Tuesday, January 26, 2016

VerseWrights Poetry



Today, I'm very happy to have some of my poems published by VerseWrights, an online community of poets assembled by Carl Sharpe, who is a retired teacher and a lifelong poet.

My poems are posted here. I'm grateful to Carl for the invitation and for his personal kindness and enthusiasm for the work. It's an honor to be a part of this project.   

I'm looking forward to diving in and discovering some new voices on the site. I hope you will, too.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Muse-ing

("The Clown" by Henri Matisse)

Cut me loose!
cries the muse

Let me run

down the page
spilling ink
from my veins,
flinging fear
from your brow
like the foam
off a wave

But please,

before I'm bled—

Let me linger here

on a period.

Roll back and forth

on your fat, unctuous
comma

Get squinched by

an em dash

Don the crooked crown 

of your assonance

If only for one

more line break
or spasm—

Until I've been drained

of all form and substance,
run off the cliff of your
crumbling courage

Where I will collect my 

bones in a sacred 
reliquary

To put them up on 

a shelf in your
closet

So they may sit

and shift

murmur,

foment

For you


And you alone

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New

Calling Birds

Her daughter had gotten into the habit of calling her back to her room, long after bedtime, with the sole purpose of putting impossible questions to her mother. 

"Mom, what's the point of life if there is no God?"

"Mom, I can't sleep. Because I'm going to die one day and then I'll be asleep forever."

Or this doozy, tonight:

"Mom, I've been thinking a lot about the insignificance of humanity."

She couldn't help it: she laughed. Her daughter looked wounded. She would be a teenager soon, and was getting very good at that.

"I'm sorry. It's just--geesh, honey. Do we have to talk about this now?" 

With her daughter, the answer was always, emphatically yes

The girl squeezed a stuffed marmoset to her chest. The eyes on the thing were huge and vacant. 

"But this is when it bothers me most. This is when I'm alone with my thoughts. And I can't help having my thoughts when I have them, can I?"

"Hmm. Another interesting question. But all right. Why the assumption that humanity is, as you put it, insignificant?"

Her daughter shrugged. "The universe just seems pretty random and meaningless to me. And because we're human, we feel it in a way that other creatures can't." She shuddered. "It's kind of awful, really."

She had a point. Always, during these late-night existential crises, there was a struggle in the mother between honesty and a mushier mollification. Yes, life's inscrutable. But a lot of people do believe in God and some kind of grand design to it all. Just because I don't doesn't mean you can't! 

But the words wouldn't come. Because she knew they wouldn't land.

The truth was that the nature, and degree, of her daughter's obsessions scared her. And whatever was said tonight would likely be discarded tomorrow, anyway. But she was a parent and had to say something. To inhabit a wisdom she didn't feel.

"When I was at the store today," she started slowly, "I tried an exercise that made me feel a little better about the world."

"What?" her daughter said.

"I took a single, distinguishing characteristic of each person I saw, and building on that quality or quirk, I gave them a kind of--I don't know--a super identity, I guess you could say."

Her brow crinkled. "What do you mean?"

"Well, for instance, there was a stock girl with a small chin and pointed ears, so I imagined she was an elf. Easy, right? And later, there was this guy who strutted out of the store wearing only a t-shirt, in spite of the cold and snow, and in my head he immediately became a kind of dumb superhero named Impervious Man."

She puffed out her chest comically. Her daughter didn't laugh, but she was listening, at least.

"The cashier who checked me out had a rather unfortunate case of acne. But in my head, just for that moment, he was transformed into a mighty warrior. That flimsy, grocery-store vest of his was armor. His pimples were battle scars. And the only reason he didn't meet my eyes was because he was just so weary from fighting."

Was she rolling her eyes yet?

No. Still good.  


"And the lady working in the floral department--well, that one was harder. I admit, she looked so sad and lost to me."

Her daughter waited. Finally, she asked, "So? What was her story?"

"I don't know. Maybe you do."

Her daughter thought for a minute. When she spoke, her voice was dreamier, and distant. "The love of her life was killed in a duel with the cashier. Now she brings her flowers to his grave every day and sings to him all night. The sweetness of her voice is the thing that makes her flowers grow, and her sadness is what colors them. And so the colors are the purest colors in all the known and unknown worlds."

Her daughter smiled up at her. She smiled back and touched her on her cheek. 

"See? You've given her meaning."

But just as suddenly, she lost her smile. "None of it is true, though."

"Not the exact details, no. But I bet she's loved, and lost. And I bet she still appreciates the beauty left to her in life. Not all the time, but often enough."

