Friday, July 1, 2016

Poetries #7

In my excitement last month to start posting poems again, I forgot about three that I'd written on my phone.  Having this ruined my carefully cultivated chronology, I must resolve to carry on amid this tumbled heap of scattered words.

So the first three poems are a little bit older, the first from February and the other two from March.  They are fairly solid (for me) and thus I am sure I did not leave them out intentionally.  I would never want to deprive you, after all.  The following twelve are of fresher vintage, starting in late May and continuing through to the present.  Once again, the backlog is defeated!

My usual obsessions remain obsessed upon, sex and depression, all that good stuff.  Poison Control hits kind of hard (to the extent that it isn't just maudlin) in the direction of abuse and self-loathing, and Hung Over, Body Scanned is sort of in the same vein.  As usual, I blather on at the end with commentary.
____________________


Luna, Rising Sweetly

Luna, rising sweetly -
a section from a circle,
arching eighty five
degrees, clad in silk
and silver, all composed
of warm, selenic light;
gathered in repose,
posessing grace and awful
power over all
of me, of night and morning,
waning never, even
as the sun completes
its circuit of the Earth;
I am hour, she
is day - twenty four
times I'd live and die
to let her shine, in darkness
or in one degree
of blinding, glorious dawn.


The Firmament

In this total sphere of darkness
I can feel my head expanding,
feel my teeth expand against
my teeth; they sound like blunted chalk,
and all around, within this hollow
firmament of shape and silence,
my eyes can turn from left to left
and see the shadows of my soul.

Black, invisible upon
the starless dome of sky, they seethe
and bubble in an unmistakable
prelude to a renaissance,
anticipating narrow dreams,
and filling them with shade and ether.


A Rare Confession

Bless me, pop, for I have sinned
against your pomp and pieties,
satisfied my lust across
the altar of your vanities,
and all that I have reaped from that
are squawling improprieties
who crawl across the kitchen floor
and toddle through their nurseries.
And pop, I must confess, at times
I've contemplated surgeries,
but I enjoy my sins too much
to disrespect my ovaries.


Sweaty Sunday

Gently ill, the ghosts are resting uncomfortably,
like tea and chocolate at the back of my throat.

And Heather is in there, as clear as she sleeps
in the book of my mind, her eyes and her skin
like tea and chocolate woven together, delicate.

The cat is inside, circling in place, holding the groove,
holding the bitterness down like milk and honey.


Greensounds

Green, the sound of mandolins
and soft, the scent of cinnamon -
alas the taste of pale ale
puts a chill between my lungs
and sets me with a phantom trail.

Dead, the swallow still returns
until, at last, the mission burns;
but where have gone the mandolins,
and where have gone the calling birds,
who sing as sweet as cinnamon?

Bright as golden pale ale,
orange blazes, smoking trails
where stones and silken feathers burn,
sifting through the ashen trees
until the calling birds return.

I remember mandolins,
recall the scent of cinnamon
and fire from the pale ale,
green with life beneath the trees
and wet with dew along the trails,
nourishing the calling birds.


Sentinels

Out of the walls
and up from the floor
the enemy comes,
the sentinels spawn -
unlimited parts
with unlimited power,
the factory builds them
from morning 'til dawn,
attaching their armor
with lasers and rivets,
mechanical beasts
with nuclear brawn -
and hate in their grey
little clockwork hearts,
wroth with the living
until they are gone.


Poison Control

Stop hitting yourself, I whined, and hit myself again,
and again, until I stopped; because I had forgotten,
In all the long distraction of hitting myself, the reason
why I had begun.

                                        And looking in the glass
I saw a cheek as red as a peeling, sunburnt child,
sobbing while his older brother sneered
stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself to his older,
wiser self in a dungy glass.

                                        I saw another cheek
without as many blisters, pink as innocence
in the months after its irrevocable loss.
And I remembered, and I hated this, the lack
of brutal symmetry, and started up again -
stopped hitting yourself, I urged, when at last it feels right.


Ash Swale

"Ash Swale", almost a river,
a toponym that seems to augur
a dryer, more defeated future
from a gentle morning'summer.


Red Spot

The oceans of Jupiter,
sleeping beneath
the ancient typhoon -
after all of this time,
the calescent gales
are barely considered
a real disruption.
They ripple and rage
across infinite seas,
they generate surges
of shimmering hydrogen;
they storm, and they pass,
and the infinite seas
have returned to placidity.


The Same Old Bad Lover's Song

I crept out of your window like a guilty spider
and noisily shuttled down to your garden,
my hand full of seeds, but with no real intention
of planting them in your irrigated soil;
I only wanted a chance to enjoy a snack
in the cool of a sunflower garden, without being
expected to give back, or to stay awake until dawn.

The dirt on my hands clung to my blue shirt,
it smeared the threads with brown and cream particles,
wet with worms from under the flowers' salty roots.
I did the smearing, because the dirt tasted
better on packaged sunflower seeds.

You watered the garden flowers at dawn,
so I dreamed of powerful monsoon rains
And woke, with mud in my teeth and my socks,
after several minutes of the gentlest assault,
coupled with curses of deep, abiding regret
from the sweetness of your heart and your soil.


Odysseus at the Last Gasp

Weep your tears with sympathy
for my corrupt integrity -
the grisly, corpse-like separations,
skin discarded through abrasions,
teeth and feet from gum and bone
disjointed, foamy hair-clumps blown
in salted mats along the shore,
mingled with Ulysses' gore.

Have mercy on the castaway -
a sheet of grass, a bed of clay,
before my courage falls to pieces
and my haggard frame releases
me, like berries from the vine
to putrefaction, past their prime.


Cool

I could never be the kind of person
certain kinds of people want to be,
to keenly wrap their hands around his leather,
run their fingers down his golden spine;
but I possess a certain quality
of stiff resilience to the kind of weather
certain kinds of people find attractive,
though it simmers them in skin and sweat.

If you could reach a hand across my brow
when I am fresh from swimming briskly through
the morning, you could find me firm and ready,
cool and steady, just as certain kinds
of people strive entire lives to be,
if you should chance to find me in my dreams.


The Author Discovers the Watermelon Margarita

O Tequila,
wait a,
wait a minute,
damn,
Tequila, how'd you,
how'd you
get so fine,
Tequila?


