Self-portrait, with What Remains

So much counting through the years, a tally
written then erased then rewritten on the sky's

flimsy paper. How much do I owe now, in the fourth
decade, in the fifth? The jasmine, too, has lost

count. A torrent of white blooms presses against
the fence, as if to say even the slightest skins

collect to make a weight that history registers.
Later, when the vine is cleared away, its dark

imprint remains on the surface: surely no one
can deny it once had a fragrant body, a shape.

Rush hour

Up, and to the office, where all the morning, and, at noon to dinner, and Mr. Cooke dined with us, who is lately come from Hinchingbroke, who is also come to town: The family all well. Then I to the office, where very busy to state to Mr. Coventry the account of the victuals of the fleete, and late at it, and then home to supper and to bed.
This evening, Sir W. Pen come into the garden, and walked with me, and told me that he had certain notice that at Flushing they are in great distraction. De Ruyter dares not come on shore for fear of the people; nor any body open their houses or shops for fear of the tumult: which is a very good hearing.

inching to town
all of us

into the lush body
of tumult


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 4 August 1666.

In the Hold, We Raise Our Voices

In between worlds, I don't remember
anymore which mountain holds my heart,
which meadow. The rain spreads

like a scroll; and tree-shapes seep
through fog, brush-inked as on
a silk banner. I used to know

how many boats were tethered to the dock,
how many times temple bells pealed
at dusk. Distance has become

our mother, which is not the same
as indifference: no, distance
is a vestibule that someone

has soundproofed, and we sit shoulder
to shoulder along its length, mouthing
cries toward rows of high windows.



Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, poetry bloggers seemed to be channeling the general unease of the political moment and the restlessness of the soon-to-change season. There was an elegiac mood to many of the posts I read, but there were still flashes of humor, and as Sarah Stockton observed, creativity is a potent antidote to futility.


First was this from 1984: “The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.” In 1984 not only is history rewritten daily but language itself is being narrowed, and as language narrowed, thought itself stultified. Thinking and language is, for us, our wag-tongued species, inextricable. “Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.”

I have always loved words, even as a little tiny kid would leaf through a book on the family shelf called How to Build a Better Vocabulary. Words were as magic as magic, and as delightful in the mouth as chocolate chip cookies, as cake with candles. And I can almost remember a visceral sense of my mind expanding as I encountered new words that struck me, words that opening up new worlds, new ways of thinking.

I just read Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks, a wonderful book about books and words, specifically words of regional dialect that describe things specific to regional experiences: how the fog creeps across the moor, the way certain rock formations sparkle, how the regular passage of a small animal through a hedge creates a hole. Worlds and worlds, words and worlds.

Marilyn McCabe, You Can Leave Your Hat On; or, Rethinking Writing and Editing

Shelter is always a two-way street, turning on the hinge of hospitality/prison.  In the ancient world, Greek hospitality served the purpose of putting the wandering stranger under control.  So it was in 1939 when the Spanish and Catalan Republicans fled Franco’s conquest and thought they were coming to a friendly country.  But the country wasn’t friendly.  It treated the wretched refugees whose numbers and socialist ideas were threatening, with lack of food, water and medical help.  So it was with Jews who thought they were fleeing from Germany and other countries to a safe zone, “free France.”  They were housed in Rivesaltes barracks “safely” until Vichy cut a deal with Nazis to keep their territory soldier free and delivered 2,251 Jews to Drancy and eventually to Auschwitz.  (Another half were helped to escape.)  Gypsies were brought from the north of France and detained as undesirables.  

The list goes on with successions of needs of a state’s questionable history – Algerians who fought for the French became hot potatoes, wanted nowhere, not thanked for their help, housed here until society repositioned them.

Rivesaltes also rings bells as the site of the Perignan airport – a small, Lego-like structure which is the windiest airport in France.  Riversaltes also the name of a wonderful sweet wine.  Oh, the multivalence of words!  Shelter, internment camps, hospitality centers, and all these hedgings speak of the uncertainties, fissures and failures of society to rest, humanely, with the familiar other. 

Jill Pearlman, Refugees: The Tragedy of Frenemies

“Admit that Mexico is your double, that she exists in the shadow of this country, that we are irrevocably tied to her. Gringo, accept the doppelganger in your psyche. By taking back your collective shadow the intracultural split will heal.” (page 108)

“This land was Mexican once/ was Indian always/ and is./ And will be again.” (page 113)

“So this is what happened to someone living at the border like me: My ancestors have always lived with the land here in Texas. My indigenous ancestors go back twenty to twenty-five thousand years and that is how old I am in this country. My Spanish ancestors have been in this land since the European takeover which pulled migration from Spain to Mexico. Texas was part of a Mexican state called Tamaulipas. And Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and part of California and Colorado, were part of the northern section of Mexico. It was almost half of Mexico that the U.S. cheated Mexico out of when they bought it by the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. By doing so they created the borderlands.” (Interview, page 274)

The above quotes are from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Fourth Edition. The book was first published in 1987; I encountered it a couple of years later, in graduate school, although I can no longer find my first copy. I’ve been meaning to reread it, because I’m advising a senior who wants to make it part of her thesis next year.

