Language the color of war &
Over & over
We are moving out of the earthquake window where all trembled:
Water. No veto on life.
Under my boy-thin chest
Anjou-shaped pears were forming
When I see cottonwood tree seeds fly and drift in the summer air, I think about a similar thing. They will drift into different places. But once they germinate, they become cottonwood trees.
Walking against an Ireland-colored sky brick colored Anam Cara
When it all began
I found one who was there the iconic devastation which is the pity of war;
Not all the heather purples of the moor
Could make up for the thinness
Not all the recitals of
Due to her psychiatric illness she could never enjoy the translucence of April come.
Because they had no sorrow
They had no joy.
My day began unhappily
Like during war:
This time I’d lost a small piece of paper
A library slip
Thinner than your petticoat or undershirt
Containing my notes for poems from the night before.
A cousin recalling my sister’s glee
When I could “sit up in the pool
and the invention of butterfly. Ars Poetica, poem within jewel-case poem.
The kitchen sink sucking water down.
the planetarium first painted in my skull
Thru the twelve years of my life
Things hung on pegs:
Walking, first steps, last.
Scattered like dancing
Leaping bounding hiking mountains.
Love sputtering like a tallow candle.
Guzzling ice water
At the rusty pump I stood tiptoe:
What did I dream
Under the full moon its ledgered schoolroom ruler:
Moonlight clung to me like a gown I went dancing in
Thru the halls of the mental institution
Where daddy worked
Ritual. Exam. Mask.
The girl I love turning back covers searching for the library slip: Mine!
The dumbwaiter on one of our army posts
Which lifted up & down black-brown nothingness.
My sister & I thrilled
with the scare.
and the invention of butterfly
In the Indian museum
even the smallest basket
woven for just one bean
is banded red.
The Shining Room
To survive chaos she inscribes
chaos, looking through
shining flycatcher, oat grass
a line through fabric
name, a wild steadying
drawn tightly across
what won’t go away
every false claim
extending her body in space
transparency after transparency
from Practicing Amnesia (Singing Horse Press, 2000) by Heather Thomas
The Room of Not-Knowing
There’s a bed, a lamp, a bureau,
the drawer filled with your socks.
You keep the corners clear
for piles of laundry, magazines.
You sit at the desk hunting
what you don’t know in words
unspooling filigreed patterns
laced like nests across an inner sky.
Someone carries the chair to the car.
When the nests fall
from the weight of their knots
you make new ones
or give up and construct a series
of shifting screens dark or light
depending on whether you
remembered to change the bulb.
Some have the translucence of pearls
or the wings of mating dragonflies.
The car carries someone to the chair.
You come through rain
before everything strung and fallen,
brief as photos, your chance
to live at the heart of the real
and to tell. You are perturbed
at the pronounciation of your name.
Sleeping above you the skeleton
dangles your writing hand from its ear.
The chair someone carries is a car.
—H. T. Harrison
you are not your mind you are not your mind you are not
the poem is
not your body
is language an ocean we live coming to
she was coming to
blank space where the body could be blank space
wet wide open
thought lands wild (grief is simple and dark)
turn into the one you want or each next enter the split
mount an enormous
will you be close
my plot is marvelous this fine gauze
hard careful digging hard careful digging hard
from Resurrection Papers (Chax Press, 2003) by Heather Thomas
Instead of handing a poem to my parents, I hand
an excuse. Instead of making poems, I make headway.
Any visit I make I examine for poems
minutely, as for lice. Also any list. In laying
out my armor, breastplate and creases for next
morning, I'm layering and compressing
poems for later, the most possible, folded
or caught anywhere -- "What's great
about poetry is it doesn't have to stop
there," my student said, I'm stealing it,
flocks of poems gather and yap over the roofs. Let's
say everyone you wanted to sleep with would have you
and it's up to you to conduct yourself
ecstatically, fairly -- you'd prepare to say what you want.
