At the beginning of spring
gardening the snakes, indigenous
and invasive, the harmless
and the poisonous, they all emerge,
and in that half-hour before dinner
that’s reserved for washing up,
I join them, five-foot-long

python with my upper
body draped protectively
across the top of the open
washer drum. I hiss insistently
at my beloved resident hobbit
as he’s stripping off his garden-
muddy clothing: what has it got
in its pocketses?

We do this every evening, it’s
routine. And then he turns his pockets
out to check, and occasionally
I’m actually justified in asking.

This dark orange fungal mass
that he extracts looks decidedly
suspicious, but he explains
excitedly that that’s the magic
of it: some other mushroom,
lactarius or russula, inedible
on its own, gets invaded by this
other hypocreaceae fungus which
somehow eats up all the poison,
transforms the mushroom that might
have made you ill or killed you

into food. This parasitic hypocreaceae
fungus sort of cooks it, like it’s
boiling a lobster, and when it’s
orange-red all over, then you
know it’s safe to eat.

Ah. Okay, I did not know this,
and am feeling hungry, but more
so for the dinner that’s waiting on
the table than for a spongy orange
parasitic mass. Here, I’ll wrap
it in a napkin and put it on
your desk. We can continue
identification of weird things
from the garden after dinner.

And (to myself in silence as
I swaddle up the thing) I think:
so glad this bit of strangeness
didn’t wind up in the washing.


Inspired by Dave Bonta’s Lilium martagon. P.S. The lobster mushroom is a real entity.

Read the previous poems in the series.

Though I might sit and supplicate beneath the tree in the yard, there is no spirit that comes to shake the leaves and gild them silver, no dress stitched together out of their purple undersides. No voice comes like a flutter of bird wings to soothe like cooled water, sugared or seeping from cane. No warm blue flame gathers at its base, in which to thrust cold chapped hands. All I want is someone to tell me sit down and eat, sit down and drink, lay you down on the sheets, shed your damp, sad clothes. Instead I’ll whittle another twig into a needle. I’ve learned to make such garments: two sleeves, a yoke, a body; a neck hole through which I can push my head as if arriving here again.

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

It’s worth mentioning that I don’t link to every post I liked from the past week—not by a long shot. Some may not fit with the other selections very well, and some are just tough to excerpt from. This week a lot of poets seemed to be in a contemplative mood, tackling the big subjects: hope and mortality, Kafka and Kate Bush…

Hope as phantom, hope as hive-mind drone, hope as marsh-gas…
Hope is, in truth, a tumour close to the heart, inaccessible
to the stoical surgeons with their probes and spatulas.
Dick Jones, Hope Springs

 

Let me just say that I had a rough year, along with the rest of the thinking world, in 2017, but with the added joylessness of feeling beleaguered at my workplace. Today, pulling clothes from the drier and rolling socks, I remembered a time period in my 40’s when I would roll socks with the image that someone was standing behind me with a gun pointed at my head, giving me a time deadline for getting the chore done, or be shot. It reminded me of how bad things can get emotionally, while still making the effort to go to work every day, and roll the socks every weekend at the laundromat. I had moments like that over this past year. And murderous dreams.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse on Saturday

 

It took me 20 years to get to Arthur W. Frank’s book The Wounded Storyteller, and I might not have found it so useful and illuminating if I’d read it twenty years ago. Now, however, the book’s insights are relevant to my life and to the current moment. Frank powerfully reminds us that as members of the human collective, we need to listen to people; that in time, all of us become wounded storytellers; and, therefore, each of us benefits by learning how to bear human living with a kind of “intransitive hope.” By intransitive hope, Frank means finding a way to be with our suffering in life, recognize that suffering happens, but also to recognize that there are ways to be human that do not end in miraculous cures–that may (and will, eventually) end in death.

And that’s okay. He suggests that healing is a project, not an outcome.

Kind of like writing, you know?
Ann E. Michael, Edges & outcomes

 

It is irresponsible to ignore the fact that we waged wars solely for the benefit of our corporations. We are still dealing with the ramifications of one of those in Iraq. Hell, we are dealing with the ramifications of the Banana Wars still, a hundred years later.

But, I have hope. I keep writing. I keep loving. I keep reading amazing poetry from ever-more diverse voices.

