Winter Rhubarb

I have a kitty on my lap, I just wrote two poems (and revised a third), and I’m full of Malaysian food; there are worse birthdays, I suppose. I feel as though I’d be remiss if I didn’t post today. Another year, another sense of not-quite-accomplishment; overall, it was a pretty banal and unfulfilling time. But I’m trying to get myself out of the funk, as I’ve been trying to do all summer: certainly a new job and a place to live next month would help, but until those pieces fall into place, I’ll have to try and work the ones that have already so fallen, in order to brighten life up a bit.

One such thing is that workshop starts up again tomorrow, which I’m looking forward to. I feel as though I haven’t written nearly enough this summer (and certainly nothing I’m particularly proud of) to bring stuff, but I’ll just have to deal, at least for the first week. I’m more and more hopeful that I can re-discover good patterns of creation and productivity; if I didn’t have hope, I don’t know what I’d do.

Anyway, this is for a dVerse prompt to imitate a Jane Hirshfield theme: eroticism through fruit. The suggestion includes writing about the first sexual encounter, so I tried to weave a little bit of that into this one. But mostly, it was just a cheeky little piece with some shameless imagery. I’ll leave you to read it to your amusement and arousal.

Winter Rhubarb

A single gleaming stalk of it, its poisonous leaves
stripped and left on the floor of the forcing shed,
slender and redly naked in the dim candlelight
where it has pushed through years of cold soil
and cracked the rime, the crisp feel of it
clutched in the curious hand, spring’s first fruit
so desperate to grow they say you can hear it
creak in the darkness, ready to be pulled up,
to bless the tongue with its bittersweetness
like some sugar acid taper begging for flame,
like the exhumed finger of a too-long-buried sun.

Night-Song

Well, it’s been a while.

There’s been a lot of turmoil offline: still looking for a better job, a place to live, grad schools, etc. Mostly I’ve just been too drained and gloomy to write, which is an awful thing. (I hate  being just kind-of-depressed, because at least when you’re wildly dejected you can channel it into some kind of creativity. Being in that grey place in between is just boring.) But I sat myself down and forced myself to crank out this nonsense, which is the first thing I’ve written in two weeks. Putting it up here before I change my mind.

Probably will continue to be pretty quiet for the time being…

Night-Song

Listen, I brought you in from the sudden rain.
When we sleep, we are traveling, and I caught
the shape of you in the thunder’s deepening line.
You were moving east. You were unraveling.
Listen, I took a cab as fast I could. I believe
once in a while we must all be full of mercy
and we desire to do something good. I let you
drowse on my knee while the city flew by.
Listen, the long hex of Broadway was opal and fire.
The timeless chain of here, of now. Leading home,
where your body curled and uncurled at peace
with the night. I wrapped my lips round you tight.
Listen, sometimes the flare of joy is more than I
can take; and I want to say, if only you’d been there!
If you’d only been awake!

Algebra [Kissing in the Dark]

Because of Labor Day, I’m all messed up in my weekdays, and I keep thinking it’s Monday. I suppose it will lead up to being pleasantly surprised when I get to the end of the (shortened) week, but I still did absolutely nothing yesterday, and feel simultaneously good and awful about that. So, here’s a random poem that coursed through my head this morning. I’m not sure how much more needs to be said about it, save that it’s unpolished and I’ll come back to it at some point, maybe?

Algebra [Kissing in the Dark]

Before she knew she was a lesbian,
she’d dig a mechanical pencil into my math book’s
unstained pages, filling the margins with love.
Or at least, what we pretended was love,
fourteen coming on to fifteen, dancing on tables
and pressing up against the lockers,
that sort of thing. The first girl I half came out to
pushed our heads together into the first kiss
that meant anything. Teenage sexuality has so much
in common with the rigor of algebra:
parentheses and the unpredictability of power,
the long strings of add and subtract,
a manipulation of nameless things you can’t see,
but you know are there. I only remember math class
because she dug her pencil deep. Every binomial
begins with the crude diagram of a heart.
And there is so much difference, too: during lecture
the elegant x of two people crossing lies cold
on the paper, but it becomes naked flame outside,
once you push its sweet unknown to the chapel wall
and try to solve it. Try to solve it; try to solve it.

