Posts tagged poetry
Posts tagged poetry
Still, tiger, there’s no reason
not to tie your wife up
if that’s what she’s been dreaming about
in traffic. No reason not to
go out and eat twenty doughnuts
if that’s what you want instead of granola
because, whether you like it or not,
it’s a skeleton you’re wearing
under those Italian jeans. For my part
I’m going to watch hours of television
wearing nothing but a pair of running shoes.
I’m going to walk out
into the yard and begin courting
the rosebushes. I’m not going to
let a little thing like the world stand in my way.
Why should I? I understand it
as much as I understand penguins
and I still go to the zoo. I still watch them
It’s like watching really beautiful gods
moving within a universe
that other, taller gods built for them
out of compassion and ingenuity.
It would be easy to sit at the bar smoking,
drinking, ruminating about the why of penguins,
pulling our hair out, crying into our gin
about how the penguins have forsaken us,
how nature is having another party
and we’re not invited.
I like the world in all its incredible forms.
When I’ve had the shit beat out of me, my friends
who have died their violent and accidental
deaths, falling from windows, swerving
into the lights of traffic, my suffering,
my unearned joy, my hand reaching up
through the yards of fabric that made your dress,
the midnight movies, all the kids huffing
all the paint thinners, the comedy
if the poor and the ruthlessness
of the rich, how we’re too hungry to fight,
too crushed by debt and the psycho
promise of there’s-always-tomorrow,
of rent-to-own, the smell
of carrots, the smell of gasoline, the mysteries
of bread and wine, the sky
in Montana with Laura beneath it,
the sky in Portland when my brother was buried
in his little tin of ash, the happiness
of love and the pity of sex, the bathroom stalls,
the fruit markets, Rob proposing on one knee
wearing a panda costume, sweating inside
the fake fur, his bride in love,
the quarterback’s son
paralyzed from the neck down
and then gone, the fear and fetish
of genitals, the way
we beat ourselves into our suits and high heels.
I see how we are with each other.
I see how we act. It’s not the world
with its ten-zillion things we should be grasping.
but the sincerity of penguins, the mess we made of the roses.
Your breasts were two drunken parents
coaching little league practice
but smaller, I remember, than the disappointment
parents wrap around children
and now they have been replaced by others.
Some were like exposed negatives,
two copies of a Maria Callas biography,
a pair of Dutch clogs,
two pieces of chocolate cake
that left me thirsty for two glasses of milk,
pierced, tattooed, each different,
even from each other;
one always seeming a little brighter,
a little larger or smaller
at midday or midnight, while it rained
or began to snow, sticking to the sidewalk.
I remember my friend’s wife
the night I lifted her shirt
over her shoulders
in the tiny upstairs bathroom
while he argued about Eliot
and the Jews with the woman
I would eventually drive home.
Honor will only carry you so far
before it drops you on your ass.
You can’t run from it
but you can get close, standing out in the cold,
lighting your little cigar, talking
a woman’s ear off. Making her feel
lonelier with every story you tell.
I have learned to conquer loneliness
the way television conquers loneliness.
The woman in the car commercial, bending
over the hood, her breasts telling me
this is the car for you, handsome.
You have to believe in it
if you want to survive. You have to
let the old lies into bed and make them sing for you.
And it’s the same thing when I dream
about your breasts and a floating riding crop.
I have to remember how wonderful it feels, pulling
my hands out of my pockets, moving
them slowly between someone’s spine
and yellow t-shirt, happy to unhook the small clasp
without the fingerprint of love,
without the familiar sound of our neighbors fighting
and all the effortless moaning that went with you.
In Vermont there are maple trees and bears and log cabins
and a university or two
where people are learning about right angles
and the philosophy of Kant.
It’s also the magisterial home of the moon
which seems to cut and lilt
through every branch and over every peak. I sat below it
on the steps of an old church
converted into a lecture hall, no longer
the house of God, no longer the property of souls
who prayed and sang and felt bad
about all the bad things they had done.
