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.

 

 

 

 

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.

No Pain Yet: 27th Post

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Taking Comfort

Minus five degrees Fahrenheit at the gas pump
and now I’m driving
shuddering into fifteen degrees in the truck cab as the sand dunes
of grocery bags shift gently beside me.
I grip the stiff blue wavelets on the steering wheel as I surf
the ice-covered parking lot.

There’s a damp warmth where my thumb bends
and I huddle toward it without moving
the way a lover leaps in spirit at the flare of a match.
I follow it home
a thermal conductor to my warm kitchen just six blocks away.

Standing indoors I pull off lined leather gloves to see
blood in a smeared map of South America flowing
from a dark Amazon. No pain yet. No recollection
of pushing my tearable flesh against something firmer.
Only a moment’s understanding of our need to linger over wounds
for the comfort they can give us.

Anything to Grab Onto: 26th Post

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Lament

–for my mother

The time

everyone else

had left the party but the music was still throbbing

and Stefan

two languages

away from me

had my blouse half undone–

that’s the light

I mean

orange

smelling of alcohol

dangerous with its promise of brilliant regret

The time

I jumped

heavily clothed into the water

for lifesaving practice

and the water

pulsed

above me

reflections subdividing like amoebas–

that’s the distance

I mean

deeper than

my arm’s length

resonant with resistance

The time

I climbed

on Trinidad Head

alone on black wet rock

shocked

by the sudden

brawl

of ocean too close–

that’s the texture

I mean

where anything to grab onto

is life

even if it tears your flesh like a cat’s claw

Wanting to Shout: 24th Post

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Being quiet has its advantages as well as its ability to kill one.

 

I Want to Shout that My Hurt Is Greater than Yours but I Mustn’t

Locked in the apartment she rented this morning
she wrote on a calendar cover: This is because,
She could smell the last tenants in the flattened areas of the carpet,
in the air in the nightstand drawer.

In the Central Valley a foreman hands out long hoes.
Drive by: look to see if workers bend to the cabbages and garlic.
Imagine the turnips’ moist bodies, soothed in dirt.
Drive by: crop dusters rise and dip and roll away just behind you.

The body stretched, running away.
The body shapely against angular gravel.
The body in the center of my memory.

In the Central Valley rows of stakes
with seedlings lashed to them. You drive and drive,
relieved to see the quick curve in the rows where you think
a tractor driver may have swerved to miss a rabbit.

Cupping a two-month supply of Prozac in her left hand
she walked from bed to couch
and back to bed. No, I would do that.
I imagine she does it.

The body tossed in the field for owls or coyotes.
I suppose that’s where you put it.
The body still on the gravel in my memory.

In the Central Valley almond trees seem neat and classic as penny loafers.
I hit a hawk, even after swerving.
A hundred miles later when I had to stop for gas
its body and wings were still there, fanned out across the truck grill.

I drove past parked trucks: TNT Reddaway, Dole, Reliance,
CWX, U-Haul. She was my lover’s most recent ex-lover.
I let the 5 a.m. red sun burn a hole in my sight,
only to see I’d made a perfect black backdrop for my thoughts.

I pried the bird off with sticks
and carried it to a row of bushes. Those stiff
angry-looking hedges they force to grow behind some gas stations.

 

Those Awful Heads: 23rd Post

Amish Dresses Drying on a Clothes Line

 

This poem was published in The Centennial Review (Vol. 38, No. 2, Spring 1994).

 

Esther

Are all the doors locked?
Is the stove on? You’ll
check it? All right then
I’ll leave that to you.
Do you like colored glass?

