TO POEM OR,
TODAY YOU'RE LIKE A PHONE I ALMOST DON'T ANSWER
21 feet high in
no poem deep
peeling away. I'm
sitting near glass
pulled into sun, into
real like those
roofs down there, the
small cars. Poem,
you're like a
phone I almost
putting its mouth
on me, a
voice I'd been
looking for and then
Meet me in an hour
It's always yes
in my head
poking your fingers
thru me, hot for
blood and then
in the morning
stretching out on
flaunting your muscles
when you knew there wasn't time.
Later in the car
you made me dizzy.
But worse, how you
made my love jealous
perching in my hair
with those stiff wings.
And now, bastard,
alone with me finally
the chance to
scares you off
POETRY READING BENEFIT
there are women
in navy blue suits
who leave when some
one says prick in
a room where you
can hear it. It?s
45 and there?s only
cold apple juice.
Someone pulls a
There is a long
haired pale, thin
woman in a rose
pulling her arms so
tight around her you
nearly hear a rib
crack. One poet
listens for lines
he can use and jots
them down on a
boot heel. None of
the poets have watches.
The mic hums and
buzzes, a nest of
bees a giant stamps
on. There is more pain
than apple juice.
The poet who talks
wood and seeing his
breath over a
stream has written
a thirty one part
poem about this.
Someone tries to listen,
sniffs patchoulli as
if that could help.
The poet who is
building his body takes
off his clothes and
reads a poem about
how people prefer wrestling
to poetry readings and for
the first time so far
the audience knows
what he means
Birds alphabets dawns linguistics Brautigan suicide travel obscure
gods certain birds in certain pockets or hiding in the depths of a piece on spelling
using the entire the alphabet (and why not?, hardly anybody else is using it) while
waiting for a passenger pigeon to return my notion of sight, bird torn from cortex,
but all I get are evening doves, disguised as blessing. If I put a gray shed over
there and told you Brautigan wrote this, that I found it under a falls that looked
like a tall legged drink, you might believe me. If I put it aside and found it in ten
years, I might believe myself, but who the hell's going to be alive in ten years to
even ponder suicide, or deeply tucked inside Alzheimer's like a sheathe, or a pelt.
Or like the Synthesizer Beehive I created yesterday out of a real beehive with
literal bees, pick ups (lazars attached to ears) on each cubic centimeter, each a
different note and each quadrant of 64 a different tone, scales, architecture of
waves, roots and branches in and through the mix performing random and esoteric operations (Our motto: No Function is Peripheral) like the modulation calibrator
of the Dream Arpeggiator I invented with Kyle last week, the result might be something like we never expected but knew all along, the hive a home to a fully-operational metaphor for the orphaned homunculus or the mindblindness of a spell
amid wondrously intelligent attenuations of melodic lines, themselves, notes like extinction migrations woven into sonatas of oblivion. What nodes of existence
to cover, days of flight. Brautigan had it right. Watch the birds. Words create the alphabet. Climb mountain to shortstop. Blow your brains out. Keep it movin'.
Previously published in At That (Toronto: Ahadada Press, 2005).
He finger-fucked his cat, then asked would I smell it.
Truly, I thought, this is a poet, and leaned forward.
