Exterior

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.

Exterior

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.

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 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”

Envy

…and this is the other one, which is half-heartedly for both Miz Quickly’s prompt about found objects and the NaPoWriMo prompt of a greeting. (We’ll see if I can get a better one for either before I close up shop for the night.) I did a quick count and I think I’ve written 32 poems this month so far, so I’m a little behind on my goal. But then I was reading some truly excellent work from some other poets and realizing how much quality counts over quantity. That is the lesson we must forget this month, I suppose…

Envy

It was that effortless hour when the tree,
already having cracked its upper knuckles
from red punctuation into leaves,
began to show dust emeralds caught
rippling along the lower bark’s dun sea.
This is the one hour when the tree
constellates down its body;
if you aren’t looking for it,
you might later see those young twigs
clumped with seed and realize
you missed it. And then you wish
that you, too, could strip naked
on Eighth Avenue in broad daylight, stand
laughing, craning your neck and saying
good morning to everyone,
ready for all this green in you like
the grime of heaven to condense out
from your bare body, the back,
the rib-ditches, the pores from which
a thousand needles of life are rarely
expected to rejoice.

Near the Border

I did manage to get some more writing time in at Union Square between work and yoga work, but not much. All in all, I got two poem drafts, the skeleton of another poem I think could go somewhere, and what started as a poem but turned into the beginning of a short story. Not too shab, I guess. This one was written for the Poets + Writers prompt with using random dictionary words in every other line, à la a Wordle. I ended up with cheapen, farthest, infusion, Jubilate, monsoon, pelican, radius, revenge, spinel, and uncountable. I guess it turned out all right.

Near the Border

Tomorrow, the monsoon: so the cracked grey land shivers.
There is anticipation, and fear: what if the water
chooses to take its revenge at last on the deep-rooted things
which have so stubbornly refused to wash away?
From the bare gypsum mine to the farthest joshua tree,
the desert digs its heels in. A place stuck fast
with its own refusal to quicken does not cheapen in rain;
it remembers a long before and a longer after,
a radius of drought the stretch and spread of one tangling
sun’s ray. Water, it must be admitted, is mighty,
but every infusion of it moves in the end from one place
to another. Scorpions worry it will be their turn next,
when the uncountable rain whips the earth clean. And scarabs
burrow mindlessly when they hear the thunder,
little spinels and jaspers desperate to return to where they
came from, chirrucking put me back, put me
back. And a lone pelican on the lip of the swooped rise,
traveling from one bay to another, watches clouds
pile on the horizon. He croons Jubilate Deo, thinks of sudden
pools in thin streams, lucky ones, full of the briefest fish.

Theory of the Earth and the Moon

All right, I caved and got a Facebook. I mean, I’ve had one for years, but it’s my personal one; this is the official writerly one. You’ll have to go find it yourself — I don’t plan on posting the link here for all to see — but your hint is that it’s the first and last name and apparently there are thirty other people with my name before me. You’ll know me by the blacklit photo. I probably won’t add everyone willy-nilly, but if I recognize the name, I’ll say yes.

This is just a random one for Miz Quickly‘s prompt… I was listening to Four Tet, and quite randomly, got a vivid image of these two girls dancing around in Tennessee or somewhere. And then that turned into a quasi-mythological connection, and another lengthy narrative thing. What can I say; it’s late, and my brain craves restenance. (Which is rest + sustenance, combined.) Enjoy, or not, and I’ll see you on the flip.

Theory of the Earth and the Moon

Some days, they are barefoot sisters,
skinned knees and clay feet, picking up worms
and cutting them in half to see what happens.
Their yard is wide and empty.
Neighboring planets with broods of their own
hide behind fences threaded through with camelthorn
and rosary pea. These girls don’t talk to them.
They just carry on over that rusting hoe
and the radio waves, stirring up the crickets
with their slip and their shake.
Other days, they are goddesses with
private mythologies: vengeful lovers,
misbegotten children, the whole lot. But right now,
their only tragedy is the little one, born so frail
leaving her to always steal her light.
She is the ghost partner, grown up insubstantial
around her sister, playing helicopter. Still, she’s
hanging on. And the other, breathing,
tuning strings and pumping water, she presses one
big hand with dirty nails to that little eclipse palm,
laughing and starting up an off-kilter waltz.
Some days, they don’t want any nonsense,
just an easy kind of revolution.
Soon enough the sun will reach out
over the waving patches of jade and cloud
to call them in for dinner. Then it’s clear
they are family. They all go in together
leaving the ramshackle yard bare as they found it.

Recursion Eleven: a moment of reflection

“One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on.”
~ D.H. Lawrence, English novelist and poet

But only a moment, okay? I don’t know about you fine people, but I’m having a crazy day at work, and chances are I won’t have much time for writing today…ugh. At least last night was relaxing and productive, more or less. If you are also in need of some cheeky good fun, go check out McSweeney’s Internet Tendency for their celebration of NaPoWriMo, resident poet Dan Chelotti doing a haiku a day. Today’s: “James Tate in the woods / petting someone’s lost donkey / a bear looks on.” I can think of no finer meditation on the nature of nature, can you? And James Tate! I am awed by his celebrity presence.

Speaking of meditation, though, today we’re going to try and pull back a little bit to find those brief bits of silence, trying to get some kind of inspiration out of them. At the bottom of any good-sized cascade waterfall is the plunge pool, where the water grows momentarily quiet before it begins to flow again. Every time I see a photo of some falls splashing against those mirror ponds at the bottom, I admit to being completely wistful and swept up with the desire to drop everything and go swim in one. Or just float; or sink to the bottom and sit quietly for a minute. I keep talking about wanting to make our interactions with the stream of thoughts and ideas this month three-dimensional, and discussing the different ways to interact with what comes along: so far we’ve been trying to move into different angles, leave topics and return to them with the certain beauty of a parabola, surround things with chaos, and completely the pull the rug out from under readers’ feet. Yet middle ground has a place in the third dimension, too, and it’s helpful to have a reminder of where we started from, as a reference point.

And silence of course has a role to play in process, too. Many a poet has generated some truly magical work in solitude (e.g. Emily Dickinson), and any habitual meditator struggles against the truth that in the absence of any stimuli, the brain will summon up anything and everything to engage itself. You don’t have to go that far: we want production, not negation, after all. Try this: read back through everything you’ve written in the last ten days, but try not to let anything stick. Then go sit somewhere, with your eyes closed, for ten minutes. (I know, it sounds impossible in this day and age.) You might think about the images you allowed to stay from yesterday’s winnowing prompt; you might simply be full of sensory input from wherever you are; and your brain might say, screw both of these options, and you’ll daydream. Don’t resist those scraps of thought. Sort them as they arrive, and keep close at hand the ones that attract you the most.

Then, when you’ve finished, write down what small things have occurred to you, and place them next to the things you’ve kept so far this month. Allow writing to happen: there should be no force involved. As each image rises to the surface and demands attention, place it in gently, without any kind of symbolism, emotion, or connection to anything else. You should be navigating among objects that mean nothing more than what they are; if you’re going to have any kind of opinion, let it be the slight anticipation that eventually we will begin moving again downstream. Or maybe the sense of relief at surviving yesterday’s plunge. That can tinge, lightly, this poem (which may be as simple as a list poem), but stay quiet. Afterwards, of course you can tweak and polish as much as you want, and now you might have several new unbidden images to work with for the next several prompts. Do come back and let us know…!