New Year’s poem

As a sure sign of January, I saw an exercise bike by the side of the road with a “Free” sign on it. New year, new exercise resolutions, which segues nicely to Lucille Clifton’s poem:

i am running into a new year

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

lucille clifton

A poem from Paris Review

I get lots of poems from various sources in my in box every day. This one I really like, problaby from his new book, Felon Poems:

Blood History

The things that abandon you get remembered different.
As precise as the English language can be, with words
like penultimate and perseverate, there is not a combination
of sounds that describes only that leaving. Once,
drinking & smoking with buddies, a friend asked if
I’d longed for a father. Had he said wanted, I would have
dismissed him in the way that the youth dismiss it all:
a shrug, sarcasm, a jab to his stomach, laughter.
But he said longing. & in a different place, I might
have wept. Said, Once, my father lived with us & then he
didn’t & it fucked me up so much I never thought about Continue reading “A poem from Paris Review”

Something brutal but beautiful

I have just finished reading Natalie Diaz’ first book, My Brother Was an Aztec. The poems are powerful, the imagery lush and unusual, but the subject matter–addiction, pain, the struggle with family and poverty–is told in unsparing detail. So I thought I’d start of 2020, a year that itself promises to be harsh, with one of her poems from the book:

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.

Continue reading “Something brutal but beautiful”

Psychics

There was a time in my life when I wanted very much to know the future. I went to many psychic readers of various kinds, from carnival tents, to very “serious” future tellers. As it is now, one day at a time is enough!

Still, I really loved this prose poem, and wish you all the white light of Alma, which in my time of psychics they called simply “white light.”

The Psychic

He said I must pay special attention in cars. He wasn’t, he assured me, saying that I’d be in an accident but that for two weeks some particular caution was in order, &, he said, all I really needed to do was throw the white light of Alma around any car I entered & then I’d be fine. & when I asked about Alma, he said, Oh, come on, you know Alma well. You two were together first in Egypt & then at Stonehenge, & I nodded though I’ve never been— in this life at least—to Stonehenge; then I said, Shouldn’t I always throw the white light of Alma around a car? & when he said, Well, it wouldn’t hurt, I said, What about around planes, houses? What if I throw the white light of Alma around anyone who might need protection from the reckless speed of driving or the reckless swerve & skid of the world? & the psychic opened his hands & shrugged up his shoulders. So despite your doubt or mine as to why I’d gone there, to a psychic, in—I kid you not—a town of psychics—in the first place, right now, as you read this, let me throw the white light of Alma around you & everyone you pass close to today, beloved or stranger, the grocer, the bus driver, the boy on his longboard, the lady you stand silent beside in the elevator, & also I am throwing it around anyone they care about anywhere in the spin of the world, because, we can agree that these days, everywhere, particular caution is in order &, even if unverifiable, the light of my dear sister Alma, couldn’t hurt.

Victoria Redel

No snow here, but

this poem still resonates. I love that it is a sonnet, and how that definition can stretch and morph. Orr’s bio is worth reading, too:

Aftermath Sonnet

Letting my tongue sleep,
And my heart go numb.

Sensing that speech
Too soon,
After such a wound,
Would only be
A different bleeding.

Even needing to leave
The page blank.
Long season
Of silence—

Trusting that under

Its bandage of snow,

The field of me is healing.

Greggory Orr

Gratitude

Something about the way this word is often used sets my teeth on edge–a whiff of self-satisfaction? Of hypocrisy? In any case, that made me doubly pleased to find a poem by Jon Davis with this title that I like without those reservations. It seems appropriate for today, especially as he is the director of the low residency MFA in Creative Writing at the Institute of American Arts:

Gratitude

Forget each slight, each head that turned
Toward something more intriguing—
Red flash of wing beyond the window,

The woman brightly chiming
About the suffering of the world. Forget
The way your best friend told the story

Of that heroic road trip, forgetting that you drove
From Tulsa to Poughkeepsie while he
Slumped dozing under headphones. Forget

The honors handed out, the lists of winners.
Forget the certificates, bright trophies you
Could have, should have, maybe won. Continue reading “Gratitude”

A few words from Brenda Hillman

This excerpt is from Brenda Hillman’s most recent book, Extra Hidden Life Among the Days. I had a hard time with it at first, but took a workshop that helped me understand the poems are about struggling to come to terms with the ecological disasters of the current moment, trying to find a way to make poetry in the midst of political, social, and natural disaster.  Here’s a brief section from the book:

 

Angrily Standing Outside in the Wind

 —kept losing self control
    but how could one lose the self
 after reading so much literary theory?
The shorter “i” stood under the cork trees,
     the taller “I” remained rather passive;
 the brendas were angry at the greed, angry
that the trees would die, had lost interest
 in the posturing of the privileged,

Continue reading “A few words from Brenda Hillman”

Punctuation

Last Thursday, Maurya Simon read some of her poems about punctuation at Marin Poetry Center. They were delightful. The next morning, I found this darker one from a poet I don’t know:

Comma

The comma is a heart murmur, tremor in hamstring. He is an almost; someone
calling in time about the man staggering out of American Bar into traffic—
mouths gasping into headlights.

He is headlights; two boy quickly push off each other. Commas dangling like
belt buckles from their ankled jeans as they run out to the brushes.

More than pause—comma as toddler asleep on crisp sheets, body fetaled in big snow
beneath I-40. Someone should call in time before comma becomes a period,
 ,                                                                                   his legs curled in against his body.

Jake Skeets

Monday Poem

Another gem from Poetry Daily:

God Is Not Right, He Is Big

The news isn’t all bad. July and August
were the hottest months in human history,

but a family found the pet tortoise
that went missing in 1982. The low cloud

above me passes under the high clouds
like a souped-up Civic passing on the right.

I’ve been all over this island and still
have no names for most of the trees.

Continue reading “Monday Poem”

A Haibun

This form, from the Japanese, was originally mostly used for travel journals–prose, then a haiku. But in English-language hands, it has become slipped into a looser form, a new way to write about whatever. Here’s one I particularly like:

On Teaching Poetry In A Men’s High Security Prison

I was searched at every edge. I wanted everyone, including me, to be innocent. One inmate squeezed my hand like a letter he’d been hoping for. In the workshop, he read his poem. I applauded. He hugged me. He smelt of stale soap. Leaning in, his stubble sandpapered my softer jaw. He tells me what he did.

He was drunk the night he blacked out, opened his eyes in the kitchen, his wife who wanted divorce, on the floor, dead. I see his wedding ring. I wish I knew her name so I could plant it here. Continue reading “A Haibun”

Reading Saturday in Oakland

I’m excited to be reading with the amazing Amanda Moore tomorrow at 2 pm at Gearbox Gallery on West Grand. We’ve woven together a reading about birth, childhood, adolescence, marriage and death, based on a reading I heard at the Community of Writers.  I think it’s really going to be fun.

Here’s a sample poem.

Jung on Dying

Is the psyche bound to the body?
Jung thinks not.
In dreams
the psyche travels
unconstrained by matter.
As for death, the unconscious
rejects it.

Those who live as if
the rich cloth of time
were unrolling endlessly before them
are better off.
It’s not a question of belief.

We need salt, he says,
does it matter why?
Food tastes better with it.