What's this? A new series, a new number one? A re-branding, as it were? A gritty re-boot?
With twenty posts entitled "Poetry Jam", and beginning to type out the twenty first (that's this one here), I started thinking about the name. And as anyone who knows me knows, I'm generally terrible at naming things. Or at least, they know that I think I am. And truth be told, I've been thinking that "Poetry Jam" is a silly thing to call these posts for a while now. When I email poems to my friends for comment, however, I usually write "Poetries" in the subject line. Frankly, I feel like that's a better title, one that is more unique to my sensibilities. So that's what I'm calling these posts now, though I won't be going back to change the previous twenty. Hence, the re-numbering of the series.
These poems date from March to May of 2015, apart from the last one, Twice, which is from January. I held it back from the last post because I felt it was a little too explicitly erotic. But as I've grown more comfortable in that realm, I found myself less embarrassed by it, so I decided I may as well include it here now. Be warned though, it's fairly graphic. The rest are not especially shocking, but they do get intensely personal, and in a couple of cases political. I was still feeling quite depressed in these months, though there are a few signs of optimism to be found.
Investigation of the Well
There isn't much to tell -
the poor, misguided boys
went swimming in the well.
Their parents thought they fell,
surprised by some sharp noise.
But as far as I can tell,
the boys themselves were yelling
from the simple joys
of swimming in the well.
They missed the warning bells
and never heard their noise
or what they had to tell;
the river drowned the dell
and didn't spare the boys.
There isn't much to tell,
their feet stuck in the well.
Paintings of Saints
That's the man up on the wall,
looking down with eyes of paint
and a genial shadow of a smile;
he's the one they call a saint.
Money has it he'll be hanging
in the family room for years
beyond our living memory -
maybe this is what he fears?
If I were him, I'd like to forget
my indiscretions, slights and stinks
that don't get better in the light
(maybe this is why he drinks?)
But he's the man who paid their mortgage,
helped the family sort their books,
and brought the iron hammer of justice
on the heads of real crooks.
You see, he's earned his portrait here,
he bought that halo in his hair
with kindness, endless charity -
the sort of thing a saint should wear.
But every time I waste my breath
when he lies wasted on a cot,
and when he laughs at my success
without a hint of care or thought,
I long to tear that painting down
and suffocate that impish grin
with charcoal from a fire pit
and several pints of flaming gin.
I'd hate to hurt the real man,
who felt as well as dealt me pain -
but I would do such violence
to the passive image of a saint.
Free Range Vision
She has eyes like animals,
and no one knows what makes them move:
an independent consciousness?
An automatic vital force?
A sudden noise?
She cannot explain the way
her eyes can move about the room,
for even when she’s sitting still
they never stop their soft patrol.
They pad across the carpet, slowly
picking through the coarsest fibers,
singling out the choicest patterns.
They climb the curtains,
feel the honey comforts of the fabric,
warm in the sun.
She can’t say how, but still her eyes
can open windows and escape
into the whispering forest.
but it doesn’t change the fact that they can.
She can’t explain their loyalty,
but puppies guard their mistress’s bed
and eyes return to heads
her eyes return like animals
to curl in their dens
they hibernate until the morning.
She can’t explain what makes them move,
but she can always live with that.
Half of you go out the door –
help me up and out the window.
Someone’s coming through the back,
because I wasn’t sly enough
to cover my distinguished tracks.
As few of you that stayed behind,
I’ll need you all to keep me going:
one step, two steps, faster than
my never tiring persecution,
closing faster as I run,
repeating every step of mine,
pulsing with this life of mine
that ought to be inside my chest.
Help me down into the streets,
I have to move, to keep escaping,
grasping at the present breath
before my life arrives as death.
I carry an artifact here, in my pocket,
a powerful object engraved with your name
and a message: it ticks when I wind it, it breaks
if I drop it, it snaps like a heart in its frame.
If it’s sending to me, I appreciate that,
but I’m losing the message (I guess) and the absence
is digging this hole. As it empties, it seems
like I'm destined to send in a negative balance.
Why are people so surprised
when history reveals its weights?
Don't they know
we live in the United States?
Can you remember when this land
was free for people who are brown?
I'm not surprised
that cops are gunning women down.
I know you think Jim Crow has died,
could swear you've seen the graven dates,
but don't you know
we live in the United States?
