30 April 2009

Lucia Maria Perillo

[from Lucia Maria Perillo's Dangerous Life, Northeastern University, 1989]

His Wife Goes Walking

Closing the door on rank yellow lights from
his warm & slipperfooted house, I step out
into the night, wet as the mouth of a large
black dog. I choose a street with the hope
that it leads to this beast's black heart,
whose black drums mount in the back of my
throat. At the top of a hill with the city
glistening below, there's an alley into which
I turn. The concrete walls on either side
are tall and so long they appear to converge.
Ahead, another woman has entered, her footfall
made deafening by the slim corridor. I follow
the spiked shadow of her frail body, backlit
by a swath of orange vapor, the city's breath,
that lies far off, past the end of the alley.
I let my heavy footsteps fall in behind her.
She hurries her pace, never turning around.
I walk faster, closing the space between us.
How easy it would be now, to run and knock her
down! I work hard to keep from playing games
with my feet: rapping out a fast staccato
rhythm, slapping the pace of an erratic jog.
The woman shifts nervously from wall to wall.
I let my right leg drag behind me, the left
stepping hard, sounding the irregular hiss
and tock of a limping madman. I tuck my hair
in my hood, cover my chest with my muffler.
When she turns I keep my head low, watching
through the ragged wool of my bangs until
I see it, yes, her fearful white eyeshine --
like that of a deer caught in the headlights
of an onrushing car. Her hair falls away
from her throat as she turns forward again,
her raincoat hem swaying against the back of
her calves. She breaks into a trot then breaks
into the orange gases of the night at large.
I have let her go because a god is merciful
once He is assured that all poor animals
are toys to his will. As he is assured --
each night he sees me bent over the ironing,
or bent over the poor animals we have made.
But for a moment it was I who might have made
her head bled, I might have made her utter
the word please. I walk home with a stick
and a monkey's grin. My husband still sits
in his chair by the fire, as though nothing
has changed. When he asks how the night was
I say: Like an animal with warm breath,
and smile as I go about his small chores.
Because I can look at my hands and know
they are not the same hands I set out with.

from Ploughshares, The Turtle Lovers

Dangerous Life (Morse Poetry Prize, 1989)

Craig Arnold missing in Japan

The very fine poet Craig Arnold is MISSING on a small island in Japan. Please email or phone your congressperson and ask them to help keep the search going until he is found.

29 April 2009

Carl Phillips

[from Carl Phillips's Speak Low, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009]


Having opened to their fullest, they opened further --
Now the peonies, near to breaking, splay groundward,
some even touch the ground, and though I do understand,
yes, that they're not the not-so-lovely-after-all example
of how excess, even in its smallest forms, seems to have
its cost, I think it anyway,

                                        I even think they look, more
than a little bit, like rough sex once it's gone where, of
course it had to -- do you know what I mean, his smell
on you after, like those parts of the gutted deer that
the men bring home with them, fresh from the hunt,
as if you were like that now, the parts, not the smell, I
mean as if you were his, all you'd ever wanted to be,
and how you almost believe that?

                                                   Do you see that too?

According to Augustine, it's a distortion of the will
that leads to passion, a slavish obedience to passion that
leads to habit, until habit in turn becomes hunger, and need.
-- What is it about logic, when delivered unflinchingly,
that makes a thought like that sound true, whether true
or not? Significant of nothing but a wind that, rising
suddenly, falls as suddenly back, the trees swing
briefly in the same direction, as if I couldn't quite
admit, yet, to a kind of grace

                                             in synchronicity, and had
asked for proof, and the trees were one part of it, another
the light of this late-afternoon hour when it works both
against and in the body's favor, like camouflage -- which
in the end is only distortion by a prettier name. I know
all about that. You can call it heartlessness, an indifference
to ruin, a willed inability to be surprised by it -- you'd be
mistaken. Don't go. Let me show you what it looks like
when surrender, and an instinct not to, run side by side.

Speak Low: Poems

28 April 2009

Seamus Heaney on Patrick Kavanagh

[from the essay "The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh" from Seamus Heaney's The Government of the Tongue, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988]

. . . the later regenerated poet in Kavanagh does not paint at all, but draws.

Painting, after all, involves one in a more laboured relationship with a subject -- or at least in a more conscious and immersed relationship with a medium -- than drawing does. Drawing is closer to the pure moment of perception. The blanknesses which the line travels through in a drawing are not evidence of any incapacity on the artist's part to fill them in. They attest rather to an absolute and all-absorbing need within the line itself to keep on the move. And it is exactly that self-propulsion and airy career of drawing, that mood of buoyancy, that sense of sufficiency in the discovery of a direction rather than any sense of anxiety about the need for a destination, it is this kind of certitude and nonchalance which distinguishes the best of Kavanagh's later work also.

This then is truly creative writing. It does arise from the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, but the overflow is not a reactive response to some stimulus in the world out there. Instead, it is a spurt of abundance from a source within and it spills over to irrigate the world beyond the self. This is what Kavanagh is talking about in the poem "Prelude," when he abjures satire which is a reactive art, an "unfruitful prayer," and embraces instead the deeper, autonomous and ecstatic art of love itself:

But satire is unfruitful prayer,
Only wild shoots of pity there,
And you must go inland and be
Lost in compassion's ecstasy,
Where suffering soars in a summer air --
The millstone has become a star.

When I read those lines in 1963, I took to their rhythm and was grateful for their skilful way with an octosyllabic metre. But I was too much in love with poetry that painted the world in a thick linguistic pigment to relish fully the line-drawing that was inscribing itself so lightly and freely here. I was still more susceptible to the heavy tarpaulin of the verse of The Great Hunger than to the rinsed streamers that fly in the clear subjective breeze of "Prelude."

I have learned to value this poetry of inner freedom very highly. It is an example of self-conquest, a style discovered to express this poet's unique response to his universal ordinariness, a way of re-establishing the authenticity of personal experience and surviving as a credible being. . . .

The Government of the Tongue: Selected Prose, 1978-1987

Gabriel Gudding

[from Gabriel Gudding's A Defense of Poetry, University of Pittsburgh, 2002]

[footnotes from the title poem]

Just as the fog is shackled to the
dirty valley stream and cannot go
out loosely to join the loopy clouds
who contain hollering eagles and
whooshing falcons but must stand
low and bound and suffer the
scratch of a bush and the round
poop of deer and the odd black
spoor of the American black bear or
the bump of a car on a road or the
sick crashes of paintings thrown
from a rural porch, so also is your
mind bound to the low reach of
trash and the wet wan game of
worms and the dripping dick of a
torpid dog -- and unlike the clouds
above you you do not feel swell but
clammy and pokey and sweaty: a
leaf-smell follows you, odd breezes
juke your brook-chaff, lambs and
rachel-bugs go up and forth in you,
and when a car passes through you,
windows down, the car-pillows in
that car get puffy, absorbing water in
the air, and those pillows become
bosoms, gaseous moving bosoms,
and that is the nearest you come to
bosoms. . . .

Some have called your mouth
Bippy-Swingset, and someone who
seemed to resemble your physician
called the orifice in question the
birth-hole of a Raven, whereas it is
common knowledge all Ravens are
born in burning forests, for the beast
is a charred contraption, being well-
cooked and near dead. Some say
that Crows are born out of a sail's
white leeward wall, others that thun
Crow is as an millet-corporal to the
Raven's brook-colonel, that a pelican
has goiter and that a Crow is in
truth the silhouette of a gull
knocked loose from that gull, which
can happen in the case of an Sudden
Explosion, where, in the afterclap
and initial desolation, gulls will
breach the sky with such celerity
their silhouettes break free and fall
like dark packs to the ground, which
is why the Crow is a kind of angry
bird, being now without grace and
having a charred voice. Some insist
the Crow is in fact a drunk, though
at which saloon he find his beer or
how he should pay for it, or whether
he have beer, port, or an highball,
these "poets" will not aver: either
way he follows not the Doctrine of
Christ and is a derisive and
condemnable bird and ought
therefore to be avoided and never
frighten a gull. Another annoying
beast can be the Squirrel. For he is
midget blowhard.

