30 December 2004

Marilynne Robinson

As an amateur novelist, I am increasingly stunned—knocked down, squashed flat—by good novels, and I no longer fantasize that a writer like Marilynne Robinson sits down and pumps out a brilliant novel. Instead, I assume years of labor to produce masterpieces: Housekeeping in 1980, Gilead in 2004. From Gilead, page 197:

"In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable—which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us."

I’ve spent this week with Gilead in one hand and Robinson’s collection of essays titled The Death of Adam in the other. I found this a wonderful way to read both. I particularly liked her essay “Puritans and Prigs”—she is so tuned to reality with remarks like this:

"where did the idea come from that society should be without strain and conflict, that it could be satisfying, stable, and harmonious? . . . morality is a covenant with oneself, which can only be imposed and enforced by oneself . . . social conditioning is more likely to discourage than to enhance it."

In both books, Robinson addresses the topics of religion, war, morality as if readers were still willing to consider both sides of those questions. She poses challenges. Of those who dismiss Calvin, who has read him? How have we come to equate Darwinism to economic survival of the fittest?

Three reviews of Gilead are worth reading for their contrasts. James Wood honors Robinson for her intent and her accomplishment. Lee Siegel honestly admits that Robinson’s novel is not likely to appeal to a secular reading audience. Mona Simpson talks about Robinson’s earlier novel instead, because she liked that one, and she offers insulting MFA-workshop advice that might have led to a more saleable novel without acknowledging Robinson has a greater goal.

Tomorrow I'm going to read Housekeeping for at least the third time.


29 December 2004

books you need

The poet Pattiann Rogers -- as my brother said, "Wow, she's good" -- and I say, how can I never have heard of this woman before?

The new translation of Proust, translated by people like Lydia Davis and James Grieve, is superb. I never could stay awake for the Scott Moncrieff translation, but maybe I was too young back then.

Richard Bausch, well, he's one of the best American fiction writers alive, and these are delicious, I mean disturbing novellas.


28 December 2004

Carol Peters

Long-Distance Calling

Occasionally I am sad enough to
Think to call my mother—then I remember
She is dead. My son left a pink stuffed rabbit

On the bathroom windowsill, soft white belly,
Raised chin, limp whiskers. One from her collection—
she marked them for him. I talk to the rabbit

While I sit on the throne. Hi Bunny. Hi Mom.
You don’t miss me, but how I miss you, days like
This when loyal confusions blindside grieve me.

27 December 2004

Carol Peters

Tidal Wave Accounting

One story mentioned nine Japanese tourists
swept away while watching the elephants

in a Sri Lankan zoo. So many people
from so many countries died, most of them

walking distance from home, yet so many
stories decorate the deaths of tourists

as if their lives merit ink over locals—
nine zoo-gazers, nine, ten thousand Sri Lankans—

me thinking about the elephants, how many,
what about mahouts, how do elephants fall?

25 December 2004

not selling out, not that anyone was buying

from William Stafford's Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation



Q: Auden and Roethke have both said that when they finish a poem that they know is really good, the satisfaction quickly fades into an anxious question: "Maybe this is the last time?"

A: Those poor guys. I can't imagine what kind of anxiety-ridden life that would be. My own feeling is that we don't have to worry about that. Will we think of something else? Sure we will. We always do. I do not at all have that feeling. I meet people who have done something good and they want to cherish it, to hoard it somehow -- because it might be the only time in their lives. . . . Well, I have this feeling: "No, no, no" . . . all these things are expendable and the more expendable you keep feeling these things are, the more likely you are to have things happen to you.

Q: It doesn't sound as if you are troubled by writing blocks.

A: Writing blocks? I don't believe in them.

Q: But what if somebody has one? Doesn't that person have to believe in them? You may not suffer from them, but surely other people do.

A: No, I've never experienced anything like that. I believe that the so-called "writing block" is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance. I can imagine a person beginning to feel that he's not able to write up to that standard he imagines the world has set for him. But to me that's surrealistic. The only standard I can rationally have is the standard I'm meeting right now. Of course I can write. Anybody can write. People might think that their product is not worthy of the person they assume they are. But it is.

Q: Aren't you really talking, in a nice way, about vanity?

A: Yes, I think vanity gets in your way. You begin to feel you've accomplished something once -- and you get afraid that you won't be able to accomplish it again, at least right now. So you don't go into anything. But my own feeling is that you should be more willing to forgive yourself. It really doesn't make any difference if you are good or bad today. The assessment of the product is something that happens after you've done it. You should simply go ahead and do it. And do it, I might add, without being critical.

21 December 2004

Carol Peters

waiting for the cat

a door closed with me inside it signals harbor
until I remember the cat remains out
not punishment call it the cat’s free will

nocturnal though I try to retrain her night
is a time for sleeping over and over
I make my point out there she does her roaming

tonight I join her thinking she might be caught
by her collar in a brush pile the collar
I make her wear the brush pile I left after

cutting down the bushes where small birds nested
beneath my window she strays farther her hunt
diurnal blending into night I lie awake

20 December 2004

The Eleventh Draft

MFA students (or wannabes) would likely enjoy The Eleventh Draft: Craft and the Writing Life from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop edited by Frank Conroy.



Essays by Boyle, Canin, Dybek, Leebron, Prose, McPherson, Verghese, Offutt, and many more Iowa graduates.

Fred Leebron [best essay, imho]: “the concept of ‘crisis’ is the concept of loss of control, that a writer needs to lose control . . . all those people in that story, that are coming not to just one conclusion but many conclusions.”

Ethan Canin: “I came to Iowa. I stopped writing. Almost immediately and almost completely. . . . For a year and a half I wrote nothing.”

Barry Hannah: “Without the intense image my work dwindles quickly into dishonest and empty sentences.”

Susan Power: “a strategy I use when I am most desperate: I interview my characters.”

Francine Prose quoting Chekhov: “Best of all is to avoid depicting the hero’s state of mind; you ought to try to make it clear from the hero’s actions.”

Marilynne Robinson: “writers have to think . . . they have to be faithful to everything they know, in the way that they know it, through all the nerves that feed the voracious brain.”

James Hynes: “Good prose is like a window pane.”

Chris Offutt: “The move to revision became so complete that I no longer cared about the story as product. What mattered was the evolution of the act of creation.”

I’d call this a part-bio, part-craft, part-inspirational book. A few essays (Leebron, Livesey, Robinson, McPherson) are probably worth reading five or ten times. Thanks to Linera Lucas for the recommendation.


19 December 2004

Carol Peters

William Stafford and Marvin Bell wrote a series of what they called correspondence poems: one poet wrote a poem and sent it to the other poet; the other poet wrote a poem that was in some way a response. They went at this for some time. Eventually they published the result, Segues: A Correspondence in Poetry, published in 1983.



Thom Ingram, http://poetguru.blogspot.com and I are going to try our own sequence of correspondence poems.

We're writing in form (however-many tercets; 11 syllables per line, stress on the penultimate syllable; rhyming optional but encouraged). Thom says we'll each produce a poem every other day. I say we'll alternate at whatever pace we can manage.

Yesterday Thom wrote the seed poem. Here's my first response poem.

The Mistakes That Led Up to It

Saturday morning, I thought to make pancakes.
Pancakes are for Sundays, but the bread ran out—
you need to know the details—flour, salt, sugar,

mixed with egg and oil—no milk—I used water,
so it goes. All I ate were two small ones plus
a smaller one, then I decided, yes, bike ride—

but my tire was flat. Junior’s fault. On Monday
he warned me off my route, seven flats he had.
Straight-up jinx—one long sharp kiawe thorn—pssss—

no air. Chain-greased fingers broke the back wheel free,
but at the bike shop, I’m fainting, an air-head
seeing floaters and stars. Go to the warehouse,

the clerk said, two blocks down. Bitch to repair it,
the first new tube was a dud. Tire off, tire on,
tire off. I prayed for the fix, paced the sidelines—

my mind dimming like a spent bulb, stampeding
dark shadows, black spots, downshift aimed for coma
until I could get some food. That long thorn saved me

from a low-fuel spill, a braindrain on empty,
spared me the pain of my ass in the gutter.
So yeah, joy, greetings, count my blessings, will ya?

