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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Freaks: 30th Post

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Well, we’re all freaks, of course, one way or the other.

 

THE MAN WITH NO WRISTS

cannot twist a poppy to pluck it
nor see in a single movement
the entire surface of an apple held aloft.

He admires the resilient wrists of women
washing clothes in the river,
the blurred wrists of pear packers,

the sturdy wrists of boys playing tug-o-war.
He watches the violinist’s bow arm
dance its sexy hula,

sneaks a look at anybody’s watch
at every easy chance.
Drunk, he slobbers over his mother’s

lilac-scented translucence
until she powers a slap
to his wet cheek.

The Amazing Man with No Wrists!
I bought a ticket to see him.
In the audience a woman waved,

her arm a fluted column,
fingers swaying like palm fronds.
A man threw pity like a discus.

Where can he see his heartbeat?
I wondered, looking at my slender table
with its feast for slicing.

 

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