Life in Small Places
Saturday, September 08, 2007
And it's another week here at the "Here and Now" ranch, with lots of good poems and a few of my own.
I have to tell about the picture above. I took it last weekend on the campus of Texas State University, which I attended several times over the course of ten years many years ago, and from which I eventually graduated with a major in Sociology and a minor in English.
The only wildlife in the area when I attended was out on the other side of the county line where, due to the county being "dry," excess amounts of alcohol was available to all.
The young wildlife pictured was seen as I climbed one of many hills on campus to take a nostalgic look at "Old Main," one of the few buildings still standing from when I first attended. The whole hillside around Old Main is now a wooded area where wild things grow and thrive.
It made me feel good to see it.
Nidia Sanabria de Romero of Paraguay was born in 1929 and was long involved in children's theater, and was the founder and principal of the Iberoamericano High School.
Her poem is from This Same Sky - A Collection of Poems From Around The World and was translated by Arnaldo D. Larrosa Moran with Naomi Shihab Nye.
The New Suit
a terrific tie,
and brown socks -
for the party.
And the recommendations
drove me crazy -
- Don't eat ice cream
because it might drip.
- Juice, drink it slowly
since it dribbles.
- And nothing about
that might explode!
Who's that stuffed breathless
inside a tight suit?
Next year will be different.
I'll wear old clothes,
be ready to dribble,
ice cream, cake, and everything else.
Now, from Alan Addotto, four more in his Kwan Yin series.
(Sext - midday)
The noon sunlight, Yes.
almost hidden behind the blind
still slants in between the slats
makes flat wide planes of light
that stealth across the writing room's floor.
I know that Kwan Yin's office has no windows,
no reminder-measures of the time passing away.
No, nothing but her lunch break each day
a short pause for a cigarette outside now and then
around nine or maybe ten
but not much else.
I try to remember as much detail as I can
of the day
of its passing away
to tell her when she returns.
It's not ever very much important.
chit chat mostly, pleasant nonsense
more intent than substance.
(None - mid afternoon)
The hothigh noon sun is temporarily appeased
if only temporarily and for only just today.
It has more or less acquiesced to the daily rest
it takes behind and below the pecan trees
at the back of our property.
Already the horizon clouds
begin rise to fill the skybowl
starting low and building higher
to catch the rambunctious sunlight
in rose colored, peach and cream folds.
To tame it
make our place acceptable for the oncoming night.
Our "boys" seem to know
that "Momma" is preparing to return
Around four or so p.m. they wait....very impatiently
and watch the driveway expectantly
practicing their welcomes by
barking at the passing cars.
(Vespers - at the lighting of the candles)
The sense of incompletness that the house had all day
has been taken away.
Kwan Yin has returned home again.
I listen to her unwind:
....the screwballs at work
....the lackadaisical and laissez faire attitudes in both places
She sips her iced tea, calming
and begins to get her bounce back again
....slowly then more rapidly
to replace the "heel walk" she had
when she first came in.
"Supper is ready," I call from the kitchen scented
pasta with a garlic/mushroom/olive oil/cotto salami dressing
a meat dish of some kind
possibly a vegetable of some sort.
"Smells great," she says, "It sure is good to be home"
"Yes," I agree "it sure finally is, isn't it?"
(Compline - night)
Sometimes she stays in the living room
for a little while
and I go to my "nest" as she calls
my big lounge chair in the bedroom
with a pipe and a book or just watch TV....
or whatever strikes me as a pleasantry that evening.
As inevitable as the night
she turns off the lights
herds the "boys" ahead of her
comes to bed again
to find someplace to stretch out
between and/or among them,
gets herself a book
or like me watches TV
or indulges in some other mutual pleasantry.
We talk....then tuck ourselves into yawnings....
During World War I, e. e. cummings volunteered for the Ambulance Corps in France; soon, however, his letters criticizing the French authorities proved (to the offended parties) that he was better off behind bars. The Enormous Room, cummings' only novel, records his experiences in a wartime French prison.
His wartime experiences are also reflected in these poems taken from is 5, published by W.W Norton & Company in 1926, reissued as Liveright paperback in 1996, 34 years after the poet's death.
