Posts tagged poetry
Posts tagged poetry
How funny your name would be
if you could follow it back to where
the first person thought of saying it,
naming himself that, or maybe
some other persons thought of it
and named that person. It would
be like following a river to its source,
which would be impossible. Rivers have no source.
They just automatically appear at a place
where they get wider, and soon a real
river comes along, with fish and debris,
regal as you please, and someone
has already given it a name: St. Benno
(saints are popular for this purpose) or, or
some other name, the name of his
long-lost girlfriend, who comes
at long last to impersonate that river,
on a stage, her voice clanking
like its bed, her clothing of sand
and pasted paper, a piece of real technology,
while all along she is thinking, I can
do what I want to do. But I want to stay here.
All morning with dry instruments
The field repeats the sound
And in the wall
The dead increase their invisible honey
It is August
The flocks are beginning to form
I will take with me the emptiness of my hands
What you do not have you find everywhere
Maybe I am what she always wanted,
my father as a woman,
maybe I am what she wanted to be
when she first saw him, tall and smart,
standing there in the college yard with the
hard male light of 1937
shining on his slicked hair. She wanted that
power. She wanted that size. She pulled and
pulled through him as if he were silky
bourbon taffy, she pulled and pulled and
pulled through his body till she drew me out,
sticky and gleaming, her life after her life.
Maybe I am the way I am
because she wanted exactly that,
wanted there to be a woman
a lot like her, but who would not hold back, so she
pressed herself, hard, against him,
pressed and pressed the clear soft
ball of herself like a stick of beaten cream
against his stained sour steel grater
until I came out the other side of his body,
a tall woman, stained, sour, sharp,
but with milk at the center of my nature.
I lie here now as I once lay
in the crook of her arm, her creature,
and I feel her looking down into me the way
the maker of a sword gazes at his face
in the steel of the blade.
I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.
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!