Shades of Summer's End
Saturday, September 15, 2007
We can see the end of summer coming now, never too soon for a summerphobe like me.
I was working at my ocassional job the past couple of weeks, so haven't had time to troll through the on-line workshops for web poets to feature like I usually do. The consequence of that is you will see more of me in this issue than usual. Sorry.
But we do have a good line-up of other great poems for you to read. Here's the first.
It's hard to think of any better way to start this week, or any other week, then with a few lines from Walt Whitman. These particular lines are from Song of Myself, the poem written in 1855 which began the first edition of Leaves of Grass and was included at or near the first of every subsequent issue of Whitman's masterwork.
from Song of Myself
There is that in me - I do not know what it is - but I know it is in me.
Wrench'd and sweaty - calm and cool then my body becomes,
I sleep - I sleep long.
I do not know it - it is without name - it is a word unsaid.
It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol.
Sometimes it swings on more than the earth I swing on,
To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me.
Perhaps I might tell more. Outlines! I plead for my brothers and sisters.
Do you see O my brothers and sisters?
It is not chaos or death - it is form, union, plan - it is eternal life - it is
The past and present wilt - I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large. I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slap.
Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound by barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back from me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fiber your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
I did this one last week. I'll bet Whitman never had this problem.
I've had this
of a poem
in the back of my head
for a week, now,
and it won't come out,
as black letters on white paper,
it just hangs back there
right behind my left
with what a great poem
it would be
if I could just catch it
and write it
enough of that
I put it to the test tonight,
for forty-five minutes
blank white screen in front of me,
and nothing happened
this poem is
Time for some fun with Shel Silverstein. This is from A Light in the Attic published by Harper & Row in 1981.
I wrote such a beautiful book for you
'Bout rainbows and sunshine
And dreams that come true.
But the goat went and ate it
(You knew that he would).
So I wrote you another one
Fast as I could.
Of course it could never be
Nearly as great
As that beautiful book
That the silly goat ate.
So if you don't like
This new book I just wrote -
Blame it on the goat.
When we last read Blaise Cendrars a couple of weeks ago, he was in the south United States in a swamp he talked about in his poem Vomito Negro. (Which I looked up to discover it means exactly what it says, black vomit, an affliction of persons in the last stages of yellow fever. It is also the name of a rock band - can't you just wait to hear what they've got to sing about.)
We will finish his southern journey, happily out of the swamp lands, with three poems, all from the book Blaise Cendrars Collected Poems, translated by Ron Padgett and published by the University of California Press in 1992.
IV. Spanish Ruin
The nave is in the 18th century Spanish style
It is all cracked
The damp vault is white with saltpeter and still bars some traces of gold
The lantern beams fall on a mildewed painting in the corner
It is a Black Madonna
Thick moss and poisonous striped dotted beaded mushrooms cover the
stone floor of the sanctuary
There is also a bell with some Latin inscriptions
V. Golden Gate
The old grillwork provided a name for the establishment
Iron bars thick as a wrist which separate the drinkers from the counter
where bottles of every kind of alcohol are lined up
Back when gold fever was at its height
When women from Chile or Mexico were auctioned off right and left
by slave traders
All the bars had grillwork like this
And the bartenders came with a drink in one hand and a pistol in the
It was not uncommon to see a man killed because of a drink
It's true the grillwork has been left there for show
Just the same the Chinese come in for drinks
Germans and Mexicans
And also a few Kanaks off little steamboats loaded with mother-of-pearl
copra tortoise shell
Atrocious makeup bank tellers outlaws sailors with huge hands
Vi. Oyster Bay
Canvas tent and bamboo chairs
Now and then on these deserted beaches you see a hut with a palm roof
or the skiff of a Black Pearl diver
Now the country is completely different
As far as the eye can see
The beaches covered with shining sand
Two or three sharks are sporting in the wake of the yacht
Florida slips below the horizon
You take a golden Regalia from the ebony end table
You break it off with your fingernail
You light it voluptuously
Smoke smoke smoke smoke spirals away
Making his second appearance in "Here and Now" we turn now to another taste of San Antonio writer, Robert Soto.
