Insert Favorite "Bee" Cliche Here
Saturday, April 21, 2007
There's no way I'm going to start this blissue without making mention of the very nice review of my book Seven Beats a Second that just came out in Tryst Poetry Journal. There's a link on the right to the journal, but to directly access the review, copy and paste this url to your browser.
After you check out the review, check out what follows below, blissue number II.4.3 of "Here and Now."
Excuse me while I bask for a moment.
How can we go wrong starting with a poem about mothers by Nikki Giovanni from her book My House?
We're going to be talking about the Virginia Tech murders later, but, now, just in passing, I note that Nikki Giovanni was mentioned in the stories about the incident as the creative writing teacher who faced up to the killer-to-be and had him removed from her class a couple of years ago when everyone else was afraid of him.
the last time i was home
to see my mother we kissed
and unpleasantries pulled a warm
comforting silence around
us and read separate books
i remember the first time
i consciously saw her
we were living in a three room
apartment on burns avenue
mommy always sat in the dark
i don't know how i knew that but she did
that night i stumbled into the kitchen
maybe because i've always been
a night person or perhaps because i had wet
she was sitting on a chair
the room was bathed in moonlight diffused through
those thousand of panes landlords who rented
to people with children were prone to put in windows
she may have been smoking but maybe not
her hair was three-quarters her height
which made me a strong believer in the samson myth
and very black
i'm sure i just hung there by the door
i remember thinking; what a beautiful lady
she was very deliberately waiting
perhaps for my father to come home
from his night job or maybe for a dream
that had promised to come by
"come here" she said "i'll teach you
a poem: i see the moon
the moon sees me
god bless the moon
and god bless me"
I taught it to my son
who recited it for her
just to say we must learn
to bear the pleasures
as we have born the pains
[10 mar 72]
The thing about the online poetry workshops is, like everything else on the web, they react immediately to events in the world. You don't have to wait weeks or months to find out what poets thought of major events, you can find out now, immediately, what they're thinking as events unfold.
Within hours of the horrendous events at Virginia, the first poems began to appear.
I'm going to include several of those poems, including two of my own, written within the first and second day of the event.
Reactions varied, depending on the poet and the time elapsed before it was written. This poem, by "Here and Now" regular Alice Folkart, was one of the first posted. In it, you can see Alice's shock as she tries to process what she's hearing in the news and her looking to another figure in the news that day for resolution.
What Kurt V. Would Have Said
My heart is heavy,
tears blurred my vision today
as I drove from place to place
ticking "to do's" off my list
and listening to the car radio,
listening to the convocation
at a far away university
that is the only thing
humans could think of to do
in the face of overwhelming
bad luck, madness, and fate.
There's no accounting
for the malignant soul
infected with hate and despair
trying to prove its existence
to itself, to the world,
and how else but with a burst of power,
the greatest power after creation,
the random dealing out of death,
gunshots and laughter said one of the witnesses,
that's all we heard, the most terrible laughter.
I can make no sense of it.
Tears come, bringing with them
a deep sense of uselessness,
no solution, no help, no balm.
We have no power, not even love is enough.
But, another life was ended this week,
Kurt Vonnegut left us, a writer
working out his own experience of horror
in book after book, burrowing under the surface,
trying to see "why?" and remaining blind.
Finally, his advice on facing pain and suffering
hatred and evil and greed and cruelty?
Here are two poems by Octavio Paz on a poet's struggle to communicate.
The Written Word
Written now the first
word (never the one thought of,
but the other - this
that doesn't say it, contradicts it,
says it without saying it)
Written now the first
word (one, two, three -
sun above, your face
in the well water fixed
like an astonished sun)
Written now the first
word (four, five -
the pebble keeps falling,
look at your face as it falls, reckon
the vertical measure of its falling)
Written now the first
word (there's another, below,
not the one that's falling,
the one that holds face, sun, and time
above the abyss; the word
before the fall, before the measure)
Written now the first
word (two, three, four -
you will see your face crack,
you will see a sun that scatters,
you will see the stone in the broken water,
you will see the same face, the same sun,
fixed above the same water)
Written now the first
word (go on,
there are no more words
than the words of the measure)
The Spoken Word
The word lifts
from the written page.
letter by letter.
on the rock page.
white as the page,
the word lifts.
the wire stretched
from silence to scream,
across the ridge
of strict speech.
the ear: sound's nest
What it says it doesn't say
what it says; how to say
what it doesn't say?
maybe the vestal is bestial.
in a dead crater;
in another galaxy
how does one say pathetic fallacy?
