The insides of things is all I gets to see: the house the car the bakery the oven and the wash machine but insides people is too much mama too much for me.
An angled Arab in a jellaba
as long as the Berber sun and with
tea-stained teeth the color of burnt sand,
stands unlooked at by foreign shoppers
because they all know that eye contact
is a contract that even a shy smile
cannot unbind. They see rugs, cheap jewelry.
The Arab tells a bowl of fish heads
here are more tourists. Another man
pulls a palm frond as bent as his back
over meat scraps, breadcrumbs, and poverty,
sweeping the King’s official decrees
and doubts of his Mohammedan descent
secretly beneath the dusty stones in the souk.
He stands and says bonjour to the kids
(the first guess is always for the French)
But the Americans say assalam
and the students and the Arab find
a few forgotten teeth to frame their
halfshared tongue. They eat the shopkeeper’s
small deceit in the heat of Moorish June.
The price of a dented teapot comes down quickly.
A cat mews and woos the noon-hot bowl
of fish heads but is sent running and spits
its hisses at a moped whose engine
ascends to match the unseen muezzin –
his patient call having made its pact with
the long-gowned crowd, reaching unlikely speeds
beneath thin streets and stubborn burqas.
Honey drips long, making bees too drunk to fly.
Under the new moon of Al-Andalus
white women weigh the lure of the beach
against what risk they know exists and try
not to be fooled by trust earned in the sun.
A dutiful and deep-eyed olive ibn
is scraping the caramel crust from abu’s table,
closing shop in time for one more prayer.
You can read the cold
in the austerity of porchlights
and the white soul of maple bark
that makes a shy shiver
when it guesses which star
might love it back.
But I am all halogen high beams
in this poor morning.
The final bone of an unwelcome skeleton
that won’t leave its ghost alone.
And here in the city –
with none of the long-sung
undone thunder of somewhere
less given to the living –
I am stung by lone red lights
and the odd mid-block walker
made bold by the madness
of his addictions.
He moves on.
I do all the stopping.
God has taken from us the sun, which loving was too much like firefly July, watching our brother kiss the girl we were too little to love but loved! with cloying loyalty anyway. A name in a notebook and the little electric leavings of her path across our sky. But must we just go sunless sad, wearing moods like wet vestments at a mirthless service? No! We kick wet leaves on the cooling coals of long November and hoist such a hard, proud December that our summerlost girl - hand still in rival’s hand - turns in a wistful flourish to look back once upon us and wish that she were half so free as we.
In a year that started with three months of march
the gods of the globe met a girl on a Hill,
fit with ambition and requests for the rights
of all of the people to be equally filled.
Great Zeus consulted the God of Abraham
and Mohammed added a surah or two.
Buddha nodded his silent approval
and Brahma saw it the right thing to do.
The wish was granted, her prayers were answered
and equality had been wholly ordained.
But the protester gathered her high-lettered signs
and marched, in her hat, right back out again.
Zeus looked at God and said “What’s this about?”
while angry Mohammed drew out his blade.
Buddha sat down and Om’d ‘til he shook,
Brahma wondered what mistake they had made.
The young woman said you’ve all done so well
in answering my prayers and granting my wish.
but by making my purpose so neatly complete
you’ve presented my hunger a cold, empty dish.
They watched her smartly set out for the heart
of the love that only they could create.
With a burgeoning army she chanted and marched
‘til she raised a new devil from an angelic state.
So Zeus and the God of Abraham shrugged.
Mohammed’s scimitar furrowed the dirt.
Buddha looked to have tuned it all out,
and Brahma just picked at a stain on his shirt.
This one. This one, this one, this one. I have stanzas and half-stanzas and semi-stanzas and absolute brain farts all over the page on either side of this one. Gerard has an essay titled The Arrival in which he talks about not only the work involved in really writing a poem, but the way a writer can be consumed by it. The way it works and more importantly the way it doesn’t work. The fact that you cannot, as he says “pound out “Howl” in a weekend on a diet of meth.” In other words, it takes a while.
I have a few that went that way. Cavity is one. Cut is another, so is The Whole Sky, All at Once. Tons of time poured into those, and they all still need work (Cavity in particular is a weird experimental thing that I almost hate). The one I’m putting up here today is just one stanza that looked complete in the middle of a general muddle, and I have to post it just so I can break its hold for a minute and get up out of this chair.
God has taken from us the sun
which loving was too much like firefly July,
watching our brother kiss the girl
we knew we were too little to love
but loved with cloying loyalty anyway.
A name in a notebook
and the little electric leavings
of her path across our sky.
Sometimes I’m somewhere – Jesus,
it’s no poet’s dream!
A street decayingly toothed with slouched houses
dirty cars and trash bins
(every day is collection day)
where muckfoot gutters suck shoes to the potholed road
in the scum-slurry brown of Autumn’s
(Winter you shrill beast, you crook, you tyrant!
Making the robes of three seasons’ bounty
cower and tremble dead to earth
before the world can limp naked
and embarrassed into your icy bed!)
Sometimes I’m somewhere – Jesus,
yes, no dream of mine!
A street wearing hard a century’s neglect
and the slop-rotten offerings of a
beaten world’s winter-tithe
all swamped under noondark and I think
thank God I’m a poet.
This is beautiful.
Midwestern winters ask kids to make
a risky reckoning best left to the wise,
standing at the edge of a snowdusty pond
and measuring its slab of ice against
the way the weather’s been and how long
and daring (or not) to step out onto it.
But this is Northwest February and
I barely get to speak of ice at all out here,
or hear tales of boys fallen through
over the years and how once you’re under
the black water moves to hide the hole you made.
I barely get to speak of ice out here
or worry that a spot of skin’s gone white.
The weather asks so little of me
that I have to beg memory to list
wispy words and show hung pictures
of winterfear. But memory’s different
from knowing like guessing’s different
from fearing and I know that if I ever
do get to speak of ice out here
it’ll be so whisperthin that every one
of mom’s drowning boys would have
measured it beneath them to even try.
They would just walk around the sound,
well trained by a place where
the weather asks so much of them
and the ice is always on their tongues.
As long as we define ourselves by all that we’re against we’ll have to go on wondering where all our happiness went.