Time

Oy, it’s been a week. A few things:

First, there are two poets lined up for Refinery! I promise you both that I’ll get to them, and I have read both poems already. I just need to find some time to actually put the thoughts in order and craft them into a post. It’s been incredibly busy at work (the boss is away), so I haven’t been able to work on it then. The evenings have also been pretty chock full of things to take care of, with the roommate away. My hope is to get at least one up by Friday (so Margo will have something to report!), and the other this weekend.

Second, one reason the weekend was so busy is that, holy cats, I did a reading on Sunday evening. So I was freaking out for a few days leading up to it about what to read, would people like it, etc. (I’ve done an open mic here and there, but this was the first time I was a “headliner”, and people paid to get in, and I was up first.) I think it went fairly well; I read eight poems, which got various amounts of applause, and the almighty “Mm!” which is the reading poet’s best friend. Anyone can clap, whether they feel something or not; it takes an actual emotional response to get that Mm!, and you can hear how the audience feels in it. (Fantastic magical realism poem about my grandmother’s house? A wistful, charmed one. Poem about my friend who died of AIDS? One that was ripped out of their throats.) Hoping that there will be other readings to follow, at some point.

And then, the third wrinkle this weekend was a domestic dispute upstairs, followed the next day by a fly infestation in the hallway ceiling, which had me really paranoid for a little while. (I called my roommate from DC, who majored in forensic science, to see how long a body took to start producing flies.) The infestation has blown over, and I don’t think my neighbor killed anyone, but it threw me for a loop. That’s what I get for writing a poem about swarms of black insects, I suppose.

Enough housekeeping natter. Here’s a poem without much substance and originality. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” pretty much did the theme as well as it needed to be done, back in the 1600s. But I don’t have rosebuds, I have berries outside the window, and that’s that.

Time

Every morning the temptation by the window:
rain dripping from leaves and berries from vines
climbing the trellis. White paint cracks,
green globes grow red-violet, and pockets
heaped with adverbs give up their loads:
slowly, eventually, soon. The sun escapes
to drop sugarcubes in a pale chipped afternoon.
Thoughts clip to modal verbs: I will, is promised,
I should, is said. A wrapped bolt of summer heat
and summer fruit dangles before the eyes.
Wet, then dry. Who allows the clumps of color
to blacken and fall? Who allows the sparrows
to swallow them, purple staining their beaks
and their music, their shit on the garden wall?
Then consequence closes in like evening glory.
Participles make mist from hot summer ground,
a backwards-traveling song. Its key is minor,
its moral threatening, going, is going, has gone.

Carlos Amorales, “Black Cloud”

Random ekphrasis is what’s on tap today. A while back, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was this piece by Carlos Amorales that consist of tens of thousands of black paper moths affixed to all the surfaces in this one gallery, spilling out into other parts of the exhibit. A judicious web search will give you some good photos, but here’s one that I think does some elegant justice to the thing:

Carlos Amorales, “Black Cloud”

It was fascinating, cool, and creepy all at once. So, in my random scrounging for something to write about today, I came back to that image and thought about how to make it a little bit ominous and threatening. Swarms of insects are good for that kind of thing. So even though Halloween is two months away, I suppose I was in that kind of mood.

Carlos Amorales, “Black Cloud”

The cold gallery walls swarm with black moths.
They are cut from thick paper, pleated, creased, and split.
The last hour has been spent cataloguing black moths.
No two are alike, except in their color, and their hunger.
Some of them congregate in swells of printer’s soot.
Others scatter into collars of volcanic islands.
One knot of onyx clings to the ceiling for its daily torpor.
They can be seen from any angle, coal-buttoning the room.
At the doors, by the fistful, cluster black moths.
Inky tumors flap and crumple along the frames of paintings.
They are critical tourists who hide dark, crooked mouths.
In the corner of the eye they appear to be moving.
Some of them are caught creeping into the stairwells.
Some of them commit reconnaissance on other rooms.