They say what they say
directly and upside down.
Some drone, some groan,
some lonesome, phone:
cemetery's a seminary,
to inter is to infer.
Labyrinth of the ear,
what you say's unsaid
from silence to the scream
With innocence and no science;
to speak learn to keep still.
(Translated by Eliot Weinberger)
This is from me, chronicling one of the bad days. Notice, though, that I still have a pen in my pocket and am armed to write.
I'm trying to find
that will grow
into my next poem,
something worth keeping,
something with depth
that can bring that moment
to a reader when it's like
a dark day turns bright with the light
of an idea or an image or
a sense of the inner workings
of a poet's mind and heart
and all I can think of
is how damn tired I am,
which leads me to think about
sleep and what a gift it is
and how the life we lead
spurns that gift
as if is a cheap plastic
doodad we receive in the mail
as some kind of promotion
for a product even cheaper
watch how a cat sleeps
mine does it so well, finding
a place next to me at night
that she'll keep through the night
and most of the next day, arising
for just a few hours during the day
to do what cats do
when out of the sight of man
how intense is her short waking life
and how drab is mine, stretched over
the greater part of my life -
how deep and uncomplicated her sleep
and how short
and unsatisfying is mine
And now, here are a couple of poems from Chinese poet Bei Dao.
The first poem presents me with a problem. I like it very much and have read it many times. The thing is, I don't remember if I've used it here. I hope not, but, even if I did, it's worth reading twice.
What courage it takes in a tyranny that bases it's oppression on communal myth to simply say "I don't believe!"
The base make a safe-conduct pass of their own baseness,
while honest men's honor is their epitaph.
Look - the gold-plated sky is brimming
with drifting reflections of the dead
If the Ice Age is over
why does everything hang with icicles?
The Cape of good Hope has been found long ago,
so why do sails still contend in the Dead Sea?
I came to this world with nothing
but paper, rope and my own shadow
to speak for the condemned
Listen to me, world,
I - don't - believe!
You've piled a thousand enemies at your feet.
Count me as a thousand and one.
I don't believe the sky is blue.
I don't believe in echoing thunder.
I don't believe dreams are just fantasy,
that there is no revenge after death.
If the ocean must burst through the seawall,
let its bitter water irrigate my heart.
If the continents are destined to pile up,
let us choose the mountain peaks as our hermitage.
Glittering stars and new spinning events
pierce the naked sky,
like pictographs five thousand years old,
like the coming generation's watching eyes.
(Translated by Tony Barnstone and Newton Liu)
A Formal Declaration
Maybe these are the last days
I haven't put aside a will
just a pen, for my mother
I'm hardly a hero
in times with no heroes
I'll just be a man
The calm horizon
divides the ranks of living and dead
I align myself with the sky
no way will I kneel
to state assassins
who lock up the winds of freedom
The star holes of bullets
bleed in the black-bright days
(Translated by James A. Wilson)
(for the victims of June Fourth)
Not the living but the dead
under the doomsday-purple sky
go in groups
Suffering fluids forward suffering
at the end of hatred is hatred
the spring has run dry, the conflagration stretches unbroken
the road back is even farther away
Not gods but the children
amid the clashing of helmets
say their prayers
mothers breed light
darkness breeds mothers
the stone rolls, the clock runs backward
the eclipse of the sun has already taken place
Not your bodies but your souls
shall share a common birthday every year
you're all the same age
love has founded for the dead
and everlasting alliance
you embrace each other closely
in the massive register of deaths
(Translated by Bonnie S. McDougall and Chen Maiping)
Here's Deborah Garrison, a poet new to me, with two poems from her book A Working Girl Can't Win
Garrison worked on the editorial staff of the New Yorker for fifteen years and is now the poetry editor of Alfred A. Knopf and a senior editor of Pantheon Books.
Please Fire Me
Here comes another alpha male,
and all the other alphas
are snorting and pawing,
kicking up puffs of acrid dust
while the silly little hens
clatter back and forth
on quivering claws and raise
a titter about the fuss.
