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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Inspired by Linda Bierds


Osseous, aqueous, cardiac, hepatic—
back from bone the echoes stroke, back
from the halved heart, the lungs
three years of weightlessness have cinched to gills.
From a leather chaise, the astronaut's withered legs
dangle, as back they come, sounds
a beaked percussion hammer startles into shape.
The physician cocks his head and taps—exactly
as a splitter halves his slate, the metamorphic rock
chisel-shocked, then shocked again, halved

and halved, until a roof appears, black as space.
I'm gaining ground, he says, the astronaut,
who knows, from space, earth is just a blue-green glow,
a pilot light he circled once, lifted, swiftly flown
above the rafters and atmospheres, half himself
and half again some metamorphic click,
extinct as memory. I'm gaining ground,
he says, and back it comes, his glint
of cloud-crossed world: a pilot light
or swaddled leaf, green in the season's infancy.
Source: Poetry (September 2006).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

This is Not Black Friday

I meant to post my poem "This is Not Black Friday" yesterday, or heck, Thursday night at 10 pm, but you know what? I have my own rituals around the day after Thanksgiving, and they have nothing to do with wearing the poet hat (not to mention the shopping hat). These include:

1. Staying in my pajamas & slippers till at least noon;

2. Having pumpkin/cream cheese pie for breakfast, turkey/stuffing leftovers for lunch, and eggplant parmesan for dinner;

3. Organizing my study, sorting through piles of clutter, etc. and [the best!]

4. Raking leaves.

This year I managed to attend to all four rituals. Because it was a cloudless, frosty morning, I donned my fur-lined sweatshirt over my PJs for an extra festive coziness.

I made my cup of decaf Tony's Carmelita extra strong and hot; it paired nicely with the pie.

Then I spent the morning transforming a small alcove in our sunroom/breakfast nook into my very own writer's studio. It's not much, but I have high hopes of purchasing one of those standing screens to create a psychological barrier between me and the kids crunching on their bowls of Panda Puffs. I also look forward to getting my books out of storage and putting a giant shelf to the right of me -- with all my favorites.

After a huge plate of turkey, stuffing, & cranberry, plus another schlive of pumpkin pie, I slid on my work gloves and headed to the backyard to tend to the millions of leaves that had blown into our yard during the 5-day wind/rainstorm. As I worked up a sweat I considered how a windstorm in the third week of November equals a record number of leaves in our tiny, mostly treeless yard. It reminded me of my years growing up on the east coast, where we had a mighty oak, a giant maple, and a substantial dogwood tree in our front yard--where raking, in other words, was serious business. Anyway, whatever the cause for all the leaves, it made for some great thinking/exercising time. As I toiled away I heard the not-far-enough-off sound of a leaf blower, it reminded me of Tacoma poet laureate William Kupinse's "A curse on leaf blowers and the men who love them,"and then it occurred to me that it's not so much the evil noise as the notion that someone would trade leaf-raking and its Zen-like calmness for a whining machine that can only raise one's stress levels. Replacing the rake with the leaf blower just doesn't make good sense for a nation in such bad physical and mental shape.

And what's up with the shopper-gone-mad pepper spraying? Or skipping the Thanksgiving meal to get a good place in line for the 10 pm Walmart opening? Excuse me for sounding off like a curmudgeon (RIP, Mickey Rooney), but I just don't get it.

This is Not Black Friday

This is lavender salt scrub Friday;
this is Buttermilk-Pancakes-in-the-Shapes-

of-Moons-and-Stars Friday. Nothing is black
on our 33-hundred block except the hunkered-

down beetles, the neighbor’s slick-black roof,
and our roof, too, its waterfall of rain.

Nothing’s been saved but the leftover lo mein.
The value of the day is not a 5MP camera

with 2.4” LCD, but the egg carton turkey centerpiece
with bottle cap and tinsel accents. Nothing rolled back

but the covers at 6 am, a child’s dada, you’re a wild thing,
the big deal made when she asked how the bubble gum

made it across the road (on the bottom of the chicken’s foot!).
It’s a frolic-in-a-field-of-dead-weeds Friday; no one

we know has slashed a god-damned thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Single Plate is not Butter

I mentioned in my previous post that Ronk reminded me of Stein. But Stein, after all, is only Stein.


A change, a final change includes potatoes. This is no authority for the abuse of cheese. What language can instruct any fellow.

A shining breakfast, a breakfast shining, no dispute, no practice, nothing, nothing at all.

A sudden slice changes the whole plate, it does so suddenly.

An imitation, more imitation, imitation succeed imitations.

Anything that is decent, anything that is present, a calm and a cook and more singularly still a shelter, all these show the need of clamor. What is the custom, the custom is in the centre.

What is a loving tongue and pepper and more fish than there is when tears many tears are necessary. The tongue and the salmon, there is not salmon when brown is a color, there is salmon when there is no meaning to an early morning being pleasanter. There is no salmon, there are no tea-cups, there are the same kind of mushes as are used as stomachers by the eating hopes that makes eggs delicious. Drink is likely to stir a certain respect for an egg cup and more water melon than was ever eaten yesterday. Beer is neglected and cocoanut is famous. Coffee all coffee and a sample of soup all soup these are the choice of a baker. A white cup means a wedding. A wet cup means a vacation. A strong cup means an especial regulation. A single cup means a capital arrangement between the drawer and the place that is open.

Price a price is not in language, it is not in custom, it is not in praise.