Dear Housefly
by Gabriel Gudding

Today I whacked you, fly, who was making more fuss than
a ratty Volkswagen ascending a mountain:
I crushed you with the catechism of Augustine

(the German edition by Gustav Kruger,
which I'll wager
few have read, or will ever . . . ):

thus De Catechizandis Rudibus
has pressed out your worried buzz, brought you
to a thimble-fountain of maggot pus.

And had I sent you off to Paradise, odd fly out of Hadrumetum,
had you been, say, a disciple of Chrysostom,

or a little optimist following Origen, rather than
a broom-chased peregrine, I might have let you go.

But there you were
just back from bugging mules, Gaul-blown,

smaller than the small books of Hippo.
What a life you must have had,

swirled in the breath of running dogs,
your eyes domed and numerous

as the basilicas of Carthage.


Gabriel Gudding

A Defense of Poetry (Pitt Poetry Series)

27 April 2009

Henri Cole

[from Henri Cole's Middle Earth, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003]


From above we must have looked like ordinary
tourists feeding winter swans, though it was
the grit of our father we flung hard
into the green water slapping against the pier,
where we stood soberly watching the ash float
or acquiesce and the swans, mooring themselves
against the little scrolls churned up out of the grave
by a motorboat throbbing in the distance.
What we had in common had been severed
from us. Like an umbrella in sand, I stood
rigidly apart -- the wind flashing its needles
in air, the surf heavy, nebulous -- remembering
a sunburned boy napping between hairy legs,
yellow jackets hovering over an empty basket.

Middle Earth: Poems

26 April 2009

Lydia Cortés

[from Lydia Cortés's Lust for Lust, Ten Pell, 2002]

You Must Be in the Potatoes, Because You Look so Good
(Second Language Acquisitions)

The party will be the kind where people bring lucky pots.
My eyes laugh out loud, I get so happy to see him.
We got a ball and painted the city gold.
I coming from Alabama with a banjo on my lap.
It was raining hard animals.
The dollar got stopped right there.
Still for years I'm waiting for the green card, because for taped-up red papers.
A bird in the bush is better.

She was just at the top of the ice cube when she told one true thing.
The bark isn't on the right tree, so don't blame me.
What comes in her head she says, with no hair on the tongue.
When she gets mad, her toes goes traight in front of her enemies' ones.
They put the ax under the dirt, than made of themselves friends again.

I over listened to him when he wasn't looking for me to found out the secret.
To my face in all the colors he said the worser things to me.
He left me high and all dried up.
All my words went down over on his dead ears.
He's a real ignorant -- one of those white guys that have the necks red.
He's the kind who always have to founds the hair in the egg.

Like a wolf he acts crazy.
Always separate the men from the old goats.
Never walk like a bird to fight the red light.
Never look in a horse's mouth because is a big mystery.
Never say ever.
When the fan is blowing the caca, the people don't stay long time.

Lust for Lust

25 April 2009

Donald Revell

[from Donald Revell's Beautiful Shirt, Wesleyan, 1994]

Another Day

A wine glass
out all night
overflowed with moths.
The wings
and they were a camp-system.

A more obsessed hand or more accurate would grasp
at the nearer thing, the glass a tulip, the system
a bulb of poisons. The swarm retires. Domestic pets
are loosed again into the backyards, and the mowers
resume their insect labors down to the powerlines.

Exposed to air
the ointment
proved useless.
Highest branches
unhealed and bled.
When only fracture
is silence only silence
is useful, and wings

cure the dead, careful to lay them into tall glasses.
The out-of-doors is glassy poisoning, mother of the
last desire to take flight out of pure, of pure hatred
of the air. My mother's head is not your head. Glass
aviates over the railways, over the electric ropes and
Europe killing not America

The camps
parch to overflowing.

Beautiful Shirt (Wesleyan Poetry)

Bernadette Mayer

[from Bernadette Mayer's Poetry State Forest, New Directions, 2008]

Perfect Berry Architecture
polyglot company disinters her
ossuaries engulf recidividists everywhere
now we are in alphabet creek perfect tense
so far every loner with us -- would she begin
to risk her identity, a beginner
to fall down that wave, witness this: who
gets whom into troubler, troublest waters female

good news! a marble cat is on the prowl
a wolverine in laos, i am a user i use you
interminable until walked-out nights
become sepulchral, lacustrine & crepuscular
there's a rainbow in the same part of the sky
it's always in except when it's in the forest
where there cant be any light, red rock

40-60 [excerpt]

i was peeling bark from a sycamore tree on a balmy day in january when i realized i could now write 40-60. i was about 40 when i started living with phil & i probably still will be when i'm 60 6 months from now, i cant think of any major changes in floating life except that i now have all my books in one place, & everything else too. that is i have only one place to be & that is here where i'm writing this. this house is difficult, i lose things in it all the time, plus it's sometimes haunted, now now. when i was 49 i had a stroke, a cerebral hemmorhage & i can only now forget about it. i recently learned how to write a signature with my left hand, knowing for years signatures can be anything, now i write capital b & m, then scribble. for a long time i did a thumbprint on a copper stamp pad. i still can't use chopsticks & i can't take notes. this has made it necessary to use my memory much more & i can do all sorts of useless things with it now, like memorize license plates, now I have the mind of a mnemonist, i've always been excellet at scrabble; now I'm better at anagrams.

using memory makes writing different. i've gotten used to knowing ahead of time what i'm going to write, that is, actually thinking. i'm glad i had 49 years to not think exactly, to type as fast as i thought, without typos & to expend boundless energy on writing instead of walking which i can now do. it's hard to write this kind of work now because i'm thinking too much. . . .

my method in writing this is to write non-chronologically as fast as i can, 1/2-page for every year. since i had a stroke i don't write as fast as i think so i think more. pauses are spent daydreaming, not in thoughtless breathing. before i had a cerebral hemmorhage i could also get myself into a hypnogogic state in a very short time & anytime; i was a better meditator, i had more lovers, fewer problems. . . .

December 25
I'm dreaming of a partly white field
Laete triumphante this is our elephant
Come all ye cephalopods, hendecasyllables
to the MLA to get a job or it will be
Food stamps for you, come all ye maudlin tentacles
Join us for oysters, etouffe or soft-shell crabs

I don't live in your house, Jesus Christ
though baptized at a font, father give me five
The gloom of this day, just meteorologically
supercedes the tenebrosity of any in December
I am a cheerful flying squirrel living
willy-nilly to beat the rock & roll band, oh come

           Let us adore the person who'll arrive
           like a peninsula almost completely alive


24 April 2009

Donna Stonecipher

[from Donna Stonecipher's The Cosmopolitan, Coffee House, 2008]

Inlay 12 (Owen Jones)

She said, Why are there so many things I do know and wish I didn't, and so many things I don't know and wish I did? The only thing I do know and am glad I do is that I don't know much of anything. On her bookshelf: volumes of Hokusai, Piranesi, Otto Wagner

From capital to province, and from province to capital, capital was moved provincially. The city on the edge of the volcano, the minaret in the microscope. In my search for the Northwest Passage -- I did not discover the Hudson, I invented it. And then reinvented it --

According to the book he was reading by the side of the hotel pool, the first known writing was lists: how much grain was delivered to the palace, how many heads of cattle were received on this or that holy day. Glow-in-the-dark globes in a darkened palazzo --

One loved; one did not love; goods changed hands. She was looking for the seed pearl dropped off the scale in the middle of the vast outdoor market. At the airport, he reached into his bag for his cyanometer -- which of fifty different kinds of blue was this particular sky?

