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Curses!

We don’t have very many contemporary poems that are curses, but it’s a genre that fascinates me. Here is one from the Paris Review daily poems:

To Her Husband for Beating Her

Through your heart’s lining let there be pressed—slanting down—
.                                  A dagger to the bone in your chest.
.                                  Your knee crushed, your hand smashed, may the rest
.                                  Be gutted by the sword you possessed.

(Translated from the Middle Welsh of Gwerful Mechain by A. M Juster)

from the book WONDER & WRATH / Paul Dry Books

also appeared in Rattle

From Paris Review

Sometimes just scrolling through poems that pepper my inbox can seem a chore, but once in awhile, one captures my attention. This morning it was this:

Hair

There is a falling of hair, continuous upon the earth.
And the sweepers sweep it away with their long brooms—
away, where mice retrieve it to line their nests,
or it bountifully curls around eyeless Styrofoam skulls,
or is stitched to the sanctified undervests of masochists.
Though bald men pray for miraculous restoration,
though ladies choke back tears as they tip their beauticians,
it fulfills its function through infinite faithlessness.
So if it is true that I must live without you, stranded
here in the land of good behavior, I begrudge my hair nothing,
I send it victorious into the world, even though
you braided it one night with your hands whose touch
I pretend to remember, braided it the whole length,
tight as you could, just to let it go.

Claire Bateman

Usually I email poets to ask permission to reprint their poems, but I couldn’t find an email for Claire.  You can reed more of her poems here.

Memorial Day

This poem came to me from The Paris Review, sent as part of their daily email awhile ago. Somehow it seems apt for Memorial Day.

The Dirt and the Willow

All summer long
while other trees
reached for more
light the willow
unfurled streamers
down into its own
streetwise shade
lower and slower
until the silvery
tip of its lowest
leaf had reached
the limit set to
its inverted growth:
dirt’s intractable
horizontality

Enough it thought
if willows think
these accretions
are taking me
nowhere
Whereupon
it came to its annual
decision to drop
everything it was

doing and dieJust try
the dirt wisecracked
not unkindly but
the willow was
aquiver with indignant
self-pity and wouldn’t
sit still for such “sitcom
optimism

It’s easy
for tombs to talk
about eternal recurrence
to equate one string
of proteins with another
the wailing child
and the ailing mother
tombs have nothing
to lose o what’s the use
you’ll never understand

On the contrary said the dirt
that’s what I do best
now why don’t you just rest

 

Tom Disch  (this link takes you to a remembrance of the poet by Dana Gioia)

Cornelius Eady

The Paris Review originally published this in their 2019 Summer Issue (#229).  As summer is coming up again, it seems like time for a reprise.  If you’d like to hear some of Cornelius’ original blues/jazz compositions, they are part of the Community of Writers’ Anthology Launch.

The Second Amendment

Driving out to Long Island over the Williamsburg Bridge
I spot the young white men on the rooftop.
There’s a bottleneck as the ribbons of feeder lanes
Merge, and the boys on the roof laugh, one of them
Cradles a mock rifle, another cocks his thumb and forefinger
Into a pistol—the way of cowboys and Indians, the way of kids,
Wishes whistling, aimed and fired—the driver with the hijab,
The driver with the dreads, the driver with the darkest skin?
Burst water balloon, hacked limb, fucked-up puppet, cut free.

The boys are not quite ready. This is not the day after the dress
Rehearsal, the day someone regrets putting on a bright hat,
Or zigs instead of zags, or wisely detours the parade
Or street fair, then wishes they could drive the afternoon back
To its tame beginning and choose again. This is the day we will
Ride, spotless, through their blank mercy.

Cornelius Eady

Ishmael Reed

As you get older, so many aches and pains! They are distracting and boring, but this irreverent take on the body kept me engaged. You can see his poetry books here. Poetry is just one of his creative outlets, which include many volumes of fiction, non-fiction and even drama.