18 December 2004

The Paris Review #171

Anyone read the lead story titled "The Fifth Wall" by Malinda McCollum? Anyone else find it a nearly brilliant story until it ends practically in the middle of a sentence? I have seldom experienced such an unpleasant jolt. Kept fingering the page hoping I'd done a double page turn.

This from the Tobias Wolff interview:

"The one thing I would say to a young writer who wanted counsel is to be patient. Time, which is your enemy in almost everything in this life, is your friend in writing. It is. If you can relax into time, not fight it, not fret at its passing, you will become better. You probably won’t be very good at the beginning, but you will become better and eventually you may become good."

Rebecca McClanahan

Rebecca McClanahan is a poet, an essayist, a memoirist, a writing teacher, and as she is quick to point out, a wife, a stepmother, an aunt, a daughter, a niece. She teaches CNF and poetry in the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program where I am a student of fiction. On a personal basis, I find her intelligent, thoughtful, well-read, humble, lovely, sweet, and people she has mentored speak highly of her.

Since I learned of McClanahan, I have read three of her books:



Tonight I finished Write Your Heart Out: Exploring & Expressing What Matters to You, an inspirational volume on why and how to write. She has given me a raft of new ideas, including passage journals, correspondence poems, joy lists, Mark Doty's question of what noun would you want tattooed on your body, Billy Collins's "log of the body's voyage," Michael Steinberg's shareable idea, William Matthews thanking "my friends, who by loving me freed / my poems from seeking love." Lest I imply that McClanahan only collates the ideas of others, here's a quote from her: "When writing becomes your heart, everything changes. Where you once wanted only to express yourself, you now want to hear what the work has to say."

I place this book with respect next to Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, which is easily the finest text on how to write description I have come across.

My favorite quote from Write Your Heart Out comes from her nephew, a remark he made after watching her work on an essay: "Oh, I get it now. You just put words down on paper and then you scratch them out. I can do that." My second favorite quote comes from her three-year-old niece, Hanah: "I had a dream. But I wasn't in it. Only the beach was in it."

17 December 2004

Peter Turchi on maps



Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination: The Writer As Cartographer is the latest text about how to write, how writing works, from the folks in the Warren Wilson MFA program, and for me, the most surprising, since it stems at least as strongly from what must be Turchi’s long love of maps and mapmakers as from a desire to teach would-be writers how to write. The illustrations are marvelous, maps in all forms from all times, my only complaint that many reproductions are too small for me to read the inscriptions. I must buy a new loupe.

Turchi discourses thoughtfully about form, silence and blankness, expectation and surprise, imagination and realism, writers and readers. Early on I thought, “please, more about writing, Peter,” but my niggling ceased when time and again I rushed to my latest fiction endeavor to add, subtract, alter. Along with maps and Turchi’s dissertations on their creation, purpose, and use, are quotes from authors of all stripes: Anne Carson and Robert Louis Stevenson; Italo Calvino and Vladimir Nabokov. I make reading lists while working my way through a text like this one, mapping the read that never ends.

This book is a confidence builder: maps are not accurate, Turchi says, maps are belief systems, maps are the way “we chart ourselves,” writing equates to “painfully designing the map to suit the data,” data that changes, destinations that shift. Turchi’s book offers concentrated fuel to sustain the writer’s journey.

Other books on writing by Warren Wilson faculty:




15 December 2004

Frank O'Connor



Frank O'Connor's The Lonely Voice, originally a lecture series at Stanford University in the 60s.

"The short story has never had a hero. . . . What it has instead is a submerged population group . . . [In “The Overcoat”] what Gogol has done . . . is to take the mock-heroic character . . . and impose his image over that of the crucified Jesus, so that even while we laugh we are filled with horror at the resemblance."

O'Connor says we marvel at more than identify with the short story protagonist.

Regarding the difference between novel and short story:

"One character at least in any novel must represent the reader in some aspect of his own conception of himself—as the Wild Boy, the Rebel, the Dreamer, the Misunderstood Idealist—and this process of identification invariably leads to some concept of normality and to some relationship—hostile or friendly—with society as a whole. . . . without the concept of a normal society—the novel is impossible."

O'Connor discusses the short story in the hands of Turgenev, Maupassant, Chekhov, Anderson, Mansfield, Lawrence, Hemingway, Joyce, Kipling, and more.

Eavan Boland



A wonderful book about Eavan Boland's evolution as a poet, and a woman. Here are some quotes to encourage you to read it:

[Boland quoting Matthew Arnold]: "for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact."

[Boland re Arnold]: "I did not understand that to invest the imagination with sacramental powers restores to poetry not its religious force but its magical function. . . . But magic is the search for control over an unruly environment; it is also the most inferior of the past associations of poetry. . . . I did not know that the best such magic could achieve would be a simplification of life based on a dread of it."

[Boland quoting a don at Trinity College in Dublin in response to Boland's question about form]: "The elements of form, he said, were often inseparable from the factors of external compromise. Think of a play. The three hours of spatial construct -- the stage, the lights, the seating -- these influenced even the deepest secrets of the final product."

[Boland after hearing the don's words]: "Already I sensed that real form -- the sort that made time turn and wander when you read a poem -- came from a powerful meeting between a hidden life and a hidden chance in language. If they found each other, then each could come out of hiding."

Much of what she explores in the text is the question of how to become a woman poet in Ireland in a time when all Irish poets were men and control of the nation of Ireland [as now] was in dispute.

[Boland] "what I found was a rhetoric of imagery which alienated me: a fusion of the national and the feminine which seemed to simplify both."

[Boland]: "What, for instance, if I chose to engage with language at the level of my apparent life and not my hidden [female] one? What if I wrote out of the plausible, asexual persona offered to me, obliquely and persuasively, in conversation with other [male] poets? Would it be so wrong to deny a womanhood -- an ordinary condition, after all -- so as to hold on to this extraordinary privilege of being a young poet?"

[Boland on ethics in a poetic tradition]: "Who the poet is, what he or she nominates as a proper theme for poetry, what selves poets discover and confirm through this subject matter -- all of this involves an ethical choice. The more volatile the material -- and a wounded history, public or private, is always volatile -- the more intensely ethical the choice."

[Boland quoting Allen Tate]: "For what is the poet responsible? He is responsible for the virtue proper to him as a poet . . . for the mastery of a disciplined language which will not shun the full report of the reality conveyed to him by his awareness."

[Boland]: "All good poetry depends on an ethical relation between imagination and image. Images are not ornaments; they are truths."

[Boland]: "The final effect of the political poem depends on whether it is viewed by the reader as an act of freedom or an act of power. . . . The mover of the poem's action -- the voice, the speaker -- must be at the same risk from that action as every other component in the poem. If that voice is exempt, then the reader will hear it as omniscient; if it is omniscient, it can still commend the ratio of power to powerlessness -- but with the reduced authority of an observer."

18 November 2004

Carol Peters

Thom Ingram has invented a new poetic form he calls the Tricuahilo, and last night he challenged us to try it on.

Surgery after All

Endoscopy, that was almost end game
on the Friday when we all knew what Monday
would bring—antrectomy—yes, scoping is looking

but -omy means cut—vagotomy—
what did it matter by that point which
parts they took, I was on my way down,
coming back called for good-byes.

13 November 2004

Carol Peters

after "Watching Mars" from The Hospital Poems by Jim Ferris:

Crackers and Milk

Seventh grade
I would leave English
halfway through class—
lippy students at scarred desks
what’s her excuse?

where to
every day? I knew
they whispered pet
and freak behind my back—
ladies in aprons

readied
my snack, pitied
my sips, their worry—
an ulcer? and fret—could it be
her fault?


Buy Jim Ferris's book here

31 October 2004

Carol Peters

My Transgression Is Sealed Up in a Bag
         —Job 14:17

when the eye saw me

I was a child and dirty—
beetles’ legs stuck to my lips, I sat tasting the dust of earth
outside the door of the Pittsburgh house where family
struggled to tame me, dress me in pale smocks, teach me
cleanliness and courtesy.

can the rush grow up without mire?