This was definitely the week. I’m sickened by U.S. gun violence and epidemic hatred without having a new or insightful word to say about them, but it felt just slightly sanity-restoring to spend time with Anzaldúa. After all, how can there be a “Hispanic invasion,” as the Texas shooter alleged, in a place to which the U.S. government has only the most recent and most dubious of many claims? Aside from the book’s reminders about history, it’s also big-hearted and wise and full of insights about language, culture, queerness, trauma, depression, artistic process, sacredness, and dreams. Plus, I loved remembering my twenty-something astonishment at its hybrid of prose and poetry: holy shit, you can do that?!

Lesley Wheeler, A slightly terrifying amount of reading

If you’re ever stuck for something to do with a damaged book, try cutting up some of the text and interspersing it with a couple of other sources to create a found poem. [Click through to view an example. —Dave]

Julie Mellor, The Observer’s Book of Birds

I’m re-sharing some of my collage poems from the recent past.  These were written for an Instagram competition (#aquietpassionpoetrycompetition) run by The Poetry School and Soda Pictures (‘A Quiet Passion’ was their biopic of Emily Dickinson released two years ago).  The judges stated that they wanted to see “poems which use the concentrated visual qualities of an Instagram post to deliver a punch as strong as an Emily Dickinson line.” [Click through to view the collages.]

Josephine Corcoran, Collage Poems

Years ago, my aunt gave me a stack of cool  victorian cabinet cards she’d been sent from relatives in Nebraska, where she and my mother were born. There were some young pics of my grandmother in the 20’s and 30’s among them, but most of the people were unrecognizeable and unknown..maybe a trace of resemblance at most–a set of brow, a curve of lip that echoed through my great grandmother, but little else.  She gave them to be to do “something artsy”  and they eventually, without their actual heads, became he unusual creatures pieces. At first,  I debated collageing on the photos themselves.  On one hand, it would ruin them. On the other, no one much cared, least of all my aunt..The originals, tucked somewhere in my studio even now, will one day be inconsequential to whoever stumbles across them. I wound up reproducing them on cardstock and then working with them.  But it scarce matters. Ultimately, they’ll ed up in the trash sooner or later.

The strange thing about being childless I suppose is knowing that my legacy, whatever that is, dies with me. Some day, I’ll grow old and die and people, probably strangers, will throw the bulk of my things in the trash –the poems, the artwork, the random bits of my life I’ve collected.  This makes me hurt. it makes me heavy in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. My dad & sister were pretty quick about dealing with my mother’s things after her death–alarmingly so, but it was probably necessary mental health-wise–the closet full of clothes, her jewelry box, a linen closet stuffed with half  burnt candles and semi-filled bottles of lotion.  Her presence is still very real in the house–the art she chose for the walls, the furniture, the photos, her dishes. .  But at the same time, she is also more absent–and in a way that has nothing to do with her physically missing.  But who can hold on to ghosts?  Or maybe ghosts are all we have?

Kristy Bowen, detritus

Not sure what I fear more:
that your house will feel the same
or that it won’t. The wheelchair
and hospital machines will be gone, but

the books in the library will still
be arranged by color, abstract
modern art constructed from their spines’
gradations. The heavy crystal bowls

of roasted nuts for cocktail hour
will still adorn the living room
where you used to hold court with
vodka soda and lime in hand, where

you let us take a family photo
that last Shabbat. I was shocked
you let us bring out the camera:
your hair was wild, unwashed.

You smiled as though nothing hurt.

Rachel Barenblat, Return

I said that her poem ‘unnerves and confronts’; I think I should qualify that. It’s not confrontational, it doesn’t insist. What Ann Gray does is to look unwaveringingly at her own trauma. There are three key verbs. I wanted. I was afraid. I watched. While she stands by the body of the man she loves the morgue attendant watched me through the window. He’s separated from the human story by glass, and by his bureaucratic routine that demands she uses the official, distancing, dehumanising formula
“He said take as long as you want, but he watched me
through a window and everything I wanted seemed
undignified and hopeless”
Meanwhile, what she ‘wants’ is to touch, and to touch passionately, but she’s afraid to hurt this man who can never hurt again. He’s gone, essentially, and separate. It makes me think of the agony of the dead miner’s wife in Lawrence’s ‘Odor of crysanthemums’. It’s this absolute honesty that told me I want to read and hear more and more of Ann Gray. So we will.

