All the Books in the Universe

The librarian’s telling dad jokes.

Had things been normal, The Boy’s school year would have ended with field day. Each year, a new t-shirt is designed, and the school meets at Lincoln Park for a day of events that the parents and teachers plan, coordinate, and execute with varying degrees of aptitude. Living so close to the park, we have hosted, for the last few years, most of the students in one or both of our kids’ classes for pre-field day shenanigans and donuts. When the time comes we walk them down to the park

There was no field day this year, and I miss filling the street in front of the house with a dozen screaming grade schoolers at 7:30 in the morning. But at least the commemorative shirts were still made. They were handed out with a few other items at the final drive-thru this morning. When The Boy brought it in and showed me, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I have no idea if a parent drew this up, or if it’s some stock design, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to a poem I wrote years ago as The Boy, then just a baby, was falling asleep on my chest:

The Dreamstronaut

The boy adrift in outer space alone,
His hairless pate in a glassy dome.
The awe, the joy, the dreaming soul.
A six-tooth smile in a barrel roll.

While his hands still search and his toes still curl,
Half in, half out of his old man's world.
The half that's in heaves a sigh at me,
The half that's gone starts its reverie.

With that I guess he's in the stars,
Using them like monkey bars,
To swing amidst the giant rows
While the library of his dreaming grows.

And once it's up he'll float about
In no great hurry to be picking out
His stories or his nursery rhymes;
He knows his dreams aren't bound by time.

He bobs on past hoar-frosted shelves,
And a section with a copse of elves.
With a languid pull he moves along,
To the fantasy he'll settle on.

I've always imagined him like this,
Giggling through the stacks in bliss.
The length and breadth of an innocent's whim,
His snickers and kicks propelling him.

Now in my arms he's settled more,
But he shifts a bit one time before
His searching hand tugs on my nose -
He's grabbed a dream, and off he goes.

The PVP Diaries #59

“A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it?”

– The Elder Zosima, The Brothers K.

Here’s a reprint for a day that’s simply one too many:

Soft Armor

Guard against the joylessness -
the shout
the sloganed cry.
Guard against the chanted curse
and truthful-seeming lie.

Guard against the joylessness -
against the sheepish fright.
Guard against the mirthless marches
that wilt without the light
(a truly righteous Army thrives
even out of sight).

Guard against the joylessness -
the hunt
the blue bird’s noose.
Guard against the flashing placards
that turn a lynching loose.

Guard against the joylessness -
against the textbook heart.
Guard against the low momentum
of the classroom’s faded arts
(the ivory’s crumbling fastest
at the over-polished parts).

Guard against the joylessness
my son,
my girl child,
by suiting up in Mother’s grace
and by wielding Father’s smile

Found Poetry

I’ve never read any Kerouac. There’s a short section of this poem dubbed into a song I’ve known since forever:

…America and Steel civilization rushing by with San
Francisco Chronicles and green Call-Bulletins not even enough
time to be disdainful, they’ve got to catch 130, 132, 134, 136 all
the way up to 146 till the time of evening supper in homes of the
railroad earth when high in the sky the magic stars ride above
the following hotshot freight trains–it’s all in California, it’s all a
sea…

Wait a little for it, but listen until you get there. It really isn’t all that bad:

I rode down to the tracks
Thinking they might sing to me
But they just stared back
Broken, trainless, and black as night
Climbed out on to my roof
So I’d be a poet in the night
Beat the walls off my room
I saw the big room that is this life

This is my condition:
Naked and hysterical
Reaching to grab a hand that I just slapped back at
This is my condition:
Desperate, alone, without an excuse
I try to explain
Christ, what’s the use?

Read and I felt so small
Some words keep speaking when you close the book
Drank and just about smiled
Then I remembered us in that bed
Put my ear to the door
I just heard hot rods and gunshots and sirens
People kill me these days
There’s keys in their eyes but they locked from the inside

This is my condition:
Naked and hysterical
Reaching to grab a hand that I just slapped back at
This is my condition:
Desperate, alone, without an excuse
I try to explain
Christ, what’s the use?

Parenthetical Courage

.

How close were you dad (here he peers
down plastic sights of a painted gun)
to the bad guys when you shot at them?

I had to say (I hoped) in a way
that would not forever break his aim,
I had to say (as hidden as the thing had stayed!)
that I never got that close.