You might have closed your eyes
if you don't happen to be black,
and never seen
a brother take one in the back.
Your government was built to keep
these grieved, unhappy folk at bay;
did you forget
we're living in the USA?
She and She
She and she
were soldiers in the wind-blown fields,
wore blades amongst their foes
that cut like summer grass.
She and she
stood breathless in a glade of life
with flowers on their breasts,
and proudly bore the thorns.
She and she
were hard as heart and smooth as sap,
were fixtures of the land
and permanent as dirt.
She and she
leapt up like painted canvasses,
a potent source of fuel
combusting at their feet.
It's Not About Conscience
The Generalissimo's son
at his father's trial.
As the charges were cited,
"assault and conspiracy,
murders in first and second degree",
the Generalissimo's son
that such manly guidance,
fatherly, wise, benevolent care
could be so badly misrepresented -
hadn't the nation suffered, and
hadn't their leader offered them hope?
The Generalissimo's son
on the day his father
had the dissidents strangled -
as proud as the day he wore
his first miniature pair
Do You Have Any Floss?
I want to start this interview by noting,
yes, there's something stuck between my teeth:
a poppy seed. I found it in the mirror,
popping out as I was driving over,
black from what I do insist is white.
I used my tongue, I tried my fingernails
at every stop between my house and here,
and nothing worked, I couldn't knock it loose.
I thought I'd bring it up before you noticed,
wouldn't want to make you think I was
that kind of slob, who wouldn't even notice
when his teeth offended decency.
Birds of every size
High and low, they circle
with the bees.
The hawks beneath the blue,
about their nectar vessels
with the bees.
They've somehow stopped their humming,
on tiny plastic perches
with the bees.
I know this smell
means things are going well,
my fingers can tell.
I stumble, wind
the steps below, and find
the bottle in mind.
to slowly, gently slough
the skin from the rough.
my fingers grasp
the edge, our voices rasp
the bottomless gasp.
the end is nigh,
I never know whose thigh
is dangling high.
You May Not Know Who You Are, But You Know Me
I have to make my peace with this -
I know that I cannot possess you,
yet I look at you with pain.
Every footstep kills:
the way you wear your skirt is
fatal to my brain.
You are like
a billion others -
glimpsed in vain.
And if I cannot meditate
away these feelings any longer,
how could I survive the strain?
I am like
a billion others,
We Are All Of Us Birds
O beautiful creatures,
how are you so despised?
Why aren't you given
praise and eternal love,
in light of the brave and
delicate way you fly?
Who labeled you filthy?
Who could have seen those wings
caressing the air, and
told such a heartless lie?
On the Eve of First Dates
Wish me luck, boys -
she's got degrees,
she's giving me the time of day;
I'd even bet
she's got a good heart,
but now's the time to test it out.
won't deny it:
something feels right
about her name.
Eyes on me, your hands on me, your fingers
tight, your breath, your voice, your words excite;
the wine of music, touch of honey lingers
still, the stillness holds us to your pillow.
Kisses on your neck, and little breezes
puff, but they don’t cool us down enough
to stop. By pleasure anything you please is
meant: my seed is sown, it isn’t spent.
Without retreating, disengaging, losing
hold, we start again: you feel so bold
to ask, you needn’t ask, if I am choosing
bliss: of course I have no choice in this.
It’s easier, your legs so high, the lantern
lit, a deeper pathway, smoother fit;
in luminescent velvet glow, the caverns
burn, while underneath you grasp and churn.
The morning's hot, and hungry, nothing's missing
yet, and if I have the strength you'll get
your fill of me, you'll shake, you'll steam like hissing
ice, exhausted, pressed together twice.
I am not a hundred per cent satisfied with how Investigation of the Well turned out. The basic story I wanted to tell comes through pretty clearly, though I can't really remember why I wanted to tell a story about a group of boys drowning in a goddamn well. Villanelles are always tricky because they require so many rhymes on the same sounds, and I am sensitive to awkwardness in my writing when it comes to rhymes. A thought occurs that I did not specify how many boys died in this particular well. I pictured it as three?
Paintings of Saints, even more than Twice, is the poem I struggled the most with in deciding whether to include here. I think it's a damn good poem, but it is intensely personal. In fact, it was written as part of a therapy assignment, and I don't think it takes a lot of analytical skill to tease out the issues I was considering.
