Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How to Conquer Writer's Block

So this one is blatantly inspired by last night's reading. Eva de la Lana was the featured reader; she's incredibly young, but very talented. She read a poem about writer's block, and then S. started writing one during the reading. And the last guy in the open mic (whose name I forget, but who was very good, and is a former winner of the Poetry Forum contest) read a poem about camels. So those two ideas, writer's block and camels (lovely, odd combination, eh?), made their way into this. I kind of like it, in an odd little way, and will probably read it next week, as a summer farewell to Larry's.

Oh, and the lines about a blank white page being a gift is a reference to one of my favorite quotes about writing which I stumbled across in college. It's by John Ciardi, a poet and translator, and I discovered the quote when I was doing research on holocaust poetry for my final paper in freshman English.

The quote is "that clean white paper waiting under a pen/ is a gift beyond history and hurt and heaven", from his poem "The Gift"

How to Conquer Writer’s Block

Wake up early
At least before noon.
Make coffee – a large pot, nice and strong.
Wash the week’s stack of dirty dishes.
Eat something – cereal or toast or even some leftovers.
You know you can’t write on an empty stomach.
Get dressed, walk the dog. This is not
Procrastination. You don’t want him interrupting you later.

Open the windows, even if it’s raining.
Turn on some music – something so familiar
You don’t even hear it. Sit down –
Don’t forget your coffee.
Think about smoking.
Aren’t you glad you quit?

You have your favorite pen, your little green notebook
Opened to that eternal gift –
A clean white page. It’s double-edged
Like any good knife as you stare the endless empty lines.
Wait for inspiration.
Sip your coffee. It’s still too hot.
Keep waiting.

Look out the window at the sun. Look at your dog
All content on the floor. Look at the steam
Rising from your coffee like a mirage.
See dancing girls in the steam,
Sunbeams reflecting off the coins on their belts.
Write about dancing girls. And the desert. Write
About the sand. Be sure to mention camels. Use the word
“undulate” but not about the dancers. Don’t talk about
Their breasts either, that’s too easy. Say that the sand
Is the color of dirty pennies as the sun sets,
The girls’ fingers are tiny snakes of fire.
Make up a dramatic ending, using night as a metaphor.

Sit back and read what you wrote.
You hate almost all of it. Drink some coffee,
Look at the one line you like.
It’s probably about the camels, not the girls.
Start over.
Write about camels instead.

Target Practice

I wrote this a couple Mondays ago, started it during the reading, then wrote a kind of long piece later that night. It was four parts, sort of parallel, but telling different stories. I was a little tipsy by the end of it, and it ended up sort of long and rambly. This is a revision of the first section, which I read last night at Larry's.

And yes, believe it or not, this one is basically true.

Target Practice

My father would sit in the kitchen and shoot
Beebees in the direction of the dog
When he barked too loud
Or too long. They’re only beebees,
He’d say. They won’t really hurt him.
They fell harmlessly in the field
Behind the doghouse, decapitating
Weeds – Queen Anne’s Lace, wild alfalfa,
The grass my mother called Timothy. They lodged themselves
In the grooved crumbly bark of the oak tree,
And in the white-painted wood
Of the doghouse, all bleached and peeling.
And some struck his dusty black fur
Embedding themselves in the flesh of his flank
Or his shoulder. When I sat
In the yard and stroked his sun-warmed side
They felt like Braille where the skin
Had grown over the metal beads.
One day he must have turned his head
Hoping perhaps to meet the foe that stung
And a tiny lead sphere struck his nose.
I cried as I touched the cool moist black skin
Soft and giving except in one little tiny spot.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


untitled, unfinished....

These days my life feels like a low budget horror movie
Written by, directed by, and starring two brothers from Pennsylvania,
The suspense too obvious, so many clues that nothing surprises.

The bricks over the windows of the brand new haunted house
Are drawn in Photoshop, the blind man can see just fine,
And the monster in the basement is always my brother,

The zombie grave my mother’s. I find her memories
When I look for them least, leaping out at me from crowds,
A haircut, a pair of sunglasses, an embarrassed glance.

