Ars Poetica for Kevin
This dovecote pushes god
to produce the universe,
splits a grain of sand
for a cave of light
so a coyote grows
in the median.
an inch from the ground
balances a cornbread
among five sparrows
and makes the poltergeist sound
of their gray feet against the gray leaves.
It starts the creepy hotel light
strobing onto the lawn across,
feels a massive tractor’s reflection
move slowly across the glassed-in
skeleton of the building
at the edge of a field,
where it pushes a girl’s cold thumb
into my sleep, slips
so as to fall, demands a place
where it might be okay to be weary,
and nudges you, scarf and all,
into my hands.
The Girl with the Leash
doesn’t appear to worry much
about its other end. Fun-loving, power-
mad, a thoughtlessly
vindictive woman of action, the perfect
Abu Ghraib patsy. Already
an irresistible wave of
retribution gathers behind her
back, curling above her bobbed
head. Her leash, poor child,
connects to the nearly-wriggled-
out pin of a fragmentation
will use the body as a hand
towel, shred her like paper
clean on her fatigues.
If she were paper I
would write upon her
atrocity photo my
implausible disavowals, my
poems of innocence.
Here under her left nipple,
and again across her smooth-shaven
mons Veneris, I would inscribe
anti-war protests, my solidarity
with the oppressed. Poet,
not a shooter of rifles, I do
what I can with the time
at my disposal. But we
are attached, possessing
An earlier version of this poem appeared on the Pemmican Press website.
Preferably, life slowly erodes like
lying on a neatly-made bed, back
aching just a little, petting the old cat
before our nap. Yesterday I read
with amusement about Bokudo, an 18th
Century sword-sharpener and writer
whose favorite subject was drowsiness.
His fame stems from one haiku concerning
new leaves of a spring morning.
It concludes, no wonder I’m sleepy.
My buddy also laughed, but pointed
out that, given his job, Bokudo couldn’t
nod off during long hours at work and expect
to keep all his fingers. Two weeks ago,
gazing aimlessly toward trees, I
sliced my thumb cleaning a pocket knife.
An earlier version of this poem appeared in a set of three entitled "Relative
Unknowns" published in the chapbook More Questions Than Answers
what to leave
an island paradise off course
a lemon or a willow branch battered by the wind
all tangible proof certain as the fabric spun by worms
leave this behind
forgiveness for the dead
who are growing repetitious
the untenable freedom of birds
a testament of thieves
Previously published in the book equilibrium’s form, Shearsman Books, 2007.
Dispossessed of the Whole the Word of the Whorl
of the light rain of the drying of the foliage
phosphorescing noon eyes shower
the ground, saturated with falling, petals
your feet, irises in wet dirt
r o o t s t e m s t y l e s t i g m a
narcissi soiling the water with aspiration reflection
you take for thirst
what slakes of you the whorling unworlding, the lack of
sift through soft-spoken, even callused hands
of the hands and what they do
not say: lines veins hairs marks
of the hands and what they only say
between the lines: their caress
of the dirt: of the sky: of the feet: of the waves of
sun blears chromatic
edges that compose the garden burst
of rabbit overtaken into the thickness
(its empty errant secret)
exposed turtle eye
wide as any moment of (shuttering)
Tongue I gave you (saying)
I is the truth you ease with release
—Michael Tod Edgerton
First published in Denver Quarterly 40: 3. The final stanza varies lines
from Forrest Gander's poem "The Hugeness of That Which Is Missing," collected
in Torn Awake.
shouldn’t be read out loud.
They should be written in solitude,
the paper folded into small squares,
plain side out, then passed in secret
like billets doux,
carried around all day
buried inside warm pockets,
pressed against thigh and groin.
Their powers of seduction
leap to mind.
They should be denounced
from the pulpit,
debated on talk shows,
those who write them
subjected to lengthy screening
at airports and borders.
They should be preserved
in a lost language,
the key to deciphering it,
another language lost
to all but a few,
on a hard black stone
with a name like a small flower,
to remind us how encrypted
forced up from rootstock,
and tongue-tied bud.
Sometimes I think of Shelley’s heart,
which was finally buried,
but there was that hour on the beach
when his friends worked, so inexpertly,
to build a funeral pyre:
struggling with the wind
and the wrong kind of kindling,
with the wet exhumation of his body
from the waves;
suffering from the stench,
and the smoke, and the way,
even after his body was consumed by fire,
the horrible sac of the heart still held out,
gorged on heat,
scorching the hand that reached out for it,
refusing to burn.