Here comes another alpha male -
a man's man, a dealmaker,
holds tanks of liquor,
charms them pantsless at lunch;
I've never been sicker.
Do I have to stare into his eyes
and sympathize? If I want my job
I do. Well I think I'm through
with the working world,
through with warming eggs
and being Zenlike in my detachment
from all things ego.
I'd like to go
somewhere else entirely,
and I don't mean
Saying Yes to a Drink
What's a grown woman do?
She'd tug off an earring
when the phone rang, drop it to the desk
for the clatter and roll. You'd hear
in this the ice, tangling in the glass;
in her voice, low on the line, the drink
being poured. All night awake
I heard its fruity murmur of disease
and cure. I heard the sweet word "sleep,"
which made me thirstier. Did I say it,
or did you? And will I learn
to wave the drink with a good-bye wrist
in conversations, toss it off all bracelet-bare
like more small talk about a small affair?
To begin, I'll claim what I want
is small; the childish hand
of a dream to smooth me over,
a cold sip of water in bed,
your one kiss, never again.
I'll claim I was a girl before this gin,
then beg for another.
And here's another of the Virginia Tech poems, this one from frequent "Here and Now" contributor, Dan Cuddy
Dan's poem is a howl of outrage and grief and angry questioning. It was the first Virginia Tech poem to appear on the workshop I was monitoring. I need to mention that the typos and mis-spellings in the text are, according to the poet, purposeful and an important element of the poem.
Virginia Tech: An Inner Monologue of Slapping Reality
discarded matchsticks,mattresses wet, flopped
leaves of cut grass
so much straw
what millimeter this or that
CSI Miami bllody Don Imus or karzacoweee in
eye-rach or how bout eye-ran
33 used to mean RPM
but you needed that third to go along
a third of the pie
pi logarithms and calculating calculus
engineering an almost emotionless trade
bridges-oil tanks-highways BUILD BUILD
bloody murder can't deny bloody rotten murder
too damn rational any talk about it
maybe if you have guns boom-boom
video games where ya just fire blip-blip
too easy THIS analysis too Fucking easy
if the damn thing is a vail a ble it will be
atomic bombs are now aVaiLaBLe cheep-cheep
the worlds ills solved like an equation by DEATH
that gothic religious icon of the secular crazed
chemicals bubbling stupidity-violence-indifference-fury-amnesia
in that suicidal-mind that needs to engineer JUSTICE or REVENGE
in this dripping sidewalk bastion billiard billboard Wolfowitz WORLD
it's entertainment....Quentin F U Tarantula-teeny-O
O Bibby dillon killing dem dead in Peoria
ya motha ya mad schtick ball-point pen clicking newspapers
running down street dog pissing
hydrant blud redd %^ ya think chutes & ladder daze saints
twas a game....32 to 1 we lost
and ya can't sit forever with a wash cloth sopping up eye-spill
Gawd-gawd-gawd why have you forsaken us
leaving us with that damn free will
or is it pre-destination and here we are
frightened to hell
a rrright to the gggunn
bbbadd to the bbbone
radio RKO radio beep-beep
this is not only Amreica but the world
strong as our wealest link and we are weak WEAK week after week
we they us them these those dese dose//////dem
our rotten selves
to a nice little loving world ttoo damn BIG too many crazy rats
in da maze da maise anazed are we? no yes
polite society Fuck polite society
33 dead dud dead
I'm not sure where I picked up this book, Making Callaloo, 25 Years of Black Literature, but it's a treasure trove of really good stuff. I usually get my poetry at used book stores (not so outrageously expensive), but this one I think I must have found on a remainder rack at either Borders or Barnes & Noble. I've been using it as a source for several weeks now and have two more poems from it for this blissue.
The first poem is by Natasha Trethewey.
Trethewey's first poetry collection, Domestic Work won the inaugural 1999 Cave Canem poetry prize, a 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. Her second collection, Bellocq's Ophelia, received the 2003 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, was a finalist for both the Academy of American Poets' James Laughlin and Lenore Marshall prizes, and was named a 2003 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry 2003 and numerous poetry and literary journals. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
She has taught at Auburn University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Duke University.
Her most recent collection is Native Guard, for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
Here's her poem.
Vignette - from a photograph by E.J. Bellocq, circa 1912
They pose the portrait outside
the brothel - Bellocq's black scrim,
a chair for her to sit on. She wears
white, a rhinestone choker, fur,
her dark crown of hair - an elegant image,
one she might send to her mother.