Free Range Vision is kind of horrifying. I can't quite figure out what I was going for in terms of the meter/structure, and honestly that's just as well. I like when my work is a little mysterious to me, it helps me enjoy it better. Ever think about what your eyes do when you're asleep? Hopefully they aren't ambulatory.
Escape is a good poem about my depression, I think. Or rather, my chronic depressive tendencies, and my irrational belief that I am always being stalked by the end of my life.
Sending to is is about more of my ex-girlfriend feelings. Three years ago she brought me back a piece of art from her vacation with the words "Sending to" written across the bottom; one our one year anniversary, she bought me a pocket watch with those words engraved on it. I still wear it in the left breast pocket of my jacket, though I don't always remember to wind it. The second stanza, I feel, is a little awkward. But it's an important poem to me.
Baltimore is, appropriately enough, a poem about the Baltimore Uprising of 2015. It is a poem in opposition to white supremacy and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as all the other groups of people (such as Native Americans and Latinos) who suffer from police brutality. Its main idea is that racism is a central feature of American political culture, and pretending that we can ignore that when we live in a country with such a history is foolish.
On that theme, It's Not About Conscience is also about police brutality, though it's expressed less directly to be more about the politics of force and authoritarianism. In conversations and debate's I've had, it's often struck me how hard it is to impress upon people the problems with police as an institution when they have close relationships with police officers, whether they are friends or family members. Somehow it made me think of people like Augusto Pinochet; I have no idea if Pinochet had a son, but I know he has die-hard admirers, no matter how many people he murdered. All dictatorships justify their blood lust with patriarchal crap about strength and discipline, and I saw a parallel with how people justified police brutality. Think of the "Generalissimo" in the poem as a police chief, and the son as wide eyed fascist in training, raised on apple pie and swaddled in the American flag.
She and She is not nearly so political, no. It's a poem about nature and female spirits, and I think it came out lovely, with a very mythological quality. It's one of my favorites in this group, at least one I like to read more than some of the others
I wrote Do you Have Any Floss? while sitting in the waiting room of my therapist's office and it's basically autobiographical. When I was finished I saw my therapist, and he reminded me that my appointment was not actually for another two hours, I had the time wrong. So I went home and cleaned my teeth. As a side note, any time I do blank verse monologue-style poems you can be sure I'm thinking about My Last Duchess by Robert Browning the entire time. One of those little tics from high school, I guess. I tried to make Floss relate to the negative thinking that characterizes my depression, but it's also weirdly hilarious to me.
Spring Fling is a dumb title for this particular poem, but whatever, that's just its title and that's just how it's going to be. The poem itself I like a lot. It was written in my aunt and uncle's back yard in Escondido, drawn from natural observations all around me. It's a relaxed, natural kind of thing, very pretty if you ask me.
Taste and You May Not Know Who You Are, But You Know Me are both poems about my continuing sexual frustration. Sorry, but that's what I'm feeling these days. The first one has some cute rhyme work, which I like, and is somewhat sensual, tracing the arc of the erotic act in a sort of vague way. The second poem is more... despairing, I guess? I honestly don't even remember who I had in mind when I wrote it, but it was definitely someone I won't be getting with in this universe. How to come to terms with impulsive desire, that's the theme here.
We Are All Of Us Birds is a sentimental little thing about some crows I saw in a parking lot. I thought about how a lot of people don't like crows, and I've always found that to be upsetting. I guess I identify with them, for better or for worse. Crows (and all birds, for that matter) are beautiful creatures and and they have a lot to teach us, especially those of us with depression.
I had a date with a real live human woman back in June, just after I returned to Eugene. I'd met her online, just like I'd met my ex, and although things ultimately did not work out, I had pretty high hopes going in. Thus the optimistic spirit of On the Eve of First Dates, which I wrote just before I drove back to Oregon. I will try to bring that spirit to future romances.
Lastly, there's Twice. Twice is a sex poem, pure and simple, and while I don't think it's "crude" it is definitely explicit. Writing about sex in a totally graceful way is basically impossible, and anyone who writes "caverns" when he clearly means "vagina" has clearly not managed to square that circle. But personally, I see tenderness in this poem, and I like the rhyme scheme quite a bit. Maybe I'm just too shy to ever be fully comfortable sharing this kind of thing, but I'm sure there are people who would agree this one has merit.