How would I know taste
except by tasting, more than once, by my hands and in my mouth
moving white and yolk in and out of my body
like letters back and forth on a slate until I made words—
experimentation and ecstasy.

mine own clothes shall abhor me

Therefor I cast them off—
one week of beachbumming an alien island shore, sunstruck mirth
in turquoise water, sand scrubbing between my thighs,
nightmares of tumbled sea wrack ventriloquizing leviathans—
hallucination and monstrosity.

they waited for me as for the rain

Winter mornings lend truth
or if not truth, then sunshine calving and spectral warmth
penetrating the marrow of old bones still rendering,
curdling sweetest milk into ferment and sometimes bile—
incoherence and memory.

there is a path which no fowl knoweth

No more I, not now or ever,
yet I fumble, I knuckle to task, I elbow forth,
wash my steps with butter in search of the rivers of oil.

30 October 2004

Carol Peters

incited by a tercet quatrain form my friend Thom invented, I "found" this poem:

Light. Glowing yellow.
- found at the start of Eva Figes's novella titled Waking

It spills into the room of wavering
shadows and forms a pool on the floor. The pool
of melted butter oozes across the floorboards

as a soft gust of air slowly lifts
the cloth hung over the window;
luminous now, it bulges inward
with the motion of a half-filled sail.

click here to buy 3 Eva Figes novels, including Waking, in one volume

28 October 2004

Carol Peters

Fulfillment

Some puritan impulse,
some money-saving, time-saving,
pent-up-hostility-toward-the-media impulse
caused us to cancel
our television feed, and it was not
until thirty minutes
before the start of the 2004 World Series
(because we’d been in Honolulu
where even without cable
we can pick up the network channels
and watched through snow
the four-game-straight comeback
of the Red Sox over the Yankees)
that I realized
I would not be watching
the World Series games,
and I freaked out, because after all,
baseball is my favorite sport,
and the Red Sox my all-time favorite
team, and even though I hate
Tim McCarver as a TV color man even more
than I hate Rick Sutcliffe,
I had to see the games,
yes, John Miller and Joe Morgan are outstanding,
but remember that interference play with Alex Rodriguez
in the ALCS? I mean, how can you capture that
on the radio, nothing but words,
so I was faced with driving
to a sports bar or flying back to Honolulu
until my husband asked me whether
he should call the satellite TV folks
to ask if they would hook us back up,
just for a week, just for the Series—
I said Yes! Yes!
and it was the damnedest thing:
they said we had a twenty-eight-dollar credit,
they could turn us on for two months,
we could watch the Series for free,
so if you were wondering
why the Red Sox won—
the curse reversed—
it’s because of me,
one dedicated fan
as far away as Hawaii.

22 October 2004

Carol Peters

A friend suggested this exercise: Take the last word in each line of a poem and make each line of your poem begin with that borrowed word. My friend claimed that the new poem tended to take on the flavor of the old poem. Although I did not read the source poem I chose before writing my own, my friend's prediction turned out to be true.

I chose for a source poem "Growing Up" by Eavon Boland from An Origin Like Water:

Growing Up

mooning over not knowing what it might mean to be a woman
hair limp across one eye lest I see clearly
hopes for passion with dark-haired acned youths
fully anticipating a body I seem to have been promised
fantasy breasts
girls in my classes who have them
view of the boys who watch them
anemic after bleeding
out of P.E. with an excuse
womanhood so far nothing like the promise—I
knew somehow it wouldn’t happen
bonneted and tormented a cat out of spite
child in my heart
hope altered by perspective
all girlishness, vampishness, femaleness denied
memory and persistence of androgyny

21 October 2004

Flight

after "Endings" by Eavan Boland from An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967-1987:



Carry On Baggage

A plane flares through the night.
The pilot doesn’t know me
yet holds my life with his own.

Long dark space
the bright stars tremble in:
Castor and Pollux—
Orion, the Great Bear—
gentle Pleiades.

Back in coach
I dream
of those I have ventured with:

a hand
in a hand
crossing over
the wine-dark sea.

18 October 2004

found at fenway

a middle middle cutter to mueller
blown save, mariano
how often does a lead-off walk score
says mike
did the announcers say it
no
they're yankee fans
fuck 'em
finally
mueller's on second
the red sox could be a hit away
that's stating the obvious
damon needs to cut his hair
mike says
he chops it
bobble bobble
error on clark
is that timely
to put the winning run ninety feet away
now they just need a sac fly
mike says
he always wanted to be a baseball announcer
nomar's replacement at the plate
a lot of red sox fans are warming up
come on
what's that guy swinging at
cabrera
that was a terrible at bat
the woman in black gloves wipes her fingers across her eyes
a chance to win it for boston
manny fest destiny
mccarver's blathering on
baseball 101
who's he talking to
his unborn grandchildren
the only people in boston with fingernails
are asleep with their tevo running
right on the hands to manny ramirez
the fans need it now
more than hypothermia between innings
bases loaded
for david ortiz
how about a walk-off homerun
says mike
reverse the curse
oh
and two
up
and in
can you feel it
this is what we stay up for
extra innings
sore throats
how many times can a heart break
some fans are going to die
before this happens again
i hope it's not me

15 October 2004

telescoping

after "The City Limits" by A. R. Ammons:

The Sky Falls to Bits

When you digitize a telescope, swap a magnifier
and light detector for a zero-and-one recorder, your new telescope
knows without seeing what is galaxy or moon, when you digitize

a yes-or-no truth table of astronomical knowledge
to guide the path of the lens, you set loose the machine; when you
     digitize
the equipment, a thin tube expands to a dish patrolling the sky,

capturing the twinkling stars, wresting new secrets from them,
no qualms about strange shadows or vagaries; when you digitize
the ambulation of a curiosity that investigates the deep-red

flarings and bright-banded rings of moons circling the great
orb of a distant planet or the black holes and at no
time shudders at the whelm of immensity; when you digitize

that knob and tilt-bar, film and glass, length and breadth, step and
     filter,
all are manipulated by mute process, programmed rigor
that roams the universe, the sky opens and bares its truths, the

fear does not infect the dish at work in space, and the raw
truths of the stars long dead are brought before us, new science
and old theories fall to plain facts spelled out in bits.



Nick Halpern's new book is about Lowell, Ammons, Merrill, and Rich.

09 October 2004

preparing for a poetry workshop

after "Bag of Mice" by Nick Flynn in Some Ether:



Remembering a Poem

I dreamt our first assignment
was to memorize one of your poems
& the poem was about remembering. The poem
recorded a suicide,
shooting
after pilltaking. The memory,
not lessened by time, sketched the poem
across a white page. I sang out lines
& as your feelings loomed through the stanzas
of remembered moments
your mother shifted around to show
me my mother, & the poem
drew closer.


Fellow Students

I dreamt the writing class
was filled with people I knew from a previous life,
& in that life were too many lovers. The life
turned into graduate school,
never-ending
lectures and workshops. My lovers,
deferring graduation, extended their lives
another semester. I sat writing
& as the page count of my thesis
neared one hundred
my characters drove my manuscript
like ghost minds, & the lovers
circled my wagons.

08 October 2004

Go Sox

I’ve Always Been a Loud Sneezer

Double, high off the wall,
and I hear Gretchen say,
“Lowe is meant to be shot,”
but she claims she said,
“he’s mentally shot.”
Either way, she can’t watch,
it makes her too nervous.
Are you part of Red Sox Nation?
When an Angel strikes out,
a kid in a black T-shirt,
eyes squeezed shut,
bounces in a St. Vitus dance—
a genetic flaw
shared by most of us,
our cheerleading moves
deeply embarrassing—
torsos shuddering,
hands clutched, pumped.
Earlier I sneezed,
a room-rattler,
but not loud enough
to wake the kids.
No, we’re saving that
for a Red Sox victory.
What are you saving?
I hope it’s not something good
because it’s extra innings—
hope hanging from Lowe
like hair hanging from Damon.
Are you nervous yet?
Damon smacks it up the middle,
Sutcliffe belabors the obvious
while the bunt erases Damon.
No one’s breathing or drinking
while Manny strikes out.
New pitcher? First pitch—
David Ortiz puts it out of here.
SWEEP! Eternal hope
for the Bostons, while the kids
and the dogs sleep on.

