The Willing Left Behind

Visible saints, back from visible wars,
Mount our black tarmac and try coming unstuck.
They come bleeding sand from unsettled scores,
Try smiling at wives and babies and luck.
We smile right back as big as we’re able,
Thank them at ballparks and ice hockey rinks.
Hide our old story behind a true fable,
Salute them with handshakes, college, and drinks.
We broadcast their service in movies and books,
Sure to display them with due gratitude.
They did what the softened civilian can’t brook
So we hail their hard hearts (but think ours less crude).
Some, though they drummed in the same brothered band
Cover their ears with their unbloodied hands.

Pictures of Churches

I’m not in a terribly good mood this morning. Too much noise. Yesterday I started working in my daughter’s 5th grade classroom as a writing teacher, assisting with writing conferences. Revising, editing, etc. One young girl’s autobiography started with “My name is … and I am a 10 year old feminist.” I love this girl to pieces, but she’s already been programmed to enter her community on the hunt for enemies. You can’t be an activist and also ask for harmony. Your identity depends on the lack of it.

Anyway, everything is that sort of thing nowadays. And it’s 9/11. I can’t even bear to go around reading what anyone has to say about it. I’ll go back and read what I’ve written over the years and probably be really disappointed in myself, seeing that I too, was simply out there trying to solidify my place along some ideological line. Trying to signal. Shameful. Unavoidable.

The church to which (against which?) my kids’ school abuts is a subtle gem in a commercial district.

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I don’t often come from that direction so I don’t often see it at all. But when I told my chiropractor (hush now) where the kids go to school he said “I live right over there. That church is amazing.” He’s right. It is.

Pictures of Churches

I just want to take pictures of churches
and say nice things.
To listen to autumn.
To listen to wind.
To stop saying “sorry I
didn’t mean to offend.”

I just want to take pictures of churches
but not with my phone.
With a childish foresight.
With a childish need.
With a long-lonely longing
to be whispered to sleep.

I just want to take pictures of churches
and say nice things.
I want father to hear them.
I want mother with me.
I want these thin thirty years
to fall into the sea.

The Kitchen Window

Genny lived next door
and made cupcakes sometimes
that we could smell in the middle of the day.

Our feet would come off the ground a bit
and we’d

float,
cartoonish,
noses up and eyes closed,

pulled in somnolent faith along an invisible rope
that painted our insides with
the light blue colors of an old, paint-flaking house
where she was forever framed in the glass of
her kitchen window. (please always have a
window in your kitchen
right there over the sink.)

Glass so old it sagged from time
and its own weight
until everything you saw through it looked uncertain
and underwater like a mute memory
more than the real, wrinkled face
that smiled nonetheless across
that little space between the houses
on a day that swung too high and short
even in the morning.

Genny lived next door and
made cupcakes that smelled so good
that our feet came off the ground

and our toes
– just
– brushed
the grass

and left wavy little trails all the way to her kitchen
where we woke up with crumbs
and blessings on our lips
and a little sunlit spot
that took the place of
knowing how we got there.

At Once Against and With

At Once Against and With the World

Autumn starts for me like this,
With an evening’s cold, capricious kiss,
Chiding me to stay alert
That I don’t miss my turn to flirt.

I hustle down the dim lit walks,
With lamps on slightly swaying stalks,
Not bothering to dodge the leaves
Cascading down from dormered eaves.

When now the hub of town comes near,
With its public houses pouring beer
Colder than the brittle air
Because it’s close and warm in there,

I go inside against the cold,
Where I like to think we’re men of old.
And on every wooden bench and stool
Sits a girl – an honored golden rule.

They’ve hung their woolen coats on hooks,
And the boys are warming them with looks.
A suggestive stitch, a hopeful hem,
Autumn’s stockings are November’s gems.

And so we work with noble tones
Toward a sense of coming home.
Because man seems tempted to his best
When woman is so smartly dressed.

When everything to do’s been done,
We wrap back up to hold the fun
As close to us as a person’s able,
And leave the rest upon the table.

Though warm within and cold without,
It is easy to forget about
The discomfort we’re supposed to know,
And on our brazen way we go.

Fall is where the season’s heart
Truly shows the human art
Of marching out with soul unfurled –
At once against and with the world.

Originally posted November 2010

Morning’s Mile

In the cities there is nothing
to milk but time. You are spared
the poetics of rote labor.

There is no duty to recall
in that strange awakening
of late adulthood

mother’s feathered hands
or the careful thud, thud,
thud of father’s boots trying

helplessly not to wake you yet.
In the cities when young
men find themselves wearing

their own fathers’ rent vestments
they do not smell like
dirt, shit, and oil.