Leaning in, she kissed her daughter on the forehead and pulled the blanket up to her neck. "So. Did I do my job? Is humanity significant again?"

"Maybe a little bit."

"Good. Better keep looking for more, though. Just to be safe."

She walked to the door and turned off the light for the second time that night. 

"Mom?" Her daughter's voice sounded small again.

"Yeah?"

"What's my special quality or quirk?" 

She looked at her girl, ensconced in a gaggle of stuffed animals that she'd be rid of soon enough.

"Your eyes, honey."

"What about them?"

"Well. You have these great, big, nocturnal eyes.You always have. Except, you're still learning how to use them. And right now, what you see most is all the different shades of darkness. I think that's why night scares you. There's so much darkness out there to absorb before you can make out all the things still breathing and beautiful inside of it."

She flipped up the switch in the hall, bathing the doorway with light. Her daughter squinted and held up her hand, until her mother adjusted the door just right.

"But when the brightness hits you, I promise you: it will be just like that.'" 

She blew her a kiss as the clock on the nightstand turned 12:00 and walked down the hallway, thinking and worrying, and thinking some more. 


----

My "New" series began in 2008. There are also entries for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015. Why no 2014? I can't remember. But it must be Aniket Thakkar's fault for not badgering me enough that year. 



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Icarus

(Icarus III, oil on panel, by Katherine Stone)

Dash this heart
against the rocks--

the lack of urgency

terrifies me.

I'd rather splatter,

shatter, be Icarus
after

than exist 

another minute

Like a songbird

stayed

in the hour
before dawn,

and everyone

asleep.


Monday, December 7, 2015

100 Words

Blue door, shutters

We’re born with one door that’s open to the world. 

And by parlaying curiosity into experience, we fold more rooms into our selves. More rooms, with more doors, so the wind might howl through, occasionally reshuffling the blueprints themselves.

But then, it happens. 

A resistance steals in, quietly. Closing the doors.

And the effort to open them—or to remember they were closed—becomes a blockade.

We shrink. Get rooted in. 

And the wind? 

It might rattle some panes, before moving on.


But not his, she thinks.

Not him.

He’s young because he's kept the doors open.

She goes in.


---

Another 100 Words can be found here

Friday, November 6, 2015

Human Resources

Tulip 1

Even their small talk felt large in her mind, every word of conversation assuming a weight and import that might be measured later, when she was back home, weeding the garden or walking the dog, or performing any one of those small, mechanical tasks that allowed her to be half present and half very far away.

He was guarded with her. But then, so was she. There was a lot at risk.

"I guess we're in for a long week with the quarterly reports coming up."

"Coffee, don't fail me now."

"You're not kidding."

And that might be it.

But each small engagement arrived with its own weather system. She felt it like a swarm of bees inside a thunderstorm. At first, they'd betrayed themselves too easily. Her, by smiling too much and tucking her hair behind her ears. Him, by swallowing nervously and excessive face touching. But over the weeks, they had learned to minimize these physical slips so that any colleague watching them talk, from a distance, might infer from their body language that they didn't like one another at all. He might be standing across from her, with his arms over his chest, in a posture of male protection. Whereas she would routinely keep her hands in her pockets, tilting her head at a stiff, discrete angle that indicated nothing so much as forbearance.

But their eyes were what gave them away. They had that bright, startled look of repressed absorption. As if they were drinking not only the words that came from the other's lips, but also the glass that held them.

"When is that conference you're headed to?"

"November 13th."

Or:

"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?"

"Oh, my mom has this thing every year."

She wanted to talk forever with him. She couldn't get away fast enough. It was perfectly excruciating, if perfectly ridiculous.

And one Friday, she reached her limit. It was already late, and everyone else had escaped into the weekend. He was just finishing up the budget numbers he'd been sitting on all week. She brought him a piece of leftover birthday cake from the week's office party and sat on the edge of his desk, pushing aside a potted plant and a picture frame.

"Why are we like children here?" she blurted out, as he took the first bite.

She watched him chew the cake, a smear of white frosting sticking to the corner of his mouth. Impatient, she pressed harder. 

"I mean, why do we have to play these games? Why can't I just say what I feel when I'm feeling it? Why all the pretense, as if we were still in high school and too—too—scared of rejection to seize happiness where we can find it?"

With some difficulty, he swallowed his cake. 

"I guess I don't see it that way," he said, setting down the plate to look at her.

"You don't?"

