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.

A Bend in the Sound

I know I owe you guys a Refinery post and a Curio post. My schedule is fairly clear this evening (though I am forcing the Fellow to watch Twin Peaks, because honestly, how could I not?, so maybe that will take time), and I am hoping that I can get that done at least. Goodness knows the absolute last thing I’ll want to do is brave the elements, with wind chill reaching negative numbers. Ugh.

I am at work right now, writing poetry. This is a normal and everyday thing when I have downtime, and it doesn’t really impact my job. But, lately I’ve been getting very disenchanted with things around here, which (for a reason I won’t get into) was cemented yesterday. I’ve set a number of plans in motion to go with, and in a few months we’ll see how bad things get with the job. The other thing is, at the Winter Getaway this weekend and at the monthly writer-artists’ salon last night, I had occasion to talk to a number of people about life: bottom line, what good is a little bit more financial security and schedule regularity if you’re miserable? I would rather work three part-time jobs at odd hours and enjoy them, with writing in the free spaces, than struggle through the workday. Especially last night, when I was discussing all the non-text storytelling ideas I’ve had in the arts realm, and receiving enthusiastic support from the group, I felt that urge. So we’ll see how that develops, I suppose.

Swapped chapbooks with another poet, Tara, last night, since we’ve promising to do that for months. And one of the other attendees (who is an author I grew up reading and admiring and get tongue-tied around) took a peek at my book, and said, “These are really good!” Chuffed to bits, I was. That got me thinking about the weekend all over again, and thinking about how to make more room for the creative in 2013. So: there is a weekly workshop by Douglas Goetsch (who I met at the Getaway, and who was way cool), starting next Monday. It is, for me, a pretty penny; but it could be worth the expense? I would rather wait until I have some cash saved up, but I’m not sure if there will be another workshop in the near future which I can attend. Also, it’s five minutes from my apartment, so that’s a nice touch. What do you guys think?

And at last, a poem. Donna‘s prompt to write about a place (but focus on the people) was filed in the back of my head all last week, and I finally finished this beast of a thing about it. Most of you are aware that this name of mine is a pen name, but you might not know that it is an old family name, and there is an island in North Carolina from the same ancestral roots. (The first section is the gospel truth.) I’ve thought about visiting, though I could’ve written more stanzas about how I expect it would be rather different from anything in my experience, and actually I might not get along with the people there. But there is something indescribable about the connection of family, and name, and language, that meshes with the vision of the sea and the land at war like that. It’s a concrete little pebble buried deep inside that isn’t going anywhere.

A Bend in the Sound

My professor says she was enchanted by this
postage stamp of an island, down the Carolina coast
where Back Sound squares its shoulders
against the loom of a hurricane. She says,
it’s the vowels.
The way a long ah will be half-swallowed,
caught under the tongue with pious humility,
while the flimsy ih is given a light shriek,
the long ee of the seashore
and the storm at night.
I’m writing a book on it, she says, and I feel
misplaced pride when I tell her half a lie, saying,
yes, I know, that is my island.

The body is a museum with a hundred wings
devoted to every genetic stitch: and I’d like to think
there is a fingerbone or narrow bile duct
that I could say, here is the part I share with you,
great-grandmother, counting back growth rings,
finding a name and three lines of a story.
I cling to that when the water
rises. And some well-gardened ancestor
split into pieces, one of them carried southward
thanks to longshore drift, to this place
I have never been.
He planted our name in the reeds and marl,
unfurled it to wave in a stranger salt breeze.
Sometimes, a ghost comes to each of us
to whisper heirloom ideas when we do not
expect it. Then, we must decide
which histories matter to us the most.

Somewhere, I have a cousin
who gets up before dawn to smear white paint
across the prow of a splintered boat, dragging
patchwork nets to the beach and stumbling
when the wind kicks down the dune.
I remember reading that we are all related,
if you count back far enough:
aunts and uncles, terribly removed.
But blood-iron is magnetic too, twitching direction
towards its kin. If I stood among the marram grass
watched the lanterns wink on the choppy sound,
I would lean forward, heartfirst.
Somewhere, I have a cousin
with the same right iris, the same tender rib.
She is smoking a cigarette and reading Elijah;
she is cutting up cucumbers for a midday snack;
we put consonants at the ends of our names.

Cape Lookout could be gone in a hundred years.
No predictions: but that wildcat water gets crazy,
drinks deep in the summer.
Then, the dock piles and the church doors
and the stacked creels and the power lines
will know oceanic mercy. I dream of rock people
eroded, resigned, carrying on floating.
But I worry about how maps change at that bend
in the sound. Who will share my named body
when the storms split the living room walls?
At sunset, the wind threatens
an orange light speaking exodus, watermark
change, things that are inescapable.
The only glimmer in my dream is that the past,
having happened, is inescapable, too.

If you stand at the mouth of the inlet
that digs into the southernmost cape, you can
see the barrier shoals, the ocean just beyond.
Hollowed-out vowels and old, old stories
bob in the slosh like big-bellied pottery,
laughing their mouths up just once
before they tip, fill, and hide from view.

