summer canon
July 15, 2014

When it reaches 100ºF in the afternoon and the only activity that is both free and not sweat-inducing is taking the bus to the public library, it makes sense that one would spend most of the summer reading in the safety of air conditioned rooms. This is exactly what I have been doing. Despite my lack of recent posts, I have been writing, too, though I am hoarding away my new poems until I have made it past the usual all-my-writing-is-terrible phase of the revision process. In lieu, then, of posting anything original, I am very lazily offering up a list of the things I have read this summer so far. I would highly recommend all of them. 

by Anne Carson:  

Glass, Irony and God 
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
Antigonick
Autobiography of Red 

by Jeanette Winterson:

Art Objects
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? 

by Virginia Woolf:

A Room of One’s Own
Mrs. Dalloway

On my desk is also Judith Butler’s Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, which I have been reading only a few pages at a time when I’m in the mood for theory, and I also have a daunting stack of Derrida that I checked out last week in a moment of extreme readerly optimism. I will in all likelihood read 20-30 pages of a random chapter of Writing and Difference before losing my scholarly resolve and switching back to fiction. Woolf’s Orlando and To The Lighthouse are piled underneath Derrida’s essay collections, and they look inviting. In the course of writing this post, I have also put two of Winterson’s novels, The Passion and Written on the Body, on hold through the magic that is online cataloging. Give a bibliophile a library card…  

from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?:  

“I picked up my pile of books for shelving. The library was quiet. It was busy but it was quiet and I thought it must be like this in a monastery where you had company and sympathy but your thoughts were your own. I looked up at the enormous stained-glass window and the beautiful oak staircase. I loved that building.

The librarian was explaining the benefits of the Dewey decimal system to her junior – benefits that extended to every area of life. It was orderly, like the universe. It had logic. It was dependable. Using it allowed a kind of moral uplift, as one’s own chaos was also brought under control.

‘Whenever I am troubled,’ said the librarian, ‘I think about the Dewey decimal system.’

‘Then what happens?’ asked the junior, rather overawed.

‘Then I understand that trouble is just something that has been filed in the wrong place.’”

Nocturne in B, Opus 62, no. 1
August 18, 2012

All the reasons why have been let loose

with the fraying edges of my suitcase

waiting at the door, sunlight seeping in,

the violet smell of the ever-blooming butterfly bushes

sweeping its way through my half-hearted consciousness.

The padding of bare soles on plush carpeted hallways

fading into an upstairs corner, and here before me,

the banister gleaming, dustless, and the quiet rush

of the bath water running in the white-tiled bathroom

of your foreign shore, your gated solitude,

and with it, my slender ache beginning,

all the hand-painted truths of that house

smiling their farewells.

odds and ends and bits of summer
July 16, 2012

My excuse for not posting a poem in ages is that I have been reading, now that I have graduated and have time to do things like read just for the heck of it.  Here are some things to put on your reading list (in no particular order):

Ariel, Sylvia Plath
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
Full of Lust and Good Usage, Stephen Dunn
An Other, e.e. cummings (edited by Richard Kostelanetz)
Selected Poems, Wallace Stevens

Good stuff. And you know, I actually do write my own poems occasionally. I swear. This is one I wrote in Arkansas while visiting my sister:

 

One hundred degrees in the shade

 

There are too many cars
for this to be a settling place,
too much bare dirt
and cracked ground, too much
exhaust, matching the exhaustion.
I’m tired and
I don’t know why.

There, open up the doors
with the perfect panes of glass –
the notion is comforting,
the swing of it, the
silent, perfect hinges,
and outside, the smell of
chlorine in the sterile fountain,
unnaturally clean, lovely.

I watch bees flit, flower
to flower, in darkened, half-
lit gardens, under star-
light, waxing-moonlight,
porch light. I crush mosquitoes,
blood smearing on my warm limbs.
There is the rubbing screech
of cicadas, the collection
of their hollow tree-clinging
carcasses on my kitchen counter,
the white tiles all lemony under
their exoskeletons, homely and
shimmering; legs clawed, scraped,
broken, still grasping at dirt and bark;
the gleaming eyes, sightless and
beautiful for it.

The streetlights are orange and
unreal and I am an alien
on the sidewalk.
All the storefront windows see it
and reflect it back at me.
I’m blowing kisses to the mannequins,
but they are too tired to
return my careful, hopeless affection.