December Journal Entry
Perhaps consider poetry
a gourmet grocery shop,
endless pyramids of
persimmon, star flower, pomegranate –
and across the aisle
in hand-woven oval baskets:
Thai basil, Chinese leaves.
Experiment without knowing
the exact region where
the pomegranate is grown
the pronunciation of the Chinese leaf.
But don’t set out to deceive
the check-out girl;
you can’t pretend that you’re
a kumquat or a chanterelle.
And get away with it.
Instead, practice rapture –
and inquisitiveness, pose
a question to the golden
beet, the artichoke heart;
engage with a yellow fin.
The page relies
on the clean attempt
to move beyond the safe way.
Where is the ineffable?
Bring home a mango
prepare it with Kosher salt.
first published in 5 AM.
The pen is the tongue of the mind.
~ Miguel de Cervantes
I’m creative as a lamppost tonight,
the ignition switch
Spotlight blown from a single branch
along this rutted, side-worn street.
I’m emptied of loquacious lovers,
of one old Italian monk;
a golden dog licks his leg,
makes his mark, smooth and easy.
Words, words everywhere –
and not one S placed right.
Where lurk the amorous vowels?
Swept along by elliptical ships, feasting
on amaranth pears?
Tonight, teach me
the timing of a tangent,
the cartography of a constellation.
No, no, not tonight dear.
Not there, not here.
first published in Quarterly West last year.
letter escalator going up
flight of letters passing abruptly in V formation
letters rising from a hot cup of words
quarter moon apostrophe hanging in night sky
couple sleeping on a parenthesis
semicolon subway rider on the end seat
afternoon of a font
the sonnet also rises
mood the obscure
ellipsis joggers running out of file
capitals in a snow storm with broken letter umbrellas
dachshund sentence in a muddy yellow slicker
a comet fell on the moon!
She balanced her stroller on her head?
the little sad word that "cried"
Book Open, Face Down
The roof was for keeping, keeping from.
Now rain the face, rain felt in muscle
before gray, an unflinching ache for change.
Now the bridge suggests throw it over,
no hand to break it. He pulled over, not breathing,
as if it’s the heart meter pleases.
To continue through ends it quicker, yes,
the pleasant angle of end, but what of curved
bowls, the pouring, the means?
She dipped a ruler in a puddle, drowned
half herself in seeking explanations,
leaned over the bed under the swaying
bulb to murmur rhymes,
head wrapped in silk to hold
memory slight against the spine.
It’s worth the sting to feel a spider’s
legs across the hand. And destroying it later,
also pleasant. We love the river floor
full of rocks, colder than water and hard
insects with songs caught in water.
Edges of paper writhe up under rock.
ACT OF TRANSFER
I watch my right hand
as it brushes across this paper,
my left hand holding the parchment still,
as a lover would cradle the face of his beloved.
Why do I dull myself on paper
if what I write for is wholeness?
In this moment, I am thought that desires
to remain thought in the imprint of thought.
I have never found terror in a blank sheet of paper.
I’ve only ever faced the complexion of joy.
HEART AND MY HEART
Two for the sharing, the pulse in unison.
Two for the dialogue implied in it all.
Two for the lips that join to pronounce words.
One for the call and one for response.
One for agreement on what words signify.
Two for the language that answers accord.
One for the writing and one for the reading.
Two for the grasping, the holding in turn.
One for the murmur that trembles the blue air.
Two for the hands that mirror in prayer.
One for the lamplight and one for shared silence.
Your heart and my heart, the sacred text of this.
THERE IS NO POEM
Pen. Hand. The blue
receipt of paper that bears.
How this world.
Writing to mark
tension of ink across white paper
tension of air moving across skin.
To punctuate the light curving
from blonde to deeper burnish—
tension against its fading, the back
of my spotted hand as it holds
across the page. How this time.
The gold fleck of human light.
There is no poem that is not about death.
I had to walk in a thunderstorm
With my leaden boots
And copper flask of blessed Belgian water
At my hip.
Turning out for the supermarket
Because the milk had turned
Sour, from the thunderous heat inside the refrigerator.