But oh, she’s not dead, don’t let me fool you.
That would be too easy, mourning for her. It’s so much more
Complex to love and hate and strive to understand

Someone who still breathes out her prayers every night,
Still walks the land, plants a garden, plays an old
Out of tune piano when she’s alone.

and a revision of this. I learned, after writing the first draft, that one of the brothers referenced actually died this spring. So in lieu of a title, I dedicated to him, and revised to carry more of the movie images through to the end. I read this one last week along with "Target Practice".

For John Polonia

Some days my life feels like a low budget horror movie
Written by, directed by, and of course starring
Two nerdy looking brothers from Nowhere, Pennsylvania.

Everything feels delayed, a decade too late, and the timing is never quite right -
It moves so slowly, dragging over every detail of a dark wood, a dark room,
And then jumps back to a past that looks just the same.

The suspense is too obvious, so many clues that nothing surprises,
But it still doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why the aliens are here,
And I really don’t want to see any more breasts.

The bricks over the windows of the brand new haunted house
Are drawn in Photoshop, the blind man can see just fine,
And the monster in the basement is always my brother,

The zombie’s grave my mother’s. Her memories find me
When I expect them least, leaping out at me from crowds -
A haircut, a pair of sunglasses, an embarrassed glance.

But oh, she’s not dead, don’t be fooled by the dramatic music.
That would be too easy, mourning for her. Instead look into those glasses,
See the cameraman’s reflection. It’s so much more interesting

To love and hate and strive to understand someone who still breathes
Out her prayers every night, still walks the land, plants seeds in the earth,
And plays an old out of tune piano when she’s alone.

Walking the Plank

an off-the-cuff little poem today. because i don't want to work, because i like pirates, because i was thinking of maxine kumin….

Walking the Plank

Sometimes I want
To go back
To the bliss of ignorance
The pier of belief
But I am stuck
On this narrow plank
Splinters and all.

I walk a fine line
Bare toes gripping
Rough wood
Arms out for balance
Unwilling to go back
Afraid to fall.

I know
What love is -
The waves below me
Crashing into the ship,
The gentle roll
Of the far-off sea -
And faith - how it shapes
And shades
Every moment
With gratefulness
And fear.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A poem for my mother

a beginning of one at least.

I have half your DNA, your dry
Quiet humor, your love of words
And plants, the small breasts
We both both love and hate. I used
To wish I also had your dark hair,
Shining and wavy like something alive,
Your skin that tans, your small bones,
But I am his daughter too.

I glimpse you in the mirror sometimes
When my light hair is hidden
Under a paisley scarf and shadows
Blur my pale, freckled skin. I feel you
Inside me as I stand in the kitchen
Washing greens from my garden,
Then I lose you when I lose
My temper over something small.
I am his daughter too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The River That Doesn't Exist

Another new, "ink still wet", poem. Sort of a prose poem, I guess. Not sure about the title, whether I want the long version or the short version of the title, or something different entirely.

ETA: after reading this at Larry's tonight, I'm posting the edits I did before the reading. I got a good response, including a personal comment from the guy with the cool voice.

Fictional Truths About a Childhood That Never Happened and a River That Doesn’t Exist

The river in my hometown always looked muddy, even during the drought of 1988, when the thermometer on our back porch read 110 in the shade and we all ran around in our underwear, even if, at ten, I was a little too old to do so. My mother wore a bathing suit top and shorts, still skinny after four babies.

At twelve I felt so adult when I stood in church beside her, three inches taller already, and raised my hands, closed my eyes and swayed as I sang of my desire for God. “As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee.” I knew nothing of desire and so little of longing.

The pastor’s youngest daughter jumped off the highest bridge in the county when she was fifteen, her body found miles downstream. Everyone knew why, but no one would say it.

That water travels into another river and then into the larger one that names this state, and it keeps on going. My sisters and I used to walk barefoot in the creek at the back of the property and talk about touching the ocean through that dirty water. I later learned that our shallow stream dried up long before ever reaching that river which really does, eventually, fight its way free.

