Life Below the Tree Line
Friday, March 06, 2009
Time passes, two months of the year gone and here's another "Here and Now" for your enjoyment.
This week we have these assorted goodies:
Miichael Van Walleghen
"how i was introduced to the life of a layabout latte lizard"
"We Are National Treasures"
"Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse"
"You Spoke as a Child"
"the doubter's prayer"
"Cantos of Particles and Waves"
"in the news today"
"This be the Verse"
"writing my morning poem at the end of the day"
Dan finds a web-report explaining the similarities between dead mules and investment banking.
"big news in the astrophysical world"
"L.A. Scene at a Restaurant Called 'One'"
"The Artist Thinks, 'So This is Me'"
"hoodat hoosay hoodat"
Wowsers - Something that almost looks like a "table of contents" - Going uptown tonight.
My first two poems this week are by Michael Van Walleghen, from his book Blue Tango published by the University of Illinois Press 1989. He has published six books of poetry, including four since Blue Tango. Before retirement he was a Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was the first director of the MFA in Creative Writing program created there in 2003.
I rang his doorbell
every day for a month
I knocked on his windows
I kicked hard at this door
with my frozen Redwing boot.
It was winter of course
A month of deep snow. And
I could see from his slurred
footprints that he was home.
He was there all right
reading the paper, watching
the tube maybe - the bastard.
He owed me five dollars.
Christmas was coming up.
And I was twelve years old
and ordinary paper boy
freezing my ass off, trying
to collect, that's all. Then
the door opens. A hot
sour wind, like cabbage
boiled in piss, springs up
from deep inside somewhere
and almost knocks me down.
"Here, you want it?" a voice
is saying. "Here take it!"
And a shower of quarters
nickels, dimes goes sailing
past me over the porch rail.
When I look back, the door
is closed again, or rather
almost closed. A dirty foot
I remember his dirty foot
poking out into the snow
the filthy yellow thickness'
of the toenails, the dead
gray, socklike grime
that covered it...I never saw
his face. I was too young
even to imagine it. I just
dug up the money I could
and ran home to the stoic
misery of my own dumb feet
thawing in a yellow dishpan.
small, snow-white, delicate
they hurt for a long time
and looked all wrong somehow.
My face looked wrong...staring
back from the kitchen window
where it was night already
and the night looked wrong.
as if there might be nothing
out there, that owed me anything.
It was getting late
it was time for supper
but we had this rat
trapped in an oil drum
and there was a hole
in the drum. Someone
had better do something
drop a brake drum on it
or better yet, perfect
if we could ever lift it
one of those fossil-looking
we'd spotted in the weeds...
On the other hand, suppose
we missed the goddamn thing
suppose we only crippled it?
We'd have to burn it then
or maybe we could drown it
if we plugged the hole somehow
if we had a hose or something
if even now the streetlights
might cease their flickering
and night not fall not fall
upon that fussy, worried knot
of small, good children there
in the twittering field
where the nightmare rats
were not afraid of anything
and swarmed and swarmed
Here's a little story about my transition to a new way of life.
how i was introduced to the life of a layabout latte lizard
i came in
like i usually do,
shivered a bit cause
it's coolish outside
which is not the normal
state of affairs around here,
and ordered my medium latte,
just as i always do, and
sat down to read the Times
and write this little morning
on the state of my mind this a.m.
and the state of my mind this a.m.
relates to the latte situation
and how i became hostage to the latte-nation
a day like this,
except it was hot not cold
and night not morning
and i ordered a decaf coffee
as i usually did pre-medium latte days
and Crystal, the barrista of yore,
said, oh my gosh, we're out of decaf
and i said oh, double-gosh,
i must have my coffee and being it is night
i must have decaf lest i not sleep until
2 a.m. of the wee early morning
demonstrating her secret barrista-wisdom,
though i do not have decaf coffee
at this juncture of the space-time continuum,
i can, most quickly, make you a decaf latte
on the first latte
of my hitherto unwashed in the blood of the latte life
that's the story of that
Here's a piece by Margaret Atwood, from her book Two-Headed Poems published by Simon and Schuster in 1978. Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, feminist and activist.
The title poem is an eleven part piece, too long to use in full here. Instead, I've selected three of the pieces that might encourage you to find the full poem somewhere.