It was night time. It was no longer a church.
Emily opened her beer with a Bic lighter. Sitting there
I could hear the river
and it made me feel important. More important, I imagine,
than Emily felt when she finally finessed
the right amount of pressure
between the cap of the beer and the chewed-up
end of the lighter, popping the cap
into her lap, the river, moving in its one direction,
made me feel as if I was living
the same way, with the same purpose, and by proxy
had the same power, the same
hydro-ecstatic-willingness not to be exhausted
by my own body. The river ran near my room
and I listened to it every night.
I kept my windows open. I kept my shoes lined against the wall.
When I’m drinking beer I like to stare into the fire
a friend has built out of kindling and dry logs, some news
paper helping it burn, looking blankly forward
at the flames, my face looking absolutely surprised
as if someone I never imagined
were to pull their jeans off
and I am slipping my hands through them,
helping them over the ankles.
I helped Emily’s over her ankles
the night she opened her beer with a Bic lighter
because I liked her, and I liked the part about her knees
and the part about her wrists.
I liked the line about her breasts, the humming
her nipples made
and the double entendre in her mouth.
I liked the well-written starlight when she blinked
and the page-turning
oh-hell-yes, when she breathed.
I liked the one about her ass and the one about her neck.
My favorite might have been her shoulders,
her skin glowing
like some deep tenderness that had surfaced for a moment.
Tenderness and beer go well together.
In fact, just last weekend, Delmore Schwartz, who is dead,
was telling me, My tendency
is tenderness, he was saying, I’m naturally affectionate.
If he wanted to he could have
opened a beer with his teeth,
sitting in Vermont, the Green Mountains rising up
behind him like this immense dream
I am having about the largesse of life, sitting
on the steps of a church-gone-lecture hall
with Emily and a six-pack of beer.
I am betting all of it tonight,
whatever that may be,
on the locust and the amber
bugs I can’t even name
but love the way we love children
with a cache of forgiveness
and humor, stumbling
through the playground in yellow
rainboots and Band-Aids.
I am putting down my chips
for the starling
because she sang me out of my hangover
and I am letting my dice roll
on the mole
who wore glasses in my childhood
and wrapped himself up
in a blanket, near the fire he made,
in the tiny house
beneath the roots of an evergreen.
I am betting my winnings
on a friend I was unfaithful to.
I am leaving the blue ribbons
of my dishonesty
around the doorknobs of women
who would have been better off
without the impersonations
of famous operas
I played out on single, full, and queen
sized beds. I want this lucky
number to hit
so I can look the palm tree in his shaggy face.
I am willing to break the bank
for the geese, walking along the river’s edge
like thugs in white overalls,
I am willing to spend my final dollar
on a twenty to one
that the Golden Retriever I saw last night
will win by a nose, just enough
to walk awhile with redemption.
Some mud on my shoes, a little blood on my clothes.
There’s an artist that lives nearby
whose life, she says, is her art.
And to that unbearably self-conscious
bon mot she is willing to have love affairs with anyone
willing, themselves, to be a living, breathing,
piece of art. Love letters or telephone calls. I suppose
you could do anything, drive her out
of town and take her in the backseat, her left foot
raised high and pressing
against the window, her right foot shuffling on the floorboard.
You could also watch her make art
by herself on a bed
in some hotel. Sitting there in the dark
like you were in some strange theater of the avant-garde.
I’m thinking about that guy in New York
who stood on stage in an old meat packing warehouse,
the audience full of the very young
and painful, waiting for this “happening” to happen,
when the artist, standing
beneath a single light bulb, pulls out a gun and shoots himself
in the foot. Well, Ralph Stanley says,
cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine, we’ll understand
it all by and by. And by and by
we do. Sometimes love gets commissioned
and sometimes art shoots itself in the foot. At least it’s art.
At least it’s not some grassy knoll bullshit
or some teenager walking into the cafeteria with a sawed-off
and an overcoat. Cheer up
my brothers, our Master is sleeping it off in heaven.