Daylight burning, searching gray skies, never killed before. This time everything will be different in the mirror of my youth, but it never is. Scanning the horizons for definitions in my obstacles. Trapped behind well stocked bars always helped before, or at least that's what the company that I kept said. Black and white photos blur out the subtle shades of lacerated souls. Later, they become fire in front of a microphone recording the words I wanted to scream. All we heard were echoes anyway. Selected sobriety soften the pain of telling the truth to myself. Your strictest critic is your beating heart, counting down like a time bomb that doesn't explode, it just stops ticking. and I tally up all the people I just talked to but never really communicated with. But what's the point in counting when the numbers either go in circles or spiral out of sight. Weathered eyes weep with wanting, but learn not to look back. Sometimes taking the pain is better than numbing with addiction. Until pain becomes addicting that is. I'm at the opposite side of I-10, and interesting enough every thing's different now. Real change comes in being. Somewhere stillness bleeds under a street light. Everything you wish for is lost in traffic, the fog of life's rush hour. Cathedrals and street sweepers acted as alarm clocks rattling the walls of one room apartments. The waking sleep of days down the drain keep me up at night. If regrets came with mute buttons bars would close earlier.
Speaking of rants, here's a world champion rant by Audre Lorde. The poem might be a little stale since the subject of the rant is dead. But, since his death was no great loss to anyone we'll pretend, for the sake of the poem, that he's still alive.
The poem is from the anthology Making Callaloo, 25 Years of Black Literature published in 2002 by St. Martin's Press
I am a Black woman
writing my way to the future
off a garbage scow knit from moral fiber
stuck together with jessehelms
come where Art is a dirty word
scrawled on the wall
of Bilbo's memorial outhouse
and obscenity is catching
even I'd like to hear you scream
ream out your pussy
with my dildo called Nicaragua
ram Grenada up your fig hole
till Panama runs out of you
like Savimbi aflame.
But you prefer to do it
on the senate floor
with a sackfull of paper pricks
keeping time to the tune
of a 195 million dollar
safe-sex dripping from your tongue
into avid senatorial ear-holes
later you'll get yours
behind the senate toilets
where they're waiting for you jessehelms
the white boy with their pendulous rules
bumping against the rear door of Europe
spread-eagled across the globe
their crystal balls poised over Africa
ass-up for old glory
your turn now jessehelms
come on it's time
to lick the handwriting
off the walls.
Some years ago, I was appointed by a local judge to fill a vacancy on the County Child Welfare Board. It was a one year appointment, filling the unexpired term of a board member who had left. When the time came for reappointment to a full term, I declined. Too many children born into hell, living in hell and dying in hell, so much misery without there seeming to be any way to stop more than a small portion of it.
This poem by Paula Rankin reminds me of that experience. The poem is from Rankin's book Augers published by Carnegie-Mellon University Press in 1981.
For the Child Drowned in the Well of Black Water
Once I defined drowned childhood
by child starlets I saw on TV,
fame come upon them so early
that they believed all the fan mail,
pouted when on-the-set-private tutors
pushed multiplication tables,
pitched fits if off-stage mothers
fixed tuna for lunch
The day your mother brought you to me
she marked an X where her name should have filled
the blank granting permission for field trips,
Welcome, Teresa, come in, I said, offering a hub
you backed off from so fast
I saw the outstretched are
must speak differently to each of us.
You spoke to no one for months.
How many days I hid you in the bathroom
pinching nits from your hair, bathing you
in warm sink water, pinning a ribbon
in your strawed hair, easing what I could
of your smell of acrid, dried urine. You never spoke
but grinned, baring all your rotten teeth, knowing
that for one day, no one would shove his chair
away from you, no chants of "she stinks"
would machete the wax in your eardrum
When you finally talked
I found myself praying you wouldn't,
that I would miss some minimal bliss
of ignorance. You talked about fathers,
how yours walked in brand new every week, sometimes
two or three times in one day,
and that once a father who stayed a whole month
actually learned your name
and brought you a book of paper dolls
you still slept with, having never snipped
them from their backgrounds of slick whiteness.