Previously published in At That (Toronto: Ahadada Press, 2005
A spree of poets brings lustful joy
jets roses on the coastal approach
from Creole land to highest peaks
from papaya’s golden warmth
to alpaca’s dream
or distant relics through windy fifes
“sacred urns” to visions of more human souls
jot down notes
on a white screen
the burning fire
of dual lives, the Tao:
the black and the white
from the pit to a ray
from the Plutonic mine
to the careful lip
pleas in the court
to escape apes (sorry my apes read through the lines)
kind elves to appease thirst
floating on the sea of lies
like a freezing floe
the small isle of Ars Poetica
the one of Ars
the soil of Ithaca
in the eyes of a father
a suffering mother
and type and joke
like a cheerful foal
play the apocalypse
when on the threshold it destroys
pray the saints
as if they were
Saint Thomas Merton
Saint Ezra Pound
Saint Frederick Nietzsche
Saint Charles Baudelaire
Saint Arthur Rimbaud
Saint Jorge Luis Borges
Saint Jack Kerouac
Saint Dan Waber
Saint Jeff Harrison
Saint Chris Murray
Saint James Finnegan
Saint Tad Richards
Saint Bill Lavender
Saint Joel Weishaus
Saint Tom Beckett
Saint Jean Okir
Saint Adam Fieled
Saint Michael Rothenberg
Saint Mike Peverett
Saint Joseph Duemer
Saint Karl Young
Saint Mary de Rachewiltz
Saint Paolo Ruffilli
Saint Eileen Tabios
Saint Nives Simonetti
Saint potato eaters
Saint root, fir, jet, riff, rye, yes, five and six, paper, air, poesy, toffee, pet, jar, palace, ore, year, leaf, offer, frost, role, loser, jasper, obsidian, seal, piffle, foray, pier, jester, self, lore, polar bears, opals, lap, portals, twelve, salty oars, trees, life, portraits, flipping pole, people
Book VI, VII
Across the lake
they are burning holes in the sky –
twist upward into night.
Learning to look at shadows
detached from whatever they might once
into the carelessness of beauty.
In the pure open
a great steady fire caresses each being
with its slowly diminishing touch
from layer to layer
gradually out to the white stars that speak back
The circle of closed windows
draws a sleeping child.
Here there is no glass:
they live always
with the sky brushing their elbows.
The small bare table
where the bread has not yet been laid
speaks as a lover makes love:
In Byzantium their goal:
to enter the space that painting seemed to project:
the sacred held by a wall
as if to pre-empt
the immense evidence that existed
before anyone held a brush.
In the slight warmed fire tilted
into unlimited darkness
words hug the furthest precipice into being.
The fish have been passed through a net –
sifting their jagged loneliness
into a paste of bone.
Art, like love,
permits us to fall into it
to discover our own falling.
(Irene Philologos, from A poetic journal of ten years in Boeotia)
Book IV, XII
Poetry could be a type of imaginary furniture-
a sofa setting for a feast in the villa we have long abandoned.
Or it might be an extension of being,
the wing of an imaginary house
dominating the bay where two oceans meet.
It could be a lightening up in the weather
where the unexpected shines from a stagnant pond.
Its path crosses the mountain range and deviates along the shoulder
of an ocean where the dead come closest to speaking to us.
Waiting for poetry to catch up with us,
it is easy to believe poetry must always be the same,
as if the habit of what had become easy
was the right way to live.
Poetry can appear to belong to words
yet it always ends up coming out at a different angle
into this thing called life.
The true poetry of an age may leave words altogether,
seeking refuge in the silent hostility of those who resist the conquerors’ blandishments.
In poetry the nostalgia for beauty must learn to accommodate horror.
The pure line of a poem must learn to bend according to the confused
perplexity of our efforts to be at least in part honest.
Not knowing who we are, we go to poetry as to an oracular surgeon of the soul who does not interpret our dreams but only leads us to dream more deeply.
In poetry as in parenthood we have to be stronger than we really are - we have to pretend to a strength which often miraculously appears, so that the line between well-intentioned fakery and sincere ineptitude blurs and endlessly remakes itself.
Poetry carries a small sampler of blessings. They cannot halt the tragedies. But like walking with the steadier eyes of someone who has taken up residence inside us, poetry helps us to keep our balance.
It is no good asking for a poem to be this or this. Life deals only what it deals.
Poetry started off its career as metered eloquence, the grinding millstone of religious piety. It progresses across the millennia to be the story with no story and the regularity that destroys all patterns.
In poetry the quest to be beautiful and the quest to be truthful sabotage each other, merge into each other, remake each other.
Poetry seeks to make sense of life through the gift of indirection.
