TGIF indeed, ladies and germs.

I’ve got this incipient cycle of poems that are for a certain persona. Not sure where it’s going to go, but I’ll probably be focused on them for the next couple of weeks, and drafting not-so-often here. (Although I said I was cutting down anyway.) And I put in for vacation from the 6th to the 15th of June (plus the weekend after, so really the 17th), which I hope will be a much-needed jolt of relaxation and time for writing. Not sure if I’m going to travel anywhere yet, but the Berkshires are looking mighty tempting if I can swing it, as is Montréal. But hell, even just reclining at home would be nice. And my sister-in-law is due in mid-June, so I’ll probably want to stay around these parts to go home for any impending becoming-an-uncle…

Speaking of having time to write, that was one of the key components in my poem for Sam Peralta’s prompt at dVerse, to write a glosa. I’ve seen this form before, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it before: it involves taking a four-line snippet of a well-known poem, doing four ten-line stanzas off it that successively end with each of the four lines, and rhyming lines six and nine in each with the last. (Plus, tipping your hat to the poet’s style helps.) Since it’s often a tribute form, I chose a dead poet I’ve been admiring more and more lately, Jane Kenyon, and used her poem “Dutch Interiors” as the basis for mine. This character of the merchant’s wife, so cryptic yet elegant, interests me. I started thinking about what Kenyon’s personal heaven might be like, and wondered if there was an echo to be found in this poem that is ultimately a slightly cheeky take on the presence of the divine.

But, you know, just read it as you will. I wrote it as such.


And the merchant’s wife, still
in her yellow dressing gown
at noon, dips her quill into India ink
with an air of cautious pleasure.
~ Jane Kenyon, “Dutch Interiors”

This is what comes, after:
always the sun just beyond reach,
a fat bumblebee in the blossom
gathering pollen to make time
(which will seep and slowly flow)
but too drunk. He never will.
Instead all things are frozen:
the room, the table, the water glass
forever beginning to spill,
and the merchant’s wife– still.

Far below her, the counting-houses
churn their presses, the fisherman’s
fishing, and the king is up a tree.
When you’ve no more life left,
how dazzling to see it spread out
for writing! She gazes down:
what else to do but memorize
the flicker of light on silver scales
and the color of the king’s crown
in her yellow dressing gown?

And she forgets the feel of silk
and the tumbling coin’s sonata.
Only the words, now. The words
join together in her like knots of wind
meeting overhead. Up here,
it is all the glory of watch and think,
waiting for the sun to start up again.
And she feels its wings click close
as her hymn reaches its brink
at noon, dips her quill into India ink.

The merchant’s wife, who is poised
without need, who smiles when
there’s nobody to smile at, knows
when things are too good to be true,
and when they’re just good enough.
This place: she’s taken its measure.
In other houses, other bargains:
but here she is content to be a hand
spilling its simple treasure
with an air of cautious pleasure.

Adam and Steve

All right, last one for the month, at least on the ol’ blogmachine. This is for Miz Quickly‘s prompt to write about a stereotype; at the risk of being heavy-handed and beating people over the head with the topic, I elected to write about the first one that sprung to mind. But I tried to have some wry humor mixed in with the bummer stuff, at least. I don’t think it’s really ending April with a bang, but then, I didn’t really expect to, and didn’t really start the month with a bang, either. Maybe tonight/tomorrow I’ll have the blog giveaway and the final summation of the challenge, but for now, I am going to head home and cook some flounder. How’s that for a happy ending!

Adam and Steve

are not in your kitchen destroying your marriage,
ripping out cabinets and screaming in falsetto
this tile has got to GO. They are not upstairs
whispering to your son, whose voice has just begun
cracking, who locks himself in the bathroom
(where he stares at his own reflection), nor are they
on your bed, filling your sheets with their sweat
so that you can’t sleep for the unholy reek of it.
They are not strutting this-hip-that-hip down the walk,
stuffing porn in the mailboxes and snorting cocaine
off the hood of your car. They are not gelling their hair,
popping pink polo collars, looking over aviator shades
and sucking their teeth. They are not at the gym,
or the bathhouse, or the park behind the supermarket
(because everyone knows what goes on there).

Adam is taking the bar exam in two weeks.
These days he lives in the library, while Steve
drives back home from seeing his dying mother,
which he can only do while she is doped unconscious
(she swears and spits on him when she’s not).
One of them will call the other to pick up dinner,
to share while they watch their favorite sitcom
on the royal blue loveseat. Adam worries about debt,
Steve worries about death. If you look in their window,
you will see them opening envelopes, wiping the table,
folding gym shorts, and once in a while, standing
quietly wrapped around each other. Their curtains
have been torn down by an unruly mob; their doors
unhinged and battered to kindling. Everyone passes by,
peering in, jumping at long shadows in the dusk.

