Wishing for Harmony: 37th Post

Woman 3

How nice it would be if both one’s internal and external dialogues could be peaceful…

 

REHEARSAL FOR AN ARGUMENT

I am a square-shouldered
decision, a kite
snagged long ago,
my tedious semaphore
unrelieved.

It’s snowing, but
I cut the sound:
everyone’s already heard
bloodthirsty barking,
the scrape of claws

on tree bark.
Let them imagine
the tap
of each crystal flake
shattering on impact.

Placing my ear
to a rock,
I wait patiently
for the translation.
A thousand frosts later

the answer is
mine in a
mound
of sturdy flour.
I spit

and knead:
a lunge of knuckles
and there’s bread
and blood
all over.

In a Strange Land: 36th Post

Cloister ladies

Along with many of my closest friends and friends I don’t know yet, I often feel like I’m living in a landscape made hostile by the decisions, sometimes mere whims, of others over whom I have no control and with whom I doubt I could have a conversation that would include any meaningful mutual understanding. I wrote this poem many years ago, and enjoyed the self-imposed task of inventing a language and grammar to make it work, while also expressing the humor, homesickness, fear, and isolation that so often pushes one to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. It still feels true to me, so I share it today.

I’ve recited this poem at readings many times over the years, and it takes some rehearsal but is always fun to say aloud. To get you started, I’ll tell you that the speaker is a human writer living on another planet.

HIS LAND OF ROOMS

Please, come in.
Don’t be shy, take a seat.  Or,
I should say, extend your nemdops and lower your fleegrong’n.
—The candles?  Well, no, not for heat.  Does it bother you?  Sometimes,
for atmosphere,
—well, yes, they do use oxygen.  Never mind.
So, Pargffen, I hope this will be the first of many
—In English.  I plan to read in English.
(I cannot.  I will not.  I tried some lines:
fentonn reb fleedeep miss’rab soor
   nempebb, pebb nggit Pargffeen ho’or
The damned apostrophes are to be squeaked.
Insupportable.)  Shall we go on?
I’d like to begin with one of my early works that
—Yes, I understand your position on ownership.
I don’t own these words; I merely arrange them.
Shall I continue?  (This habit they have,
of putting reensamsam in their slomgrong’ni,
I should have expressly forbid it.)  All right.
This piece is called “Land of Rooms”
and I suppose I’d best explain a word or two:
Humans begin their lives as small, dependent creatures called children, who live in
“childhood.”
“Insomnia” is an inability to sleep.  It is usually frustrating.  Many things cause it,
believe me.
Let’s see, do you know what a “mistake” is?
—I thought not.  (Why did I pick this one to read?)
It means doing something wrong, unintentionally.
Sometimes you get to try again.
I think you’ll understand the rest.  Wait,
do you know “silence”?  (No,   no,   no,   no.)
Silence is the absence of sound.  As if your dapgrong’ni stopped working.
—But that’s possible to imagine, isn’t it?  Listen,
silence is sometimes very pleasant.  Humans find it restful,
which, as you know, we like.  Now, let’s proceed.
—Yes, Hjǽm?  —Ahh.
The idea is that I will read and you will listen
or rather, p’liff with your dapgrong’ni,
and at the end, if you enjoyed it,
you will applaud.  —Umm, you could wave your dapgrong’ni,
or push one rarpeen against the other until a sound comes out.  —Oh,
I had no idea.  Well,
how might you show approval then?  Perhaps you could just
nod your bogrong’n.  (Can we settle on it, please?)  Shall I just begin?
—Yes, I have, actually, tried to.  Describing this place
has been…challenging, shall we say.
—No, I’m not ready to read that piece; it’s not right yet.  (Never again.
I shall never do this again.)  —You must believe me when I say it’s a slow process.
No telling when I’ll be ready to share that one.  Please,
please can we go on?  (Oh no, it’s nearly ffenzod’nǿth time.
I should have chosen another day.)  I say,
would you prefer that we do this another time?
—Pardon me, I forgot.  (All time one ocean
and all that, god damn this place, even if it is,
by hell, all places.)  I’ll just read
while you zod’nǿthne, if that’s all right.
—No, no, I’m not unhappy; please don’t think that.
(I know what they do to unhappy aliens, by god.)  And neither is my poem.
Suppose we do this:
you’ll zod’nǿthne; I’ll read,
you’ll applaud—somehow; I’ll go back to my quarters and work,
and then sleep.
I shall sleep while you zod’nǿthne.  In the same time.