07 October 2004

remembering home

Paradise

A white bag of apples—
the tag reads Honey Crisp—
not a name for an apple.
There, I spot Cortland—
they’re better for pies.
Macintosh—my favorite—
too bruised and scarred.
In the end, what can I do
but take the Honey Crisps?

Back in the car, I taste one—
the flesh crisp in my mouth,
ample juice like honey,
not the mealy dregs
I buy in Hawaii. Bad apples—
the downside of paradise.
Nothing comes near
a New England apple
in the bright flush of fall.

Driving down Water Road—
remembering three of them—
and Woodland and Pond Streets,
sun, reddening leaves,
and this river or that
winding through the trees,
making a pond, rushes,
the marsh where we berried—
buckets, blues, and snakes.

06 October 2004

being home

after "Very" by Kurt S. Olssen:

Family

This is my family. I don’t have family. Our family gave way
(even before my mother fell sick). I think some families
are better without having happened. Pretend we didn’t.

Debris predominates, and joyfulness. We try so hard
to act as if we’re not brothers and a sister with partners
and children, birthdays and holidays. We’re too old for all that.

Imagine a country where each child trims five trees
every Christmas to get that whole thing out of the way
so they can grow up into separated non-celebrants.

The only problem . . . look, why are we all together again?
Family: grossly mismatched garments, gathered off the line
and shaken, smoothed, buttoned into bafflingly perfect fit.

05 October 2004

more about coming home

after "Negative" by Wislawa Szymborska in Miracle Fair:



Preparing to Sleep in My Mother’s Bed

I’m reclining on a soft white sheet—
posies of blue and yellow,
pale blue polkadots screening ground.

Your bed: high, firm, narrow,
a creamy wool afghan with a broad red stripe,
your fringe and your knitting.

I’m remembering the night you maneuvered
your walker past the commode to the bathroom
and fell on cracked pink tile.

How one decision becomes the last
act of free will. How gravity
and old bones conspire.

Then well-worn formulas resolve the play:
emergency medics, practiced surgeons,
recovery pretending toward rehabilitation,

but no more going home, no, not in the script
due to danger to self.
Here lies safety without fanfare,

bed rails in the dark. They confide
a freefall last line:
don’t eat.


after "Endings" by Eavan Boland in An Origin Like Water:



Carry On Baggage

A plane flares through the night.
The pilot doesn’t know me
yet holds my life with his own.

Long dark space
the bright stars tremble in:
Castor and Pollux—
Orion, the Great Bear—
gentle Pleiades.

Back in coach
I dream
of those I have ventured with:

a hand
in a hand
and bowled over
in the wine-dark sea.

03 October 2004

speaking of rain

Walking in Scotland

down gray-green roads
how often in rain
how sorry I felt
walking alone
yet who else decided
to plunk myself down
in the middle of Robert Burns
country to walk and walk
along seawall
speeding cars
berried brush
castle ruin
until my knee curled
like a pink shrimp
saying no more no more
wee bonnie lass
not bonnie not
after hours of damp plodding
finding the peaked gray
stone house
the sign acknowledging
Bob slept here
not knowing a single verse
by heart
born too late for recital
or made too shy
maid not too shy
stopping in an ale house
a pub an off-license
learning to order
a wee bonnie malt
whatever they poured
in their house
and every time
the sweetest savor
all the way down

02 October 2004

kisses

for Harriet and Maud:

our babies blew kisses
to bubbles
pinwheeling down the drain

01 October 2004

napo #35 -- Derek Walcott

after "Fight with the Crew" from The Schooner Flight by Derek Walcott:



Training the Cat

The cat was raised by us, found soaking in the rain—
following the track of her starved viral mother
with a coat speckled calico, one beige toe.
She weighed nine ounces. We bottle-fed her to start,
still she sucks our fingers. We lived alone on a farm,
miles from town, saw a neighbor a week
or no one, until one year, we moved back
to society, and traffic and many loud noises
sending her dusting the floor under beds, “Come out.”
We changed her diet from generic chow to Friskies
because we shopped at markets, not farm stores.
Many times she was gone all day, me calling—
hoping nothing bad happened. Still, she triumphed,
came to know two parrots, the next-door dog,
learned to run in and out the cat door;
pretty soon, other cats came along too,
forced a change of rules: “You sleep with us at night.”
She lay waiting in windows, snick-snicked at doves,
chased her tail round and round, made us laugh—
after all, the kitten lives inside somewhere.
Only the open meadows of the many-acred farm
meant we never saw her winding in circles of joy,
not until we realigned her, made her an urban pet.

30 September 2004

napo #34 -- Grover

after "Ikwe Ishpiming" by Linda LeGarde Grover in Sister Nations:



A Million Pieces

From a car bomb, pungent smoke
moils and capers across the street,
veils babies succouring dolls.
Martyrs ignore the lives of infants,
ignite their fuses, pantomime creeds
that fragment mobs, sacrifice brothers.
In a bus a market they carpenter crowds
with sacks of nails, they prayerfully die
with faith to guide them, Allah, Jehovah,
one deity, a thousand names
invoked to bless impure acts.
Yes, we confess, we repent, forgive us
O Jesu, Kali, Buddha, Satan.
Now wailing sirens conspire at aid
but no rescue. No house of faith
rocks the cradle of peace, peace,
better to live in holy war.

and after "Mites" by Nick Flynn:

Sweat

spangles our forearms
like gems, with each press

we express it out, it coats our lats
& pectoral
swell. How to add weights in such

heat, how to raise the bar
without risking our heart’s arrest? All
is strain—the lights at

max, more reps

then more again—achieving the sharpest
outline, eagle-wing
deltoids, pineapple biceps,

& quad
planks like oak trees—wine-bottle calves

& abdomen, gritted steel.

29 September 2004

napo #33 -- Jose Luis Borges

after "el espejo" by Jose Luis Borges:

The Mirror

Barely morning, the sea glazed like milk,
clouds scissored by a celestial wind
and my face invisible behind plate glass,
a cameo ghost when I flick on the lamp,
absent, present, me gazing at me.
The dawn of blood erupts. The black barge
creeps along the coastline, ferrying fruit
to Oahu, farther out the tourists on their cruise
while glowing charred logs stack the horizon,
leave smoking shadows on the cold ocean.
Dawn reminds me to walk to the sink and wash,
pat cold wakeups on my cheeks, discover,
in the dim gray mirror, my blank face—
as amazed as the blue sky robed in scarlet.

28 September 2004

napo #32 -- Jorie Graham

after "Act III, SC. 2" by Jorie Graham from Dream of the Unified Field:



What If We Had Lunch

Oh no she said paying for a woman
is not what you want to do—She felt how he pulled
away, tried not to. And why
must he say this to her? Who else

can know? She wants to say she suffers
loneliness—but is hers like his—
would she buy love? How can she comfort,
what does it mean to be a friend

these days? He’s talked about his wife, his daughter,
she knows, or she thinks she knows, he loves them.
Yet here they are, two people at a conference,

spending the hours between here and there, hither and yon,
                                                             nowhere.
And he’s lonely, might buy a whore.
She’s his friend from work. What are they saying?

27 September 2004

napo #31 -- Jack Kerouac

after a haiku by Jack Kerouac:

Egg-hunting daddy mongoose
dragging a steel trap
doesn’t stop to eat the bait

26 September 2004

napo #30 -- David Ignatow

after "Two" by David Ignatow:

Many

Ant currents flow with a ferocity of will I can’t fathom.
Neither the currents nor the will seem mindful
of this resolute purpose to ferry eggs,
moving the colony from here to there.
The destination seems better, even though the route,
the new-made nest, is islanded with poison baits I’ve strung
in hopes they'll dock at sweetly tainted moorings.