Hung Over, Body Scanned

Reaching out for health,
I reach with many thousands
of small, invisible hands
and eyes of mindfulness,
across the furthest reaches
of my body, of
my skin and teeth and hair.

I start from good advice
among my toes, advancing
to the fingertips
I spread apart, above
my head, across my bed,
experience the reach of
raw sensations through
the flesh that thrums between.

I reach inside my chest
and count my heartbeats,
try to time them, try
to synchronize my lungs
with them, to hear the blood
that reaches to my pale
extremities and back.

Further, caress my face,
the skin between the hairs
along my scalp, the hair
across my thighs, my arms
and genitals, before
the goose bumps rise.

A vast expanse of stomach
reaches up, and down,
and deep within its core
it rages with metabolism,
fierce machinery
of acid, wine and strife.

A sour taste between
my gums, a pinch behind
my head that reaches down
my shoulders, bends my spine
and weighs upon my ass -
I reach for these, my dear
sensations, to believe
in poison, to believe
in blood, survival in
extremis and despair.


Turtle Doves

Turtle doves squabble
on bright slopes of dusty hills -
scorched in long shadows.
____________________
Luna is a sweet little love poem, I think, for no one in particular.  Its form is pretty simple, an unbroken chain of three foot lines, something I just sort of fall into when I try to do something stream-of-consciousness like.

The Firmament doesn't rhyme, but it's pretty obviously modeled on a Petrarchan sonnet form, with the crucial distinction that its lines are four feet rather than five.  I was just trying to get my anxiety out on paper, so I guess I wasn't really thinking about form.  I certainly didn't know it was going to be fourteen lines when I started.

Amongst my writings, it rarely gets sillier than A Rare Confession.  It's a very pure case of rhyming getting totally out of control, until it forces something resembling a cracked narrative out of what was once merely an idle scribbling.  The cavalier narrator of the poem does not seem to be aware of less extreme forms of birth control, or maybe she's just really really Catholic.  I don't have all the answers here.

I'm looking at Sweaty Sunday again, and I'm really not sure I can explain to you what I thought was going on with the rhythm.  I can tell you that it is sort of a still-life, based on several elements to be found in my living room as I lay panting in the heat one afternoon.  Heather is a character in the Ursula K. Le Guin novel The Lathe of Heaven, and that's probably the only reference worth explaining.

Greensounds is a similar sort of still-life, heavily influenced by musings on California's fires and swallows and, by a tangential connection, the R.E.M. album Green.  It is a little awkward in spots, working with those repeating words, but I like it.

Sentinels is a little slight, and was inspired by an evening playing the video game X-Men Legends.  The rhythm is very particular (I was going for an "industrial" feel), hopefully evoking the tension of facing off against an endless army of killer robots.  If not, well, move along to the next one then.

Oh god, Poison Control.  I was going for profundity, which led me directly to melodrama, but hopefully the point comes across.  Structurally I was interested in doing something with longer lines (six feet here) without relying on rhymes.  It's not autobiographical or anything, but it does reflect a kind of obsessiveness in my personality.

There is an "Ash Swale" sign on my drive to work, which prompted me to look up the definition of "swale".  This led to brief musings on landscapes and climate change.  There's not much more to Ash Swale.

I like Red Spot, mainly because it taught me another fine vocabulary word, "calescent".  The image of a wave of liquid hydrogen isn't bad either, don't you think?  I mixed in some short feet with long ones, very intentionally I assure you.

If The Same Old Bad Lover's Song is anything, it's a free verse metaphor for a self-centered onanist who doesn't know how good he has it.  Well, it might also be an absolute mess.  You decide, gentle reader.

I was actually reading The Odyssey, specifically the part where Odysseus lands on the shore of the Phaiakians' island, when I wrote Odysseus at the Last Gasp.  It's another Petrarchan pseudo-sonnet, with a closer claim to authenticity than The Firmament because it rhymes.  I use the name "Ulysses" in the body of the poem itself for metrical reasons, as "Odysseus" just doesn't fit.

Cool is a full-fledged pentameter sonnet at last, though it eschews rhyming for the bolder choice of, well, not rhyming.  It's also basically a dirty joke ("stiff resilience" indeed), which I trust you won't judge me too harshly for.  All the cool kids are writing poems about erections.  For god's sake, look at Shakespeare.

Next up are two alcohol-soaked poems.  Margarita is just some drunken babbling about the miracle of fruit juice and sugar mixed with harsh tequila.  Hung Over is, obviously, a little more serious.  I found myself severely hung over after a night out drinking beer with my cousins (not margaritas, they didn't do me any harm).  I tried to manage my pain and suffering with a mindfulness technique, the body scan.  The results were mixed, much like this poem.  It's also another of those three-foot-per-line rambles I love so well.

I always feel silly writing haiku, but Turtle Doves is a fine one, if you ask me.  Like all good haiku, it was directly inspired by an observation of nature. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Reflections Following the First (Half) School Year of a Real Goddamn Teacher

I don't know how long I've been a teacher.  It's not because it's been a long enough time for me to have forgotten.  Neither has it been because of some crack philosophical musing over the meaning of words or the concept of identity.  I mostly mean that I don't know how long I've been a teacher, because the state of my life since starting grad school in January of 2010 has been deeply confusing to me.

The semester of February to June 2016 was the first time I ever held a full time teaching position in the United States.  But when you consider that I taught for nearly eight months while living in South Korea, or that I was a substitute for two years, or a lowly teaching intern before that, it is difficult to call this my "first year" as a teacher.  When you further consider that I have not yet completed teaching an entire school year, it is even more questionable; nevertheless, I can't really consider 2016/2017 my first "first year".  In this warped mind of mine, in which I am unhealthily obsessed with milestones and categories, all of this is deeply confounding.

But none of it really matters now, because I am a teacher today.  I have my own classes and curriculum and I even get paid for it.  I no longer have to explain my life to people with qualifications and caveats.  As a matter of fact, I don't have to explain anything to anyone.  I'm on summer vacation and that means no teaching until September, suckers!