And isn't nowhere, after all, also an elsewhere? On her bookshelf: volumes of Audubon, Albert Bierstadt, Edward Curtis -- dead birds of paradise, invented mountains, a disappearing culture he believed he alone would make appear and disappear -- oh the sublime.

"Proposition 5: Construction should be decorated. Decoration
should never be purposely constructed"

He was told she was busy in the next room, separating form from content. The dazzling embezzler had gone too far, the puzzled Lipizzaner shied from the proffered sugar. Somone had left the newspaper open to the headline, "Sahara once lush and populated."

Goethe's color theory was on her bookshelf. She had visited his hosue in Weimar, where each room was painted a different color: yellow, red, orange, pink, and his melancholy blue-green study. It was like a violet in formaldehyde, a fallen starling in an airtight jar --

And to this day you find it hard to believe that there are countries in which people eat fruit you've never seen. Behold the blood arriving blue back at the heart after its grand tour of the body. A plaster Taj Mahal atop the bureau, reflected in the mirror expanding behind --

At the origin of every thing is commerce. One loved; one did not love; goods changed hands. Even at the origin of love. With its little store-bought wings. At the airport, the stars finally arrived: the pilot and his flight attendants -- unspeakably glamorous.

The Cosmopolitan

23 April 2009

Charles Wright

[from Charles Wright's Sestets, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009]

With Alighieri on Basin Creek

All four ducks are gone now.
                                           Only the mountain remains,
Upside down like Purgatorio
In the pond's reflection,
                                    no tree at the top, and no rivers.

No matter. Above it, in either incarnation,
The heavens, in all their golden numbers, begin to unstack.
Down here, as night comes on, we look for Guido,
        his once best friend, and Guido's father, and Bertran de Born.

Sestets: Poems

Charles Wright

[from Charles Wright's Sestets, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009]

Consolation and the Order of the World

There is a certain hubris,
                                      or sense of invulnerability,
That sends us packing
Whenever our focus drops a stop, or the flash fails.

These snaps are the balance of our lives,
Defining moments, permanent signs,
Fir shadows needling out of the woods,
                                                           night with its full syringe.

Sestets: Poems

22 April 2009

W. S. Merwin

[from W. S. Merwin's The Shadow of Sirius, Copper Canyon, 2008]

Far Along in the Story

The boy walked on with a flock of cranes
following him calling as they came
from the horizon behind him
sometimes he thought he could recognize
a voice in all that calling but he
could not hear what they were calling
and when he looked back he could not tell
one of them from another in their
rising and falling but he went on
trying to remember something in
their calls until he stumbled and came
to himself with the day before him
wide open and the stones of the path
lying still and each tree in its own leaves
the cranes were gone from the sky and at
that moment he remembered who he was
only he had forgotten his name

Gray Herons in the Field above the River

Now that the nights turn longer than the days
we are standing in the still light after dawn

in the high grass of autumn that is green again
hushed in its own place after the burn of summer

each of us stationed alone without moving
at a perfect distance from all the others

like shadows of ourselves risen out of our shadows
each eye without turning continues to behold

what is moving
each of us is one of seven now

we have come a long way sailing our opened clouds
remembering all night where the world would be

the clear shallow stream the leaves floating along it
the dew in the hushed field the only morning

The Shadow of Sirius

21 April 2009

Barbara Ras

[from Barbara Ras's Bite Every Sorrow, Louisiana State, 1998]

Angels on Holiday

At first all they want is watermelon,
big bites, spitting out all the black seeds
while the red pulp melts in their mouths.
They eat it on the ground, their wings
resting moplike behind them, then they go on to rice,
eating it with their fingers, the grain's grain,
weddings' exuberance.
Sometimes they try sex, approaching it
the way you approach a strange dog. People
are too scary. They'd prefer statues
of their own kind, angel to angel clapping
the way a kid will click plastic horses together,
head to head, feet to feet, over and over.
It's a vacation, a chance to learn
small talk, use tools, play cards,
the ace of diamonds, their queen of spades, its red shape
pointing both ways, here today, gone tomorrow.
Angels are shy, especially about their wings, which so far
only God knows are crocheted and starched
like the extra-toilet-paper-roll creations in the bathrooms
of grandmothers. They try out our soap, the one for bodies
called Darling, and Terror, for big dirt, which they use
for excessive dreaming, needing to purge like they need to know
who else is working for God, the fire department,
the devil, the welders who make light a little too Promethean
for comfort, so they run off, go to the zoo in the rain
and watch monkeys run around and around their enclosure, inventing
chases the way the angels before they go home will make up
some more phrases to go into circulation,
flying off the handle, hope against hope, nose to the grindstone,
expressions none of us will get, but later
we'll think up meanings, serious ones, afraid our laughter
might scare something off, even the pigeons,
their feet, retractable forks,
tucked under them in flight.

Bite Every Sorrow

20 April 2009

Miriam Levine

[from Miriam Levine's The Dark Opens, Autumn House, 2008]

Hill's Pond

for Sarita

Just as I lie back, two red dragonflies
loop together on the rough sleeve of my sweater --
under blue-gray wings, soft amulet,
raised dots, downy and dark.

Flushed with joy, I turn to you,
but your eyes are dulled with pain --
your bones are turning to powder
and your hands won't work.

These reds promise you nothing.
Why should you be glad for me?
I'm swelling with good health
like your young Peace Rose
with its iridescent frills of light.

If I were cruel, I'd hold up this eaten leaf,
its stiff skeleton showing through white mould.
I'd say I'm thinking of The Nature of Things,
but it can't console you, that ancient book in Latin.

I won't tell you how beautiful and inevitable this little death is,
the lovely delicate white powder tracing the leaf ribs, the leaf
stuck with shining galls, all of its soft parts given over --
as you will be given, you and I, but first you.


When I see our dog plow the dead
squirrel from the dump of pine needles
and roll over the flattened carcass,
flying bits of squirrel stuck to her back,
I think that's what I'd like to do to you
if you died before I did. First put you out
in the weather until you shrunk
and dried like a smoked side of beef.
I would roll over your stiff body -- licking, nipping,
getting your smell on me as I've done
for all of our life together. But this
time I would get under your hair,
under your skin. I would crack your bones between my jaws.
The rusty marrow would turn to liquid in my mouth, and finally I would let go.

Red Bud

Except for earrings red bud is naked.
Weather licks her shaking arms.

Redder and redder red bud
pushes out flowers,
drops pollen on the wind.

Fresh fans open and flirt,
darker green as they age, crimson as they fall;
red bud undresses in the rain,

jewels in the jewel box, sap sinking;
underground, roots mingled with worms,
sucking up water under the snow.

Stripped like a New Year's Day swimmer, red bud stays to drink.

