Friday poem (Friday!): Little Fugue

2 04 2010

Anxious and scattered; words keep running away from me.

I need to write—and yes, need is the correct word.

A physical need, like that for air or water? No. But I feel it, physically, if I’m not doing the one thing I know I can do.

And then it builds, of course: I can’t pull my mind together, which means I can’t string words together, which exacerbates the entropy.

Chicken-egg-chicken—doesn’t matter which came first; my sternum contracts, regardless.

I wasn’t sure what to pick: a poem which reflects my skittering, or something to distract me from it. Picked up this one, then that, then came across this poem by Frank Bidart.

Not quite sure why I set this one aside; the poem itself seems incomplete to me, in need of one or two more goings-over to get it right.

And yet I set is aside, and yet I’m using it this week. Something is right about this.

Little Fugue

at birth you were handed a ticket

beneath every journey the ticket to this
journey in one direction

or say the body

is a conveyor belt, moving in one direction
slower or swifter than sight

at birth

you were handed a ticket, indecipherable
rectangle forgotten in your pocket

or say you stand upon a moving walkway

as if all you fear
is losing your

balance moving in one direction

beneath every journey the ticket to this
journey in one direction

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Friday poem (Monday): An Anatomy of the World

29 03 2010

Tuesday update: Sorry for posting a naked poem—Wordpress was all wonky last night.

Anyway.

I have, of late, become preoccupied with the medieval period in Europe history, or, more accurately, with the intellectual history of that long moment of transition between medieval times and modernity.

The ‘whys’ of a such a preoccupation I’ll save for another post. But given my current backward glance, a poem from that moment seemed appropriate.

John Donne is not, strictly speaking, a medieval poet: He was writing at the turn of and into the 17th century, a time which might be pegged as ‘early modern.’ But he fits into that long moment of transition during which old certainties about the place of God in nature were crumbling under the onslaught of observation and a kind of deistic theorizing. 

Three centuries later Yeats noted that ‘the center cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’, but the intellectual revolutions of  the 17th century were in many ways far more unsettling than the political revolutions of the  20th: How was man to know who he was if his God were pushed into the recesses of the heavens, and mere mechanism replaced divinity and grace?

The section, below, from Donne’s elegy for a friend’s young daughter allows us entry into that disorienting new world—the world we now take for granted as our own. Reason and science and deduction will lead us forward, it was argued then (and now)—nevermind the past.

In mourning this young girl, however, Donne shows that a world without a past is a world without meaning; to take things apart may yield a new kind of knowledge, but it may also leave us dismantled.

from An Anatomy of the World

And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out;
The sun is lost, and the earth, and no-man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;
All just supply, and all relation:
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that there can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
This is the world’s condition now, . . .





Friday poem (Sunday): Green Behind the Ears

21 03 2010

My antipathy toward summer is well-recorded, as is the splash-back of this feeling on spring.

I should like spring—time to get out and rediscover this city, the light, the green.

Pity I do not.

Kay Ryan reminds me to go gentle with this season, and all the springs we experience, and to live this spring as itself, and not just on the way to something else.

Still, for those for whom this is insufficiently celebratory, there is a bonus poem—a classic.

You know what it is.

But first, Ryan:

Green Behind the Ears

I was still slightly
fuzzy in shady spots
and the tenderest lime.
It was lovely, as I
look back, but not
at the time. For it is
hard to be green and
take your turn as flesh.
So much freshness
to unlearn.

——

The formatting doesn’t hold in html, but you still get it. Of course: e.e. cummings:

in just-

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee





Friday poem (Sunday): The Nude Swim

14 03 2010

Odd how people become friends.

The first cause is proximity: We’re seated next to each other in a first grade class, have lockers across the hall in high school, settle in the same dorms, go out drinking after the first grad seminar.

And work. We meet at work.

But I didn’t become friends with everyone from school or in college or grad school, didn’t want to hang out with everyone I ever met at the paper or food service or the restaurant or co-op or bookstore. Only some people were interested in me; I was only interested in some of them.

I have good friends in New York, which is one of reasons I like New York.  That I lacked such friends was among the reasons I couldn’t take Boston, that I left good friends was among the reasons I so fiercely miss(ed) Montreal.

And among my friends, here, is Cte. She is a singular personality, who draws clear lines around people: in or out. I’m glad I’m in, because she’s smart and witty and always willing to argue (and as little likely to concede as I am), and who holds on to those inside as strongly as she pushes off those on the outs.

Need I say that she rejects sentimentality and that her heart, while large, does not easily warm? Or that she fends off any kind of direct affection—she will let you buy her a drink—especially the physical kind?

