Prose poem

What makes a paragraph a prose poem? Hard to say… The first one I posted remains one of my favorites, A Story about the Body, by Robert Hass.  It does tell a story, but it’s more than a story. This one, by Tom Hennen, starts out simply as prose, but then goes somewhere else.

Report from the West

Snow is falling west of here. The mountains have more than a
foot of it. I see the early morning sky dark as night. I won’t lis-
ten to the weather report. I’ll let the question of snow hang.
Answers only dull the senses. Even answers that are right often
make what they explain uninteresting. In nature the answers
are always changing. Rain to snow, for instance. Nature can
let the mysterious things alone—wet leaves plastered to tree
trunks, the intricate design of fish guts. The way we don’t fall
off the earth at night when we look up at the North Star. The
way we know this may not always be so. The way our dizziness
makes us grab the long grass, hanging by our fingertips on the
edge of infinity.

Tom Hennen, “Report from the West” from Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems.

Lost wisdom

Perhaps this has happened to you: you wake in the night with a revelation–the solution to a problem, the perfect start or end of a poem, something important and unforgettable. You know you should write it down, this has happened before and you never remember in the morning, but THIS time it’s too memorable. You know you won’t forget, and you’re still partly asleep and the pen and paper aren’t to hand and you turn over saying the phrase over to yourself and in the morning, of course, it’s gone.  Here’s a version of this by Dorianne Laux:

Dust

Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor —
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn’t elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That’s how it is sometimes —
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you’re just too tired to open it.

Dorianne Laux

You can see her new website here, and I reviewed her new and selected poems, Only As the Day Is Long, for PoetryFlash two years ago.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Something a little different for summer. The form is from the Japanese, a prose paragraph (or two) followed by a haiku. In the original form, it was usually a travelog with an apposite haiku at the end. But the form has morphed and this is a wonderful example of where it can go.

Summer Haibun

To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night.  Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at ight. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
appears in OCEANIC (Copper Canyon 2018)

 

Li-Young Lee

This seems to me like a love poem–the love of being in this world. And so rare to see the word heart used without sentimentality.

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings
was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Li-Young Lee from Book of My Nights,

Pulitzer Prize

I am gratified that the last three winners of the Pulitzer Prize are poets I deeply admire, most recently Natalie Diaz.  Here is a poem from her fierce, sensual book, Postcolonial Love Poem.

The Beauty of a Busted Fruit

When we were children, we traced our knees,
shins, and elbows for the slightest hint of wound,
searched them for any sad red-blue scab marking us
both victim and survivor.

All this before we knew that some wounds can’t heal,
before we knew the jagged scars of Great-Grandmother’s
amputated legs, the way a rock can split a man’s head
open to its red syrup, like a watermelon, the way a brother
can pick at his skin for snakes and spiders only he can see.

Maybe you have grown out of yours—
maybe you no longer haul those wounds with you
onto every bus, through the side streets of a new town,
maybe you have never set them rocking in the lamplight
on a nightstand beside a stranger’s bed, carrying your hurts
like two cracked pomegranates, because you haven’t learned
to see the beauty of a busted fruit, the bright stain it will leave
on your lips, the way it will make people want to kiss you.

Natalie Diaz

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