Snow Day   Saturday, December 05, 2009


I am sitting here by the window, waiting to watch it snow, which it's not going to do despite four days of prognosticator promises. Feeling bereft, I turn to the only snow available to me, pictures from trips to Colorado this year and last. I will share those photos with you in this issue.

Here are those on the duty roster for this unsnowy day.

i am not watching it snow

Leroy Searle
Turkey Shooting on Mount Monadnoc

Elizabeth San Juan

Joe Mockus
Last Day in Idaho

it's a left-right world we live in

Stan Crawford
How I see it
Observed in Belize

Charles Levenstein

Gloria Fuertes
To Have a Child These Days
The Birds Nest in My Arms

300 miles, south

Grace Paley
Stanzas: Old Age and the Conventions of Retirement Have Driven My Friends from the Work They &nbso;   Love
On Mother's Day

Charles Levenstein

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Arguments of Everlasting

if you see Alvin, tell him i'm looking for him

Sudeep Sen
Durga Puja

Charles Levenstein
Window of Desire

Pat Mora
Los Ancianos
Mi Tierra
Desert Woman

Sunday quiet

William Matthews
The Blues

Charles Levenstein

winter slips in at midnight

Ray Gonzalez
Three Snakes, Strawberry Canyon, Berkeley

before i forget again

I start with this piece, written when the snow did not come as promised.

i am not watching it snow

the plan was

i'd be sitting

near downtown
San Antonio

on the corner
of San Pedro

& Mistletoe
looking out the great

at Timo's Coffee House

watching it snow
right here in near downtown

San Antonio
but it is not to be


New Orleans
on the bayous

but with no soul
and no music

and too many

too many
rich people

in $10,00 suits
and $5,000 boots

and too many poor

living three blocks
on the wrong side

of the edge of

the city of the big

has sucked up all my snow

and how like them
that is

(and lest you
be suspicious

is the true name

of the cross street
upon the corner of which

today's drama
did not transpire


I hit the mother lode at my used bookstore last week, a copy of Poetry, February, 1973, and a copy of the Berkeley Poetry Review, Winter, 1977. They cost me $1.98 each, more than they sold for when new and who said there wasn't any money to be made in poetry.

I love my used bookstore.

I following my "find," here two poems from Poetry (February, 1973) by Leroy Searle, making his first appearance in the journal. In 1973, he was assistant professor of English at the University of Rochester. He is currently a professor at the University of Washington.

Turkey Shooting on Mount Monadnoc

I saw all the signs:
"Turkey Shoot on Sunday,"
Well now,
Come in your pickup;
drive right to the village green
and load your shotgun.

Bluster of feathers,
gobbling in a wire cage,
neck-tics gesturing
the hape of space.

I took my turkey,
a Swift's Premium Butterball
weighing eighteen pounds.
Hung it in a tree
where it swayed there, peaceful
as a moon of fat,
glistening like a great carbuncle.
And I sat down calmly
and shot it several times.

It seemed like the thing to do.


As they would come,
they lit up the distance
like rocks at dusk;
the low bagpipe
of their voices filling the afternoon,
flowing over its brim
into the center
of the field.

Sheep, with a common failing,
they knew each other
and that was all:
perfect victims
that the dogs could tease,
as helpless, one
by one, as clouds.

Seeing them at sundown,
tight against each other
like some freezing
arctic infantry,
they move,
a single beast, looking
foolish as they
plunge against the dark,
against the imperfect
scent of wolves,
shipping them to run.

They seem demented
in their following,
slaves to a law
invisible to all but them,
going over waterfalls
in its service,
dead in canyons
at the foot of cliffs.

Dead sheep: voiceless,
to men who never
saw their priesthood
and devotions;
saw how passionate
dumb beasts can be,
saving the appearances,
fearing the teeth and claws
of the active, silent

Next, I turn to two poets from Winter 1977 issue of the Berkeley Poetry Review.

The first poet is Elizabeth San Juan. The Review doesn't include any information on contributors. I was also unable to find any google-reference to the poet, so all I have to represent her is her poem.


say yes
to the moths.
they wish to speak to you now,
while it's quiet,
while they see the glow
of your eyes
in the grass
and the dew
beaded on your bangs
and lashes.

stand up to meet them.
you know you can't fly so let them see
a bodyprint of crushed grass,
the film of green on your skin,
show them
the magic
that wets their wings

The second poet from the review is Joe Mockus. I found reference to Mockus as contributor to the summer, 2008 issue of r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal, with a note that, as of that issue he assumes the duty of poetry editor for the journal. He is a criminal defense attorney, rock and roll drummer, and, as a poet, has been published extensively in the small press.