My one hope was that you were a pathological
liar. But you weren't, and then how I needed
to teach you of other rooms
some people grow up to live in,
where supper is often tuna or a cheap grade
of ground beef, but doors are left open
for entries, exits, some approximation of love.
While all the other children were way beyond names,
could mimic Dog, Cat, Snake, any shape of holiday,
all you gave me were sheets filled with T's aimed
in all directions. All this high purpose of mine
failed so long ago that some nights I can barely
remember your face. I try not to ask
if you have a new collection of fathers
all of whom know you by name
for one night, and leave ten dollars
on the table for the privilege.
If so, I hate them most of all
because they use a name
you never wrote on a page where T's collided,
a page I still hold
in shaking hands as if fingers could braille
the secret of how you have come to be
whoever you are,
as if I could go to your mirror and stare
until glass melts into a well
of black water, where objects take turns
floating up to the surface - dolls, jump ropes,
skates, a grosgrain ribbon, a snag-tothed grin,
then plummet for their and final drowning.
Went through a couple of rain showers a couple of days ago, bringing me to this.
after the rain
in hard rain today,
each time for a distance
of only about a quarter mile
then back into bright sunshine
it was like that Dogpatch character
with that wonderful Al Capp name
I can't remember now,
carried his own rain cloud over his head
every where he went
I have days like that
but today wasn't one even with the rain
because as I drove out from under
each rain cloud
I was treated to a different kind of rainbow,
because they weren't bows at all
but a splash of color across the sky
in a straight line
I don't know what you'd call
something like that
but they were special and
made the day
a little special too
Next on our list of poems for this week is this piece by Alaskan meatcutter/office manager/poet Arlitia Jones. It's from her book The Bandsaw Riots published by Bear Star Press in 2001.
You never flinch when I come late to bed,
chill on my skin.
I slip in sneaky as a hound through a cracked
door to find you awake, waiting.
Under our quilt your body warms like a banked fire.
You're rubbing my arm
so I know you're listening, focused
as any man who works with his hands, patient
as an man who lives by his faith.
Do you remember telling me how
you set windmills in Nebraska?
You could hold two copper wires,
one in each hand, and pace the ground,
until you found the buried waterline.
When you stepped directly over it
the wires crossed of their own will.
I believe you now when you say you can do this,
witch water from the blind ground,
tap the pure stream running deep.
Your hand travels my hip and still
I'm talking it out.
Always something in me wants the world to be
different than it is: a level ground where,
the right tools in our hands,
we have the courage to use them, where together
we find the fountain-head
of what is possible, where the poem, written
for love, is the source of everything.
The next piece by James Laughlin is from an anthology of his work The Secret Room published by New Directions, a publishing house Laughlin founded in 1936 while still an undergraduate at Harvard. It is from a longer piece, Byways he was still working on when the book was published in 1996, one year before he died at age 83.
(A divertimento from Byways)
I often find myself thinking about doors.
Open doors and closed doors. In our house
The back door is usually left open so that
Rupert, our dog, can get in or out
Without barking, or Allen, the hired man,
Can come in for a glass of water on a hot
Day, or when the UPS man comes in his
Truck with a package. But the front door
Is almost always locked. Uninvited
Visitors must ring the bell. This gives
Us time to peek out a window to see who
They are and whether we want to see them.
At night both doors are locked though
There has been no crime in our village
Within my memory, but you never know,
The way things are in this country now.
The house doors are really not very
Interesting. What's more important are
My internal doors: the door to my
Heart and the little trapdoor in the
Back of my brain in which poems
My heart-door is like a revolving
Door, the kind you find at banks or
Big hotels. That door has been
Revolving steadily for nearly
Sixty years. It opened first when
Verna, the little girl who lived
Next door, pulled me into the woods
and let me play with her nipples.
Since then my heart-door has been
Almost constantly revolving. This
May sound unfeeling but I can no
Longer recall all the pretty ones,
And some not so pretty, who have
Set that door to swinging, around
Because there's usually a surviving
Scrap of paper with a poem, or part
Of a poem on it, I find it easier
To keep track of the movements of
The secret brain-door in my head.