I had clearly forgotten
What I promised to cook
For the evening meal and, therefore,
Was unable to prepare
An adequate shopping list.
I thought “Perhaps if I go
And stare at the laden shelves
Inspiration will deliver me a menu or
A label will jog my memory.
Of course, I might get
Struck by lightning on the way over to the shops
And then this poem will be considered
Blessed with profound insight etcetera.”
I was struck by lightening
This poem is the result.
We ate simply.
NO MANS LAND.
How much of what happens passes you by?
All of it, I am not suspended in the time I am suspended in by any means.
None of it, I see every one of doubts cast glances, and the give away gesture never escapes me.
No-mans-land and the space between dormitories. The life led to the life to live. The concrete and grass verge conflict. The grass made slippery by the morning due. The leather well dodged. The chauvinism of cannoniers. The listening silence of the counter-miner, and all of that net op tijd. Boom!
The countless lines mulled over and forgotten. The best best forgotten, forgotten anyway.
How many lines? No lines at all. How many lines? No lines at all.
I used to plod around in the darkness, now I plod in the light.
Yesterday I wrote a poem
So bad I’m mortified!
Though too ashamed to go back and open the file
I have kept it
And have made it ‘read only’,
As a potent reminder of fallibility
In these days
Without synaptic lapse
And level diagnostics detecting
Sensors are functioning optimally.
shade sol der ,me the lightbulb fire
yr s hunt loose b yr throat outside
t the sing le sha e the shotgun mist
intent ion floating toward the b ridge lost in s
un dulation ,cag pe nd ant gr ease
,time to coughing ,lo ,page of s cowling a
the floor raging in at comb bus ted
.the camper like a r inkwell fulla urine
per drooling soldier allowed .dip the nes t
,dropped an blanch to yr “woods” the l
,sp read across ,the sough creep ,the buzzing
lantern d rifts in ed ,knocking talking
azy sword sw stepped an f layed
inside yr face y bloat business ,sot ham
—John M. Bennett - 2007
Art of Poetry
I sat before the shattered screen the
wire plugged in and ground my teeth the
splintered bone was words to calculate
the random breakage pattern of the glass;
the words took shape, became 3D, grayish
worms that slicked the jagged points, a
crown of buns, a heart with twisting bacon at the
center, crossed buzzsaws rising to the sky
—John M. Bennett
from John M. Bennett, MEAT WATCH, Columbus: Fireweed Press, 1977
nod our heads
but our only form of conversation is through poems
words that weave and float and fly
deciphering is required
but often there’s no time —
there are buses to catch
movies to watch
drinks to drink
and the house needs a good spring cleaning
I hear the poems
but how will I know if I’ve understood your metaphors
and you, mine?
when I say
I walked into the room
what part will you understand?
when you say
my breath disappears from view
what will it mean to me?
Poetry, words, what are these things?
an expression of self?
a dirge of internal moments?
and, like the endless words of emails
is it a dreadful and meaningless leakage of self?1
slow, fast, mediocre?
doesn’t really matter what speed it is
it just leaks out.
is it better not to let it leak?
is it better to keep it tucked away?
why the constant telling?
thrown towards you
spread out at your feet
like soft petals falling off the blossom trees
by confused winds.
why the desperate need to speak
and speak again
infinite rivers of words
that silently fall into the ocean
lost in their watery transition
merge with all the others
stare right into your face
do you see
do you see the staring
as you stand there?
are you overwhelmed,
as I am,
by the suffocating words
that burst out
and begin the cycle all over again?
1 From the feel of steel by Helen Garner p94
Ars Poetica: The Hidden Light
The attempts: I stare out the window,
then run into the other room
to the mirror. Yes,
I'm still here. Tea helps,
just the act of moving my hand
as if it were touching the ground
like the Buddha, one hand down,
one up, sipping my way into heaven.
But now what I'd really like
is a poem, yes, a long trail
of words into some corner,
then a door in the wall
and a path to new ground,
summer, winter, I don't care,
just so it's ars poetica,
somewhere to rest my mind
as I listen to the music
of the window, the sky
that rests there, trees, the words
the birds in the trees.
Now I smell the flowers
still underground yet
always growing just as
the stars continue to float above us
even when our world is light
and their light is hidden.
All Day, Pen Poised
This is how you get the poem.