Perhaps the others crowd in behind
Bellocq, waiting their turns, tremors
of laughter in their white throats.
Maybe Bellocq chats, just a little,
to put her at ease while he waits
for the right moment, a look on her face
to keep in a gilded frame, the ornate box
he'll put her in. Suppose he tells her
about a circus coming to town - monkeys
and organ music, the high trapeze - but then
she's no longer listening; she's forgotten
he's there. Instead she must be thinking
of her childhood wonder at seeing
the contortionist in a sideshow - how
he could make himself small, fit
into cramped spaces, his lungs
barely expanding with each tiny breath.
she thinks of her own shallow breath -
her back straining the stays of a bustier,
the weight of a body pressing her down.
Picture her face now as she realizes
that it mush have been harder every year,
that the contortionist, too, must have ached
each night in his tent. This is how
Bellocq takes her, her brow furrowed
as she looks out at the left, past all of them.
Imagine her a moment later, stepping out
of the frame, wide-eyed, into her life.
Our second poet from the Callaloo collection is Harryette Mullen
Mullen is a poet, short story writer, and literary scholar who was born on Alabama, grew up in Texas, graduated from University of Texas, Austin, and attended graduate school at University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
Mullen began to write poetry as a college student in a multicultural community of writers, artists, musicians, and dancers in Austin. As an emerging poet, Mullen received a literature award from the Black Arts Academy, a Dobie-Paisano writer's fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters and University of Texas, and an artist residency from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. In Texas, she worked in the Artists in Schools program before enrolling in graduate school in California, where she continued her study of American literature and encountered even more diverse communities of writers and artists.
Her first book, Tree Tall Woman, was published in 1981. Her later books include S*PeRM**K*T, Muse & Drudge, and Sleeping with the Dictionary, which was a finalist for a National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
She has taught at Cornell University, and currently teaches courses in American poetry, African American literature, and creative writing at the University of California, Los Angeles. While living in New York, she was a faculty fellow of the Cornell University Society for the Humanities and a Rockefeller fellow at the Susan B. Anthony Institute at University of Rochester. She has received a Gertrude Stein Award for innovative poetry, a Katherine Newman Award for best essay on U.S. ethnic literature, a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Now, her poem.
When the crow fell in love
with a scarecrow
the possibilities seemed endless.
they could teach each each other.
Crow was not afraid
though dressed like a working man,
had nothing better
to occupy the time.
Actually there was little
they could do -
with scarecrow staked out
in the corn,
fastened to a silly grin,
wearing clothes that once belonged
to a real person.
Only tatters now,
an imperfect skin trying to contain
innards of straw,
the hay spilling out.
That bird sits on one shoulder,
cocking her head to the side,
Know the way rainbows thrive
in the black shine of oil?
thinks she can sing.
Scarecrow seems pleased,
unable to cover its ears
or change its expression.
Easy critic dances in the breeze
while the blackbird whispers
notes toward a song.
Feeling a Bukowski deficiency?
Here's the cure.
Wentworth worked as a model.
he even got paid for it and he didn't
look any different from
the rest of us.
"put on your cap for Hank, show
him how you posed as a sea
captain," said Clara.
Clara was his woman.
I was with Jane.
we were drinking in their apartment,
a very nice place.
we lived in a tiny room
just a few blocks away and were far
behind in the rent.
we had brought along our own wine
and they were drinking it.
I was 40 pounds underweight
barely alive and
Wentworth got his cap and
put it on.
it was blue and flopped just
he stood in front of a
length mirror and smiled.
I was being sued in the aftermath
of a driving accident
and every time I drank whiskey I
spit up blood.
"Wentworth," I told him, "you look dashing."
why don't they give us something to
eat? I thought. can't they see that
Wentworth turned from the mirror
and looked at me. "modeling is a
good show. what do you do?"
"Hank's a writer," Jane said.
Jane was a good girl; she answered all the
questions for me.
"oh," said Clara, "how fascinating!
how's it going"
"things are a little slow," I
Wentworth sat down and poured himself
"wanna arm wrestle?" he asked me.
"o.k.," I said, "I'll try you."
we bellied up to the table, came to
grips, nodded, and he slammed my arm
on the table like a marsh reed.
