Sometimes I am hijacked by poetry

Apparently, I need to return my English degree. And I need to send letters of apology to Sister Margery and Sister Vera and Professor Everyone Else. Because I have learned nothing. Nothing!

I went to the noon Courtroom Concerts that the Schubert Club puts on at the Landmark Center to hear my dear friend KrisAnne Weiss sing. (And oh! She was magnificent! And Oh! That voice!) Among other things, she performed a cycle of songs by a local composer that used the poetry of Amy Lowell as their foundation.

And I realized that I have never, ever read the poetry of Amy Lowell. Indeed, I knew nothing about her. And those poems blew me the frick away.

Amy Lowell was one of those women – born in privilege, yet bound by constraints of narrow-minded American Aristocracy – who baffled the people around her. Denied education, so she vigorously pursued self-education. Bound by the conscriptions of femininity, and threw them off. Spoke in public when it was shocking to do so. She was short, brusque and loud – a wide woman. She was smart-mouthed, quick-tongued and abrasive. She pissed people off. She smoked cigars in public and spoke in public and embraced her off-kilter public persona, when it was taboo for a woman to do so.

And I’m kinda in love with her.

Here are the poems that did it for me. I hope they do it for you as well.

Pyrotechnics

Our meeting was like the upward swish of a rocket
In the blue night.

I do not know when it burst;
But now I stand gaping,
In a glory of falling stars.

Obligation

Hold your apron wide
That I may pour my gifts onto it,
So that scarcely shall your two arms
hinder them
From falling to the ground.

I would pour them upon you
And cover you,
For greatly do I feel this need
Of giving you something,
Even these poor things.

Dearest of my heart

 

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Today’s Poem: “Evening, By The Lake”

Evening, By The Lake

The sky poured down
onto the water,
colors spilling
from shore to shore –
red
gold
midnight blue
the glinting of stars
the drape of clouds –
rippled by waves
and the night-cooled wind.

A thousand birds
floated on the sky
wings tucked tight
heads nestled
in feathery pockets
dreaming dreams of migration
and summer
of a world made of water
and cloud
and glinting star
and endless sky.

Today’s Poem: Wind

Wind

Open the doors
throw wide the windows
and let in the wind.

Goodbye dust
goodbye toys
goodbye mail
goodbye rugs
goodbye stairs
goodbye tables and chairs
goodbye paintings and dishes and walls and shelves
goodbye books abandoned and books twice read
and books scrawled in the margins
goodbye tablecloths and curtains
and closets and coats
goodbye cupboards and pantries and floorboards
and plumbing and plaster and beams.

A house made of wind
a roof made of sky
a mind clean as paper.

Today’s poem: “Love Letter”

Love Letter

Against a windswept darkening sky,
against the geometric bite of power lines,
against the muddy brown field,
bracing itself for snow –

Four turning trees
write a love letter to the sky.

Red maple trees,
and oh!
red
red
maple.

Each crisp, bright leaf
snapping like the flags
of countries undiscovered,
and countries long gone.

Poem of the day: “Frankenheart”

Frankenheart

two wings discarded-
their multicolored feathers
glinting in mottled light,
their stumps still bloody and damp-
warm from the body of the missing bird.

I drop to my knees,
marvel at their oily sheen,
marvel at the intricacies of sinew
and bone.

shredded sinew.
shattered bone.
I gather the wings to my breast
and fly them home.

later, when you sleep, love,
when I carefully,
gently-
so you do not wake-
slice your chest
wide open
and pull your armor away
(wide
open)
I lean in to your overworked heart,
feel it beat against my cheek
like a bird.

My stitches are uneven
and ugly
but they are strong
the wings on either side of your heart
will hold.
they always hold.

I have given you
steely eyes
an iron spine
a rosebud mouth.
I have stitched stories into your skin.
and now
a heart with wings.

I sew you shut,
feel it flutter and heat
feel it beat against your chest-
a bright, caged thing,
and mine forever.

Today’s Poem: “Farewell Goose”

Farewell Goose

Thirteen geese fly in formation –

sharp, black curves

against a skim milk sky –

over the head of a boy on the ground.

The boy is denim blue against a fading green,

hair so yellow it gleams.

He raises his hands, waves,

calls out to the birds overhead.

But all I hear is the call of geese,

their voices cold, cold, cold,

and flying away.

