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!

Take me out to the ballgame

Today, after a year of shutdown, Larry’s senior softball team finally gets to play.  Here he is in his championship hat. Yay!

To celebrate, a long poem by B.H. Fairchild, that master of the long poem:

Body and Soul

Half-numb, guzzling bourbon and Coke from coffee mugs,
our fathers fall in love with their own stories, nuzzling
the facts but mauling the truth, and my friend’s father begins
to lay out with the slow ease of a blues ballad a story
about sandlot baseball in Commerce, Oklahoma decades ago.
These were men’s teams, grown men, some in their thirties
and forties who worked together in zinc mines or on oil rigs,
sweat and khaki and long beers after work, steel guitar music
whanging in their ears, little white rent houses to return to
where their wives complained about money and broken Kenmores
and then said the hell with it and sang Body and Soul
in the bathtub and later that evening with the kids asleep
lay in bed stroking their husband’s wrist tattoo and smoking
Chesterfields from a fresh pack until everything was O.K.
Well, you get the idea. Life goes on, the next day is Sunday,
another ball game, and the other team shows up one man short.

They say, we’re one man short, but can we use this boy,
he’s only fifteen years old, and at least he’ll make a game.
They take a look at the kid, muscular and kind of knowing
the way he holds his glove, with the shoulders loose,
the thick neck, but then with that boy’s face under
a clump of angelic blonde hair, and say, oh, hell, sure,
let’s play ball. So it all begins, the men loosening up,
joking about the fat catcher’s sex life, it’s so bad
last night he had to hump his wife, that sort of thing,
pairing off into little games of catch that heat up into
throwing matches, the smack of the fungo bat, lazy jogging
into right field, big smiles and arcs of tobacco juice,
and the talk that gives a cool, easy feeling to the air,
talk among men normally silent, normally brittle and a little
angry with the empty promise of their lives. But they chatter
and say rock and fire, babe, easy out, and go right ahead
and pitch to the boy, but nothing fancy, just hard fastballs
right around the belt, and the kid takes the first two
but on the third pops the bat around so quick and sure
that they pause a moment before turning around to watch
the ball still rising and finally dropping far beyond
the abandoned tractor that marks left field. Holy shit.
They’re pretty quiet watching him round the bases,
but then, what the hell, the kid knows how to hit a ball,
so what, let’s play some goddamned baseball here.
And so it goes. The next time up, the boy gets a look
at a very nifty low curve, then a slider, and the next one
is the curve again, and he sends it over the Allis Chalmers,
high and big and sweet. The left field just stands there, frozen.
As if this isn’t enough, the next time up he bats left-handed.
They can’t believe it, and the pitcher, a tall, mean-faced
man from Okarche who just doesn’t give a shit anyway
because his wife ran off two years ago leaving him with
three little ones and a rusted-out Dodge with a cracked block,
leans in hard, looking at the fat catcher like he was the sonofabitch
who ran off with his wife, leans in and throws something
out of the dark, green hell of forbidden fastballs, something
that comes in at the knees and then leaps viciously towards
the kid’s elbow. He swings exactly the way he did right-handed
and they all turn like a chorus line toward deep right field
where the ball loses itself in sagebrush and the sad burnt
dust of dustbowl Oklahoma. It is something to see.

But why make a long story long: runs pile up on both sides,
the boy comes around five times, and five times the pitcher
is cursing both God and His mother as his chew of tobacco sours
into something resembling horse piss, and a ragged and bruised
Spalding baseball disappears into the far horizon. Goodnight,
Irene. They have lost the game and some painful side bets
and they have been suckered. And it means nothing to them
though it should to you when they are told the boy’s name is
Mickey Mantle. And that’s the story, and those are the facts.
But the facts are not the truth. I think, though, as I scan
the faces of these old men now lost in the innings of their youth,
it lying there in the weeds behind that Allis Chalmers
just waiting for the obvious question to be asked: why, oh
why in hell didn’t they just throw around the kid, walk him,
after he hit the third homer? Anybody would have,
especially nine men with disappointed wives and dirty socks
and diminishing expectations for whom winning at anything
meant everything. Men who knew how to play the game,
who had talent when the other team had nothing except this ringer
who without a pitch to hit was meaningless, and they could go home
with their little two-dollar side bets and stride into the house
singing If You’ve Got the Money, Honey, I’ve Got the Time
with a bottle of Southern Comfort under their arms and grab
Dixie or May Ella up and dance across the gray linoleum
as if it were V-Day all over again. But they did not
And they did not because they were men, and this was a boy.
And they did not because sometimes after making love,
after smoking their Chesterfields in the cool silence and
listening to the big bands on the radio that sounded so glamorous,
so distant, they glanced over at their wives and noticed the lines
growing heavier around the eyes and mouth, felt what their wives
felt: that Les Brown and Glenn Miller and all those dancing couples
and in fact all possibility of human gaiety and light-heartedness
were as far away and unreachable as Times Square or the Avalon
ballroom. They did not because of the gray linoleum lying there
in the half-dark, the free calendar from the local mortuary
that said one day was pretty much like another, the work gloves
looped over the doorknob like dead squirrels. And they did not
because they had gone through a depression and a war that had left
them with the idea that being a man in the eyes of their fathers
and everyone else had cost them just too goddamn much to lay it
at the feet of a fifteen year-old-boy. And so they did not walk him,
and lost, but at least had some ragged remnant of themselves
to take back home. But there is one thing more, though it is not
a fact. When I see my friend’s father staring hard into the bottomless
well of home plate as Mantle’s fifth homer heads toward Arkansas,
I know that this man with the half-orphaned children and
worthless Dodge has also encountered for the first and possibly
only time the vast gap between talent and genius, has seen
as few have in the harsh light of an Oklahoma Sunday, the blonde
and blue-eyed bringer of truth, who will not easily be forgiven.

