homecoming
June 30, 2013

Amazing how many different places a person can sleep in two months. I went from a small city in northern France to the banlieue of Paris to the wonderfully familiar bookshelves of Shakespeare & Co to the seemingly never-ending sprawl of LA to Autostraddle camp in the mountains of California to Minneapolis to Carleton College…it was only two weeks ago that I finally made it to Albany, where I will be spending the next year.

As you might expect, being a tumbleweed for a month at Shakespeare & Co was the highlight of my time in France (drinking champagne in front of the Paris city hall when gay marriage passed was a close second). My fellow tumbleweeds were a delight, as they always are. Nathan, last I heard, was headed to India, where I can only imagine he is eating like a king and writing the next great American novel. He and I first met three years ago during the shop’s literary festival, and through the strange machinations of the universe, we both ended up returning to the shop this spring. Tom – Scotsman, musician, and whiskey expert extraordinaire – is still at the shop and blogging up a storm. And Holly, the driving force behind the shop’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, continues to blissfully avoid returning to the US.

If I had not already paid for a transatlantic flight and a spot at Autostraddle camp, I would probably still be at the bookshop. It would seem that the only thing tempting enough to convince me to leave Paris is a campground full of queers (the fact that my French visa was about to expire mattered very little in this course of events, interestingly enough). Rather than try to recount all of camp for you – this would simply be me saying “everyone was so smart and attractive!” in as many ways as possible – I’ll just link you to the Autostraddle staff’s recaps.

After southern California, I flew to Minnesota, where I crashed on a variety of couches in the apartments of very welcoming friends. I discovered that Minneapolis is a wonderful city when it’s not buried under two feet of snow, that small Midwestern towns feel even smaller after living in Paris, and that after a year away, your alma mater will never feel like the home you remember it to be. Despite the onslaught of feelings that hit me upon seeing so many familiar haunts and faces, I made it out of Minneapolis without completely succumbing to nostalgia.

And so I’m back in Albany, my to-do list dominated by grad school applications and my ever-expanding reading list. The bane of my existence while traveling was my clashing inabilities to 1) avoid acquiring books and 2) fit more books in my luggage. Thankfully, media mailing rates exist and so all was resolved in the end.

Things I’ve read:

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald — I somehow got through high school without being forced to read it.
1Q84, Haruki Murakami — very long, very bizarre, very memorable
Antigonick, Anne Carson — a poetic and feminist translation/interpretation of Antigone. Wow, you need to read this.
Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare — best if read with wine and friends
This Jealous Earth, Scott Carpenter — my critical theory professor’s latest collection of short stories
various poetry collections by Stephen Dunn — I will never not be obsessed with “Loves

Things I’m reading:

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami — runaways and talking cats. just go with it.
Moby Dick, Herman Melville — surprisingly hilarious and beautifully written
Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Judith Butler — Problematize all the norms!

Last but not least, I’m still writing down my feelings, adding creative enjambment and punctuation, and calling it poetry. Post to follow.

april poems
April 3, 2013

So. It’s  been a while, to say the least. I’ll blame it on being in France, training for a marathon (which is in 4 days, and yes, I’m terrified), and beginning to keep a personal journal that I’d rather not share with the internet. But excuses aside, it is National Poetry Month and I need to write more, so I’m determined to do this one-poem-a-day thing. I’m already behind, which I suppose is characteristic of my way of working on projects, but I’m posting two poems today, so I hope the poetry deities can forgive me. Here goes nothing.

(P.S. I hope the poetry deities can also turn a blind eye to this shameless plug. I’m running the Paris Marathon to support the Human Rights Campaign; check out my fundraising page if you’d like to donate. Thanks!)

Commuters

I am just trying to eradicate
your troubling quietness.
Here’s the thing: I’m deaf
and great at keeping secrets
that want to be told.
Come with me to see
how, in the heat of
a crowded train car,
you can lose your way
on the straight, iron track
(but really, you should memorize
the name of your long-off stop).
Also: try not to close your eyes.

Waking is the hardest part

Sunrise – I apologize
to the soles of my feet, my limbs,
spine, ribs, and all.

My veins seem bluer every day,
the color of cold
marrow and bone.

Tongue and lips and
other loose implements
once spoke, but

now, my body
curls around its heat,
wizened, tough and humming.

losing
December 11, 2012

I am homesick for many things. As a wandering vagrant with no stable purpose in life (i.e. a recent college graduate), this cannot be avoided. I am homesick for the 64 acres of fallow fields where I grew up, for the childhood bedroom that no longer exists, for my parents’ new house and its kitchen pantry, for college and the feelings of stress and purpose and friendship, for America, for the body of another person, for all the places I have lived. This poem began as a sort of farewell to Paris, a city which I find myself constantly having to leave, but really, it is for the innumerable places I have let go.