 

A star, collapsing in on itself
May 13, 2012

your skin smells like old sunburns fading
trail dust slept into your hair
dirt walked slowly into the creases of the soles
palms like dandelion sap, pollen on the nose
buttercup dust under the chin and smiles
straight white teeth and freckle clusters
tracing your constellations across a bare back
past rough elbows and quiet hands

no one remembers how to recognize a face
the sound of a warm body turning over
on bright grass blades, flattening
it all out

my hair is growing too fast this year
and you speak too immediately and
not at all

take this flash light
point to the constellations with
the steady beam
there the big dipper and the bear
the throne and ones you have created
lines drawn in light

i’ll wash off the dirt, take your felt-tip
pen, connect your points
hold still

 

Sacre Coeur
November 15, 2011

this is a century of speeding up in slow motion
of slowing down quickly
of biting lower lips in dark alleyways
of kissing strangers behind half-closed doors
ours is a generation of dreamers and
false starters of second-guessers
we have maps but don’t know where we’re going
we have dictionaries filled with foreign words
people stop us on the street
thinking we belong to the city in which we find ourselves
we mutter we fumble with the change in our pockets
everyone is shrugging off our insecurity
everyone is moving on to better people
people with answers people with shoes on their feet
as we realize that we have lost the keys
to our bike locks to our apartment doors
to our post office mailboxes two blocks down the street
that never have any letters in them anyway
we are the ones without umbrellas in the rain
we are the ones whose parents call on sundays
when there is nothing to do but sleep
and ask us if we are still losing weight
if we are still writing
if we are going to move closer to home
we don’t think so but we say maybe
we say that we are meeting people
we say that the sun is coming out for summer
and we are getting tan on weekend afternoons
we are visiting our cousins at the shore and
getting drunk and setting off fireworks on the sidewalk
and running from the police
so fast our hair flies back off our foreheads
so fast we let our thoughts trail behind us
and crash into cars parked at the curb
this is a century of bruised knees
this is a time for falling down
but at least we are good at standing up
we are experts at dusting ourselves off
we practice falling off front steps
off back porches off two-story rooftops
and one day we won’t land
and then something else will start

a poet’s attempt at prose
September 14, 2011

I know.  This is not a poem.  Try not to freak out.  I was in downtown Northfield with a group of friends, and because it was Defeat of Jesse James Days, there was a small selection of rides on one side of the river, a beer tent and fried food stands on the other, a rodeo in the distance, and square dancing in the streets.  The carny running the swing ride was smoking and eating a lollipop at the same time, which struck me as odd and inspired this very short story.  Despite the fact that this story is not nearly as personal as some poems I have shared on this blog, I feel strangely self conscious about this piece (though not enough to discourage me from posting it, obviously).  That being said, enjoy.

 

Fairground

The rides made her smile too much.  The scrambler pressed her into the metal safety bar; she raised her hands and took her hairband out.  The younger girls in the compartment behind her screamed and giggled, but she kept silent, smiling too much until her cheeks were sore from the strain of delight.  Sometimes she rode alone, sometimes not.  She bought whole sheets of tickets, discounted when purchased in bulk.   She passed the week of the fair watching reality whip by.  She bought cotton candy to take on the fastest rides, to watch it shred in the wind.
She liked the swings the best, spinning in simple circles with dangling feet.  She always kicked her shoes off in the beginning, not so late that they would go flying beyond the safety barriers and into the crowd, but late enough so that they did not simply drop.  There was a satisfaction to it.  The carny who ran the swings smoked and ate lollipops.  She liked to watch him as she waited in line, liked the lick drag lick exhale lick drag rhythm of his day.  He wore a baseball cap smeared with motor oil.  It came from fixing the swings.  The ride gave out often, the lights going dim as he cracked open the panel in its belly to sift around in its intestines with a wrench.  She watched patiently, expectantly.  He always fixed it.  The waiting made it better, the knowledge that this chance to kick off her shoes was potentially the last made the soaring higher, the clink of the metal chains dearer.
He began expecting to see her.  He knew she went to swing 19, the purple swing.  He guessed it was her favorite color.  He switched to grape lollipops to turn his lips artificial purple.  Lick drag lick exhale lick drag.  He didn’t speak to her.  He saw her go to the other rides, saw her stand in line for the scrambler with her friends, their mouths moving nonstop, talking talking talking, even as the compartments began to spin and they were pressed into each other.  He didn’t know what they said, didn’t know that they talked about caramel apple toppings and horse shows and illegal summer fireworks over lakes in their cousins’ back fields.  He saw her on the carousel, the merry-go-round, she called it.  She always picked the same horse, the one with a chocolate brown tail and the magenta saddle with the fake plastic rubies.  He always saved swing 19 for her when she was in line, showing her to it, gesturing for her to sit, a maitre d’ pulling out a mahogany chair from a silk covered table.  He wanted her to delight in the silverware, the china, the crystal wine glasses he laid out for her.  Lick drag lick exhale lick drag.  There was no table, obviously.  Just neon flashing lights and clinking swing chains and wind.  She smiled at him once.  Lick drag.  Exhale.  She was the last off the ride.  It was closing time, the lights dimming, the roar of a hundred cars leaving the fairground parking lot at the same time.  She looked back at him.  He put out his cigarette and bit down on his lollipop.  Crunch.  He liked her cut off shorts, her flip flops covered in carnival dust.  He liked her stride.  He waited for her outside the bathroom.
They didn’t speak, walking to the stadium, the underbelly of the bleachers, the point of summer’s last chances.  Encounters happened there.  They were alone, except for the moon.  They did something resembling making love.  She let his hands wander.  He let her close her eyes.  They were blue eyes, he thought.  It was hard to see by moonlight.  He burned his thumb on his lighter, the spark spark spark of it flashing in the dark as she walked away.  She waved.  The cigarette caught.  Drag drag drag.  Exhale.  He was out of lollipops.  She was out of tickets.  “Next summer?” he called after her.  She didn’t hear.  The cars filed out of the lot across the field, their lights swinging in beams across the fairground, broken up by the machinery of the roller coaster, the spinning tea cups, the children’s train cars.  His swings creaked in the late night wind.  The noise of cars wandered off onto distant streets.  He heard the flip flip flip of her flip flops on the sidewalk leading back to town, heard the carnies pulling down the metal covers of the game stands, the workers shuffling through the metal bleachers and the clink of bottle on bottle as they cleared the seats of trash.  Drag drag drag.  Exhale.