"Joined Head to Head, and still alive"
Advertisement for Siamese Twins,
Canadian National Exhibition, c. 1954 -
The heads speak sometimes singly, sometimes
together, sometimes alternately within a poem.
Like all siamese twins, they dream of separation.
Well, we felt
we were almost getting somewhere
through how that place would differ
from where we've always been, we
couldn't tell you
and then this happened,
this joke or major quake, a rift
in the earth, now everything
in the place is falling south
into the dark pit left by cincinnati
after it crumbled.
this rubble is the future,
pieces of bureaucrats, used
bumper stickers, public names
returnable as bottles.
Our fragments made us.
What will happen to the children,
not to mention the words
we've been stockpiling for ten years now,
defining them, freezing them, storing
them in the cellar.
Anyone asked us who we were, we said
just look down there.
So much for the family business.
It was too small anyway
to be, as they say, viable.
But we weren't expecting this,
the death of shoes, fingers
dissolving from our hands,
atrophy of the tongue,
the empty mirror,
the sudden change
from ice to thin air.
Those south of us are lavish
with their syllables. they scatter, we
eat their words, we eat
each other's words, hearts, what's
the difference? In hock
up to our eyebrows, we're still
polite, god knows, to the tourists.
We make tea properly and hold the knife
the right way.
Sneering is good for you
when someone else has cornered
the tree market.
Who was it told us
those who take risks
Surely in your language
no one can sing, he said, one hand
in the small-change pocket.
That is a language for ordering
the slaughter and gutting of hogs, for
counting stacks of cans. Groceries
are all you are good for. Leave
the soul to us. Eat shit.
In these cages, barred crates,
feet nailed to the floor, soft
funnel down the throat,
we are forced with nouns, nouns,
till our tongues are sullen and rubbery.
We see this language always
and merely as a disease
of the mouth. Also
as the hospital that will cure us,
distasteful but necessary.
It is always a treat to have our good friend Alice Folkart join us at "Here and Now." This is one of her newer poems, posted on Blueline's "House of 30" where the Muse stops in every morning for coffee and a danish. (If you're a poet, you might want to join her/us.)
We Are National Treasures
I am a national treasure
and so are you and
the turtles in the bay,
at break of day that bird that
chimes like a clock
in dawn dimness,
on the way to school,
making obscene noises,
daring each other to laugh.
The world couldn't turn
without us to spin it,
to chew gum, to take out the trash,
cash our checks, drive rusted wrecks
through the sweet streets
of our burgs and towns,
hang nightgowns out to dry,
lie in the sunny grass,
pass the bottle, take a nip,
sip, not gulp, the wine of life.
Now, for two poems by John Ashbery, "America's Greatest Poet," according to Harold Bloom. The poems are from Ashbery's book Where Shall I Wander, published in 2005 by HarperCollins.
Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse
We were warned about spiders, and the occasional famine.
We drove downtown to see our neighbors. None of them were home.
We nestled in yards the municipality had created,
reminisced about other, different places -
but were they? Hadn't we known it all before?
In vineyards where the bee's hymn drowns the monotony,
we slept for peace, joining in the great run.
He came up to me.
It was all as it had been,
except for the weight of the present,
that scuttled the pact we made with heaven.
In truth there was no cause for rejoicing,
nor need to turn around, either.
Were lost just by standing,
listening to the hum of wires overhead.
We mourned that meritocracy which, wildly vibrant,
had kept food on the table and milk in the glass.
In skid-row, slapdash style
we walked back to the original rock crystal he had become,
all concern, all fears for us.
We went down gently
to the bottom-most step. There you can grieve and breathe,
rinse your possessions in the chilly spring.
Only beware the bears and wolves that frequent it
and the shadow that comes when you expect dawn.
You Spoke as a Child
We sat together in the long hall.
There was something I'd wanted to ask you,
a new mood I was after. Something neither posed nor casual.
Outside under a slappy sky the leaves were right on.
They're our own skeletons. And slack was the tautology report.
They don't have bare beds. The children here are as
hunted rabbits, and don't think too much about what comes after.
A suffocated prince summons the septuor,
celestas wax dim and bright in the distance,
what was meant to be distance. You spoke out of the margins.