"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth on
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beatu-
iful that these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water.
look at this)
a 75 done
this nobody would
would they no
kidding this was my particular
it we was
i used to
him lift the
tenderly this side up handle
and send him home
to his old mother in
a nice new pine box
first Jock he
was kilt a handsome
man and James and
next let me
see yes Will that was
he was kilt and my younger
boy was kilt last with
the big eyes i loved like you can't
imagine Harry was o
god kilt he was kilt everybody was kilt
they called them the kilties
you know what I mean when
the first guy drops you know
everybody feels sick or
when they throw in a few gas
and the oh baby shrapnel
or my feet getting dim freezing or
up to your you know what it water or
with the bugs crawling right all up
all everywhere over you all me everyone
that's been there knows what
i mean a god damned lot of
people don't and never
they don't want
James Fowler lives outside of Boston, in a old Victorian house, where his four grown kids were raised. He says his wife owns and runs a flower shop in another city so he sees her only on weekends, leaving lots of time during the week for poetry. He says his kids "examine my legal affairs, my prostate, and my nutrition, and generate grandkids, seven and more coming. All this is fodder for my muse, which came into my life seven years ago."
In his spare time, Jim is managing partner for a medical instrumentation company.
His poems tend to short and incisive, with sharp, biting edges, and I'm always pleased to get one from him.
He wore a nylon jacket zipped
to the neck, covering the Semtex
and nails in the AK bandoleer.
He didn't realize the virgins
on the bus were the ones he prayed
for in the last cleansing. They would
join him at Allah's feet, each staring
at him, holes and blood everywhere,
ready to set on him, tear at his flesh.
We continue now with more of the very personal poems of Julia Alvarez
Mother asks what I'm put to, that means men
in any declension except sex; it
means do I realize I am thirty-
three without a husband, house, or children
and going on thirty-four? Father extends
an invitation to come live with them,
there are two empty bedrooms I can write
in and handouts until I make it big
which means men at publication parties
asking me what mentors shaped my style
and has anyone ever told me how beautiful
I am having written something worthwhile?
Their drinks tinkle in their hands like keys
to doors closed at the closing of stories.
My friend Carol says aging evens out
the advantage of beautiful women
over plain ones. The beautiful have to
watch their beauty fade in their own and men's
eyes. I can only talk small, having been
pretty, on good days almost beautiful.
These days in conversation with a man,
I'll catch his eyes searching for beautiful
women in the room, and I want to cry
out: If I could take some years off with my
clothes, you'd find a nice-looking girl before
you! Ex-gorgeous Carol says men ignore
her much more than she's used to or seem bored
with her theories. But I hear you, Carol.
I was at work the other day, watching a rain squall come across the hills toward me. Not much to do about it but watch, and write this.
to the north
over green hills
like a blue sea
there is no sound
no movement of air
I'm starting another series, I guess, this one by Gilbert Sorrentino from a series called Coast of Texas, following the area traveled by the French poet Apollinaire at the beginning of the 20th century and an area I know very well, having spent most of my life somewhere along the Texas coast.
The series is from the book Gilbert Sorrentino, Selected Poems 1958-1980, published in 1981 by Black Sparrow Press.
Sorrentino, novelist and poet, was a central figure in the development of experimental fiction in the United States and a professor in the Department of English at Stanford for nearly two decades. He died last year of complications from lung cancer. He was 77.
I'm going to start with a couple of poems from the series this week and will return with more poems in the weeks ahead.
Coast of Texas
Although the sky
was bright blue and clarity
the exact love
That blank city allows
at times; so that it
did not seem I was
I was in Hell. O
love. That impairs my song.
is no place to spend Christmas
notwithstanding those avenues
of palms, the white houses on the green Gulf.
The old Mexicans fish off
stone quais, and fish off stone quais.
I ate chili and drank rye whisky.
A whole novel wrote and discarded in my head.
Notwithstanding those avenues of green
palms, Corpus Christi on the coast
of Texas is not place to spend any time.
Apollinaire himself avoided this blank city.
He never knew it could
be so cold in the streets
of that white city. Walks around
insane the wind tears water
from his eyes.