It doesn't revolve. It's like a
Trapdoor that works up and down.
It's not very large, a mouse could
Barely get through it.
The first time it opened was when
I was about thirteen, my first year
At boarding school. The door opened
And out came a rhymed sailor's chantey,
As subject I'd copied from John Masefield,
Who was then poet laureate in England.
With pride I took to to my teacher,
Mr. Briggs. He read it quickly and
Tore it up. "Young man," he said,
"This isn't poetry, it's just verse."
The door in my brain snapped shut.
Since then the brain-door must
Have opened a hundred times.
Mr. Briggs is long dead but I can
Still see his eyes glaring at me
And hear his barked rebuke. Open
And shut, open and shut. Time
After time it's only verse. That
Little door is my guillotine.
Laughlin also did a lot of wonderful little short pieces, especially as he grew long in age. Before we leave him, here's one.
The Calendar of Fame
"Farewell, farewell, my beloved hands"
Said Rachmanioff on his deathbed:
And Joseph Hofmann, the great pianist,
Invented the windshield wiper
From watching his metronome.
Genius that I am, all I can do
Is hit the wrong keys on my typewriter.
With the music Johnny Cash made in the last ten years of his life, he transcended all musical genres. If if ever felt the need to describe to someone the essence of the country I grew up in, the one that seems so diminished now, I'd just point that person to those recordings. I have them all and listen to them frequently. That's what led me to this.
listening to Johnny Cash
makes me believe,
not in god,
I am too much
but in the possibility
of an alternate
where god is present
and accounted for
in the lives
like you and me
if I was picking
I'd want the one johnny cash
in his songs
The next poem is by Brian Blanchfield from his book Not Even Then, published by The University of California Press in 2004.
When Mister Ya
cried in my hands
great tears as new as mine,
but like a doll's too.
Joseph Rock, the botanist,
who made Lijiang his base
for expeditions in 1922,
a magazine's man in China,
who for twelve years
hired four coolies a day
to carry his makeshift divan,
who wrote it off
and sent the Smithsonian
thousands of specimens of
shrubs and even orioles,
which mean love, who dressed
in white, which meant death,
always, and had personally
seen blue sheep in Tibet,
had personally taught
him his first english.
My name translates into a word
that means blue, but
it's only phonetic.
By virtue of his brushwork
and knowledge of the classics,
Teacher Ya headmastered
the village's school
and lost fourteen years
of prison's worth of mind.
In ten days, I could not freely
remember why I was not
whom he was sure of.
He showed me Rock's old pliers
and started me on two primers
of the Na Xi dialect, inscribed
to Student Blue. In earnest,
lessons into the chirping night
kept me. Like Zhuang zi, was I
one butterfly's worth of man.
I remember I had a shameful
wet dream in the cinderblock
hostel about lying about
pressing against a wall others
peed on, and stomach pains.
Then, earlier always
than I, was Ya at the door
with magnesium tea and
instructions for going
up a mountain,
where, at what possible time
of day! only the underbellies
of leaves were lit in an ardor
every green begins to mean,
and for coming down to find him
who shone at the bottom,
whose elbow I learned to hold
through town a pace behind,
whose students' children gave us
persimmons they had grown
for his moving past, but whispered,
whose white moons in water
under branches on rice paper
were political in ways
I do not feel as Chinese
feel. Anew, his tears. And in those
full, occluded moons
I struggle personally to find
the sky under which I
was a white man waving
which meant leaving him,
unconvinced of the end,
even of the poem I'd not slept
to write against the hostel desk.
It scared me to teach it.
I was as old as he was
when Rock left to die - far off,
at home. With gardens in his name
The Senator from Idaho got a lot of people thinking about a lot of things a couple of weeks ago. Here's my drift on the subject.
he kept hidden
from everyone he knows,
he let live and breath
only among strangers
and the echoing tiles
of public restrooms
it is to live
an incomplete man,
concealing a hidden life
and even from closest friends,
denouncing the life
you must always deny
and was ashamed,
and it is in that shame
the the tragedy
of his life
This next bit by Stephen Berg is hard to describe. It is from Berg's book Porno Diva Numero Uno.