John Foggin, Poetry that really matters: Ann Gray (Part Two)

As writers, we are not limited by the boxes we fit into or those we don’t. The pot of opportunities does not have to be finite if we’re willing to push ourselves and try new things. More jobs can be created, more books published, more awards, grants and residencies offered if a greater interest is shown by poets, poetry readers and book buyers. If you don’t exactly fit the brief, be brave and try anyway. Always follow the guidelines and ask if you have any uncertainties, of course, but sometimes you might be the unexpected that gets noticed because you’ve approached things a little differently.

Gerry Stewart, Taking Yourself Out of the Box

Don’t build. Just find intact
(albeit cracked and leaky)
a house that’s there already,

one that’s rooted
firm and knows its skin;
that’s free of pain

and ghosts, with trees
and half-forgotten gardens,
mossy cold-frames, twisted

vines and sudden sundials
in the long, uncultivated
grass. Then let us blow

like puffball parachutes
in a random wind,
the achene fruit

that falls and germinates
when and where
it will.

Dick Jones, How to Build a School

You will study the maps,
make a plan, pack
the right clothes, only to find
yourself in a different country,
the one you didn’t know
you needed to explore.

It is here you find the answers
to the unspoken questions.
Here is the journal written
in a language you can’t understand.
Here the box of letters
written between two souls
you do not know.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer Publications

I took a bunch of pictures of roses at twilight with a flash, and got really interesting results. The best nature picture we got was this great blue heron at the penguin exhibit, and we got a flyby by a bald eagle on the way in to the zoo, too. There’s also a patch of wildflowers inside the raptor exhibit. We also had a close encounter in our own driveway with a great horned owl, which hooted at us with much urgency from a neighbor’s pine tree! Too bad no picture of that guy – it was definitely too dark by then. The garden smelled amazing at night – something beyond the roses must be a night-bloomer. The rose garden, usually almost done by August, was still in full bloom thanks to the little bits of rain we’ve gotten this August, in between the wildfire smoke and blazing hot days we’ve been having. Like the garden, in August, I’m definitely better at nighttime, out of the sun. Glenn always jokes that I’m really a vampire (I am allergic to garlic, the sun, and hate mornings) but there is something – biorhythms? poetness? – I am always at my best after dark.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry News in August, Fiolet & Wing and Poetry Prompts Contributor Copies, and Night Zoos, Birds, and Roses

Night. A waxing half-moon over the Sacramento Valley. 2 AM, nearly moonset. Somewhere close by, a great-horned owl announces its territory. Perhaps it is declaring its life, its joy, as in, “I’m here. I’m alive.” At my desk by the open window, I wait a moment, and the owl calls again. “I’m here, too, my friend.” I say it aloud in the dark room, but the words only fall to the floor and lay there like frightened puppies.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Night. A waxing half-moon over…’

Wagging is an art.
Dogs do it well with their tails.
You don’t have a tail, one would hope,
so a finger must do.
Wagging with any other
body part will get you in trouble.

And last but not least, what’s at stake.
Who gets the prize, takes
home the spoils, writes the poem.
Who’s crowned and whose
head must fall. Hint:
too often it’s one and the same.
In other words, you.

Romana Iorga, Finger-wagging

When I was younger I thought writer’s block was a lack of will, a kind of cowardice even, certainly my fault in some character defect kind of way. Now, after some long years of learning not to judge myself so hard, I experience writer’s block as something else- the body, mind and spirit telling me there is not enough, right now, to give. Just that. No judgement, no blame, just self-compassion, although there is still plenty of sorrow at times, and a kind of existential loneliness.

There’s another kind of writer’s block though: adversary-silencing.  This has its own pain scale, from Enthusiasm to Despair. Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring to silence the voices of compassion and kindness. The voices of vision and hope, of calls for reparation and change.  It’s shaming and discouraging and the most toxic of all, it can contribute to our own internal silencing. On days when I’m ok physically, I can still stop myself from writing a poem, or an essay, because who am I to say anything at all, or  it has all been said, or what I write will be wrong or worse of all, no one will ever care whether I write or not.  This is a mindset brought on by the assaultive effects of bullying, gaslighting, and fear. And the outcome is soul hurt and mental pain.