He thinks he sees her face
in the palm trees, love breathed
out of a bad hotel. In his madness
His hand that touches him
The palm trees the palm trees
are moonlight. His heart is drowned
in the Gulf. O let down
your hair you.
You blue water.
In that sunny room dreamed
he lay with her, book open, his hand
on his crotch.
He woke to the bright day and
smell of weak coffee. Walking
around the room, he went walking
around the room, briskly.
Fuck this sun, O fuck this rotten sun,
O fuck this sun, O sound of gentle bluish waves
piling up. Glanced in the closet
and saw her.
"Here and Now" regular Jim Corner returns again this week with a new poem, a nice little love poem.
A Silvery Coiffure
I wondered if her curls are innate;
speaks of age if not of wisdom.
Wrinkles confirm a clarity
not often found in casual repartee;
our banter focuses upon
faith in the stream of scripture.
The message of the whole
of the stories: the First and New
Testaments situate their messages
into her core: "You are made in my image,
a little lower than angels."
I listen to her reckoning: "Jim
we are human, made to respire
the atmosphere of earth with virtues
and slings of living, with total love,
to spin inside the sphere with God -
knowing full well we can't
be human alone."
From Irish poet Paul Duncan we have this poem from his book Greetings to Our Friends in Brazil, published by the Harvell Press, London in 1999.
High in the Cooley
I wanted to publish a poem
That would include the work "fuck"
Not as a gimmick
But as the jewel in the crown
Of the vocabulary of affection.
Soon as you utter the work "fuck"
Gusts of divinity suck
At the breasts of erosion.
I wanted to celebrate my luck
At having made with my woman a home
High in the Cooley by composing a poem
With at its vortex the word "fuck".
I wanted to christen the poem
"Teilhard de Chardin"
Or "The Phenomenon of Woman" or "Mass
Upon the Alter of the Universe."
It was useless. There were afraid to publish.
Editors not knowing their own water.
Parishioners ashamed of their own parish.
Cosmopolitans ashamed of their own cosmos.
Thirty years later I drive home
To read to my woman alone
My "Phenomenon of Woman" poem:
"We wanted to fuck in the ocean"
By fireside two otters
Undress; on parquet roll.
Old otters squeaking soul:
All that matters.
I was determined to begin walking again this morning; wrote this poem instead.
something to think about
with sixty-three years
on the old shot-clock,
I've begun to thinking
of reordering my life,
taking up exercise,
putting aside junk food
and junk books,
take to things like
go for some liposuction
around the middle,
under my chin,
and those lines
around my eyes
that can't be written off
as laugh lines
just a little nip and tuck here and there,
run five miles every morning,
swim thirty laps
down at the high school
go to bed early
and rise at sunup
with fire in my belly
and a gleam in my eye
and if it's true like they say
that sixty's the new forty
I might even make it to fifty
and a couple of cans
of viagra soup
and it could be the beginning
of a whole new life
We haven't used anything from Puerto Rican poet Victor Hernandez Cruz in a while. To remedy that, here's this poem from his book Red Beans, published by Coffee House Press in 1991.
Underneath with the geologic plates
Puerto Rico and Corsica
Are holding hands
Both hands with gold rings
Sweating each other's palms
The same moon is seen
From both islands
The light of the sun
Upon the mother
The seaman's stories of migration
Like whispering olives within
Inhabit the seasonings
Echoing through the island
Cave's fifth aboriginal dimension
Where not far from the salt
Of the sea
The compass of the fishing
Boats zero in on Minerva's
Lips of crimson shine
Who are flowing in the currents
Of the river within the ocean
Inviting he estrangement of
The planet - the delights of
Sweet beads and virginal circular
Night walks of white dresses
Ah, Minerva blessed was your
Father at the thought of Migration
It was the limestones of the
Caverns speaking underground
You are now as a
Mediterranean sway en route
With Manati pineapples lit
Electrical down Antrillean
Pales Matos following you
With his eyes of drumming sounds
This is Corsica
Puerto Rico is in the Mediterranean
All the eyes ae the same.
Here's a fun piece from "Here and Now" first-timer Sandy Steinman.