But I was available,
I promised my apology,
had someone simply asked me to.

And that much was surely true
but that much was not enough
to burn me into some hell where
the blood of better men dried
and caked and made crispy
little cards of the sand.

That much was not enough –
as apologies never are.

Were you good at shooting dad and
should I close one eye when I aim?
You should aim I said
(he couldn’t know how blindly)
with every eye you can open.

Dinner Party

After reading Virginia Woolf

I am not more right.
I do not know better.
I just can’t run with the baton I’m handed
when my leg of the race comes up.
It is gross, the baton.
Slimy, and it smells of rot covered by perfume.
I cannot carry it.
I cannot wield it.
I cannot.

You can pass it between each other
because you carry it low
against your thighs
and don’t look at it
and instinct makes the transfer.
Instinct never smelled a corpse to know it.
It hasn’t the time.

Moon-Cooled

Don’t get lost! But do!

Here’s another for the Morocco collection (sum total now 2 complete pieces, but a few more in draft form). Allison wrote a beautiful poem about Morocco and published it yesterday. Something she rarely does. I say only this about that: the first time you click that “submit” button is the by far the hardest. After that it’s just another thing that you do. Much like reading poems to an audience. The first time was brutal. The next couple were easier, and now that I have a few more that I’m comfortable with, I’ll pop out sometime soon and use them in an open mic somewhere.

You’ll read in Allison’s poem the impact that Morocco made on her, emotionally and spiritually and personally. I cannot say otherwise for myself. Something about my time there went far deeper than research, than mere information and entertainment and box-checking. And while much of that can be attributed to the country, the people, and our hosts, certainly as much comes from the fact that I did not enter Morocco defensively or skeptically. As I do at home with my family, I gave myself to Morocco, accepted it and processed it, and did not begrudge it for its eccentricities or the many moments of hesitation it presented. HAd I done otherwise, I culd not have written this poem, my first ever villanelle:

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But First

Love, lead me through Moroccan streets
where the city burns behind its walls
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet

that gilds the dates on every tree
and lights my throat’s mosaic halls.
Love, lead me through Moroccan streets

to where my shadow squats beneath my feet
when the muezzin melts the merchants’ stalls
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet

that clings to bees on lacquered sweets
whose nectar drips a torpid crawl.
Love, lead me through Moroccan streets

to where old men call through Berber teeth
while the Moorish sun burns over all
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet.

I’ve come to meet the Amazigh!
I’ve come to climb the Atlas wall!
But first, love, lead me through Moroccan streets
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet.

The Old Medina

It’s safest behind the walls.

Show me to the old Medina
before the sun can warm the stones.
The darkness scrubs the city bright
where the hamsas guard the homes.

Walk me through the old Medina
before the torpid cats arise.
Half their world is always dark
because they steal each other’s eyes.

Lose me in the old Medina
where the modern finger tries
to haggle there with history
but can never match its price.

Hide me in the old Medina
and I’ll give you half my dates.
And tender breads, and honeyed sweets!
Don’t let me go too near the gates!

World Poetry Day

Blame the world!

It’s world poetry day, and I wanted to get something in. I wrote this one a while ago but didn’t publish it because it’s a little bit of a downer, and frankly I just don’t feel that down. Ever, really. Still, it came from somewhere, didn’t it? I’ll have poetry in mind today, and try to come up with something a little brighter.

It’s in a form called a triolet (introduced to me by Cubby) with a nod to Robert Frost. Title comes from Dad, who once said one of the more profound and practical things I’ve heard:

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Yonder

I’m sorry I’m so far away
but my God, this world’s a wedge.
I have to shout now just to say
I’m sorry I’m so far away.
I thought our gold alone could stay
but here it’s peeling from its edge.
I’m sorry I’m so far away,
but my God, this world’s a wedge.

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International Flavor

A found poem made of phrases from newspapers

Two hours into the operation
time came to choose
twice sold books
over and over again.

But the last survivors of that era –
they are all gone away
to bring your children
An insect feast,
accessible game meats,
some bottles of water,
and unrelenting nerve pain in the face.

Are you done with these?

Are you still down there
with the flame proof wisdom
of a snow storm
fluent in English and Japanese?

How is the fairy tale?