B. H. Fairchild

Late, again…

The days seem to slip by in the most astonishing way, perhaps because of the absence of events. This poem seems to speak at least in part to a way to measure the time, as the distance between point A and point B. It came to me via the Writer’s Almanac:

What Love Cannot Do

It cannot save itself when it expires
like a tire’s slow leak. It cannot bring back
the greediness of youth
             mouth on mouth,
             skin on skin, that gnawing,
             that longing you carried
until the next time
and then there is no next time.
You never see it coming but always see it leaving.
It waits by the door, bags packed,
full of stones from your life.
             What it can do is mark
the distance between Point A and Point B,
which feels like a galaxy,                       
             every star you ever wished upon
             imploding before your eyes.

January Gill O’Neil

Capitalism

I often wonder when I hear screeds against capitalism and its manifold injustices, whether people think this system was invented and foisted upon us. It seems to me it evolved as species evolved, and that it should adjust in the same way.  In any case, I love the title and the movement of this poem by Alan Dugan. Our stables could certainly use cleaning:

Marxist Analysis of the Fifth Labor of Hercules

The Augean stables were so full of horseshit
that the Augean nobles came to laugh at Hercules
when he was told to muck them out by hand.
They hoped to see him filthy on his knees,
all asshole and elbows going fast for years.
Instead he wrenched a river from its bed upstream
and set wild water roaring through the place
and washed it all away, all
the horseshit, and I mean all
the horseshit – the horseshit, the horses,
the stables, and the nobles too,
standing around ready to bugger Him,
Hercules, Wrestler of Rivers. Conclusion:
Revolting conditions elicit revolutionary solutions.

Alan Dugan

Poem and more poetry

I love that expression “a day late and a dollar early” although I’m not quite sure what it means. In any case, I’m a day late with today’s Monday poem because I’ve been helping with the book launch for the Community of Writers 50th Anniversary poetry anthology, Why to These Rocks.

That event will be a virtual reading on March 11, with Forrest Gander, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Greg Pardlo, Evie Shockley and others, each reading a poem from the anthology. I’ll be emcee. It will be live on March 11 at 6:30 pm and  you can register here. I think it will be an extraordinary event.

In any case, I am including a poem here that didn’t make it into the anthology, but one that I think captures some of the spirit of the Community:

Temblago

When Galway gets up to pee in the night he finds Temblago,
an imaginary place somewhere in France
that doesn’t exist anymore, a small country, rocky,
whose people, also called Temblago, are so
tenacious, the word has come to mean holding fast,
the way a piton clings to rock. When I get up,
I find one more mosquito bite in the soft indentation
of the inner arm. David says that insects are fantastic
that their name, “in sections” derives from how they are made,
many tiny sections, how even the tiniest insect, even a mite
has the same organs we do: a mouth, an anus,
reproductive organs, a digestive tract. We should think
about that instead of swatting it. He shows us an antlion,
a mysterious, armadillo-like bug with the miniature claws
of a dust-colored lobster, how it digs holes in the friable floor
of the forest, the grains at the exact angle of repose,
so when an ant falls in, it can’t scramble out; its frantic
legs alert the antlion who grabs it and devours it.
He demonstrates, dropping a carpenter ant into a thumb-sized depression.
We see the antlion’s claws grab hold. David scoops up
the tiny antlion and it’s prey, lets the ant go,
and holds the antlion in his palm, before dropping it
back in its hole. Antlions have a hard time, he says,
their metabolism is slow and very few ants
fall into their holes. They reproduce painfully slowly,
they turn have their chitonous into gossamer.
So I think about being nicer to insects, but still
I swatted the one that landed on me in the hammock,
just when my eyes were beginning to close, because
it was starting to suck my blood and that really seemed
like an act of insect aggression. Brenda says
she’s been trying to pin Bob down
about the wildflower walk, and I think
what that must be like, trying to pin Bob down, Continue reading “Poem and more poetry”

The Clerihew

I learned the name of this four-line from an excellent review of Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney in the Hudson Review, by David Mason.  You can find this online. He quoted this one (by Edna Longley, Michael’s wife):

Michael Longley
Is inclined to feel strongly
About being less famous
Than Seamus.