Skin Tight

The internal organs were growling
According to them
They did all of the work while
Skin got all of the attention
He’s an organ just like us
They groused
Even the heart, which, a
Century ago, was the Queen
Of metaphors, but now
Was reduced to the greetings
Cards section of CVS,
Chimed in

They decided to call skin
On the carpet.
Skin arrived from Cannes
Where he’d been the subject
Of much fuss as actresses
Fed him luxurious skin
Food prepared by Max Factor
Estée Lauder, L’Oreal,
And Chanel
They
Caressed him daily
Sometimes for hours before
They made the red carpet
Shine

He was petted
And preened

Others
Pleaded with him
To erase wrinkles to
Make them look younger
To tighten their chins

Skin tried to appease the
Critics, greeting them with
His familiar “give me some skin”
But his gesture went unheeded

Brain did all the talking
Brain said, “Here’s the skinny
Why do you get
All of the press
Your color
Your texture discussed
Endlessly
Nicole Kidman never
Did an ad about us
Cole Porter never
Wrote a song about us
Nor were we mentioned
In a Thornton Wilder novel
You’ve given us no
Skin in the game”

“What about the nasty
Things they say about
Me,” skin replied
“What about skin deep
For superficiality
Or
Skin trade
To denote something
Unsavory

How would you
Like acne rashes
Eczema
Boils
Pellagra
Leprosy
And
Conditions
That astonish
Even dermatologists

I wear my blemishes
In public while you guys
Hide yours”

“Without me and heart
You’d be nothing,” the brain said
“That’s not true,” protested
The liver, “without me he’d
Be nothing”
“No,” the kidney said
“It’s me who keeps the
Body functioning”
The bladder and
The kidney began
To quarrel with
Gallbladder
The lung twins spoke
Up
“Without us
He couldn’t breathe”
Even the esophagus
And the thyroid
And the pancreas
Joined the outbreak
“What about us?”

The eyes said
“Without eyes you
Can’t see”

Their squabble distracted
Them
When they looked
Up from their dust up
Skin’s
Helicopter was up
He was scheduled to
Address a convention of
Plastic surgeons at
The Beverly Hills
Hotel
Escaping by the skin
Of his teeth
His opponents gave
Chase
But above the roar
Of the chopper
They heard him say
“Don’t worry fellas
I got you covered”

Ishmael Reed

April in Paris

No, wait, it’s May in California, still it will always be …

Paris by Moonlight

Oh my god, it’s Paris by moonlight
Even the trees are drunk and walking
A single pink slipper floats down the Seine
What kind of trees are those?
Those are trees in Paris by moonlight
And what size is her slipper?
It is the exact size of the sole
We ate in the little restaurant an hour ago
Under the trees in Paris by moonlight
There is no end to our painlessness
The trees will never find it
The slipper never reach it
Morning after morning the smell of coffee
Makes them nauseous
While we go on painlessly in Paris
Barefoot and swaggering
Our aluminum heads in the moon glow so
We are like an advertisement
For those who will come after us
Anyone can see without French
They should just stay in bed

Mary Ruefle

Canasta

Does anyone play Canasta anymore? My mother played with her suburban friends. They wore flowered dresses and sat at a table set up in the living room. Two decks of cards, ashtrays on the table while they played and smoked and joked and gossiped. They usually played in the afternoons, but sometimes in the evenings when the men, in another room, played Gin. Even though the details are different, this poem really awakened that memory for me:

My Old Aunts Play Canasta in a Snow Storm

I ride along in the backseat; the aunt who can drive
picks up each sister at her door, keeps the Pontiac
chugging in each driveway while one or the other
slips into her overshoes and steps out,
closing her door with a click, the wind

lifting the fringe of her white cotton scarf
as she comes down the sidewalk, still pulling on her
new polyester Christmas-stocking mittens.
We have no business to be out in such a storm,
she says, no business at all.

The wind takes her voice and swirls it
like snow across the windshield.
We’re on to the next house, the next aunt,
the heater blowing to beat the band.