Last Day in Idaho

Lodgepole pine cracked up the dawn
the day I drove Keith's pickup truck
off the road and down
the cliff, leaping from the cab
into blackberry, wild rose,
watching it bounce like a dream,
rolling helplessly into the cherry trees
snapping their sapling necks.

Stinging fingers gripping thorns, body stiff
biting against the dire
and quickly the deep quiet: I watched the sun's light
pink behind the lodgepole pine, trying
to awake, sensing the hillside
not the place
to turn back to sleep.

The next piece form me this week is from one of those "my how interesting" stories you run into in the New York Times Science Section.

it's a left-right world we live in

a left-right world
we live in

even snails
have their differing

(amphidromus perversus
to be exact)

the difference
is in the shell and on which side
is located the little opening

from which citizen snail
can poke out his little head
to survey the world

around him -
snails of the right
have their opening on the right

snails of the left
are open on the left -

you can certainly understand
how this fundamental
difference in orientation

how the lefties and righties
view the world

they slowly
traverse, creating, no doubt,
corresponding differences

in the most basic

so basic are their

between a lefty
and a righty
is fundamentally

and genetically
not possible -
that does not mean

they are asexual
both enjoying mutually satisfying

with their own kind
at a moment's notice

this is especially true
of the righties
who, in addition to their sack

and plunder philosophies,
are physiologically
better equipped for the act

being that their right-wing
allows their genitals

to touch
and touch again
while making snail whoopee

while, lefties,
on the other hand would usually rather talk,
mostly about boring things

like political philosophies
or the plight of the poor
in southern Guatemala,

with the additional handicap
of non-touching genitals
due to their lefty orientation

the only lefties who are able to reproduce
are those with extensive study

of yoga

there is some justice in the world,
that keeps the lefties from being overrun by righties,

that justice comes in the form of
snail-eating snakes
with asymmetric jawbones

that make a fine feast of righties
making the lefties impossible to swallow

the latin name
for this genus of snail-eating snakes
is keitholbermannus

Inprint is a nationally recognized nonprofit literary arts foundation in Houston. The organization conducts workshops and other literary events and, occasionally sponsors publication of poetry collections, such as Five Inprint Poets, published by Mutabilis Press in 2003.

I have chosen Stan Crawford to feature this, one of the five poets included in the book. I will return to other poets in the book in weeks to come.

Crawford is an attorney who practices civil trial law in Houston. He has a B.A. from Brown University, where he studied poetry, and a J.D. from the University of Texas. His history as a poet is much like mine. Both of us wrote when we were younger than quit for many years, 30 years in my case and 25 in his, returning to poetry later in life when other obligations began to consume less of our life and time.

How I See It

This morning's light
holds its shoes and tip-toes
past the windows.

Soon recycling
trucks will come for everything
we go through twice.

Three lemons on
the kitchen counter keep
a quiet vigil.

Someone spilled
gin and a little tonic on
the only map.

We lit midnight
cigarettes. Acrid
lacy smoke.

That raccoon who fled
up our pecan tree never
came back down.

By five A.M. your eyes
went out like fireflies.
I love you, off and on.

Observed in Belize

You saw him first
beside the sandy track
puddled with rain
white as cafe au lait -
a blue crab still as an exposed root,
one claw held high,
the pincer torn,
his gray meat open to the wind.

Then I looked at starlight
metastasized how many centuries ago,
give a familiar name;
Invader of Shallows,
Breathing Bone, Crab Nebula.
Muzzy pricks of light
over restless palm trees
shadowing your crab.

Let us close our eyes and dream
one eye acute enough
to see particular each instant lit
by stars exploded years ago,
kind enough to capture with a glance
the broken crab in shadow
by the tin-roofed shack
dispensing Chinese takeaway.

This week I am featuring poems from our friend Charles Levenstein. Chuck is professor emeritus of work environment at University of Massachusetts - Lowell. He has published his poetry widely in e-zines and currently has two books available, Poems of World War III and Animal Vegetable.

This is the first of his poems you will read this week.


Such comfort, the music of bathwater falling,
the other household sounds are stilled,
even the cats have stopped their scrambling,
a cup of evening ease is filled.

