Desert Fog Like A Blue Sea Rising
Saturday, October 27, 2007
And we're back with another issue of "Here and Now." More good things this week - welcome and enjoy.
This is a good and timely poem to start with this week. It's by Tony Hoagland from his book donkey gospel, published by Graywolf Press in 1998.
I'm driving on the dark highway
when the opera singer on the radio
opens his great mouth
and the whole car plunges down the canyon of his throat.
So the night becomes an aria of stars and exit signs
as I steer through the galleries
of one dilated Italian syllable
after another. I love the passages in which
the rich flood of the baritone
strains out against the walls of the esophagus,
and I love the pauses
in which I hear the tenor's flesh labor to inhale
enough oxygen to take the next plummet
up into the chasm of the violins.
In part of the song, it sounds as if the singer
is being squeezed by an enormous pair of tongs
while his head and legs keep kicking.
In part of the song, it sounds as if he is
standing in the middle of a coliseum,
swinging a 300-pound lion by the tail,
the empire of gravity
conquered by the empire of acrodynamics,
the citadel of pride in flames
and the citizens of weakness
celebrating their defeat in chorus,
joy and suffering made one at last,
joined in everything a marriage is alleged to be,
though I know the women he is singing for
is dead in a foreign language on the stage beside him,
though I know his chain mail is made of silver-painted plastic
and his mismanagement of money is legendary,
as I know I have squandered
most of my own life
in a haze of trivial distractions,
and that I will continue to waste it.
but whenever I was going, I don't care anymore,
because no place I could arrive at
is good enough for this, this thing made out of experience
but to which experience will never measure up
and that dark and soaring fact
is enough to make me renounce the whole world
or fall in love with it forever.
We had a long-awaited weather event this past week. Here's what I wrote about it.
don't scare her
son of a
on his ass
for a couple
Next, I have the title poem from the book Sister Betty Reads the Whole You by Susan Holahan. The book was published by Gibbs-Smith Publisher in 1998.
Sister Betty Reads the Whole You
Some people are too nervous to have hands on their head.
Some people don't like you inspecting them, so I keep my
eyes down. I look at hands.
A picture for you now: tops of trees against a gray sky. A
bird flying. Wind blowing. The bird looks like a hawk. You
were in a deep well. The only way to be free was to look up.
I begin to see you in a house of worship. Musty. With a long
pole you're reaching up, opening stained-glass windows,
letting in the light, In that life you were a sexton. Windows
were your job. You listened to the choir practice. You drank
but you were forgiven. You were kept on - housed, clothed,
fed. In that lifetime you brought your feet to the church.
I see a child in a swing, the kind that boxes you in. Up or
down you can't fall out. That is a mood swing; nowhere to
fall except into your own being. That's why you chose the
mother you did. Who could give you more mistrust?
Give up the illusion that the distraught, angry mother
is God. No longer tell yourself you must be perfect to be
San Antonio's David Kelly returns to us this week with his dry wit intact.
If I were an ostrich I'd run around nude
Astounding each person I met.
They'd all note of my status; unhatted, unshoed,
And they'd be quite surprised, you can bet
I'd gobble down hammers and tacks by the tray,
And drink pots of ink and old glue
and I'd bury my head (for I love a cliche)
In the sand; it's what ostriches do.
With lions about I might tremble with fear,
But each zebra'd be properly scored.
That's how I'd react if you chanced to come near,
So consider yourself to be warned.
Now, from The Longman Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, my son's textbook that the college bookstore wouldn't buy back, I have a poem by Michael Harper.
We Assume: On the Death of
Our Son, Reuben Masai Harper
that in the 28 hours,
lived in a collapsible isolette,
you learned to accept pure oxygen
as the natural sky;
the scant shallow breaths
that filled those hours
cannot, did not make you fly -
but dreams were there
like crooked palmprints on
the twin-thick windows of the nursery --
in the glands of you mother.
the sterile hands
drank chemicals in and out
from lungs opaque with mucus,
pumped your stomach,
eked the bicarbonate in
crooked, green-winged veins,
out in a plastic mask;
A woman who'd lost her first son
consoled us with an angel gone ahead
to pray for our family -
gone into that sky
gone into autopsy,
a fine brown powdered sugar,
a disposable cremation:
you did not know we loved you.