"Food, Sex, and Betrayal"

The Dark Opens

19 April 2009

Frank Lima

[Frank Lima in The Gettysburg Review 10(1): 51, 1997]

Dante and Beatrice are 57 Today
      after David Shapiro


"Dante and Beatrice are 57 today."
They live in Paradise with the fallen
Angels, the demons who absconded

With biblical crimes from the Inferno
On the outskirts of Virgil's flesh.
Beatrice always wears black and white

Gowns of tenderness. Dante is
Terrifying, old and crumbles as he
Watches Beatrice twirl and trample


The clouds on their way to Heaven.
This is Paradise. Where every
Instant Dante writes an erotic

terza rima for the assembly of God.
God created the cymbal to keep Dante
Awake. Beatrice sleeps on her

Stomach exhaling spring butterflies
From her white rolling shoulders,
As she breathes deeply the warm


Pursuing air. She weeps on stones and
They grow wings. She loves her crazy
Uncle: A nimble carpenter who uses

Tide boxes to construct large
Cathedrals. This is paradise.
Everyone is old here and plays

Violin. Is David Shapiro related to
Dante? Beatrice seems to think so
Since her ancestors were Roman bee


Keepers. She, like rice, goes to the
Mountains to eat snow and white
Truffles for the care of her ermine

Skin. Dante watches her and his
Leg catches fire. He is inspired
To write a long poem about Paradise

And Hell. About Ohm's Law. About
Thermal energy. He names the poem,
"Straight Out Of You."


The Pope objects to the title, saying,
"This sounds too comedia vulgari.
Not divino at all." Beatrice is the

Last oncogene in Dante's life to
Trace her naked body in the sand,
Like stars swelling through pain.

She falls into his receding arms,
As light as a child's kiss. He asks,
"O bitter steel conscience,


"Is this the basement of hell?
"Am I the starless elevator to hell?
"Am I the scarless stairs to heaven?

"Am I your breed to live on breasts?"
But God is too busy preparing wars
For the living and wars for the dead:

"Humans are high octane: Some have
To be saved, some have to burn in hell."
The red lips of Beatrice,


Leak out of Dante, like an old fountain
Pen wobbling across someone's last will
And testament into the night.

David Shapiro

[from David Shapiro's A Burning Interior, Overlook, 2002]

Dante and Beatrice (At Forty-Seven)

are kitsch six inches of a gold bronze toy
sculpture on my wife's dead grandmother's
delicate end-tables ours
separated by a red grave and pink
candles and some smaller
horribly-shaped vegetable-like candles pointing
Dante looks like the mayor showing not pointing
of a small-town corruption
in a small cap he wears not against the
winter a cruel righteous careerist
grim as glucose and morose to boot
boasting of pride like a tiger on a street
Beatrice in nightgown her sin hope
a girl always about to go to bed
by herself and her long ringlets
as voluptuous as her nightgown
She is sexual and sad and refuses
to look at that business-man of words
all this a gift from Mickey Mouse who
said when he saw them it had to be
for me Goofy who took the sleep
out of the Comedy and took the
flowers and took the fathers, too
until what was left for a fatuous cento
like a student who translates
all vulgarity into ancient Greek a mistake

So if a person loves you they could say
I want to be in Hell with you forever
like two bats summoned on a windy
word by a poet having a mid-life decision

Both are ready for bed after six centuries
of poetry and epic youth and new songs
but I don't think they will do much
in bitter Riverdale like intense butterflies
She's perhaps too much the mother of Christ
and he's had a bad day in exile's
office writing to Miss Stone a stone himself in grass
He has a vague memory of this golden
sister her beginning breasts like end-words
But his mind is intent on astronomical
details like halakhic investigations
She turns out to be my melancholy mother
hoping working for better schools for
black children in South Africa
and justice like a child's story
This is a monstrous mixed marriage
and should be put an end to like a too-
accompanied sonata and before a dream
he's a generation too old and she
should indeed sleep with Romeo/Marat dying
in her glorious lap like a bronze invasion
He is the terror of the old last poet alive

diplomat of letters and lives
plunging the real prayer into the unreal earth
And I in love with each word and her wordlessness
Her shadow on the white world down the wall
God is a candle

A Burning Interior

Ron Padgett

[from Ron Padgett's How to Be Perfect, Coffee House, 2007]

Now at the Sahara

Where are those books I ordered and what
were they, oh yes, the Divine Comedy in three volumes
which I keep telling myself I am going to read
in toto, although I wonder about the "divine" part
that Dante himself didn't even have in his title
and to us "comedy" sounds like Shecky Greene
at the Sahara, Shecky who was funny and actually
kind of sad though not tragic. What is tragic is
that I started out thinking about Dante and
ended up thinking about Shecky Greene!

How to Be Perfect

Samuel Beckett

[from Samuel Beckett's Collected Poems in English and French, Grove, 1994]

Sanies II

there was a happy land
the American Bar
in Rue Mouffetard
there were red eggs there
I have a dirty I say henorrhoids
coming from the bath
the steam the delight the sherbet
the chagrin of the old skinnymalinks
slouching happy body
loose in my stinking old suit
sailing slouching up to Puvis the gauntlet of tulips
lash lash me with yaller tulips I will let down
my stinking trousers
my love she sewed up the pockets alive the live-oh she did she said that was better
spotless then within the brown rags gliding
frescoward free up the fjord of dyed eggs and thongbells
I disappear don't you know into the local
the mackerel are at billiards there they are crying the scores
the Barfrau makes a big impression with her mighty bottom
Dante and blissful Beatrice are there
prior to Vita Nuova
the balls splash no luck comrade
Gracieuse is there Belle-Belle down the drain
booted Percinet with his cobalt jowl
they are necking gobble-gobble
suck is not suck that alters
lo Alighieri has got off au revoir to all that
I break down quite in a titter of despite
upon the saloon a convulsive hush
a shiver convulses Madame de la Motte
it courses it peals down her collops
the great bottom foams into stillness
quick quick the cavaletto supplejacks for mumbo-jumbo
vivas puellas mortui incurrrrrsant boves
oh subito subito ere she recover the cang bamboo for bastinado
a bitter moon fessade la mode
oh Becky spare me I have done thee no wrong spare me damn thee
spare me good Becky
call off thine adders Becky I will compensate thee in full
Lord have mercy upon
Christ have mercy upon us

Lord have mercy upon us

Collected Poems in English and French

James Merrill

[from James Merrill's Changing Light at Sandover, Knopf, 2006]

excerpt from "The Book of Ephraim"

. . .

This dream, he blandly adds, is a low-budget
Remake -- imagine -- of the Paradiso.
Not otherwise its poet toured the spheres
While Someone very highly placed up there,
Donning his bonnet, in and out through that
Now famous nose haled the cool Tuscan night.
The resulting masterpiece takes years to write;
More, since the dogma of its day
Calls for a Purgatory, for a Hell,
Both of which Dante thereupon, from footage
Too dim or private to expose, invents.
His Heaven, though, as one cannot but sense,
Tercet by tercet, is pure Show and Tell.

. . .

The Changing Light at Sandover

Brenda Hillman

[from Brenda Hillman's Pieces of Air in the Epic, Wesleyan, 2005]

Clouds Near San Leandro


The crack in social justice widened;
we saw the sparkle shelf below;

there had been some fragile delays
in back of the noetic cities,

berries on the blood ledge, sun-
lords with their seeds of steel,

snakes winding in the hungry age.
In the middle of our life

the dark woods had been clear-cut;
furies changed to quires of orange,

in spring, pelicans seen flying hillward,
their beaks like cut-up credit cards.


In the middle of your life
you cast aside the brittle flame;

the doctor took some cancer off,
pain ceased to be an organizer.

Hadn't you preferred Nefertiti's blank left
eye to the rest? shape of
seeds the blue jays love, white

as the dream-egg heart of a
6 the courtier used for calling

other courtiers with his thumb --


We're done with the old ironies,
is the thing of it. Some

foolish soul has sold his entire
Liz Phair collection back to Amoeba;

Used jewel cases seem almost tender,
smothered-to-smithereens-type plastic like

the mythic selves in Nietzsche, comet
making a comeback, the endless sheen --


So shake off the iron shoes
of fame and image and sing

near the dumb branch. Or enter
the pond where the angles swam.