"well," I said, "you were best that
"wanna try another?"
"not right a way."
"maybe I can get you into
"or into a secretarial position.
how many words can you type a minute?"
"I'm into longhand right now."
"what do you write about?"
"death? nobody wants to read about
"I think you're right."
the girls were talking to each other.
then Clara got up and went to the bedroom.
she was there awhile
then she came out with a new hat
"oh, Clara," said Jane, "it's
"women don't wear hats anymore," said
Clara, "but I just love hats!"
"you should, you look so dear!"
so here was Wentworth in his blue sea
captain's cap and there was Clara in her new
"wanna try another arm wrestle?" asked
Wentworth, "the best two out of
"just pour me a drink."
the evening continued and we got to be good
friends, I suppose.
we sang some songs, sea songs among them,
and Wentworth gave me a cigar.
I was proud of Jane.
she had a great little figure, just
even when we didn't eat for days I was
the only one who lost weight
which sometimes gave me the idea that
she might be eating someplace else while I
practiced my new longhand prose style.
but it didn't matter: she deserved the
I begged off the arm wrestling and we
kept drinking my wine.
when it was gone
the evening was over.
I remember standing in their doorway
hugging him and her
goodbye, yes, yes, it was a great
and then the door closed and
there was the empty street
as we walked back to our
room Jane said, "look at that
moon! isn't the moon
I couldn't say it was so I
then we were standing in the hall of our
I took out the key
and stuck it in the door and it snapped in
half and the door wouldn't open and the key
couldn't come back out so I gave the door what
shoulder I had and it split wide open and
as it did some guy down the hall hollered,
"HEY, YOU GOD-DAMNED DRUNKS, I GOT A
GOOD MIND TO SEND YOU DOWN THE
RIVER IN A SACK OF SHIT!"
it sounded like mr. big mouth lived in
I walked down to room 8 and
knocked "come on out," I said "I've got
something for you."
there wasn't an answer.
Jane was at my side, "you've got the
"I've got the right door," I told her
I BANGED on the son of a bitch.
"COME ON OUT, FUCKER! I'LL KILL YOU!"
"it was room 9," said Jane.
"you got the wrong door."
I walked down to 9 and BANGED again. "COME ON
OUT, FUCKER, AND I'LL KILL YOU!"
"if you don't go away," I heard a voice say
from behind the door, "I'm going to call the
"you chickenshit scum," I said.
I walked back to our room and Jane
she closed the door and I sat down
on the edge of the bed and pulled off
my shoes and stockings.
"your buddy in the sailor cap," I
told her, "he gets on my nerves."
Here's a little observational poem of the kind I like to do. They don't betray much in the way of poetic ambition, but they're fun to write.
in the yellow
looks for the girl
in the yellow
with broad brown
of her last night
will soon dream
Here's another poem by William Heyen from his "Machines" series. This is from his book, Lord Dragonfly>
The Machine That Collects Butterflies
Today is a lepidopterist's delight;
monarchs, swallowtails, rare finchwings
flutter ad gambol in the meadow like lambs;
zephyrs bend the long grasses to waves.
Moving on a soft rush of air,
following your eye that follows
the single elusive butterfly
you've been searching for for so long,
the machine whispers qa fine spray
that rainbows in the gold light,
brings your prize down to your feet
like a leaf: dead, beautiful,
and perfect, even the dust on its wings
shining for years in your glass box.
I've never had a reason to be in California and never particularly wanted to go there with or without a reason, but I read a lot of Robinson Jeffers when I was younger and have drawn most of my impressions of the California coast from that reading.
I finally have the to go to California next month (it's between where I am and where I want to be) and I'm looking forward to seeing it all myself. Also, after visiting, I won't have to continue to use the Pecos River near Langtry in Texas as an image stand-in for that area.
Here's a poem by Jeffers that takes stock of the changes in the area as modernity has intruded and the things that will never change.
It's a little strange. When I read Jeffers some years ago, I always thought of him as a very "modern" poet, grouping him, somewhow, in my mind with the beats. As I read him now, he seems very traditional, almost 19th century.
I pulled this poem from Poet's Choice, Poems for Everyday Life, a book of poems selected by Robert Hass.