Ardha Candrāsana (Half Moon Pose)

Donna wanted a physical poem: something mysterious and metaphorical about running if we were runners, or about not running if we were not. I am not a runner: I can sprint, and jog, but the thought of a marathon undoes me. Yoga and dancing are much more my style. Haven’t done a yoga poem in a while, either, so I thought this would be an opportune time. I used to hate, hate this pose, but I’ve warmed up to it considerably (especially now that I can actually do it without falling on my face). It really is beautiful and elegant once you get into it, and you always find yourself surprised when it’s time to let it go.

Ardha Candrāsana (Half Moon Pose)

We are all twisted into crooked H’s, spelling out
a long exhale with our silhouettes. All of the bones
brim out of one hip’s chalice, and fingertips
graze the ground. The other palm floats upward:

for that is the beauty of the pose, to freeze
one instant of celestial bodies rising in the night.
First, you must take the time to calculate
alignments, adjust accordingly. Only after that

can you allow the breastbone to become a wall,
strong as the lateral rook, geometric and always
breathing. At midnight, the moon’s zenith, when
it is a scarab jewel that can be held in the palm,

you turn your head to stare time in the face.
One good breeze might tumble us all down.
But until then, we inhale, remember the moon
reflecting the sun, exhale, know nothing more.

Reverie Thirty-Nine: body of work

Birthday weekend! I’m doing my best to celebrate, but I’m blessed with some fantastically flaky friends, so it’s like herding cats to get anyone to do anything. (And the Fellow is at work until 6. Hrmph.) Meanwhile, had some good submission news yesterday, which I’ll share when the poem is up: it’s one that I’ve actually sent to a different issue of the same publication before, for a different theme. (And I’ve sent it around elsewhere as well, to no avail.) The submissions this week remind me to pitch Khara House‘s challenge for next month to submit something every day, which I intend to try. I exhort you all to do the same!

This week: “body of work

I was thinking about this phrase, and how bodies appear in poems. We often make myths out of bodies, as Shakespeare snarkily pointed out with his mistress’ eyes, etc.; by and large, I think we’re uncomfortable with being straight up about the fact that we’re meat, and oils, and saltwater, and musk, and electrical energy. (Mind and soul notwithstanding, that’s what most of the body is, not what it seems like.) And that’s okay — it’s a wonderful exercise in metaphor and simile to both come up with some description for our bodies or the bodies of others, and to avoid all the trite ones that have been done before. But I believe that to really be firmly grounded in truth on one side of a dividing line, you need to explore the other. So if your body and body-part poems tend to be clinical and/or mysterious, we’re going to practice coming to grips with this fleshy bag of blood we wear around.

Begin by brushing up on some basic anatomy. How many bones are there? What does blood consist of? Can you name ten muscles? Brainstorm for a little while, free-writing a list of factoids and questions about the body, yours or someone else’s. Try to keep this in mind: what are a body’s unique identifying features that you can’t see on the outside? And have a little fun: try lifting up individual toes, standing on one foot with your eyes closed, or doing ten jumping-jacks, to remind yourself of the interconnectedness of all your parts. Spend some time to get to know yourself.

Now pick out the three rawest things from your free-write. They don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) be lyrical, as that will come later, but simply true and interesting. Did you have a compound fracture when you were ten? Great. Born without a right pectoral (like someone I met at a party once)? Even better. Fascinated by the appearance of muscle tissue stretched under the skin? Awesome. For myself, maybe I’d pick the constant growing pains in my knees, sparse armpit hair, and the exact length of time it takes caffeine to hit me like a ton of bricks. Try to grab hold of things you never write about: if you have to do eyes, hands, and mouths, pick the parts that don’t get enough play (the sclera, the carpal bones, the gumline).

Now, peel apart the feature you have chosen. You may want to do some research on this, since I imagine most of us are not doctors or biologists. Learn about the nerves, muscles, bones (if applicable), and other tissues that make up the thing you’re describing. Make a list of these terms to use in your poem. But more importantly, look at the function of the pieces, and how they all fit together. This is what we want to echo in the poem, and where to expand the mind in a poetic direction. If the limb or organ in question has a muscle attached with contracts to do an action, how will your poem show contraction? If there is a nerve ending particularly sensitive to pain, how will you represent a pain threshold?

Let’s say I go with the knees again:

You can’t stop growing up, even when you try.
Even when you try, there is always something unlearned
learned by the secret compartments of the body.
Of the body, I’ve discovered a piece at a time: and I keep it all,
all locked up in knees and elbows, the secret of doubling,
doubling, duplicating, hardening until the weight of it,
it bends me backwards and I can’t stand straight.

The context of this is that, being rather tall, I had growing pains right up through my early 20s, which have (knock on wood) mercifully come to an end; they used to keep me awake at night. (Now I just have regular old run-of-the-mill joint pains as they arise. Thanks, yoga!) So there is the idea of growing, as well as the knees-and-elbows reference; I tried to link the lines together as well to give an idea of bones connecting, I suppose. (If I had more time with this, I’d probably try to do something more clever, but this is just an example piece, so there.) Developed further, I could try to drop more terms from the structure of the knee (the bursa, the patella, the ACL), and represent its function through the lines (how does a poem run, flex, and jump?), as well as maintain the imagery of growth and solidification that never seems to finish.