 

Today’s Poem: “Harvest”

Samuel Palmer, Harvest Moon, 1830s

“Harvest”

In autumn we make lists:
pumpkin soup and sweetened nuts;
tough winter greens; an armload of herbs drying at the hearth;
brussel sprouts, tubers, bright fleshed squash;
salted cheese curing in the basement;
casks of ale keeping cool underground.

We plan pies, freeze berries,
chant an endless litany of bread.

And you, my love, I shall feed and feed.
Here, I say as I seat you at my table.
Here, as I push in your chair.
Here is the bounty of the spinning world.
Here is food for the nose, food for the tongue,
food for the beating heart.

A seed placed in the earth becomes food – a miracle.
Food, gathered from gardens and heaped in kitchens
becomes palatable, irresistible – a narrative of pleasure.
And this is another miracle.
Love is a miracle, I say
as I slip roasted vegetables
into your open mouth,
as I lick the oil from my fingers.

Love is a miracle.
And so are you.

Today’s Poem – “The Fox”

The fox behind my house
settles deep in the grass
his long tail draped cunningly to one side.
Red, green, red, green, whispers my heart.
My fingers freeze above the keyboard on my lap

No. They are frozen. They are crumbling to bits.

The fox winks its black eye.
“If you were as beautiful as me,” he says,
his white teeth flashing like pearls,
“your stories would never falter.
They would move mountains,
crumble stones.
They would be as implacable as gods.”

“I do not doubt it,” I say through my shortage of verbs,
through my paralysis of action.
The screen flickers, and dies.
The fox rests its face upon its small feet,
its face tipped upwards. It grins its foxy grin.

“Close your eyes,” it says.
And I do.
“Arch your shoulders.”
“Sway your back.”
“Dig your paws into the ground.”
“Leap.”

And in my mind, I move as a fox moves
and breath as a fox breathes
and leap as a fox leaps.

“You understand now, don’t you?” it says.
“I do,” I say. And the story begins itself-
and it is wild, wily; a thing alive.

Today’s Poem: “Cheating at Cards With Jesus”

Cheating at Cards With Jesus

The Lord is a pain in the ass when He’s had too much whiskey.
But then, so’s anyone, so I couldn’t fault Him for it.
He leered over the rim of his cards and winked.
The table had cleared out. It was just him and me.
He sipped on the dregs of His drink and belched.
“Well,” He said. “What’ll it be?”

“I thought people bet their souls with the Devil,” I said.
Jesus yawned. “It’s cliché,” He said. “And you’re stalling.”
He fingered the card that I knew was a queen of hearts.
“And anyway, the Devil sucks at cards. Only a poet can play poker properly.
The Devil’s a numbers guy.”

“Hit me,” I said. Jesus paused.
“You sure?” He said, thumbing the top card.
King of clubs. I already knew it. I had marked it myself.
Or Jesus had marked it.
After all this time, the cards were well-worn and as readable as faces.
There were no more surprises, and I was about to go bust.

“Hit me,” I said again. Jesus nodded and filled our glasses.
The whiskey burned its way down until my whole body gleamed.
Jesus held His glass next to his drink-flushed face. He closed His eyes.
“A poem works, not for what it says, but what it does not say,” He said.
“A poem speaks from the empty spaces; silence brings light to the gloom.”

“Your point?” I asked. Why drag it out? I snatched His drink and gulped it down.
“A game is the same way. Just when you think you’ve won, you’ve lost,
and just when you think you’re lost, you are found.”
“I think you’re confusing your words,” I said.
Drunk asshole, I thought.

“I fold,” Jesus said. “You win.”
A boozy smile. A hard stare.
Two bright eyes,
hot and old as nebulas,
burn across the table. I wince.

“So,” He said. “What are you gonna do about it?

Today’s Poem

As I mentioned before, I’ve decided to write a poem a day. Sometimes I will post them on the blog. Unless they are egregiously terrible. This one, to be sure, is terrible. But not egregiously so, and I will therefore post it.

I think a lot of writers have ghosts in their basements. I think the ghosts are drawn to us. I have one. She is obsessed with laundry. Here is her poem.

 
Reminder 
 
The ghost in the basement
taps her brittle fingers against the dryer.
Waiting.

 

“I’ve separated the whites and the darks,” I say.
“I’ve pre-treated,” I say.
She sniffs the air and wrinkles her nose.

 

She taps the dryer as I gather clothes,
heavy and damp in my arms,
and ripe with the stink of living.