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses -
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop
Now the spoiler has come; does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs out cliff. - As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves:
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
Diane Glancy is a Cherokee poet, author and playwright. She has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa and has taught Native American literature and creative writing as associate professor at Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Glancy has a long list of novels, poetry collections and plays. These two poems are from her collection Lone Dog's Winter Count published in 1991.
Lone Dog's Winter Count
The dread walking with him nudging his ear.
He knew the split-dream&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;filled afterwards
(cornfields.)Ki ye. But in that then,
that present in moment of geese-flying, grasses-moving,
time lay under the doom-sense he woke with.
Upshore a new sky, new stress points. The burial ground
of stars burning nightly.
Lone Dog looked for the-pulled-beyond not blacked-out
by the NOW.
Hei yow. More than was in the land before him
the Spirit squatting like a dull chief picking
the cold sores on his nose.
Why the wind change? Why wind?
Was there a motion of trees to carry them through?
This way (not that). The nothing that could be done.
Their canoes pushing the river forward
the hooves of horses smoothing grasses when they passed.
Ki yop the dread of all of them now.
The tribe asking what he saw, what he knew.
He thought of them like a single wanting.
It was another spirit taking the land wiping out
different ways at once.
Lone Dog sat at the council fire watched its edges eat
the air like prairie fire in grass.
Often he flinched as though an arrow pierced his body
often re reached for breath.
He knew their legends knew their words of strength
he had always heard.
But now Lone Dog was pushed into dry land.
He remembered how it had been
the words left of it anyway in the tiny womb of the ear.
Now wind hurries the river.
The snow nestling their fingers.
The tribe waits for the voice of Lone Dog to pierce the silence
to father thought
like children running into their heads.
Let go of the baggage
let go of the dogs with their packs of small hides
& breading needles.
Everywhere snow whirls into the crevice of the tribe
hurling their massive wandering into the empty hole
of their bellies.
He sees a dead woman
the edge of her blanket moving
as though her hand under it still scraped hides.
The cold drives the heat of the body toward the heart
away from the toes and fingers the outer rim of the ears
the tip of the nose up the arms & legs trying.
There is a hunger that gnaws the head until it is
light & dizzy.
Then the warm little heart alone in the chest
calls the will in to dream with it
one last time before going.
Here I Am Standing Beside Mself
just look at the family album. My white mother
her sisters their husbands our cousins. Then my
father my brother & I the stuffed skin of sparrow
hawks on our heads the i'ig'ig'ig'ig'i in our
My father said his grandfather fled Indian
Territory kuna' eli st'di (claw-scratch-like)
when he'd done something wrong. We were outcast
now as well as Indian. & only part of them.
Outcast of outcasts. ju!jiji skew! It was a
sense I had. I'm trying to find the words.
It's when I remember the taste of cornbread soaked
in squirrel-grease. The feeling we weren't but
really were. The Cherokee hymns I heard in brush-
arbors. The corn-god Jesus at festival hops.
It's when I see the moon is male. Vigilant &
raveling at night. (Now cast some beads around
the neck of your wife the sun & and wrap her in weasel-
skin and darken her face so the clouds will come.)
It's when I remember the raccoon turtle deer that
nibbled at my feet at night. I still hold my legs
up to myself pull my fingers inside out draw my
arms into my chest my ears & nose into my head.
Here is another piece in response to the Virginia Tech murders. This one from frequent contributor Mary Jo Caffrey, a somber piece, reflective, showing the beginning of acceptance.
After a sad song is sung,
the notes of the last measure ring
in the mind, sound and faint taste
of salt in mouth, heart beating slowly.
Brain repeats the deepest part,
where heaven bent down
and left wings motionless,
no healing touch,
just saddest eyes watching.
Music comes closest,
cadence and response,
a caricature of human grief
scored on paper and
played on the violin.
Human-like cries resonate on string,
soundboard echoes the deepest hollow
not even Beethovan can fill.
In time, maybe love will.
Maybe decades after then,
a heart-lost connection will mend,
sound music of its own
Pomp and Circumstance again.
From his series of travel poems, it seems clear to me that you couldn't find a better traveling companion than Blaise Cendrars, bright, usually cheerful and always interested and attendant to even the smallest pleasure.
Here are several of those poems.