At the last house, we play canasta,
the deuces wild even as they were in childhood,
the wind blowing through the empty apple trees,
through the shadows of bumper crops. The cards

line up under my aunts’ finger bones; eights and nines and aces
straggle and fall into place like well-behaved children.
My aunts shuffle and meld; they laugh like banshees,
as they did in that other kitchen in the 30’s that
day Margaret draped a dishtowel over her face
to answer the door. We put her up to it, they say,
laughing; we pushed her. The man—whoever he was—
drove off in a huff while they laughed ’til they hiccupped,
laughing still—I’m one of the girls laughing him down the sidewalk
and into his car, we’re rascals sure as farmyard dogs,
we’re wild card-players; the snow thickens,
the coffee boils and perks, the wind is a red trey
because, as one or the other says,

We are getting up there in the years; we’ll
have to quit sometime. But today,
today,
deal, sister, deal.

Marjorie Saiser

Fresh from Martha

It’s national poetry month, and Martha, whoever she is, has been sending me a poem each morning. I like her selections.  You can probably get these, too. She’s nationalpoetrymonth@gmail.com.  Here’s today’s poem, a reminder to us all, I think.

Cindy Comes To Hear Me Read

Cindy: not her real name. I met her
in prison, and people in prison I give
the fake names. I taught her Shakespeare, remember
her frown, wide eyes, terror of getting
things wrong. Her clear, arguable thesis
on Desdemona’s motives, Desdemona’s past. The last
days were hard on her, it taking visible work
to see things could be worse. Imagine: I did.
But now she’s out! In jewelry and makeup, new
clothes, haircut she chose and paid for. We hugged.
We’d never hugged; it’s not allowed. On the outside
you can hug whoever you want. She told me she has
an apartment now, a window, an ocean view. She has
car, she told me, and we both cracked up. The thought of it
wild, as farfetched then as when you’re a kid playing
grown-up, playing any kind of house. She has
a job. She drives there in traffic. Each day
she sees the angry people. Sweet, silly people,
mad—God bless them—at traffic. At other cars.
She laughs, she told me, laughs out loud alone
in her car. People around her angry as toddlers. Whole
highways of traffic, everybody at the work of being free.

Jill McDonough

No more Dactyls-and-Drakes

For several years now, the “real” name of this blog has been www.MerylNatchez.com.  I kept Dacytls-and-Drakes, the original title, alive. But when it came time to renew this year, I decided to let it go.  This may mean if you are a long-time subscriber, you need to resubscribe–I’m not sure.  But it won’t hurt…

And here’s your Monday poetry vitamin. As is often the case, the ending is my favorite part, though the title is hard to beat, too.

Ode to the Maggot

Brother of the blowfly
& godhead, you work magic
Over battlefields,
In slabs of bad pork

& flophouses. Yes, you
Go to the root of all things.
You are sound & mathematical.
Jesus Christ, you’re merciless

With the truth. Ontological & lustrous,
You cast spells on beggars & kings
Behind the stone door of Caesar’s tomb
Or split trench in a field of ragweed.

No decree or creed can outlaw you
As you take every living thing apart. Little
Master of earth, no one gets to heaven
Without going through you first.

Yusef Komunyakaa

Spring is sprung

In California it’s full spring. The colors have changed from white and pink to yellows and purple. The hens are laying, the garden growing full tilt. This poem by Jamaal May is a good spring into the season:

I Have This Way of Being

I have this, and this isn’t a mouth
full of the names of odd flowers

I’ve grown in secret.
I know none of these by name

but have this garden now,
and pastel somethings bloom

near the others and others.
I have this trowel, these overalls

this ridiculous hat now.
This isn’t a lung full of air.

Not a fist full of weeds that rise
yellow then white then windswept.

This is little more than a way
to kneel and fill gloves with sweat,

so that the trowel in my hand
will have something to push against,

rather, something to push
against that it knows will bend

and give and return as sprout
and petal and sepal and bloom.

Jamaal May

 

Lorena

Remember the news article about Lorena Bobbitt?  1989!  Lucille Clifton wrote this about it. It needs no explication:

Lorena

            Woman cuts off husband ‘s penis,
                later throws it from car window.
.                                -News Report

it lay in my palm soft and trembled
as a new bird and i thought about
authority and how it always insisted
on itself, how it was master
of the man, how it measured him, never
was ignored or denied, and how it promised
there would be sweetness if it was obeyed
just like the saints do, like the angels
and i opened the window and held out my
uncupped hand; i swear to god
i thought it could fly

Lucille Clifton

There’s a new edition of her collected poems out, definitely worth it!