Moar Poetree

Civilised (I spelled that with an English s instead of a z, and Word took the piss) civilized people, smart people, don’t make resolutions. Do we? Remember Keyser Soze? “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he wasn’t real.” Well, the greatest trick that people ever pull is convincing themselves that nothing has to be hard. Resolutions are hard. If you don’t make a resolution you can’t fail at it. Last September 1st I resolved to quit drinking. Done. I can’t really resolve to keep not drinking, because to not drink implies that, in different circumstances, I would be drinking. It implies a battle against impulses and urges. I don’t have those. Can’t fight an impulse that I don’t have.

What do I resolve?

I’m sitting in Starbucks, where the interior designers give zero shits about the concept of personal space. The guy next to me is so close that if I lose focus I might start typing on his keyboard. This is not a good arrangement for me. I resolve that by the end of 2017, this will be a perfectly acceptable arrangement for me.

What else do I resolve? Moar Poetree. I took that Creative Writing class last quarter, which turned out (to everyone’s surprise I eventually learned) to be a poetry class. I’ve written some poems over my life. I’ve read some. I’ve railed against free verse because it is the written version of every modern art installation going. It is the manifestation of the mantra that “art can be anything, and anyone can be an artist.” Neither of those things are true, and neither is it true that hammering out a 15 line free-written run-on sentence of f-bombs and sex, then breaking it up into random lines, is always poetic. Or even artistic. Sometimes – often times – it’s just bad and inaccessibly personal. What would be the point of something like golf if it had literally no rules save requiring a club and a ball? When poetry has no rules save requiring words, there’s nothing left to be good at. There’s nowhere to put the beauty. And I’m afraid I will not back down on this one. Whatever the paint-splatterers and fecal-smudgers may pretend about art existing for shock and discomfort, they are wrong. Art is for beauty and intellectual improvement. Art can, of course, be beautiful and uncomfortable. The two are not mutually exclusive. Look at how many people are made uncomfortable by Christmas plays. Imagine the furor if something as incredible as The Assumption of Mary showed up in a courthouse.

the-assumption-of-mary

So yes, beauty can be uncomfortable, but not because it’s beautiful. Rather, because we’re not. The arrangement is supposed to be that the beauty in art can show the viewer his ugliness and help motivate him to aspire to greater things. Not that the ugliness in art can show the viewer just how ugly art can be and help motivate him to be miserable. Cans of Shit  (It’s Wiki, no pictures) come to mind, but the list is long.

I digress. I prefer (preferred) rhyme because it requires discipline where free verse eschews it. It’s harder to be good when you have limitations, and so it is better to be good when you have limitations. But I have come around. That someone simply insists his free verse is good does not make it so. I certainly don’t have to believe that it is. Also, that there are no – or fewer – rules, does not mean that free verse cannot be good. I proved that several times last quarter. Free verse can be spectacular.

So…

Moar Poetree. I carry prejudices. So do you. Saying “Welcome, refugees!” does not mean that you approach the world with harmonious magnanimity. I do not deny my prejudices. How does my prejudice work? I write a little formula in my head. It’s poetry – it’s art – so in this day and age it’s likely to be very preachy. The saying goes that all art is political. All art is politics. So, the first number in my formula is “art” and its attendant political meanings. Next we have the first poet we examined in my Creative Writing class: Naomi Shihab Nye.  “Naomi. Shihab. Nye.” Can you imagine a more wildly identity-packed name than that? She’s from somewhere that isn’t Nebraska, that’s for damn sure. So in today’s political and artistic climate, that name wields a heavy ethnic aggressiveness. When you are named like that, you are armed. You are weapons hot in the Western culture. So my equation looks like this right now:

“Art” + “Weaponized ethnicity”

This, by my calculations, can only result in one outcome:

Art + Weaponized Ethnicity = White People Suck

Unlimited license to rail against whiteness and privilege and all the dull usuals that populate places like art, where mediocrity bullies its way to power. It’s a title IX officer’s wet dream.