Sandy taught Photography as a Fine Art at Fairfield University, CT, from 1980 until 1990, when she and her husband Paul returned to Fairfax, in Marin County, CA. They reside in a kitch Fairfax cottage under a prolific hachiyha persimmon tree that shades their otherwise sun drenched deck. She writes poetry, prose, essays and short plays.
It suits him, spotless lab coat,
weary Talbot ties closeted away.
He putters in Levis, sandals,
hums "Cara Nome" with Walkman,
prunes double-ruffled fuchsias,
tends trailing bougainvillea.
Office memos, checkups,
phone calls, reams of charts,
nagging nurses, squalling
spit-up babies gone. The other
The social worker warned,
don't surrender the kitchen.
Let him vacuum -
suck the daddy long legs
from silent bedroom corners.
They'll swallow you up
one toe at a time,
warned a bagger at Safeway
before "Paper or plastic?"
Dish detergent bubbles
the kitchen sink,
warm water splashes, my love
washes the dinner plates,
sprouts his sweet-cream smile,
files them to dry, neat
as alphabetized office charts.
I heard Deborah Garrison read a couple of her poems on A Prairie Home Companion several weeks ago. Though a somewhat hesitant reader, she did well.
Here's a poem from her book A Working Girl Cant Win, published in 2000 by the Random House Modern Library Paperback division.
A firecracker, even after middle age
set in, a prince of repression
in his coat and tie, with cynical words
for everything dear to him.
Once I saw a snapshot of the house
he lives in, its fence painted
white, the flowers a wife
had planted leaning into the frame
on skinny stalks, shaking little pompoms
of color, the dazzle all
accidental, and I felt
a got, corrective
sting: our lives would never
intersect. At some point
he got older, trimmer, became
the formidable man around the office.
This bearing upright, what hair he has
silver and smooth, he shadows my doorway,
jostling the change in his pocket -
milder now, and mildly vexed.
The other day he asked what on earth
was wrong with me, and sat me down
on his big couch, where I cried
for twenty minutes straight,
snuffling, my eyeliner
betraying itself in the stained
tears. Impossible to say I was crying
because he had asked. He passed
tissues, at ease with the fearsome
womanly squall that made me alien
even to myself. No, it didn't make him
squirm. Across his seventy years,
over his glasses, he eyed me kindly,
and I thought what countless scenes
of tears, of love revealed,
he must have known.
"Here and Now" regular contributor Dan Cuddy carries a sharp knife in his poetry knapsack, and he knows how to wield it.
Another Rant And Rave The Wife Ignores
you know the voice
radio talk show caller
holding his nose over the stench of politics
holier than thou in indignation
caricature of a human being
polite only because the four letter words of his thought
are translated in the higher educated verbiage
of a politician
but there is real animosity
real digging in at the heels
the hard dirt ground down
the half-moon of a heel
given semi-permanence in the political earth
no law and order
finance managers racketeering
Mexican trucks bouncing off guardrails
as the driver is stopped, questioned
George W Bush practicing the cylon movement of his eyes
the infamous insidious Dick the Trick Cheney
posing with a magisterial sneer
it is a cliche that sneer
and the indignation against it
nothing will change
the b'hoys of plantation row
will be sipping mint juleps long after their offices
have been cleaned out, fumigated against ideological lice
and we rant & rave
wives go upstairs to dust the windowsills
tired of the dusty opinions that are left on the den floor
and ranting & raving
a subgenre of communication
an exercise like a run at the track
nothing gets changed
same old system
kids playing electronic games in their chairs
not even looking up
as the house next door burns down
or some teenage girl is raped on the hood of a Hummer
the country that was
the Scar-Spangled Banner
the sandbox of Karl Rove
the Clintons, Fred Thompson
any old ballyhoo
interested in standing behind a podium
and being wittily
in podunk pub
the rant, the rave
the political wave
holding one's nose & booing
the tin-head leaders talk on
the golden age of America
is melted down
all that craftsmanship
reduced to gold ingots
and George W Bush and pals
straightening their shirt-collars
invoking God and war
is packing up its treasures
moving to Tahiti
resembling something in obese Mississippi
the clink of ice, glasses
the shine of pasty jewelry
on white-powdered necks
the sag of American tits
We have also neglected for too long Pulitzer Prize winner and recipient of the National Book Foundation Medal For Distinguished Contribution To American Letters Gwendolyn Brooks.