PRAYER OF THE ASHAMED AMERICAN
When there is no good in us
Summon Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Corrie
Summon Emma Goldman, Philip Berrigan
Summon Walt Whitman, Cesar Chavez
Summon James Baldwin
Summon Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman
Summon Harriet Tubman
Summon Mother Jones, Medgar Evers
Be with us now
Be with us in our marching
Be in our bodies that lie in streets
Be in our nightmares as we try to sleep
Do not leave us
Whisper, hector, shout
through our bullhorns
through our throats
We are America
We are Elizabeth Cady Stanton
We are Muriel Rukeyser
We are the miners shot at Homestead
We are Sacco and Vanzetti
We are Langston Hughes
Paul Monette, Audre Lorde
We are hope, we are nothing but hope
We are the ancestors to come
We fling ourselves into the future
Come, say it with me:
We are Sojourner
We are Truth
First appeared in Beltway: An On-line Journal, special issue honoring Walt Whitman, Winter 2005.
Workshop Poem; or, Sorry, Austin
One participant said saxophones
are always being asked to do
too much work in poems.
They are always there growling about
sex, and cigarettes smoking alone, it seems
to me. And so, she objected. Another woman
felt that way about cicadas. You know,
she said, they’re always there in the background
with their dizzy wings, the infernal saw
of Georgia nights, or Mississippi,
or some godawful Southern swamp. They never work.
Sorry. For me, offered the last, it’s bougainvilleas.
And they all agreed. The heavy-scented,
head-filling veil of their pungency, wafting
or whatever, across the veranda, it’s predictable.
And then there’s that thing about Vietnam,
the association with the Mekong Delta, or bombs,
or I don’t know, but bougainvilleas are just
too much. And so there we were,
with the cicadas and the saxophones and the bougainvilleas
roaring around the table, the poem
flat and quiet between us. Our work
here is done, one announced. Thank you
for the generosity of your words.
from her book, The Farmer's Daughter, Red Hen Press, 2003
The worst color and two coats
of it thick on the desk
that I want for my work. Three
kinds of stripping solution, steel wool,
turpentine, finally de-natured
alcohol does the trick, lifts
malignant stain from the deep grain,
gives me back the lines
of raw wood, corners grey and rough
where damage must be scrubbed smooth.
But now it is my desk; I own
its very skin, have claimed its planed surface,
brace, and drawer with chafed hands,
stiff neck, cramped back stooped
to abrade its dark belly, squared legs.
And hard varnished to slick
and shining surface, I set my light,
my book, my clean sheets,
dangerous points upon it, and when asked
about my work I say: If
you want to write, then do it.
DEFENSE OF SINGLETON
Your Honor, by reason of fathering
his own mother and miscarrying himself
If it please the court, he is a rabbit-
mind high up in tulip tree
when consciousness is nothing,
said an unbidden angel, but chlorophyll—
only color that color sees
Your Honor, the ram in the bramble
Your Honor, the light buoying my head
presses like too little air the bluing infant
into whose face my father breathed
the color back
Your Honor, if it were you in your own arms
one color would uncolor its son; we are guided
by his climbing deeper after tulips
over deepening trajectories
The rabbit, even for ears and acutest
angle of leap-pent legs can be reduced
to sphere, thanks to Grisha Perelman
“Yes, the Poincare was a little different
than mushroom hunting but led deeper
into woods. Forget the prize and gathering
of Minds round as their skull-cases.
It’s why I’ve taken you with me
along this gully and deeper for dead elms
whose unsleeving layered with leafthatch
softens chambered hearts of morel.”