Aren't there visions involving everything?
Some animals are warm in paradise;

your little alchemical salamander taricha tarosa,
fresh from the being cycles, stumbles

over rocks in its lyric outfit --

Pieces of Air in the Epic (Wesleyan Poetry)

C. Dale Young

[from C. Dale Young's The Second Person, Four Way, 2007]

excerpt from "Tryptych at the Edge of Sight"


We had gone so far, down past the ferns
dead and swaying in the shadow of a breeze,
down into a land half swamp, half ocean floor.

Fancying ourselves modern Greeks, we had descended
into the earth -- not to point out souls like Anchises,
but to point out lichens, mosses, molds, those classics

seldom studied anymore -- but our sense of direction
was terrible, and we had not summoned Virgil
or Edith Hamilton to guide us out of that other world.

The Second Person: Poems (Stahlecker Series Selection)

Bernadette Mayer

[from Bernadette Mayer's Sonnets, Tender Buttons, NYC, 1984]


A thousand apples you might put in your theories
But you are gone from benefit my love

You spoke not the Italian of Dante at the table
But the stingy notions of the bedded heterosexual

You curse and swore cause I was later
To come home to you without your fucking dinner

Dont ever return su numero de telefono it is just this
I must explain I dont ever want to see you again

Empezando el 2 de noviembre 1980-something I dont love you
So stick it up your ass like she would say

I'm so mad at you I'm sure I'll take it all back tomorrow
& say then they flee from me who sometime did me seek

Meanwhile eat my existent dinner somebody and life
C'mon and show me something newer than even Dante

Jack Spicer

[from Jack Spicer's The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, Black Sparrow, 1975]]

Sheep Trails Are Fateful to Strangers

Dante would have blamed Beatrice
If she turned up alive in a local bordello
Or Newton gravity
If apples fell upward
What I mean is words
Turn mysteriously against those who use them
Hello says the apple
Both of us were object.


B. H. Fairchild

[from B. H. Fairchild's Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest, Norton, 2003]

The Potato Eaters

They are gathered there, as I recall, in the descending light
of Kansas autumn -- the welder, the machinist, the foreman,
the apprentice -- with their homemade dinners
in brown sacks lying before them on the broken rotary table.
The shop lights have not yet come on. The sun ruffling
the horizon of wheat fields lifts their gigantic shadows
up over the lathes that stand momentarily still and immense,

sleeping gray animals released from the turmoil,
the grind of iron and steel, these past two days.
There is something in the droop of the men's sleeves
and heavy underwater movements of their arms and hands
that suggest they are a dream and I am the dreamer,
even though I am there, too. I have just delivered the dinners
and wait in a pool of shadows, unsure of what to do next.

They unwrap the potatoes from the aluminum foil
with an odd delicacy, and I notice their still blackened hands
as they halve and butter them. The coffee sends up steam
like lathe smoke, and their bodies relax slowly
as they give themselves to the pleasure of the food
and the shop's strange silence after hours of noise,
the clang of iron and the burst and hiss of the cutting torch.

Without looking up, the machinist says something
to anyone who will listen, says it into the great cave
of the darkening shop, and I hear the words, life,
my life.
I am a boy, so I do not know true weariness
but I can sense what these words mean, these gestures
when I stare at the half-eaten potatoes, the men,
the shadows that will pale and vanish as the lights come on.

Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest: Poems

Carol Peters

Muir's Walk
     -- found in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf by John Muir

I almost forgot at times
that the glassy, treeless country
was forbidden
to walkers.
How delightful it would be
to ramble over it on foot, enjoying
the transparent
crystal ground, and the music
of its rising and falling hillocks,
by the ropes and spars
of a ship; to study the plants
of these waving plains
and their stream-
currents; to sleep
in wild weather
in a bed of phosphorescent
wave-foam, or briny scented
to see
the fishes by night
in pathways of phosphorescent light;
to walk
the glassy plain in calm,
with birds and flocks
of glittering flying fishes
here and there,
or by night
with every star
pictured in its bosom.

18 April 2009

John Muir

[from John Muir's 1867-1868 A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, Sierra Club, 1991]

The substance of the winds is too thin for human eyes, their written language is too difficult for human minds, and their spoken language mostly too faint for the ears. A mechanism is said to have been invented whereby the human organs of speech are made to write their own utterances. But without any extra mechanical contrivance, every speaker also writes as he speaks. All things in the creation of God register their own acts. The poet was mistaken when he said, "From the wing no scar the sky sustains." His eyes were simply too dim to see the scar. In sailing past Cuba I could see a fringe of foam along the coast, but could hear no sound of waves, simply because my ears could not hear wave-dashing at this distance. Yet every bit of spray was sounding in my ears.

The subject brings to mind a few recollections of the winds I heard in my late journey. In my walk from Indiana to the Gulf, earth and sky, plants and people, and all things changeable were constantly changing. Even in Kentucky nature and art have many a characteristic shibboleth. The people differ in language and in customs. Their architecture is generically different from that of their immediate neighbors on the north, not only in planters' mansions, but in barns and granaries and the cabins of the poor. But thousands of familiar flower faces looked from every hill and valley. I noted no difference in the sky, and the winds spoke the same things. I did not feel myself in a strange land.

In Tennessee my eyes rested upon the first mountain scenery I ever beheld. I was rising higher than ever before; strange trees were beginning to appear; alpine flowers and shrubs were meeting me at every step. But these Cumberland Mountains were timbered with oak, and were not unlike Wisconsin hills piled upon each other, and the strange plants were like those that were not strange. The sky was changed only a little, and the winds not by a single detectible note. Therefore, neither was Tennessee a strange land.

But soon came changes thick and fast. After passing the mountainous corner of North Carolina and a little way into Georgia, I beheld from one of the last ridge-summits of the Alleghanies that vast, smooth, sandy slope that reaches from them mountains to the sea. It is wooded with dark, branchy pines which were all strangers to me. Here the grasses, which are an earth-covering at the North, grow wide apart in tall clumps and tufts like saplings. My known flower companions were leaving me now, not one by one as in Kentucky and Tennessee, but in whole tribes and genera, and companies of shining strangers came trooping upon me in countless ranks. The sky, too, was changed, and I could detect strange sounds in the winds. Now I began to feel myself "a stranger in a strange land."

But in Florida came the greatest change of all, for here grows the palmetto, and here blow the winds so strangely toned by them. These palms and these winds severed the last strands of the cord that united me with home. Now I was a stranger, indeed. I was delighted, astonished, confounded, and gazed in wonderment blank and overwhelming as if I had fallen upon another star. But in all of this long, complex series of changes, one of the greatest, and the last of all, was the change I found in the tone and language of the winds. They no longer came with the old home music gathered from open prairies and waving fields of oak, but they passed over many a strange string. The leaves of magnolia, smooth like polished steel, the immense inverted forests of tillandsia banks, and the princely crowns of palms -- upon these the winds made strange music, and at the coming-on of night had overwhelming power to present the distance from friends and home, and the completeness of my isolation from all things familiar.

A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf

Pamela Alexander

[from Pamela Alexander's Commonwealth of Wings: An Ornithological Biography Based on the Life of John James Audubon, Wesleyan, 1991]

At Coueron. My First Gun

Mama & I
& Rosa, we hope never to meet
another war. Here
the land is flat & trim, sheep
swerve together, hedges & fences
keep order. I explore
margins & flawed places
while Rosa's piano turns
a pretty flurry. I take chocolate
in waxy papers & a basket
to bring back nests & lichens, more strange
than my lessons. The daily murders of the city are far, fewer,
then stop, & I forget them.

