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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer

Summer is . . . 

Cupped hands. Inside them you might find a wood frog.

Sting-eeze and band-aids to lessen the itching of mosquito bites.

Pipevine swallowtails in the purple cone flower.

A small boy with a green net and sparkly blue bucket yelling "I got a minnow!"

Polliwogs and crayfish.

Waiting on the patio for the first firefly flash. 

Crashing thunder at 5 am. Downpours.

*         *         * 

I'm still reading my River Styx 76/77 and loving every word of it. Albert Goldbarth's "That Was the Year" is my favorite among many wonderful tributes to food and what it means: love, culture, memory, and trying to understand the world and its inhabitants.

My children are teaching me patience. 


Friday, June 20, 2008

20 Miles West of St. Louis

I have this thing for the lower Midwest. Maybe it's the Ozarks. Mountains formed from sea creatures. Places where you can visit the Pre-Cambrian. I remember a friend once telling me Arkansas's a girl who doesn't know she's pretty

And then there's Missouri, a state with towns named Hannibal and Half Way and Fair Play. When we pulled over for lunch at a Taco Bell along I-40, we noticed some locals  lining up in front of a bank for a buffet-style lunch being served by . . . Mennonites. I saw a woman in a tightly fitting white bonnet. How cool is that? 

For some reason (complete and absolute mental exhaustion?!) I'm not running to my notebook every two seconds to scribble down the name of a restaurant or a type of firecracker, but I wish I were.

This post doesn't really have a point, in case you were wondering, except to say that I've been reading the new issue of River Styx and it's their best ever. I don't have it right here next to me (cuz I'm actually writing in our hotel room bathroom so I don't wake up my mom or my kids), but if you like food writing, this is a good time to start a subscription. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Possible Lump at One O'clock

Did you know that when doctors and technicians at cancer-screening facilities talk about lumps, they divide the breast into 12 sections and refer to each area as a different time on a clock?

My possible "lump" (though my doctor never called it that) was discovered last Friday on my left breast at the 1 'o clock position.

I'd always liked that time of day, just after lunch (sliced turkey and Swiss, a handful of Tim's potato chips, a dill pickle . . ), or possibly just before, when the rumbling's begun and lunch is what I'm looking forward to (shall I have the leftover lasagna or a bowl of clam chowder?).

But 1 o'clock was suddenly something different.

The hardest part about a mammogram is not being able to breathe. I found it almost impossible to hold my breath, even for a few seconds.

Oh, and having to wait in a little room all by yourself while the technician shows the images to a radiologist. I didn't want to worry, so I sat there making a list of all the reasons I might and might not have cancer until I heard a knock and saw her smile.

But let's do an ultrasound just in case, so now the radiologist going over and over 1 o' clock with his gooky wand. After about three minutes, I say "so, you're not finding anything?" And he says "but she said there was a lump," and I say, "Well, actually, she didn't say there was a lump. She said she felt something and she wasn't sure . . . so just to be safe . . .". Finally, after taking a few photos: "Well, that was a whole lot of nothing." I feel like crying, but then I start to laugh. "Here, take this towel and wipe off your breast--you're free to go." Then, "negative. All negative," he says.

Since last Friday I've been thinking of Kelli Russell Agodon's book Geography. If you haven't read it, you should. Here's a poem from it:

ROUTINE CHECK-UP
Kelli Russell Agodon

Driving home,
I turn the radio off
and hear heartbeats in the wipers.

Has this always been here?

The weather has turned to showers
and I imagine cancer as a cloud—
reaching down, trying to blend
with earth,
its threadlike veins growing.

You're so young. I'm sure it's nothing.

At certain places
I lose track of sky and hill,
notice the fog between the conifers,
feel its long thin fingers
slipping through window cracks.

Let's just run a few tests.

There are prayers in each raindrop,
glass beads blessing the countryside.
Instead, I think of winter
and its snowstorms, how ice
can snap power lines,
bring a city into darkness.

You do have a family history of it.

Maybe if it wasn't October,
the mail wouldn't arrive
with a line-drawn woman in the right corner
dressed in bright colors, arm above her head
whispering, it might be you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Daddy Babies

Barbara Hamby used this term at the Ultra-Talk panel I had the pleasure of attending at this year's AWP. "Daddy babies" are poets with whom you cut your poetic teeth on but whom you rarely read or associate yourself with in the present: you cherish the baby, but you've long-ago parted ways with the daddy.

Case in point for moi: Robert Bly. I still enjoy and appreciate Bly's work, but I rarely mention him as a great influence. My connection to him goes back to high school, when I saw him in person at Rutgers University. Soon after I memorized "Surprised by Evening," a poem that, over the years, has very much stayed with me--I think about its images, its craft, and its message almost daily--especially now as my own quiet waters are starting to rise:

Surprised by Evening

There is unknown dust that is near us
Waves breaking on shores just over the hill
Trees full of birds that we have never seen
Nets drawn with dark fish.

The evening arrives; we look up and it is there
It has come through the nets of the stars
Through the tissues of the grass
Walking quietly over the asylums of the waters.

The day shall never end we think:
We have hair that seemed born for the daylight;
But at last the quiet waters of the night will rise
And our skin shall see far off as it does under water.