He is waiting for his children, his tired,
his poor, his huddled masses. He’s looking
for an artist he likes. I like Victor Maldonado. I like his painting
of the boy in a dunce hat reading to a circus bear.
Victor’s from Mexico. He paints
drop-top cadillacs, police dogs, the legs of little girls, and helicopters.
Everybody loves his canvas
of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s french fries. Hey
remember when they were freedom fries?
Wasn’t that a minute ago? Wasn’t that, for Christ’s sake,
a little indignant?
And speaking of Christ,
we have Christ in a jar of urine, the artist of which
was not dragged into a van, his teeth
kicked out, his body left hanging from a streetlight. We can
make anything we want. It’s awesome.
Like Justin Richel’s painting of George Washington,
lying on his death bed,
an arch of blood, a spout bending over one slave and into the bowl
of another. He paints our forefathers
in beehive wigs with actual bees coming out.
Whole wigs made out of cakes
and pies. He’s a good artist. He’s skinny and worked
for his father mixing cement, putting in drywall,
then going home and making
little portraits of Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson,
Thomas Paine, you name it.
Little portraits with moving parts like eyes and tongues. Jefferson’s
tongue moving in and out, some woman,
some slave on his mind,
making it burn and shuck and jive. In the dining hall
of the artists’ residency, an artist
places a sign on each of the tables that reads
“Niggers Only.” Everyone sits down and blushes,
gets pissed off and self-referential,
saying I didn’t do this. This isn’t
my work. That’s art
slapping the baby and making it cry.
I’d like to do something with sticks. Maybe make them
into a house or something. Maybe have you bend me over
your knee and beat me. We could
call it “I Never Had a Father”
and people would get to thinking about it.
You could dress up
in a powdered wig with top hat, white gloves, white paint
smeared over your face,
a dinner jacket with tails. The whole bit.
While I beg and beg
and call you boss, my little superpower.
Which makes the elegy I wrote for him seem a little distasteful.
Let me tell you, just because you see someone in a black
and white photograph doesn’t mean he’s dead.
Even if you find the photograph in an old-looking
box inside your grandmother’s closet,
the person in it standing against an old Ford
with a goat walking past and a farm in the distance,
he may still be alive, in a nursing home being fed
by a large Kentuckian named Tony, but alive
all the same. And it’s the same with people
much older than you. Just because
they were buying cups of coffee
for a nickel and listening to Sarah Vaughn live
at the Blue Note, they’re not always sleeping
through their hangovers under a quiet blade of grass
in God’s Acre. When I bought the Chick Corea album
and saw him in the silvery sheen of the cover art,
smoking an unfiltered cigarette, the smoke rising
over his face like the hem of a silk dress,
I didn’t even blink. He was dead. And I? I was sad,
listening to his fingers, his poor dead fingers, flying
like ghosts over IT DON’T MEAN A THING
IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING, and thinking
this man’s a genius! playing Ellington like a bartender
plays a Singapore Sling, all that maraschino cherry
sweetness, a little clink of ice, and his voice
doing a kind of mumble-moan
over the keys like a man who has been raised
from the dead, looking at a woman’s knees
after years in the dirt, singing yeaahh!
yeaahh! this is what I’m talking about, yeaahh! this good, sweet life!
Because Laura was driving I was free
to take pictures of the cows who looked so close
then I pushed down my index finger, making the camera
click. Those slow giants, I thought
they’d come out glossy and huge like the tasteless
strawberries people grow in California,
but they didn’t, they came out small like the wild ones
in Oregon, in someone’s backyard
next to the tomato and rosemary.