(Leonidas the self-exiled, sole remaining fragments of his book, On Aesthetics)
Book II, XVI
In the settlements along the Chersonese straits they have a scarcity of all medicinal herbs, the soil being poor as much of its power is drained by enormous trees. Instead they rely on jumblewords (wordjumble) to cure all manner of illness. Far from being an idle superstition the practice is both highly efficacious and based on the soundest principles. When language continues along its smooth well-worn path we remain in the same state, whether for good or ill, the body accumulating those destructive habits and contaminated airs that soon manifest themselves as stomach cramps, painful bones, the blight that eats into the eye or other forms of illness. By breaking up that well-worn path, by putting kinks and twists to spoken words, the mouth learning babble frees the spirit within a person. For words, the ancients say, are the backbone of the mind. Cracking words open, reassembling them in new combinations, the mind gains rest and so cures itself and the body. The practice strongly resembles what happens spontaneously on the edges and furthest shores of sleep. Hippocrates himself discusses the efficacious nature of such wordsplicing and wordfusion within half-dreaming states in the third volume of his dissertation on the alternatives to surgery. He records the example of one Menandron of Corinth who, suffering from a painful swelling of the forehead, had requested the removal of his brain to alleviate the torment. From inquiries among neighbours Hippocrates learned the illness had set in shortly after the death of his son, killed through the violence of a playmate. Suspecting the means to cure the illness lay within the power of language, could it only be induced to shatter itself, to remake itself at the precise point when waking gives way to sleep and the soul slides most easily between its several lives, Hippocrates placed Menandron in a dream-like state. There words broke effortlessly from his lips in a babble of drowning sounds. Menandron found himself swimming among reeds, drawn onwards by a yellow flower of the brightest radiance. Reaching inside the flower a word came to him "allodendronhamratia spreuge". With difficulty he seized the word bearing it with him back into his conscious life. On waking he pronounced the word once, then left the doctor’s residence as one intent on a mission, firmly believing he must complete his task before the death which he assumed was imminent. He began organising a petition to ban all gladiatorial games throughout his city - for the common practice of bringing small children to watch the games had led to the corruption of the other boy's mind and so to the death of his own son. (Frequently parents so lusted to watch the blood sports they considered leaving their children elsewhere too troublesome to arrange.) In his enthusiasm to ban the vile Roman, or as they assert Etruscan, practise, Menandron forgot his own condition and within a month the swelling had disappeared. Although the popular clamour for the game proved undefeatable, Menandron did succeed in having the ban on the presence of young children enforced.
According to a tradition preserved among the Carian women, the name "poetry" (poesis, poemata) derives from this practise of deliberately making curative words. The rhythmic nature of these fractured or recombined words gave rise to the notion of the poetic line. A person who made such wordjumbles became known as a "poeta" as opposed to a "rhetor" or "aidos", both of which words highlight the sung nature of extended lyrics. In poetry the curative power was held to lie in the word itself, rather than the melody to which the words might or might not be sung. The respect given to poets, then, was in its origins an extension of the respect given to doctors and healers.
(from Theophrastus, “Compendium of poetic practices”)
THE SEVERED HEAD
In primal innocence
alone before what-is-not
a head singing.
The head sees the world. Its speaking overwhelms it.
Two heads, severed, stand alone before God. They do not want biography to cloud the issue.
Lamenting is ancient, like the lover whose eyes were burnt out. Lamenting when the ground you stand on is stripped away: being a voice with no body.
A little winding path to two shoes and a rock. The head, not yet severed, is walking it. The naming of the dark has not started yet. Words, stored like small beads, are placed in the back of the forehead. Later, when only the singing is left, they initiate a constellation.
Witnessing without dabbling in private details means witnessing to what might be anyone.
Orpheus lost the wife who was his soul. He regained her through his singing only to lose her again. Carelessness, or a sign that poetically to speak is always to be the one who has lost rights. Even to himself. Even to the smallest portion of happiness.
To speak out of a fate. To transcend that fate.
For all the frenzy of the maenads Orpheus’ head bears no resemblance to a 20th Century head. No part of the brain has been cut away and there is no evidence of any surgical procedure.
In the river the floating head
the part cut away, the part still singing.
The head summons. The head is a wound. How does a wound summon? To dwell in a wound, to speak from a wound is to live without defenses like a lover.
Wounds we have no name for require singing.