Climate Change

Most boring day at work ever, so I just thought I’d scribble something. Haven’t done any terza rima in a while, so I’m polishing those skills a little bit.

Margo Roby is once again my champion for mentioning the Refinery to her readership. However, it has been mentioned that my email address is not readily accessible for people to send their poems in. This is kind of by design; I don’t want it to be completely out there for the world to see. But, for the purpose of getting some possible grist for the mill, I’ll do this: take the first letters of each word in the sentence “Left inside, normal kids should feel restless; each urgently desires escape.” Then add the @, and gmail dot etc. etc. Sorry for the arcane technique, but I don’t want bots trawling along and filling my spambox.

Still need to take a day off and attend these several ideas I have floating around which are too complex to dash off during a slow afternoon. Maybe I’ll go up to the Hudson Valley for a day sometime soon; I did enjoy my trip up there before. But before anything else, I want to find a way to change jobs…

Also, this blog has now topped 1000 followers, which is kind of astonishing. Much love to you all! Although, given the amount of feedback I get, I wouldn’t think it had that many, and I wonder how many of those followers are actual people? It is very easy to click “follow”, and much harder to actually do so; I’d like if people introduced themselves and made their presences known. This feedback would compel me to respond in kind, write more, post more, and generate a positive loop which I hope would be beneficial to everyone. So, yes: comment!

Climate Change

New York forgets its water: rivers and seas
collect around the edges of Manhattan.
All hint of salt is scrubbed from the crosstown breeze.

Each corner has a hard-hat crew to flatten
and heap and tear. They mound the crumbed remains
of disrepair so the rats may come and be fattened.

But water abides: the tidal straits take pains
to creep up towards the treasures and nip the heels.
These riches lose their sheen in hurricanes.

An island binds itself with glass and steel.
Each beam prepares to swing like a trapeze.
Outside, the gulls begin to swivel and wheel.

Observing a Beating

I don’t often use the “trigger warning” header, but I suppose I should in this case: there is some ugly violence in here. This poem went through about ten different versions, none of them satisfactory, and I’m still not thrilled with this one, but if I kept re-writing it any more, I would just go nuts. (I mean, I’m sure I will re-write it at some point to emphasize different points, but I think for now at least, it speaks for itself.) It’s not based on any personal experience, but on experiences that are too common in the lives of others.

We’re training someone new at work, so I have had absolutely no time to write there. And then there’s always something going on in the evenings that’s distracting me, so I’ve had no time then either. I am really chafing at this busy-ness; I need to say, screw everyone’s plans, and take a break for myself.

Observing a Beating

The boy’s skirt rips, the boot draws blood,
fabric is stained rust-red, and one animal laughs
he’s having his period. He means, the boy is
a woman, a length of time, a full stop.
Not so long ago, the animals lurked in caves
splintering bones with their teeth.
Hunger draws them out when they see a boy
wearing lipstick, his legs shaved, they think,
smooth, easy prey. Then history opens easy as
an old wound, always just out of reach.
And fear as well. A particular species of it
seals other eyes wide and the slick hands
shut. Language freezes solid. The heart aches
from moving, the feet ache from standing
still. The sound of skin slaps against the ear.
The whole brain shrinks into one awful point.

Pomona

I’m in a frustrated place, where I feel like I want to write blog posts, but can’t. This isn’t because I don’t have anything to say, but I’m at this curious point where I want everything I write to have some kind of deeper commentary beyond the observational. (I always swore I wouldn’t be a commentary poet, and now I can’t help it. At least, any commentary was meant to be inadvertent.) So I keep trying to work these aspects into very straightforward moments that I’m trying to capture in verse, and finding that they turn into wiggly balls of yarn I want to throw out, or really interesting things that I want to keep off the blog for possible fledging in the publication arena. (It’s been almost a year since I’ve submitted stuff. Gearing up for that.) And the result is that I haven’t put anything on here in seven days.