In a Dark Chamber Rembrandt’s Jerome, whose thought
until this instant climbed the winding stair up
into void, frame, nothing heavy the hand spent
with Pamacchius and terrors of all sight, all hearing,
all action, all movement
Your Honor in spite of gunpoint or begging any angel can leave you
to your own devices: eight angles of room
fall in like crows I am nothing but sorting
wing from wing-edge all inaction
a day all hand guiding all knife to a woman’s neck (as they say)
in the Hamburg grocery all height all fallen
into legs that build me up again (all eye) all jowl
and rooted teeth all tooth then all neck
and the very blue that oranges
where all body enters it
all woolen chest all navel all cock
Ladies and Gentlemen—
if I am to be this alone
So starry eyed you see space roughly seated
before you, strapped with minutes
For a moment on rising, at the edge of the bed, to be,
To have the ant of the self changed to an ox…—Wallace Stevens
The breadth of each thing loved
unloved from Euphrates to Mississippi nothing
escaping my dimensions jumping-
jack of each atom and megalith measured
perfectly in my armspan cast from
moon’s light why go further
except for an obedient and anxious horse
whose leapsense makes Earth fresh
as new apples warm as your hair though
awful the long ladder counting down
will you be watching guess nudge
the little pool—right more right since
one or more feet for the story of misfalling is old will
catch when everything falls back into
true shape and density the head of one name
pulped against one much harder.
I wanted to bury him here in mud or
deep woods, sober him first & raise his
dull senses to the least animal cognition
of smallness then maim him from
pissing to speech, squinching both to slow
trickles and pain—let him speak
into his own pants, I thought, his liver sodden
to foam, heart founder, enlarging
only to a need for forgiveness that maketh
even mongrels children
of God. But the poem does not see
me as Black Shirt, alone
or with accomplices, though I still play out
the basement in my mind, chair, straps, pliers
and funnel. One man to an ankle, one
for each wrist, one at the neck—
wedging the jaw open. The poem holds
us back as though this one were
precious to it, a filament of
dullest noon didn’t shine too brightly
upon this head, I were not my grandfather’s
kind, didn’t carry mare nostrum
in my breast as fiercely, the sister kidnapped
in a dream of pirates was never
mine to save, even if prayer jinxed us
I had no right to ask the poem stand by, a poem
by nature cannot put anyone to death but
makes every breath a juror to thought, thinking
made us brothers or the only penalty
it may execute must restore or kill us
both—like castor oil whose great power
wells up in the gullet as reason.
The Sputum Pose
Spat at a stray black cat.
Nice flat timing, bike cruise smack.
'Twas smooching in a corner refuse,
but totally unfazed by my loog.
Think about it though,
mucous would serve as a styling poesy
vehicle for something
wrought up around
like a grandfather dying of throat cancer
with a loved one's:
fortitude, loyalty, stable
predictability in the regular
fillempty of life...
Spilled as soon a nonchalant purr
sports an attitude.
A Half-Baked Manifesto
for Reconstructing Broken Bones
I told the Pentagon's one-eyed guy
this damn war'd bring thousands
of innocent deaths & hot new recruits
into al qaeda-affiliated terror firms
but he still lives in the Cold War & loves
to hear the sound of young ones falling.
Now the exploding corpses in uniform & out
are food for the birds.
Now 200-ton nation-destroying bombs
send sacred iron pillars to break bones
& knock down homes
across the floating extinction of continents.
"Only acknowledge your iniquity"
said Jeremiah in the voice of god
but the president is coughing & scrambling
his syntax trying to explain his & his nation's
past macrobiological mistakes.
The Attorney General has turned
into a granite fossil while kneeling in prayer
& compiling neon McCarthyite files
on infants & toddlers of antiwar marchers.
Maher Arar was tortured in Syria's breadcrusted dungeon
despite Ashcroft's assurances heard echoing
through the background noise
of a high-speed human rights blender. Cheney still claims
Saddam was Osama's late night lover, Rumsfeld says
the word "Guantanamo" with the smug grin
of a man who knows it makes no difference to rusty
corporate news anchors whether his lies
are big or bigger. The century's most pungent
smog-filled bill is nicknamed Clear Skies Initiative,
Healthy Forests offers loggers a free supply
of chain saw blades. An energy reform chauffeur
drives a cab full of tax breaks to summer homes
of those fillet-prepared to cook the globe
over a medium flame. The national
crime prevention brigade has developed a no-fail economic
blackmail scheme to garner flak jacket U.S. immunity
from world's most progressive war crimes court.