But it is time, I believe, to reflect on what I have accomplished this year.  Not merely because this is a significant milestone for me, both professionally and personally; I feel I owe myself an account of my achievement.  There can be no resting on laurels: I have to make a career of this, both for my survival and for my satisfaction.  There is so much work to be done, and as the students march on it is plain that the work can never really be finished.

The really good news is that, as some have suspected, I'm pretty good at this job.  I'm not great at it yet.  I don't have the deep wells of self-confidence needed to launch myself into legendary status by force of will.  But my skills and talents are neatly attuned to the task at hand.  Whether it's researching for lessons, facilitating discussion, or building relationships with students, I have met with fine success all semester.  I've met with frustration as well, but my colleagues have indicated that they respect what I am doing, and my weary spirit has not yet flagged from any such discouragement. 

My theory of good teaching is being refined all the time, as I observe the needs of different students and try to adjust myself to them.  In fact, I've needed to be flexible, as I now teach students of virtually every age from seven to eighteen.  This is by no means an easy job, and the fact that I am enjoying myself while doing it is something like a miracle.  Pride comes easily at moments like these, and it's not unjustified.

But I have to be realistic, and I have to be critical of myself too.  As I said before, I'm not a great teacher, and whether I can append the word "yet" to that statement is still only a presumption.  I learn more about the craft every working day, but my weaknesses are apparent and they don't all have obvious solutions.

Perhaps my greatest difficulty thus far has been differentiation, or the adjustment of my lessons to meet the needs of students with different skill levels.  This is a challenge every teacher faces, because students of the same age and grade are not necessarily alike in ability.  In my case, the challenge is multiplied by the peculiar situation of my school.

The school where I teach is a charter school in a small rural community; we have a little over forty students in total, with the majority being high schoolers.  This year I taught three classes of high school, with compositions of 12th and 11th, 11th and 10th, and 10th and 9th graders.  I also taught a single middle school class composed of 8th, 7th, and 6th graders, as well as an elementary class with two 5th graders, a 4th grader, a 3rd grader, and a 1st grader.  So to begin with, every class I taught was composed of students who were already of different ages, which made striking a balance with appropriate material a constantly evolving challenge.

Complicating the problem is the relative unpredictability of their skill levels.  Students come to our school for a variety of reasons.  Some have parents looking for smaller class sizes; some have older siblings with positive experiences in our setting; some have had trouble with socialization, often in the form of bullying in harassment.  Many of them, however, come to us because they lack the skills to succeed in public school, due to learning disabilities, mental health concerns, or personal issues.

I have 5th graders who read more fluently than some of my 8th graders; I have 12th graders who are not truly literate.  Since my subject area is social studies, it is extremely difficult to teach in the traditional way if I cannot count on my students' ability to decypher simple texts.  There is only so much instructional time in the day, and I can become frustrated when I must pass over content in order to perform what I might see as "remedial" skills instruction.

My frustrations in that area, however, may hint at a more fundamental issue: my anxieties over forming working relationships of children from different class, race, gender, and sexual backgrounds from my own.  This is another challenge that all teachers must face; I would argue that is a special concern of social studies, as these factors are consistently relevant to the content of our lessons, in addition to the meta-content of a typical day in the classroom.

It's a fact that I'm a straight, white, cis-man who, despite making a spectacularly awkward and protracted entrance into the working world, has never had to live in a state of genuine poverty or deprivation.  I have my struggles, but my struggles are of a different order from those of my students who cannot relate to the arc of my life.  Likewise, it is dreadfully obvious to me that I cannot always relate to their experiences.

The issue of social class looms especially large over my door.  I have many students who live in real poverty, the kind that needs no qualification or caveat.  Some of my least accomplished readers can be found in that group, and I know that this is not an accident of fate.  Poverty disadvantages children at every stage in the educational process, gradually alienating them not only from the school environment but from the social values that promote academic success.  Then along comes the son of a wealthy professional who has been a precocious reader longer than he can remember, and it's difficult to see what basis a relationship can be formed on.  When I become angry or frustrated with a student who will not even make an attempt to do the work I have assigned, it's hard not to see the failure as mutual.

And there is a stickier patch to consider: when my frustrations spill over from the strictly professional to the personal.  Have you ever believed that a teacher simply did not like you?  You may well have been right: teachers are very capable of disliking children, particularly those who make their jobs harder.  Untangling my animosity for a student who does not know any way to relate to me other than through insults and slurs, from my obligation to educate them to the best of my ability, is as hard as it sounds.  Failing to do so can aggravate the tensions of class and race even further, as well as the old prejudice that adults often have toward children in general.

It became clear to me this year that, for all my youthful pretensions, I really am too old to fit naturally in the head space of a teenager anymore, no matter what their background.  Relating to any one of my students requires an impressive leap of imagination, one that may be neither encouraged nor welcome, and is not assured of a successful landing.  I have never been particularly good at socializing with my own peers; assuming an air of leadership and authority is not a comfortable stance for me, and when I have nightmares they are often driven by a loss of leaderahip.

A great teacher is not beyond these concerns - they are fundamental to the practice of teaching, and every teacher is always engaged with the fundamentals whether they want to be or not.  Nevertheless, I take it as a sign that I am not (yet?) a great teacher that these fundamental questions are my worst stressors.  It would not be accurate to say I have not found the solution: rather, I have not yet become fully conversant in the ever-evolving language of the eternal problem.

Some day, I will know what works and what doesn't; how to assume my role in a manner I can perform with no regrets.  My successes will grow and my failures will further my education - the mantra we all hope to establish as a solid belief, teachers as well as students.  I feel confident predicting this, because despite my struggles I am still having a great time.  I could easily go another ten rounds, however long that expression translates to in the count of years.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Poetries #6

It's hard to take poetry seriously when you're being paid to do something else.  It's also hard to take your own poetry seriously when you're reading some one else's.  I've got books by B.H. Fairchild and Rae Armantrout checked out from the library right now; reading the work of a professional is an important reminder of the vast gulf that exists between me and "them".  It's not just about skill or talent, but rather about the intuitive sense of living in the space between words, manipulating them as naturally as a bird sings in the morning, that a successful poet conveys.  It's also about skill and talent, though.

