Back to Work   Sunday, November 22, 2009


"Peruvian Landscape"
by Vincent Martinez
IV.11.4.




I'm back from break with this slightly scaled back version of "Here and Now."

I spent a good part of the past couple of weeks sick with a cold, which is still hanging on, but I did get most of what I wanted to do done. Everything is done on the two books I had in the pipe line. The first of the two, pushing clouds against the wind is a small book of mostly light poems and I expect to get it sent off by the end of November. The second book, a little larger book with mostly darker pieces, is also ready to go, probably in March or April. And I have an idea now for a third book as well, a poetry/photography book with the working title, night eyes. For that book I'm aiming at the end of next year, proiding it works and i can actually write the poems when i actually sit down to the doing of it. An ambitious schedule, with the hope that, somewhere along the way, I'll sell a book or two.

This week I've gone to my first book, Seven Beats a Second, to feature some of its art. The paintings are by my collaborator in the book, artist Vincent Martinez of Austin. A senior art student when we did the book in 2005, Vince has continued to work on his art and is showing frequently and selling well. Would that we could translate some of that to the book.

In addition to Vince's art, this is what we have of poets and poetry this week in this hurry-up before Thanksgiving edition of "Here and Now."


Yehuda Amichai
Number 32 from Time

Me
i am a Chinese buffet

From Chinese Love Poems
From The Book of Songs
From The Nineteen Old Poems
Gazint at Spring, II & II by Xue Tao
The Coat with the Golden Threads by Du Qiuniang

Laurel Lamperd
Stroke

Nila Northsun
kids

Me
i just don't see how this is going to work

Anne Sexton
The Wall

Lauel Lamped
Tampa Legacy

Me
a day for deeds

Andrew M. Greeley
The Fifth of May - 1954

Me
13 squared

Pablo Neruda
The Night at Isla Negra

Tomas Transtomer
From March - '54

Elizabeth Coatsworth
Whale at Twilight

Laurel Lamperd
On Dark Afternoons

Margaret Atwood
Five Poems for Dolls

Me
behind bars

Michael Van Wallenghen
Fishing with Children

Me
an atheist's prayer



On we go.





"Lime Grape"
by Vincent Martinez




My first poem this week is by Israeli poetYehuda Amichai, from the collection Yehuda Amichai: A Life of Poetry, 1948-1994. The poems in the book were translated from Hebrew by Benjamin and Barbara Harshay.

Amichai, born Ludwig Pleuffer in 1924 in Wuzburg, Germany, was considered by many both in Israel and internationally as Israel's greatest modern poet. He was also the first to write in colloquial Hebrew. He died in Israel in 2000.

The poem I'm using this week is number 32 from a series called Time, first published in 1978.



When I was young, the country was young too. My father
Was everybody's father. When I was happy, the country was happy, when I
   jumped
Upon her, she jumped under me. The grass that covered her in spring
Softened me too. He soil in summer pained me
As parched skin in my soles. When I loved
Immensely, her independence was announced, when my hair
Waved, her banners waved. When I fought,
She fought. When I rose, she rose too, and when I declined
She began declining with me.

Now I part from all that.
Like a thing glued on something when the glue dries up,
I separate and roll into myself.

Recently I saw a clarinet player
In the Police Orchestra playing in David's Tower.
His hair white and his face calm: a face
From 1946, that sole year
Between famous and terrible years
When nothing happened but a great hope and his playing
And me lying with a girl in a quiet room in Jerusalem nights.
I haven't seen him since then, but the hope
For a better world hasn't left his face, till now.

Later, I sought some nonkosher sausage
And two rolls and went home.
I heard the evening news,
Ate and went to bed,
And the memory of first love came to me
Like a feeling of falling before you fall asleep.

Oh my old, venerable teacher, life
Is not deep as you said. History
And the love of Buber and Marx are just
A crust of paved road on the great earth.

Oh, my teacher, the boundary of toys is so close;
When a rifle shoots and kills, and father really died.

And the boundary of camouflage, which is also the boundary
Of love: instead of a cannon, a real tree
Grows. And she will be I, and I - her.