the evolution of the sonnet
July 14, 2011

This poem is from earlier this year when I was going through a sonnet phase.  It started out as a Shakespearean sonnet, as you can see from the first two quatrains with their iambs and abab rhyme scheme.  But the number of feet in each line is 7, not the traditional 5.  And then while I was writing it, I inadvertently added an extra line in the middle of the poem and only realized this after someone else read the poem and pointed it out.  I have since revised it, adding a couple lines and complexifying the rhyme scheme in the second half a bit.  It ended up being abab cdcd ede fgfg fhh.  As you might have guessed, I really like this poem for the form and technical experimentation.

In the Garden

When I was young, I knew where all the virtues went to stay;
I came upon them sipping tea one summer afternoon,
the sunlight and their splendor hanging heavy on the day,
the only sound the tinkling of their cups on silver spoons.

They continued stirring sugar as I marveled, face to face
with Wisdom, Honor, and Compassion, Faith and Hope and Might,
and I, the child who knew no better, sat down next to Grace
and stared at Beauty for a while.  I stayed with them till night,

and listened to their voices speaking softly of the earth,
not worrying but wondering at marvels and at plight,
at human love and suffering, at knowledge and its worth,

at waking to the end of sleep when all the dreams are through.
The virtues turned to me sometimes to ask me what I thought
of finger sandwiches and stars, and all the things I knew.
Not knowing what to say, I spoke of lightning bugs I’d caught

and berries eaten from the vine, of wanting to seem true.
My mother called me in the dark, and I left the virtues with despair.
But if I find them once again, they’re saving me a chair.

lyrics
May 22, 2011

I’ve been working on this song for a while, and I think I’ve finally gotten the lyrics out of their awkward phase.  That being said, they read like song lyrics, not like a poem (in my opinion), so keep that in mind.  I would highly suggest just making up your own tune so that you can sing them, actually, and hopefully I’ll make a video in the near future so that I can share the music as well as the lyrics.

Dirt roads

I am a gardener,
my calloused hands are never clean.
My knees are always green with grass stains;
my ways are not fit for your fast lanes,
but come on, come see me.

Why don’t you take a ride in your fast car
and amble on down to the countryside?
I’ll give you seeds for your window box;
come see me, I’ll open up all the locks
for you, just gotta come here, dear, to me.

Hey there, my city dweller,
climb up out of your urban cellar.
I’ll be your sunshine,
and I’ll be your April rains.
I’ll be all of your springtime flowers;
I’ll liven your life for all of your hours
if you would just come see me.

Come on, take a ride in your fast car,
just take your sweet time
cause I’m really not that far
away, today, you’ll see me.

I’ll give you blueberries, apples, and kisses.
I promise this country will grant
all of your wishes.
I’ll be your summer shade,
and I’ll be your backyard creek
if you’d just come see me this week.

I’ll be your sunshine,
and I’ll be your August storms.
I’ll be every one of your summer flowers;
I’ll liven your life for all of your hours
if you would just come see me.