Spring Green

And another newer one. The line "everything is green/ and future tense" is a variation on a line that I have in my head without knowing where it came from: "everything is sweet and present tense". I feel like it might be a line I wrote, but it might easily also be a line I just remember, or even misremember, from a short story or a novel. If anyone knows where it comes from, please tell me!

ETA: Thought about reading this one at Larry's, but didn't. Reworked the second stanza though, and posting that edit.

Spring Green

The grass is starting to green,
The bulbs in the yard
Pushed up through the mud,
Their tender spikes like baby
Asparagus, leaves still furled.
The forsythia has buds of green
But the air is still cold.

Our shoulders hunch
as we face into the wind.
You hold my heart in your soft
right hand and I am so
afraid you will crush it like berries
as you make a fist, hide your hands
in your pockets, to counter the cold.

There is a line between shade
And sun, between what has been
And what will be. I close my eyes,
Bow my head, and walk slowly
Feeling the temperature change
Letting the sun heat my hair
And blossom behind my eyes.

I feel the chill as I walk under
The shade of a sprawling oak tree
Its boughs tipped with pale green
Buds, future leaves, future acorns,
Future trees themselves. I want this
In a way I didn’t know I still could.
At thirty I feel eighteen again, young
And foolish and wanting what I fear,

Only you. Everything is green
And future tense, the tulips
Will bloom purple and red and
Pink, the forsythia will be yellow,
We will walk hand in hand
This summer, bare arms in the sun,
We will not stay frozen forever.

Juana de Ibarbourou, "Vida Garfio"

As promised, here is the poem from which I took that epigraph. The Spanish version first, then the English translation I first read. Juana de Ibarbourou was an Uraguayan poet who died in 1979.

Vida garfio
by Juana de Ibarbourou

Amante: no me lleves, si muero, al camposanto.
A flor de tierra abre mi fosa, junto al riente
Alboroto divino de alguna pajarera
O junto a la encantada charla de alguna fuente.
A flor de tierra, amante. Casi sobre la tierra

Donde el sol me caliente los huesos, y mis ojos,
Alargados en tallos, suban a ver de nuevo
La lámpara salvaje de los ocasos rojos.

A flor de tierra, amante. Que el tránsito así sea
Más breve. Yo presiento
La lucha de mi carne por volver hacia arriba,
Por sentir en sus átomos la frescura del viento.

Yo sé que acaso nunca allá abajo mis manos
Podrán estarse quietas.
Que siempre como topos arañarán la tierra
En medio de las sombras estrujadas y prietas.

Arrójame semillas. Yo quiero que se enraicen
En la greda amarilla de mis huesos menguados.
¡Por la parda escalera de las raíces vivas
Yo subiré a mirarte en los lirios morados!

and the translation, by Sophie Cabot Black and Maria Negroni


Love: if I die don’t take me to the cemetery.
Dig my grave just at ground level, near the laughing
Divine disturbance of a birdhouse.
Or by a fountain’s haunting talk.

Just at ground level, my love. And almost above earth
Where the sun can heat the bones, and my eyes,
Extended, as if into stalks, rise to see again
The savage lamp of the setting sun.

Just at ground level, my love. So the passage
Will be even shorter. I sense
Already my flesh fighting, trying to return
To feel the atoms of a freshening wind.

I know my hands
May never stay still down there.
That like moles they will scrape the earth
In the middle of dark, compacted shadows.

Cover me with seeds. I want them to root
In the yellow chalk of my diminishing bones.
Up the gray staircase of living roots
I will rise to watch you. I’ll be the purple lilies.

I'll Be the Purple Lilies

The first poem I read at Larry's this winter, and one I'd been thinking of writing for months before I did it. I'll actually post the whole poem from which I took the epigraph too. The translation of the epigraph is "Up the grey staircase of the living roots/ I will rise to watch you in the purple lilies." (or "I'll be the purple lilies")

Por la parda escalera de las raíces vivas
Yo subiré a mirarte en los lirios morados!
- Juana de Ibarbourou, “Vida-garfio” 1919

I’ll Be the Purple Lilies

If I die, love, I want to be cremated.
Burn me up, let my body dissolve
Into the flames. It won’t hurt,
I don’t think.