This was along the coast, the cows with their souls
mooing away in their hearts
like the wind in old westerns
you might have seen when you were young and it forever shook
you to tears or made you love
someone you’d never known. Those big-hearted cows,
black and white gods chewing the grass
of America, making milk or making meat
I don’t know which, but making something there
on the hillside. I was looking out
toward the ocean where the whales were hiding, orbiting
along some aquatic jet-stream like dark planets,
and I was looking into the rear-view mirror as well,
where Laura’s eyes were looking at me, both of us
so close to the cows and the sea
at the same time, reminding me
of an India I read about
where kindness is called Ahimsa
thought it could be something else, something like a red balloon
or an open hand. I often take pictures of people or animals
so when they’re gone I can remind myself
that they’re real, that I have proven the unprovable fact
that not only do I have a heart
but it grows like a sentimental chrysanthemum
my parents planted in the seventies
while their friends were flying helicopters over what was left
of Saigon. I don’t know why
I miss the cows so deeply, why
when I look at the picture and they appear so small
I want to cry. Loss is a funny thing to feel
when you never knew the thing you miss. But I suppose
I loved the cows, my irrational heart
blowing open the doors of the schmaltzy saloon
where my feelings stay up late
drinking scotch, listening to old punk records,
which aren’t even old
in the fossil-universe-space-station we live in.
Maybe it was Laura making everything
sublime with her red hair doing crazy things, the window
rolled down, the salt in the air.
The night before we had driven down a little road
with the stars and the fences
and I knew I was living my life
there in the car, looking out
but not knowing if it was the ocean or the hills.
Sometimes, when you’re driving in the dark,
you can be anywhere, you can turn
the headlights off and bend toward hope and happiness and the good
stuff about death. Death! My favorite kind
of fear. I think about it whenever I fly
and whenever something good happens I give it a little kiss.
If I were more like the cows
it wouldn’t matter. But it’s good to be human and have
a little fear tucked away in some corner of my body,
in the orange bathtub at the B&B
where I had death hiding in my left hand,
where I brought the washcloth up
and felt the water running down her shoulders,
burning a candle in the room
and Laura on or out of her clothes.
I had never thought about the life
expectancy of cows or how they would make me feel
Elysian, that they would mean so much,
that I would even suffer
because of my great feelings for them or that I would dream about Laura
the night I came home, and in it
she would be sitting near me in a theater where we had gone to see
a movie about Sweden we both lived in different ways.
I have spent many hours, sitting
on the toilet, reading books by incredible people
like Mark Twain and Truman
Capote, books about strangers coming to town
and books about a boy, packing
up his belongings into a knapsack,
hopping a train, and eventually becoming a stranger himself.
I have read newspapers
and not just the comics but the metro section
with all its gore and local scandal
like the DNA of the city spinning into long columns.
I have finished whole magazines
where you can barely see the clothes for all the curving bodies.
I have been on my knees
with the stomach flu, staring into the toilet
like some people will drive to the ocean and stare at the sea.
My toilet was manufactured
by a company called American Standard and I have thrown up
more than once, looking at the blue stamp above
the lid and thinking
no one will believe me:
the American Standard taking whatever
you give it, flushing, then filling back up with water.
Standing beside the toilet
I have talked friends down
from bad acid trips, and once,
while flossing my teeth, experienced
a deep sorrow lost forever in the mirror.
All in a bathroom! And that’s not all.
There’s a woman standing inside the bathroom
against the door, which is unlocked,
and I am standing against her
and the party outside is standing against the walls of the house
and she is engaged to a nice man
from Colorado and I am lifting up her dress
with my teeth. No one gets her like the dress gets her
and that is why men want to pull it off.
It’s jealousy. It’s moving in on the conversation she’s been having
with the fabric all night
and that conversation, the one you are
not a part of, is getting hot and heavy
so now there are half-moons of sweat appearing
beneath each breast and maybe
that is why you end up in the bathroom
next to a toilet with a candle on top,
a handful of her hair,
and her head reaching back
toward two shoulder blades that have been scratched by her fiance
the night they fought about whatever it is
people fight about so that later they can throw each other around
without their clothes on. I have her underwear off now
and now she is sort of half-sitting on the edge of the sink
and I’m reaching for the door
because when she pulls me out of my jeans
I decide to lock it. I hear it click
and then I hear someone knocking, yelling
hurry up! but I don’t want to hurry up
so I start thinking about the time
I almost went to Africa
and how I imagined Ethiopia
was going to be, and how the people there
were probably the kindest people on earth.
go outside, maybe
move a rosebush
to the back yard or
clean a window.
under a maple
or in a snowfall.