25 September 2004

napo #29 -- Stephen Dobyns

after "Let's Take a Break" by Stephen Dobyns from Common Carnage:



Moonshine

Nowadays in bed, I lie watching moon
in clouds or stars against sky. Often
I’m up walking to the doorway or window. Too often
I’m damp with sweat. Always, Diamond Head

looks back: green by day, black by night, the crater—
millenia since volcanic activity, no military
use today, a hollow briar-filled bowl for hikers
rock collectors, historians. Diamond Head

in glory blew ashes, super-saturated rock
vaporizing: tuff flying, far too hot to flow lava,
hot lava ran down cooler cones.

Now it’s a view. Now folks like me wake and gaze at city light
while tame cats wail on foundation walls and at sunrise
doves tilt on lanai rails singing: Whoo-ee, whoo-ee.

24 September 2004

napo #28 -- Claribel Alegria

after "Me Gusta elaborar mis pensamientos" by Clarice Alegria:

Me gusta emancipar
mis sensaciones


Me gusta emancipar
mis sensaciones
me las desvesto en campo
las acaricio
para me acercarlas
y mirarlas desatascarse
contra mi corazon.

I like to liberate
my feelings


I like to liberate
my feelings
peel them off me in open air
caress them
spin them close to me
and watch them unravel
against my heart.

alternate translation into Spanish by a native speaker:

Me gusta emancipar
mis sentimientos
quitarmelos al aire libre
acariciarlos
revolverlos junto a mi
y mirarlos deshilacharse
contra mi corazon.

23 September 2004

napo #27 -- Marie Howe

after "The Dream" by Marie Howe from What the Living Do:



Living the Day

1.

Mike’s pace on the deck is light and slow and sure.
The planks shine. I see a leak, he said. He’ll have to fix it.

Things break everywhere in the house.
All those missing screws and lost nails! And now

the screen door doesn’t latch. A dog barks from next door.
I’d move away, but it only gets worse, is what

my neighbor said, creaking floorboards, rotting sills.
We’re here now. And the wreckage helps to ground us.

Mike’s pace steady from one day to the next:
the world is a place where ruination follows creation.

Sometimes the rusty nailheads show through the old paint,
but the yellow color looks good on the wall—that’s

how we age, right? There’s another crack.

2.

The cat’s sprawl on the deck is curved and tailed and poised.
The birds trill. She peers and sniffs, eyes wide. She’s Sly Hunter now.

Days pass in rainfall and sunshine.
All those lizards swollen and hot! And now

she traps one with soft paw. A parrot caws hello.
She’ll catch lizards, but she rarely eats them, is what

I often say, lying whitely, to myself.
She sleeps next to me. And lizard breath is not sugary.

The cat’s sprawl ignores the world’s burdens:
the fate of humans in search of superior destiny.

Sometimes the rainfall dampens and thickens her coat,
then she runs under the house, a tree, a rock—that’s

what a cat does. Chooses her next spot.

who . . . . . . . . . are you

Self on Stage

People think they know you
because they read your work
your poems
they postulate truth from the personas you assume
one morning before breakfast
one evening after two glasses of wine
when the truth is not even you know
much more than what burbles out
stimulated by a moment
an image
yon startling boy child
yet the instant fucks begin spilling
from your lips
they draw conclusions
further substantiated and personified
in the plaza
where you walk
legs propelling you
in some fashion your friends say
they would recognize anywhere
as if the rhythm of your gait
were some defining characteristic
reminds me how I tried
to teach Mike to sway his hips
from side to side like a woman
walking on stiletto heels
to be completely honest
I had no idea
how to make it happen

22 September 2004

napo #26 -- Komunyakaa

after "Nipples" by Yusef Komunyakaa from Talking Dirty to the Gods:



Joints

As if my legs are randomly hinged
Most days, I can’t promise
To bend my knees & walk
On neat, knobby ankles.

I have hairy knuckles that grow
Inside my ears, with the same
Wanton bulge & unplanned oozing
As the Elephant Man who pantomimed

Mauled lepers. I was bent
Toward gossip in my knees before
I could yawn. Eager to walk postulation
into my backbone, I can often intimate

Which arm is my own. After the handing
& the handing off, now these elbows
& wrists are faintly implicit, shy
Temporary junctions.

and this, after "I'm More Intellectual Than You Are" by Jonah Raskin:

I'm More Sexual Than You Are

I'm more sexual than you are,
(Though I don't look it).
I have pawed more chicks than you have, clearly.
I have more ultra-erotic come-ons than you do, for sure.
I have petted more pubescent boppers than you -- early start.
I have fondled more genitals than you have, don't even scan my pix.
Have rubbed more tits than you have,
(I'm slick!)
Have watched more dicks on video than you have,
Know more lap-dancing addicts than you do,
Endure more lap-dancing prime-time episodes than you do,
Wear leather chaps better than you,
Spent more money on buttock tattoos than you did,
Drove more miles in Chevies getting blow jobs than you,
Can pay the cost of more lap-dancing pussy than you can,
Am more often recognized in lap-dancing night spots than you,
Have more lap-dancing calluses than you do,
Know the politics of lap-dancing gentrification better than you do,
Diss the rancor of more anti-lap-dancing women's groups than you do!
And my son is more a lap-dancing patron than your son,
And my labrador is more a lap-dancing patron than your retriever,
and I have more lap-dancing DNA helix than you do.
And my lap-dancing response is bigger than yours
And more intense
And better suited to pay for repeat sittings, maximal breast thrust and squirming.
And I sit in a sprawl that's more lap-dancing ample than you.
And so, my friend, it's evident:
I'm more lap-dancing endowed than you.

21 September 2004

napo #25 -- Anne Sexton

after "The Truth the Dead Know" by Anne Sexton:

The Undying Dead

For my father, born August 1916, reported dead
in the early-eighties in an ICU in Canton, Ohio

Told, I cheer and flail my arms,
celebrating his painful annihilation,
declining the offer to sink his remains.
It is done. I am free from any more.

One time I went to him. I visited
a room where he lay strapped to a bed
beside a black man tied to a chair, keening,
punching the wall of the state hospital in Canton.

My father, his face drugged and spacy,
his head rising up from the starched sheets, his hands
pawing at my dress, at my breasts. Allie, he moans.
Now I’m his sister. Better beaten or loved?

How to get through. One more place
I found him, naked and flayed by medics,
purple-gray skin needled and wired,
green threads creeping and jerking like time.

How to snare the dead? He hangs like a bat
in a dark space. He fills more than space
in the muddled cave of memory. He declines
to be bled, eyes, heart and shuttered soul.

20 September 2004

napo #24 -- Redel

after "Steerage" by Victoria Redel:

Pizza

I sit hunched over. My pain sits too.
We ease up and cramp again.

The tomatoes I ate are why my belly’s upset.
We face off. We’re swollen and burping and green.

Appetite, agony, sweet taste an imp that dooms me,
my gut, that roiling ocean, a blooded bowl trapped inside me.

We huff and howl our paeans to greed.
My pain engulfs me. Every damn time I do this.

Please, Pain. Can we heave?
We stumble away to try.

19 September 2004

napo #23 -- Susan Mitchell

Today's poem sucks, completely a first draft and probably needs to be shot, so instead of reading it, check out my friend's new blog: Chris Mastin's Ad Nauseam.

napo #23 = after "Bus Trip" by Susan Mitchell:

Hawaiian Homies

Honolulu folks take Sundays at Ala Moana—
the beach park, not the shopping center.
They bring lawn chairs and lomi-lomi salmon

for an off-day sprawl, leave cars
at curbside, unload plastic bags
from Longs Drug and Times Supermarket—

local treats of Spam musubi, malasadas,
kalua pork, haupia and moshi,
above all rice. Beyond food, try umbrellas,

coolers of soda and beer, and for the kids,
those tropical fruit drinks—
lilikoi and orange strawberry guava mix.

They spend the day outside on blankets
under blue tarps and white bedspreads—
playing cards, making love, infants

nursing and children seeking comfort
from small waves or big brothers.
Gambling and cursing, talking story

in twenty different languages—
taking potluck with pidgin,
staring at tourists with hotel box lunches.