"No." He wiped his mouth and stood up. "I think this is adulthood. "

He reached out for her, briefly taking hold of her hand. She felt the flesh of his palm biting into her engagement ring. Then the sensation was gone, and he was grabbing his coat.

"Have a good weekend, Leah."

And then he was gone, too.

"You too, Jim."



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ghost



With the legs 
of a dancer

and the throat 
of a snake,

the egret picks its 
paces 
atop the silt lake

Pausing, in places,
to hook a sharp head

as if trying to fathom
a voice from the dregs.

But no,  
that's me 

projecting my own,
for Autumn is homed   

Bringing ghosts to the breeze 
that blows from these trees

ghosts of regret,
and ghosts I can't see,

as the egret stabs Narcissus
straight in the eye

stunning the vibrating fish
with its lance 

which it will keep there,
quiveringly, 
before working it down

then chasing success
with a quick nip of brine

before finally, without guile,
stretching wide the white wings—

So soundlessly, sated, 
a bird lights for the marsh,

leaving only the shadows
of angels behind.


Great egret


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Like This

Simplified

It was still summer, technically. But there was a stiff, fall breeze coming off the lake, letting her feel the small pleasure, and protection, of her sweater's warmth, as he walked along beside her.  

A camera hung around her neck and bobbed against her sternum as they took another turn around the dock.

"What's that?" he said, pointing up at the sky. 

She followed his arm. "Another vulture, I think."

"Are you sure?"

Well, no. The truth was that she'd been too distracted by his nearness to put her mind on much else. But no. A vulture wouldn't reflect the sun's light like that. 

"A hawk, maybe?" she said, coming to a stop and shielding her eyes. "Or an osprey?"

"Too big," he said, looking with her as the bird skirted the gap in the clouds.

"Wait," she said, reaching for his arm. "I think it's a bald eagle."

"I think you're right." 

They stood like that, with her hand on his forearm, for a full minute of silence. The giant bird turned and leveled, turned and leveled. She was conscious of the feel of his flannel on her fingertips, the camera's weight around her neck, an exquisite breeze just lifting her hair. 

Finally, he spoke. 

"Don't you want to take a picture?"

She turned to him, and with her other hand, dutifully pressed the button on the camera hanging around her neck.  

"There," she said.

He lifted an eyebrow, wonderingly.

"I don't need a picture of it," she explained, sliding her arm through his and watching the eagle dive at the lake with a sudden, spearing intention.

"I just want to remember, like this."




Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kiyiya Vuran Insanlik

(Photograph: Reuters)

a little boy 
who might have been mine
or yours

a little boy wearing
a red tee
and blue shorts

a little boy who will 
never be anything 
but

a body
on the sands
of a big, big world

----

The title translates to "Humanity Washed Ashore." The story is here. I'm sorry for the photo. I know it's crushing. It crushed me. 

We shouldn't need photos like this to make us act, but I think a good many of us probably do. (A different, happier Syrian refugee story reinforced this truth earlier in the week.) This boy, Aylan Kurdi, was one of thousands of Syrian refugees trying to flee Turkey for Greece, the gateway to the European Union. These are desperate people needing relief in a way I can't begin to comprehend, or impact. 

All we could think to do was donate money to the International Rescue Committee, a highly-regarded charity dedicated to helping refugees worldwide. If you'd like to do the same, please click here


Friday, July 24, 2015

The most important thing



Here is how I picture us. 

In a common wood, sitting side by side on a rock made for two. A breeze finds my face, and I lean into its lure. The leaves around us seem an extension of skin, rustling. A large nut drops from someplace high and untouched and lands, with a thwack, on last year's slough. Cicadas and birds we can't name mark out a perimeter, but they can't edge that bit of cloud, puffing along beyond the treetops' sights.

You put your hands on your knees, mirroring me. Our mouths are still talking about the fawn we saw back there, how it's a shame these pathways are lined with gravel. There was a rabbit, too, we startled with our clumsy, human progress. But I'm remembering back farther than that, to your very first words as we stepped out of the car: "It looks like Provence," you said, before looking down at your shoes, as if to check some instinct for confession. You can't know what that did to me. 

The light is water, running down your cheek, past the ridge of your throat, to be swallowed by your collar. I can just make out the color of your eyes. But that is not the most important thing.

I don't know how life can be as beautiful as this, or why we can't be like the trees, so easily roused, all of the time. 

What I do know is that I'm alone, on a rock made for two, but not lonely at all, for you're here, too.

The camera shutter opens, and closes. It's been doing that all day.