Look. No, Really. Look: 35th Post

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Bird and Tree

There, again.  See?  A small darting thing
with sharp edges and a wide brim
went into the dark arms of the tall one that whispers
constantly, its mouths dangling from tiny handles.

The small one calls out, bragging—or
pleading—
its brim tucked away,
dagger mouth waving in the air.

It builds a little jail and stabs at it, then
goes in search of a prisoner.

The tall one waits.  Where are its eyes?

Stopwatches of Desire: 34th Post

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I’m sorry so many of the poems come out of the dark side. I’m trying to keep myself in the light, but that’s not when writing occurs.

 

The Word “Are,” for Example

Raised to be frugal with self pity,
I hesitate to complain.
Alibis run from my mouth
like ants from a flooded hill.
I went there directly from the funeral,
weary of the mourners, severe,
time-spotted, hunched like flowers graveside.
I went there wanting to speak in tongues.
I went there, where attraction divides itself
into hungry collisions and sweaty testimonials.

I met a charismatic,
pierced his ear with a sewing needle,
scrubbed his stubble with my gums,
licked his sagging pockets every one.
He said what we need is sleeping pills,
stopwatches of desire,
cheap insurance.
I killed him for his assumptions
scratched on tabs of paper in his insoles:
“all” and “never” were some of his claims.

The Good Girl: 33rd Post

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While the meaning of words can and often does shift over time, there is often an echo of the original meaning that lingers.

 

Urtext

The Good Girl sleeps quietly
with other women’s husbands.
Dimples cast in concrete,
she cleaves a breast of white meat;
a potato bursts in the oven.

At first, the word ‘win’ meant merely to struggle.

Homeostasis: maintaining a couch,
a fire, a coffee table behind your ribs,
fine art on your turbulent heart.

At first, ‘attack’ meant to stick a tack into.

The Good Girl has forgiven music
for the pain it has caused her.
Bathing herself in vanilla and almonds,
she gets a job and keeps it,
collecting her pay like rainwater
in clean pools and pockets.

Here are the morning, the noon, and the night,
her silent partners, investors
in waiting, their solar and lunar coins
strung out like a dazzling bracelet
shimmering a dance of lust.

 

 

 

Good Writing Habits: 32nd Post

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Not About

Poems often are about
exactly what they are not about.
This poem, for instance,
is not about the person
all those other poems were about.
Good writing habits forbid my telling
what this poem is about, but I
assure you
it is not about
what it is not about. Here
you see no mention of smooth hands,
no sly references to sex disguised
as descriptions of long train trips,
rivers slamming into bridge pilings,
or autumn trees bursting into flame,
no metaphor comparing that person’s eyes
to whatever the next best thing was.
Not even anything like a simile.
Not in this poem that is not about that.

 

 

 

 

We Eat the Seeds: 31st Post

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This poem first appeared in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2.

 

FIVE PEOPLE (HOMELESS)

  1. Sally, Inauguration Eve

This dirt gone?—white.  I am
and Everyone says He’ll do the job
Give us hope but I was
wearing wool A-line skirts with
the very clouds above for shirts
last time, when my opinion
meant something.  Click click
my tiny Italians on polished
boardroom floors Gentlemen,
I said I fail to see I
did fail to imagine this cardboard
throwing its brown cast on me.

 

  1. This Red Scarf

White clothes mean sticks in the arm
but if you stay clean sheets
one night or two.  On the lake bank there were
white trees!  I had ice skates.
They had no leaves so the light came through.
The Polish girls wore scarves tied under their chins.
I was no Polack but see, I tie this scarf
tight and keep my head down
watching for ice.  You fall here
no boys laugh or help you up.
But if they stick you
they help you up real nice.