If I die, my love, dress me yourself
In the long blue dress you bought me.
Braid my hair, brush my lips
With the pink gloss that tastes
Like candy canes. Kiss me goodbye.
You love the way it tastes on me.

If I die, my only love, please
Let them see me – my friends and family –
Let them say goodbye, but don’t
Don’t let them bury me.

It is you, my love,
I will trust with my death
As I trust in my life.
You who understand heat and fire and connection.
I want the flames to obliterate my past,
To make ash of the form I can no longer inhabit.
Scatter my ashes, love, wherever you want.
Where you’d like your own to join them.

Don’t let them bury me, love.
Don’t let them pray over my body and lie
And say that I’m with God, that I’ll be raised
Again to heaven forever.
If they put my body in the ground,
Swaddled in satin, secured in polished wood
And metal handles, if the earth hits the coffin
Above my face, I will rot. The coffin will not
Hold off decay forever.

I don’t want to rot, my love, alone
And isolated, with the velvet falling over my eyes
The damp seeping through the joints of the wood.
I would rather burn once, right away,
Rather feel the fire, even if it hurts, than endure
The slow dissolution in a closed room.

If I die, my dearest love, let me go
Into the furnace like your ancestors went
So unwillingly. I will go like a lamb, docile and ready,
Welcoming the fire’s disintegration. I will be ash
Poured into your hands. You can streak me on your forehead,
Keep some bits in a jar on your mantle – that orange glass jar
With the elephants would do nicely – but I want the bulk
To be scattered.

Let me join with the wind, travel slowly
Caressing the trees, finding the earth again.
I will dissolve into the water, the streams carry me
To the ocean, then soil carry me down
And then up through the roots. I will smell spring again,
I will be part of the world you love.

We'll Always Have California

This one is still kind of messy. I liked it when I wrote it, but less so after I read it aloud a few weeks ago. I'm still thinking about this one.... Your comments are welcomed!

We’ll Always Have California

Some things once set in motion can not be stopped.
Like avalanches, viruses, love affairs, they gather momentum, claiming victims

We sewed the seeds of our dissolution, I know –
Loose stitches never meant to hold.
The dandelions behind our ears
are yellow today – if we walk tomorrow
they will be dry, white fluff.

We laid our plans
Like paths in the Pacific sand,
Mapping a life by the summer sky.

When I looked up in January, I couldn’t find my way,
And so I’ve wandered, blown by the wind, pulled by gravity
Like an avalanche of flowers – too much beauty sometimes,
Wild, rolling over anyone in its path.

I never moved to the West Coast
And I lost track of you years ago,
But we’ll always have those dreams.
I see them in the sky every June.

On the Fourth Day It Rained

I came up with the title of this one while I was in San Diego, but didn't write it till a month or so later. Got some good suggestions on the first draft, made some edits, and read this at Larry's a month or so ago.

On the Fourth Day It Rained

I woke too early that Sunday in San Diego
Still not accustomed to West Coast time –
My body believing it was past ten
When my California friends thought they were sleeping in.

I made coffee in the high white kitchen,
Tore off an oval of last night’s bread and spooned
It with jam because I could not find a knife.

It was cloudy as I opened the sliding door
And allowed the cat to follow me onto the balcony –
A view of palm trees and pastel buildings
Clinging like lichen to the hills
That settle gradually down to the sandy shore.
We watched the rain move in, she and I,
Great banks of clouds drifting like ruffled skirts
From the ocean a few miles away.