Needless to say I am easily impressed, which is both encouraging and discouraging for my own poetry.  But since I've been so neglectful of this blog while I've been working my new job, and since in the last five months I have allowed the Dreaded Backlog to resurface, it's time to put aside such small concerns as "quality" and get them the heck online.

The dates of these tiny compositions run from January to May of this year.  So I guess the backlog isn't that big, nor have I been especially productive in the poetry department.  Like I said, I've been busy!

My usual fixation with sex and depression remain a thing here, but once or twice it was happiness which drove me to scribble, and I think that's worth celebrating.


Blessings in Bed

Early on that blessed evening,
I was knocked unconscious by
the fury of your hips, your fearsome
kisses in our private room;

But truth be told, you had me at
a terrible disadvantage, dear,
from all the strength I had expended
on that blessed afternoon.


Rhapsody of Foreplay

Wine and fish, with lemon, butter, pepper;
salty with the pearls of the ocean
and as sweet as apple-flower honey,
warmer than the breath of bubbling springs.

Half asleep I taste your mouth, a fever
burning in my dreams; a sudden waking
in the body of a blazing eagle,
rising up in glory on its wings.

Dancing through the dewy morning flora,
left and right, as quick as thieving fingers,
fiercer than a hive of bees in summer
armed with fatal, suicidal stings.

Wet with pressure, live with storm and gasping
in the sturdy grasp of icy water;
never have I been so fully woken,
eager for the breezes loving brings.


Melissa

Melissa worships Death, and
Death is praying for her mother,
sweetly warm like honey
baking in the afternoon sun;
Death ascends, and
takes Melissa with her,
again and again and unto
the final generation
she takes her,
somewhere sweet and warm
to die, in veneration
of the face behind Death, the
Mother of Worship, the life of
honey, the face of
dear Melissa.


The Promise of Poetry

To find your voice
amidst the strange disorder
of your thoughts,

to hear the truth
as if within a moment
of creation,

to forge a bond
between your mind and body,
fierce and raw,

to know the devil
of your soul, the angel
in its nature,

for the price
of a sacred promise:
never look away.


But Now I Remember

I wondered why I didn't hear them,
twenty years of wondering, why
the voices in my head were silent.
And tonight, at last, I realized
the voices in my head had never
stopped their howling, their infernal
baying - I had simply, in my
unbounded arrogance, forgotten
how to listen to the hellhounds
and their voices in my head.


Old Frostwine

He lingers in the lower places, cold
as the burning sun of morning, white as a ghost,
sleeping off the wine his gracious host
provided from his vineyards in the wold.
The lights of spring advance across the hours,
bearing swirling storms of migrant birds
on gentle breezes, singing foreign words
and phrases to the lambs among the flowers,
rudely waking him with hot discord
from dreams of thawing flesh, immersed in wine.
He clings in desperation to the vine
with fingers stiff as weary oaken boards,
before submitting to a wakeful piety,
embracing nature in its wild sobriety.


Old Records

She read it from a list
of great ideas for cheap dates;
"spend an afternoon
browsing through some old records".
And I felt intoxicated,
because it hit me like a hot whiskey
that, by definition,
every record is an old one,
just another echo
of a never-ending, infinite present.
It felt so good, I had
to close my eyes to concentrate,
to kiss the girl goodnight,
and fall in love all over again.


Precog

This life will be my death, before my time;
I shall approach my end in great excess
of all the limits of cosmic speed, and just
in time to catch the eternal instant replay,
cringing with the angels in their seats.


Running Out

The future is an empty space,
expanding in my heart, and slowly
filling with the resolution
of grainy moments, slipping down;

Like bits of sand the moments race
along transparent slopes, to lowly
rest, a failing destination
that slips to grey from pale brown.


A Token of Courage

The feather in his cap was cool as ice, but red
with thunder's blood in circles all along its length;
and this was called a subtle imperfection, as
the thunder should have never given him a fight.


The Ocean Styx

So long, so insensitive;
deep in the warmth of my
pillow, I long to be
fully dissolved in a
tincture of silence, to
abdicate memory.

Bear me through currents of
dreams, slow, relentlessly,
high on the delicate
wings of an albatross,
further than any have
dared to be taken.

So long, and so quietly
passes the journey, and
this is according to
plan; I am rich among
travelers, fortunate
here among galaxies.


Mayday

The spear becomes a shield at
the most inopportune of times.
An army captain contemplates
the rank disorder of the lines,
and gives the men their share of water,
whiskey, butterscotch and limes -
they burrow down and bear the winter,
chilling slow beneath the waxy pines.


Abecedarian

Aphids, bumblebees,
chef’s delight -
every fly
gives honey
in June.
Keep lemon
meringues nearby,
orange peels,
queued rinds.
Softly, they
utter vanities:
white xanthan,
yeasty zopf.


Mind in Body Blues

Never enough ice in the bathtub, never
enough soap in the water,
never enough time to cool down,
to clean up, to get wet and
dry, cold in a smooth, still breeze -
there’s never enough of this water
to slake me, there’s never enough
of the shivers to keep me in roses.


Miller's Bullshit

You amateur scientists, studying quantum
mechanics, debating the odds of a universe
perfectly suited to life - could it be?

Could it be we exist in the universe, yes,
and we also exist in a second, a third,
and a fifth, but (apparently) not in a fourth?

_______________

Evidently, I wrote Blessings and Rhapsody on the same day, which must have been a hell of a day.  Is it a thing where chronically lonely people compensate with fantasies of being exhaustively oversexed?  I wonder what the psychology is on that.  I was trying to be more verbose with Rhapsody, feeling that my poetry of late (or maybe just all of my poetry) has been somewhat lacking in the "color" that comes from a wild vocabulary.  Somehow that led to food entering the mix, which may be your thing, or may not be.  Not sure it's mine.

"Melissa" is a pretty name, coming from the Ancient Greek for "honeybee" (though that's only one of the reasons I find it pretty).  I think I started writing Melissa pretty much just to work with the name, but very quickly went into something dark and symbol-riddled.  It's got kind of a Persephone vibe to it, though it isn't exactly Persephone's story.  I like the slightly mythic tone it takes on.