The park is a World War II memorial
built for community. Veterans power
wheelchairs, their grandsons ride bicycles,

teenagers flirt and rap, ukeleles play,
speeding skateboards, patrolling cops,
yapping dogs, pigeons—here to stay.

Everyone is family, everyone’s lived here
their whole life, even grownup children
come back for Sundays, for Mom and cold beer,

for Auntie Doris Ke‘eaumoku’s birthday—
nobody knows how old, two-hundred people
show up to party. From L.A.

and Seattle, Palolo Danny and Kalihi Kim,

he remembers her,
she him.

ode to my friend

Am I Right Here?

Thing I like about reading Thom’s poems
is waiting for the woman,
then squirming while he undresses her
even though she comes on stage naked
because I know the guy’s married—
sweet Dolorosa or something along that line.
Isn’t that true?
Didn’t the guy tell us he’s married?
Did I dream that part?
The guy’s horny.
He’s the walking talking rhyming infuckingcarnation
of the male longing for our lady of perpetual cunt.
I aim in that direction,
I seek the compass rose,
the magnetic arrow—
my aim’s erratic but always zoetic,
it’s nothing noetic, it’s biotic, spasmodic.
Christ! When I settle on the erotic,
it’s a square-headed bolt. I’m seeking
the hummer of the male drive.
I’m cruising the freeway,
looking at carnage—
catastrophic,
my psyche craves a wreck,
but that guy’s a peeper.
Even Thom’s manniquins are a veiled excuse
to ogle flesh while claiming concern
for children
exposed to abuse.

California days

life.com

Something about cardboard cups.
I can't drink without dripping.
Fumbled search for the flash green spray—
the muted chug of a masticating Miele.
Who’s blogging my URLs?
Step back, Ma'am,
take your hand off the mouse.

Now pedal, now brake, now glide—
my body on a bicycle heeling and toeing
through the dew-damp park.
Here I go zigzag around the golden rod,
shiny band, pink bud of a crushed pencil,
swerve past the sharps of a torn Fanta can.
I wheel down the hopscotch highway,
unspool in a small girl's mind—
one two one two—
past pavement's end to bump,
grass clump, wet sod, the leaping
splat of brown mud and no answer
to my mother's question—
why confess to the car she’s too blind to drive?

18 September 2004

modern heroics

Pumping Gas at Costco

Sky-blue duffel between the fill-er-up tanks—
I’m so spooked, I think it’s a bag left by a terrorist.
Hydrocarbon Spill Response Kit
spelled out in yellow letters.
Used to be when gas spilled on your hands
you waited for evaporation.
I like the prepackaged nature of this solution
for what to do when your hands are on fire
or might be.
Unzip the response kit and hope the directions are on top.
Meanwhile, the bimbo lights her cig
bip bap whammo—
flame out, is that covered on page 8?
Eighteen languages, starting with Bosnian Korean
Ebonics Phonics Sudanese Vietnamese and ending with U. S. English.
Meanwhile, I’ve gone up. My car, too.
Keep salt handy, my mother used to say,
in the glove compartment or under the front seat.
I don’t have a front seat.
Thank you, OSHA.

napo #22 -- Sally Keith

after "Note: 12 November" by Sally Keith:

Note: 18 September

Fold my legs,
now am I down
in posture—now

can I breathe?
Rough-brushed beige
flat wall—hood

my eyes. One breath.
An open tongue.
One breath. Zazen—

Inhale. Exhale—
three. Now free
the belly lungs

diaphragm. Cleared
they mime. Begin each
time. Not stray.

Yes enter.
Yes. Once more
to three? White noise—

shut it off—
        presence—


Note: 18 September

Alarm-at-four,
who sets the dial
to NPR—who's

up pre-dawn?
Car-bombed street
ten dead—kill

my ears. Light’s on.
An empty house.
Loud noise. Coffee—

hot steam. Raging
heart. Who sets
the alarm for

their neighbors? Still
it blares. Unplug this
sound. To churn.

Please turn off.
Please. What if
I bomb? Pull pin—

toss it up—
        whoosh—

17 September 2004

napo #21 - Bukowski

after "the interviewers" by Hank Bukowski

the asylum inmates

the asylum inmates meander in
and they do more or less whatever
they want to.

it’s
educational
and the attendant’s lesson
is to listen in
and take
notes.

some days they all gather round
sad janet and big dog
jake
and first one then another
offers cigs
hugs and kisses
shakes.

I don’t sense they’ll ever
know the greater world’s gone
cuckoo.

it feels okay to stay
mad:
I hear whispered
asides:

“I prefer to be King
Lear . . .”

or: “I feed Nurse Ratchet
all of my meds.”

how cool, that high school
English class
in modern America is
teaching students how to
know
truth: “I studied
Faulkner so I
could speak
in tongues.”

16 September 2004

napo #20 -- Transtromer

after "Breathing Space July" by Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robert Bly

Days at Camp Wisconsin

The girl who dives deep for soap in the green lake
is sheer ambition. She plummets through meters like a water-
     splintering plumb line.
She sprouts fins and tail,
she seeks with a propelling desire that ambushes foes in commotion.

The man who points up the speed boat tosses a rope over the stern.
Boats give armature to men.
Those gas-fueled motors dragging skiiers like spoor.
The shearing wake that swamps canoes.

The girl who hikes the rough trails through a green wood
sprawling over the elephant hills
will stake a tent at last beside the rill of a white brook
as the stones ripen like black fruit against the sky.

15 September 2004

napo #19 -- Blumenthal

after Michael Blumenthal's "Some Nights at Thirty":

A Pack of Dogs

Some days you are the St. Bernard in Acton
who gobbled my thigh into his lion-size jaw.

Some days you are Amy’s two guard dogs
who squeeze through rusty wire openings to chase me.

Some days you are the German Shepherd
who tried to make mincemeat of my grandchildren.

Some days you are the barking yellow mutt
who barreled down the Vermont slope at midnight
into a trash can instead of me pedaling away.

Some days you are my dog Brownie
who Mom had euthanized for puking squirrel guts
onto the living room rug.

Some days you are my first Golden Retriever
who nipped mailmen and was sold to a man with sheep.

Some days you are the dog I gave up along with my husband
in 1973, telling you both I’d had enough,
hearing you crossed the highway under the wheels of a truck.

Some days you are Jock the Dalmation who hauls my red wagon
around the backyard and lets me ride bareback.

Some days you are Bonnie the Collie who sang as I practiced piano
and doubled up as a pillow while I watched TV.

And some days, me retired and happily married
to a man who says: no dogs, they’re smelly, you suggest
I might outlive him and need a new partner,
you wonder if a Standard Poodle or a Chocolate Lab
might be my best choice out of so many.

13 September 2004

Hawaii at night

Night Vision

Seventeen million stars
take their Hawaii vacation:
sightsee telescopes
studding the spine of Mauna Kea
like buttons on snow.

Down on the salt horizon
VIP stars dress out in platinum,
designer names
flaring the night with phantoms
and souvenir scarves.

High up, the madding crowd
sprinkle-dust-silvers the touring dome,
white dwarf and red shift
ribboning milk down the throat
of astronomer bliss.

napo #18 -- Linda Gregerson

after "Pass Over" by Linda Gregerson:

Ill Chosen

                  1. Plague of Jokers

You make a smart face at a cop, the cop
                  will think
         you’re bad, he said. No matter thugs

down the road are fleeing, Shooter’s
                  dead,
         the back of the van such a pack

of procurers and half-dressed whores they’ll
                  no doubt
         rip your nuts right off. You know

what the sargeant said through the mesh?
                  More coming.
         Ten people jammed back here, whiskey breath

where it’s not fresh vomit. They shuffle
                  up tighter
         cause at least it’s not cold inside

like flat on a park bench under newsprint
                  or boxed
         in cardboard next to a wall. The cop

is fat, the face convinced him you mocked him, and
                  he thinks
         you’re one of the johns. Say your prayers.