The lover knows how a face in its tenderness goes back beyond many lives. The wound we have no name for, the wound in the palm of the hand that goes back beyond many lives, links us to a terrifying heaven we have yet to invent.
Two worn heads in a cupboard singing in unison or chiming slightly off key like damaged gongs, two worn heads singing in a bleakly damaged landscape of the 21st century. Why do they both speak of the peculiar guilt of existing at all, of their presence on earth being perhaps only to rob another of his cup of coffee? What it means to be innocent with both eyes open. And still to sing.
Travelling into distant lands, the head may seem exotica, a weirdness-speaker. Yet it remains here, persistently among us. How familiar its babble, what might be ourselves peeled back, the landscape without the lie of the land.
Severed, a head talks for the headless. When it sings it seeks the right pitch to rebuild the world.
In response to a critic’s call for tighter editing
A poet should be able to write outside of the human in all sorts of directions. The moon is one of them. Water that has just bubbled out of the earth is another. Of course they are distant cousins as intimately related as the wind and a sandgrain.
If I was the moon I couldn’t practise what I would say. I would have to be empty and desolate. Everything would happen by instinct like tides responding to my slow ballet. I would be ignorant as a worn shoe condemned to dance forever over subterranean waters. My cratered eyes would guide me through space and my children would say, Look, he comes from forever, he’s on his way to forever. He’s the one blind man whose walking stick is the glide of small fish over sand, the waterfall that flows simultaneously in both directions.
from Museum of Space, 2004
Great poems are often extraordinarily simple.
They carry their openness
with both hands.
If there is a metaphor lounging in a doorway
they step briskly past.
The boom of generals
and presidents with their rhetoric manuals
will go on sowing the wind.
The great poems are distrustful of speech.
like someone very old
who has only a few hours left of human time,
they gaze into the faces around them –
one by one
they kiss love into our mouths.
from Museum of Space, 2004)
(I've been thinking lately about the esophageal tract -- the relationship of sound to poetry. And how a hand on the throat, in desire as in violence, is real. But if poetry is written in a third space, some place less obvious than the colors blue or red, then where is that space? I contend that it is metallic, off-white and filled with women. There are soft lights and a faint odor of chilled peppermint liqueur. So what about Loveland Family and Cosmetic Dentistry on North Cleveland Avenue? As a venue. Venue 1, for these parallel notes.)
I am writing this on a dentistry pad. The kind in a wicker basket on the receptionist's banquette. Is that a word? I want a blanket, there on the reclining chair. And hold it open with your fingers. And wire it open like a jaw. Now I'm shivering. Are you shivering? Can I get you a quilted coverlet or a bolster for your neck? Please keep your hands where I can see them at all times. Just relax. But I like it. I like to receive an altering touch. To the mouth, to the teeth, the soft as to the hard. Yep, I'd like to book my next appointment.
Venue 2: A room, the next street over. I'd like to keep going, but that would be to fantasize. Something about poetry keeps you in the padded chair, where you belong: irradiated, legless, smiling witlessly and yet with ardor at the strangers who surround you when you wake up from a deep, deep sleep. They're asking you something but something about about poetry makes you drool and respond, in fragments of your true speech. I don't know if it's poetry. Are you normal? Are you a conventional patient who's come prepared with a supply of kleenex tucked into the sleeve of your cardigan? No. Clearly, you're not. You should go home. I'm going to call you a cab, ma'am. You're in no condition to drive.
Language fixes summer air to my page and I am a girl aflush. Language fixes intelligibility to this girl and her skin aflush. Intelligibility is a fixture of civilisation. In some old echoing ruins intelligibility rigidly sleeps.
The steeple of language is opposite this girl despite itself.
On a summer evening the even summer canters over the ruins.
The horses of language are intelligible and wary.
The steeple of language dotes on this girl despite itself.
Factual radios deploy me for pleasurable Greek parties.
The proceedings of air converge on green
leaves in unexpected water droplets
before I depart from the pleasure of Greek.
Language presupposes this factual radio deploying me.
Language conjures the horses of intelligible steeples before myself.
Even in a geometry of the breast
the poem makes sense.
vagaries echo dormantly
then a sharp heart beat as a hand
This hand happens
indifferent to sweet pastures
where intelligibility conceals.
