthfulness pared

to the hard minimum,

mum almost

but for what must escape

lips – the line

a birch branch carves,

white as a whisper

 

finishes

asking for questions

(second thought) short ones;

when none come

painful thanks, lips wrenched

crooked as apple tree boughs

 

It Wasn’t Me, It Was The Pictures That Got Small

December 23rd, 2013

harp guyThis might have been a dream, or perhaps a nightmare, except that it was a waking vision and it felt oh so tranquil.  It seems appropriate to the season when we are saying good-bye to an old year and all the years that preceded it, and are on the cusp of the new.  I am not entirely happy with the way that my blogging program has inserted a little extra space between each line, but I’m not unhappy with it, either.  The extra space stretches things out and makes the poem have even more of a lazy, detached, languorous feeling.

 

I remain moored in the same place, but

every year the shore recedes further and

the big water deeper and wider all

around me. Used to be, I’d watch

the little pale fish: first their shadows

dotting and running the rippled sand,

darker green on the golden green, then

themselves halting and in unison

bolting like something sprayed from a

bottle, sometimes so fast disappearing

until my eye caught their shadows again.

That was when it was inches deep.

After awhile it was not fish but people

occupied my view, at first a shifting

few on their dry yellow slope: a couple

families, older ones mostly sprawling on

towels colorful as macaws, ones older

than that dazed on folding chairs, kids

helter skelter, half a dozen or so, digging

with plastic implements they’d leave behind

as if to mark where what they’d made

had been. I got to know a few. A fat

boy with a blue bucket. A college girl

lying on her stomach, looking both ways

like a kid crossing a street before she

reached behind and bared her breasts

to the sand while her boyfriend slept.

An old man and an old woman passing

a book back and forth, pointing at pages.

Of what they all said, as fewer and fewer

words could reach me, I understood

less and less, until it was only children’s

ejaculations and their parents’ (?)

cautionary howls, dimming gradually.

By that time they were numerous dots

on the beach, unevenly clotted as the

little fish had been; as not with the fish,

I could see what might have made

their patterns form. Shade trees. A tent

emitting loud music attractive to some.

Metal boxes in which to light fires.

Proximity of others like or unlike.

Now,

the time of day – the changing angle

at which the sun’s spears strike beneath

the mildly heaving surface into a blue

in which, at last, striations of light

converge but are lost before they meet –

is all I see.

 

Reincarnation

July 12th, 2013

Years ago I had a friendly acquaintance named Jane who gave massages in her home, and one day I took her up on it, and had one of Those Experiences.  No, cynical Burlingtonites, so recently sated on news stories of happy ending massage parlors, not one of those experiences.  Jane has long ago passed out of my life, but recently I made a new friend who worked for some time as a massage therapist, so the subject has been on my mind.  I have no idea what it is like to be pulled into the white light of orgasm by some oriental sex slave, an experience to be had at certain “health spas” around here up until a few weeks ago for around eighty dollars, according to the news.  I don’t remember what I paid Jane for giving me something other than an orgasm, but it wasn’t quite that much.  It was worth writing a poem about.

 

The last thing I felt was warmth in the middle

of my chest and a spot of it on the crown

of my head, your touch, as if your arms

ran a conduit plugging those places together;

then that was gone; my eyes were closed;

I floated in a black place.  Somewhere a bone

flute knitted high and low seamless as a mitten.

I floated in my body bag, waiting for something

to return.  Nothing returned.  Then, as I floated,

a click from the other room, a little boy’s

blocks clacked, and here a puff of breeze

on my bare chest seconded this call.  So my

eyelids lightened, filled with the possibility

of motion as slowly as canal locks fill with water;

opened; and there was this glaring white blank

I recognized after a while as your ceiling and not

the eye of god because if it had been god’s eye

the thoughts that kept tugging at my attention –

of the flute, of you and your husband and child,

of my wife and children, of the streets between –

would have pulled me away; but there remained

your ceiling in awesome steadfast finality.

Then you peeked in the door, quietly asking

if I was alright, and I knew it had become time,

the muscles in my limbs were mine again,

to move, pull on my shirt, and button it.