Since I don't need to read this poem on the page anymore (one of the many perks of memorization!), typing it up for you know I'm surprised by his use of semi-colons. I mean, this is a poem that's otherwise pretty much decided it doesn't need to be punctuated. I tell my students that when it comes to punctuation in a poem, either use it correctly and completely or not at all (but never something in between). But lookie here! Bly is breaking one of my cardinal rules (leaving out commas willy nilly). And those semi-colons! Didn't Richard Hugo ban those in The Triggering Town?

Punctuation aside, I think I'm continually drawn to, astonished by, and enamored of this poem because it is telling us that even in youth there are signs of old age all around us ("unknown dust" = dust to dust), along with all the wonder, danger, and mystery. Listen to that line "Nets drawn with dark fish": four of the five words are stressed. NETS DRAWN with DARK FISH. Pound, pound, pound, pound. Bly is driving home the point that the nets are heavy with dark fish--another clue to the inevitable realization that though we thought we'd always be young, in fact there's something else in store for us. But instead of handing us a bouquet of cliches, he writes "We had hair that seemed born for the daylight." Oh, how that line kills me--I repeat it to myself often. You thought you'd be young forever, didn't you? Fat chance!

But somehow Bly's notion of what death will be like is so very comforting. Our skin shall see far off! How bad can that be, really? I mean, one could do worse . . .

Who are some of my other daddy babies? Gary Snyder. William Stafford. Sharon Olds. Stephen Dunn. A.R. Ammons. Allen Ginsberg. Jack Spicer. Gregory Corso. I mean, I had a love affair with the Beats.

Okay, so who are your daddy babies? Poets that influenced you, that had a big say in your development, but whom you don't read or talk about much in the present?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Do Not Disturb: The Writer is Writing

We blog, we read, we submit, we find a way to pay the bills . . . and sometimes, if we're lucky, we get to do some actual writing. As in poesy. As in, cutting individual words from a newspaper, putting them into a Ziploc bag, then grabbing a handful (like you'd grab a handful of nuts) and forming them into poetry (I know, it's not exactly what the surrealists had in mind, but that's my need to control). Or riffing on another poet's riffs (Heidi Lynn Staples: my guru of the week). Or pulling up your ms. and trying to figure out, for the umpteenth time, the ordering of poems in the 3rd section (okay, not exactly writing, but needs to be done if you want a book, so you can read more, submit more, pay more bills . . .). 

I wish I had a picture of the place where I had the good fortune of spending 44 hours last week, but the owner who lent me her studio would probably prefer I didn't do that anyway. Let's just say it was in the woods, near a big body of ocean-y water, and very, very cozy. I did not get off my butt except to take one 1-hour walk. I slept on a Therma-rest pad. In a sleeping bag. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold cereal, apricots, a few pieces of chocolate. Except for the cost of the room ($25 a night) and the ferry to and from Seattle ($34), I did not spend a penny.  I wrote drafts of five new poems and whittled down my ms. to 50 pages (there was flab that needed to be cut). And yes, I think I now have the 3rd section in the right order.

I got back to town and went straight to Pho Bac for a big bowl of beef noodle soup with my hubby and kids. In the space of a few minutes, my transition back to the life I live--papers, lists, appointments, disgruntled students, lines, money, pick ups and drop offs, a kid with school-play anxiety, a kid who insists on wearing 11 shirts and 5 pairs of pants/shorts, mounds of laundry, dust, crumbs, downright dirt, owies to be kissed, a filthy microwave, and a bunch of dying plants--was  complete. But I have the poems to prove I was there. 

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Take a Chance w Steel Toe Books

It's that time of year again . . . when Steel Toe Books kindly reads your poetry book submission in exchange for buying a copy of one of their titles.

If you're chosen, you get a fabulous book of your own poems. If you're not, you still get to keep someone else's fabulous book. Win-win!

Steel Toe poets have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. Individual poems have been published in some of the best mags the world has to offer. Check it all out at Steel Toe Books. Good luck to you!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mathias Svalina

And this is what I love about the Web (not that my seven-year old can build his very own shoot-'em-up games on the Cartoon Network site; no, that aspect sucks): I can visit The Diagram website, find out this guy named Mathias Svalina won their recent chapbook contest, then Google his name and find his blog: Yes, Starlings! Yes!  And then I go to La Petite Zine and read on of his poems, and the lungs "root[ing] through your chest like vines among / the hackberry" --man, that's worth every penny of my monthly WIFI bill--I mean, those lungs took me as far from this stack of papers sitting in front of me (18 more to grade . . .) as I need to be right now. Okay, probably another reason we're all getting fatter and fatter (who needs to leave the couch unless, of course, we need to refill the bowl of chips?), but in the time it took to fix a turkey and avocado sandwich, I've become acquainted w a poet from Lincoln, Nebraska. 

For two days our backyard filled up with the melodious songs of Yellow Warblers. "Sweet, sweet, sweet, you're so sweet" is a poor estimation, but basically a lovely whistle that, each time I hear it, reminds me that despite coffee plantations, deforestation, global warming, and every other environmental degradation, somehow or other these chirpy little migrants make it back here to Seattle (and up into the Cascades to breed) after spending the winter in warmer climes (Central America). But now they've moved on. Kinda sad, but at least we still have our singing robins.