Whenever this happens
is a way of ruining us.
When this doesn’t happen, we are
Today I will teach you the poem of the wall.
Don’t plumb it. Stones
don’t allow uniformity
of line, although
some will break off outcroppings, digressive
noses with their hammers
but that’s a sin against
stones. Concentrate on fitting one
rock striated with quartz or hardened
lava into a rock
veined with pyrite, that almost-gold.
Then do it again with granite.
No mortar. Each rock must bear
the weight and share
the weight in three dimensions.
How high? Let the stones
have their say. Here,
put your ear to the wall.
Nothing? You must hear
the enjambment: stone
stONE, STONE, STone, stone.
The Bad Poem
Leaps naked from Mt. Everest
to fly like Superman and save Lois also naked
is buried in only a thong with Hardy’s heart at
St. Michael’s in Stinsford
nests in your brain like a wicked wiggleworm
plays hooky and stays home in bed with you in see through everything
crests the foam of the wave nude on a Sydney surfboard
tangos with lions on the savannah, sans anything but skin
mingles languidly with the ink on the tip of Shakespeare’s quill
plays hide and seek with only the sexy nouns and verbs
chills unabashed in Frost’s psyche on the road of difference
writes in red on the backside of imagery
It’s that clod of clay screaming in Brodsky’s throat
and the sixth finger you can’t see on Sexton’s & Clifton’s hands
It embraces the embraceable you of metaphor
kisses every star in the sky three times super sloppily
rides the moon whale to Everland still naked afraid only of man
smiles from the Simile Nightclub
and names its yacht The Naked Pantoum
Some days the bad poem wants to be a good poem
it seeks the comfort of rhyme
and gets itself back in line fully suited
but it always lunges back to the dark side
because it is such a bad poem
no confessional will admit it
So it strikes out again and again as
that song by Jim Steinman
catches in its throat
How good girls go to heaven
but bad girls go everywhere
and the bad poem knows
they always take a bad ass
poem along tucked way way down
into their bras or the back
pocket of the jeans.
“The Man Is Only Half Himself, the Other Half Is His Expression”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Driven from hearth and home
by the appetite of the seeker for the sea,
the poem set out to find itself
its place, its nightmare, its fable
the love of its life
its epigram, its pantoumness
villanelleness, Shakespearean &
its Keats oatmeal
its Dante Beatrice, its Whitman mammoth
its reverent Rumi ribald.
It searches academia
bars, cafes, Poets House, City Lights
the Library of Congress Poetry at Midnight
Mecca, the Louvre
and finally descends into hell
rising on the third day
it can’t face heaven
(what if there is none)
takes a chance on the moon
in all its gibbousness--
hello, the moon is full of luminous things
nonsense, mimsy, legend
has a metaphorical nose
eyes made of similes
similes made of smiles
and a tongue that says this:
Home is where the hearth is
the poet is there in a purple velvet chair
holding a silver pen
barely touching the parchment
waiting to bestow grace and beauty
waiting to warm you
ready to bring you from the fire
ready to write you wild in the world
ready to let you go.
previously published in Creation Journal in 2006.
Ars Poetica II: Say That I Was an Obsession Poet
Say that I wrote about sex until I was sex
alive and tactile and pungent and as unequivocal
as the new baby’s behind
Say that I wrote about death until I wasn’t scared of it anymore,
until it became just one giant exam I could pass because I knew
all the answers and all the questions--champion of the Death Quiz Show
Say that I wrote about love until I loved everybody in perpetuity
and they could feel me loving them ten years after I was dead
layer after layer after layer of amor
Say that I wrote to you in everything , you there
in the fourth row, three seats in from the left, you know
this is for you, don’t you?
We are changing this world
one poem at a time
I the writer and you the listener.
Do you hear me reading it to you?
Do you see me leaping from the page
to hold your ear wide open as I whisper
my poem or shout my poem or simply
let the poem out of my body into yours?
You are different as soon as you hear it.
I am different as soon as you hear it,
even in death.