I don’t want to suggest that talking about bodily processes for what they are can’t be beautiful and interesting: the challenge is to find the beautiful and the interesting without resorting to any kind of obscuring language. And there is a difference between language that obscures and language that embellishes. If I talk about impatient cells dividing / until they seem prepared to burst their calcified levees, I’m animating them and giving some decoration to the words, but if I say something like I almost feel as though / I’m approaching a Malthusian crisis of the knees, what the hell does that mean? People are usually guilty of doing this kind of thing with the more sensitive body parts (genitalia, diseases, etc.), but watch out for it. You may surprise yourself with how much you obfuscate even something as straightforward as your hands.

So now that you have an idea of what to go for, you can take a couple different approaches. You can string all three ideas together and create an interconnected body, using some of the same structures of line and sound to give connective tissue to the parts. Or you can think about disease and injury and ways to tear these structure down, if you want to be melancholy about it. And of course, you don’t have to talk about your own body; you can meditate on the beauty, horror, or fascination of someone else’s. (There’s a retold story I’ve been meaning to steal and retell in poem form for a while that fits this mold; maybe this will be my chance.) Medical oddity can be a wonderful source of inspiration, provided you handle it with the correct sensitivity.

Play around with it. And somewhere in the middle of this process, stop and dance, get the blood moving around a little bit. Do some yoga. What good is writing about the subject you carry around constantly if you can’t stop and enjoy it once in a while?


Back in action!

The last week has gone like this: Thursday was a frenzy of cleaning and yoga and going to a Bulgarian gypsy-punk bar in Manhattan. Friday involved renting a car for the first time, driving to Jersey to meet a friend’s baby (I’m the faux-uncle), and seeing friends. Saturday, the Fellow and I drove out to Pennsylvania for a wedding and lovely weekend; there was a post-wedding brunch on Sunday, followed by a mad dash back to NYC for the Pride parade. Monday we relaxed until I had to go into work for the afternoon, and he left yesterday (during which I also caught up on all my work stuff). So just now, I am finally slowing down enough to write and get back on the web. I hope you all missed me. :)

(The tone of my poems over the next several days will, I think, be sappy love stuff. Sorry.)

This is tangentially for the We Write Poems prompt of “calling something by another name”; I think the theme is pretty obvious and has been done to death, and I’ve done some similar pieces myself, but there it is. I need to get a Reverie up today, and then circle through all the blogs; hopefully it will be a nice slow evening, so that I’ll have time. Here’s to muscling forward!


Sometimes, when you are sleeping, I take the long
bow arm you have draped across my chest and press it

deep into the crook where my shoulder meets my neck;
and I clasp your wrist with my wrists, letting your heat

convect into mine; and I bury the front of my face
behind your left ear. The thin beads of sweat scaling

your temple and the dew on the scarp of your lip
taste different; and something is baking in the labyrinth

hidden beneath your hair. I want to know the flavor and
aroma of everything you have to offer in the most secret

hours of the night; this must be what it’s like to make
snow angels in the fizz of summer; this must be

what it’s like to drink firewater on the ashen
surface of the moon.

Summer Solstice

Last night at yoga, I made a vow (or, in yoga-speak, “set an intention”) to be more involved with the community of writing. Our yogini asked us to think of a sangha (community) we wanted to support and be supported by, and writers was the first thing that popped into my head. I want to be inspirational to and inspired by other wordsmiths and artists of different sorts, and I want to make concerted efforts to have that be an ever-growing part of my life. So much of my time is tied up in work these days that I need to take a step back, look at what’s really important to me, and figure out how to re-align. (This is a process. It’s something I keep saying I need to do regularly.)

Tonight I’m going with a friend to an association of sci-fi/fantasy writers whose work I’ve adored for years. I’m going to be tongue-tied and starstruck, I just know it. (They’re not big names to the general public I guess, but they are to me.)

Tonight is also the summer solstice, which is not exactly the theme of this one. Technically this moment happened to me last night during yoga class; I was in some godforsaken twisted position with limbs everywhere, and I happened to look down and see this arc of shadow perfectly placed along the knob of my ankle. I don’t know why, but that just kicked in a small door of inspiration, which led to this. I’m trying more and more to capture these moments of inspiration, and not rely on sifting through a slurry of experiences with a prompt-shaped dipstick; I think it worked out pretty well, this time.

Summer Solstice

I believe there is another body buried
underneath the body. You cannot dig it up:
it must be wrung out like a twist of silk,
maybe coaxed to the surface with some

brown sugar and vanilla, scribbled on
a saucer. You can feel it as it turns loosely
within your other skin. We are layered
like the Earth. Sometimes you catch

glimpses, when the light is absolute gold
in the window, tickling through the nets of
your pale surface. You find yourself
bent into a ring, dripping with sweat, and

you see it. The simmering evening arranges
shadows that cup the ankle, just so. You are
pressed, against yourself, against the sun.
There is so much we belong to.