Even the rose-pedaled immune systems of children
are not immune from Bush team's sour medicine,
where "education for all" is laconic code
for stripping schools of the last sliver of union-made paint.
Ending hunger for this shrink-wrapped administration
equals sending starved kids down
to nearest bootstrap sermon. If you ask for citizenly explanation,
their public relations spokesman
sighs it's all so undecideable
some weird kind of post-post-structuralist
vague, ungraspable reasons overflowing
horizontally across basement floor here
vertically thru 50-foot castle roof there, somebody
they are unable to identify has placed a mile-wide pothole
along the highway of American ideals.
Their made-in-Miami rubber bullet pellets
are the only justification they offer, locked & loaded
for rampaging gangs of idealistic teens.
There is no signature at bottom
of any interdepartmental forms,
no one with beating cabinet heart is available
to speak softly at the flag salute funeral, the documents
the investigative committee has requested
were shoved through the corporate paper shredder
a long time ago. There are no answers for questions
of who never knew. Who told Novak?
Who forged Niger?
How Enron money? Who slipped the 27 lies
into Bush's State of the Union speech?
Why's a Chinese semi-conductor company
paying brother Neil 2 million technophobic bucks?
How did we get from Civil Rights Act
of 1866 to here?
O that my head were waters! Lack of sleep
has become breakfast too many mornings.
The Earth has been sighing
through our open flesh wounds a quarter-million years.
The sun misses its beloved.
Our bodies self-destruct.
Our poets in the snowy cities deconstruct.
Run--the horse--cave belly ache--
corn never roots wish--
no end then beginnings--
cut wire whispering--
Which of the wanting Grand Narratives
are they talking about now? O lamentations!
O Jeremiah! O Blake! There is no longer
a good excuse for our innocence!
Back in the 1980s I told the poetry world
it was reconstruction that held the greatest
unfulfilled emancipatory potential.
I was looking for the 14th amendment of poetry,
a verse to reverse Plessy v. Ferguson
for good, a new way of seeing to flip
the notion of original intent on its head, judicial doctrine
meant to invisibly disintegrate the most utopian
midnight desires of post-Civil War era.
Much humane good has been done in this country,
the ideals of democracy & unimprisoned talk,
the vote & the vatic blues,
the fight against fascism and mass migratory movements
for peace & australopithicene-ancestored rights,
the jazz trumpet & long lines
of bebop hiphop verse. An expanding nutritional belly
of sometimes sustainable mirth, quantum-eyed inventions
of some melodic medicines & humming machines.
But it is still reconstruction that is most
in need of a 40-acre rescue. Yet I have grown
older & occasionally smarter
& can now also say "long live
the language poets"
& the 10,000 other international schools,
so many diverse linguistic loves capable of digging
up useful glory. As Nicanor Parra said,
too much blood has been spilled
under the bridge to go on believing only one poetic
road is right. Whether a kitchen mirror to the real,
or Ernst Bloch's anticipatory illuminations,
Isaiah's admonition holds: "do not shed innocent
blood in this place."
In my most transparent moments
of realism, there is a purple horse labeled a long shot
at the last moment reaching its neck
across the finish line first.
In utopian fantasies I see thousands of multicolored shirts
marching peacefully in the streets
to throw Bolivia's president out
of the country, to send Georgia's electoral thief
home with embarrassed eyes dangling.
I see a new global trade organization
exporting the idea of taxfree nonviolent presidential topplings
whichever corner of Earth they're well deserved.
I see a Geneva-negotiated peace deal
between Israelis & Palestinians that at first offers only
a full-throated birdsong organizing tool,
but within a short time
is being implemented step by step by a less stubborn age.
I see a new president of Brazil
altering the map of incomplete bridges.
The TV Reporters of Record have tried so hard
to convince us we have no choice
but this George, too, will be dethroned.
Love, you and I will unlock our x-rayed suitcase
of buried laughter, the jobs promised
will be there for all,
no longer will any engendered group be sacrificed at altar
of an idea. Isaiah, we take the plowshares
in our broken hands.