So, The Promise of Poetry makes me blush a little.  I started working my new job as a teacher in February, and I was asked what elective I'd like to teach in the semester that was starting up.  The first thing that came to mind was creative writing, with an emphasis on poetry, and I got really excited about it.  Thinking I might have to dive into the teaching pretty quickly, I decided that in addition to collecting some poetry for teaching example, I should come up with a work of my own to illustrate my philosophy on poetry.  So , I wrote The Promise of Poetry, and shortly thereafter was told that for my elective I'd actually be "teaching" Study Hall.  Not that there's any connection between those two events...

But Now I Remember is the product, essentially, of a rush of anxiety the night before my first real teaching day.  The feeling was so acute, it felt at the time like I'd never really been anxious before.  I don't hear literal voices in my head, but when I'm anxious I do feel like I'm being accosted by what I imagine people might be saying.  So I tried to convey that feeling of being accosted by the invisible or unreal.

And what have we here?  A sonnet!  Old Frostwine was inspired by the spectacular imagery I saw on my drive to work, up highway 99 in the very early morning.  I was deliberately reaching for the mythic again, this time for some kind of sleepy Dionysus-type guy.  It was very early, after all.  I think it's one of my better recent sonnets, very pretty in its evocation of mists and farms.

I wrote Old Records on the night of my birthday, after having driven down the 99 again to visit some friends of mine in Corvallis.  I was drinking cinnamon spice rooibos, listening to kick-ass soul records on the radio, and generally feeling like the king of the goddamned world.  I felt so good, I evidently felt like I could write about falling in love, even though I don't recall an actual romantic prospect at the time.  It just didn't matter when I was motivated by such a relentlessly positive feeling.  I think my friends found me annoying that night; they didn't seem to think my "all records = old records" formula was as profound as I did. 

Precog finds me in a lower mood again, contemplating early death.  The worst part of death, according to my anxiety, is the whole "life flashing before your eyes" business.  I'd be fine with skipping that, going straight to the oblivion.  Except I really wouldn't, I guess.

Running Out is one of two poems I wrote on the white board in my classroom during study hall, the other one being a misfire that I have since consigned to the memory hole.  This one's mostly a rhyming exercize, and I admit that resolution/destination is not an especially dazzling pair. 

I think that A Token of Courage grew deliberately out of an effort to make something out of hexameters, on which front it is technically a success.  It's another of those mythic fragments, a small piece of a story about a daring warrior plucking a feather from a Thunderbird.  I got this idea in my head: would it be considered a flaw in the performance of the myth if the hero did not get away clean?  It kind of rung with me.

I don't do drugs, apart from alcohol and caffeine of course.  Poems like The Ocean Styx are my half-hearted attempts at inducing something like a trip, not necessarily psychedelic so much as sleepy.  Yes, that's it.  I'm trying to put myself to sleep.  It's not always easy.  Dactyls and anapests seem to be the way to go.

Mayday, Abecedarian, and Mind in Body Blues were all written, more or less, in the middle of sleepless nights.  They are more literal attempts at combating insomnia, I suppose.  Abecedarian in particular is barely more than an exercise (I think you can see the parameters of it quite easily), but I still like it a lot.  I worked harder on it than I do on some real poems, which probably wasn't helping with the quest for sleep...

Miller's Bullshit is exactly that, mixed with quantum physics.  Just a fun little lark.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Album Review - To Pimp a Butterfly

When I started collecting vinyl a few months ago like the goddamned hipster I am, I had a few guidelines.  I would avoid paying for music I already owned, endeavor to include both contemporary and "classic" albums, and attempt to "expand my musical horizons" with genres and artists I had not previously paid close attention to.  Those guidelines led me to the hip-hop section, and they go a long way toward explaining how Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly found itself in my living room, in all its twelve-by-twelve glory.

I'd like to write something original and thoughtful about this album, but its dense lyricism and evocative sounds require a deep knowledge of the context of both hip hop music and the social environment of black communities in the modern United States.  As it turns out, being a twenty-something white dude with a few Outkast mp3s and an abiding fascination with the Roots, doesn't quite qualify me to speak authoritatively on either.  The sky is blue, the rain makes you wet.

So the best place to start, I suppose, is with what this record means to me.  Butterfly is a beautiful record, musically and emotionally.  It's relatable, even to someone like me, when Lamar raps and recites about the weight of society and out-of-control circumstances on one's mental health.  I've spun both discs nearly a dozen times in the past several weeks, learning more each time, both from the record and my not-infrequent trips to genius.com to clarify the meaning of verses and gather much-needed background information.

Maybe it goes without saying that I would need to do some homework to begin making sense of, much less really enjoy, a strong political hip-hop album.  Or maybe it doesn't - but what does need to be said is that Kendrick Lamar and myself speak very different languages.  When it comes to understanding rap, it's not a matter of just keeping up with the syllables.  African American English is replete with unique vocabularies, constructions, and an enduring sense of irony that does not translate into white or "standard" English.  Naturally, how could I expect to listen once and just get it?

More than a language barrier or a culture barrier, there's an experience barrier between myself and Butterfly.  If the music weren't so compelling, handing out funk and soul with equal measures of drive and poetry, the experience of this album would be incomprehensible to me.  How to fathom the depth of survivor's guilt and hypocrisy expressed in "Hood Politics" or "The Blacker the Berry"?  Not without effort.  The swagger of "King Kunta" illustrates the contradictory dynamics of success and oppression, a state embodied in the aspirations and reversals of black men and women.  And yes, I looked these songs up on genius.com before I felt comfortable making any kind of statement about them.  I am still learning how to listen to this music.

For me this album is an education, but for its intended audience it is a view of life, another contribution in a body of culture that is both familiar and increasingly alive.  The emotions on this album aren't just strong, they are expansive, as Lamar leads the listener on a whirlwind tour of rage, joy, hope, and depression, without letting any of it settle into a muted schwa.  That's the real magic of a record like this, that it can embody so completely a full suite of feelings and ideas in eighty minutes of sound.

