War Paint

Just saw on poets.org that Natasha Trethewey will be serving a second term as Poet Laureate! I am okay with this, because I am still not very familiar with her work, and now I will have more opportunity to become so while she is still in the spotlight. The blurb adds, “Trethewey will undertake a signature project: a regular feature on PBS NewsHour Poetry Series for which she will travel to cities and towns across the country meeting with the general public to seek out the many ways poetry lives in American communities.” Pretty cool, says I. Maybe she’ll come visit New York and I can meet her this time without getting all tongue-tied.

Meanwhile, a poem. I’ve been trying to write more and more not to prompts, instead drawing on random happenings around town, random memories and thoughts/dreams I haven’t cannibalized properly yet for material, other works stumbled across, and experiments with sound and structure. So this one was part memory, part meditation on childhood, I guess. I tried to be as deft with the subject and my opinions of it as I could, but I don’t think you have to dig very deep to unpack the full idea of it. If you have any problems, um, let me know?

War Paint

First graders under the lone mulberry tree
take up the purple berries and crush them
between thumb and forefinger, smearing pulp
beneath each eye. Cowboys and Indians,
today. These boys hollering flecked with dirt,
their women in the root-hollow, rolling pebbles
into the centers of muddy spheres.

The blacktop with its fragments of glass
stained pinkish with the sorry shit of sparrows
singing in the mulberry becomes a mesa
which becomes a battlefield. Both sides charge
and collide. Missiles exchanged.
Black and purple berries and the red clay mud
pound back and forth, while the voices reach
that child’s pitch part laugh, part scream,
and rattle the chain-link fence.

After the skirmish, their women tend wounds
with spit and mulberry leaves. Some things
are learned too late; only old medicine will do
for now. The teacher blows her whistle.
And the fathers will remember their own wars
and shudder at the same old machinery.
And the mothers will say, well, they’re just
children. Yes, they’re only children.

The Spider

And also, a poem. DVerse wanted a “bathroom poem”, however that is to be interpreted. So I rolled with the spider theme, having seen one in the bathroom the other day; but also, another attempt to exorcise this idea of the spider as the spirit animal. I think she’s a good shape for that analytical part of ourselves that (for poets in general, maybe) takes the tragedies of others and turns them into writing, which always strikes me as callous on top of whatever other value it has (instructive, cathartic, etc.) What is the psychosis of the writer that death leads to good writing about death? What is the animal shape of that part of the spirit which simply allows itself to mourn?

I think I was also trying to do subtle things with sound, but they were so subtle they disappeared. Womp womp.

The Spider

She stares eightfold from the showerhead
before continuing her web.
A grey body skirts along blue tile.
Barring water, the little deaths
will string their constellation to the windowsill.

It can be so easy to claim kinship,
confusing webs for words,
when the epilogue belongs to someone else.
The spider is the one who dangles from it.
She is just out of reach in the totem-dream,
harbored on the underside
of the cabinet, shaded by the shelf.

Some of her outdoor cousins
are long-lived too. You’ve seen them spin
between tree branches, webs well-built
as ten o’clock fog in early June,
those scraps too stubborn to melt.

Heart’s Thaw

Oh, what the hell, why not a random poem. We Write Poems wanted a Zen poem about body-soul connection, and while I can’t claim this is either Zen or a body-soul connection kind of poem, I guess it veers, like a wheeling bird, slightly close to both. I just wanted to have some fun with rhyme and structure, and come up with an image or two worth repeating. It was just something to do for a Monday evening, I suppose.

Heart’s Thaw

After such a long time heartsick,
to see the birds’ northward line
and the archery of homecoming–
from the bone to the flesh grown thick
moans a green sound, the rhyme
of the body with the sky hums
vowel on drowned vowel– the signs
meaning spring and rain running
will fill each part and cavity– the sun
paints bird backs as a flame the wick,
gravity claims their upward climb–
and the flock tacks right, lowly divine
with the sleepless heart caught undone
in its wake– knotted by the quick
turn, by the art of so many dimensions
and leaves who burn with becoming.

The Subjunctive

You know, I bet I could write a better poem called “The Subjunctive”, but at the moment, this is an exercise for NaPoWriMo (and the last!), to take a short poem we like and turn every word/phrase in it on its head. A recent find is Ada Limón’s “The Conditional”, which you can read here. I liked it as soon as I saw it, at least partially because of the grammatical reference, so I went back to it for the exercise. I think my poem is more similar than I thought it would be, even though I did my best to really alter a lot of elements. Ah well. Language, she is the universal beast.

The Subjunctive

Let yesterday tumble in.
Let the sun unfold its tropical bloom.
Let rhubarb bend with reddened youth.
Let the moon glint as a pure blue monocle.
Let the cat’s nose flare valleys.
Let snakes coldly leave no trace.
Let his cap be a velvet planting-pot.
Let me always keep on watching: the squinted
past, trickling like water on rock, always
orbiting, always changing its light.
Let me meet him again and again. Always him.
Let me waste that first forever glancing away
from each other, back to shy back, catching
a butterfly and letting it crawl the cool sea.
Let it be worth something. Let it never be
enough. Let him say he’s done: not I, buried
elsewhere, ignorant with joy.