Something, I think it was one of Alice Folkart's poems in "The House of 30," set me to thinking about how desperate people will reach out to things they shun in less desperate times, religion being a good example. Of course, even then they don't reach out without some hesitations, which i thought were kind of funny.
the doubter's prayer
dear most unlikely
god of fear and weak
minds, hear my prayer
if you exist
and actually care
about stuff like us, please
bring us peace and protect us
from harm in the world you may
or may not have created
should you willing to accept
are in disarray - your stock market,
to take just one example, is in deepest
doo-doo, as are your banks, your big box
retail stores, your automobile manufacturers,
your farmers, your ranchers and your purveyors
of overpriced goods in upscale niche markets
not only that,
but your most worthy of all claimed creations,
is getting old and fat and exceedingly
it's all in the toilet,
as you should very well know
if you really are the all-seeing eye
your PR flacks proclaim you to be, which,
quite frankly, brings into deep doubt
your status as a be-all-end-all master builder
so just in case you actually are king of all this creation,
i would humbly (if reluctantly) pray
that you get back on the job and fix this mess
your creation has slipped into
in your unlikely name
i pray you to make it so, just like the Star Trek guy
who, i have to say, has a much more likely
backstory than your own
and who would probably be an acceptable replacement
to most of us
if you don't demonstrate some
Mr. Fix-it skills pretty darn quick
it's the least you could do
if your really are all you're cracked up to be
(but i doubt it)
Here's a piece by Robert Bonazzi, a poet I've never read before. The poem is from his book Maestro of Solitude, published by Wings Press in 2007.
Born in 1942 in New York City, Bonazzi has also lived in San Francisco, Mexico City, Florida and several Texas cities, including San Antonio. From 1966 until 2000 he edited and published more than one hundred titles under his Latitudes Press imprint.
Cantos of Particles and Waves
only the ego is lonely
because it has no body or place
- Paul Christensen
in perpetual thesis
anti-thesis expanding endlessly
outside parentheses marking past
horizon eternally afloat
in a circular wordplay
inscribed or a page
or merely functional
speech led silently
grand gated prison
circles around itself
center piece of void
herded round scenery
fallen on deaf
Being illuminates becoming
why time ticks art
curves wave shapes change
mind over matter
infinite source eternal
within spirit essence
cycle of spring flowering
swarming insects take wing
over orange grove on
palette of shifting
colors seen as
true solitude pure
exists not except as
mother of pity
self-pity father of ego
imperfection of non-
violence renders violence
facing murderous rapist
lost in contemplating
stars orbit word
foreplay no hands
Tao was then - Zen is now!
milk or sugar
in the tea)
Here are three pieces by our friend Alex Stolis.
My filing system is such that I may have used these before, but, to paraphrase Whitman, I repeat myself? - so I repeat myself.
Repeating a good thing is not a bad thing.
I'm a Sagittarius and enjoy the simple things in life like flowers, bonfires, Chinese art. I'm 5'3", 110lbs, long straight blonde hair. I like to read and listen to music. If you are at all interested send me a message and I'll get back. Box 86345
Tonight, the sky is dressed in black
with gold trim; its silk feet bound
by crisscross moons
it's 2 AM and the crush of water running
in the bathtub next door
sounds like a Chinese fortune
I sit here,
think of cutting my teeth on the scar
that resembles a bird's feather
on your thigh,
to the curve of your hip.
Instead, I cut my teeth
on the round skin of an apple,
picture Madam Butterfly
covered to her neck,
petals and stems floating
around her breasts.
back when misery was glamorous
the streets were tethers that kept us warm and broken,
we were caged with clipped wings
and unshorn hair
tomorrow, loss will be bundled like straw
and left to dry
in a crisp November sun
but for now,
there is no enchantment
there is no warm skin, no angels, no flights
of fancy only the remains of our bones
bleached by the cold
blame it on rain that can shred a conversation
until I love you
turns to later baby
to not a chance motherfucker
the bartender says it's time to go,
winks at me through last call and pretends
to pour a long count
we're all frightened of winter
and its bitter cough, wary of the cold sun
she's got nothing, not even god on her side
but twenty dollars later she drinks
me under the table
it arcs a path through this brittle day
and we get lost in layers of sin
I want to take her home, whisper her name
in my sleep but the only sound left is the clink,
clink of quarters and dimes against glass
waiting for forgiveness to blot out the moon
and erase the dirt from our memories
she tells me there is nowhere
to go but here
and we're running, fast as we can
I'm thinkng it might be a good time for some fun with Shel Silverstein. I was first a fan of Silverstein for his cartoons in Playboy, and didn't know him as a writer of children's books not just for children until his publication in 1974 of Where the Sidewalk Ends. The two poems I'm using this week are from A Light in the Attic, published in 1981 and given to me as a Christmas present in 1982 by my wife. With these two Silverstein books, as well as a beginning collection of Dr. Seuss, we were primed and ready when our son was born in 1983.