"Finger Tips On An Inca's Back"
by Vincent Martinez




I guess being a lightweight is better than being no weight at all.



i am a Chinese buffet

i would
like to be
a poet of deep
insight and emotion,
but the closest i've ever come
is deeply embarrassing

my most fiercely wrought thoughts
aren't original
and my original thoughts
are shallow
as Matagorda mud flats
at low tide

i'm a light poet
if a poet at all, not
an illuminating light,
only feather weight instead,
talking about all
the funny things that happen
during the course of a lightweight life

the poet as a Chinese buffet -
take a bite and move on,
there's another one coming
and you won't remember it either
past the initial tasting





"Orange Grey"
by Vincent Martinez




From a Chinese buffet to the beautifully illustrated anthology Chinese Love Poems, published in 2004 by Barnes & Noble Books, editor Jane Portal, Assistant Keeper in the Department of Asia in the British Museum.



The first poem from the book is from The Book of Songs.


By the banks of that marsh, there are sweet flags and lotus
There is a handsome man, I am smitten, what should I do?
Asleep or awake I do nothing, my tears flow like rain.

By the banks of the marsh, there are sweet flags and lotus
And just one handsome man, stately and tall.
Asleep or awake I do nothing, in my heart I am grieved.

By the banks of that marsh, there are sweet flags and lotus
There is a handsome man, very tall and grave.
Asleep or awake I do nothing, tossing and burying my face in the pillow.


The next poem is from The Nineteen Old Poems.

Green, green the river-side grass,
Dense, dense the garden willows,
Fair, fair the girl upstairs,
Bright, bright she faces the casement,
Gay, gay her red-powdered face,
Slender, slender the white hand she extends.

Sometime a singing-girl,
Now she is a traveler's wife;
The traveler has departed and returns not,
And a mateless bed is hard to keep alone.


The next poem is by Xue Tao, who lived from 768 to 832.


Gazing at Spring, II & III

I gather herbs
and tie
a lover's knot

to send to one
who understands my songs.