(Of course, if people wanted to send me poems to Refine, I’d be happy to do that, too…!)

But anyway, this is from a moment on the train, though some of the details have been melded and altered. Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit and plenty and all. I kind of like the idea of her being a self-assured blind woman on the train. Give me more fodder to write with!

Pomona

No one gives up their seat for the blind woman
who taps her way onto the train.

This is the downtown 6 on a Wednesday morning,
everyone heaped with their own weight

until they’re too stubborn for anyone else’s. Except
this woman, lithe and undefeated.

Nothing has been offered to her. She doesn’t ask.
The train’s baleful light burns through

dark glasses to show the shape of staring eyes
free of worry. She sways in perfect time,

knowing the route, each curve predicted two
seconds in advance. Her right hand

props up the white cane. Her left hand reveals
fresh apricots, one by one, cracked open

by some hidden trick of the palm. Soon enough
the whole train smells like stone fruit.

Everyone wants to give something to the world.
The blind woman knows apricots

by their perfume, which she offers up, then
raises to her mouth and sucks back in.

The perfume becomes the train. Which becomes
an everything, shaped like a kiss.

Visitation

Had a weird experience at the café tonight, where they played a particular song (Cranberries, “Zombie”) that comes up rarely enough that it always reminds me of a certain deceased classmate of mine from high school. We were never the closest of friends, though I suppose we could have been; sometimes I think we mirrored each other in some ways. But then I feel guilty appropriating his memory like that, and I know there are people much more strongly affected by his passing than me. What is the line? Where do we know where we stand, in relation to the dead? I would feel strange saying “my friend who died”, but I can’t deny that I felt for a minute that he was sitting there across from me, just like the last night I ever saw him. And so this poem kind of spilled out of that into a shape I don’t like, but I’ll cope.

Meanwhile, happy birthday to Tessa!

Visitation

Is there a word in any language for the dead
we did not grieve for? Not to say they were not dear,
only that others have better earned the right to say
I knew him, I knew her. Such a phantom
may appear and sit with you at a dimly-lit café,

and suddenly you remember– the song they’re playing,
the last time you heard it was when you were out
someplace with this ghost brushing hair from his face.
Drinking a tropical drink and smoking a cigarette,
and being alive. Now, it is only the air that passes

between the rungs of a chair, the breeze blown
through the door to bear the musical echo, the smoke
over a cup, or the aftermath. What do we call them?
We do not feel bereaved. What is their noun,
and anyway, who would such a word be for?

Trimming the Tree

Goofy little things here for a Monday evening. We Write Poems wanted a “kaleidoscope” poem gathering source material of different kinds and spinning it into a response of some kind. So, here was my process: I decided to do a response poem to a few questions from poems by Kay Ryan (a… Kay-leidoscope, if you will? groan), which were:

It isn’t ever / all green thought / in green shade, is it?
Is it just winter / or is this worse?
Is it unkind / to hope / some will / eat others, / is it uncaring?
It’s a / matter of moisture, / isn’t it?

These are from “Duck”, “Winter Fear”, “Herring”, and “The Late Worm”, respectively. So then I tried to do some subtle allusions that would “answer” the little rhetorical questions from those poems, in the same kind of elliptical and pithy way that Ms. Ryan herself does, and which I so emulate. (But I think after this little exercise, I need to be done with imitation for a little while.) And then lastly, I think the image of a spiderweb spangled by Christmas lights makes for a nice little kaleidoscopic image, no?

Trimming the Tree

A spider, cornered
by the thousand lights,
must make do with
a smaller net; or,
now in the house’s heat,
she may yet crawl
out to the space where
branch meets wall.
Should moth or centipede
cross her path,
we will avert our faces;
we’ve heard this season
is for giving even
enemies a place
to drink their fill, and
to breathe in.