The faith that I have is in our fellow people in this country. So few of us are actually those assholes who march for white nationalism. My faith in my fellow Americans is that we will find a way forward, out of this mess. That we will continue to repudiate these shitheads and call our their racism directly, succinctly.
Eric M. R. Webb, Well it’s Alright…

 

But she wasn’t coming through, I was going in, my link to her a series of hot boxes where she would appear without warning over decades like the Virgin, her songs a catechism, her name a prayer I chanted at the backs of retreating lovers, divorcing parents and death, and even in her absence, the music never faltered like I did, songs willing pills back into bottles.
Collin Kelley, Kate Bush Appears on Night Flight, 1981

 

Looking back, I try to understand how people make simple rules, and routes of least resistance. I remember asking my Grandmother if she saw Goodnight and Good Luck when it came out. She said, “I don’t have to watch it, I lived through it.”

But she didn’t want to talk about it with me.

I’m sure she knew I thought I had something to “contribute to the discussion”. I really was young then. I hadn’t learned to listen — even if I’d known the right questions — the way in. It would have been a waste of time.

If she had opened up about the complexities of her experience, I might well have tried to solve them, simplify them with labels and analysis. I’d gone to college, after all. I would have made absurd parallels in an attempt to empathise.

I must have been an ass. If she hadn’t loved me, she wouldn’t have liked me. Looking back, I don’t like me.
Ren Powell, The Wisdom of Old Men, And

 

K knows you’re not supposed to say what’s true. He’s the only one who sees these systems and revolts. But he himself is missing the system that silences women’s voices. So, then, When I read Kafka, I become K. The whole Gare D’Orsay jam-packed with workers, typists, typing away at their desks, shoulder to shoulder, the din of their fingertips like locusts. There he is, scared and running, trying to figure out what’s going on and how to escape. He shouts, and I’m K now, shouting, saying things I’m not supposed to say.
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear K

 

Who the hell can’t dig a damn hole
by saving the eggs out one at a time?
none of us pure sane until the balance
on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down
too heavy for me, it went shut
a sad, steady sound
james w. moore, Shut Down (a sestina)

 

[Mary] Oliver states that she “…did find the entire world in looking for something. But I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.” I can identify with that in every part of my being. In 2004 several years before I retired from teaching and found myself pursuing poetry more passionately and with much more attention to craft, I wrote these lines: Some days / I am even/ saved by / beauty. Every minute part of nature, and particularly the botanical part of nature, draws me in. One photograph, just one, that pleases me to the point of elation is enough to change the tenor of the entire day for me. I commented to a friend just this week that when I go to the Chicago Botanic Garden I can feel even my breathing change, the tightness in my chest and shoulders loosen within minutes–I am being saved.
Gail Goepfert, Poetic Uber-ing

 

I spent a lot of 2017 thinking about what poetry can DO. I wish poems could stop inhumane deportations and government shutdowns, and I hope poets will keep trying to make the world more kind and fair. Mostly, though, my aims are smaller in scale: can writing this poem change ME for the better? The stories we tell about ourselves really matter, and I’ve been trying to tell hopeful ones. After all, that’s what I want to read–literature that acknowledges the complicated mess we live in but ultimately tilts towards love.

Now, two weeks into a new class on documentary poetics, I find myself thinking about poems, instead, as testimony, carrying some part of the past into our present attention. That’s not unrelated to poetry as spell, prayer, or action, but the emphasis is a little different. The poets we’ve been reading–Rukeyser and Forché at first, and a host of Katrina poets now, including Patricia Smith, Cynthia Hogue, and Nicole Cooley–are asking what we need to remember. Their poetries still look towards the future but are more explicitly grounded in history. We’ll be sailing even further in that direction soon with Kevin Young’s Ardency, a book I’ve never taught before.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry, pickled

 

I found myself experiencing this wonder even within the book’s title. The title itself is a poem, it creates a doubling: there is the wolf and the being that should be called—wolf. Once an expression is isolated and placed in a new context, here as the title of a book, it becomes symbolic and takes on a deeper meaning. Within these five words the poet is questioning himself, or rather the self that was being consumed by alcoholism. The phrase can also be seen as a kind of call and response, distinct rhythms divide the phrase into two: the call is trochaic, and the response is iambic. The response—a wolf a wolf—recalls howling not only within the image, but in the sound of wolf, which is repeated the way cries are repeated. And make no mistake Kaveh Akbar’s debut collection absolutely howls, howls from that deep intimate place of uncertainty where the body and spirit confront one another.
Anita Olivia Koester, New Ways to Howl: Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar

 

I would suggest that there is a place that is neither one of fear or one of hope. Sometimes I walk around the house, and I look at all the objects – the photographs, paintings, baskets, tables, sculptures, and I know the stories represented by each one, can recall the day when I bought it, who I was with, how many apartments and houses I’ve carried that object. I am surprised, each time, by the love that flows from each object and into me. That may seem corny, but it isn’t, because the objects we bring into our lives, especially those objects we spent money for, sometimes a lot more money than we had at that time but something inside us kept saying, “I have to have that. I have to have that,” and we bought it and never regretted doing so, because that particular object awakened a place of beauty in our souls, brought a sense of wellbeing to our bodies and spirits, a sense of order to the inner chaos, a cohesion to the fragments of selves and hurts that spun haphazardly within.