In that, she reminds me of me, or at least, how I used to be. I’m less likely to sprout spikes at the intrusion of a hand on my shoulder, but there was a time when I would literally spin away from any human contact.

No, I was never physically or sexually abused: this was not PTSD. Nope, it was something much simpler, a way to control what I couldn’t understand, and thus couldn’t let any one else access.

I was afraid all the time. Afraid of myself, my volatility, my desire and contempt for comfort, afraid of what others could do to and for me. I was drowning and refusing to be saved, hating myself for wanting to be saved.

I took it out on my body. I didn’t hate my body, but it was just one more thing I didn’t understand. I wanted to live in my head—my mind, I thought, was strong—because everything else about me was beyond me, and because beyond me, weak. I thought if I could just deny enough of myself, I could eventually bring it under control.

The key was control. I couldn’t control my emotions, so I sought to deny them. And because those emotions could be sparked—I still don’t understand why this happens—by the touch of another, I sought to deny myself all touch.

No one who knows me today would call me touchy-feely, but I am much more free with a hug, a kiss, an arm around the shoulder. To be honest, at some point I had to force myself not to flinch, because such obvious unease only drew attention to that unease, and question-mark looks I’d rather not answer; the point, still, was (and occasionally is) to manage myself, to manage how others see me.

Yet I have also become more comfortable with touch. I am conscious of it, always, and far more at ease giving than receiving, but it is a relief, truly, when with people I know and trust, when with my friends, to not have to police every goddamned move.

So I wonder about Cte. I don’t know enough about her—surprise! she’s not one to go on about her life before, well, now—to know why she behaves this way, or that it is in any way a problem for her. She could simply believe that, for her, such physical interactions are unnecessary. She might get enough from the people around her just by having us be around her.

I admire her strength. And I hope that’s what it is.

This is all a very long intro to a not terribly long poem.

Anne Sexton was, famously, the best friend of Maxine Kumin, but it is not for the theme of friendship that I chose her tonight. No, it is for her extravagance, her unwillingness to shut herself off from herself.

(Given her emotional instability and suicide, perhaps it could be argued that a bit more willingness to turn away would have kept her alive. Or perhaps it would have led her to kill herself much sooner than she did. I don’t know, and it doesn’t much matter now anyway.)

Sexton wrote songs to her breasts and her uterus and about masturbation, so if I really wanted to push myself beyond my own boundaries—if I am less stiff than I used to be, I am still easily mortified by myself—I’d print one of those.

But this is the one that moved me, a poem about nakedness and ease, about the unexpected ways others may see us, and about the unexpected ways such sight can still us.

The Nude Swim

On the southwest side of Capri
we found a little unknown grotto
where no people were and we
entered it completely
and let our bodies lose all
their loneliness.

All the fish in us
had escaped for a minute.
The real fish did not mind.
We did not disturb their personal life.
We calmly trailed over them
and under them, shedding
air bubbles, little white
balloons that drifted up
into the sun by the boat
where the Italian boatman slept
with his hat over his face.

Water so clear you could
read a book through it.
Water so buoyant you could
float on your elbow.
I lay on it as on a divan.
I lay on it just like
Matisse’s Red Odalisque.
Water was my strange flower.
One must picture a woman
without a toga or a scarf
on a couch as deep as a tomb.

The walls of that grotto
were everycolor blue and
you said, “Look! Your eyes
are skycolor. Look! Your eyes
are skycolor.” And my eyes
shut down as if they were
suddenly ashamed.





Friday poem (Sunday): Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief

7 03 2010

I’m having problems with time.

It stretches too much here then snaps back and contracts there. It never ends and I don’t know where it’s gone.

Nothing new about this, nothing unique to my life. Who is able, truly, to get hold of time and tuck it in her pocket and happily carry it with her, knowing it will bend and curve  and carry her through her days?

I’m being bowled over by time, undermined at and by that same time; I need to latch myself into it, surf it, live in and with it.

What other option is there?

Still, I haven’t been able to dig my fingers in, still, it slips through me, still, it leaves its marks and I am running and falling back at the same time.

Clearly, I need someone with a better sense than me. No time for exploration this week; I need someone durable and clear.

I need Maxine Kumin.

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief

Blue landing lights make
nail holes in the dark.
A fine snow falls. We sit
on the tarmac taking on
the mail, quick freight,
trays of laboratory mice,
coffee and Danish for
the passengers.

Wherever we’re going
is Monday morning.
Wherever we’re coming from
is Mother’s lap.
On the cloud-packed above, strewn
as loosely as parsnip
or celery seeds, lie
the souls of the unborn:

my children’s children’s
children and their father.
We gather speed for the last run
and lift off into the weather.





Friday poem (Sunday): Detached Verses

21 02 2010

It’s pretty clear that I’ve been a bit off with the blogging in general and the Friday poem in particular.