If anyone might have saved you, my guess is that pimp’s
                  a mile away.

napo #17 -- Brock-Broido

after "Self-Portrait with Her Hair on Fire" by Lucie Brock-Broido:

Self-Portrait with Cropped Head

Now, it is as close as the slo-mo of shuffling the tower-
Decks into fifty-two-card pick-up, consanguination.

I cower saying this, how on day five, I asked Mike
To cut my long hair back to the scalp line

But he couldn’t raze it, not far enough—
Not to stubble so I could annihilate my image

In a gesture of longed-for kinship, conflating
The dead, ash by ash, to a self too skinless for hair

Across a pacific ocean helplessly large,
The sight of carnage steaming ringed by kliegs.

Hair will go on growing as mornings begin
                                 In dread and the uncertainty,

While I grow less watchful or crave attention
                                 So misguided it is next to mercenary.

12 September 2004

napo #16 -- Allen Ginsberg

after “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg

An Amusement Park in Anaheim

       What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Disney, as I strolled down the boardwalks between the stunts with a nausea wholly expected after a high ride.
       In my gaseous nightmare, and hoping for relief, I leaned over a steel-tubed queue-aligner, waiting for my equilibrium.
       What horses and what dinosaurs! Mismatched species bobbing in tune! Poles up their bellies! Ducks with the alligators, Wilma next to Fred Flintstone!—and you, Sailor Popeye, why were you slapping Blimpy with popsicle sticks?

       I know you, Walt Disney, shameless, greedy young bugger, plotting to trademark ears on the Mus musculus, that Mickey the Mouse of yours.
       I spied you hiring draftsmen in droves: Draw Mickey in gloves. Give Minnie dimples. What about fan clubs?
       I flickered in and out of the mercury lights on stanchions praising you, and wondered in my hallucination if you now lived in hell.
       We must cross the Charon-mediated river in our independent ferries gauging punishment, avoiding civil and penal litigants, and never admitting truth.

       Where are we going Walt Disney? The rides stop at sunrise. Does Magic Mountain ascend to God?
       (I close my eyes and pretend your supremacy in animation never happened.)
       Will we ferris till dawn on independent wheels? The tunnels of love are closed, coasters slow the rollers, we’ll both airplane home.
       Will we drown claiming we are both prophetic fools shamming real experience with pipe dreams, crazed by our muddy visions?
       Ah, dear hustler, con-man, cagy old snakeoil-flogger, what false prophecy did you paint when Superman vaulted the phonebooth and you fell out of the mint limelight and started firing the mouse department for slack treatment of cheese?

11 September 2004

napo #15 -- Rita Dove

homage to "After Storm" by Rita Dove:

Drying Off

Already the yellowed moon had sloughed
its beam and slumped into the black-leaved trees
when I sat up, limbs
damp from the back wash of a dream
through which your funk and
the mist of a shower stall steamed. I waded
the jammed room of the motel out

to where the jacuzzi pump whirred,
safety lights mincing the wavelets
in bejeweled lacerations. You sat
shaking salt over the cruising snails.
I could see the whelks dying, the slime
trapped in a shriveling casket for hours.

10 September 2004

naporhymo #14 -- Hoagland

after "Still Life" by Tony Hoagland:

Fathomed Life

The men have it wrong, said Mandy;
the goal isn’t an executive limo or a six-digit pay stub
                                                or a surgically tweaked trophy wife;
the goal is an exhale
and it follows an inhale
            limning the physical body

                     a simple in-and-out
bringing oxygen into
                                         and out of present lungs
                  centering consciousness
                       repeating the act

And she sat cross-legged, like a heeled dog
who waits patiently for indefinite reasons,

—and, breathing deep
and letting it out and in and out,

she stayed there, quietly, on her mat.

09 September 2004

naporhymo #13 -- G. Brooks

after "Bronzeville Woman in a Red Hat" by Gwendolyn Brooks:

Big-Hearted Concord Family

gives needy child a week in the country

We asked for a girl to go with our boys.
                        The schoolbus from Roxbury. Like borrowing
A jewel, really. Duped
to shine. An opal. A diamond. A black
pearl.
There she stood with her mom,
Inside a print dress that was worn, needed mending—
Nothing hard to do, of course—the mom’s face a snarl,
The naked rebuff from that inner city darkness.
The pertness
Of that slim quiet girl gave away nothing. Her limbs scarred with
       blacker hues. . . .
But that was simply our first hello,
And warm-up to a fuck-hollering night-demon—all sweat,
Belly aching, and unwilling to sleep in a bed
Without her sibs, that’s all.
Bad example
For our kids. We wanted a girl
To go with our boys.

[this poem imitates only the first stanza of the Brooks poem -- go here to see Thom Ingram take on the whole shebang]

08 September 2004

bop and napos

Naporhymo #12 is after "I Walk Alone" by Ruth Stone:

I Roam Alone

Curled in my chair at dawn,
sometimes the moon,
its pitiless who-are-you,
laptop hum,
the moon’s crumpled mien.
Nearly the presence of a friend,
as I imitate
his hunt-and-peck fingers
on the caps of my keys
as we write in the spell
of that communion
that now replaces face-to-face,
that makes love on screens
without contact,
in this far zone
where I sit engaged,
undressed, but only by the text.


A bop is a poetic form, note the September 6th, 2004 writeup on the National Poetry Almanac website.

Here's my try at a bop, also naporhymo #11, after "Haunting" by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon:

Coming Home

Mom grew up in the house by the river.
Fourteen children,
with a few always at home
to feed the other ones visiting.
Lily played piano
and Tommy mandolin.

We cousins learned all the words.

The red, red robin
goes bob-bob-bobbing
along.

After Tommy,
two sisters gave away the canoe,
nursed Mom before she passed.
Now Lily, taken into care,
Mary eats supper alone—
one hot dog, skip the beans.

The red, red robin
goes bob-bob-bobbing
along.

After Mary,
who will feed juncos and finches?
Scare off squirrels and jays?
I hear the gavel
and the Goodwill van.

The red, red robin
goes bob-bob-bobbing
along.

06 September 2004

naporhymo #10 -- Olena Kalytiak Davis

after "Moorer Denies Holyfield in Twelve" by Olena Kalytiak Davis:

Giants Drop Four in a Row

The ’89 World Series.
First time in my life I've scored a ticket to the game.

I leave work early for the home opener—
my stub's dated tomorrow,
I’ll catch tonight’s battle on TV.
At the stoplight, I’m rear-ended,
front-ended. Overhead, the signal
is swinging for the bleachers.

I floored the gas pedal
before the earthquake stopped.


The swimming pool tidal-waved the garage
where everything I own is in cardboard boxes
because my lover intentionally walked me,
now he says I'm out.

One minute you’re teammates. Then,
fifty-thousand fans fleeing Candlestick.

The neighbors brought over a handcart, towels,
short relief.
But, cleaning up, I slow-mo the replay:

I’ve been tuned to the wrong channel.
I’ve ignored the stats, the lineup, the applause.

I let a rookie steal my slot.

05 September 2004

naporhymo #9 -- Lorca

after "Arbole, Arbole . . ." by Federico Garcia Lorca:

Sol, Sol . . .

Sun, sun
hot and gold.

The orc with the ivories
is slow-riding breakers.
The spray, gassy and whetted,
lures him behind the swell.
Surge howlers winked by
on balearic backbones,
with cockled cream ribbons
and high-tossed domes.
“Fly Barracuda, transvesta.”
The orc skates down the tube.
Three steam trumpets wailed,
tappets for the knell,
with ribbons pearling round oysters
and bells of marine copper.
“Fly Anemone, dauphina.”
The orc beams off the curl.
When the fathom had glimpsed
high noon, with ambered gills,
a fish plum sailed by, sharing
drift and sea palm from the drench.
“Fly Manatee, flamingo.”
And the orc bites on air drums.
The orc with the ivories
spins helixing spirals
with the green dice of the spray
snake eyes in his dust.

Sun, sun
hot and gold.

04 September 2004

speaking out against executive housing

Phony

I see a pillar cornering your house—
Is that a penis?
An extended middle finger?