In the Beginning, There Were Only Probabilities

I guess the HIV- and AIDS-inspired poetry I heard today generated the idea for this one. Miz Quickly‘s prompt was to write about luck, good or bad, and I decided to walk the balance beam between the two. (Or, maybe one foot firmly planted in each, aha!) Rest assured: this is not a true-to-life situation, though I’m sure it could very easily happen to people. And if it ever happened to me, I definitely do not think I would be this vicious. I can equate that waiting for test results with quantum physics in the abstract; in the real world (and given this poem, what is the “real world”, anyway?), I’d be shaking right with him on those chairs.

The title is a quote by physicist Martin Rees, and I love this quote. It has the right amount of religion and science that the awe of quantum physics ought to inspire (as Niels Bohr suggested).

In the Beginning, There Were Only Probabilities

In quantum mechanics, the idea of Schrödinger’s cat
is that the cat is simultaneously alive and dead,
poisoned or irradiated in its box. And two universes
(torus-shaped, immeasurable) bleed together inside

until you open it. We are also always in two states
waiting for an outside observer to tell us
what we don’t trust ourselves to know. It’s like this:
sitting at the clinic on hard teal leatherette cushions

while the clock clicks its tongue and I am
flipping the National Geographic page by page.
You are biting your nails. In one potential universe–
and here, I can unfold a glossy chart full of graphics

to explain this– a chemical machine plays marbles
with your blood, knocks loose a few antibodies,
and the nurse’s plastic wand will come up POZ.
In the other, the inverted world you hold up

to examine in light, there’s no such things as
consequences. You don’t want to tell me which of you
forgot the condom, who was so T’d out of his mind
that even the thought of transmission was sexiled,

miserable on the stoop as mislaid ideas often are.
And that’s fine; I accept many things. For example,
in a closed system, entropy increases. Probabilities
always, eventually, add up to 1. You can tell me

he didn’t look sick, that normally you’re so careful.
Schrödinger’s cat is doomed whenever that first atom
splits, and leatherette creaks when you start
shaking, even though the room feels warm. This is

the longest twenty minutes of your life, but also
another life: one bullet-dodge, one crucifixion.
Look, the hard part is perceiving both at once.
Even our best scientists have no good explanation.

What Do Wonks Want?

Once in a while, you need to have some fun, especially when you post something of bleakness like I did earlier. Right? So, Poets + Writers has a fun prompt for the day, asking for an Oulipo-style N+7 adaptation of a famous poem. (This is where you take a poem and a dictionary, replacing all nouns with the noun seven nouns ahead of it. I do it to the adjectives and proper names too.) I flexed the rules a little bit to make it turn out better (the EastEnders line was my favorite, and too much fun to pass up), but I think it’s still gleefully surreal, and I hope carries a bit of the charm from the original. The original, of course, is Kim Addonizio’s wonderful “What Do Women Want?” Enjoy!

What Do Wonks Want?

I want a redesigned drift.
I want it floral and cheerless,
I want it too timid, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it slimming and backwater,
this drift, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the strife past Tibet and the harlequin storyboard
with all those kibbitzers glittering in the wings,
past Mr. and Mrs. Xerxes selling de luxe
doomwatchers in their cairn, past the Gujarati brownstones
slinging pigments from the truncation and onto the domicile,
hoisting the slipped sob over their showcase.
I want to walk like I’m the only
wonk on EastEnders and I can have my picnic.
I want that redesigned drift bad.
I want it to confirm
your woven federalism about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garrotte
from its hansom like I’m choosing a boiler
to carry me into this worthiness, through
the bisque-crimson and the lox-crimson too,
and I’ll wear it like bonsai, like skulduggery,
it’ll be the gold-rimmed
drift they bury me in.

Gauguin’s Washerwomen

One more before I quit the café, seeing as they close in twenty minutes, and I need to cook myself some wholesome food. Poets and Writers has some good-looking prompts this month, and as I am a subscriber and everything, I thought I’d give their ekphrastic prompt a try (from Day 2). The suggestion was to go to the MoMa website, where I found the Gauguin painting referenced in the title:

At the workshop on Monday, I brought an ekphrastic poem, and I do want to share a few musings that came up in that discussion. First and foremost, it is terribly important to move outside the frame of the painting; the poem should stand on its own. Pretend that the person has no way of seeing the painting, or even the title, for a clue. If you’re too focused on the images and things going on in the image, you may lose some of the power, and an ekphrastic poem should never diminish a poem’s power, only enhance or at least complement it. Secondmost, do this as soon as possible within the poem! In this piece, I got a little bit meta, talking about the artist as much as the poem itself, and the importance of both, which may not have been the best tack. Do what you have to do to immediately indicate to the reader that this is a poem about the poet considering art, not necessarily a narrative or exploration inside the painting itself. (You can do that too, but they tend to be more peculiar than the former.) And lastly, any references you do make to what’s inside the frame should be as universal as possible. Therefore, this poem ended up being a praise poem about ladies! And not in a romantic or objectifying way, or at least, I hope it doesn’t come across that way: it’s half a blazon-poem for the mothers (and I suppose wives), sisters, aunts, grandmothers, etc., without whom (and without whose Herculean efforts) none of us would be here.