 

  1. Richard

I’m used to being in charge
so this will be about you.
I want you to know I appreciate the aluminum cans
so neatly stacked beside the trash can.
I see you see me take them, see you hurrying
to meet my six o’clock pickup daily.
I admire your scheduling abilities:
kitchen scraps to the chickens before work,
the soft globs of their droppings to the compost heap
before dark; the garden weeded Saturday mornings,
fruit plucked and distributed to neighbors in the afternoon.
I would have hired you in the old days—
kept an eye on you, as they say—
recommended you.
I keep you a secret now,
for the cans.

 

  1. K.L.

What’s left of this planet is my home.
Birds are not afraid of me, curled in this bush,
unless I jerk my legs, dreaming
I fly with them over the roofs
and across the highways.
We eat the seeds that drop
and peck at the not-ripe pears,
scattering when the farmer comes
to nail his straw-filled savior to a post.

 

  1. When I Was One of the People

All these things I shall tell you are true.

When I was a warrior my skin flowed yellow, red and green

like the sashes of the old ones.

When I was a warrior I devoured the night

and spit stars at the immaculate moon.

When I was a warrior my courage rode in front of me,

a blind slave stolen from an enemy camp.

When I was a warrior the wind and I embraced with great joy

and we brought forth spring, summer, fall

and the weaver child, winter.

When I was a warrior I kept sadness behind my eyes, mute as light.

When I was a warrior I could swell until the earth was inside me,

feverish and bloody,

and I could sweat until the earth was healed

and I could bleed until the earth was whole.

I am the owl and the darkness now.

I am the hawk and the light.

I am the crack in the clouds now.

I am the wind in the night.

 

The Mockery of the Swollen Garden: 29th Post

Sunflower & bees

 

After the Death of His Twin

—for John Fuller, age 80

 

The solo creak of his Naugahyde chair.

 

The excess of fruit broadcasting its ripeness.

 

In the closet, twice the needed pants and shirts, twice the needed gaping shoes, worn at the heel.

 

The nervous voice of his landlord, trying to remember which one passed.

 

The sniff and yip of the dog, double-checking under the table.

 

The mockery of the swollen garden.

 

The sports section left folded with the classifieds.

 

His unspoken opinion of the news story about welfare mothers.

 

The uselessness of the second bookmark pressed into the novel.

 

In front of the TV, half the snoring noise to waken him to his started insistence, “I wasn’t…”

 

The other narrow bed, tightly tucked.

 

The hearing aid left on the end table for the first time.

 

In the bathroom mirror, only two hips, two nipples, one penis.

 

The surprising regularity of his heartbeat.

We Call Our Game ‘Knowledge’: 28th Post

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What It’s Like to Be Adopted

Ah, my pretties, there was a stillness
think of it as sphere-shaped
a ping-pong ball without the ball—
and perhaps before that grand explosions
around other emptinesses. Our stillness
collapsed, smashed itself white and blue
flew red and purple
out, we say. Flew to what
we call here and there.

Sweet ones, the pieces moved this far and
that far until
divided by now and then we called their changes
speed, their journeys time.
We call our game knowledge
as we hold hands and live its fun and terror
for, dearest listeners, each particle attracts all others
so we know of gravity, love, luminosity,
and the shifts of momentum called history.

We play here
in this tiny history
the balls we toss falling
(where we call down) like the bits
of what we do not know
flying toward the center of another
stillness
before they what we call begin
what we call again.

 

Cast & Wait: 25th Post

Statue sm

 

Fishing the Coast

The spatulate surf heaves
against the arc of rocks, exploding to opalescence.
Boulders the size of house trailers stack and sway
as the surf recedes,
returns,
pulls away, returns.

Four men cast about for meaning and find it
in remaining upright in the roar, in slipping
a silvery bite of food out sideways, in failing to see
the faces of loved ones in the clouds overhead
or the foam below.
They fish. They merely fish.

To catch is to eat is to live long enough
for their bones to barnacle up with salt,
their dreams to crab against what they know:
that you need strong arms,
good line, patience,
time, and sadness you swallow

like a shard of mirror,
hunger you feel like the pleats in a man’s pants
bravely failing to accomplish anything.
The men cast and wait, cast and wait.
Cast again and wait, not planning
to forgive anyone.