No matter how many there were before me,
you are a virgin to my poem and my poem is hot for you,
my poem wants you more than anything,
my poem is the slut of the century for sure.
An Ars Poetica (I woke to barking in Manama in the middle of the night)
no ideas but in a stranger’s
I thought it was a log until it moved
what is this Socratic puppy
echoing out of the high-rise ventilation system
bringing her her history
him his, they their, you your?
fiddle duel, a knee-slapping
flat, rolled, stuffed into me my, we our,
same narrow yellow transparency
aflame. a cruelty here to the animal.
or tossed on the walk by unknowing carriers
operating parent-loaned costly blue
well, it’s in the plastic bag, so you
get it (read it)
damp and bursting
edit this other
than conventional --
which is overrated
or undergoing marriage
yet mostly coagulated by
(. . . H I) J (K L . . .) --
ideological skin’s real
more a reddish than
retriever by the palm
go back to
at the end
of the your
(you game me)
with Ashbery oysters
they were delicioso
so delicate against the back
at 4 am you
out of your
fur of sleep, an it
muzzled in forms
where the pitch
has its whiff
but slightly pink in the middle,
its certainty, its Inuit
and shaved ice
balls melting, its 5 am call
to prayer, its
unnerving stream of tongue
latent scent wafting out of the air
conditioning ethos vents and you
noticing strands of its coat
curled and stuck there
on the sleeve of your
black suede Plato, an outfit you
given away to your best friend
ten years ago because she loved it
loved you, loved the world
and asked to be disseminated by you
in the form of beautiful Aristotle ashes over the Grand
not expressivist exactly but
Canyon or Ocean
and you said yes
thus could go on and on
Where the stops
Overtly it is the personal
Every dot and dash
Further away from the original
These soft utterings
Udders // others
The syllable of skin
Myth and tragedy
Through voice and song
Landscapes = longevity
which represent objects
Present in Memory
Uncertainty begets knowledge
Which begets becoming
Alone to this place
Crystallise the space
Circa (the past)
Master the craft
The “unspoken” unspoken
To and fro
In a pre-human
Act of creation
The space Between
He was nervous--they always are,
the new ideas, fidgeting in front of
my big desk. I didn't have to ask
what he wanted. I'd seen it all before:
The threadbare concept, the vague, tired image,
bathed in unearthly light. "Look," I said,
"Why don't you go to the press?
They can find words for anything,
fast and cheap." "You don't understand--
I'm a very private thought. You
are a private poet, aren't you?"
"You bet." (Three cob-webbed file cabinets full
of private poetry.) "But I don't handle
love poems. They're nothing but
trouble. Make a bum out of you
every time." I cracked my knuckles.
His cigarette ashes missed the tray.
"But you're my last hope! I've tried
greeting card writers, novelists, cartoonists--
I even begged a whole English Lit. and
American Studies Department! No one
would help me. I simply must have a
Poet!" His eyes were as bloodshot
and chaotic as my own. But what
the hell, I'd had nothing else to
say lately, and there was a strangled
eloquence about him, just the hint of
a new angle. If I'd known then
where it would lead me--tangling
with six rough drafts, getting tied up
in a sestina, fighting off a mob
of sentiments, the blood-chilling message
from Mr. Big ("...indeed sorry...cannot use
your work..."), and most of all HER, Muse, sweet, sad
Muse, those big dumb eyes pleading
with mine to go on, find the missing words
somehow--Ah, Muse, what did I
get you into!... Had I known, I wonder, would I
still have returned his feverish stare
(He had to be expressed, see--
it takes some of them that way) and
said so nonchalantly "Okey dokey, I'll give it
The things one is afraid to say
are also the things everyone else
is afraid to say. Ten people lean
on a bar, chatting and drinking,
each rough-edged fragments of themselves,
howling coyote souls under sedation,
yet to themselves and each other
as complete as any rock or chair.
When the anesthetic wears off
suddenly, alone in a room
full of gesticulating furniture,
one knows an agony no rock could bear.
Then, to release from stone faces
a trickle to quench desperate thirst,
one strikes terrible blows
that destroy mere flesh.