See this clear blue vase?
When I was five I’d
say to my aunt where’s
my pity pitcher? She’d say
here it is darlin and

she gave me that pticher
I treasure it more than
anything I have. My grandmother
never gave me anything. My
daughter says I shouldn’t remember

such but how can I
help it? Is the stove
on? Do you think the
stove is on? No? Well
then all right. And as

I was telling you we
had geese in a pen
about as big as this
room and one time they
jumped up and flew and

a coyote got one of
em and carried it off
too far our gun couldn’t
shoot so far you know.
Have you ever heard coyotes

howl? My mother said they
shouldn’t have left their nice
pen. Are all the doors
locked? We’re isolated here you
know. Though I could swing

a polecat by the tail
I guess it’s OK you
say they’re all locked? Well
then all right. Are you
going to be here in

the house with me all
night? Will you sleep up
there or down here? As
I was saying one summer
a woman visited me at

our cottage up north and
she hated the woods. She
didn’t like the spider at
the swimming dock either I
told her it was my

pet and how did she
like my other pet this
garter snake. Well she went
home after two weeks though
she was supposed to stay

with me all summer. But
that was better don’t you
think? Are you going to
be here in the house
with me all night? Are

all the doors locked? You’ll
check them? Good then I’ll
leave that to you. Do
you think the stove is
on? No? All right then.

Do you like to travel?
It’s good for a person
to go places while they’re
young. My parents went up
to the Black Hills once

oh they were pretty that
was before those heads were
there. The Indians were real
mad you know when they
put in those awful heads.

No One Duck Has to Carry the Melody: 21st Post

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This poem, like the ones in my First Post and Third Post, appeared in Phoebe: A Journal of Literary Arts (Vol. 24, No. 2) and was a finalist for the Grege Grummer Award in Poetry.

 

THE CHARM BRACELET PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE

1

Integrated Functional Responsive Capability

Lack Thereof

This above all This above all This
Above all Don’t show me that Bass beer I used to
Hate someone named Bass
The ducks were
Chuckling a Beethoven scherzo I tell you
Why isn’t there a verb to describe
The way squirrels move All those
Handsome boys
Like leaves
Blowing around campus I was supposed to be
Here an hour
Ago This above all See the ecologists
With their bags of silver bullets What’s
It like having such big hands Since when
Does pleasant weather make you lose Those
Radio collars on bears make me
Cry The
Ducks were helping each other
No one duck
Had to carry the melody The refundability
Of the bullets was a job bill for the home-
Less This above all Do they look alike or
Don’t they
What happened before Do I need
To do something I began to
Cry about the
Pattern of bricks so the nice man gave me
Pills to kill bacteria This
Above all The
View of calf muscles pleased me I was not
In control All the churches
Need repair like the envelope of my skin

2

Pardon Me: Is My Hair Pouring Out or Shooting In?

The urban raccoon padded over this cement
Before it hardened That crow
Looks enormous
On the bare branches by the river Hang on
Hang on I hugged the bus stop tree Whitey
The carriage horse are you retired yet Was
It like a
Spongy forest floor or something
From a B movie I heard the male klipspringer
Never moves more
Than sixteen and a half feet from its mate
This above all She used to laugh
At people who
Wore watches The breeze lifts
A shoulder feather like a wand The raccoon washes
French fries in a parking lot puddle Fortunately
Many things are none of my business
I don’t want
The raccoon to hear domestic
Violence This above all Whitey get up Which is
Funny nothing or everything The girl had
A beautiful bottom The man had chemicals
The collar lay on a cage of bones
You don’t know
Me well enough to This above all This above
All He had the gall to ask if there was a
Difference
Each sport must have its own
Vocabulary I carried a coat with me
All day but I could not put it
On my crescendoing skin I need to know
If this is important

Sixteenth Post

A Flamingo Preens Its Long Orange Feathers

This poem, which I wrote about my father, was published in The North American Review (Vol. 281, No. 3, May/June 1996).

 

The Discomfort of Reincarnation

If you stare long enough at rain
it becomes
—no
I do not love information.
What I like to believe
is that at the last he was able
to lie down comfortably with no thoughts.
Not even the memory of our last time outdoors together
—his wheelchair parked at the edge of a kidney-shaped lagoon,
he and I nearly covered with ducks, geese and pigeons
grabbing fresh bread in whole slices and reaching for more.

December in Arizona and I was in shorts,
thrilled at the soft warm breasts of the geese
as they pushed against my legs.
He laughed in scattered short syllables that might
have been words.
I cry at the memory of my own complex laughter,
a fact I don’t care to examine.
He could be one of those selfish birds.