In my mind, you are surrounded by bubbles,
Carib sponges and exotic soaps,
the scent of flowers seeps under the door,
the mystery of the bath gentle, hopeful.

A wonderful day, a sabbath of dreams,
we have taken our time together, enjoyed the sun,
we are home now, traveled enough,
home now, water falling, preparing for sleep.

Next, I have two poems from Spanish poet Gloria Fuertes. The poems are from The Defiant Muse, published by The Feminist Press at the City University of New York in 1986. Subtitled "Hispanic Feminist Poems from the Middle Ages to the Present," the collection is a bilingual anthology featuring the original Spanish text and the English translations on facing pages. The poems I'm using this week were translated by Kate Flores.

Fuertes, born in 1917, summarized her life in these words: "I began to write before I learned to read. I recited my first poems to the kids in my neighborhood. Then I was taken to Radio Espana to recite my poems and later they took us all to war, which turned me into a pacifist and I went on writing for children."

Fuertes died in 1998.

To Have a Child These Days

To have a child these days...
only to deliver him into the hands of men
- if at least it were to deliver him into the hands of God -
to have a child these days,
only to deliver him into the mouth of a cannon,
to abandon him at Sorrow's door,
to cast him into the waters of confusion.
To have a child these days,
only to have him suffer hunger and sun,
and not listen to my voice,
only to earn the catechism later.
To have a child these days,
only to have him blinded with passion
or victim of persecution,
only to witness destruction.
To have a child these days...
I carry him around inside me,
where even he himself cannot hurt him,
where only God can make him die.

The Birds Nest in My Arms

The birds nest in my arms,
on my shoulders, behind my knees,
between my breasts I have quails,
the birds think I'm a tree.
The swans think I'm a fountain,
they all come down and drink when I talk.
The sheep nudge me going by,
and the sparrows ear from my fingers;
the ants think I'm the earth
and men think I am nothing.

It was a pretty normal Thanksgiving, seeing everyone we usually see.

300 miles, south

300 miles,
south -
we go every Thanksgiving,
almost to the banks
of the Rio Grande

300 miles,
the story of my life
in reverse

the story
of the 45 years
since my 20th birthday,
moving north,
pushing north
always, looking
to find the life i grew up imagining,

with almost every mile
markers of my life

300 miles, south,
turkey dinner,
some time with family,
and today, the day after,
a visit to the cemetery
where my parents are buried

to where time
slips away
mostly unnoticed

this year,
for the first time,
the years were heavy
on my mind

as i looked at the gravestone,
looked at the dates
and measured them from now

my father, died in 1980, 30 years ago,
how is that possible, and my mother,
11, with her smile still so fresh, 11
years in the ground

time passes
and memories fade,
the big ones mostly lost,
the little memories, the flashes
of a moment, are the ones
that hang on, like it seems
they always will

i do not remember the sound
of my father's voice, but
i can see him, in lost moments
as clear as if it was this very day

his face in the sunshine, his smile,
him, at the kitchen table at night,
with crackers and the stinky cheese
he loved, the tears, one time
near the end, as he worried about my mother
after he was gone, and his reserve,
his reticence when it came to displays
of emotion, of affection

(not a hugger was he, acknowledgment
with a nod was the most i could expect
from him, a deficiency i inherited and
overcame with my own son
when he was young, finding now
as we're both older my father's distance
becoming, against my wishes, my own)

and my mother, later gone, still fresher
in my mind, finding now, like every man
when they finally get old enough
to understand the true things, recognizing
the hard truth and the guilt we earned
for never seeing how
our mothers were owed much more
than we ever paid

our unpaid debt, like the so many
other things in life we learn to late

going home
300 miles, north,
leaving behind many things,
including some
i still don't know i lost

The next poems are by Grace Paley, from her book Leaning Forward, published by Granite Press of Penobscot, Maine, in 1985.

In her short bio at the back of the book, Paley says of herself that she was born in 1922 and has lived in New York City most of her life, living with her husband, writer Robert Nichols, in Vermont part of the year. She calls herself a combative pacifist and a cooperative anarchist and says she has always been active in anti-war and feminist causes. At the time this book was published, she taught at Sarah Lawrence and City College.

According to her Wikipedia entry, Paley died in 2007.