And so we dove into the poetry of Naomi. Shihab. Nye. I was doubtful and skeptical and preparing my defense. And we read “The Art of Disappearing.” And it was beautiful. It is beautiful. Nye is Palestinian, she is Texan, she is American, she lived in the West Bank, she went to Trinity University. She could be killing us with political accusations. But she does not. Politics exist wherever they are sought, and her poems are no exception. But she is a child in an adult’s body, writing with an informed innocence that I think is impossible if you have never been loved. I mentioned that the beauty of art can exist to show us where we are not beautiful, and to inspire us to improve. Nye’s poetry ups the ante, making me not so much aware of my ugliness, but making me feel more beautiful than before I started. Oscar Wilde said “Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.” Her poetry, I think, does that. It makes me sympathise with her success. It makes me happy for her. That’s really something. She wrote this one about time:

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

I am happy for her that she wrote that. Last night, friends and I scribbled wishes on wispy sheets of paper. Gossamer parchments. We lit them and they rose up as they burned, the ash falling slowly back down so it could be caught, carefully, and the wish could be made real. The first stanza of “Burning the Old Year” seems to have been written for that moment. What a nice way to wake up on New Year’s Day – sober and poetic.

So my other resolution: More Poetry.

Back to the Dance

When I started this creative writing class, I swore that I would only write original content. Meaning that I would not go back through my years of essay/poetry/flash fiction blogging for material. Thus far I have honored that. But our last assignment is to write a poem that involves the concept of or a sense of time in some way, and damn it, I knew immediately that I had the perfect piece to go back and pull forward. Here’s the original from (oh my) nearly 5 years ago. I love that I’ve been recording things for this long. Since what, 2008, I think. How’s that for a sense of time?

Here it is, poemized. Poetified. Poefied. It’s probably not the final form. We always revise and revise and revise, of course. But how nice this is:

We Have a Dance that Makes Us Forget

We’re incredible, you and me.
We should be fetal and weeping
all the things that come our way.
But we barely notice as we act like waking up this morning
erases all the times he woke us up last night
the poor boy and his cutting teeth and
whatever the rattling wind
did to his dreams.

And in the fog of another morning
we are buried under the things.

But we’re incredible, you and me.
We should be dim and unresponsive
if we could afford the lapse.
But we barely notice as we give the girl a ‘good morning’
and a choice of food for breakfast.
She crests the stairs carrying
the bags under her eyes
that her father gave her.

And the harried ballet of the birth of a day gets eased by
– we’re already late.

But we’re incredible, you and me.
We should be hunched and scuffling
if we could even move that fast.
But we barely notice and we make a little dinner
and go “ga-ga” to the boy
and “use your manners” to the girl
and we smile and
have a family hug.

And they want to hear music now because
they dance to everything that isn’t sleep.

The old men on the TV continue to beat each other dumb
while the old man in his chair heaves a sigh
that comes out like the ghost of his grandparents
rushing to turn up the radio.
A sigh that works like amnesia.
The television disappears with a click.
A fog horn mourns in the distance.
The music plays and our people dance.

We’re incredible, you and me.

The White Noise of Prophecy

 

What if I just drove hard
with a picture in my head of where I wanted to go
and that picture was a desert.
I drove and I dreamed and I screamed and I became
a carbureted harbinger of ills that I can taste when I speak them.
And I spoke of where I wanted to be –
black charred sands
ice cold mornings
a lifetime of miles from her grave.

What if all I could do on the way was
vent that little cigarette window and watch my spent ashes
dancing an unlikely moment in the eddy
while I rod full throttle
with a picture in my head of a place that doesn’t exist
because it might be the only way I can stop seeing that forest –
damp green sanctuary
damn dirty cliché
all moss and mood and running snow
pooling in raucous serenity
where the world’s worst poems about loss
collect to commiserate over their feelings of inadequacy
and where a dipped toe stirs guilt into prophecy –

white noise
the pestilent buzz of a dead limb
the prayer that didn’t take

And what if I was Jonah
driving in a panic away from the mouth of a giant fish
because in the rearview I saw inside its maw
and I saw that wicked forest
mocking me forever as it begged me home.
So I had to fly forward to a burnt delusion
to leave that pretty little place in the woods
where I buried her.