So now I've cut
that springtime sorrow off.
and now the spring-struck birds
renew their cries.

~~~~~

Windblown flowers
grow older day by day.

and our best season
dwindles in the past.

Without someone
to tie the knot
of love,

no use to tie up
all those love-knot herbs.


The last poem from this anthology is by Du Qiuniang from the Tang dynasty.


The Coat with the Golden Threads

I warn you - cherish not your gold-threaded coat;
I warn you - cherish rather the days of your youth!
When the flower blooms, ready for picking,
     pick it you must:
Don't wait till the flower falls
     and pick a bare twig!





"Abuelo"
by Vincent Martinez




I have four poems this week from Laurel Lamperd, one of our poet friend from far-off (from here anyway) Australia.



Stoke

Hello there, old mother.
What are you thinking
with your tongue lolling
and your eyes gazing
beyond me.

The bustle of the nurses
amid the noises from the patients
visitors tiptoeing through the door.
Can you hear or are
your thoughts of other things.

Horses pounding through the surf
The shouts of my brother and me.
You, turning to laugh
And the wave crashing against
Bellerophon's legs.

I wait beside you
a dish of pap in my hand.
Is this then to be my fate?
My daughter sitting
where I sit as I feed you
and me in your chair.





"Rooftop"
by Vincent Martinez




Now I have a poem by Nila Northsun, from her book a snake in her mouth, published by West End Press of Albuquerque in 1997.

Northsun was born of Chippewa-Shoshone descent in Nevada in 1951. A graduate of the University of Montana, at the time her book was published, she still lived on the Stillwater Indian reservation in Nevada, where she was director of a teen crisis center.

Another new poet for me. I like her.



kids

and you think
oh no not one of those
cutesy kid poems
well hell yes
only people who have kids
know
they are
goddamn cute at times
hilariously funny sometimes
the biggest nags & whiners
the uncontrollable headache &
worry causes
sometimes they can make you
so proud
your eyes water & you swear
your heart feels as big as
a bull's liver
when you have your first baby
you wonder what else could have
filled your conversations
but how one diaper compares with
another
how the kids look like aunt sue
or how they're more fun than
the best dog you ever had
still there are times
you almost understand child abuse
& "shut that fucker up"
& other times you're horrified
to read of children locked away
in a room for years
or scalded or burnt or slammed
against walls
broken baby bones
raped 4 months old
tender young flesh black & blue
how incredibly sad
but wait wait
i really didn't want to get into that
i wanted to write about my kids
the 2 year old dropped his
m & m on the sidewalk
then stepped on it
he said "i killed it"
i thought that was funny
the 6 year old is learning to skate
he's so proud & i'm so proud
as he gets around the skating rink
only falling a couple of times
but it's so slapstick
he hops along with his feet
his arms flailing
i laugh & laugh
i think i'd split my gut
if i had a dozen out there doing that





"Breath Felt"
by Vincent Martinez




At the time I wrote this next piece, I had just found this coffee shop. I have since found another place a bit more comfortably funky.



i just don't see how this is going to work

this place
is so clean-cut
it makes me want to shave
before i sit down to work
and it's Saturday
and i don't shave on Saturday,
i just don't -
it's like Lois Lane
dating
Clark Kent, Kent so square
and all-American clean
and Lois
so hot, so randy and ready
for a super-fling,
it's just hard to see how it's
gonna work

me trying
to write a poem in this place,
is like trying to read one of those
decadent French poets
to my old high school English teacher
who didn't even put up with contractions,
much less people fucking and pissing
and all that other stuff
on the page

serious editing
would be required or
she'd have a heart attack

just like i'd have to clean up my language
before trying to write here; hell, i'd have
to clean up my mind and it's that
black and twisty thing that keeps me going

it's just hard to see how it's gonna work





"Cloud Exits"
by Vincent Martinez




The next poem is by Anne Sexton, from her book, The Awful Rowing Toward God, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1975. Sexton had published eight books of poetry before this one, her last book published after her death by suicide in 1974.



The Wall

Nature is full of teeth
that come in one by one, then
decay,
fall out.
In nature nothing is stable,
all is change, bears, dogs, peas, the willow,
all disappear. Only to be reborn.
Rocks crumble, make new forms,
oceans move the continents
mountains rise up and down like ghosts
yet all is natural, all is change.

As I write this sentence
about one hundred and four generations
since Christ, nothing has changed
except knowledge, the test tube.
Man still falls into the dirt
and is covered.
As I write this sentence one thousand are going
and one thousand are coming.
It is like the well that never dries up.
It is like the sea which is the kitchen of God.

We are all earthworms,
digging into our wrinkles.
We live beneath ground
and if Christ should come in the form of a plow
and dig a furrow and push us up into the day
we earthworms would be blinded by the sudden light
and writhe in our distress.
As I write this sentence I too writhe.

For all you who are going,
and there are many who are climbing their pain,
many who will be painted out with a black ink
suddenly and before it is time,
for those many I say,
awkwardly, clumsily,
take off you life like trousers,
you shoes, your underwear,
then take off you flesh,
unpick the lock of you bones.
In other words
take off the wall
that separates you from God.





"Chente's Hente"
by Vincent Martinez




Here's my second poem from our friend Laurel Lamperd



Tampa Legacy

She made a banner
to carry to Parliament House
in the march for the asylum seekers.