I sipped my coffee, too hot, too strong,
And welcomed the chill that came with the misty rain.
Back home, in Ohio, this time of year
Is miserable. I have not grown used

To the sunny days, the temperance,
Wearing thin sweaters, pretty things
Too flimsy for February, the failure of weather to reflect
Reality – that this city with its beaches and its palm trees and
Its cleanliness and order and beautiful people
Is no better and no happier than where I came from.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Coming Spring

The infamous 30 foot bear poem. Or one of them, at least. This is from February as mentioned in the poem, and it was written as a challenge. A group of us were out for S's birthday in January, and this friend of hers kept talking about how there used be to 30 foot bears. For some reason, we all found it very amusing, and S ended up challenging a bunch of people to write poems about 30 foot bears. This is mine.

The Coming Spring

If the slowly falling days of August
Are like a dog, all lethargy and lolling
Tongue, then these lengthening days
Of February are like a thirty foot bear
Hibernating to survive the cold, bristling
Claws and teeth and frozen fur. Adapted so well
To the ice age, those mountains who moved,
Impenetrable fortresses of fur and fangs,
The massive flow of blood keeping them warm
While they slept, a furnace humming in their breast.
Too big, too hot, the bears were to survive
A world growing warmer. These February days
Drudge on, each one longer and more unbearable,
Daylight dragging itself out, stretched thin
Over brittle bones, unwilling to fade and let us
Lock ourselves inside another night. The light
Sky compels me to action, but it is too cold to move.

We walk to dinner through a deluge of snow,
Flakes large as the dinner plates of fairies,
A shower that drenches our coats, legs, heads
With heavy wet flakes that would rather be rain.
The sidewalk is slick and I am tempted
To lose my footing on purpose to give you
An excuse to catch my arm. We both need it,
That excuse. I don’t slip. It is easier to keep
My own footing than trust you to catch me. I would
Have made a good bear, I think, self sufficient
And imposing, capable of sleeping through winter
And ignoring the storms around me. We stop
At the corner, I glance at you, blinking snowflakes
From my lashes, the streetlight haloing everything
With gold. The light changes and you offer me
Your arm as we step off the sidewalk. I don’t know
What to do.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Tale With No Moral (tentative title)

i don't know that i like this title, but it's a very new poem. very new. if i'd written it by hand, the ink would still be wet.

tell me if you expect the end. i don't want it to be expected all the way through.

A Tale With No Moral

Pastor White had three beautiful daughters
And could never deny them anything.
Like the girls in a fairy tale they were
All tall and slender and long-haired
And virtuous. His wife too was sweet-
Tempered, quiet, cooked dinner and the sweet
Little snacks to which he couldn’t say no.

Aurora, Bianca, and Christina
Long skirts and long braids and long-
Suffering eyes like paintings of Jesus.
Model students, model daughters, models
Of Christ. As Christ is head
Of the Church, so the man is head
Of the family. The difference is
The church takes that power away
And makes its own rules.

A tall man, slender in spite
Of all the homemade deserts,
Dark hair graying, dark
Eyes I never could meet
Without seeing hellfire.

A slightly faded white farmhouse
All those old small rooms
So perfect for hide and seek, so
Many closets and crannies and dark
Corners and secrets to find.

Christina, bride of Christ,
Killed herself at sixteen.

You know.

Pastor White had three beautiful daughters
And could never deny them.

In Clintonville in May

One more, then back to work... I've not read this one in public yet. I started writing it last week during the readings; it's probably slightly rude that I often write poems while other people are reading, but I get ideas then, and it works. Almost every Monday I'll scribble a few lines during the Open Mic, then go home and flesh out a poem.

In Clintonville in May

I chose this house, this street,
Because it feels like Lakewood,
The place I was most miserable,
Where I should have been the happiest –

I recall my grandmother’s revelation
After Christmas dinner, when I was
Nineteen and the men had all gone
Downstairs to football on the television
While the women – my aunts,
My mother and grandmother, myself –
Cleared the table and made
Coffee. I walked back into
The kitchen just in time to hear her say
The happiest years of her life
Were between graduation and
Marriage, and now, in the years since
George died.