Symphony through a Basement Window

I have to say, I will be relieved when this month comes to an end. I just feel bled dry, creatively, right now. I’ll make it through tomorrow — I’ll get the prompt up (at some point), I’ll write a poem (maybe two), I might even hit my goal of sixty for the month — but then I am taking off for a solid five days. It doesn’t help that I feel bled dry in several other aspects of my life right now, so I think there’s got to be some slow re-accumulation. I say this every year, and never stay away for long; probably this one won’t be any different. But I think I need to start taking a more measured look at what I’m producing, how to improve it, how to find things worth saying and say them uniquely.

This one is kind of for NaPoWriMo. The five foreign words required by the prompt are in there, I promise.

Symphony through a Basement Window

There’s a woman who plays the berimbau upstairs,
scratching along with an old LP from her batizado.
The chorus bubbles out, and her voice lifts with it, starling
greeting starling. I do not think this is the same woman

who, during dinner, hurled a stack of china plates
into the airshaft as she screamed, maricón, cabrón,
the one whose husband slammed the door behind him
and let his dinner petrify on the table. And she
is not the only musician careening round the courtyard:

theremin bows awkwardly over the collapsing fence,
flickers through the screen, laced with bass guitar
like tectonic plates discussing their shift. This band
always holds parties full of hiccuping laughter
that I’m never invited to. And when the sun droops

red into the chimney, some animal, must be a dog,
wails its awful diminuendo and I want to drop everything,
climb the fire escape, come to the rescue–
but I could spend hours trying to figure out

which window to break, the building an echo chamber
drinking sound like the sea drinks a river. Sometimes
I press against the screen humming into it
so it can imbibe me, too. When the alley grows dark
and the boiler quiet, I press my head to the pillow. There,
far-off is the tempered beat of the subway buried alive,
there I am, riding it into the night.

Inheritance (II)

I wrote a poem called “Inheritance” a while back, so the “II” is just to distinguish the titles; and they are pretty different in feel. Again, I don’t want to talk deeply into this one, but there’s some roots and some story behind it, I suppose. The Poets and Writers prompt was to take a cliché and explore it: cleaning clocks was the main one for this, though skeletons in the closet informed it slightly as well. That’s about all I’ve got right now; have to go shake off this over-caffeination I’ve subjected myself too.

Inheritance (ii)

We stopped the grandmother clock, like you do,
catching the pendulum to still its tongue.
Then we rolled it out of the house without speaking.
Light curled on the living room’s nicotine flowers
pasted to the wall, and from the carpets
ash rose to follow us ghostly to the van, follow us
all the way home. How many years
can you let something stand silent in a corner
pretending it’s not there? It’s like those murders
nobody talks about, the body buried
not underneath a persimmon tree out back
or along the chain-link fence, but in the walls,
in a locked trunk. When a house has its whole face
removed, you must unlock all the closet doors, open
everything. The air lifts old newspapers,
hurled glass, and even things of wood and copper
bigger than sons, daughters, unmanageable things.
It takes a practiced hand to wheel a body
from place to place, and a careful one
to wipe it down, prop it up, find a whorled key
with which to wind it. Tar has beaded on the posts.
Rust in the bells. Then it sings the hour once again,
reminds us there used to be good days too, silver
and entirely happy. Everything grows tired,
even love. Still a strong hand can unbury it
seeking old music after the hour grows late,
and a steady one keeps it going, going.

A Kiss from Far-off Eden

Today’s Miz Quickly prompt is to do sort of a cento of eavesdropped conversation, but since I find it hard to break text out of the conversations themselves (plus the fact that brunch with my family is the narrative equivalent of two freight trains loaded with chemical fertilizer colliding), I decided to just do one of my random-wandering Poets.org centi, as I am sometimes wont to do. The path just kind of unfolded delicately, and I’m not sure I have any deeper reading, but eh, it kept me occupied.

A Kiss from Far-off Eden

I know that David’s with me here again,
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
our right shoulders red, our wavering hips indigo–
but what does he know about inside and outside?
(I come up to him
in the land of missing pronouns,
and when it starts to get dark,
we hardly speak.)
I’d ask how such wretchedness came to cumber
all mistake. One world that shuts air into
our words. We may have strolled in silence. But
whoever you are, holding me now in hand,
without you here, I’m viciously lonely.
Of all sweet passions, shame is the loveliest:
you are not me, and I am never you,
you with me, on me, in me, and you’re not.

Sources: Vachel Lindsay, “My Lady is Compared to a Young Tree”; Robert Graves, “Not Dead”; Denise Levertov, “In California During the Gulf War”; Traci Brimhall, “Our Bodies Break Light”; Li-Young Lee, “Immigrant Blues”; Galway Kinnell, “The Bear”; Marilyn Chin, “Quiet the Dog, Tether the Pony”; Alberto Blanco (trans. W.S. Merwin), “The Parakeets”; John Logan, “Three Moves”; Trumbull Stickney, “Mnemosyne”; Reginald Shepard, “Drawing from Life”; Li-Young Lee, “Eating Alone”; Walt Whitman, “Whoever You Are, Holding Me Now in Hand”; Aaron Smith, “Boston”; Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Praise of Shame”; Philip Lopate, “The Ecstasy”; Marilyn Hacker, “Coda”