When I finally finish this tour of my life, this memory-trip of objects. I am smiling. Finally, I say quietly, “I’m going to miss me.”

And then, I laugh with mortal joy.
Julius Lester, notes on Atul Gawande’a Being Mortal, from JJS, January 20, 2018: an exchange of letters

Up, and it being yesterday and to-day a great thaw it is not for a man to walk the streets, but took coach and to Mr. Povy’s, and there meeting all of us again agreed upon an answer to the Lords by and by, and thence we did come to Exeter House, and there was a witness of most [base] language against Mr. Povy, from my Lord Peterborough, who is most furiously angry with him, because the other, as a foole, would needs say that the 26,000l. was my Lord Peterborough’s account, and that he had nothing to do with it.
The Lords did find fault also with our answer, but I think really my Lord Ashly would fain have the outside of an Exchequer, but when we come better to be examined. So home by coach, with my Lord Barkeley, who, by his discourse, I find do look upon Mr. Coventry as an enemy, but yet professes great justice and pains.
I at home after dinner to the office, and there sat all the afternoon and evening, and then home to supper and to bed.
Memorandum. This day and yesterday, I think it is the change of the weather, I have a great deal of pain, but nothing like what I use to have. I can hardly keep myself loose, but on the contrary am forced to drive away my pain. Here I am so sleepy I cannot hold open my eyes, and therefore must be forced to break off this day’s passages more shortly than I would and should have done.
This day was buried (but I could not be there) my cozen Percivall Angier; and yesterday I received the newes that Dr. Tom Pepys is dead, at Impington, for which I am but little sorry, not only because he would have been troublesome to us, but a shame to his family and profession; he was such a coxcomb.

I walk the streets with nothing
to do but think outside

I weather myself
so sleepy I cannot hold open my eyes

and must be buried
in some profession


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 19 January 1665.

It arrives, as it always does eventually,
that awkward moment in casual
conversation with someone newly
met, that point at which they’ve told
you a bit about themselves, and since
you yourself have not been saying
much, have not volunteered
to introduce yourself more fully,
that awkward moment when the other
party really cannot carry the conversation
on alone, and begins to ask a few
casual questions about you, and then
you have to choose to either ante
up or leave the table…

…but this time, I am given a reprieve
of sorts, by a rip in the fabric
of the universe. Or more
specifically, a rip in the sleeve
of a dress-white shirt that looks quite
new. A young man stands holding up
the offending sleeve. For a moment he
is speechless, then he says: I am
the best man. The wedding is this evening.
I can’t afford another shirt, I don’t
get paid till Thursday. I don’t…

He stops, and before he finds more
words to wrap around the panic-wound,
both the barkeep and myself
are reaching. The barkeep is extracting
money from the till…but I am quicker
on the draw, stand up and drag the bar
stool back a little further from
the bar, hold up a needle
and a spool of thread, and I say:
Give it.

He starts to speak again, and I say:
Go away. The gentleman will page you
when your shirt is ready, and there’s plenty
of time to get it done if you
don’t distract me.

He disappears. The bar disappears, as
does my coffee, and the sounds
of jukebox music, conversation,
all such inputs fade away as
I turn myself inward in preparation
for the magic-making. Needle threaded,
thread pulled smooth, a sleeve
turned inside out. This is inverted
voodoo, this piercing of the broadcloth,
not for harming but for healing.

Invisible stitches, each a tiny
planting hiding along the seam, each one
carrying a wish, a blessing.
Drawing the stitches firmly here,
but not so tightly that they pucker, I
am sowing a white-thread furrow
no one else can see: here I pierce
the soil and plant a seed

— (may this young man
be reassured) and another
–(may he always feel standing up
for a friend is a thing of importance)
— (may he always be in reverent
awe of weddings, and all they represent)
— (may the bride and groom
be likewise)
— (and remain so, in awe of their own
marriage, and all it represents)
— (and if there come children,
may they teach them kindness)
— (for other
people)
— (for all living
beings)
— (may they raise them
to respect all that breathes like we do)
— (and all
that breathes invisibly)
— (may these
stitches carry blessings)
— (may these
stitches carry hope)
— (may these
stitches hold)

(Amen)

The prayer is planted.
I break the thread and turn the sleeve.


Read the previous poems in the series.

“The mother is the first world of the child and the last world of the adult.” ~ C.G. Jung

She’d threaten in her old rages:
Do you want me to send you back
to where you’re really from?