Of course, as is to be expected, another poet has already written a better version of this poem, the version that I wish I had written. Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” is a flawless villanelle, a poem that always makes me wish I could write formal poetry without it sounding forced. If only the art of poetry were as easily mastered as the art of losing…

 

The day you leave,
you retreat to the heart
to whisper farewells
and promises to write.

The final night,
the lights were warmer
than you will ever remember,
while in this winter,
you are away and colder
than all the city streets put together,
your heart beating
to the rhythm of some old home.

Feel the tingling in your hands
and in your heels to walk and work
in gardens of your own planting,
whose roots you’ve known,
seeded and grown to blooming
in the summer of your long living on the land,
the dirt on your hands the same as the day
you arrived and stayed awhile
and fell in love
with this lasting thing.

All the windows have been boarded up;
dust on the shelves, cobwebs in the corner,
the impression of your head on the pillow, still.

You do not know when you will be back again,
but you imagine that all the flower boxes
are desolate without you.

where all the ladders start
November 28, 2012

“Now that my ladder’s gone, / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” – from “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” by W. B. Yeats

For the 2 weeks of vacation that French schools have for All Saint’s Day, I took the train an hour south to Paris and spent time living and working at Shakespeare and Company, a little literary, anglophone bubble just across the river from Notre Dame. It is impossible to spend any amount of time in this shop without meeting extremely talented people who are passionate about reading and writing, and so living there is essentially a constant motivation to write (or to at least appear to do so). One of my fellow Tumbleweeds was Pat Cash, spoken word artist, journalist, and all-around lovely person. I also had the extreme pleasure of attending a reading by Aja Monet, another spoken word artist. She read from her first collection of poems, The Black Unicorn Sings, as well as Chorus, a recently released collection of spoken word poems that she and Saul Williams edited together. I still regret not getting a copy of Chorus when I was at the shop. Continuing on the spoken word theme, I would highly suggest attending and participating in the spoken word nights at Le Chat Noir, a weekly event organized by Spoken Word Paris. The group, though mostly anglophone expats, welcomes any and all readers, regardless of language or renown.

While in Paris, I also trekked out past my usual stomping grounds in the Latin Quarter and the Marais to visit a small lesbian-owned bookshop in the 11th arrondissement called Violette and Co. One of the shop workers was more than happy to help me fish through the poetry section, for despite the fact that I speak French, I have little to no knowledge of francophone queer poetry, and so after many suggestions, I ended up choosing a collection by Nicole Brossard called Langues obscures. Brossard’s collection is an interesting mix of prose, poetry, and philosophy of self, making it the perfect thing for me to read, or rather, attempt to read; I cannot boast that poetry in French is particularly accessible to me, even after ten years of learning the language. Nonetheless, it can be stunning, even for the non-fluent:

“Plus tard, à mille lieux de l’éternité, quand nous pensons mouvement des paupières ou nuit pharaonne ou parce que c’est beau, je m’intéresse aux nuits les plus simples, sans nuage, les nuits de bonne odeur où la culture accepte de se taire. Nuits sans légende au bas de l’image pendant qui nous regardons les étoiles et laissons le chien de l’âme en profiter démesurément.”

Later, miles away from eternity, when we think of the eyelids’ movement or pharaonic night or because it is beautiful, I am interested in the simplest nights, without clouds, the sweet smelling nights when culture lets itself be silenced. Nights without a caption below the image when we look at the stars and let the dog of the soul thrive immeasurably.

free verse
April 22, 2011

This is another poem inspired by a bizarre experience in Barcelona.  Anna and I saw one afternoon a fresh bouquet of flowers sticking out of a recycling bin on the side of the street.  Like the parrot with the bell around its neck that prompted my last poem, there was no apparent reason for this strange sight.  A little Spanish man walked up to us to discard his newspaper as we were staring at the recycling bin .  He said something in Spanish that I didn’t understand, but he was obviously chuckling at the flowers that had been thrown away.  Before continuing on, Anna and I both took an iris out of the bouquet, but left the rest to perplex any other people that might happen by.  This poem is one of many possible explanations for why someone would buy flowers just to leave them in the trash.

For her

The lilies and the irises
told themselves that they were beautiful
as the florist wrapped them in tissue paper
and crinkly clear plastic
and sent them on their way.
They told themselves they were worth
more than the pampered post-card perfect
roses with their ruby petals
and the orchids blushing in their hot houses,
more than the coins the man handed over,
cringing as he crushed their stems,
gripping them with a sigh.

The lilies and the irises
like to travel together,
their faces watching the sidewalk
rush beneath them,
the man’s shoes avoiding the cracks
with every quick and quiet step.
They liked the colors of the metro,
the magenta of the main line,
the smell of bodies in their buds
as they are pressed to the glass
and the graffiti-smeared seats.
They liked the dogs that licked their leaves
and nipped their petals falling to the floor.