 

She taps as I add the soap,
turn on the water,
and wash the life away.

 

Her fingernails are bitten to the quick;
her skin is old paper;
her mouth a bright, hot coal.


Once A Poet

I’m stunned.

After a – hell, I don’t know-  like a ten-year hiatus from writing poems, I actually wrote poetry today. It felt awkward at first, and insubstantial – like flexing the phantom tendons and imaginary bones of a hand that had long since been amputated. They were ghost poems.

Do they actually exist?

Here’s one (unedited, I might add. And not particularly good.)

STUMP POEM
The last remnants of stubbled skin
cling brutally to the side.
Grey torso –
grey flesh –
In the glare of the sun,
the memory of shade.
 
 

As I said, not particularly good, but it felt good. To write it I mean. And I didn’t start today with the intention of writing poetry. I wrote poetry because I was at a meeting.

A business meeting.

For work.

One of the best perks of working for an arts organization is that, every once in a while, you get to hang out with a bunch of artists. As many of you know, I work for an organization called Compas, which, among other things, schedules artist residencies and intensives in schools around the state of Minnesota. My colleagues are storytellers, poets, potters, accordion players, puppeteers, rappers, drummers, dancers, painters, actors, singers, spoken-word artists, and every other kind of art practitioner that I can’t even think of.

And they are wicked cool.

Anyway, we don’t get to see one another all that often, so I really look forward to our yearly business meeting as my one chance to say hi, drink coffee, gossip, swap stories and revel in the fact that I get to be associated with these folks.

We met out at Dodge Nature Center on an astonishingly beautiful morning. I parked far away on purpose just to give myself the opportunity to walk the trails and experience a moment of thick green and birdsong and bugsong and still ponds and damp, quiet breathing. We met in the education building, right next to the barns.

And after sitting in a meeting listening to the abysmal state of arts education in our state-

(did you know, for example, that there are districts that have removed all music instruction, from elementary to high school?)

(did you know that there are districts whose ENTIRE ARTISTIC CURRICULUM centers on a couple artist residencies?)

(did you know that there are districts who do not integrate the arts into their curriculum, despite the fact that the business world is desperate to find creative people who can think spatially and in interdisciplinary modes?)

But that was neither here nor there. In any case, when it was time for the break-out sessions, I was so filled with rage over the short-sightedness and mean-spiritedness when it comes to the arts, that I just couldn’t go to the grant writing workshop.

Instead I went to the nature poetry workshop. With Diego Vasquez – a terrific poet, a great teacher and a hell of a nice guy. He took us outside and charged us with writing poems. Short poems. About the things that surrounded us – dead things, living things. Things that move. Things that do not move. So, on this absolutely beautiful day, I wandered around and wrote short poems. And it felt REALLY good.

Like I-need-to-keep-doing-this-or-I-might-die good.

Here are some of my efforts, along with pictures of the things that inspired them. And I’m thinking that I shall have to continue writing poetry with my amputated poet muscles. I think I shall continue to write my phantoms – my inklings of the writer that I used to be. Because I kinda need to.

And perhaps I’ll post them on this blog.

Here are the poems:

PLOW POEM
 
Two seats
one horse.
 
Am I a tool
or a metaphor?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SHED POEM
Whitewashed slats let in the breeze.
A hail-knocked tin roof. 
A dark, windy, hiding-place.
 
 

SIGN POEM
All my life, I 
looked
for 
sign.
 
“THIS WAY!”
it said,
tilting towards the ground.
 
 
SILO POEM
 
I once had a dream that I drowned
under a crush of ripe grain.
 
The silo’s roof is a geometric bite 
on a pale blue sky.
 
I hold my breath and shiver.
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TURTLE POEM 
 
(for Leo)
 
Come
closer.
 
My mossy shell.
My bright eye.
 
Come
closer.
 
My spiked tail.
My waiting mouth.
 
Come
closer.
 
I’m in the mood for a snack.
And fingers are delicious.
 
 
 

Looking for suggestions

My seven year old has decided to memorize and perform a long poem for a poetry exhibition that her school is doing for National Poetry Month. At first, she thought she’d do “Septimus Bean’s Amazing Machine” or “The Pied Piper of Hameline”, but there’s already a couple of kids doing those poems, and my little Cordelia simply cannot be part of a crowd. So what do you people think? Any longish poems that would be fun for a cerebral seven year old to apply to memory?