We haven't heard from out good friend Alice Folkart in a while as she was otherwise occupied dealing with a move from California to Hawaii.
Well, she's back now with a couple of poems from her experiences during a visit to Japan.
Tokyo Cyber Cafe
My cubicle at WIP, the cyber cafe in Ogikubo,
third from the left, number 11, on the
fourth floor of a twelve-foot wide building,
above a bowling alley and darts club,
below, an indoor tennis academy,
and somewhere in here,
a dental surgeon and wigmaker,
not one in the same, I hope.
It's home to me, and they're very nice.
For about $5 an hour I get a good chair,
all the tea, coffee or corn soup I can consume
and a library of tens of thousands
of porno comic books to be read in private booths
way in the back, where it's dark and scary.
There are showers too, and towels and slippers
for sale along with bags of potato chips
and girlie magazines and any brand of cigarette you'd like.
I think I'm the only poet.
I'm certainly the only foreigner and maybe
the only nonsmoker and non-porno reader-player in the place.
They don't bother me. I don't bother them.
Don't ask. Don't tell. People don't look at each other here.
The whole point is anonymity. Valuable commodity here
in Tokyo where everyone huddles together in the same living room
even in the park or on the sidewalk and especially in the train station.
ON TIME in Tokyo a Very Big Deal
We stand at the bus stop
topped by new spring green
8:04 the big blue bus is due
Short man ahead of us,
packaged in a dark-blue overcoat,
brief case at the ready
Hey, Eddie, it is Sunday,
where are you going?
He's in a hurry,
full of worry,
checks his watch,
would scratch his crotch
if we couldn't see.
Doesn't look at me,
so, I check mine.
He peers accusingly at the
posted schedule, is it wrong?
What's taking it so long,
Yup, should be here,
at 8:04, open the door.
The unthinkable fate.
It is late.
He leans from the curb
not to disturb, but to search the street.
Just one bus from the fleet,
where is it?
Not here, Oh Dear!
Checks his watch again.
I check mine.
Consults the timetable again,
a wren watching with her little eye
from way up high in a branchy tree,
this time he looks very close
as if that will bring the bus into focus.
Checks his wrist in a businesslike way,
pulse or watch, I cannot say.
8:07 says my Timex, smiling up at me.
Four of us wait, in a state,
rebellion brewing, people stewing,
but, there, there it comes,
the bus, just out of reach
beached beyond a red light.
Stopped, we mopped our foreheads,
got out our change at its approach,
boarded at exactly 8:08
four minutes LATE!
Now I have a poem by Ralph Angel from his book Neither World published by Miami University Press in 1995. I picked the book up a couple of weeks ago, but don't think I've used anything from it yet. At the time the book was published, Angel taught in the writing program at the University of Redlands in California. For the most part, his poems are not easy reads, which is probably the reason this is my first use of his work.
And then the head is at odds with the body.
And then the head strangles your way of thinking.
But don't get me wrong. It's not
that I'm saying life's taking us nowhere,
if I'm not saying yes, I'm a liar, a liar who does not
dwell in the shadow of his own home -
kind of your average, respectable, two-bit junkie
who thinks he knows what he's after,
and what he's after is nightmare. Concussive. Brutal.
ritual of eluding detection rising up and taking
shape with flaring nostrils and enormous hands,
and if it just happens to be pain that he's in right now,
well, at least, pain is who he is for a while.
No big deal. Out loud
the pulse quickens and, very loudly, prolongs itself.
Anger slams the door on a mettlesome friend of a friend,
and then I am boredom paying for groceries,
most happy when you chew on my chin
in luxurious sweat, in our sexual oil,
exhaustion on the subway back to the city. The fact is
I can only hear one part of myself at a time.
And it's late. And I'm tired. And it sounds like
all or nothing. A fistful of thirst and a cup of hot tea,
the silence shame gathers into no boundary
The robe. The pocketknife. The loaves of bread.
Mud on the carpets. The shatter of leaves.