Adrienne Lecouvreur and Cocteau
I bought two more very small wistitis
And two birds with feathers like moire paper
My little monkeys have rings in their ears
My bids have gilded claws
I baptized the smaller monkey Adrienne Lecouvreur and the other Jean
I gave a bird to the daughter of the Argentinean admiral who is on board
She's a stupid girl who squints out of both eyes
She gave a footbath to her bird to remove the gilt from its claws
The other one is singing in my cabin in a few days it will imitate these
familiar sounds and will ding like my typewriter
When I write my little monkeys watch me
I amuse them enormously
They think they have me in a cage
There are sharks in our wake
Two or three monsters which veer up white out of the water when hens
are thrown to them
I buy a sheep and throw it overboard
The sheep swims the sharks are scared I've been had
I Told You So
I had said so
When you buy monkeys
You must take the really lively ones that almost scare you
And never pick a sweet sleepy monkey that snuggles up in your arms
Because these are drugged monkeys that will be ferocious the day after
And that's what just happened to a girl who got bitten on the nose
What I lost sight of today by heading east is what Christopher
Columbus discovered by heading west
It's in these waters that he saw that first bird black and white which
made him fall to his knees and thank God
With such feeling
And to improvise that Baudelairian prayer which can be found in his
Where he asks forgiveness for lying to his mates every day by giving
them a false position
So they couldn't find their way back
Nothing else matters
But this laughing we love
You just have to know how to be stupid and happy
I have become a great fan of Cyra S. Dumitru since finding her book Listening to Light. The way she takes mythical beings and turns them into real, flesh and blood human beings is wonderful to me.
We've used several of these poems, mostly from the Adam and Eve story.
Here's another one. If you read any of the earlier pieces, you'll recall that Adam took the naming responsibility given to him by God very seriously. You'll also recall Eve's fascination with making circles composed of small stones. This was the first indication in Eden of her mind breaking free of the restrictions of God that came to seem arbitrary to her.
In this poem, Adam has died and Eve confronts her loneliness. Cain has killed Abel and is gone, not to be seen by Eve again.
Under the Full Moon
Are you naming again, Adam,
so fresh in your new knowing?
Is Eden quite overgrown?
Without you to talk to
I have spent more time listening to the voice.
The One speaks from within now.
I can remember
verses to lost songs,
moments I feared lost.
The time when Cain began to speak
no longer just grunting or whining.
You circled inside the cave, pointing
to fire, kindling, peaches ripening,
naming them and Cain echoed you.
Then he grabbed your hands and shouted, "Daddy!"
A wave rippled along the back of my head
down my spine, out through my toes.
I felt thrilled to be alive,
like when you first called me "Eve."
I guess those early days together, before more
children came, were our childhood too.
I have collected small white stones worn smooth
from riverbeds. Tonight, when the moon is full,
I will place a circle upon your grave,
sleep within it, listening
as the garden pulses within me.
Here are two of my poems responding to the events at Virginia State. The first one, from the first day, is angry. The second one, from the day after, is more reflective.
license to carry
that's what we have
where I live
that means your
can carry a gun
as long as they keep it
and as long as they can pass
a test developed by the NRA
to insure that every
who wants to carry
buy one at the weapons
and murder store
of their choice
and I think that's
since it seems clear to me
that if you're going to let you
carry a gun
you don't want that sucker
you oughta wanta be
fuckin' sure they're required
to carry it
right out in plain sight
maybe with a big red arrow
pointing right at it
with flashing neon lights saying
"whack'o whack'o whack'o"
so us regular people can
get out of the way
when we see them
moseying in our
the devil can find you anywhere
it's part of living in the city
the noise of sirens
the fire trucks
the police cars
their supercharged engines
whoosh of air
and power like a bear's
as they cross the creek
just down the road;
all the little murders
the little killings that come
so often it begins to seem
like a stream of blood
a flood of blood
passing on weekends
the nude woman found
in a drainage ditch
the baby in her crib
shot dead as a drive by
bullet penetrates the thin wall
she sleeps by
that lead to shootings
in parking lots
blood on oily asphalt shinning
in the flashing lights
that rise from desperation
separation from hope
and too much to drink ending in rage-deaths
(I had a friend when I was thirteen, killed
by his father, shot as he tried to protect
his mother) so many
that we loose count and it's just another
half inch story on the back pages
and when we think of it at all we
shake our heads at the viciousness of it all
imagine quite places
where the sirens don't wail
all night, where murder and tragedy and rage
only happens on tv and we daydream
like this until something happens like happened
this week and we realize the devil can
always find you anywhere
and we see that
quiet places too
Carolyn Forche is a poet, editor, and human rights advocate. Born in Michigan, she earned a B.A. in international relations and creative writing at Michigan State University in 1972. After graduate study at Bowling Green State University in 1975, she taught at a number of universities, including the University of Arkansas, Vassar College, Columbia University, and in the Master of Fine Arts program at George Mason University. She now teaches at Skidmore College..