Stanzas: Old Age and the Conventions of Retirement
Have Driven My Friends from the Work They Love


When she was young she wanted
to sing in a bank
a song about money
               the lyrics of gold

was her song
               she dressed for it


She did good. She stood up like a
planted flower among yellow weeds
               turning to please the sun
               they were all shiny
it was known she was planted


No metaphor reinvents the job of the nurture of children
except to muddy or mock.


the job of hunting of shooting in hunting season of
standing alone in the woods of being an Indian


The municipal center
the morning of anger
the centrifugal dream
her voice flung out on plates of rage
          then they were put in a paper sack
          she was sent to the china closet
          and never came back


every day he went out, forsaking
wife and child
with his black bag he accompanied
sewed our lives to death


One day at work     he cried
I am in my full powers
               suddenly he was blind
with slaps of time and aperture returned
dear friend     we asked
               what do you see
he said     I only see what has been
               seen already

One day when I was a child     long ago
Mr. Long Ago spoke up in school
He said
Oh children you must roll your r's
no no not on your tongue little girl
there is nothing so beautiful as r rolled in the throat of a French woman
no woman more beautiful
he said     looking back
                               at beauty

On Mother's Day

I went out walking
in the old neighborhood

Look! more trees on the block
forget-me-nots all around them
ivy    lantana shining
and geraniums in the window

Twenty years ago
it was believed that the roots of trees
would insert themselves into gas lines
the fall    poisoned on houses and children

or tap the city's water pipes
or starved from nitrogen    obstruct the sewers

In those days in the afternoon I floated
by ferry to Hoboken or Staten Island
then pushed the babies in their carriages
along the river wall    observing Manhattan
See Manhattan I cried    New York!
even at sunset it doesn't shine
but stands in fire    charcoal to the waist

But this Sunday afternoon on Mother's Day
I walked west    and came to Hudson Street    tri-colored flags
were flying over old oak furniture for sale
brass bedsteads    copper pots and vases
by the pound from India

Suddenly before my eyes    twenty-two transvestites
in joyous parade stuffed pillows
under their lovely gowns
and entered a restaurant
under a sign which said    All Pregnant Mothers Free

I watched them place napkins over their bellies
and accept coffee and zabaglione

I am especially open to sadness and hilarity
since my father died as a child
one week ago in his ninetieth year


Now here back again is Charles Levenstein with his second poem for the week.


Starts his day in a usual way.
Barred from salt, measures calories,
surreptitiously jiggles his belly
to check the progress of a new
diet regime, no discernible effect
although an already sour
disposition is getting worse.

He throws out the heavy cream;
in the refrigerator so long,
won't pour down the drain.
No bagels left, so toasts German
pumpernickel. Maybe he'll have
a pickle for the strength he'll need
to circumnavigate the reservoir
on a cold shiny morning.

Suppose I live forever, he thinks,
without the taste of chocolate,
the delight of opening a pie,
melting vanilla ice cream on a cobbler,
suppose I never look a potato
in the face again.

Pulls on ragged sweat pants,
itchy socks and sneakers,
dons polar fleece over an old peace t-shirt,
decides to wear the woolen watch cap
that makes him look like a thug,
or a fat old slug with delusions.

Walks along the muddy path,
he's passed by sturdy youth of the rugby team,
golden girls of track zip by,
only the ancient Vietnamese pushing
the stolen supermarket cart moves more slowly
than he who pursues immortality.

My next poem is by Brigit Pegeen Kelly from her book Song, published in 1995 by BOA Editions Ltd. The book was the 1994 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets.

Kelly was born in Palo Alto, California in 1951. Winner of numerous literary prizes, including being a Pulitzer finalist, she has taught at the University of California at Irvine, Purdue University, and Warren Wilson College, as well as numerous writers' conferences in the United States and Ireland. In 2002 the University of Illinois awarded her both humanities and campus-wide awards for excellence in teaching. She is currently a professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Arguments of Everlasting