This poem is from her book Selected Poems first published in hardback in 1963 by Harper & Row, Publishers, then reissued in paperback by Perennial Classics in 1999.
Jessie Mitchell's Mother
Into her mother's bedroom to wash the ballooning body.
"My mother is jelly-hearted and she has a brain of jelly;
Sweet, quiver-soft, irrelevant. Not essential.
Only a habit would cry if she should die.
Are you better, mother, do you think it will come today?"
The stretched yellow rag that was Jessie Mitchell's mother
Reviewed her. Young, and so thin, and so straight.
So straight! as if nothing could ever bend her.
But poor men would bend her, and doing things with poor
Being much in bed, and babies would bend her over,
And the rest of things in life that were for poor women,
Coming to them grinning and pretty with intent to bend and to
Comparisons shattered her heart, ate at her bulwarks:
The shabby and the bright: she, almost hating her daughter,
Crept into an old sly refuge: "Jessie's black
And her way will be black, and jerkier even than mine.
Mine, in fact, because I was lovely, had flowers
Tucked in the jerks, flowers were here and there...."
She revived for the moment settled and dried-up triumphs,
Forced perfume into old petals, pulled up the droop,
Triumphant long-exhaled breaths,
Her exquisite yellow youth....
Alex Stolis continues his series based on the Tarot deck.
The Magician holds his breath
He can remember when he held forever
remembers when penance felt
close to real pain -
he wanted to be a martyr
but was reluctant
to pay the price.
He thinks of her now
as his chest tightens
wants to reach out
stroke her hair
get lost in the space
He remembers talk
of crucifixion, nails
blood and the sun
He can hear cracks
of thunder and the hiss
of air escaping his lungs
but he can't remember
the sound of her voice.
We have a poem now by Jane Hirshfield. It is from her book Of Gravity & Angels published by Wesleyan University Press in 1988.
Tamara Stands In Straw
and dreams her long-necked, sweet-grass reveries,
and shifts her weight in the patient way
of horses in the cold.
She will be a long time in this stall,
through the entire season of grass
she will have alfalfa, timothy,
an eight-foot, spare enclosure keeping her dry
on hooves held closed with polymer and wire.
This tall barn covers her strangely,
a mae who's never been kept in;
a worn-out structure roofed with tin,
it magnifies the rain,
I am to stay with her for several hours,
to keep her on her feet till the plastic sets.
The stable-owner sends a thermos of tea
and I drink slowly,
taking it its heat
in the faint warmth of the barn;
while the mare dreams and wakes and drinks
and returns to her hay and then her dreaming,
while darkness tightens to the single shape of horse
and night sounds of iron scud against concrete
through all the layered softnesses of straw.
There's not much to say about Jean-Nicholas-Arthur Rimbaud but, here's Rimbaud. This poem is from Rimbaud, Complete Works, Selected Letters, a bilingual edition translated by Wallace Fowlie and published by The University of Chicago Press in 2005.
I live seated, like an angel in the hands of a barber,
In my fist a strongly fluted mug,
My stomach and neck curved, a Gambier pipe
In my teeth, under the air swollen with impalpable veils of smoke.
Like the warm excrement of an old pigeonhouse,
A Thousand Dreams gently burn inside me:
And at moments my sad heart is like sap-wood
Which he young dark gold of its sweating coves with blood.
Then, when I have carefully swallowed my dreams,
I turn, having drunk thirty or forty mugs,
And collect myself, to relieve the bitter need:
Sweetly as the Lord of the cedar and of hyssops,
I piss toward the dark skies very high and very far,
With the consent of the large heliotropes.
Steve Crow, of Cherokee and Irish ancestry, was born in Alabama in 1949. He began writing poetry in high school and went on to earn a degree in English and Creative Writing at Louisiana State University. He earned a master's degree at Bowling Green University in 1971 and began doctoral work in English at the University of Michigan in 1976, where he developed and taught a survey course in contemporary Native American literature.
His poem below is from Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry.