I too am parched, but I am commanded
only to speak to the rock. It will --
knowing then what can be said --
give forth water.
A Choice of Dreams
When I sit down to write again
I find that you have changed -
You are ready to hear
new things, as changed from the reader
I once knew as is an adult from a child -
all head, huge eyes and quick tumbling about
like a bounce-up doll, hardly the same species,
one would think.
Now I must change
to be able to say
what you are ready to hear.
It is as if you sleep
and the world's noise will wake you
if I cannot concoct quick enough
dream reasons to make dream sense
of the newest noises.
Only in shared dreams are we together.
This sleep is our waking
to each other. But old dreams,
old reasons lose their magic and become
part of the noise, like litter
of old newspapers.
It's not that you have changed, no more
than I have. It's the noise that's changed -
it has captured more of our dreams,
the better to masquerade as waking,
the waking that would mock us
with gargoyled distortions of old dreams
clung to too long.
There is no waking, no sleep, only the dreamer
and a choice of dreams.
The Beginning of a Poem
Even as I write these words,
I know that critics will insist
that the poem doesn't begin here.
"For me," each will say, "this poem
really begins in the [much later] stanza..." --
and of course, they will be right.
Yet this poem has already begun.
What can I do about it?
For a poem squats on one's tongue
as stubbornly as garlic.
Any critic still reading (I don't know
why a critic would still be reading)
will have thought the poem was about to begin
with the garlicky squatter, an image,
after all. But if the critic is still
with us, he or she knows that the poem
has not yet begun. Why not? Does this poem
despise critics? Love to tease them?
Surely it can be written for no one else --
who else would care?
I begin to suspect that this poem
never will begin -- the REAL poem,
that is. So it may as well begin
anywhere -- and so it does!
The observant critic who is still with us
(that optimistic "us"!) will have noted
that the poem, such as it is or might be,
really ended, for any reasonable reader,
at the close of the last stanza,
a punchline, of a sort. This critic
will advise cutting the current stanza
as superfluous (or, just to be kind,
will suggest saving it for another poem),
saying, "for me the poem ends with
'and so it does!'" And, indeed, so it ought.
However -- and it pains me to have to say this,
having been helped so often by generous advice
from critics -- nonetheless, the poem --
if poem it be -- ends here.
[The poem is gone. It's over. Go home. Think about
The End of the End of the World
I can imagine the cataclysm -- explosion, flood,
asteroid collision, implosion of the sun....
I can envision billions of bodies or no bodies,
an ashen globe or its ashen quadrillion fragments --
all that I can conceive of.
What I cannot imagine, in all that silence
(and any silence is an opportunity,
so this final silence must be
the opportunity to end all opportunities) --
what I cannot conceive of is the absence
of 10,000,000 poets -- the absence of even
a single poet -- to tell the absent us
in trillions of words, collectively,
how hard it is to speak at such a time,
but that now, after the end of the world,
more than ever, we must speak out;
no 10,000 or 10 billion e-mail messages
about gatherings of poets, ash to ash and
on the web, to mourn, to share, to celebrate
man's renewed commitment to survival, if only as
dispersed atoms and exotic rays in whirls
of dusty cosmic gas;
I can't conceive of no lyrical affirmations,
no acid condemnations of those to blame
(The System, corporate greed, philistines,
Arabs, Jews, Communists, Blacks, the press,
the administration, right-wing extremists,
liberals, environmentalists, men, etc.),
no fresh and powerful voices joining in,
no performance poets rapping out their rages,
brags and politically correct empathies,
no brilliant epiphanies to make us keenly aware
that we are all, everyone of us, cinders --
and perhaps that most of us deserve it,
and certainly only the poet could feel
the death of a whole world
in the crushing of an ant or the shadow
of a leaf's fall -- if only there were still
ants and leaves and sensitivity.
No, this is inconceivable, beyond silence;
it cannot be, this oxymoron: A catastrophe
without poets, the greatest conceivable catastrophe
without the greatest flowering, or at least vegetating,
of poets. It is inconceivable,
like a perfect God with zits, and therefore
impossible. Yes, thanks to poets,
the end of the world is impossible.