And controversy?  Why, of course there's controversy.  Every successful hip-hop record is controversial simply for being what it is.  The attacks on police brutality and the insidiousness of white power are central to the message: you can't separate them from whatever content on Butterfly may be "apolitical".  The apolitical is beside the point, as is the ongoing, facile debate over why white people can't use racial slurs if black people are going to insist on reclaiming them.  Sure, that makes it somewhat difficult for me to sing along like I might to some one else's songs; but that only raises the question, why do I feel the need to sing along anyway?  There's so much more to gain just by listening.  If you're scandalized by Butterfly's politics, you've got a lot of listening to do.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

I Don't Know Where I Began

I really did not mean to leave this idle until May.  I'm not sure why I wanted it to go like that, or if I did want it, or if there's really any answer beyond laziness.  But I did.  I have things to say, so I guess it's time to say them.

Seeing as my last post was in late January, I have about four months of good news to condense into a few lines, for those who read this and wish to know what the state of my life is.

The best news is that I have achieved a small measure of economic security, and have done so by acquiring what is probably the closest thing to a dream job I've ever had.  In February I started working as a full-time teacher at a small charter school in rural Oregon, just outside of Salem.  Shortly thereafter, I rented a two room apartment in downtown Salem, where I reside to this very day.  Thus from the jaws of dejection and defeat, I have been plucked by good fortune to something very like victory.  In the big scheme of things, I've become one of the lucky ones.

What a change, huh?  And no record of it on The Wave Function Junction for four months.  I must be busy with the new job to have been so negligent.

Well, I have been busy.  Teaching social studies is hard work, especially if you want to do it right.  But I haven't been as busy as all that.  Whole weekends pass by where I mostly lie on the couch and engage in distraction rather than creation.  I scribble a poem now and then, and I do keep up on creating assignments for my students.  Very occasionally, I have even found time for exercize.  But it would be a stretch too far to say I'm at the top of my game.  In a way that I haven't quite perceived before, I can see that I am still sick.

Since looking my depression in the face for the first time over a year ago, I have become aware of what it means to be mentally ill.  Back then, it meant idle thoughts of killing myself, against a backdrop of endless waiting for a natural death.  It doesn't mean that so much anymore.  The sertraline pills have done their work of evening me out, I suppose.  And to be entirely fair, I have learned so much in the past year, about myself and about the workings of the mind, I have begun to heal myself from the worst wounds.  The world has become survivable. 

But as I said, I still feel sick.  I still feel cut off from the world, cut off from passion and love.  I can feel these things, and it is joyous when a connection is established by communication, or by physical presence.  But in my inevitable retreat to solitude, I love without anyone to love, and I despair.  Other people see it in my eyes, but they do not see the cause.

Maybe it's just perpetual dissatisfaction?  Maybe it's never enough to have a job and a home, I also need a raise and a vacation and a woman to sleep with me and why not a shiny new everything?  Maybe it doesn't matter.  I'm better and I'm getting better.  As I have reminded my friends, and as I struggle to remind myself, the world inevitably changes with time. 

And I have the time.  I have admitted it today, and that's why you're reading this.  I'm still (unbelievably) not yet thirty, I'm young and reasonably healthy, and getting hungrier every day.  Who'd have thought a meal of life could cure the blues?  Well, it can't.  To do that, I have to finally brave the bureaucracy and figure out how to transform my benefits package into actual health insurance, and get some damn therapy in me (and maybe about a million more pills, who knows).  Perhaps discovering the true love of my life will have a positive effect, too. 

The world has become survivable, and it turns out I'm sort of a survivor.  That's the news as of May 2016.  Hopefully it gets more interesting from here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Poetries #5

Poetry, poetry, all I do is poetry... and not enough of that, if you ask me.  But I've got another line up of beauties here, and it's time for them to shine.  If you want to call it shining, anyway; they do have their own sort of luster.

Having exhausted my backlog in the last Poetries post, I can say that all of these have been written quite recently.  They're fresh, and perhaps less labored-over than some of the poems I've posted before.  Not that I've ever been that much of a perfectionist, but it may be I want to slow down again in the future.  We shall see.  Some of them are silly, and some of them are less silly; I hope they're all enjoyable in their own way.

There are only fourteen of them, but the last one is extra long, so we'll call it fifteen, why not?  As always, I'll yammer on at the end.  Some of these poems have a kind of dark sexual edge to them (oh, so edgy, ooh), so watch out for that; some others have only a light sexual dusting.  The poem Sustenance may also be triggering to people with a history of abuse or eating disorders, so here's a warning ahead of time.

_______________

Beard

I can feel it grow, like wire
through the edges of my face,
and every day it makes me older
with conspicuous lack of grace.

I scramble to evade its trap:
my youthful smile it would eclipse
and make me nigh un-kissable,
with itchy chin and whiskered lips.

The answer is apparent, though
it pains my heart to make the pledge -
the victory takes violence,
a slashing from the razor's edge.

There was a time, I'm almost sure,
when I was much too young to grow
a beard like this, so stiff and scratchy:
oh, age is such a cutting blow!


Garlic Lover

Once I ate a bulb of garlic,
roasted whole
with oil and salt for flavor,
sesame and pepper,
warm and savory, a surge of umami
wrapped in paper -
but I guess I should have known
(or should have guessed)
that it was all a dangerous mistake.


From Her Lips

Even when I was a selfish boy,
I would have gladly given my power of speech
to learn the kisses in her mother tongue,
receive instructions in her native grammar,
and a lesson in the arts of Lithuania.


La Papa

A decision is forthcoming:
white smoke rises from the chapel,
and the world nods as one, they know,
 at last, I have elected,
I have been selected
and I have accepted.

Now the flock can breathe my smoke
with open nostrils
and thank religion for the privilege;
now the saints in heaven will admire
my cowboy hat.

But someone has to find my hat,
I do not pay
myself enough for this,
I am become a very busy man.

My regnal name is loaded
with the riches of the ages,
but still
I do not pay
myself enough for this -
I could have made a living
blowing smoke
in any old place,
you know.

I could have been
a real fine potato.


Never Send a Poet

The only real irony in life
regarding the state we know as "bliss"
is that the poet, should
they be so lucky,
never
could describe it.
Blessed by holy flesh,
the heat of dandelion wine,
the blinding music on a whisper's lips,
their thought becomes as fallow ground,
their hand as nothing new
to write regarding
"bliss".


Darling

Darling is a coil of rope
around my throat,
as tender as a ribbon
and slender
like the veins she gently teases.

Darling burns,
so slowly;
but
first
she
melts in a pool of magma.