Yet, because at this point in my life I finally have the time, the means, and the luxury to spend my energy on more than the basics of survival (as so, so many do not), I must evolve beyond the comforts of privilege I might prefer to cling to. Push past the silencing effects of mental, physical, and emotional violence happening on so many levels in our country, in our world. Sometimes that means being justly and painfully held accountable for what I believe and say (thank you especially, wise millennials, for teaching me so much). We (and by we, I mostly mean white people) are rightly  being called to change at this crucial time in our human community. We all suffer when we let complacency or even despair, kill our gift of creativity.

Creativity, when practiced with a good heart, is a potent catalyst for change, no matter who is doing the work, or who the gatekeepers are, or who is sanctifying it. Creativity is a potent antidote to futility. That is something we can bring to the world, that is how we keep going, and that is how we can find a way to persevere and even to laugh sometimes in the face of the reductive absurdity of white privilege and fear; ours, or someone else’s. Creativity, at its best, seeks to alleviate suffering and to free all of us. So at least for today, I will take a minute to locate myself on the pain scale, even if I am so far up the scale that all I can do is think about what I might write if I had the energy to do so. Or perhaps I can’t think at all, but can just be a part of all creation. That’s ok too. I will at least try to remember to bow with respect to my own and the world’s beautiful and powerful resilience, and go on.

Sarah Stockton, The Energy Scale of Creativity

The blessing
of this poem,
he said, is

when it’s done
it stays done.

Tom Montag, THE BLESSING

Heat

Up and to the office, where Sir W. Batten and I sat to contract for some fire-ships. I there close all the morning. At noon home to dinner, and then abroad to Sir Philip Warwicke’s at White Hall about Tangier one quarter tallys, and there had some serious discourse touching money, and the case of the Navy, wherein all I could get of him was that we had the full understanding of the treasure as much as my Lord Treasurer himself, and knew what he can do, and that whatever our case is, more money cannot be got till the Parliament. So talked of getting an account ready as soon as we could to give the Parliament, and so very melancholy parted. So I back again, calling my wife at her sister’s, from whose husband we do now hear that he was safe this week, and going in a ship to the fleete from the buoy of the Nore, where he has been all this while, the fleete being gone before he got down. So home, and busy till night, and then to Sir W. Pen, with my wife, to sit and chat, and a small supper, and home to bed.
The death of Everson, and the report of our success, beyond expectation, in the killing of so great a number of men, hath raised the estimation of the late victory considerably; but it is only among fools: for all that was but accidental. But this morning, getting Sir .W. Pen to read over the Narrative with me, he did sparingly, yet plainly, say that we might have intercepted their Zealand squadron coming home, if we had done our parts; and more, that we might have spooned before the wind as well as they, and have overtaken their ships in the pursuite, in all the while.

fire touching all I had
my melancholy art
my home till death

all that was accidental
but in the narrative I say
we might have done more
we might have spooned


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 3 August 1666.

In the Garden

When we passed through the garden
we bent our heads and asked
permission of the dew, the low-
hanging fronds of willow,
water in the well still warm,
one layer more from the day's
chrysalis of heat. We knew
they were there though we never
saw them—those presences
who made our breath curl
in frosty air, our hair ripple
like a small wave crossing
the blue-green canopy above.
It was here we learned the first
lessons about trust and fear,
how shadows are made, how
there is dark so the fragrance
of night-blooming flowers
can find their way to us.


 

Looking backward

[Up] and to the office, where we sat, and in discourse at the table with Sir W. Batten, I was obliged to tell him it was an untruth, which did displease him mightily, and parted at noon very angry with me. At home find Lovett, who brought me some papers varnished, and showed me my crucifix, which will be very fine when done. He dined with me and Balty’s wife, who is in great pain for her husband, not hearing of him since the fight; but I understand he was not in it, going hence too late, and I am glad of it. Thence to the office, and thither comes to me Creed, and he and I walked a good while, and then to the victualling office together, and there with Mr. Gawden I did much business, and so away with Creed again, and by coach to see my Lord Bruncker, who it seems was not well yesterday, but being come thither, I find his coach ready to carry him abroad, but Tom, his footman, whatever the matter was, was lothe to desire me to come in, but I walked a great while in the Piatza till I was going away, but by and by my Lord himself comes down and coldly received me. So I soon parted, having enough for my over officious folly in troubling myself to visit him, and I am apt to think that he was fearfull that my coming was out of design to see how he spent his time [rather] than to enquire after his health. So parted, and I with Creed down to the New Exchange Stairs, and there I took water, and he parted, so home, and then down to Woolwich, reading and making an end of the “Rival Ladys,” and find it a very pretty play. At Woolwich, it being now night, I find my wife and Mercer, and Mr. Batelier and Mary there, and a supper getting ready. So I staid, in some pain, it being late, and post night. So supped and merrily home, but it was twelve at night first. However, sent away some letters, and home to bed.

an untruth might fix me
if I walk with it

yesterday is road enough
I am full of time

the new stairs took me
down to a rival now

night and a supper
getting ready

night as night
first let me be


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 2 August 1666.