My mother
gathers gladiolas: the little tubes
shout and clamor: a poppling
of unstoppled laughter: the guileless leaps
and quiet plosives
of the fountain when it is working: when
mechanics and meaning are flush
and untroubled. Not like
my brother's stammer: speech and its edicts
broken by that intruder
between tongue and tooth: something
winged: of insect color.
               My mother
gathers gladiolas. The gladness
is fractured. As when
the globe with its thousand mirrors
cracked the light. How
it hoarded sight: all the stolen perspectives
and the show of light
they shot around us: so that
down the dark hall the ghosts danced
with us: down the dark hall
the broken angels.
               What keeps
the grass from slipping? The steep
grass? Like my brother
it imitates the; stone's arrest: this done
this done and nothing
In the face of the wind
it plants its foot
and fights its own going:
a traveling line
of adamance.
               My mother
the doves are in full cry
this morning.
The leaves are heavy
with silken grieving: soft packages
of sorrow: cacophonies
of sighing. It is a pretty
thing, a pretty thing,
the light lathered like feathers,
and the day's spendage
beginning. The flag unspools its furl
above the school,
pulsing out and our: a wake
of color in the air:
blue: red: blue:

and how white the sky is. How white.

Barely December, and I'm already going crazy from Christmas.

if you see Alvin, tell him i'm looking for him

call me a scrooge
if you must

but the next chipmunk
i see, whether he's named
Alvin or not

is gonna be one

it's not even
December yet

and Perry Como
and Andy Williams
and Dean Martin

were pretty darn good
lounge singers
but do we really need

to drown in their
too-sweet Christmas schtick
every year

i mean
if it wasn't for Christmas
these guys would be on the radio

maybe once
every forty-seven years
and then only on PBS pledge week

Bing Crosby?
another candidate for pledge week

I mean,
Der Bingle and Bob Hope
were lifetime friends

but even Hope
would throw his golf club
at the radio

at the 63rd
playing of
"White Christmas"

it really frosts
my eggnog that i have to listen
to this stuff for a month and a half every year

even worse
during that whole month and a half

they almost never play the good stuff - like
"Grandma Got Runned Over By A Raindeer"
for example

i haven't heard that classic
even once
so far this year

Here's a poem by Sudeep Sen from his book Postmarked India, published by HarperCollins in 1997.

Sen is a widely recognized and widely traveled poet (my copy of his book is autographed and presented to its buyer at a reading he did in San Antonio in 2000). He was born in New Delhi in 1964 and lives now in London and New Delhi. His education took place in India, the United Kingdom and the United States. He studied at St. Columba's School and read literature at Delhi University. As an Inlaks Scholar, he received a master's degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York. Sen was an international poet-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, and a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

Durga Puja

          Today/man will triumph over gods
               T Khair, "My India Diary IV"


     Through the swirling fumes of the scented incense, the arati echoes
as the priest hums, and the Chandipaat chants in a scriptural rhyme.

     From the bamboo pedestal she stares through her painted pupils, frescoed
and tinseled, the three-eyed pratima of the Goddess Durga -

     resplendent, statuesque, armed with ten hands on her roaring chariot,
her glazed clay demeanor, poised, even after the mythic bloody war.

     Every year after the monsoons diminish she comes partly to perform heriot,
high from Himalayan palace sculpted in fresh snow and the open sky,

     to the earth where she once belonged, her home with the voice
of her parents and people, reminiscing the quadrangle of her playful days.

     Today and the next four days, we worship and rejoice
at her presence and her victory over Ashoor, the demon,

     half-emerging from the deceptive black buffalo, as she spears
his green body crimson in a cathartic end to the Crusades.

     These five days are hers, exclusively hers, even her
children - Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganessh, and Kartik - fade in her presence.

     For five days we spark and light, sing and dance, laugh and cheer,
untutored, uninhibited, unlike the rest of the year.


     The dashami came even before we realised the baribe was graced.
After the mid-afternoon rites, the procession began -

     Durga's face totally effaced, red and white with sindoor and sandesh,
or perhaps it is the residual stains of the fervent worship;

     her body weary, her coat of arms mutilated, often dismembered,
as she sits on open lorries, while he young men and women

     dance the continuous drum beats, possessed - and Durga, bewildered,
now one of the multitude - a rare frozen moment when the gods look human.

     Though it may seem today that men will triumph over the goddess,
that her immersion at the ghats with mortal hands seem real,

     it is, like some myths, only an illusion of victory and sadness,
as she mingles, melting with the great silting Ganga,

     her soft clay body browning the greenish-blue bhaashaan waters, the damp
stripping her flesh bare, as we hear the receding din of the last offerings,

     see the muted wick's faint glimmer of the floating earthen lamps,
and the moonlight's occasional flicker on the damp strewn petals,

     as she wades her way upstream miraculously through the cantilever
of debris, dirt, sewage and homage of many unknown towns and villages,

     back to the pristine snow-crowned peaks, where triad incarnate Shiva
welcomes her home in an unusual dance of life;

     while we, on the earth, await her return the following year,
perhaps to celebrate, perhaps to pray, perhaps to forget

     the life around, but perhaps to believe that really, without fear,
the life force lives, that the celestial cycles still exist

     just as Durga visits, once every year, ceaselessly,.
just as, at the close of every season, she whispers from the heavens,

     "Akhone aami aashi" - that I'll return once again - Shashti, Shaptami,
Ashtami, Nobami, Dashami...Shashti, Shaptami, Ashtami, Nobami, Dashami.