We grow
apart, my sister
& I, she domestic, says
my blown eggs & stuffed birds
stink. I close the door.

I shoot well, corks I toss
come down in showers, my fingers gleam
with powder. The gun kicks my shoulder,
its shout & smell clear me.
The bird falls,
always. I watch its color & shine & flare
for weeks before I fire, but my sketch preserves
only its deadness. I burn
my pencil's generation of cripples
on my birthday.

Sometimes I sleep
near my Originals, on leaf litter
beneath the trees they close their eyes in,
sometimes I lie awake in the quiet house
& listen to the nightwatch
kept by the river, old water clock,
& by whickering horses standing
to their sleep.

Commonwealth of Wings: An Ornithological Biography Based on the Life of John James Audubon (Wesleyan poetry)

17 April 2009

John Balaban

[from John Balaban's Path, Crooked Path, Copper Canyon, 2006]

Ibn Fadhlan, the Arab Emissary, Encounters Vikings
on the Volga River, A.D. 922

The Rus, as they are called, camped above the river
trading furs from a log hall, axed out by slaves.
The men -- tall as date palms, blond, tattoed --
had set a pole out front carved with gods
to which they offer things to bless their trade.
This was all I saw of their piety or conscience.
Caliph, they are the dirtiest creatures of God.

Each morning when the men stir out of sleep
a slave girl brings a bronze ablution bowl
first to the chief who washes his face, then
rinses his mouth, spits, and blows his nose
into the bowl which she carries around until
each has washed in the same filthy water.

When their lord died, a huge sahirra dakhma
(the witch who rules the slave girls) set them wailing
as they packed his corpse in black earth and
his men built a death ship with a funeral pyre.
They call this witch "Angel of Death," Malak al-Mawt.
She picked a girl to go with the dead lord, then
invited the men to fornicate with the slave girl
drugged and lost in crazy song.

Then the girl was led to the ship
where the lord, his corpse now washed,
lay on the pyre wreathed in flowers and fruit.
Then the woman stabbed the girl
in her ribs as a man crept behind her
with a knotted rope, strangling her cries
until she fell dead and they laid her on the pyre.

Torching the ship, knocking away its blocks,
they shoved it blazing in the river, singing
their lord to a life of pleasures they imagine.
Soon his ship was ashes swirling on the currents.
O Caliph, through forested lands, west and north,
one finds only infidels with vile habits.
Some are Christian. Nothing will come of them.

Path, Crooked Path

16 April 2009

Barbara Hamby

[from Barbara Hamby's Babel, University of Pittsburgh, 2004]

O Deceitful Tongue

                     You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.
                                                                                      PSALMS 52:4

Rogue slab in the slaughterhouse of the mouth,
you love all words that whistle like bombs

through the delphinium sky. O tongue that sucks
honey from the vinegar bush -- demagogue, street

preacher, cutpurse at the afternoon hanging -- break
my neck a thousand times till I remember the digits

of your prime number. Drunk tongue, warling,
malt-mad forger in the bone orchard, give me

your traitor's code, so I can whistle my psalm
through the sinworm night. Tongue of rough

bread, blues tongue, wolf tongue. Kiss me,
deceitful mouth, smash my curtain of skin, devour

the air wild with bees, swallow their wings,
make me a bloody hive for their bitter queen.

Babel (Pitt Poetry Series)

15 April 2009

Arielle Greenberg

[from Arielle Greenberg's My Kafka Century, Action, 2005]

Please Be Good

Something big and ugly with a long thin tail, something white with mottled fur, something barrel-bodied. Something went shuffling fatly into the brush at the side of the road tonight. And then there was a silver field mouse being horrible and small on the driveway. Then a waterbug with its bristle of silky, tickling arms by the fridge. A secret let out. A scream. I am slightly drunk, slightly more or less like a girl: is this a door? A keyhole? A handle? A pervert? When I lean over my blood is in my ears. I sleep with my fear in there, vertigo, also blood again. I lean over as an experiment -- sudden flush of pass-out ocean? Bug? Rodent? Yes, pervert. Yes, with a tail. Cockroaches actually inside my canals. Dreams actually swarming with vermin trying to come in all the window screns. I have come out of the walls. The rat is more or less a migraine. I am all suited up in roadkill: stole, collar, purse. I keep an insect here. These are my cleanest sheets.

My Kafka Century

14 April 2009

Ciaran Carson

[from Ciaran Carson's First Language, Wake Forest, 1994]

Drunk Boat

After Rimbaud, Le Bateau Ivre

As I glided down the lazy Meuse, I felt my punters had gone
     AWOL --
In fact, Arapahoes had captured them for target practice,
     nailing them to stakes. Oh hell,

I didn't give a damn. I didn't want a crew, nor loads of Belgium
     wheat, nor English cotton.
When the whoops and hollers died away, their jobs were well

Through the tug and zip of tides, more brain-deaf than an
     embryo, I bobbled;
Peninsulas, unmoored and islanded, were envious of my

Storms presided at my maritime awakening. Like a cork I
     waltzed across the waves,
Which some call sailors' graveyards; but I despised their
     far-off, lighted enclaves.

As children think sour apples to be sweet, so the green sap
     swamped the planks
And washed away the rotgut and the puke, the rudder and the

I've been immersed, since then, in Sea Poetry, anthologized by
As through the greenish Milky Way a corpse drifts down-
     wards, clutching a corrupted spar;

When suddenly, those sapphire blues are purpled by Love's
     rusty red. No lyric
Alcohol, no Harp, can combat it, this slowly-pulsing, twilit

I've known lightning, spouts, and undertows, maelstrom
     evenings that merge into Aurora's
Blossoming of doves. I've seen the Real Thing; others only get
     its aura.

I've seen the sun's demise, where seas unroll like violet,
Venetian blinds; dim spotlight, slatted by the backstage work
     of Ancient Greeks.

I dreamed the green, snow-dazzled night had risen up to kiss
     the seas'
Blue-yellow gaze, the million plankton eyes of phosphor-
     escent argosies.

I followed then, for many months, the mad-cow waves of the
Oblivious to the Gospel of how Jesus calmed the waters,
     walking on his tippy-toes.

I bumped, you know, into the Floridas, incredible with
And manatees, which panther-men had reined with rainbows
     and with Special Powers.

I saw a whole Leviathan rot slowly in the seething marsh, till
     it became
All grot and whalebone. Blind cataracts lurched into
     oubliettes, and were becalmed.

Glaciers and argent seas, pearly waves and firecoal skies! A
     tangled serpent-cordage
Hauled up from the Gulf, all black-perfumed and slabbered
     with a monster's verbiage!

I would have liked the children to have seen them: goldfish,
     singing-fish, John Dorys --
My unanchored ones, I'm cradled by the tidal flowers and
     lifted near to Paradise.

Sometimes, fed-up with the Poles and Zones, the sea would
     give a briny sob and ease
Off me; show me, then, her vented shadow-flowers, and I'd be
     like a woman on her knees. . . .

Peninsular, I juggled on my decks with mocking-birds and
And rambled on, until my frail lines caught another upside-
     down, a drowned Australian.

Now see me, snarled-up in the reefs of bladder-wrack, or
     thrown by the waterspout like craps
Into the birdless Aether, where Royal Navy men would slag
     my sea-drunk corpse --

Smoking, languorous in foggy violet, I breathed a fireglow
     patch into
The sky, whose azure trails of snot are snaffled by some Poets
     as an entree --

Electromagnets, hoof-shaped and dynamic, drove the
     Nautilus. Black hippocampuses
Escorted it, while heat-waves drummed and blattered on the
     July campuses.