In Her Room

April 28th, 2013

I solemnly lowered the zipper from her neck
to just below her breasts.  She lay there quietly,
her eyes intent on my face, her lower lip
(with that upturned crescent of scar, a pale
moon, just beneath it, I found so endearing)
gently sucked between her teeth, so I
ventured to lower it to her navel, slowly,
receiving neither protest nor approval.
She could have shrugged her arms out of
the jumpsuit’s sleeves just then, but she did not:
she lay there quietly, her eyes intent on my face,
her lower lip (with that upturned crescent
of scar, a pale moon, just beneath it,
I found so endearing) gently sucked
between her teeth, so I slipped my right hand
under the blue fabric that felt thick and warm,
under her breast, which one didn’t matter,
she lay quietly, intent, her lower lip
released, neither protesting nor welcoming.
I slid my hand up the flaccid mound to its
hard tip that I knew from other times I’d
peeled the fabric back was chocolate brown,
and rested there, it in my palm, her lower
lip once more between her teeth, her eyes
intent but inward as if having taken in
my face now she took it all the way in.
My hand rode the velvet of her steadily
breathing up and down, then down and
down the ribs rising and falling, past
flatness and rested over the well of her
navel that thrilled my palm as her nipple had.
Still she lay still.  A wildness had entered
her face, not resisting nor urging, so I
followed the slope of her belly down
to where the down thickened to a
scratchy thicket and the band of her
underpants held and pressed my fingers
the way her hand had held and pressed them
on her cheek just eternities ago, and under
that was skin folded and wrinkled as I
could not imagine, moist and warm as her
tongue.  Just then her mother rattled pots
downstairs in the kitchen and I withdrew
my fingers slick with lovely musk, and ever
after, her zipper  carefully, soundlessly drawn,
emptiness had new dimensions and layers.

I forgot to keep my eyes from closing

April 4th, 2013

I forgot to keep my eyes from closing
when I slid inside you.  How the rose sings
all around, around me, many-petaled.
Where are you?  In darkness whom I’m losing.

Exotics

November 16th, 2012

This is a poem I wrote six years ago for my friend Susan Weiss, a lapsed vegan.  Recently I was visiting White River Junction, Vermont, on business, and stopped at the Baker’s Studio on Main Street to grab a cup of tea and a bite to eat.  If I hadn’t written this poem six years ago, I would have written it in the Baker’s Studio.  They’ve got the Real Deal, an incredible rarity nowadays.  So I offer this poem in honor of that shining morsel of heaven where I-89 meets I-91 above the Connecticut River.

 


In southern China
they eat civet cats, roasted whole and
braised in soy and hoisin sauce to hide the
gamey taste.  The civet lives on durian, a
spiky fruit, foul-smelling, with a flesh as
subtle as the custard dreams are made of.

On North Street, Burlington, Vermont
near the oriental grocery stores,
expatriate Africans sick for home may find,
neatly piled on a tiny shop’s back shelves where
stray Vermonters are unlikely to venture,
zip-locked bags of dried grubs, hard tan curls in
assorted sizes, but when I approach the clerk to
ask how are they cooked I chicken out and
buy instead a round brown deep fried thing that
disappointingly tastes just like a doughnut.

In Minnesota
tales of famous family Friday night
spaghetti dinners regaled the worldly Yankee
sophistication of a friend of mine whose own
family’s odyssey had landed him in high school
there among the pines and walleye pike.
At last one evening he found himself seated among
half a dozen scions of Scandinavia
logger-large and hunching over gleaming
formica facing a bowl of naked noodles,
pale and gleaming, and a bottle of ketchup.

Indonesia
original home of the scarlet condiment’s forebears.

In New York
Brooklyn, to be precise, my newly-wed mother
scandalized her husband and parents-in-law by
pouring ketchup onto her scrambled eggs, an
act so odd that even the rubric “goyish”
couldn’t encompass it; but she was from
Chicago, so what could you expect?  And I
have taught my children to follow the same strange ways.