I've been working so hard you just wouldn't believe,
And I'm tired!
There's so little time and so much to achieve,
And I'm tired!
I've been lying here holding the grass in its place,
Pressing a leaf with the side of my face,
Tasting the apples to see if they're sweet,
Counting the toes on a centipede's feet.
I've been memorizing the shape of that cloud,
Warning the robins to not chirp so loud,
Shooing the butterflies off the tomatoes,
Keeping an eye out for floods and tornadoes.
I've been supervising the work of the ants
And thinking of pruning the cantaloupe plants,
Timing the sun to see what time it sets,
Calling the fish to swim into my nets,
And I've taken twelve thousand and forty-one breaths,
And I'm TIRED!
Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
And sang that same old Whatif song:
Whatif I'm dumb in school?
Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there's poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don't grown taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won't bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don't grown in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!
To more or less repeat a line from a TV show I liked last year than this year, "Burn Notice," a newspaper can be a deadly weapon if it falls into the wrong hands. Then there's this thing I did with a newspaper a couple of weeks ago.
in the news today
from our TV Land
"Lucy & Ethel's Secret Adventure"
for this headline news update
shuttle launch postponed againin
for parking meter change
suspect in slayings of 2 cops kills self
to be given marksman training
so they might better get it right the first time
Chicago shooting kills 3 teenagers
for acne not yet
drought to halt water for farms
saved for priority uses -
no water for swimming pools,
in tiny bikinis -
mental health of Hollywood
producers on the line
Clintons' cat Socks dies at 18
eyewitness to Monicagate
is laid to rest -
tell-all memoir due next year
holocaust-denier bishop to depart
some convicts to get amnesty
human rights advocates
terms of amnesty -
kissing the robe of
the Great Oz
just goes too far
boat cuts ice, rescues dolphins
fired by their employer
for missing the dolphins
and hitting the ice instead
Ryokan Daigu, who lived in Japan between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, was a quiet and eccentric Soto Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. Ryokan is remembered, and in many instances revered, for his poetry and calligraphy, which are said to present the essence of Zen life.
The poems are from One Robe, One Bowl - The Zen Poetry of Ryokan, translated by John Stevens, and first published in 1977 by Weatherhill.
Concealed in a dense forest, my hermitage lies far beyond
the village river.
A thousand peaks, ten thousand mountain streams, yet no sigh
A long, cold winter's night - slowly a piece of wood burns
in the fireplace.
Nothing can be heard except the sound of snow striking
Who can sympathize with my life?
My hut lies near the top of a mountain,
and the path leading here is covered with weeds.
On the fence, a single gourd,
From across the river, the sound of logging.
Ill, I lie on the pillow and watch the sunrise.
A bird cries in the distance -
My only consolation.
The number of days since I left the world and
entrusted myself to heaven is long forgotten.
Yesterday, sitting peacefully in the green mountains;
This morning, playing with the village children.
My robe is full of patches and
I cannot remember how long I have had the same bowl
On clear nights I walk with my staff and chant poems;
Who says many cannot lead such a life?
Just follow my example.
Finishing a day of begging,
I return home through the green mountains.
The setting sun is hidden behind the western cliffs
And the moon shines weakly on the stream below.
I stop by a rock and wash my feet.
Lighting some incense, I sit peacefully in zazen.
Again a one-man brotherhood of monks;
Ah...how quickly the stream of time sweeps by.
Here's a recent piece (also from Blueline's "House of 30") by our friend Thane Zander. I like most of what he does and this one is so "Thanish" I couldn't pass it up.