Here's a third poem by our friend Charles Levenstein.

Window of Desire

If you sit in the same place each morning,
The blind cat snoozing on a leather hassock,
The wild one prowling for Cinderella moths,

Seasons walk by, slowly enough
To document colors and preeminent wildlife,
The urban skunk ever present,

Squirrels from fat to lean and back again,
Sparrows and starlings, songbirds and cranks,
Until winter, a time for theory, not practice.

We migrate then with more ambitious fowl,
Find a beach where mango daiquiris are served
And a pile of novels consumed without interruption;

Or we remain at this window of speculation,
Watch endless snow cover our mistakes,
Contemplate the dimming landscape of desire.

Pat Mora was born El Paso in 1942. She taught at the University of New Mexico as an distinguished visiting professor. She also was a museum director and consultant for US-Mexico youth exchanges. She's received two degrees. She got a BA from Texas Western College in 1963 and got an MA from the University of Texas, El Paso in 1967.

The next several short poems are from her book, Borders, winner of the Southwest Book Award, published by Arte Publico Press at the University of Houston in 1986.

Los Ancianos

They hold hands
as they walk with slow steps.
Careful together they cross the plaza
both slightly stooped, bodies returning to the land,
he in faded khaki and straw hat,
she wrapped in soft clothes, black
robozo round her head and shoulders.

Tourists in halter tops and shorts
pose by flame trees and fountains,
but the old couple walks step by step
on the edge.
Even in the heat, only their wrinkled
hands and faces show.    They know
of moving through a cloud at their own pace.

I watch him help her
off the curb and I smell love
like dried flowers, old love
of holding hands with one man for fifty years.

Mi Tierra

Men wonder why
I remove my
shoes. They think it's the high
heels, but I kick
off sandals too, press
my soles closer
to your hot, dry skin
feel you move up my arms,
through me
and into the world
through me, but in
me, in me.

Desert Women

Desert women know
about survival.
Fierce heat and cold
have burned and thickened
our skin. Like cactus
we've learned to hoard,
to sprout deep roots,
to seem asleep, yet wake
at the scent of softness
in the air, to hide
pain and loss by silence,
no branches wail
or whisper our sand songs
safe behind our thorns.

Don't be deceived.
When we bloom, we stun.

No such thing as a "day of rest" anymore. But you can get a little feel for what is used to be like early Sunday mornings.

Sunday quiet

things to do

i'm not ready
to start

this quiet Sunday

a good breakfast
a cup of thick

and through the windows
the beginning

at just that point
of sunrise

when the streetlights
to flicker

the traffic on I-10
in Sunday

a few people
early-risers like me
and the truckers

the never-stop
headed west on I-10

El Paso
and all points west
to the Pacific

as all else
is still
sky overcast

with a promise of rain
and the smallest flicker of movement
in the oak trees

i am an
enjoying the smallest flicker

of movement
while i can

Sunday is a temporary state
of mind
soon broken

the storm is coming

Here's a poem by William Matthews, from his book Blues If You Want. published by Houghton Mifflin in 1989.

Matthews was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 11, 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 and a book of essays, winning the National Book Critics Award as well as being finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

He served as president of Associated Writing Programs and of the Poetry Society of America, and as a member and chair of the Literature Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts. He received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, and in April 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.

The Blues

What did I think, a storm clutching a clarinet
and boarding a downtown bus, headed for lessons?
I had pieces to learn by heart, but at twelve

you think the heart and memory are different.
"It's a poor sort of memory that only works
backwards," the Queen remarked. Alice in Wonderland.