The book is an internal monologue made up of 36 numbered pieces that, read consecutively, form a narrative inspired by an imaginary encounter with the artist Marcel Duchamp. Sometimes the text speaks to Duchamp, sometimes it speaks in Duchamp's vice.
Each of the pieces can also be read separately as a kind of excerpted moment in the monologue. The pieces are dense, poetic and often startling in imagery and (a warning) language. It is not work lightly read.
I'm an art illiterate, so my knowledge of Duchamp's work is mostly limited to the painting used to good effect in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (much better than the original in my opinion) and even there, though I'm sure that was a Duchamp, I wouldn't bet more than maybe $20 that I'm right.
This particular piece of the monologue concerns another Duchamp painting, The Bride Stripped Bare with a scene (seen through a peephole) of woman, headless and naked, lying legs spread on a bed of twigs.
(I should add that the first word of this section, "cure," stands on its own and is not a continuation from the earlier section.)
cure...finally he admitted that the light-on-light theme could
be seen as the entrance to hell as in Kafka's "We human beings
ought to stand before one another as reverently as lovingly as
we would before the entrance to Hell." after all it is you stand-
ing there in full possession of your powers abandoned mobile
and her abandoned perhaps even slain vulnerable if only to your
gaze which she cannot see motionless into eternity although
snapshots of all the paraphernalia the makeshift boards wire
nails bulbs and other shit behind it is a lesson in creation I have
heard those who feel she is a religious figure caught in an atti-
tude of prayer of course this goes unrecognized beseeching all
and everyone completely given over to her task of waiting sur-
render like St. Teresa inviting God into her her task of mystic
affliction which seems to use the epitome of possible pleasure
disgust whereas she is in another world of her own we fail to
realize as ours fail to share standing there seeking what she has
already found I think see what we interpret and fail to see her
condition of easy rapture we look at her release and are aware
of our attitude of high-minded scrutiny and recoiling surprise
the word fuck scrawled across our ideals subway graffiti follow-
ing her right leg up into the cunthole then fairly sharp right
along the other leg up bent and beyond her lamp the composition
of the trees and sky and beyond that always beyond where the
human voice begins to falter and fade and evaporate and anoth-
er ignorant outcry the heavens us as if it were a problem but
why finally he sang getting too old getting too old in the begin-
ning God in the beginning the word amnesia my cure for amne-
sia eye holes the space of darkness the exploded brick frame then
this incredible girl being given to you mere image uttered
Coleridge passion upon passion until the light's nothing but
light given to you as all is
no voice among the voices of ignorance I need to give love love
might be the one among so many whispering ignorance igno-
rance ignorance what do I really know how can I dare to speak
Socrates talked himself to death on this road the road leading to
silence the platitude of silence how can a man teach this to a
man or an angel teach it to a man or to an angel Augustine sang
his prayer to God and Time friends age and die so far always
somebody else stunned by the body's change could it be that
beneath the daily men death and ignorance have made a pact to
destroy us or in the right frame of mind save us the way I placed
the lighted body of the female across our path of sight in a
country setting but with a door in front of which suggests a
house which is not there creating depth and shock almost like
stumbling on a carcass one sunny afternoon on the way to a pic-
nic (or finding her left like that after a chance meeting) I would
like to be the I that can sing about death and love ignorance
time to inspire people to live but what is the song? which
words? what order? "Be not daunted thereby nor terrified not
awed. That is the radiance of thine on true nature Recognize
it" who said that?
Here's a short piece by Tupac Shakur from the book The Rose That Grew From Concrete published by MTV Books after his death in 1999.
Carmencita of the Bronx
u saw innocence at its best
I wanted u more that I wanted me
I remember my last thought at night was of u
and my first thought in the morning was of u
It has been a long time since I've actually
sat and adored u but every once in a while
your beautiful smile guides me through a day
I hear u R with another and u R expecting
I wish you good luck he is lucky 2 be able
2 wake up 2 u each morning
c u in heaven!