I can't say our garden is a delight
because the patch in our backyard
is the shape of Louisiana by accident.
Weeds the shape of brown pelicans
by reincarnation, and a small swamp,
unsafe to be around after dark.
Each time I drain the garden
a swamp water bubbles to the surface
with gar minnows and water moccasins
the size of earthworms. When I set
the weeks afire they begin mouthing
the air, wingless, pulling at their
roots to take seed elsewhere.
And tonight, magic in the wind,
rain the color of ashes.
I expect Lafitte to come poling
his pirogue across the yard,
whistling for his pirates
to follow him out of the cypress
with my head on a flambeau.
I never trusted Louisiana.
I should have stayed there.
Emma Lee Warrior, a Peigan Indian, was born in 1941 in Alberta. Raised on the Peigan Reserve, she went on to earn a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in English. She worked for the Blackfoot Reserve in Alberta developing curricula in Blackfoot.
Her poem is another from Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry.
Reginald Pugh, The Man Who Came from the Army
I lay in Holy Cross
bandaged to the knee.
It was time to go home;
my skinny social worker,
a sniveling civil servant,
refused to find me a place.
He had pig's skin;
I don't think he had a heart.
the Army Department
to Indian Affairs
he gave out orders
instead of solutions;
became the problem
of all Indians
sentenced to his files.
He berated us
for being Indians
but his harangues
were as useless
as my curses.
Once a Peigan woman
living with a Blackfoot man
was told she couldn't get
her welfare check
until her husband left.
She grabbed Mr. Pugh
and shook him the way
a dog shakes a weasel.
Sometimes I'll lie and dream
I throttled him
until his blue eyes slowly
popped from their sockets,
the spittle from his purple
lips dribbled; I'd make
sure he couldn't spit,
then stuff his head
into the garbage can under my bed.
The little two-faced bugger,
I saw him the other day.
He wanted to know when I
intended to return the rental
dole from last year.
I told him I would
let him wait forever, amen.
Muneer Niazi is a famous Punjabi poet of Pakistan. This is another poem from The Same Sky, translated by Daud Kamal.
A Dream of Paradise in the Shadow of War
In the angled boughs
Of the jasmine tree
On the green emerald floor
A nightingale sings
The poignant melodies
From the vast treeless plains
Carried by the evening's dust-clouds
Come the joyous sounds
Of people returning home.
Mustard fields stretch
Towards the horizon.
Wild roses and green swaying wheat.
The cacophony of birds
On the ancestral tree
I my courtyard.
The houses and their inmates
Turns into a perfumed garden.
Strange weather here in South Texas this summer - everybody's talking about it. As I was writing this, red and yellow was all across the radar screen, right on our doorstep.
everybody talks about the weather
talks about the weather
and with nearly 25 inches
over the three summer months
compared to 3 and a half inches
with no day rising to triple digit temps
and 75 degrees
on the fourth of july
it seems a perfectly reasonable
the meadows and pastures
and woods are green
when they should be brown,
deer and possum and squirrel
and raccoon run riot
the verdant hills
cold blooded creatures
who need warmth
when they should be
out rattling through the rocks
the billions of crickets
who normal arrive in late October
have been piling up around doorways
and street corners
for a month already,
their little sex drive going strong
when they should be off where ever
it is they are when they aren't here
they wiggle and jump and chirp
and climb walls and sneak in doors
left open too long
and walking on some sidewalks
is like walking
on crunchy brown snow
there's another front
coming in off the coast this afternoon
is saying oh no, not more rain,
but they don't mean it,
at least not those of us
who've seen the usual side
of south texas summer
we welcome every drop,
feel very cosmopolitan
as we carry umbrellas everywhere
slowly losing our slow texas drawl,
to an accent more clipped by london fog
there is some discussion
as to whether this three months of rain
might be the consequence of global warming,
if it is, some of us say,
god bless al gore
and bring it on
We finish of this week with this little gem of a poem from frequent contributor, Alice Folkart.
from green tree
And that's it for this week.
To finish the story begun earlier, the picture above is of the "Old Main" referred to, atop the wooded hill where campus wildlife thrives.
And in accordance with the practice begun last week....this blog is produced by and the property of allen itz.