The wonder, the wonder, the wonder.
Here's another from Alice Folkart. If you'll look at the first letter of each line, you'll see that this is an Abcdarian. I'm hopeless at doing this kind of thing, any form, actually, but I do admire those who can.
Getting There - Tokyo Subway
Absolute chaos down those stairs.
Bent like pipe cleaners - people conform
crushing each other only slightly,
defeating the design of the boxes on wheels,
engineer's dreams realized here, underground.
Fighting and fright not allowed down here.
Gathering momentum, the train burrows into the dark,
hoping for a safe arrival (aren't we all?)
Implicitly believing in the system. quirk-backed old ladies
jumping on and off trains, count the tiles in the floor,
keeping it all to themselves, canes at the ready.
Leaning into each other, we pack ourselves in
Making it work in a snuggly, wiggly way.
Nobody complains, each is necessarily alone.
Other people can't exist. There wouldn't be room.
Pointless to worry, just wedge in and go.
Quote bible verses, recite the Sutras, silent chant.
Remote control in the hands of Japan East Railways.
Sobriety is not a requirement.
Tempered and trusting, truant from reality.
Unwavering and steadfast like obedient dogs we go.
Verdict? None. No judgment here.
Why not? What for? Where would it get us?
Xenophobics need not apply.
Your trip is the same as mine, man.
Zero tolerance and complete bliss.
From the anthology (huge anthology) The Outlaw bible of American Poetry, here's Dominique Lowell, known by many contemporary poets as "the Janis Joplin of spoken word." She is the author of two books, Pile and Bitch.
Bike Messenger Leading the People
An Anarchy Poem. It's Devil's Night in Detroit
I burn my own house down cause it ain't my house
it's your house
your shit your shit your shit
incitement to riot
burn it down burn it down burn it down burn it
down burn it down
there's so much paper
burn it down burn it down burn it down
the kindling's there for the fuel for the fire
it would glow burn beautiful orange liking flames
paper paper paper paper
it's all just fuel for the fire
the big bonfire
violence against buildings
violence against property
the ultimate act of rebellion
and I'm gonna build me a guillotine
at One Sansome
right by The Wall
right where it says "The Sharper Image"
grab these fuckers by the hair
drag em by their power nooses
and chop their lousy heads off
it's French Revolution time
burn it down
and there'll be a huge famous painting of me
bike messenger leading the people
43 years she said
43 years I was chained to a desk
43 years I pushed around rubber bands and paper
clips and xerox memos
43 years and I hated every goddamn minute of it
now I drink in cheap bars
now I wait for my landlord to sell my building so he
can toss me on the street
43 years of all that paper paper
pushin pushin paper
of being an appliance part of the hardware the
43 years of being no one for a paycheck
well you know what I say
all these buildings the skyscrapers
all that chrome and glass filled with all that paper
well we could have ourselves
one hella Molotov cocktail
all we need is a little gasoline
just one match
light the fucking match
what are we waiting for?
all these people in their starched white shirts
who act like they own the street and the sidewalk
and the fucking world
because they do
burn it down
burn it down burn it down burn it down burn it
in my way I am
lost in the forgotten guts
of dead office equipment souls
Jesus came to the marketplace
Jesus came to Market street and He said
burn it down
all you buyers and sellers He said
burn it down
you profane my world
I am riding my bicycle through the den of lepers
and I am trying to remain unscathed
and me well I'm a white slime maggot
I was fed television and twinkies
and the scroungy ethics
of depression children parents
one who can't throw way a piece of wilted lettuce
one who buys crates of the finest just to watch it rot
we are the refuse of a decaying system
we are products of decay
but oh! the fragrant twisted beauty of death
the rollicking waltz to be danced
come on come on come on
light the match
Well, I can't rant with the force of Dominique Lowell, but I do have my causes.
This poem is from my book Seven Beats a Second.
let's go shoot a big fat capitalist
a flack for the Safari Club
defends the sporting ways
of his wealthy employers
look, he begins,
with a nod that says
of elephants in Africa
shooting a few
is no threat to the species
in fact, he adds
is good for elephants
thins the herd, you know
insures sufficient resources
for those that remain
we love these elephants,
and only do what we must
for the good of the herd
I say, of course
all for the good of the herd
I have a poem now by Brian Blanchfield from his first collection Not Even Then, published by the University of California Press in in 2004.