You sit in the boat just offshore.
You cast--a whine as the sinker plunges.
Water slaps the boat's sides gently.
Voices drift from a cottage,
plunkety plunk on a summer piano,
toward evening a loon's cry,
and the silent beaver swimming their way
to some secret place.
Which is the poem--the thick-mouthed bass
you fling into the boat or the sounds
that foretold his arrival?
Yellowtail snapper with citrus beurre blanc, filet
mignon in demi-glace cabernet, roast duck
garnished with mint-jellied peaches, angels
on horseback (dates stuffed with garlic cloves
wrapped in bacon and served in a hot honey-
pepper sauce), bananas foster, key lime pie,
dense, flourless chocolate cake drizzled
with a raspberry coulis, Lord, grant me the power
to well digest all that I have well eaten.
From The Royal Baker’s Daughter (forthcoming U. of Wisconsin Press, 2008)
THE WAY SHE LIKES IT
She wears her art lightly as a thin scrim
of ice on a clear window pane. Which can be
cracked at the faintest tap. A wren’s beak, say,
or a squirrel’s claw. Add a cat’s lapping tongue.
As can happen any time, any place. Where she is
right now? At the precipice of morning, where
nothing is in place and all is nascent and undone.
Just the way she likes it, she to whom decision
means cutting off, cutting out, diminution of
the possible, the that that we can never fathom.
Winner, Emily Dickinson Poetry Award judged by Andrew Hudgins (from “Fortune’s Darling” to appear in The Royal Baker’s Daughter, U. of Wisconsin Press, 2008)
Born with a cowlick, a black tuft untamed
by cradlesong. Blessed with two deft hands
and a flair for forgery. Underlings stack
the flatware, prop the rickety staircase,
prepare the borscht. Not she of the four
crinolines, the seven silk scarves. Sloe-eyed
in the casino of chance, she croons her come-ons
to runaway Jacks and reins them in. Grooms
them with a devious tongue, a red-hot brush.
The bridle, the whip, attuned and insomniac.
Winner, Emily Dickinson Poetry Award judged by Andrew Hudgins (from “Fortune’s Darling” to appear in The Royal Baker’s Daughter, U. of Wisconsin Press, 2008)
To see what the great ones saw--
far-off towns and valleys
as blue, twisting trunks
of olive trees as variations
in black, the possibilities
of ochre. And to remember
this old stone house and its
discomforts--sagging bed, steep
steps, chamber pots, the unpredictability
of water. Still, there was the fig,
the swallows. And these words
that came without labor.
That it could be like that.
SLOUGH OF THE SEVEN TOADS
The elation of naming, that dispassionate
stance, of course it could not last. As all
first steps it was bound to lead to that first
misstep, that attenuated fall through ebony
branches into the Forest of Indifference. Oh
how to define the pain of it, the eclipse
of sky, the scales that seem to sprout
over one’s eyes, the petals of love-lies-bleeding
wilting in that thicket of night? Then a headlong
plunge into the slough of the seven toads
and there defiled by false iridescence, the barter,
the intrigue, the back and forth, that rough
exchange, the petty puffery of fame,
the flat inspection of their malachite eyes.
Published in The Paris Review (from The Royal Baker’s Daughter,
forthcoming U. of Wisconsin Press, 2008)
Up here on the high wire it’s a sheer
sure-footed dance, a one-night mission
under the Big Top, without a safety net
to cushion. It’s the taunting missteps,
the sharp intake of breath, exhalations
of the squeamish egging me on, and the world
marble-smooth, veined to the core, perched
on the tip of my ongue. I juggle spangled
orbs from one palm to another, a marriage
of holding on and letting go. You’d think
by now I’d let it fall, the world cracked
open like a skull, bits of hair, feathers,
the loose associations. But once I knew
the buttons on a fly, the upturned collar,
the child licking her fingers imagining
an Africa, I knew all matter while compressed
is no longer solitary. As me how I keep it
twirling, defying gravity with every turn –
I’ll never tell. You won’t read fear
in eyes that glitter, dazzle, take you
by storm. Come one, come all, observe
communion with infinity. See the fabulous
steps, the foolhardy toes. Be amazed
by the pupil of possibility.
Published in Juggler’s World (from Cautionary Tales, Dryad Press, 1990)