The Silence of the Iambs
Borges tells of time stopping for a year
as a man faces the firing squad, bullets
paused in flight while he, in his mind,
composes sonnets, works out chess problems,
solves scholarly riddles...and then
time resumes. Time stopped for me during an
open-mike poetry reading. There, just after the words
"...touched the soft silence of your..." - soul?
heart? left ear lobe? But the poet was unmoving,
mouth open, her eyes in their sudden rigor, oddly
calculating; the other faces I could see were all
frozen in polite introspection, as if each,
were thinking, "I've had too much
coffee" or "Did anyone notice my fart?" Nothing
moved. The water held its slope in the glass
I'd been lifting to my lips. Threads of cigarette smoke
hung in frayed silken twists. A petrified ribbon
of coffee bridged from lip of pot to cup,
as a waiter waited for someone never to say "WHEN."
For a long time (so to speak), the interrupted poem,
too, hung there. I spent - it seemed - hours
trying to think of a next word that could save
the line from banality. In vain. For hours more
I memorized the gleam of her teeth, the contours
of paralyzed smoke. I composed letters to several
editors on various burning issues. I composed limericks
that began "The soft silence of..." - for example:
The soft silence of fleecy white lambs
Can't compare to the silence of clams
(Clams, unshelled, you should touch
Very gently, not much...)
Or free verse: Silence of the Iambs!
I held long eloquent arguments with my dead mother
about the importance of being a poet. I thought up
brilliant ways to make money from poetry. I tried,
again - again in vain - to redeem the poetus
interruptus or at least to predict what, if anything,
would come next, and, suddenly, I noticed
that the smoke was moving, twining, winnowing
the light, a lovely translucent creature...
Ah, time had resumed, and...I forgot to notice
how the line or the poem concluded. It must
have done so, because I found myself applauding
mechanically, trying to recall my money-making schemes...
but all my hours - days! - of contemplation
had blurred like last night's dreams, only
a few limericks remaining.
How Poetry Is Done
You can make any sentence poetical
by mentioning blood or bone.
For example, instead of "Yesterday
I went to the store," say "Yesterday
I went to the blood and bone store."
Instead of "The moon rose", say
"The blood moon rose" or "A bone
of moon rose" or, best, "A bone
of blood moon rose". For "I love you"
try "Bone and blood I love you".
Bone and blood are instant intense.
For profound, add in an inapplicable
abstraction, such as "geometry" or
"calculus", or a scientific reference
like "hologram" or "ecology", and
throw in a juicy verb. For example,
"The geometry of blood laments
this hologram of bone". But intense
and profound are not enough. You need
an ironic (hip) sense of mortality, as in "Chanting
its inevitable theorems in every fatty cell,
the geometry of blood laments this
fading hologram of bone" except that
"theorems" makes too much sense
with "geometry", so change "theorems"
to "charade" (not "singsong", which
makes too much sense with "chanting").
This gives us a satisfactory
Twentieth Century poem written
in a fresh unique authoritative etc. voice,
especially if the line lengths
are a bit weird, for example:
its inevitable charade
in every fatty cell
the geometry of blood
laments this fading
Entitle it Collage #7 and send it
right out to a very little magazine
or anything that ends in "REVIEW".
The Fifth Day
I spent five days enraptured
An established poet
signing his book of poetry
had written ‘to Jacquie
fellow poet, with respect.”
I was lifted to a pleasant wonder
and showed it to all I met.
Enjoying, each time, the compliment.
Most said ’that was nice of him’
on the fifth day
Jenny with clear honest eyes
‘Why wouldn’t he?’
Didn’t she understand?
No she was moving me on
to a higher wonder
I am a poet. (How hard to write).
find a publisher for this Jeeves
while I find my muse
I lounge outdoors, cold drink in hand,
birds chatter, sun warms a breeze blows.
the bees drone serenades,
welcoming me to more muses
the poets gift of nature
in reality I am at my computer
hours spent searching.
searching for publishers
who may, but probably will not,
accept my poetry
my muse now is of later dates
when publishers know my name
and finding one is not the same
for I’m confident of my ability
and their need of my poetry.