Branchfield teaches in the B.F.A. creative writing program at Pratt Institute of Art.
Even Funnier Than Pretending To Do It
Is Actually Doing It
Action. Mania, monster to follow. A searchlight against our window
above the block they closed off to shoot the Godzilla remake woke me.
The neck of the crane was nuzzling the cathedral downstairs, an edit away
from fantasy. Zoom at will. You were still asleep. More perfect than I:I
is no scale. I thought about it again.
The day we met, my friend Bethesda's boyfriend explained - about
having let his roommate Manhattan crawl in bed with him every night
she'd been gone - what's even funnier than pretending to do it. And he
actually laughed, she said, and cried. It is funny, in actuality. Like
sitting, standing, walking, sleeping isn't it.
An actual secret takes time, and a here-on-out, hypnosis.
When we went down for Chinese, every doorway had soldiers under
walkmen, doomed extras waiting to shoot the illusion. What is
not razing, scorching, swatting, lashing? What good is camouflage on
And does Tokyo come back from something like this? In the original,
they had to recreate everything in miniature and fill the screen, steady
the camera. Now in New York, you put the succubus in afterward.
Tanks edge, troops scramble, live, aiming for its eyes, for platforms on
the craning crane head, a storey above us. The commotion is incomplete,
an engine of cries withheld. Not so laughs.
There is a light trapped in my eyes which doesn't go when I close
them. I crouch over you to see you, to make sure of you. The director
calls for Continuity to prepare a second take, a mayhem more the same.
I am thinking about it again. I am doing it, this time on location.
Pandemonium never sleeps. You cannot pretend.
Gail Tremblay was born in 1945 in Buffalo, New York. She is Iroquois, MicMac, French and English. She is an artist and a poet, showing her art internationally and her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals.
Her poem is from Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry.
Night Gives Old Woman the Word
behind the echo
of the wind. Mind
is trapped by patterns
in the sound.
Night works a spell -
Moon spills her naked light.
Reflected fire illuminates.
the ground. The pull
of night words makes Earth-Woman
give off heat. Soil glistens
dampened by her sweet.
Corn seed feels the planet's turn,
unrolls her root,
prepares to send a shoot
above the dirt. Moon
attracting water in the veins
makes corn leaves uncurl
and probe nocturnal air.
The leaves stretch out
to catch the coming dew.
Clan mother, watching,
hears the planets move.
Old, clan mother listens
to the words - all nature
speaks as slowly seasons
turn - marked by the waxing,
waning Moon; messages
become imprinted on old bones.
Earth works in dark
as well as light. Life
moves in constant spiral
through the sky. We plant;
we harvest, and, at last,
we feast. Clan mother listens
and is filled with thanks.
Night murmurs and plants
grow in the fields.
Old Woman hears dark
speak the ancient word.
I'm doing another poem this week by our friend from New Zealand, Thane Zander. I usually try to avoid using the same poet two weeks in a row, but I do so like the stuff he's been doing lately.
Drying an apron on the hot element
You know the feeling
nothing going right
life a crock of shit
the phone's been silent for weeks
the cat scratches your legs
mail is all bills
and the winning lotto tickets alludes you
so burn your favourite apron on a hot stove
smoke out the house
burn all the mail
carpets ringing wet from buckets
carried from the bathroom to the kitchen
the neighbours see the smoke
ring the fire brigade to poop on your party
why did they do that, you don't know them
the fire is out when the big red engine
with the noisy siren directs attention to your plight
a policeman passing races in to clear the house
sees you standing with your last bucket
the burnt rag on the stove
rings the psychiatric assessment team
to assess you
fuck the damage
it's you they're worried about.
You mention the bills and the lotto ticket
as if that will stop the process
burly firemen assess the damage,
place the rag in the closed bin
turn the element off
turn to have a private chat with the cop
seems this is the third time in a few months
yes psychiatric help needed.