Visionary

Up betimes to the settling of my last month’s accounts, and I bless God I find them very clear, and that I am worth 5700l., the most that ever my book did yet make out. So prepared to attend the Duke of Yorke as usual, but Sir W. Pen, just as I was going out, comes home from Sheernesse, and held me in discourse about publique business, till I come by coach too late to St. James’s, and there find that every thing stood still, and nothing done for want of me. Thence walked over the Parke with Sir W. Coventry, who I clearly see is not thoroughly pleased with the late management of the fight, nor with any thing that the Generalls do; only is glad to hear that De Ruyter is out of favour, and that this fight hath cost them 5,000 men, as they themselves do report. And it is a strange thing, as he observes, how now and then the slaughter runs on one hand; there being 5,000 killed on theirs, and not above 400 or 500 killed and wounded on ours, and as many flag-officers on theirs as ordinary captains in ours; there being Everson, and the Admiral and Vice- Admiral of Freezeland on theirs, and Seamour, Martin, and ——, on ours. I left him going to Chappell, it being the common fast day, and the Duke of York at Chappell. And I to Mrs. Martin’s, but she abroad, so I sauntered to or again to the Abbey, and then to the parish church, fearfull of being seen to do so, and so after the parish church was ended, I to the Swan and there dined upon a rabbit, and after dinner to Mrs. Martin’s, and there find Mrs. Burroughs, and by and by comes a pretty widow, one Mrs. Eastwood, and one Mrs. Fenton, a maid; and here merry kissing and looking on their breasts, and all the innocent pleasure in the world. But, Lord! to see the dissembling of this widow, how upon the singing of a certain jigg by Doll, Mrs. Martin’s sister, she seemed to be sick and fainted and God knows what, because the jigg, which her husband (who died this last sickness) loved. But by and by I made her as merry as is possible, and towzed and tumbled her as I pleased, and then carried her and her sober pretty kinswoman Mrs. Fenton home to their lodgings in the new market of my Lord Treasurer’s, and there left them. Mightily pleased with this afternoon’s mirth, but in great pain to ride in a coach with them, for fear of being seen.
So home, and there much pleased with my wife’s drawing today in her pictures, and so to supper and to bed very pleasant.

just as I was going out
everything stood still

I see the generals
and their wounded flag freeze
as fearful of being seen
as a rabbit

and in the wood
the innocent singing
of a god who died


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 1 August 1666.

Maternality

"Every day is take your knife to work day.... "
~ Lo Kwa Mei-en

What prior thing makes
a mother? Silver dragées
filled with hormones,
the womb's cross-section
pearled with ruby-colored
seeds? The flint table
that used to be a heart
before soft bodies lay on it,
unaware of the coming sacrifice?
Today I found a box that held
a colony of olive beads, shorn
from my father's rosary.
Ten of them used to make
a mystery. I learned to ply
the in-between with needle
and thread, cut the excess
between my teeth until
my tongue bled. Don't praise:
I don't maintain a clean kingdom—
it's full of upsets, the daily
untidy labor piled on by birds
as they fly by, unmindful
of who suffers their shit.
From that height they're only
abstraction, line drawings
on UNESCO cards that sell
at 75% off after the New Year.
That is, I won't just be
a soft feathered breast,
a milky eye, a cooing.
I admit: times I'd like
to surrender this equipment,
retire into some sanctuary
that others freely enter
and exit without minding
the pass of time, or whose
voices are crying out
at the end of the line.
But what seeming
impossibility–this
being the stronger knife
against which I test
mine every day.



Causality

When one thing is next to another, 
it's easy to assume a causal relationship
between them: for instance, if the girl
in the train station with a slightly
disheveled bob and a lit cigarette
in her fingers has a French-English
dictionary poking out of her backpack,
she is either an exchange student
or an au pair or both. If she wears
an expression of sophisticated
ennui, it's because small towns
in the south aren't really her thing;
or, train delays are annoying in whatever
language. If a brown-skinned woman
is buying a Peruvian wrap from Ten
Thousand Villages, the cashier
can assume she is from Peru! But
the woman says No, sorry,
I've got to run; my llama
is in the Fire Lane. Expressing
strong feelings, like anger or
annoyance, doesn't always work
the same for everyone. It seems some
languages are more causal then others.