I Died in My Kitchen

These god damned fever dreams coming at night, at naps. Lately I’m beached at dusk, briny coastal fog helping the sun get spent, while I’m eaten alive by a blackened, scabby whale’s liver. And ambergris – word from a dream – a putrid smell strong enough to be there when I wake. Unless that’s just me now, rotting from the inside out. Diagnosis prognosis hypnosis, waking is a kind of psychosis where I learn that I can’t see much of anything and then find out that I wish I really couldn’t. Half-blind is normal enough with my lazy left eye doing what it wants, but on a hungover morning with both eyes gooey and gluey from whatever it is in the booze or the body or both that does that, the only thing I can really do is cover that wandering oculus with a grimy hand and look around from my sticky naugahyde bed for whatever in the hell is making those noises. “I’m going to take this,” someone says and I wonder if I had asked anyone over. The smell is normal the hell is normal the visitor is not. I kind of fall up off the couch and plod pigeon toed – why is hockey on the TV in August – across my tiny living room. There he is in my kitchen taking things and stacking them on the table while I let the doorway hold me up. A conspicuous lily sits his lapel and whispers up at him. He grabs a picture off the empty, buzzing fridge and doesn’t ask who it is because I guess he knows and says as much: “Your mother. Homely, and your freckles are a tether to her.” He cocks an ear to the lily and tucks the polaroid into his coat in a pocket with my toothbrush. Beyond his bony shoulder my pills – due for a dose – stand soldiered between inert oven coils and I worry over having to shimmy past him to get to the orange bottles. Socks on linoleum, a sweaty, graceless glide through six feet of fear that he doesn’t even notice. I push down and turn and ask “Are you taking my dictionary?” The fridge stops buzzing. The Bruins score in the living room. Over the mute bay a fog horn gives its bovine low. In place of an answer comes an unexpected correction: “Those are your morning pills you’ll need the others now.” I know they are I just woke up – but I’ll be damned if it isn’t umbrella black outside the fire escape.

So Who Gets To Know

cities burned and traffic stopped
people beaten by mobs of frightened citizens
united
supporting and defending each other
gathered and powerful
but
claiming to feel unsafe
the group growing
their security growing
their safety
they say with each other’s voices
somehow shrinking anyway
a man hides behind a mailbox
trying to be tiny
forgetting his red hat like a beacon
wondering where
can I go
who can I ask
to find out what it feels like
because
if this crowd is so afraid of me
like they keep saying
why do I have to hide from them
they’re after me
and I feel unsafe
wondering how
to find out what it feels like
does somebody know
because this me and this them
sure feels like all of us
so who’s left
and where
and who gets to go
and who gets asked
and who gets to know
what it feels like to be safe.

 

Drunk in the Desert

I have such a bright memory –
our sturdy room that mom kept up
where we jumped from bed to bed
while thunder boomed outside
and you said
it’ll never stop raining.

But it did.
The sun came out and stayed.
You were dried
shriveled
shrunk
and have hoarded every drop
trying to outdrink the desert
ever since.

The bottom has no rocks.
The bottom has no bottom.
Just walls
all the way
down
wobbling
forever
in
half-
collapse.

On the Riverboat Twain

If you were at the party on the boat
that cut the humid vapor
on the Big Muddy
that buggy Summer night
you would have seen Jim
who doesn’t drink now but said
Huck’ll bury a few shots for him.

And if you joined us in the smoke
on the deck that held the cricket’s counsel
when the calliope took a rest
you might have caught me
whispering to The Judge
that I heard
Tom saw your daughter
Becky thatch her roof
in nothing but a nightie.

But the Judge just sustained his stomach’s
minor objection to the drink,
belched a gassy pardon
and said he didn’t like to think
of that boy wearing girls’ clothes.