Immobilized by technologies danged finest,
I pierce a rogue nipple (or two)
dance an Irish Jig in the manner of insanity,
lick my wounds and place an errant computer
in a bin that's full to overflowing.
Immaculate, the precision required to lick postage stamps,
a record player lying defunct thanks to CD's
yet the needle scratches a pile of old 78's
when the mood for Dicky Valentine
and maybe early Frank
takes hold of a desire to just cruise into the sunset,
with waders on, a fishing pole, and a map marked with an X.
Impossible, the ability to scratch your back
where that little irritating ache emanates from,
the door jamb passes for a lithe finger
but still it irritates, just like a politician
that stands in front of you and proclaims
"every thing is fine"
you check your heart monitor for leaks.
Indestructible is the passion you display typing poems,
your fingers working aged joints like a modern day gladiator,
the trunks in the spare room moan holiday,
the empty space in your wallet decrying miserliness,
your daughter rings to say "hi", you say Hi back
arguing with yourself to ask what is wrong,
she smiles (you guess) and giggles and chats
letting you know you're not yet on the road
to grandfatherhood, the grey hairs mounting.
Igloo - a place you'd stay if they had power and modems.
Next, I have a couple of short poems from a very small book of poetry by Philip Larkin. The book is High Windows, published by Faber and Faber in 1974. A poet, novelist, and jazz critic, Larkin died in 1985. He spent his working life as a university librarian and was offered the Poet Laureateship at one point, but declined the post.
Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness.
Four o'clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There's something laughable about this,
The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)
High and preposterous and separate -
Lozenge of Love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,
One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare
Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.
This Be the Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
by fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can.
And don't have any kids yourself.
A break in routine led me to this.
writing my morning poem at the end of day
i usually do my writing
in the morning,
when the fresh breath
of a new day
bringing to early light
lost in the denser parts of day
are especially difficult,
as they are
than any other day
and places to be
to get a morning poem
more packed even then usual,
for dinner tonight
we do this often
will do it again next Sunday,
our son's birthday (26);
my birthday (65);
our anniversary (32),
family type food,
probably an enchilada casserole
that everyone likes
and that's quick to make
and that goes a long way
when you're feeding 10 people
i enjoy these evenings
i'm always the oldest,
and from my place
at the head of the table
i can look down on either side
and count the changes
we've all seen together,
especially the kids, the youngest now
approaching her 15th birthday,
looking forward to her Quinceanera
in June almost as much as her parents -
D and i are padrinos of the tiara
so we will stand with her at the altar
through the mass, and will at some
appropriate time play our part
in the ceremony, and whatever that part is,
it will be gladly done,
as such things are always gladly done
for the happiness to those we love
and that is why i often miss my morning poem
on Sundays - there are priorities
in writing and in life
and in the companionship of family
and Sundays are the days
when life and family assume the first
position, and writing,
if it's time comes at all,
is in the late hours
the fresh breath of morning is long gone,
and what i want most
is the quiet
Born in 1950, Dana Gioia is a poet and critic who retired early from his career as a corporate executive at General Foods to write full time. He recently completed nearly five years of service as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, the United States government's arts agency, where he worked to revitalize an organization that had suffered bitter controversies about the nature of grants to artists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During his tenure, Gioia sought to encourage jazz, which he calls the only uniquely American form of art, to promote reading and performance of William Shakespeare, and increase the number of Americans reading literature. Before taking the NEA post, Gioia was a resident of Santa Rosa, California, and before that, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
The next two poems are from his book, The Gods of Winter, published by Graywolf Press in 1991.
for my uncle, Theodore Ortiz, U.S.M.M.
I think of you standing on the sloping deck
as the freighter pulls away from the coast of China,
the last lights of Asia disappearing in the fog,
and the engine's drone dissolving in the old
monotony of waves slapping up against the hull.
Leaning on the rails, looking eastward to American
across the empty weeks of ocean,
how carefully you must have planned your life,
so much of it already wasted on the sea,
the vast country of your homelessness.
Macao, Vladivostok, Singapore.
Dante read by shiplamp on the bridge.
The names of fellow sailors lost in war.
These memories will die with you,
but tonight they rise up burning in your mind.
Interweaving like gulls crying in the wake,
like currents on a chart, like gulfweed
swirling in a star-soaked sea, and interchangeable
as all the words for night - la notte, noche, Nacht, nuit,
each sound half-foreign, half-American, like America.