Her first poetry collection, Gathering the Tribes, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award from Yale University Press. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Alegría. Upon her return, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us, received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Forche has held three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1992 received a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship.
Her anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, was published in 1993, and her third book of poetry, The Angel of History, was chosen for The Los Angeles Times Book Award.
The prose poem below is one of her most well known works.
What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fool-ing around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught the scrape of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.
Next a poem by online poet and "Here and Now" first timer Jim Corner that has nothing to do with Virginia Tech.
Jim is founder and publisher of www.DesertMoonReview.com a poetry workshop of six years. His poetry appears in various E-zines and hard copy including Arizona Newspapers. He was poet in residence on Disciples Today, a compartment www.disciples.org for four years. He is up for publication in Disciples World (hardcopy ) in July 2007. He is a retired clergy and lives in Mesa, Arizona with his wife Kathy and Dobie/Rot dog Trudy.
A child of six eating lunch
beneath the only maple tree
in the yard of our one room school,
seeds rotate into my lard-can
After school in my attic room
I find a new Tom Mix lunch box.
Its top is adorned with Tony,
his horse, rearing from
bottom to top, six guns blazing
on the side, a sensation
for show and tell.
My old pail, a red and blue
Piggly Wiggly, once silver
with copper underneath,
found lodging under the maple tree
surrounded by tiny roads and hills -
highways for cast iron toys.
Summer and fall seep into winter,
winter into warm rain.
On the first cloudless day I find
sprouts pushing up from the mold
in the bottom of my rusting pail.
I remember Samara playfully
on top of my sandwich.
("Samara," botanical term for maple seed)
Now continuing on a gentler note, this from Li-Young Lee is an American poet born in Indonesia to Chinese parents. His father, who was a personal physician to Mao Zedong while in China, relocated his family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. In 1959 the Lee family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964.
Li-Young Lee attended the Universities of Pittsburgh and Arizona, and the State University of New York at Brockport. He has taught at several universities, including Northwestern and the University of Iowa. He is the author of Book of My Nights, The City in Which I Love You, which was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and Rose), which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award, as well as a memoir, The Winged Seed: A Remembrance, which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. His other honors include a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer's Award, grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted "Peaches."
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only he sugar, but the days to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
there are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background: from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom
I'm going to have the last word this week with a poem about another kind of loss.
For most of the last eight years, I have worked about four months a year, usually in two to three week segments, at a place several miles outside San Antonio's outermost highway ring (Loop 1604) that circles the city. The inner loop is about 50 miles around; this "outer" loop is at least two or three times that. A new ring, if it were to be built today, would probably have to be 300 to 400 miles long to completely circle the city.
Eight years ago, it was, except where major highways crossed the loop, mostly a drive in the country. Since then, the "country" has disappeared. Hills and valleys once green, are now covered in gray rooftops. Trees are gone, pastures are gone, any sense of serenity that might have, at one time felt, is gone. It is civilization in all it's inevitable vulgarity.
That's what this poem is about.
there was a pasture here
there was a pasture
rocky and not good for much
but in the spring
it was a field of bluebonnets,
blue from fence to fence
like a summer
not so many years ago
there were many
just like this one,
a special one I remember,
on a hill, where,
on an April afternoon
you could sit amid the flowers
and look down on the city
in the broad river valley below,
the first beginning
of the descent to the coastal plains
there are still
fields of wildflowers,
but none so close
as those in years before,
pasture land and hills drowned
in the advancing asphalt tide,
the stink and heat of the city
pushing those fields
where wildflowers bloomed
further and further away
it is this time of year
and little things
like these missing
that make me feel
I should apologize to my son
for the world I'll be leaving behind
And that's "Here and Now" for this week. So, until next week, I offer my thanks and appreciation to all who contributed to this issue and to our reading pleasure. All material reproduced in this issue remains the sole property of its creators.