Darling kills me deathly every night,
as painful is the genesis of life.


Cruelty

My pet,
the fire is restrained
and I
shall see it through its life,
you bet.
It feeds beneath my roof
on carbon,
never satisfied,
my pet;
and should it gnaw the ceiling,
I
would drown the embers, soak
them wet.
If you should make the same
mistake,
would anybody blame me,
pet?


A Ruined Mess

Sweet, merciful
hand of shame -
handling me with
ire and blame,
a curse upon
my wretched name!
But life continues
all the same -
considering what
my friends became,
these kinks of mine
are (mostly) tame.


The Natural Aristocracy

Time was,
all a boy had to
do
to impress his buddies
was own the newest toys
before their parents
could afford the same -

which is to say,
the boy in question
really didn't have to
do
anything, but ask.


Jeans

You shouldn't come to me in dreams,
it isn't faithful -
even if you play it coy,
and restrict yourself to cruel teases,
I doubt your lover would approve.
Breaking homes
is not my business,
even if the taste is tempting,
so I'll be waking up now
to wash the kisses out of my mouth.


Sustenance

The Chef is famished; she refrains
from tasting any of the courses
she prepares with her own thin hands.

She loves this hungry man, and always
keeps him happy, warm and fat;
she wishes he would starve to death.

Another someone feeds the Chef
in secret, so is it any wonder
when the kitchen is gutted by flames?


Seventeen in Reno

But is he really English after all?
Every time he opens his mouth, I'm getting
less and less convinced that this is so.
And everyone else in this crowd is over fifty,
drinking in the name of the summer of love
from cocktails served by breasty, long-legged girls,
smiling bright with braces on their teeth
and bits of glitter dusted around their nipples.
The banner called it "Rock and Roll", and my father
nodded, adding sagely, "this is history -
this English guy was a really great rocker
when I was younger than you -" and my eyes are fixed
on her pink nipples, but my ears are listening,
and if he says he's English, I won't argue.


Crooked Scales

Market money, weighed in heavy
gold and silver, laid in piles,
overwhelms the weight of justice
to the joy of Crooked Scales.

Crooked Scales and his Justice
keep the pieces in position:
debtors on the brink of ruin,
patients with expensive treatments,

native people out of sight, and
Mexicans and blacks in prison.
Crooked Scales has the people
paying for their subjugation,

subsidizing the protection
of the friends of Crooked Scales,
who will never come to justice
while the band continues playing,

'til the chairs  have been diminished
and the only person seated
is the soul of greed incarnate,
the contorted Crooked Scales.


The Weeping Mountain

Misty skirts about her ankles,
hand in woolen glove;
she is the kind of mountain girl
a valley boy could love.

With hair as gay as autumn leaves
and eyes as bright as snow,
her beauty is a legend with
the valley folk below.

Her tears of laughter, in the morning
when the clouds are grey,
awake the flowers from her doorstep
to the valley, far away -

her tears of everlasting sorrow
when the night is dim,
flood the river, where the valley
people buried him.

In bygone days she sang a tune
that echoed from her roots,
and so inspired a lover from
the valley's doomed pursuit.

A giantess, she truly was:
her arms embraced the sky!
And when she held him to her breast,
the valley boy could fly;

across the great expanses of
the mountain maiden's heart,
above the wide terrain, of which
the valley formed a part.

The mountain maid could see the earth
in all its awful size,
reflected by the starlight in
her valley lover's eyes;

she loved him from the moment when
he climbed the highest fir,
as much or more intensely as
the valley boy loved her.

And through the living wilderness
he walked with her for days,
the giant girl enraptured by
her valley lover's praise.

He promised her a country wedding,
dances through the hills
and a honeymoon festooned in wreaths
 of valley daffodils -

"I'll only fetch the preacher, have
him meet us at the church;
you know the one, it's shaded by
the valley's silver birch."

So down he ran with lightning speed,
the grace of youthful years,
and the mountain maiden filled the valley
with her joyful tears.

But even tears of joy from her
could raise the waters high;
when last the boy had come that way,
the valley bridge was dry,

but now he found it rocked by foam
and creaking from the stress.
The valley river surged beneath him,
tossed him to his death.

The bells announced his funeral
and killed the maiden's dreams;
she cried with loss and misery,
and filled the valley's streams.

Today the weeping mountain's river
floods in darkest night,
but only when the girl recalls
her valley lover's flight.

_______________

Beard and Garlic Lover are prime examples of the sort of poem that I consider funny, which may not say much for my sense of humor, but as long as I'm having fun, right?  Both are very true to life, and believe me: eating a whole garlic bulb is a terrible idea.  Don't do it.  You will regret it for days.

From Her Lips is a poem about my first girlfriend, who was born in Lithuania and about whom I was crazy.  It's not exactly an original concept to equate a foreign language with some kind of exotic romance, but it suited my mood at the time.  There's something I like about the idea of five lines of iambic pentameter, I don't know why that form doesn't have a name.  Five by five, right?

Then there's La Papa, which is free verse and not quite stream of consciousness, but pretty bizarre regardless.  The title is of course a contrived multilingual pun: "el Papa" means "Pope" in Spanish, while "la papa" means "potato".  This poem is, therefore, about a Pope who may or may not also be a potato.  With a cowboy hat.  And a propensity to committing various frauds?  It's a curious situation.  I had a lot of fun working out the line breaks on this one; it came pretty easily, but I spent more time than I might have getting it right.

Sometimes poetry is a vain attempt to express the inexpressible, and my vain attempt to express that is titled Never Send a Poet.  "The blinding music on a whisper's lips" is kind of a cool line, but this poem is still too coherent to really represent the gulf between what we want to say and what we end up muttering softly.

After that are three poems about some darker aspects of sexuality.  Darling was an attempt to write something that had a real dangerous bite.  The first stanza is probably the most successful in that regard, with its reference to breath play, but each one references a kind of sexual fetish.  I would stress here that writing about something doesn't necessarily mean it's part of my own life, but other than that I have no comment on what sort of thing I'm into.  Cruelty sort of "discovered itself" halfway through the writing; I had the idea of using "my pet" as a refrain, and sort of arrived at a theme as I kept working with it.  Naturally, that poem is about some kind of manipulative monster.  Finally, A Ruined Mess is about kinks, and kinkshaming, and feeling ashamed of one's own kinks.  The best that can be said for a good, honest kink, I think, is that it's perfectly fine in private.  Writing dimeters is kink of tricky, especially when they rhyme, but it's a neat exercise.