A colored loss, why is there no leisure. If the persecution is so outrageous that nothing is solemn is there any occasion for persuasion.

A grey turn to a top and bottom, a silent pocketful of much heating, all the pliable succession of surrendering makes an ingenious joy.

A breeze in a jar and even then silence, a special anticipation in a rack, a gurgle a whole gurgle and more cheese than almost anything, is this an astonishment, does this incline more than the original division between a tray and a talking arrangement and even then a calling into another room gently with some chicken in any way.

A bent way that is a way to declare that the best is all together, a bent way shows no result, it shows a slight restraint, it shows a necessity for retraction.

Suspect a single buttered flower, suspect it certainly, suspect it and then glide, does that not alter a counting.

A hurt mended stick, a hurt mended cup, a hurt mended article of exceptional relaxation and annoyance, a hurt mended, hurt and mended is so necessary that no mistake is intended.

What is more likely than a roast, nothing really and yet it is never disappointed singularly.

A steady cake, any steady cake is perfect and not plain, any steady cake has a mounting reason and more than that it has singular crusts. A season of more is a season that is instead. A season of many is not more a season than most.

Take no remedy lightly, take no urging intently, take no separation leniently, beware of no lake and no larder.

Burden the cracked wet soaking sack heavily, burden it so that it is an institution in fright and in climate and in the best plan that there can be.

An ordinary color, a color is that strange mixture which makes, which does make which does not make a ripe juice, which does not make a mat.

A work which is a winding a real winding of the cloaking of a relaxing rescue. This which is so cool is not dusting, it is not dirtying in smelling, it could use white water, it could use more extraordinarily and in no solitude altogether. This which is so not winsome and not widened and really not so dipped as dainty and really dainty, very dainty, ordinarily, dainty, a dainty, not in that dainty and dainty. If the time is determined, if it is determined and there is reunion there is reunion with that then outline, then there is in that a piercing shutter, all of a piercing shouter, all of a quite weather, all of a withered exterior, all of that in most violent likely.

An excuse is not dreariness, a single plate is not butter, a single weight is not excitement, a solitary crumbling is not only martial.

A mixed protection, very mixed with the same actual intentional unstrangeness and riding, a single action caused necessarily is not more a sign than a minister.

Seat a knife near a cage and very near a decision and more nearly a timely working cat and scissors. Do this temporarily and make no more mistake in standing. Spread it all and arrange the white place, does this show in the house, does it not show in the green that is not necessary for that color, does it not even show in the explanation and singularly not at all stationary.

[Isn't this amazing? I mean, a breakfast is shiny; and a sudden slice does change the whole plate. Stein was a genius.]

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Martha Ronk's Displeasures of the Table

I had not heard of this book until poet Megan Snyder-Camp suggested I might enjoy it. She was right. I think I like it so much for two reasons: (1) it's about food and (2) it's not really about food. Oh, and (3) it reminds me of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons, the section called Food.

I am giddy over Ronk's book and the size of it (it fits in a rather small purse). Here are a few excerpts:

From "Coca Cola":

Today it's hard to get anyone to go anywhere except the movies: dark, safe, sensual in an abstract sort of way, like coke. I know people who used to go everywhere, now watch TV every night. There is no city left, only threat and directions signs. "Stop," they say, or "go."

 From "Oatmeal":

The most forgiving  food is oatmeal. I eat it when I can't forgive myself or ones I most want to. Who do you think you are anyway, I think, who's going to make me, why should I? And why do I have to forgive someone for turning on me who can't think of how to keep anyone from turning angry of course the world is unjust and unfair. Peas Porridge cold and 9 days old.

From "Boiling Water":

What most people seem to like about food is what I find most taxing, metaphysically speaking. It is so transitory. One has to keep after it, keep bringing groceries into the kitchen, sorting through brown bags, going to markets, boiling the water, eating and then finding that it is time to eat again and then going to the refrigerator to get more and finding that one is out and also that there is no way to store up ahead of time so that you can keep on working and not get hungry.

Green Integer published Displeasures of the Table in 2001. Stay tuned for more excerpts.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Pomegranate

The Pomegranate
by Eavan Boland

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past white beams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
                It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Eula Biss's No Man's Land: American Essays

Last week I had the pleasure of picking up a book I could not put down, Eula Biss's Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays. It is not surprising Biss's book won a National Book Critic's Circle Award in 2010; it is more than deserving of all kinds of praise and publicity. NPR calls it "personal yet dazzlingly eclectic," then goes on to say "Biss' pairings of ideas, like those of most original thinkers, have the knack of seeming brilliant and obvious at the same time." I heartily concur.

The book begins with the reminder that when telephones were first invented, people didn't actually want to use them. Despite this reluctance (and occasional outright distain), telephone poles began going up everywhere. And, what most history books don't tell you (which places us squarely in Biss territory)  is that the erection of all these  telephone poles allowed a new place to lynch black Americans.  This pairing of a new communication invention with a uniquely American practice is exactly what Biss is best at: her forte among fortes is to make these brilliant couplings between events--for instance, Katrina and its aftermath vs. the aftermath of a small but significant tornado in Iowa City, Iowa. 

She even has an essay about Laura Ingalls Wilder, which alone would incline this reader to grant Biss's book 5 stars. 

The legacy of race in America is examined under a scope by a poet with an ear for the lyric quality of words; these essays are a delight to read because they please the brain, the heart, and the ear. 

 If you enjoy books that get to the heart of race relations (and racial misconceptions) in America today, this is the book for you.