You sit in the corner, light a smoke
not realizing it's a doobie
the cop grasps the weed and tosses it in the bin,
"You don't need that where you are going"
where are your family
where are your friends
what happened to the world you knew,
the job long gone, too weak to work
the policeman sums it up,
"Been a hard few months huh"
You stand up and go to the bathroom
lock the door
take a leak
light another smoke, a real one this time
open the window (as you don't smoke inside)
the cop bangs on the door
you give him silence
he knocks harder
the fireman pokes his head in the window
says everything's ok
you close the window,
close your life
say good bye to your home
exit the bathroom
close all the windows, lock the door
let the cop lead you out
and for the third time in your life
you're lead away to the Ward
to recover from another depression.
Audre Lorde, 1934-1992, was the author of ten volumes of poetry and five books of prose. This poem is from one of those collections of poetry, The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1994.
your greathouse looms
between me and the sun.
Shell-smells on the morning wind.
You are younger than my daughter
the boy you hold is blond
the moon is new.
My sloping land brings our eyes level
"Welcome, neighbor," I begin.
Were we enemies in another life
or do your eyes always turn to flint
when meeting a Black woman
face to face?
Your child speaks first.
"I don't like you," he cries
"Are you coming to babysit me?"
Here's another poem I wrote last week.
as big as
and family stories
a turning point
hope for the
than he's ever
I have two poems from the anthology This Same Sky, put together and edited by Naomil Shihab Nye. The first poem is by a poet you probably never heard of, unless maybe you're from Denmark, and the second is a Nobel Prize winner from Mexico
The first poem is by the Danish poet, Benny Andersen. He was a musician before becoming well known for his children's book, radio and television comedies, and collections of short stories and poems. The poem was translated by Alexander Taylor.
I've always tried to be good
it's very demanding
I'm a real hound for
doing something for someone
get someone a job
open up my arms
let someone have his cry on my shirt
but when I get a chance
I freeze up completely
some kind of shyness maybe
I urge myself - do it
fling your arms wide
but it's difficult to sacrifice yourself
when somebody's watching
so hard to be good
for more than a few minutes
like holding your breath
however with daily practice
I have worked up to a whole hour
if nobody disturbs me
I sit all alone
with my watch in front of me
spreading my arms
again and again
no trouble at all
I am certainly best
when I'm all alone.
The next poem is by Mexico's Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz.
The poem was translated by Eliot Weinberger.
A Tree Within
A tree grew inside my head.
A tree grew in.
Its roots are veins,
its branches nerves,
thoughts its tangled foliage.
Your glance sets it on fire,
and its fruits of shade
are blood oranges
and pomegranates of flame.
Day breaks in the body's night.
There, within, inside my head,
the tree speaks.
Come closer - can you hear it?
This is the first poem I had published when I returned to writing in 1999, after thirty years of being too busy elsewhere. Actually written in 1969, It appeared in the January, 2000 print issue of Maelstrom. It's a bit of a strange little thing and seems to fit well here between the Paz piece and Cummings.
she said tome
in her low voice
as I moved closer
she said to me
into his corner
in the shallow shadows
of his silver sombrero
she cried to me
I never think of e. e. cummings as a writer of war/antiwar poems and am always a little surprised when I run across poems written from his experience as an ambulance driver in the WWI. I usually think of him as writing from some alternate universe, somehow aloof from regular things like wars.
odd what pops into
your jolly tete when the
jolly shells begin dropping fast you
hear the rrmp and
- I say
that's jolly odd
jolly odd isn't
it jolly odd
come gaze with me upon this dome
of many coloured glass, and see
his mother's pride, his father's joy,
upon whom duty whispers low"
"thou must!" and who replies "I can't"
- yon clean upstanding well dressed boy
that with his peers full oft hath quaffed
the wine of life and found it sweet -
a tear within his stern blue eye,
upon his firm white lips a smile,
one thought alone:to do or die
for God for country and for Yale
above his blond determined head
the sacred flag of truth unfurled,
in the bright heyday of his youth
the upper class American
unsullied stands,before the world:
with manly heart and conscience free,
upon the front steps of her home
by the high minded pure young girl
much kissed,by loving relatives
well fed,and fully photographed
the son of man goes forth to war
with trumpets clap and syphilis
Here's a short poem by our friend Dave Ruslander, from his book Voices In My Head.
