Monday, December 30, 2013
Monday, December 23, 2013
~This poem was first published in Passages North (2010).
Sign your name on a hundred tangerines
and leave them around the city. Please, in orange
trees, hang a dozen to mess with children
and nature. Your perfume tastes like windchimes.
Jam and turn the rusty knife of your flamenco
through a concrete block when you are getting on
in years. For now, in the shadow of the bridge to Triana,
where no one has ever pledged love, pledge love.
From libraries, men in suits come for you with tickets.
They are not joking. You have been invited to come
and read old maps while they watch for your hands
that can hold the ten sides of the tower of gold.
The clock on the artillery factory holds fast at 7:30
and its weather vane of a man with a rifle
is stuck. But your love moves, and before you sleep
and fall into your dreams of storm-chasing, know
the tobacco factory has been turned into a school
where we can learn what happens after love.
Still, these buildings anchor history to air. Look
across town. A bullfight escalates into white hankies.
The people want an ear and ears, if possible,
and then they want the weight of death in white
on a chalkboard. They want you to write it,
extending your slender arm and calf.
What are the names of the mysteries?
A ceramic bell. Water without shame.
Lucks, plural. Sword heaven. Candles
on a hat. A peacock in a brass scale.
People believe that judgment comes like a man
dancing behind a whip on the backs of two horses
while the president-of-the-bullfight can only think
of his handkerchief, but these men are as bland
as the palm in your hand. You hold a shield
over the entire city and your belly is full
of the surprising child of poetry. The tourists
and the street-wise circle below, some rising,
some falling like your very DNA, some children,
some old, some horses, some women beguiling
with rosemary, some lost in the ancient idea of a bit.
Myself, I like your hair up. I like an engine.
A car of fire. A car of earth. A car of water.
A car of common happiness. I would like
to drive you crazy. If you think I will not build
you a house around a box of antique nails,
think again. I will never grow accustomed
to the dance where you kick your own long black skirt.
Your torso demands the sudden striking of palms.
The wooden floor hates your brutal shoes.
From your bronze posture, smile down
at our ceilings edged with curves and lit crystals
as we might look at a good white frosting.
Saint of housewives subduing stoves and dragons,
they named a city after your frying pan. Your apron
is a pristine miracle, and your hair pulled back
says you are just about to get serious.
Will you be patient with your knife?
My spine is a sword hidden in your blankets.
Your spine presides over the ministry of air,
and I love your police. Build a museum
on millstones, and curate anchors and tile.
For art has become an advertisement for art
hung from a black cathedral, a scrim like a blusher
for the third largest church in the world
whose pillars weigh so much they are sinking
into the earth, like we all do. Name
some date you want to go horizontal.
History is the building in front of us.
History is a good word in the day of strangers.
History always happens somewhere else
we hope, except when your dress flutters.
For what is a man to a cloud or a mountain,
and when will your eyelash fall on me?
While others fold steel into steel for a month,
sharpen it, and cut the throat of death, we prefer
the triumph of the dead preferring honey
to its nectar youth. We appreciate blood. Come down.
Boats of gold, cocoa, tropical birds, and the future
of smoke will come knots of miles and months fighting
upstream toward one stone tower, but remember
blood is the price and will be the price. Before love,
let’s drift like history, in a river like schools
of freshwater fish, like the blood of six bulls
through the old stone street and into a pipe
on the Guadalquivir all the way to Sanlúcar.
Monday, December 16, 2013
~This story previously appeared in The Yale Review (2003).
Henry does not want to sink heel nor toe into it. He unlaces and removes his shoes and then parts the cane and thorn and rubbish that the land here offers over itself but the laces snag even in Henry's uplifted hand while the thorns scrape deep into its white side. What I hear is what you might, words he learned from his mammy or so he says his father calls her when she curses, words I can hear even over the pump and the child, even over the gush of one and the howl of the other. As Henry fights his way through the briars barefoot, curses his way past the Cad and the boat and the Something Else vehicle you can't see from the street the thorns are so thick, the rat pink baby limbs get soap-rinsed and so slippery some tight gripping is involved, then some quick wrapping and baby soothing, some milk up front.
He kisses us both, all lips buss air, and he pinches my cheek bottom to make the baby suck harder.
He is putting in the horse stove, I say. Inside.
Henry says he has such a movie he is going to make, he is almost sure to make. Where is this stove?
Before I can think how he will steer past the fallen wood and shingles to the stove place, the baby, nakedly post-pumpbath nursing, pees straight up at me, pees right into my ear as my head is turned toward Henry who now finds a smile you could shake up and find frothy.
Monday, December 9, 2013
~This poem originally appeared in Meridian (2008).
Listen, then. Quiet as a dream. As the moment
she held her breath to see the man who touched her
all night was not the one next to her sleeping. If
that was a dream. The man she met in the woods
with whom she stood knee-deep in mayapple
naming one hundred birds. On the woodchip path
he took her heart outright and called it a ruby, a painted
rose-breast, a crest, a blood-red crown. Even
without her heart, even within a dream, she knew
to put her plume in his hand was never to go back.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
~This essay previously appeared in WordWrights! (2001).
Melodious, rhythmic, two words trip off the tongue with a dancer’s grace, four syllables each, each with a long vowel sound sandwiched between short vowels and a percussive shimmer of consonants: Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosis is a disease process in which joints become rigid. A spondee is a type of metrical foot in poetry – two heavy stressed downbeats. I’m taking some poetic license, since the: “spondyl” in the disease name refers to the spine, but it’s close enough for me.
“Itis” is inflammation. About 25 years ago a friend maneuvering through the crush of people at a crowded party brushed against me, then nearly jumped back. He said heat was radiating from my neck. It was the “itis” in ankylosing spondylitis -- the flame in inflammation, the heat in the fire. A piece of a word came to life.
So: “Heavily stressed poetic units growing inflamed, becoming rigid.” It almost sounds like some rare breed of erotic poetry.
Much jazzier than the generic “arthritis,” as in “minor pain of arthritis.” That old phrase evokes a world of advertisements featuring bored actresses whose mildly troubled expressions barely hide the smiles that will shine when a couple of over-the-counter pills make everything all right.
In in my early teens, walking in Sligo Creek Park, when a bee stings me on the hand. The year is 1967, or maybe ’68. A sudden inspiration accompanies the throb that follows the initial electrifying shock. It’s a thought so far outside my ordinary train of thinking that it nearly turns my mind inside out.
Paraphrased, it goes like this: “Don’t label this experience as ‘painful’ or ‘bad.’ Just observe what you feel and see what happens.”
I focus on a pulse, intensity increasing and decreasing in wave-like patterns. The rhythm of that throbbing becomes musical, like the drone of a tambura which sounds in the background of Indian classical music.
The play of my thoughts is a melodic improvisation rising from that pulse; the bee sting grows into a gorgeous concert playing in my hand. Freed from the straitjacket of language, the experience becomes so enjoyable I almost miss the pain when it finally begins to subside. I don’t understand exactly what has happened, but know it’s important.
We get clues in our lives, a sort of fragmented roadmap of what’s to come, if we can only read the signs. In the winter of 2001, recuperating from my fourth hip replacement, I recalled the bee sting, that fascination with pain. What is it? How do we deal with it?