And this is often
when they see
a nuthatch on its
dizzy route down
a trunk, or
the quick flick
of a chickadee
across the yard
and onto a branch.
They don’t do
much. That’s for
others. They know
how to take things
for granted, know
what to miss.
they make breakfast.
And when the sun
sets, they let it go.
My friend, a Buddhist, tells me
that life is constantly changing
and that my struggle against it
is the cause of my suffering. That and wanting
what I do not have, being less than excited about what I do,
and the shaky delusions
of an invented reality in which I probably live
most of my days. She’s right.
Life changes. The sacred becomes, after many years, secular
and then turns back around as if it has forgotten its keys,
becoming sacred all over again.
It’s like Florida when it was wild and native,
eventually cut down, agglomerated
with turkey-skinned, sun-burned Europeans.
Tropical diseases running willy-nilly through everyone’s veins
until, once upon a time, Mr. Walt Disney
of Mr. Walt Disney’s children built their castles
and tea-cup rides, making a trip to Florida almost as sacramental
as it was commercial. I’m the same way,
depending on who’s loving me
or hating me, taking my letters and burning them,
ripping them up, throwing them in the air
above a bed we might have shared
while a friend cheers her on, yelling that’s right - you go girl!
And it is right, necessary even, fuck- if I was there
listening to the Indigo Girls and drinking Chardonnay
I’d rip my letters up too. As for the invented reality
I live in, my friend is also correct. I am so much bigger
than in real life. I’ve played lead guitar
for famous bands, I’ve played lead roles
in famous movies, I’ve been in outer space and I’ve been a pig
farmer with a beautiful wife from Ireland.
But those, perhaps, are not delusions as much as they dreams.
Not so much Florida without Disney World,
its five-dollar soft drinks and coked-out Donald Ducks
posing with five hundred sticky kids
but Florida with Seminole Indians and Sun Dances.
As far as delusions go
it must be the ones I have about kindness,
that I am never mean or have never wanted to disgrace
your wife in the coat room of a community theater.
Or that I would always give up my seat
on the bus for the elderly woman who grumbles
about how much she hates Mexicans,
that I move so that others can be more free,
that my body is a temple,
a kind of Taj Mahal or Mall of America,
where people come to pray
and spend money, where I put the wholesome
offerings of high fructose corn syrup
and carcinogens onto the altars of the lung and liver,
that I never wanted what my cousins have, their completeness
and money. Their beauty. Things like that.
Small things. Big things.
This must be why my Buddhist friend is concerned,
as she smokes her American Spirit
cigarettes. Which is not to say she’s a hypocrite
or is in any way linked to the suffering
of Native Americans,
though it might be some peculiar destiny
that one people would be dying of alcoholism
while the other succumbs to lung cancer, what it is,
as the blue smoke exhales from her small chest
which is covered, this evening, in a creamy silk top
with spaghetti straps, what it is is that we are not temples,
our bodies, no matter how many worms
work all night to make a sexy, creamy silk top
with spaghetti straps, a kind of industrial workmanship
outdone, by the way,
only through the greater exertion
of the twelve-year-old Taiwanese
who put the damn things together. No, our bodies are chemical,
organic bed and breakfasts, where we stay out too late on the beaches
of our desires and in the morning over a plate of scrambled eggs
and a hot cup of caffeine-enriched coffee,
we come running into the Shangri-la that is sober advice.
Or we meet in a bar like this one with our sacred prayer beads
in one hand and the now secular tobacco
in the other, inhaling it,
and then letting it exhale slowly like the long breath
those first men and women from Cheap End must have taken
when they walked off the plank of their Dickensian ships
and onto the sands of the untouched, divine, and humid Floridian coast.