I wrote this one last week also. Again, too much news.
commies need to make a living, too
back cover of Time Magazine,
riding in a limo,
the Berlin Wall,
or something that looks like
the Berlin Wall,
visible through the back
and side windows,
of the second most powerful
nation in the world, former finger
on the button that could unleash
of a nuclear arsenal sufficient
to destroy this world
ten times over
from the back
of a rented limousine
he doesn't look happy
but the pension for former
Soviet dictators is not generous
and he has bills to pay,
so smile for the camera, Gorby,
he says to himself, wondering
why he didn't use a couple of those
back when he had the chance
We have another poem this week from Mexican poet Ramon Lopez Velarde. Born in 1888, Velarde was known in Mexico as the "poet of the provinces" because of his attention to the traditional rural ways of life that disappearing even as he was writing about them. Despite being mostly unknown outside of his native country, after his death at the young age of 33, his reputation grew and he became seen by many of his countrymen as Mexico's national poet.
The poem is from the collection of his work Song of the Heart published by the University of Texas Press in 1995, with translation by Margaret Sayers Peden
Omnichromy of a perfect evening...
The soul, a muted horn,
and the light, sublime,
and fortun, replete,
and Life, a fairy spirit
set free from her prison to love.
In the west, a curl
An angel's overturned inkwell.
The breeze, a doleful
On the golden rapture of the hill,
green vapor, like a dragon's
And the bewitched valley
strains toward a kiss filtering
through the transoms of the horizon.
A time of secrets,
like those know to thimbles
of despairing seamstresses
who entangle heir mortal monologues
in the skein of empty hours.
As secret as you were
in yesterday's hand,
and d'Orsay perfume.
Evening, like a rehearsal of
happiness amid May's petals;
evening, Newton's disk, a time when
spring was smnichromy
and Life a spirit
set free in passive love....
I wrote this several weeks ago, and then it got kind of lost, maybe because I never did come up with a title I liked. So, until I come up with something, it's.....
about the hollywood guy
who tried to suicide
last week reminded me
of a night many years ago
when I tried to talk
a friend out of killing
himself, both of us
and come to think of it
he wasn't that good a friend,
it was just that we were
when we were a few
against the many
and anyone with you
in the few was de facto
I made all the arguments
that occurred to me -
a bad life
being better than
a good death,
the one being a permanent
while the other offered
it not hope of
I spoke of suicide
of family and friends,
of the rare and precious
life force that animates us
as thinking, moral individuals,
I appealed to his curiosity,
who, alive today,
I argued, could not be curious
about the trials and wonderments
of tomorrow, who, I asked,
with any pretensions as an
could voluntarily leave the scene
with that curiosity unsatisfied,
many such similar points
I tried to make as the night wore on
and in the end,
we both went to bed
and in the morning both woke
to take our shift, both still alive,
if ferociously hung over,
and that night
was never spoken of again
We have a poem now from Diane Glancy from her book Lone Dog's Winter Count published by West End Press in 1991.
White Words You Can Hardly See Against The Sky
I travel as if at the end of the world the whole tribe crosses the
sky while I'm left in the burning cornfield. Or if at death, when
the spirit walks to the window & out across the yard leaving the
bones under the quilt in bed. The pattern made with the old dress-
scraps while the days I wore them have skipped. That dress
with the red button missing I sewed with blue thread. You know
there are times we are not ourselves but joined as a maple leaf
again to the tree. Imagine tying it back with thread from the tin
box on the shelf. & you think of the world inflated as a knuckle-
bone half-buried in the flesh of your hand. The marble in the
museum dug from some yard in Indian Territory. As if a farm-
pond were taken out of the dirt & another were put on top of it,
upside down, surface to surface without spilling! That's a circle!
The moon round as the face of a warrior who sees the Great
Spirit. NO! The Whole head.