The lilies and the irises
waited for an answer.
The doorbell rang again;
the button glistened in the streaming
sunlight of the summer afternoon,
sweat left there by the man’s dripping fingertip,
the flowers’ plastic rustling in the windless day
from the quivering in his wrists
and the shaking in his thighs.
They heard his knuckles knock,
firm and loud, a speck of yellow paint
falling from the doorframe to the ground
and resting on the concrete like a piece of daytime
for her to find later in the night.
She moved behind the window shades.
They saw her swaying silhouette.
Unmoving, they heard his now familiar sigh.

The lilies and the irises
could smell old newsprint
and empty aging beer bottles.
They liked the green of the recycling bin.
They liked the sound of the man’s shoes
stepping down the street,
the footsteps floating up
and growing big between
the buildings of the tiny back street,
then dying off with his retreat.
They liked how he had tipped up their faces
and carefully arranged their stems
in the bin’s small opening
so that they could see her balcony
and the clouds passing across the sun.

free verse
April 21, 2011

During spring break, while wandering through a park in Barcelona, I saw a parrot walking in the grass amongst the many pigeons that one expects to see in a city.  The reason that I took notice of the parrot in particular was that there was a bell around its neck.  This poem was inspired by that parrot.  I do not know if the parrot belonged to anyone in the park or if he had escaped his owner and was wandering wild through the city.  I’d like to think that each morning, his owner ties the bell around his neck so that he doesn’t get trampled in the metro, gives him a euro in case he gets hungry, and sends him out into the world.  Then each night, the parrot comes back to the owner’s apartment to tell of his adventures, the euro spent on gelato (pistachio, of course).  Anyway, enjoy the poem.

Birds of a feather

Parrots are easily lost in crowds,
despite the feathers and the squawking,
and if you don’t realize this profound truth
of parrot ownership and maintenance,
you will foolishly think that your brightly plumaged friend
is safe on your shoulder,
that he would never think to fly off
to pester some cat on a window sill
or settle down in an old woman’s hat
with its ribbons and satin bows and velvet –
would never think that he could want
any other world
than the vast expanse of your left shoulder
under its tweed jackets and wool sweaters.

So don’t be surprised when you come home
to find that he has flown the coop
and has left you with an empty cage
and a streak of white down the left side
of your jacket.
He was, after all, just a bird
you taught to say your name and hello,
and now somewhere he is flying with pigeons
and swooping into the rank gutters
outside of all the city’s fruit stands
and living on rotten raspberries and freedom.

Yes, parrots are easily lost for good.
So clip his wings
and put a bell around his neck,
and he will faithfully follow you through
all the parks on your summer walks,
and you will hear the pleasant tinkling
of his collar as you walk in the sunshine.
The children with the ice cream-smeared faces
will laugh and point as he waddles behind you.
You will never lose him,
and he will never lose himself
to anyone but you.

prose poem
March 13, 2011

Je croyais

Hemingway told me “there is never any end to Paris” and I believed him, and I believed in Paris and in its boulevards and winding narrow streets with flower boxes silhouetted against blue and clouds, I believed in all its museums and graffiti and tableaus smeared with paint and truth and life because Renoir saw the people dancing in Montmartre under trees and in the dappled midday light and I knew that he knew Paris and its people in morning light and rainy fog and twilight when the city comes alive and all the young ones walk the Seine and smoke and whisper to each other as footsteps echo on the cobblestones, and I believed in musicians in the metro stations who played with open cases at their feet and let their voices bounce around off all the white tiled tunnels, and I believed in the cello player who wore his hair long playing concertos while I rushed to catch my train, I believed in the man outside my apartment every morning fixing bicycles and radios he carried in his shopping cart, I believed in one euro baguettes and croissants warm in the morning and espressos in cold cafes before dawn when all the workers were eating breakfast, I believed in grass in jardins where no signs told me to stay off and puddles in the gravel walks winding through the flowers from spring rains coming in the night and sprinklers in the afternoon, I believed in the carousel twirling in the Marais surrounded by chocolate shops and stores with dresses I tried on but never bought and the square where sitting on stone steps I ate my lunch of bread and cheese and wondered where all the city had gone and why losing my way was easy in this part that was filled with oaken doors and the Place des Vosges that I never found on purpose and the galleries whose owners eyed my with disdain and knew before I spoke I was not French and the little shop called Thanksgiving that sold boxed cake mix and Philadelphia cream cheese and peanut butter for the expats, but Paris was my thanks giving every day when I crossed the bridge of the Promenade Plantée and looked out on the vast expanse of greenest grass below my feet and the toddlers rolling on the lawn and parents blowing bubbles in bare feet and lovers’ whispered nothings laying on blankets from their parents’ homes and I never needed the Arc de Triomphe when all of Paris was beneath me on a little bridge in the 12th and then, I didn’t have to wait in line, and I believed all of it!  But I left Paris and its neverendingness and I believe in something else now because Paris is a feast but the lingering taste is all I have left.