For now you know that mainland best from dreams.
Your dead mother turning toward you slowly,
always on the edge of words, yet always
silent as the suffering madonna of a shrine.
Or your father pounding his fist against the wall.
There are so many ways to waste a life.
Why choose between these icons of unhappiness,
when there is the undisguised illusion of the sea.
the comfort of old books and solitude to fill
the long night watch, the endless argument of waves?
Breathe in the dark and tangible air, for in a few weeks
you will be dead, burned beyond recognition,
left as a headstone in the unfamiliar earth
which no one to ask, neither wife nor children,
why your ashes have been buried here
and not scattered on the shifting gray Pacific.
the ceremonies of the day have ceased,
Abandoned to the ragged crow's parade.
The flags unravel in the caterpillar's feast.
the wreaths collapse onto the stones they shade.
How quietly doves gather by the gate
Like souls who have no heaven and no hell.
The patient grass reclaims its lost estate
Where one stone angel stands as sentinel.
The voices whispering in the burning leaves,
Faint and inhuman, what can they desire
When every season feeds upon the past,
And summer's green ignites the autumn’s fire?
The afternoon's single thread of light
Sewn through the tatters of leafless willow,
As one by one the branches fade from sight,
And time curls up like paper turning yellow.
Our friend Dan Cuddy sent this to me. I don't know where it originated, but it’s funny.
Explaining Investment Banking
Young Chuck moved to Texas and bought a donkey from a farmer for $100.
The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day.
The next day the farmer drove up and said, "Sorry Chuck, but I have some bad news. The donkey died."
Chuck replied, "Well then, just give me my money back."
The farmer said," "Can't do that. I went and spent it already."
Chuck said, "OK, then, just bring me the dead donkey."
The farmer asked, "What ya gonna do with a dead donkey?"
Chuck said, "I'm going to raffle him off."
The farmer said, "You can't raffle off a dead donkey!"
Chuck said, "Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anybody he's dead."
A month later, the farmer met up with Chuck and asked, "What happened with that dead donkey?"
Chuck said, "I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars apiece and made a profit of $898.00."
The farmer said, "Didn't anyone complain?"
Chuck said, "Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back."
Chuck now works for Morgan Stanley.
The next poem is by William Matthews, from his book Blues If You Want, published Houghton Mifflin in 1989.
Matthews was born in Ohio, in 1942. He earned a B.A. from Yale and an M.A. from the University of North Carolina. During his lifetime he published eleven books of poetry. He received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. In 1997 he was awarded the Ruth Lilly Prize. He taught at several schools, including Wells College, Cornell University, the University of Colorado, and the University of Washington.
At the time of his death in 1997 he was a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at New York's City College.
I have a few remarks. He smiled.
Restless and unbeguiled,
we shifted in our seats, This morning's
speaker, he began, and then without warning
we were in the midst of a dark essay.
His first remarks concerned equality
between the speaker and himself - also
a biped, an inquiring mind and slow
to take offense. A change of venue
for each numb buttock in the hall? The menu
was all appetizer napped with dust.
Award Adam a Ph.D and Eden must
have been like this. The naming
of the animals was more like registration,
even, than like class. Animals
frequently cooked with fruit milled
on the left, blue animals in the center,
and on the right in puffs and blurs
like dissipating ground fog, wraiths
from each species that would fade
into extinction while he spoke.
This introduction was no joke,
like so much of life. And after all, whom
would we meet? A look around the room
confirmed that we were us - deft
at pretending to be there, bereft
because we were. Oh, an artesian
joy and other fluids bubbled in
us, but we strove to be attentive all
the same. From the podium a rumble
rose (Ladies) and fell and Gentlemen).
Is this the onset of the end?
Here comes the speaker, like a comet's tail.
It wasn't a bad introduction after all.
I think the topic, though I could be wrong,
is the afterlife. I hope it doesn't go on long.