Although I knew the way music can frill a room,
even with loneliness, which is of course a kind
of company. I could swelter through an August

afternoon - torpor rising from the river - and listen
to J. J. Johnson and Stan Getz braid variations
on "My Funny Valentine," and feel there in the room

with me the force and weight of what I couldn't
say. What's an emotion anyhow?
Lassitude and sweat lay all around me

like a stubble field, it was so hot and listless,
but I was quick and furtive like a fox
who has thirty miles a day metabolism

to burn off as ordinary business.
I had become me, after all, the bare eloquence
of the becalmed, the plain speech of the leafless

tree. I had the cunning of my body and a few
bars - they were enough - of music. Looking back,
it almost seems as though I could remember -

but this can't be; how could I bear it? -
the future toward which I'd clatter
with that boy tied like a bell around my throat,

a brave man and a coward both,
to break and break my metronomic heart
and just enough to learn to love the blues.

Now, one last one from Charles Levenstein


Maintaining this hive,
an enterprise started as divine joke
or, at most, an explosion of interest
in the otherwise dreary void,
requires more of my time
and less of hers, she seems to have lost
interest, preferring hard bodies
or growing minds to an old honey -

Possibly standards have risen,
in the beginning, "dirty" was without substance,
but with germ theory and profit centers,
leaving well enough alone won't do.
Perhaps we/I have been dropped off
in a distant suburb, too much bother,
loving care of an untrainable, slothful
swarm, best returned to the no-kill pound
which is where I find myself
considering honey in a superannuated apiary.

Like everyone native to a warmer climate, we get a little bit of what might be winter and go overboard with our response to it.

winter slips in at midnight

a cold, damp
and people

are out in
the streets
with their
polar bear

the elements

most people
would say
it's not really

that cold
but we're not
used to it

and usually
when the first

cold snap
slips in
at midnight

it makes for
an exciting morning

hugging themselves
under their dead-of-winter

hats, stomping
their feet
on street corners

how 'bout
this weather
they say

as the north wind blows
leaves finally give

of loosing
their grip on the trees
and by tomorrow

leaving stark branch

on the sidewalks
under tomorrow's
winter sun

everyone wants to drink their coffee by the window

watch this cold-slow day as it passes

Now I have a poem by Ray Gonzalez from the anthology From Totems to Hip-Hop, edited by Ishmael Reed. The book was published by Thunder's Mouth Press in 2003.

Gonzalez was born in El Paso and has received many awards for his poetry, essays, short stories and editing. He has taught at various universities, including the University of Illinois and the University of Minnesota.

Three Snakes, Strawberry Canyon, Berkeley

The Rattlesnake

We really didn't see it,
but the guy walking ahead of us
said it struck and missed him.
He pointed to the tall grass.
"If you get closer,
you can see its eyes."
We looked, but couldn't see it
and kept walking.
I thought of the rattlers
I killed as a boy,
back home in Texas,
the next of six baby rattlers
we found in the yard,
my mother insisting I cut
their heads off with a shovel,
saying the babies were more lethal
because they could fill you with venom,
and not know when to pull back
like adult snakes.
I recalled how I killed them
and regret it still,
and wanted this rattler
to bite the hiker so I could forget
his bravery, his wonder.

The Garter Snake

It looked like an overgrown worm,
tiny and quick as it flashed
across the trail,
its sidewinding motion
leaving marks in the dirt.
As we noticed it, we forgot
what we said about poetry,
how those things vanish,
then reappear before us,
how we admit black and green bands
of the garter snake
are the same colors
we keep missing each time
we try to write something.

The Gopher Snake

We found it sleeping
in the middle of the trail.
It didn't move,
but glistened as we approached,
but I knew it wasn’t the rattler
that haunts my footsteps.
The snake looked
like a giant slug,
a slow, wet creature
that sunned itself
so it could dissolve
into the ground.
Suddenly, we realized
it was good luck
to have snakes cross our path
like the unknown pulses
in the earth that
traveled underground,
ahead of us, all the way
to the bottom of
the surprising, moving canyon.

I end this week with this little absent-minded love poem.

before i forget again

about hiking
down the Grand Canyon

in winter -
remembering again
of all the things

i have waited
too long
to do

reminds me
before i forget

to say i
love you

That's it for this week. Just a couple more weeks before the fat guy comes (no, not me, the other fat guy). Until then, remember, he's making a list and checking it twice (no, not Dick Cheney, the other list-keeper).

All the material presented in this blog remains the property of its creators. As owner and producer of the blog I declare any of that made exclusively by me to open to whoever wants it, so long as, if used, it be properly credited to me...allen itz.


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