I thought happiness rode these tracks
before my veins blew
and I lost the map to the future.
My mind is a cobblestone street
down which the dragon walks
I'd go straight
but all I see are corners.
Next, I've got a couple pages of what I call the journals of Julia Alvarez from her book Homecoming. I suppose I should quit calling her work here a journal, even though they seem so real to me, because, in a way, it takes less than full account of her creative art.
Homecoming, published in 1984, was her first book. She has been very busy since then, writing more books of poetry, essays, and fiction then I can list here.
She was a poet in the schools for the Kentucky Arts Commission from 1975 to 1977. In that capacity she visited elementary schools, high schools, colleges and communities throughout the state conducting writing workshops and giving readings.
In 1978, she served in the same capacity with senior citizens in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1978 under the aegis of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Arts Council of Fayetteville. This project produced an anthology, Old Age Ain't For Sissies. She also conducted workshops in English and Spanish at Mary Williams Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware sponsored by the Delaware Arts Council and the Wilmington School District. This project produced an anthology, Yo Soy/I Am.
Alvarez taught English and creative writing at California State University, Fresno, College of the Sequoias, Phillips Andover Academy, University of Vermont, George Washington University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before coming to Middlebury College as an assistant professor in 1988. She was promoted to full professor in 1996 and resigned her tenured position to write full time in 1998. The college created the position of writer-in-residence for her, where she continues to teach creative writing on a part-time basis, advise Latino students, and serve as an outside reader for creative writing theses by English majors.
During this period she also published her second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, which was made into a movie by Salma Hayek.
Her most recent book, which I just saw in a Borders last week, is nonfiction, Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA.
Greg's got custody of Sally and wants
to fall in love with a stepmother so
Sally can have a mommie like her friends
in daycare and draw to bit sticks hold-
ing a little stick with a happy face
between them. They come over to my place,
Sally sits on Dad's lap and sucks her thumb,
hungrily or sadly, we ask which one?
She doesn't know the words for what she feels
yet, so she shrugs her answer. Don't worry,
I'm okay. We play Alphabet. Greg says,
A, and I answer, Apple. Sally laughs,
unstoppering her mouth. We have a ways
before we get to the letter for love.
I ask a married friend about a man.
Listen, she says, pretend, and in the end,
you're not able to tell the difference
between the real and the induced romance.
Remember Hamlet tells his wayward mom,
"Assume a virtue if you haven't one,
the next night will be easier to be good"?
Whether this man was meant to be your true
and everlasting love's beside the point.
After a time all lovers disappoint
their loves, that's when a marriage starts!
And then, his well-off, considerate, good heart
will keep you happier much longer than
some true love you mistook for a husband.
Now, one last thing from me.
gone to sheep
I've always tried
to go my own way
though oft times
it was more the trail
of drift than direction
but which ever way,
I stuck to it
with a combination
of hope and stubborn
denial of other paths
- how necessary it is
in this world for the hopeful
to be of stubborn faith -
like my ancestors,
those german settlers
convinced that the rocky
hills of central texas
could be made into
in the end,
went to sheep,
just as I lost,
as the years pass,
my loss seems less
at the time
for I, too, have gone
to sheep, these white pages
that graze on my memory
and imagination, seeking
to some hopeful
Before closing, I want to mention that Jessica Reyna and Thomas Costales, two photographers whose first presentation to the public of their work was on "Here and Now," will be included in a show of several photograpers presented by LeArtWorks at Casa Chiapas on November 2nd as part of Southtown's monthly First Friday Art Walk.
Those readers from San Antonio might want to stop by and take a look. As usual on First Friday there will be art, music, good street food and lots of people.
Drop in on South St. Marys in the evening on November 2nd and take in the scene.
Speaking of the scene, as usual, all of the work presented in this blog is owned by its creators. The blog itself is the property of and produced by me....allen itz.