Confused, still only a child, how could
I know she meant another’s womb?
She’d threaten in her old rages:

not just me then, but her sister who bore
me; their secret shame a body opened,
bedded where it wasn’t really from.

Oh bitter years oppressed by grieving—
Imagine their long, strangled braid.
She’d threaten in her old rages

to leave, or banish us: repeated
cries demanding Go away! Or go
back to where you’re really from!

The only idol left now in her kingdom,
no one comes to call even if she’d beg
or threaten, just like in her old rages.
Is this really where I’m from?

Page 7 from Une Semaine de Bonté by Max Ernst

The Turk’s cap lily is one of summer’s
most exotic blooms. How sumptuous
they can be as dark varieties, springing open
to curl back on themselves and reveal why
they are called the Turk’s caps.
All have a flash of orange pollen
which is lethal to cats.
As little as two leaves or part of a single
flower have resulted in deaths.
Clinical signs of lily intoxication
include salivation, vomiting, anorexia and depression.
Polyuric renal failure leads to dehydration
and anuric renal failure and death results.
The public must be made aware—
the majority cannot correctly identify
the plants in their own homes.
I first saw this European Turk’s cap
running wild among the bright Astrantia.
The scent of a lily is an incredible thing.


Lines repurposed from Dan Pearson, “Turk’s cap lily is pure delight“. The Guardian (21 July 2013) and Kevin T. Fitzgerald, “Lily toxicity in the cat“. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine 25: 213–7 (2010).

Up and by and by to my bookseller’s, and there did give thorough direction for the new binding of a great many of my old books, to make my whole study of the same binding, within very few. Thence to my Lady Sandwich’s, who sent for me this morning. Dined with her, and it was to get a letter of hers conveyed by a safe hand to my Lord’s owne hand at Portsmouth, which I did undertake. Here my Lady did begin to talk of what she had heard concerning Creed, of his being suspected to be a fanatique and a false fellow. I told her I thought he was as shrewd and cunning a man as any in England, and one that I would feare first should outwit me in any thing. To which she readily concurred. Thence to Mr. Povy’s by agreement, and there with Mr. Sherwin, Auditor Beale, and Creed and I hard at it very late about Mr. Povy’s accounts, but such accounts I never did see, or hope again to see in my days. At night, late, they gone, I did get him to put out of this account our sums that are in posse only yet, which he approved of when told, but would never have stayed it if I had been gone. Thence at 9 at night home, and so to supper vexed and my head akeing and to bed.

books give thorough direction
for the binding of books

O make my whole study the same
binding my hand to my hand

as ear to auditor
or hope to that old ache


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 18 January 1665. (The post title is a reference to Confucius, via Gary Snyder: “When cutting an axe handle, the model is always right at hand.”)

“where the sea is now
we would meet” ~ D. Bonta

The day I flew away I did not think
to bring a bag of crumbs, white and
pebbled as moonlight, to scatter

from bank to bank for finding
the way back again. Besides, where
might they land without the sea

dredging them in salt, then swallowing
them whole? I traced with my finger
on the dirty plane window

faint bird tracks, running
stitches, imagining the faces
of the children looking up

into the sky’s inverted bowl. Who
again was the figure beside them,
crone-like, knobbed fingers weighted

with rings? What did she whisper
about the woods where she would take
them if they didn’t, if they didn’t—

 

In response to Via Negativa: Solastalgia.

Up and walked to Mr. Povy’s by appointment, where I found him and Creed busy about fitting things for the Committee, and thence we to my Lord Ashly’s, where to see how simply, beyond all patience, Povy did again, by his many words and no understanding, confound himself and his business, to his disgrace, and rendering every body doubtfull of his being either a foole or knave, is very wonderfull. We broke up all dissatisfied, and referred the business to a meeting of Mr. Sherwin and others to settle, but here it was mighty strange methought to find myself sit herein Committee with my hat on, while Mr. Sherwin stood bare as a clerke, with his hat off to his Lord Ashly and the rest, but I thank God I think myself never a whit the better man for all that.
Thence with Creed to the ‘Change and Coffee-house, and so home, where a brave dinner, by having a brace of pheasants and very merry about Povy’s folly.
So anon to the office, and there sitting very late, and then after a little time at Sir W. Batten’s, where I am mighty great and could if I thought it fit continue so, I to the office again, and there very late, and so home to the sorting of some of my books, and so to bed, the weather becoming pretty warm, and I think and hope the frost will break.

to see simply
beyond all words
rendering every body wonderful

to meet others as I find myself
with ash for dinner and a little hope
the frost will break


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 17 January 1665.