As you see, the first line contains a name, and the lines rhyme AABB. I hadn’t known the name of the form, and most of them seem to hardly rise above the limerick. But I’ve long enjoyed this one by J.V. Cunningham:

Lip was a man who used his head.
He used it when he went to bed.
With his friend’s wife or with his friend,
With either sex at either end.

In that same issue of the Hudson Review, you can find my review of The Selected Letters of John Berryman, but that’s only in the print issue, not online.

So many love poems

The American Academy of poets sent me a link to “Poems for Valentine’s Day.” I chose this one to share:

I Loved You Before I Was Born

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I’ve lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes.
The longing will outlive this body.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.

Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I’ve been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body. 
And my share of time has been nothing 
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly. 
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.

In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light 
hidden and singing. 

I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish. 

Lee-Young Li

Reprise

Today in my email was the Atlantic Gallery of Owls, including this stock photo by Liu Guoxing, from Getty. It reminded me of a poem I posted in 2013 by M. Wyrebeck. It’s the opening poem in her book Be Properly Scared, and I think the best one. She died in 2003, from the cancer she had been battling most of her adult life. This photo made me think of the poem, and it’s worth reprinting here.

Night Owl

.                         You are nearing the land that is life
.                         You will recognize it by its seriousness.
.                                                                  Rainer Maria Rilke
Driving my bad news the back way home
I know I’m in the land that is life
when I reach my favorite stretch of road—fields
flat and wide where corn appears soon after
planting the soil tilled, night-soaked
and crumbled into fists.
Ferguson’s barn is somewhere
at the end of this long arm of tar
and as I near it, something grazes the back
passenger-side door, luffs parallel to my car—
a huge owl on headlight spray floating,
holding night over the hood to see
if this moving thing is real, alive,
something to kill—then gliding in
close as if to taste glass.
The road levitates, buffeted on a surf
of light, the fog-eaten farm disappearing
as I ride into starlessness, cells conspiring
so I am bright-flecked and uplifted—is this
what it feels like to be chosen—to be taken
under the wing of something vast
that knows its way blindly?

M. Wyrebek

 

Icarus

So many wonderful poems about Icarus–probably my two favorites are Jack Gilbert’s Failing and Flying and Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts.  I love Muriel Rukeyser’s Waiting for Icarus  too.  This one by Robert Cording (from Poetry Daily) adds something new to the assemblage. It takes flight from a stark opening:

Icarus

After our son died, my wife found him
in coincidences—sightings of hawks, mostly,
at the oddest of times and places, and then
in a pair of redtails that took up residence,
nesting in a larch above our barn, and how
their low, frequent sweeps just a few feet above us
before rising over our kitchen roof
made it seem as if they were looking in on us.
In a way, it all made sense, our son so at home
in high places—the edges of mountain trails,
walking on a roof, or later, after he became
a house painter, at the top of a forty-foot ladder.
So many mornings we woke to the redtails’
jolting screeches and, even if I was a casual believer,
their presence multiplied my love
for the ordinary more every day. We never thought,
of course, any of those hawks was our son—
who would ever want that?—but, once,
watching one rise and rise on a draft of air,
I thought of Icarus soaring toward the sun—
as if an old story could provide the distance
I needed—waxed and feathered, his arms winged,
and remembered a babysitter’s frantic call
to come home, immediately, after she’d found
our ten-year-old nearly forty feet up
in an oak tree. I can almost hear him again, laughing
high up in the sky, throned on a branch,
his feet dangling, knowing nothing but the promise
of heights as he waved to me—
and I must have looked very small
calling up to him, staying calm
so falsely as I pleaded with him
to come down, to come down now.

Robert Cording

New beginnings

Is everyone feeling a sense that this existential dread is lifting? I know I am. This poem seems apt for this moment of uncertainty and hope.

Gestational Size Equivalency Chart

Catherine Pierce 
(photo by Megan Bean / © Mississippi State University)

Your baby is the size of a sweet pea.
Your baby is the size of a cherry.
Your baby is the size of a single red leaf
in early September. Your baby is the size
of What if. The size of Please Lord.
The size of a young lynx stretching.
Heat lightning. A lava lamp.
Your baby is the size of every dream
you’ve ever had about being onstage
and not knowing your lines. Your baby
is the size of a can of Miller Lite.
Apple-picking. Google. All of Google.
Your baby is also the size of a googol,
and also the size of the iridescence
at a hummingbird’s throat. Your baby
is the size of a bulletproof nap mat.
Cassiopeia on a cold night. The size
of the 1.5-degree rise in ocean temps
between 1901 and 2015. Your baby
is the size of the lie you told your mother
the night before Senior Skip Day, and
also the size of the first time you saw
a whale shark glide by, its gray heft
filling the tank’s window, and also
the size of just the very best acorn.
Your baby is the size of the Mona Lisa.
The size of the Louvre. The size
of that moment in “Levon” when
the strings first kick in. Your baby
is the size of a baby-sized pumpkin.
A bright hibiscus. A door. Your baby
is the size of the Gravitron, and your fear
the first time you rode it that your heart
might drop right through your body,
and then your elation when it didn’t,
when the red vinyl panels rose and fell
and you rose and fell with them.

Catherine Pierce
from Danger Days