The best thing about The Natural Aristocracy is the conspicuous emphasis placed on the word "do".  Other than that, it feels a little stilted to me, and I'm not sure what purpose it serves.  It's got a message about... social class?  immaturity?  both?  Something like that.

Jeans is another sexy-guilty poem, about dreaming an erotic encounter with someone who is otherwise attached.  Have I done this?  Why of course I have.  I assume everyone has.  Right?  Of course, a dreamer isn't usually so fastidious in resisting temptation as the protagonist of this poem.  Why the title?  In the most recent dream I'd had of this type, the girl was really rocking some jeans.  It seemed like a sexy title.

Sustenance is a pretty easy metaphor for domestic abuse.  It grew out of a conversation I'd had with a friend a few years back about emotional feeding, a concept I've been thinking about ever since.  There's also a reference to eating disorders and other issues of body image.  The last stanza isn't quite as strong, but I wanted it to end with some measure of justice.

Seventeen in Reno is a true story, hand to god.  My dad took me to see Dave Mason in concert at a hotel in Reno when I was seventeen, and there were absolutely half-naked waitresses there.  I don't really remember if there was glitter where I said there was, but it's my memory and I can embellish it as I please.  As to Mr. Mason's ethnicity, I am satisfied that he really is English, but we bought a live album after the show that's been on my hard drive ever since, and I have to say his accent doesn't really show it.  This is another of my occasional unrhymed sonnets, pseudo-epic forms suited for pseudo-epic events. 

If any poem here has a message, it's Crooked Scales, a hideous screech at capitalism and the corruption of the justice system.  I consider its lack of rhyming a weakness, but the attempt at rhyme felt like it was only getting in the way.  I derived the name of the central character (sort of an embodiment of the capitalist order) from a certain Supreme Court Justice, whom it would be very unfair to single out by name.  The whole system is guilty.

Last is The Weeping Mountain, part of my ongoing fascination with long-ish narrative ballads.  It's the third I've written in the last few months, after all.  It's a sad little story about a (fake) local legend concerning an unlucky boy and his lover, who may actually be a mountain.  How does a boy love a mountain?  With all his heart of course, but it's also possible that she's simply an enormous girl.  I only put the last six stanzas in satisfactory form today; I was having a lot of trouble getting them right on paper. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

How Little Pyroraptor Saved the Season

An ancient night in long ago December
loomed across the forest like a fog,
and dinosaurs of every size and color
shivered under frozen leaf and log.

The winter sapped the animals of strength,
and each despaired of ever being warm;
but hope was struck by lightning in the distance
from a Late Cretaceous thunderstorm.

A flame was spotted in the eastern mountains,
pulsing with a lively orange glow,
yet none would dare approach the peaks, except
the fire thief, her feathers white as snow.

She told the prehistoric animals
that huddled in the icy forest trees,
“Prepare a pit to hold the distant fire;
I’ll bring it back to heat our homes with ease!”

As Pyroraptor journeyed through the woods
she left her footprints in the snow beneath,
and clutched a sturdy branch of verdant holly
tightly with her fierce, determined teeth.

She deftly climbed the distant mountain slopes
with claws for gripping, movements sure and quick,
while leaping up between the snow-capped rocks
in search of fire to light the holly stick.

The promised flames were near extinguished from
the mountain’s only westward facing slope,
but embers from a patch of withered branches
offered Pyroraptor’s greatest hope.

“Alas,” the little fire thief declared,
“I’ve climbed too far and traveled much too high:
although my legs may speed me to my friends,
the branch will be consumed if I should try.”

She set the verdant holly branch aside
and looked around the mountain in dismay,
when lucky chance revealed a hollowed trunk
which, with a push, might make a decent sleigh.

Of course our Pyroraptor knew the risk,
but just as well she had compelling reason;
and so determined that she had no choice,
except to do her best to save the season.

So Pyroraptor took her holly branch
to stick it swiftly in the glowing coals,
and when the branch was fully lit, she leaped
into the crude toboggan’s dugout holes.

Down and down the trunk was sliding soon,
with Pyroraptor riding in the front,
the flaming brand of holly held aloft
in triumph for this daring downhill stunt.

And in the woods, the fire pit was dug
by Iguanodons and other dinosaurs,
while tinder, sticks, and grass were fetched for fuel
by smaller mammals, birds, and pterosaurs.

The storm grew worse, and many animals
fell into deep depression and despair -
but gazing out toward the eastern mountains,
a watchful Martinavis took the air.

Afar he spied a speeding orange glow,
and burst into a loud and hopeful song:
“the fire thief is coming down the mountain,
the fire thief will shortly be along!”

And shortly, Pyroraptor’s makeshift sleigh
was sliding fast toward its destination,
weaving nimbly ‘tween the pines and firs
to bring the forest creatures their salvation.

The log slowed down, and Pyroraptor sprang
to bring on foot her precious holly torch,
and reached the forest clearing none too soon -
the feathers on her snout were being scorched!

“Hurry Pyroraptor!” cried the bird
that saw the sleigh approaching from the hills,
“the pit is dug, the pile of wood is ready,
so throw the torch and save us from these chills!”

The holly branch was up in roaring flame,
and Pyroraptor gave a mighty throw -
the logs and tinder soon were burning, while
the hero cooled her feathers in the snow.

Though all about the northern winds were fiercely
blowing ice and snow across the land,
the flame from Pyroraptor’s log of holly
warmed the forest creatures as she’d planned.

The Hadrosaurs made merry trumpet calls
while squads of Spinolestes jumped and danced,
And every creature hailed the fire thief
with jolly wreaths of green coniferous plants.

They wassailed through the dark and ancient night
for Pyroraptor and her glorious deed,
and woke a sleeping hive of Melittosphex,
begging honey for a brew of mead.

So Pyroraptor and her forest neighbors
passed the winter happy, safe, and warm;
the days grew long, another year began,
a spring devoid of prehistoric storms.