You're too old, gran,
her family chided,
those golden children
born in the sun.

Chased across Lithuanian snows
by German SS men
and Russian soldiers,
she remembers the camps
the smell beaten into her skin
rising above cities
farmlands and deserts
all the way
to the Timor Sea.





"Chicken Wings & Pretty Things"
by Vincent Martinez




This next little piece is a pep-talk I wrote to myself about a week ago, when, after a time of feeling really lousy, it began to seem I was getting better.



a day for deeds

a day begun
with a gloom
of fog

radiant now
with sunshine
and possibility

a day for deeds
not necessarily
great

but welcome
anyway
after days

vacant
in a fog of
gloom





"Float"
by Vincent Martinez




Andrew M. Greeley, a priest ordained in the diocese of Chicago forty years ago, is a professor of social science at the University of Chicago and a noted scholar, author of many books on sociology. He is also a best-selling fiction writer, beginning with his first novel, The Cardinal and a series of detective stories, featuring his character, Father Blacky.

This next poem is from Greeley's first collection of poetry, The Sense of Love, published by the Ashland Poetry Press in 1992.



The Fifth of May - 1954
Ordination

The expected day was bitter cold,
Warning us perhaps
Of what we'd have to face -
But no hint of John
Or the unchanging changed
And the rock that came apart.

Would that our hearts were warm,
Ready for the frantic fray,
Light and quick, dancing in youthful glee -
But they gave us not the slightest hint;
Unprepared, we came standing docile there
When the roof came tumbling in.

A few escaped never to return,
Others ran for safe and quiet holes,
Still others stood mute, the end accepting.
Some sensing fun, said let's begin to dance -
A blind leap long ago in the deeper dark.
Do it again? I already told you so.





"Kristi"
by Vincent Martinez




This piece was written in response to the Fort Hood massacre, trying to find some way to write about the event without descending into the bullshit that such events so often bring forth.



13 squared

thirteen
in honor lie
beneath
the Texas sun


that's
the poem i started today
and it went on from there
becoming more banal and
inadequate with each new line

proving again
i am a poet of light things,
of little quirks and serendipitous
conjunctions of people
and circumstances, not a poet
of tragedy, not a poet of serious
things like death, except on a
self-indulgent
pseudo-philosophical level
where clever aphorisms
and bombast
can cover lack of an emotionally
rooted sense of loss, an understanding
that death is about death's survivors
not those who actually die

so today i think of those not dead,
those left behind instead,
mothers, fathers, children, husbands, wives
all the loved ones and friends
and all of us who had no direct connection
but who might someday in the normal passage
of a full life have met, have loved those
for whom no full life was allowed, us,
the survivors whose lives now have a hole
the dead once filled, a hole that will fade
but never will be filled as every death
leaves an empty space, a blank passage
where once our lives conjoined, traveled
together down the long road of living

i knew none of these thirteen,
still
i feel a loss
beyond my expression





"Machupichu"
by Vincent Martinez




Next I have several poems from Poetry for the Earth, a collection of poems that celebrate nature published Fawcett Columbine in 1991.



The first of the poems is by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid.


The Night in Isla Negra

The ancient night and the unruly salt
beat at the walls of my house;
lonely is the shadow, the sky
by now is a beat of the ocean,
and sky and shadow explode
in the fray and unequal combat;
all night long they struggle,
nobody knows the weight
of the harsh clarity that will go on opening
like a languid fruit;
thus is born on the coast,
out of turbulent shadow, the hard dawn,
nibbled by the salt in movement,
swept up by the weight of night,
bloodstained in its marine crater.


The second poem from the anthology is by Swedish writer, poet and translator Tomas Transtomer, translated by John F. Deane.


From March '79

Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
I went to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The unwritten pages spread themselves out in all
          directions!
I come across the marks of roe-deer's hooves in the
          snow.
Language but no words.


The final poem from the anthology this week is by Elizabeth Coatsworth, an American author of children's fiction and poetry. Her novel The Cat Who Went to Heaven won the 1931 Newbery Medal.

Born in 1893, in Buffalo, New York, Coatsworth attended Buffalo Seminary for High School, then graduated from Vassar College in 1915 and received a Master of Arts from Columbia University in 1916. Her first publications were poems in magazines, and her first book published was Fox Footprints in 1923. In 1929, she married writer Henry Beston, with whom she had two children. She died at her home in Nobleboro, Maine, August 31, 1986.


Whale at Twilight

The sea is enormous, but calm with evening
  and sunset,
rearranging its islands for the night,
  changing its own blues,
smoothing itself against the rocks, without
  playfulness, without thought.
No stars are out, only sea birds flying to
  distant reefs.
No vessels intrude, no lobstermen haul their
  pots.
Only somewhere out toward the horizon a thin
  column of water appears
and disappears again, and then rises once more,
tranquil as a fountain in a garden where no
  wind blows.





"Vieja"
by Vincent Martinez




Now here's my third and last piece from our Australian friend Laurel Lamperd.



On Dark Afternoons

I read about a woman
wandering along grassy banks
on dark afternoons
seeking her past.

In my mind, I see them.
My grandparents in that house
of bush timber.
He smoked a pipe
while she kneaded bread
and set it
wrapped in a blanket