They smell like paper
and staples and the florid
lining of a brass-clasped

briefcase swung swish,
swish against a silk-slacked
thigh.

In the cities young fathers
grow up slight and light
because their histories weigh

less and don’t ask much
muscle to carry around.
They lack the heraldic sound

of the only engine in a morning’s mile
being turned churlishly over and
breathing exhausted clouds into an

unhidden sky. But in the city in
the street where a thousand engines run
you don’t hear a single one.

Amotivational Wish

I don’t have to say it just because you want me to.

Not a typo. I wrote amotivational on purpose. That’s how this works.

College. Where I find unique challenges every day. I was able to say the same for the Army, but in the Army, motivation was either easy to come by, or all-too-readily available from any number of willing… mentors. In any case, you were simply going to do whatever was to do, and that was that. Rather parental, when parenting works.

In college, motivation can be more elusive. You are truly on your own here, and if the material presented does nothing to move you intellectually or emotionally, it can be hell to get started on a project. I suspect this is why so many students just do what they’re told and buy whatever narrative is sent their way. It eases the difficulty. There’s no real way, from the impotence of the student’s disposition, to ensure that the wheels get greased. So the student’s best bet is to become a wheel and catch as catch can whatever lube is dripped her way.  To wit: an hour in a literature class is plenty of time to know exactly what the professor professes in public and private, and there’s a real narcotic allure to the idea of getting ideologically on board. Your assignments will conform to your conformity, and the sad coitus between two beings of diminished creative ambition will spurt along at a potentially Dean’s-list-level of coursework.

I see it, as best I can, from a distance. I call myself a writer with some confidence now, having produced some papers for school that I am perfectly proud of, as well as having one poem published and another take honors in a competition. I am a writer. There is power there, that I don’t think my fellow majors understand. I can sit in these classes, listen to these teachers, read the little post-modern litanies of a liberal arts education, take in the constantly present sense that “seriously, just do it like us, it’ll be so much easier for both of us” – and still write what I want. All it takes is evidence, and if you read regularly, you become so stocked with the stuff that you could be the 163rd CSI incarnation. I could read a piece of feminist literature and write a 5-page paper that never mentions feminism. And as long as I find the evidence for my points in the paper itself, I am in the clear. That’s the real power of liberal arts, as it is supposed to be understood. The power of being a writer with a little actual resistance in her. The power of turning post-modernism against itself and recognizing how easy it is to be right, within the framework of today’s vacated artistry and dissipated standards.

One of the first things anyone should be able to recognize from inside of the vapid collegiate gestalt is that the last thing anyone should be giving it is what it asks for. Maybe I am uniquely capable of seeing this because I am a parent: I know that you can’t raise a damn thing – child or idea or machine – by giving it what it wants. You have to give it what it needs. The university doesn’t need feminist papers or anti-feminist papers. It wants them both, though, because in either case the student is still just a wheel, safely hubbed onto the framework. What the university does need is true papers, real papers that are disinterested in social propulsion or the narrowing effects of thought-building. The university does not need to be saved by noble conservative infiltrators and their stout anti-political messaging. That’s more of the same, anyway, and absurd. It needs, like a protest needs a mute button, apolitical messaging. It needs, in short, to be made to forget about itself for a while. Again, exactly the same way that a parent knows that a child in a tantrum is best served by a distraction. The university is child to the student, and the student needs to start distracting its disobedient charge from its own illogic. You don’t do that by shouting “NO!” or by presenting oppositional logic. That just keeps the focus on the locus. Distract, distract, distract. You do it with ice cream and tickle bugs, wisdom and wit. You make it get up off the ground by showing it the sky.

But as nice as all that is to wail about for a minute, it’s only a small part of motivation. For instance, I am about to read “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” It’s a challenge that I am simply not sure that I am the master of. It’s ok, though, because again, there is a distance I can keep. A professionalism, and an artistry, even. Sometimes all it takes is is to talk to myself for a moment, and pencil up a poem to buoy me through the surf:

Every Wish has a Rider“Your wish has been granted”
said the Genie to the girl at the protest march.
She rose,
stiffened,
held her sign erect and raised
a single finger for the patriarchy
(forgetting her father)
in permanent letters
on the tip of a
long wooden shaft.
She heard herself say
“Thank you, sir.”

 

In Which We Get What We Ask For

Yesterday’s poems, today!*

*Revised

On the draft of air displaced
over the heads of billioned minions
History whispers:

– out –

and is the only thing that leaves
the still dark office of morning.
Having hissed a warning and gone
to meet more of itself:

– rising –

and having got out,
is forgotten.

Much the way we advance
into a cubist’s missed perspective –
Everything in profile:

– sinking –

and having got in,
are forgotten.