The wound bandages itself. The burnt day care center
is rebuilt from its ashes. Our poems
have become immune to the scissors.
Reparations for slavery's non-biodegradable shackles
& native America's broken treaties will be paid.
The next plague is already cured.
Our most peaceful surrealistic phrases mean
what they say. The Human Rights Act
of 2050 is passed!
—Eliot Katz (2003)
THE PATHOLOGY OF DESIRE
A poet is someone who dreams
on her feet, for whom words
are the digestive reason
of her soul. This is not to say
that she never goes hungry or
craves unorthodox nourishment. It's
really not a complaint at all. Neither
is it an apology or a romancing
of her craft. She has no illusion
about where the words come from.
They come from nowhere.
it is the centre of a word
that is unimaginable, almost
as it flutters out with the birds
indifferent over the lake
as closed in the eye
or as far as the mountain
brittle as a principle or a crust
in the hand
it is raised up but not grasping
the sides of the hours
it is suspended, it is surface
as though carried by water
or wind moves the parts of language
less calculable than the tides
not boxed or protected
once they leave the soft throat
the twist of autumn trees
lets down the light, trust
in the chill, naked and right
that winter will always be spoken
if it is tender as thinking inside today
and surrounding form – klee klee
little curlew will sing elsewhere than memory
raising sky with soundings/silences
but it is a kind of peace time
and also a form of force that emerges
such as words that rhyme
or shuffle softly near the tree
a head operates in its clay
and thinks about the wings
it cannot elevate to understanding
here against the fickle light
to be based on what is left
as though still unwritten
a statement that suddenly swerves
it has moved beyond confidence
and shed that blunt examination
even though birds pick over the ground
that is written
from Broken/Open (Salt Publishing, 2005)
Things to make and do
Waver on stilts while listening to arias.
Sew your own rose and ask of its questions.
Steal flotsam like wanton flies.
Ruin lyrics, while above the egrets lift.
Paste green language around a cork room.
Refuse to ‘nail it’. Just refuse.
Keep rearranging what is footnote and what is space.
Walk out one day in presences.
Release the necessary angels from their curators.
Make friends with adverbs, unwisely.
Take night’s immediate nerve with possibility.
Speculate outside with the big southerly.
Pass as you go into.
Sleep all around at blue windows.
Burn down the villa, change all the doors.
Stand so shadows make you perfect.
Love your dumb corpus, of song.
Charles Edward Ives
There is no word can hold a chord no analogy fits ear
forte, into eye
a stanza a piano inside it would stifle, would rife with
hands fitting felt to phoneme, syllables to hammers, signs
Seized by strings, a stanza whose whole interior rings
syntax tightened to tune
to show a word vibrate
sympathetic with another—
Structure is image as prayer is to kneeling the composer reasons :
two hands opens the keyboard to weird the signature
raise the voice music retreats
into form’s firmament
divinity free to live without—
Not wrenched, but rendered—
extract beyond word or image:
matter melted into mind into matter melting,
tongue telling eye
seeing melt of mind beyond matter,
eye mattering as mouth does,
here much more than ear
ever than an h is,
ere eye sees y.
Why an ear sees here
more than eyes hear there
is what a paradox is.
A mouth mattering
as word or image.
An eye’s as much an ear:
look, hear beyond mutter of fact.
“Content” (hear which syllable you stress) first appeared in the Milwaukee
poetry journal gam in 2004.
No poems for three months, no near poems,
I revise, clean up, throw out. I index the survivors
by first word or key word. No X or Z, of course,
but at least one poem for every other letter -
except L. And how can that be? The one who loves her family,
loves her friends, loves her lovely garden,
loved the lovers who long ago moved on,
has nothing left to say?
What about Laughter? What about Life?
Am I waiting to be named queen of Loss
Better to settle for lunch
in the small French restaurant downtown
where a casual companion
lifts my hand to his lips whispering, La langue,
time now to speak of light verse.
previously appeared in VERBATIM and SNAKESKIN