Me, I shivered: fifty leagues away, I heard the bumbling
     Behemoths and Scarabs;
Spider spinning in the emerald, I've drifted off the ancient
     parapets of Europe!

Sidereal archipelagoes I saw! Island skies, who madly
     welcomed the explorer;
O million starry birds, are these the endless nights you dream
     of for the Future?

I've whinged enough. Every dawn is desperate, ever bitter
     sun. The moon's atrocious.
Let the keel split now, let me go down! For I am bloated, and
     the boat is stotious.

Had I some European water, it would be that cold, black
Where a child once launched a paper boat -- frail butterfly --
     into the dusk; and huddled

There, I am no more. O waves, you've bathed and cradled me
     and shaped
Me. I'll gaze no more at Blue Ensigns, nor merchantmen, nor
     the drawn blinds of prison-ships.

First Language: Poems

13 April 2009

Tenaya Darlington

[from Tenaya Darlington's Madame Deluxe, Coffee House Press, 2000]

The Student Asks the Poet Basho What Is Victoria's Secret?

1 Eight pairs of sexy panties
   so many pathways
   to the cherry tree.

2 The bamboo
   has two new shoots:
   my lover's spaghetti straps.

3 Tonight to drown my longing
   I drink sake
   from her seamless cups.

4 White birches
   along the water.
   Women in matching coordinates.

5 In this world
   there are straw sandals.
   Then there are bedroom slippers.

6 Our time on earth
   high-cut brief.

7 From this planet,
   the stars only come
   in small and extra small.

8 The crows lift from the limbs.
   Take off
   your black thong.

9 Out of loneliness,
   I try on
   your blackberry brassiere.

Velvet Duets

A couple seeks a corner table in a restaurant where they may dine unobserved. Nerice, the wife, is dressed in a green cloak that looks like a large elm leaf. Against the green curtains, she is able to disguise herself. Her husband, whose very skin looks like old clothes, is wearing a shiny jacket -- iridescent blue -- like a set of rudimentary wings. After the first course, the waiter notices that their reproductive appendages have appeared. By the time the second course arrives, the husband has discarded his old skin and is beginning to form a new one from liquid secreted by certain glands. By the main course, the wife has a very large abdomen and her cloak is more or less crumpled up. The husband's skin turns a beautiful green color with a number of golden spots. Around the room, other diners have begun to take notice. The husband is on all fours, his nails digging into the taupe carpet while his wife, sitting atop him like a float-parade queen, is steadily layingn eggs on his back. This is unpalatable and distasteful to the other diners who are not used to open relationships or home births. All around the restaurant, the women change color; the men bristle and emit an unpleasant odor. They do not know what causes this sort of gall, but just the same, they continue to watch, craning to see past the bouquets on tables. By the time the dessert arrives, the whole place is rubbing cloacae. Intermittent gasps drown the violins. Across tables and under tables, mandibles are pressed together. From behind the swinging doors, the cook watches in amazement, admittedly elated. The room finally stills. The stars come out. The diners leave, grabbing jackets off chairs, faces aglow as they enter the night from the sill.

Madame Deluxe (National Poetry Series)

12 April 2009

Ntozake Shange

[from Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf: a choreopoem, Macmillan, 1977]

excerpt from "latent rapists'"

       lady in red
these men friends of ours
who smile nice
stay employed
and take us out to dinner

       lady in purple
lock the door behind you

       lady in blue
wit fist in face
to fuck

       lady in red
who make elaborate mediterranean dinners
& let the art ensemble carry all ethical burdens
while they invite a coupla friends over to have you
are sufferin from latent rapist bravado
& we are left wit the scars

       lady in blue
bein betrayed by men who know us

       lady in purple
& expect
like the stranger
we always thot waz comin

       lady in blue
that we will submit

       lady in purple
we must have known

       lady in red
women relinquish all personal rights
in the presence of a man
who apparently cd be considered a rapist

       lady in purple
especially if he has been considered a friend

       lady in blue
& is no less worthy of bein beat witin an inch of his life
bein publicly ridiculed
havin two fists shoved up his ass

       lady in red
than the stranger
we always thot it wd be

       lady in blue
who never showed up

       lady in red
cuz it turns out the nature of rape has changed

       lady in blue
we can now meet them in circles we frequent for companionship

       lady in purple
we see them at the coffeehouse

       lady in blue
wit someone else we know

       lady in red
we cd even have em over for dinner
& get raped in our own houses
by invitation
a friend

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf

11 April 2009

Toi Derricotte

[from Toi Derricotte's The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey, Norton, 1997]


This morning in our marriage counseling session, I bring up the estrangement I feel toward Bruce, for example, last night after making love. I had lain there with a terrible burden that I felt the need to share -- that I often don't feel love for him or anyone! I had wanted so much to be in the warmth of our showering, soaping and oiling each other, kissing each other's bodies -- but I felt outside, as if I had been in another woman's body. Then I remembered how just yesterday I had written about feeling superior to other blacks, feeling I am more intelligent, that I look better. I brought this up, saying that in some ways I think I am superior even to those I love, that I am better because I look white. Often black people I had intimate relationships with seemed to believe I was "better," too, from the time I was six and girls would fight over who would comb my "good" hair. In some way they took pride in it, as if it belonged to them, too!

I asked Bruce if he had married me because of my light skin, and he admitted that, partly, it was true. He was aware that my color, especially in business, would allow him to be seen in a different way.

Many times we have talked about how he grew up in an all-white town (there were two black families in the town and they lived side by side!), and was attracted to white girls. Fifty miles away, in Indiana, black boys were being lynched for just looking at a white woman, so his parents had made it very clear that he and his brothers were to put their energy into school and sports. "You have to be better than them," they always said. He remembers how, when he was nine, a neighbor commented to his father that he noticed Bruce had stopped smiling.

I have always thought Bruce was the one person in the world who loved me for myself. We have been married for twenty years and never talked about color. Now I see I am partly a shield he is holding up for protection. He, too, has a secret in the corner of his heart that stands between us like a mirror we don't want to look into.

I tell him how, when we pull up in front of a hotel, I want to rush out of the car door, to go in before him just in case he will be given an inferior room. Often I don't because I don't want him to be "emasculated," not to have the normal power of a male to get a hotel room, but I distrust what women are supposed to trust in their men -- this power of acquisition -- I often feel I could do better alone. Then I saw the terrible thing I have never been able to say, that sometimes when I look at his color and the shape of his nose, I feel revulsion.

I feel so sad, so frightened! That I should feel these feelings! What is love? And he says something even more terrifying and sad -- that he doesn't blame me, often when he looks int he mirror, he can't stand his own ugly face. I remember how his mother wouldn't let him go out without white powder, how he slept in a stocking cap for years after we married. There is a long silence in which we just sit there in the hell of Bruce's agony. There is nothing to say.

After therapy we stand outside together beside our cars. We don't touch, yet we don't seem to want to go our separate ways. We don't say anything for a long time, then I joke -- because I can't speak seriously about the terrible things we've told each other -- "So you wanted to marry a white women?" "Yes," he answers, as if he has no energy left to play.

We stand like this for a long time. I still don't feel "love," but I do feel a kind of tenderness, a desire to go with him and put my hand on his sad, beautiful face.

The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey

Charles North

[from Charles North's Cadenza, Hanging Loose, 2007]

Boul' Mich

         for Walter Srebnick

You're in print about the connections between
poetry and bowling. Perhaps you'd like to comment further
on what you once characterized as "strikes, spares, splits
and the heartbreak of the gutter ball." It was the Boul' Mich,
wasn't it, where you spent so much time as an 11- and 12-year-old?
I always thought that was a clever name for a bowling alley.