Perhaps you would like to try this prompt as well…?

Gauguin’s Washerwomen

Praise be to the ones who take us, lightly,
by the chin, and turn our heads around
to see the history of labor laid out in our wake.
Praise be to those languages where machine
is a feminine noun, worn through as it is
with a thousand thousand pairs of careful arms
so used to the weight of a child and hands
that have memorized every inch of every home:
praise be to the ones who show us that.
Praise be to a woman’s work, which is never
finished, and to a woman’s strength, and to
the life-weavers whose names and faces
we cannot know, without whose loving patience
we would not exist to praise them now.
Praise be to the tired back and stooped neck.
Praise be to the ones who hold us
around the shoulders as they lay the angles
over each crooked bone, saying, look,
this is what you are the fortunate heirs to.
Praise be to the parade of history; praise be
to those who peel off hay-green squares of it
thin as gold leaf, slowing down time enough
for water to turn to stone and grow moss
as the first crisp of autumn forever folds
a woman’s apron into pleats, then lift the whole
river with its line of women and write on a wall
with a language that is all color: praise,
praise, praise.

meta-blogging: argentina

Typing away from a hostel in Buenos Aires, where I’ll be until Tuesday… and then back home at long last. I’ll have plenty to share about the experience, I’m sure, but for now, I’m just going to try to relax and explore a bit these two days. Very limited computer time up until yesterday, and now limited battery (plus voltage adapters that don’t work with Argentine outlet shape). But my plan is to sit in cafes with a pretty notebook and write for just hours, with a cup of coffee at my side. That, and walk around photographing architecture.

It’s a little bit unreal. I’m not sure I want to go back. (Well, of course I miss particular people and things in my life at home, but I just wish it was here instead, I suppose.)

Anyway, a brief check-in to say that I am alive still, and scribbling away. I’m going to jot down the prompts for the week, take them offline to write, then come back and toss stuff on the web. I promise that Wednesday I will be back to my usual blog-addict self!

Sethubandasana (Half Wheel Pose)

I wanted to write a poem about this anyway, from yesterday, but there was so much going on in my mind about the experience that I couldn’t really commit it all to paper at once. Things kept getting too winding and turned around, and ultimately I decided to truncate a lot of what I wanted to say. It’s still a sestina, which is pretty hefty as forms go, but it could (and maybe should?) have gone on longer.

But I also wanted to try and shoehorn it into the Poetry Tow Truck prompt (in honor of Baz Luhrmann! woo) of fusing old forms with pop culture. This isn’t really “pop” culture, so I’ll do another, better one later: but the whole chai-drinking yoga-doing Upper-East-Side yuppie archetype, pressed up against the (still cultural) German-American beer-swilling Von Steuben Day archetype, still had appeal to me for this.

Anyway, this was yesterday, and I think I may write more about it.

Sethubandasana (Half Wheel Pose)

We’re practicing yoga on the lawns of Central Park,
barefoot in the long grass that peeks over the edges
of mats, bows under caterpillar weights. We have made
cathedrals from our hips, our legs wavering slightly,
our eyes closed, hands pressing into the capable earth
that remembers rain. But it basks in the sun today.

The yogi says to shut ourselves out, let the crisp day
(Tantalus morning, reaching towards autumn in the park)
wash over us, pay attention only to firm earth,
soft breeze, bird call. We move between seasonal edges
where impossible sun-blue and sky-gold drips lightly
like late rain. We strive for height in this pose that we made.

Along Fifth Avenue, with painted stiles, police made
barriers for ten thousand revelers: Von Steuben Day
Parade route, conveyoring by. We are politely
not complaining about bagpipes assaulting the park
and our ears. Chatzemusig rolls over the hedges
with thunder and rain, and we accept its rhythmic worth.

The yogi says, try to focus, though how we can unearth
calmness here is not known. (Ford and Nissan never made
mangled half-wheels so unstable, with crumpling edges
of knees and bellies.) Remember earlier today,
drinking chai lattes as we walked round the re-greened Park
recovered from rain. We thought the floats and trucks unsightly.

But when the women dress up like Holly Golightly
on the U.E.S., and wizened men wear three-piece earth-
toned suits, to see muscled men in lederhosen park
a mobile beer-garden on 68th, or this maid
twirling her hoop dress, or German flagbearers, the day
unspoiled by rain and riches. That teases our edges.

The yogi says that we must form our bodies into ledges.
We can’t block out the world, though. The music comes brightly
and we must move. Our wheels groan and spin. The everyday
is where we plant outspread hands, the solidity of earth;
bloodflow and hipbones rise with the rhythm of what’s made
after rain ends. Skies celebrate in tune with the Park.

Like wires we carry current round the edges of Earth.
Someone has freed balloons that fly whitely. In the Park,
we gaze up. Who made this day? We, they, the rain, release.