Another poem that came to me last week as reward for paying too much attention to the news of the day.
a queer bird
I saw this
in a supermarket
parking lot this morning
when they're on the ground,
that is they jump
with both feet off the ground
from step to step
jumping first on one leg
then on the other
there were no other blackbirds
so I'm wondering if this one
only when he's by himself
or if he also skips
in front of his peers
and if he does
while all the other blackbirds
what do they think about it
do they seem him
while they're hopping
and talk about him
behind his back,
look at that queer
bird, skipping over there,
and do they wonder,
where did he learn to do
he must be some kind of artist
or maybe a poet,
do they invite him to all their
to demonstrate what liberal
the prize skipper
every party needs
for a touch of cosmopolitan
do they ostracize him
as some kind of dirty,
who refuses to hop
like all the rest but insists
do they whisper
when they talk about skipping,
do they shutter in a display of
when they say the word,
do they tell bad jokes
about the two skippers
on vacation in idaho,
do they all wonder in secret
how it would feel to be skipping,
a word they young blackbirds
use to taunt others, those
hop with less authority
or with a little bit too much
I watched the little blackbird
as he skipped past my car
a happy little
We will end this week with a excerpt from Marfan a book-length poem by Peter Reading. The book is an uneven, barely connected collection of poems about Marfa, Texas
Marfa, Texas is a small town in the mountainous Trans-Pecos region of Southwest Texas.
Marfa is situated at the junction of U.S. Highway 67 and 90 in a geographic area is known as the Marfa Plateau, a highland plain at the upper corner of the largest desert in North America, the Chihuahuan Desert, extending far into Mexico. The desert is considered a "shrub desert" foliated with yuccas, agaves, grasses, creosote bushes, prickly pear and Mormon teas. Other plants of the desert are the larger white-thorn acacia, althorn and dramatic ocotillo. This arid region exhibits diverse geology from the sedimentary areas of the Marathon Basin and Glass Mountains to the volcanic field of the Davis Mountains, Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. The Permian Reef is exposed to the north in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Marfa is located at an altitude of 4,830 above sea level in a semiarid region with many dry stream beds that can fill quickly with summer thunderstorms. Texas mountain ranges ring the town of Marfa with the Davis Mountains to the North (highest peak, Mt. Livermore, 8378 feet), the Chisos Mountains to the southeast and the Chinati Mountains to the southwest. The highest pass in Texas, Paisano pass (5,074 ft.) is situated 12 miles to the east between the twin mountains near Alpine, Texas.
Marfa has long been known for the "Marfa Lights," unexplained multicolored lights that seem to zip around in the desert badlands between Marfa and the mountains.
It is beginning to be knows among certain groups as a way-the-hell-and-gone-middle-of-nowhere arts colony.
Reading, the poet, won the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1990, and in 1998-1999 held the first Lannan Foundation Literary Residency. His first eighteen collections of poetry were published in hardback and paper back in 1995 in his two-volumn Collected Poems - 1970-1994 and, in 1996, Collected Poems - 1985-1996. The book Marfan was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2000.
To give you a taste of this long poem, I'm using some of the poem's beginnin lines. I'll be pulling additional stuff from it in future weeks.
look eastward from the back porch in late June:
Venus ascends, one hour before the Sun,
over the water-tower (which fecund belly
sustains this drought-town's viability).
"Ain't none knows whar she comes from, o whar shay's goin."
"Jus rides that burro roun from place to place."
"Ya sees her whan yer least expectin it...."
The Burro Lady ties her moke to a post
at Chuy's (now defunct) Mexican Diner
and goes for coffee into Dairy Queen.
She has the frisson-fright air of a gypsy -
gaudily-cloured wrap-arounds, plastic flip-flops
with spurs incongruously fixed at the heels.
The burro, draped with saddle-bags and blankets,
is pale, pale, pale, pale in this evening's light.
I don't know what they signify, but it's scary.
The moon rises and the sun falls and we come to the end of another issue of "Here and Now."
Not quite. Before we go, I want to repeat these lines from Whitman, the three most empowering lines I've ever read, three lines that encapsulate him, his work, and his attraction to us, words that speak for all of us. We are, Whitman implies, like him, each and everyone, "multitudes," armed as we face life with the natural right of contradiction.
"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large. I contain multitudes.)"
As always, this issue of "Here and Now" is produced by and the property of me.