More news that brought me to this.
big news in the astrophysical world
in the astrophysical world
is the massive explosion some
12.2 billion light years
from our own little howdydoody home
we ofttimes claim a place
in the heavenly order of things,
even though, being only
8 light minutes from our own star
we call the sun
and 12 light minutes from the furthest
named object to circle that sun
with us, it is a very small neighborhood
we live in, a very small neighborhood
where, with all our searching and seeking,
we have yet to reach
even our own
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
and thought he had circled the world,
such ignorance is to us denied and we
are better for it...
lets us see
our true place, tiny bits of carbon base
in a vastness we can quantify
but not imagine,
little carbon dandies
important only in our doings
with our little carbon
the rest of all that is
doesn't give a damn
Gary Soto is a poet, playwright, essayist, and author of several children's books. Widely anthologized, he has been honored with both the Bess Hokin and Levinson Prizes, as well as the Discovery/The Nation Award, the Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence in Children’s Video, the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, and an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He has received several fellowships and was a National Book Award finalist for his book, New and Selected Poems. He divides his time between Berkeley and his hometown of Fresno.
The next two poems are from his book, a simple plan, another National Book Award finalist, published Chronicle Books in 2007.
L.A. Scene at a Restaurant called "One"
"I'm a conceptual artist," he says,
and shows me, a violinist, the fingernails of his left hand -
Brittle scenes of the Seine river in its four seasons.
I'm drinking a California champagne,
Little bubbles applauding at the lip of the glass,
Not unlike the clamor of my last Beethoven Sonata #@4 -
To hid the hundred no-shows,
Ten friends in the audience forced up a thousand faces.
"They look real," I say, and, sipping, destroy the applause,
My Happy Hour pleasure at $8.75 a glass.
"You should grow our nails longer," I suggested.
"Do scenes of Twain's Mississippi, the Grand Canyon,
Or" - sip, sip of champagne - "the four stages
Of the Rodney King Riots."
He lifts a glass to his face,
Rivers of lines around his mouth,
The deltas of every piece of gossip he helped spread.
"Can't," he answers.
“My fingernails chip easily."
I tip back my drink,
And size up this artist through a light buzz -
He needs those fingernails.
Needs them to claw his way up.
The Artist Thinks, "So This is Me"
On a diet, I move the salt shaker like a chess piece,
and the pepper follows. Forget eggs,
Forget the steak wrapped in butcher paper,
And let's not dwell on the Freudian meaning
Of half-and-half cream.
(We get older. The cornucopia
Of spleen, kidney, and liver bruised,
Our joints stiff, our lives a glint in the rearview mirror.
The hair on your head just that - a hair.)
The red-nibbled radish is OK,
The glass of water with the milk ring on the bottom,
The apple, the pear, the Orange quartered cleanly,
And a mob of grapes. I think,
My lunch is nothing but a still life!
But it's life. When I open the refrigerator,
I'm greeted by Mrs. Butterworth and her nemesis, Quaker Oats.
The beer looks beer-bellied - why didn't I see that earlier!
and the tortillas! I'm sure if you threw one
Onto the burner, Jesus' face would appear.
Wallace Stevens, poet and insurance salesman,
Once rolled his pant legs up and stood on a lapping shore.
From that tug of nature, he wrote three books,
So moved was he by the little act of slapping sand from his toes.
I have no shore, no insurance, no letter that begins, "My Dear Love."
In a park I would fall face first into autumn leaves
And rub my wounds until those leaves healed me.
Then I would go home, my mind big as a canvas.
My brushes are stiff, and the first figures just sticks,
But I can do a still life - an apple
And pear, the grapes in the biggest bowl.
In the background, the salt and pepper shakers, their red tops -
My yearning, critics would say, to roughhouse with a bloody steak?
Here's a little shiver of a poem I wrote last week to finish off this week's presentation.
hoodat hoosay hoodat
early to bed last night,
barely made it
dreams all night
from a dream
that reminded me
of a place and people
in my past, fond memories,
that i was only dreaming
i woke up
and all the fond memories
from the past
were dream memories
inside of a dream
inside of a dream of waking up
seemed so real
when i dreamed it,
so confusing when i woke up
from the waking-up dream
it's like the door slam
that wakes you up at 2 a.m.
and you have to decide whether
the door really slammed
or did you just dream a slamming
like the voice
that seems to come from just beside the bed
Time to mosey off down the trail for another week.
As I try to recall the essentials of my 7th grade mosey lessons, you should recall that all the material presented in this blog remains the property of its creators. The blog itself was produced by and is the property of me...allen itz.