Tell me your house rises from a swamp—
The pillar fends off slime,
Or you salvaged material from a fallen municipal.

Otherwise, I call it puffery—
Stucco over concrete over hammered steel.
Why not the square truth of milled lumber?

If you want art, then showcase something worthy—
Peel a tree.


Click here for my son Ben's view of real, which then inspired the naporhymo #8 poem . . .

after "Magpiety" by Czeslaw Milosz:

Mongoosery

Dead beast but not dead to some, steady work for ant troops
Charged with fur stripping, hide chewing,
Transforming the carcass to community.
A mongoose was robbing nests, we said: Mongoosery?
What is mongoosery? We can never befriend
A mongoose thief, a scooting belly across wet grass, a mouth
That snarls and hisses, gnashes metal bars,
And so we lure and trap and coldly shoot mongoosery.
Since however mongoosery always returns
Our ducks keep laying down treasures.
Who thinks to warn the ants: multiply richly,
We count on your rank instinct to forage.


One more, after "This Be the Verse" by Philip Larkin:

Brown Be the Dirt

It’s such a crutch, to blame the world
For things that didn’t happen, or did
And fucked you up like wars or drugs
Or Latin—veni vidi—SHIT!

But what if you could share the blame
By owning up to luck and spin.
You could restart and learn the game
Or cry and moan and drink more gin.

Society will let you off.
Esteem is culture’s new excuse.
If you’re entitled, please don’t scoff
When boredom sinks to self-abuse.

03 September 2004

naporhymo #7

after "What Do Women Want" by Kim Addonizio:

What Do I Want

I want the original world.
I want it dirty and wet,
I want it too close. I want to sense it
before people paint it for me.
I want it hungry and cordless,
this world, with no one poised to preach
what’s meaningful. I want to tear off
the legs of beetles and chew them up
to discover I prefer the taste of red ants,
ants that crawled past my naked ass
and bit my tender nub. I’ll finger each one out,
eat them piecewise, head thorax abdomen,
mandibles tickling my sinus while legs tango by.
I want to tear off the scabs sealing me
to sniff iron filings and eyeball heart’s blood.
I want that first world raw.
I want it to defy
the puny claims of humans,
to make clear how small a role one person plays
in setting or binding what
she wants. As I find it, I’ll be that world
so fulsome. I’ll be bare and greedy,
inhale the whole tick and tock, through
my ear holes and my eye sockets,
and I’ll suck it like milk, like manna,
it’ll be the panhandling
murk I conceive in.

02 September 2004

naporhymo #6

after "How soft this Prison is" (#1334) by Emily Dickinson:

How rude my Naming is

How rude my Naming is
How sour these trocheed barks
No Love Song but the Yawps of Crows
Christening my caul

Of Front if this is Mine
Have I no sweeter Hail
A Title but a Prelude is
Pre-destination—Stage.


after "Somehow myself survived the Night" (#1194) by Emily Dickinson:

Somehow the Rocks embrace the Stream

Somehow the Rocks embrace the Stream
And scour the Bed below—
That they be worn the Worn withstand
Until the Fissure streaks,

Upheaves the lithic, waters boil
As earth and sky exchange—
Catastrophe for Ancient Haunts
But relimned into Place.


After agonizing these two, my respect for ED has quadrupled. Two nights ago, I began reading Alfred Habegger's My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. I'm not a fan of modern biography, and the beginning of this one almost made me burn it -- portentous conclusions drawn from insufficient data -- but I labored on, and thank goodness, now that Emily's been born, it's proving to be reasonably rewarding.

01 September 2004

naporhymo #5

after "Drowned" by Carol Frost, published in The Gettysburg Review, Summer 2004:

Fright

Black and white: a transform of mask and wire: the hook:
stark menace from far flung planet and eyeballs: hoary and huge:
scientist summoned from Washington: all ears for the young man’s
story, the clinging girl: massacred farmer
last night: telephoning for troops against extra-terrestrial invasion::
bad weather: kids not home from school: schools closed by cops:
eyelids: talons: articulated limbs: encroaching tentacles scooping
       wives:
town-fleeing for their lives: horror: horror:
that pen scribbling a complex math equation:
variables of rescue: intelligence too keen for Fly:: so pat.

31 August 2004

another poem today

after "Waiting" by Alice Friman, published in The Gettysburg Review, Summer 2004:

Waking

Dawn isn’t soon enough
to pull me up from dreaming.
Compared to action, what’s so sweet about
shagging z’s? Think greyhound—the gate,
the elusive chomp
                           after the rabbit’s
loin and the greedy racing touts.
In the waning night, my feet itch,
dreaming is idleness. Even Sleep,
necessary, yes, but come one sound
she too is leaping from the bed.
No fire, no hail, no siren call
but pumped up and yearning, ready to stare
rapt at the eyes of a full moon.
                                              One bang,
one thunder clap, one hypothetical
melody plays, and there it is—the true
heart-throb of the new day, that tingle
in the ribs thumping out
the piccolo’s whistle and wild hoarse
ache of the oboe, probing into
the mystery it was hollowed out for.
The opening chord.
                            Listen, the day
wakes when it wakes. There’s no stopping
the roll out. Stand on the carpet.
The fibers caress, and out there—hear?
Night exits tapping tambourines, those castanets
of silver, that crystalline clang.

naporhymo #4

4. after "Some Days" and "Vade Mecum," both by Billy Collins:

Some Nights

Some nights I feel my body, small as it is, grow large,
seams if I have them bursting,
I’m fat all over, girl meets balloon,
and know when the string breaks, I’ll float away.

Next minute I’m shrinking to nothing,
my head but a pinhead,
my feet all but gone,
shriekingly fearsome, my screams as I die.

But on bad nights, I’m a speck
on a pinwheel spiral,
falling into the heart of a nautilus shell
where my eardrums combust into grains of sand.

Hallucinations,
I know what they are
if things that are not can be filed and named.
If you’ve lived one, you’ve felt it

taking your brain and strangling it
’til humor turns to horror,
or charging lions and writhing snakes
appear as tantalizing succubi on a king-sized bed.

Deva Cumme

I want the scotch to be flowing
and the reefer to be buddingly potent
when my friends tell me I'm gaga
and ship me down the muddy river of sighs.

30 August 2004

naporhymo exercise #3

3. after "Imitation of I. F. Annensky," a poem by Anna Akhmatova:

Imitation of A. Akhmatova

And from you, my faux mother,
I turned my face. Sixteen was coming true.
You said vaguely: “You’re taking risks.”
And from then I couldn’t abide you.

Guardians take hold, set loose again,
Fond today and tomorrow freeing.
Why did I veer so wildly
to and from asylum?

Still the prison door swings wide—
No sign of bars. And here I stall.
It’s as if since my gesture of denial,
The woman has never left my side.

Oh, whoever said that a heart finds succour,
told it true: comfort is to take . . .
I’ll never comprehend, did she tithe me this
Or did she need me, too?

naporhymo

In the spirit of Nanowrimo, aka National Novel Writing Month, I hereby initiate naporhymo, national poetry rhyming-and-diming month.

Starting today, I'm going to write at least one imitation of one poem a day. I welcome fellow naporhymo players.

1. after "Nantucket," a poem by William Carlos Williams:

Hakalau

Fruit trees shade the meadow
avocado and banana

edged by green coffee—
Branches of wet beans—

Dawn dew in silver spots—
On the dark earth

worms and beetles, the skinks
zigging by, above

the sky is blueing— And the
omnivorous white ducks

2. after "Manna," a poem by James Tate:

Penance

I did regret my marriage
weeks after I agreed and months
before I wed, ignoring
unwelcome intimations
of the surely owed penance
and then a child, it was one
o’clock in the afternoon in
Somerville, Mass., I newly
waking from the punishing
damage of birth, my babe nursed,
Jesus, suckled upon my
cracked and leaking nipple and
a hole in myself dear-
ly filled, achingly, and said,
and said this one you can love.

Tomorrow, Anna Akhmatova . . .

26 August 2004

Hey

Testing the waters here.