by the fire to rise.

The dusk sweeps
gently at my window
as in my mind
I travel from town
to farm and back again.
And the night grows darkly
by my door.





"Words Like Birds"
by Vincent Martinez




The next poem is by Margaret Atwood, Canadian author, poet, critic, essayist, feminist and social campaigner. She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias award for Literature, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once, and has been a finalist for the Governor General's Award seven times, winning twice. While she may be best known for her work as a novelist, she is also an award winning poet, having published 15 books of poetry. Atwood has also published many short stories.

The poem I chose for this week is from Atwood's book, Two-Headed Poems, published by Simon and Schuster in 1978.



Five Poems for Dolls

i

Behind glass in Mexico
this clay doll draws
its lips back in a snarl;
despite its beautiful dusty shawl,
it wishes to be dangerous.

ii

See how the dolls resent us,
with their bulging foreheads
and minimal chins, their flat bodies
never allowed to bulb and swell,
their faces of little thugs.

This is not a smile,
this glossy mouth, two stunted teeth;
the dolls gaze at us
with the filmed eyes of killers.

iii

There have always been dolls
as long as there have been people,
In the trash heaps and abandoned temples
the dolls pile up;
the sea is filling with them.

What causes them?
Or are they gods, causeless,
something to talk to
when you have to talk,
something to throw against the wall?

A doll is a witness
who cannot die,
with a doll you are never alone.

On the long journey under the earth,
in the boat with two prows,
there were always dolls.

iv

Or did we make them
because we needed to love someone
and could not love each other?

It was love, after all,
that rubbed the skins from their gray cheeks,
crippled their fingers,
snarled their hair, brown or dull gold.
Hate would merely have smashed them.

You change, but the doll
I made of you lives on,
a white body leaning
in a sunlit window, the features
wearing away with time,
frozen in the gaunt pose
of a single day,
holding in its plaster hand
your doll of me

v

Or: all dolls come
from the land of the unborn,
the almost-born; each
doll is a future
dead at the roots,
a voice heard only
on breathless nights,
a desolate white memento.

Or: these are the lost children,
those who have died or thickened
to full growth and gone away.

The dolls are their souls or cast skins
which line the shelves of our bedrooms
and museums, disguised as outmoded toys,
images of our sorrow,
shedding around themselves
five inches of limbo.





"Jazz Splice"
by Vincent Martinez




Sometimes, you're in just the right mood and you see something and a poem almost writes itself.



behind bars

sunlight
heavy with early dew
rushes
through the window,
horizontal blinds
throwing shadow bars
across the floor

a prisoner
of morning light,
i bask
in my confinement





"Predictable Patterns"
by Vincent Martinez




Next, I have a poem by Michael Van Wallenghen from his book Blue Tango, published the University of Illinois Press in 1989.

Van Wallenghen, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has won many awards and fellowships.



Fishing with Children

Beyond the few clear stumps
and furry sticks, the bottom
drops off quickly, quickly...

But it's easy enough to guess
the broken glass and junk
down there, the lost shoes

the stolen bike. Easier
to imagine trash like this
in the gray municipal lagoon

than fish in fact. The four
and five year olds however
keep seeing Northern Pike -

monster catfish. Even
the worms excite them.
What acrobats they are

especially cut in half!
Urged to bait their own hooks
they stand around staring

at the life in their hands
like so many self-involved
dumbstruck fortune-tellers.

then they stab themselves
or tangle in the bushes...
the whole chaotic business

looking faintly Dionysian -
a manic kind of dance almost
‘or magic stone-age ritual

demanding blood. But later
cast out upon the dark water
our fateful bobbers drift

as over the face of the void
like stars. So we study them
of course, astrologers now

hoping for the smallest sign
or signal of good fortune -
a bluegill, anything at all

from the deep dead calm
where stars and even children
disappear. None of them

for the moment disappearing
though some look tremulous
and on the brink...





"Myth Melt"
by Vincent Martinez




This next poem is a combination of scientific fact and hope. The poem does factually describe how things really work. Everything that is today is everything there ever was. The base elements of the big bang recombining time and time again to create everything from moon rocks to the soft underside of a baby's chin. The hope is - actually, hope is too strong a word - better, the desire is that somewhere in all the destruction and re-creation there is consciousness of some form. As well as, underneath it all, an understanding that what a man desires has nothing to do with it at all.



an atheist's prayer

send me to the fire
naked
as the day i came

sear
from me this corrupting flesh

release me
into the sky, pale smoke of me
drifting
where the winds
might blow, letting me fall
on some rocky field
where i might become a part
of something new,
bits of me
and someday you
and all creation that comes,
then goes, the cycle of me and you
and all the rest
repeated
again and again and again
unto the end
amen





The Ray-Guhn Show Choir, detail from "Jazz Splice"
by Vincent Martinez




That's it for this "back to work issue." Catch us again next week for more good stuff. In the meantime and as usual, all of the material presented in this blog remains the property of it's creators.

As owner and producer of the blog, I exempt myself from that injunction. You are welcome to use any of may own material any way you want, properly credited, of course, to me...allen itz.

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