Writing poetry is a diverse exercise. Sometimes you have a feeling or idea that you just have to get out however you can. Sometimes you have a theoretical approach you want to try out. Sometimes, your brain is just in a really weird place. I write with a number of goals in mind, and sometimes I can succeed in one while failing miserably at others. But I hope I'm growing, because I've come to have a deeper understanding of my own work. These are my most successful poems from approximately June of 2010 to February of 2011, a time when I learned many things and experienced great changes in my personal life.
There are fewer here than in the last entry: the next several poems form a single unit in my mind, and I'd rather hold them off for the next round.
Sideways, Under, or Above
How high did you fly?
You said you were never airborne;
Well, why did you lie?
You said you were under orders
And you couldn't overcome them,
Sideways, under, or above them,
There was no way out of there.
What did he see in you,
What do you want to do,
What did he promise you,
Where are you going to?
You might walk the world forever,
Would you ever walk that far?
Where were you today?
You said he was underhanded;
Well, where will you stay?
You said you were undecided,
You were somewhere in the ocean,
Sideways, under, or above him,
You were stuck inside his skull.
The last undying girl seduced by life
Was taken from the forest in the night;
In wood and earth she lived apart from time,
And spoke alike to oak and fir and pine
Of fire, lightning, flood and pouring rain,
Yet how the forest and the girl remained.
As one came walking through the buzzing woods
She spied him, and between the trees she stood
In waiting, watching at his every move,
Until he came upon the frigid pool
And placed aside his dirty walking clothes;
He rubbed his hands, and held his breath, and dove.
She watched him swim, and watched him come to shore
Exhausted, stunned, and frozen to his core;
She saw him stand and gasp in vain for air
And run those trembling fingers through his hair,
But soon he left behind those icy stones
And left her, dying, shaking through her bones
She lived a final lifetime's worth of years
In cities built of iron beams and tears;
She cried, and tried to find the one she knew,
But never found him; close her evening drew,
And soon was laid to rest in mournful death,
The last undying girl's immortal breath.
Ode to Chipmunk
Little chipmunk, do not run
But stay beside the fire pit
And no one here will do you harm;
Your being here is cause for joy,
Your living is a cause for hope
That we ourselves may yet enjoy
The freedom that we overlook;
Little chipmunk, do not flee
Before the flame and blowing smoke:
We have them both in our control.
By the Fire
We gather here to burn these
For the sake of our desires,
Planks of wood and logs and other things
Consumed within the fire
While we sit and stare upon the flames
In silence, we're inspired
As we sit and feel our faces burnt
Alive around the fire.
I can't help it,
I can't stop it
I am coming
Down the highway,
You are small, you
Are not moving
Fast enough to
Get away; I
Think I may have
Run you down, I
Think I may have
Broken you, and
Now you cannot
Broken and no
I can't help it,
I am coming,
You aren't moving.
The words have never come easily,
And the people ambling down the street
Have never been more inscrutable;
I think the last one wore a broken dress shoe
And his toes were touching the sidewalk grime,
But he didn't seem to notice it at the time.
What the Older Woman Said to Me
An older woman said to me
She had a pretty tale to tell
About a kind of happy world
Across the universal sea.
"A heaven is an airy place
Above the peaks and clouds and stars
Where everyone is open-eyed
And floats around in empty space."
"Send me there at once," I said,
"I cannot stand another day
Of waiting in a little box
Until the day when I am dead."
"A heaven is a lofty earth,"
She said to me, and then she left,
And I have never earned the right
To land in such a lovely berth.
My happiness is just a dream,
My sorrow is the same, a waking
Nightmare dreamt throughout the night
And lived without lucidity,
The softness of a gentle skin
Is gone, as it had never been,
Had never been a loving touch,
Had never been a chilling wind,
A presence pressing on my chest
And pressing on my face a kiss
Evaporates into the air
Come morning; I may have no rest
In neither day nor darling night
Because my heart upsets my mind
And keeps my life a waking dream,
An emptiness of sense and sight;
Behold my heart upon my door:
It will not beat forever, for
It waits until a dream comes true
And will not let me sleep before.
Sideways is an odd poem for me because I had the rhythmic idea for it long before I decided what kind of story the words were going to tell. I think that story is still pretty open ended. There is another stanza to it, but it wasn't very good, so I ended up cannibalizing parts of it to improve the third stanza. Flexibility is key here.
I wrote Undying Girl under a peculiar set of influences. For one, I had just read Tom Shippey's book, The Road to Middle Earth. In it, Shippey mentions some speculation by J.R.R. Tolkien about fairy tales. The main idea is that stories about elves and fairies often have in common the theme of a human being seduced away from mortal lands to a place without death and time, because death and time are always around us. The speculation was that if elves and fairies existed, and if they told stories about us, then their stories would likely be about going off to the mortal world and suddenly becoming bound the passage of time. That is, more or less, exactly the premise of my poem.
My other main influence was a camping trip with some friends to the head of the McKenzie river. There's a beautiful blue pool where the water comes out from the ground, and the pool itself is nearly inaccessible (you basically have to climb down a cliff) and very, very cold. It provided the visuals in my mind: if I were better at this, you could see it more clearly as you read the poem. Anyway, I don't consider this one an unqualified success. The rhyming is terrible, but I intended to do this one in "heroic verse" and I wasn't going to let the pain of a few half-rhymes stand in my way.
Ode to Chipmunk and By the Fire were both written on that same trip. I like Chipmunk a lot, because it constantly threatens to rhyme but rarely does: that was actually intentional, whereas the bad rhyming on Undying Girl was just bad luck. Fire has a dash of irony in it, and irony is just delicious.
The Collision was kind of a thrill to write, because I was determined to continue writing it until I reached an end point that seemed natural with the meter. The trick is that a short trochaic meter almost always anticipates another line, so writing it (and hopefully, reading it) was similar in sensation to riding a runaway train. Unfortunately, it's based on a true event. As I was driving from Eugene to San Francisco on my way home for the summer, I saw a bird fly low in front of my car, and I'm about 90% sure that I hit it. I wrote the poem that night, because I couldn't stop thinking about the bird. There's not much you can do when you're going seventy miles an hour down the freeway and something pops up only a car length ahead of you, but I still felt bad about it.
"Fragment" is not a title, it's a description. I have no idea why or when I wrote it or what it was supposed to be. I only know it's from the same time as these because it's in the same color ink. But oddly enough, I like it. I assume it's a poem, so here it is.
Last fall I was student teaching, and I didn't do a lot of poetry writing as a result. But then I met a girl, and meeting girls has a way of getting that poetry impulse poppin'. I've already posted most of those poems, but there are a couple of others that weren't exactly a part of the project. Older Woman was written more or less immediately after the break up, and Waking Dream at a few months removed. In fact, it's less about any specific relationship and more about relationships in general. The ending was originally much more depressing, but then I smacked myself for being silly and wrote something a little closer to how I actually felt.