In America
they will heap anything – bacon and cheese, whatever –
onto baked goods ubiquitously sold as “bagels”
that are neither dense nor chewy; fine-grained
bready toroids with the crust removed and a
shiny glaze engineered in its place.  Those, and
hand-coiled rings purportedly en manière de
Montreal, sweeter and maltier than anything
I remember, are all you can get around here.  But

In Buffalo, New York, 1960
Mastman’s redolent deli, full of derma
stuffed with kasha, knishes, pickled herring,
smoked whitefish, lox – the “real nova” – and
bins of “Jewish hockey pucks,” just plain or
pumpernickel, forged of fully developed
gluten, steam, and fire, as heavy as history,
yielding to the teeth like summer to fall
(in those days, gradually), holding warmth but
autumnally flavored, bagged by the dozen or one
“with a schmear” of cream cheese impasto slapped on by mustachioed
Mastman himself, unobtainable now,
rarer than civet cats with their strong sauces,
digested and carried into internal exile.

The Corner Cabinet

September 17th, 2012

The frilly symmetry of trees
draws air and earth together through
columnar vessels.  Cut in slabs,

laboriously sliced and grooved
and holed and beveled, rearranged
and oiled and polished, cherry stands

across the room, a corner hutch
I pieced together with my hands
this winter past.  This afternoon

in May the gentle clouded light
comes washing, smooths the stiles
and panels, rails and blocky knobs,

and deep-coved molding overspreads
the top but casts no shadow.  Still,
the room.  The streaks of winter’s dark

that mark the grain were cut to seem
to curl and writhe through salmon pink
and ruddy bands that shift but not

unless the eye that views them shifts.
A hundred years or so, perhaps,
and pale small things will eat it back

to soil, this life caught at a peak
and frozen that our eyes, which give
no heat nor light, receive as warm.

Childhood Illness

August 11th, 2012

The thing is, it makes the skin look thin
as the scum of fat on a pot of broth
simmering, red holes through which you fear
he’ll escape like steam.  Of course it’s nothing
like that at all, blows over almost
as quick as breezes cool night sweats, though
his mama warns he’ll scar where he rubs,
foreseeing the afterburn, the aura
of his hitherto perfect body passing.

Charlie and Butch

July 8th, 2012

I wrote this poem back in 2005, the year after the official end of the marriage alluded to in it, a little over twenty years after my  period of cohabitation with Charlie Cat, and only a couple of years after I briefly was Butch’s house guest. 

When I first moved here, to the spot on the floor
no bigger than a coffin, of Stephen and Deb’s living room –
no mattress, bare dark wood, shiny slats I laid
my six feet of closed cell foam pad on –

temporary digs until I found a place
of more permanence for the woman of more
permanence for whom I’d moved here, future mother
of our kids – although they barely twinkled in the dark back then –

Deborah’s Charlie Cat had skin cancer, bloody blobs sprouting
out from his face that left trails of droplets smeared
here and there across the otherwise empty except for dust
hard field where I slept,

and every night when I laid me down
alone I feared his company, the touch of his warm
fluid deformity while I slept, unknowing,
that could be on me when I woke, crusting,

although in plain and boring fact that never happened.
Now Charlie has a successor, the vigorously named Butch.
He’s nineteen.  His left hind leg last weekend
seemed a little stiff, and he lay coiled not like a spring

but more like a frayed old piece of rope
most of the afternoon I visited, and at first I hesitated,
when he lifted his head and blinked those old slow eyes
out over the edge of the couch, his forelegs stiffly erect,

supporting, to close my hands around that fragile rib cage
and hoist its package of breathing lungs and beating heart and – whatever –
off the futon up into the oil heated forced air nowhere,
scruffy old thing, and lower him ‘til his paws touched ground.

Arraignment Day

May 5th, 2012

See him slouch
by the rail, there,
the Assistant State’s Attorney,
head like a doughy balloon

loosely tethered
by his tie of bright autumn leaves.
Facing us,
he leans against the rail,

arms braced behind him
as if to keep from toppling
into that void
where later the judge will float

above the court officers;
he describes the process
to us in our motley
as if we should be bored,

rushing through it,
avoiding eye contact,
almost visibly fearful.
I, his colleague,

later will be admonished
not to sully the dignity
of the State we represent
by standing among the summonsed

and the cheap suits
assigned to defend them.
I wait to walk beyond the rail
to the accuser’s desk

until she whom I accuse is called,
then silently attend the litany
of accusation and plea,
of “waiver” of “the rules,”

until it is my moment
to demand “the usual conditions”
for her freedom (her lawyer
explains them) and then add “and

a witness having been threatened”
(suddenly only air-conditioning
hums in the room) “special condition 14”
(the judge explains it.)