Damn that full time job!

(How long can I damn or curse the bank-account-sustaining office job? Can I turn it into a ‘card’ to be pulled out whenever I get lazy or sullen?)

*Sigh*

Okay, so I know I have to readjust how I think about my free time and how I want to make use or live in it. I work M-F 9-5 and teach Thursday and Friday nights. That’s how it is.

There is time. Maybe not enough, maybe not in the shape or line I’d like, but there is time.

So, in casting about for a Friday/Sunday poem (and yes, I’ll continue to call it ‘Friday poem’ regardless of the day on which it is posted), the theme presented itself.

I thought I’d look for something funny or wry, something witty or sly.

I thought  it might take some time(!) to find the right poem, but I found the right poem in no time at all.

It’s not funny, but there is a taste of wry in the following poem by Abba Kovner (translated from the Hebrew by Eddie Levenston).

And the final admonishment is witty and sly and altogether human.

Detached Verses

1
Soon
Soon you will pass from the darkened room
to another world. Freed from debts
and contacts.

2
One more
One more look
at the neighbor’s garden
and his dog asleep
on the still warm tiles.

3
A headline
A headline still blaring
by the base of an overflowing garbage can.

4
A little
A little longer in the setting light of
the sun.

5
The stub of a moment of parting
from things we ignored when we could still
live erect on our feet.

6
Things we believed would never
fade have already been abandoned
by your memory.

7
If only you had been one of the philosophers!
Giving a flavor of meaning
to ruined buildings, to acts

of heroism, to our fate.

8
Was that leap
into the depths
any easier?

9
Soon
Soon we shall know
if we have learnt to accept that the stars
do not go out when we die.





Friday poem (Sunday): Peeling an Orange

7 02 2010

J.D. Salinger died recently.

The celebrated author published his first work in his twenties, and was in his early thirties when Catcher in the Rye came out. Over the next fourteen years he published some short stories and novellas, including Hapworth 16, 1924, in 1965.

And then he stopped.

He reportedly went on writing, and there were rumors of possible later publications, but when he died at the end of January of this year, his nonpublishing streak of over 45 years remained unblemished.

I mention this in contrast to the record of today’s poet, Virginia Hamilton Adair. Like Salinger, Adair began her writing career as a child, and while young won a number of prestigious prizes. She continued to publish as she aged, and taught writing at a number of universities.

But she didn’t publish in book form.

Didn’t have the time, she said. Had better things to do. And she was unwilling to ruin her joy in writing with the polluting effects of fame.

You can get a sense of that joy in one of her earliest poems, written at age eleven:

I should like to rise and go
To the land of ice and snow.
I would take a wicker chair
And sit and watch the polar bear.
The polar bear sits on the ice
Because it makes his rear feel nice.

Such wit earned her a D-.

Adair kept her wits about her as she moved about the country, raised her children, and, devastatingly, after her husband shot himself.

Through it all, she wrote.

Finally, around her eightieth birthday, she agreed to her friend Robert Mezey’s suggestion to gather a few of her many poems into a book.

Ants on the Melon was published in 1996. Adair was 83.

As Mezey notes in his afterword to Ants, ‘I believe Virginia Hamilton Adair is the only American poet—perhaps the only poet—to have brought out her first book of poems at the age of eight-three.’

While the short youth and long and silent adulthood of Salinger occupies one niche in the writing mythos, a kind of blankness onto which one can sketch her own story of the author, Adair creates a beacon for those of us who only committed to writing late. Salinger (unwillingly) draws us to him, to try to discover him; Adair sends us out, to discover ourselves.

Peeling an Orange

Between you and a bowl of oranges I lie nude
Reading The World’s Illusion through my tears.
You reach across me hungry for global fruit,
Your bare arm hard, furry and warm on my belly.
Your fingers pry the skin of a naval orange
Releasing tiny explosions of spicy oil.
You place peeled disks of gold in a bizarre pattern
On my white body. Rearranging, you bend and bite
The disks to release further their eager scent.
I say “Stop, you’re tickling,” my eyes still on the page.
Aromas of groves arise. Through green leaves
Glow the lofty snows. Through red lips
Your white teeth close on a translucent segment.
Your face over my face eclipses The World’s Illusion.
Pulp and juice pass into my mouth from your mouth.
We laugh against each other’s lips. I hold my book
Behind your head, still reading, still weeping a little.
You say “Read on, I’m just an illusion,” rolling
Over upon me soothingly, gently unmoving,
Smiling greenly through long lashes. And soon
I say “Don’t stop. Don’t disillusion me.”
Snows melt. The mountain silvers into many a stream.
The oranges are golden worlds in a dark dream.