George was my grandfather, six feet
Three inches of steelworker, red-
Haired like my father, like me,
A stationary mountain at the head
Of the table, silent and coldly forbidding.
I was scared of him my whole life, his temper
having attained the status of legend.
He’d been dead ten years
When she said it, and even I knew
We’d all been happier since.

I should have been happy
There – the house of white,
The many-paned windows,
A wide shallow porch and a shaded
Backyard I could mow in half
An hour. I couldn’t stay.
I left every weekend to see him.
I left at the end of my lease.

And years later, after he left, I chose
this house - White again, with this porch
And this yard and these lilacs budding
In the springtime sun weeks before
They will bloom in Cleveland.

As I sit at my cluttered desk and stare out the window in April

The other poem I read Monday. It's short and sweet and springy. I used to write a lot of these "list" poems. I think I repeat the beginnings of lines like that sometimes even in longer pieces, just a few lines here and there that mirror each other.

As I sit at my cluttered desk and stare out the window in April

I think of last spring, how we used to walk hand in hand, stop to kiss at every corner.

I think of drinking wine on Amy’s porch, the sweet-sour cool earthiness of the liquid in my throat, the sparkles in the glass under streetlights and porchlight and candlelight.

I think of the trees outside this glass still bare of their leaves, try to recall when they spring forward to green.

I think of how I always seem either to be looking back or waiting for something, how I hold the past so close, look to each new season to restart my life.

Goodale Park After Three Weeks of Snow (February Sestina)

First poem :)

I read this on Monday night at Larry's, and I like it better after reading it aloud. It's funny how that happens sometimes; I'll have a poem I think is okay, then I'll read it aloud and realize I don't really like it, or I'll read it aloud and realize it's better than I'd thought.

This one started, in February, as a little three stanza poem in no recognizable form, but I realized that I was repeating a lot of words and using a sort of repeating structure, and that maybe it wanted to evolve into a formal poem. So it became a sestina. I am proud of actually finishing a formal piece like this, because I don't do them often, and there are parts of this that I really like a lot.

And I got a nice response from the Poetry Forum crowd on Monday. Or maybe that was just all the cheap wine.....

Goodale Park After Three Weeks of Snow (February Sestina)

It is nearly midnight and I am walking alone
Through what feels like silence but is not
Really silent – the rattle and whir of traffic still
Reaches here, even through a dense blanket
No longer clean but grey and yellow and the off-white
Of curdled milk or dead skin or the rock salt

They pour on the streets. For nearly a month, no amount of salt
Has been able to keep these paths clear, let alone
Reveal the grass and trees hidden beneath white –
Each time it starts to melt, the heavens decree we are not,
Even in this global-warming world, to shed the blanket
Of winter so soon. I stood completely still

When you walked away, feeling the air grow still
Around me, the wind die without drying the salt
On my cheeks. The snow fell like a too thick blanket
On my shoulders and my head and I walked alone
Back home. Tonight the air is thick and dense, knotted
With snowflakes, the wind drawing lines of white

Across the path. I think of last summer when we wore white
Skirts and old sandals and lay together in the still
Hot air, too warm and easy to move. It did not
Seem possible that we’d ever be cold or sad, the salt
On our skin be anything other than sweat. Alone
I turn my back on the park and its dirty blanket

Of snow, alone I enter my apartment, my bed, pull up the blankets
And sleep. I dream you are here with me, feel your white
Legs beside mine, your hair tangled, body covered, one lone
Hand flexing in your dreams. I snuggle against you, then wake, still
Thinking you’re here. My arm curls around what I think is your waist, then, assaulted
With the realization that it’s a pillow, I stop. This is not

How I wanted to be, alone and illusioned. This is not
How winter should be, layer upon layer of filthy blanketing
Snow, all of my shoes stained with salt,
nothing but weariness and empty expanses of dirty white
snow and sheets I refuse to wash because they still
hold your scent, faintly and fading, leaving me alone

to wash away the salt, to learn again to be alone,
to put the blankets away, expose my white
skin to the sun, not to fear, to let my heart be still.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

same old me

new blog though.

this one just for poetry and related thoughts.

yay, poetry!