-- Are you sure you're not referring to the time
I was talking about poetry and bowing? [laughs] Arco,
pizzicato, sostenuto, playing with all 13 strings, or however many
there are? [laughs] Come to think of it,
the Boeing idea isn't so bad either, flying away on the "viewless wings
of poesy." I'll leave the ailerons and Fasten Your Seatbelts signs to you.

Was it the classic 7-10 or some other split you once compared to
John Donne's "stiff twin compasses"? Was that meant
to be taken seriously, rather than as one of your well known witticisms?

-- Do bowling alleys sell beer? [laughs]

So I gather that you continue to find the conceit meaningful, which is to say
illuminating in terms of poetry.

-- Obstacles crop up. Sometimes you knock them over
sometimes not. By the way, it was the Bowl Mitch,
the alley belonged to a guy named Mitch. I probably gave it a French "twist"
during one of the interviews you're probably remembering
-- without remembering. [laughs]
Everything gets toted up on the big overhead scoreboard.

So if I understand correctly, you have a set-up
which corresponds to a poem's premise,
followed by a dynamics, which on the bowling side involves a certain number
     of steps,
release of the ball, roll down the alley, and contact -- or not. Does that
parallel inspiration, drafts, and finished poems? Might it apply
in a structural sense to the opening lines, body, and conclusion
of a particular poem What happens if you tear up a poem
midway in the process, just throw it in the basket?

-- If I call a way of doing something "pizzicato"
rather than "arco," does that necessarily imply that I'm using
a pencil and a notebook rather than a word processor? [laughs]

Maybe it's time we took a break. One of the things
I want to be sure to follow up on is your remark long ago
about empty lanes, and whether that was prompted by Robert Frost's famous
between free verse and playing tennis without a net.

-- Or a full deck. [laughs] By the way,
empty lanes are beautiful in themselves . . . the sheen of the wood,
patterns of inlays, contrasts between adjoining lanes and gutters . . . wouldn't
agree that wood, like words themselves, has its own beauty?

Of course.

-- And the ball rolling down the polished surface has
what might be called an "animated" or "kinetic" beauty?

Yes, now that you mention it.

-- Isn't it also true that the beauty of collision
is something quite different from the beauty of evasion
or the beauty of tabulation?

Do you have the impression that others -- critics, academicians, other poets --
go along with your schema? I mean, I've never heard the connection
made elsewhere. Have you gotten any feedback over the years,
positive or negative?

-- What do you think? [laughs]

I probably should know this, but have you written any poems
in the shape of bowling balls or bowling pins?

-- You mean with finger holes? [laughs]
I have an early one based on the 7-10 split you mentioned earlier.
The law of the excluded middle. [laughs]

We've now had our third pot of freshly brewed espresso
and practicallyl finished a delicious white chocolate mousse
with key lime flavoring. The cedar trees outside the window
are virtually black. I have the strong sense of a writer
confident both in his abilities and in his unique perspectives,
no matter how unusual they may appear to others. Whereas,
at first glance, the poetry-bowling connection (similarly, if
not so elaborated, the poetry-bowing and poetry-Boeing connections)
may seem a thin enough conceit, the more entertained
as they say, the more eloquent, as the bayberry candle on the kitchen table
lends a glow to the vegetable patterns on the window curtains
which wouldn't have seemed possible earlier. I'm increasingly aware of
the fragile fortifications between dusk and evening, as though
the former had been erected only for the latter to knock it down. . . . Have
ever written what, in your mind, is a 300 poem?

-- Piece of cake. [laughs] Crash! [laughs]


10 April 2009

Carol Frost

[from Carol Frost's The Queen's Desertion, Triquarterly, 2006]

Lucifer in Florida

I Lucifer, cast down from heaven's city which is the stars,
soar darkly nights across the water to islands
and their runway lights -- after sunset burning petals;
sights, sorrows, all evils become the prolonged shadows
and lightning through palm trees and the ancient oaks.
. . . And ride with darkness, dark below dark, uttermost
as when the cormorant dives and the fish dies, eye-deep
in hell; the bird is I, I hide in its black shining
spread of wings raised drying afterward on a tree bough.
Nothing more onyx or gold than my dark wings.
Yet Venus rising, the off chords and tender tones
of morning birds among the almonds, small flames
of lemon flowers, phosphorus on the ocean,
all I've scorned, all this lasts whether I leave or come.
The garden fails but the earth's garden lives on
unbearable -- elusive scent on scent from jasmine
mixed with brine, the smell of marshes, smells of skin
of fishermen, burned rose and a little heroic
while leviathan winds rise and darkness descends.
Sin and death stay near, black with serenity,
calm in dawn's light suggestions. If the future is
a story of pandemonium, perfection's close --
from the sea the islands at night, from the island
the sea at night with no lights rest equally, lit by
a wanderer's memory bringing dark and light to life,
luminous and far as dreams endure, charcoal and flame
in a fire, the embers of pride and pain in each breath.


A slow storm coming across the gulf:

a raddling wind: wind in palmettos or a gaunt bird's bill?

Given ears and skin and eyes nose and tongue: given stories

of arrival -- the perfect birth, Alexander's tide, Caesar's --

oh yearn fear portend contrive praise deny but not abstract::

I've seen the reddened knees of students in winter

in shorts when there was merely a slant of cold sun

and once tentacle burns across the chest of a dead tourist --

how blue the sea is, box jellyfish too few and small

to matter. Neurotoxins, pfff. I'm . . .

On leeward mangrove branches herons egrets:

yellow tridents rumbling far far away: on the horizon

a small bulge like the back of the giant

Hermes dolphin salt sparking dark come bearing::

The Queen's Desertion: Poems

09 April 2009

Bernadette Mayer

[from Bernadette Mayer's Sonnets, Tender Buttons, 1984]

Holding the Thought of Love

And to render harmless a bomb or the like
Of such a pouring in different directions of love
Love scattered not concentrated love talked about,
So let's not talk of love the diffuseness of which
Round our heads (that oriole's song) like on the platforms
Of the subways and at their stations is today defused
As if by the scattering of light rays in a photograph
Of the softened reflection of a truck in a bakery window

You know I both understand what we found out and don't
Hiking alone is too complex like a slap in the face
Of any joyous appointment even for the making of money

Abandoned to too large a crack in the unideal sphere
               of lack of summer
When it's winter, of wisdom in the astronomical arts,
               we as A & B
Separated then conjoin to see the sights of Avenue C


You jerk you didn't call me up
I haven't seen you in so long
You probably have a fucking tan
& besides that instead of making love tonight
You're drinking your parents to the airport
I'm through with you bourgeois boys
All you ever do is go back to ancestral comforts
Only money can get -- even Catullus was rich but

Nowadays you guys settle for a couch
By a soporific color cable t.v. set
Instead of any arc of love, no wonder
The G.I. Joe team blows it every other time

Wake up! It's the middle of the night
You can either make love or die at the hands of
                           the Cobra Commander


To make love, turn to page 32.
To die, turn to page 110.


Moth like porphyry lights the town
Like a phratry against the city how many
Famous men die in a summer today it was
The painter Clyfford Still when he died
I opened the window in the pantry
To bring down the screen on the sill resting
Was a snake curled snakelike disturbed by me
It crawled back behind one of many of cold
Old New England's kitchen sinks in childhood
A snake extracted from a pipe is preserved in a jar
In a plumber's window in New York where I'll go back
Next week I was lucky to see Still's painting
Years ago, I am abstract a poet I am not what
I forget is poetry compared -- porphyry like moth.