The page where my interest was lost,
premier and pretentious,
a great grey gust of gibberish.
Phileas Fogged down in the derails.
Do you remember when we named the dog
Indiana? A wooden chalice chosen holy?
On the red line to work the other day
I saw people whose skin color was not
the same as mine, and that didn't tell me
anything deep about who they were
as people. I did not try and imagine
who they were. I did not smugly appropriate
their experiences. Whether or not they're American
is not important. I hope they had a phenomenal day
in the wondrous weather. Unless they're jerks.
Then, I hoped they all stubbed all of their toes.
Last night in the undulating darkness of the thesaurused night
my unconcsciousness theatred a script of fancy.
I shan't describe it to you.
Orwell says happiness can only exist in acceptance.
I am jubilant that this book is not for me.
My eyes are in the text while
my heart is in the kitchen
on a beach somewhere with a better book.
The exasperating sea of prose
summed up by the coda
where the writer admits having nothing interesting to say
He wins awards for writing about how he doesn't know how to write
beginnings or endings. The middles are choppy, too.
The difference between experience and writing about
experience is more than perspective.
Is more than let me tell you.
Is more than show.
No matter how much I enjoy a turkey
and cheese sandwich, no matter my fascination with
the post-credit adventures in Super Mario Odyssey,
if all I have to say is ass bounce reveals moon
twinkling over top hat
while the crumbs catch in my goatee,
then that is all I should say.
I'm not sure how to start
telling you how much I enjoy
sitting in the solitude of my air
conditioned house collecting purple
snowflakes while the turkey and cheese
sandwich that I am unsure how to describe
sits on the plate whose importance I am having
trouble describing to you reminds me of a dream
I'm not going to tell you about because I lack
the ability makes me wish I was white water
rafting while this book fell behind the shelves
confusing the lonely spider.
I'm going back and rereading the poetry books that initially excited me about the written and spoken word. First up, Mark Doty's Atlantis. This is the second of probably three interactions about how my response to this book changed over twenty years.
The first one is here.
Rebuilding Atlantis At Twenty-Nine
1. The Shape Of Things
The subject of the night's
workshop is line breaks
and how they shape the
way the reader interprets
the poem. I hate American
waterfall tercets. In fact,
all unnecessarily shaped
stanzas detract from my
interest in what a poet is
trying to say. I understand
they think it looks pretty.
It gives me a headache.
I still love Mark Doty's
work even if I don't like
how it's laid on the page.
2. Emerald Legacy
If you look closely at this
handful of sand Turquoise
and emerald Sapphire and
crushed pearl All this silt
All this emerald Sand is only brown
from a distance Shattered
rocks Crushed coral Once
royal and thriving Now
loose foothold for children
to build into wet castles
Everything beautiful looks
plain from a distance
There is nothing alluring
when the polish has been
Emerald at fingertips So
what Tiny grains of quartz
small enough to sprinkle
over corn flakes Beauty
tastes terrible Gets stuck
in teeth Opal amongst
beige Everything looks
so beige until you really
stare Flakes of emerald
sparkle through the blah
There is always something living
the paper bag covering
our textbook lives Always
something emerald if
you know how to look
Not where to How to
3. Grief Is Exhausting And Everywhere
I didn't see ryan's sickness until
it killed him I didn't look
for comfort in shoots of dune
grass I didn't imagine our future
coming to a point
Curling to fist
I didn't imagine we needed
a lighthouse to protect us Shimmer
of crest Agate shadows
until i had to turn around
that i ever noticed
the shape of my own
his beside me
I'm going back and rereading the poetry books that initially excited me about the written and spoken word. First up, Mark Doty's Atlantis. This is the first of probably three interactions about how my response to this book changed over twenty years.
Sidenote, the title is a line from my poem, How To Survive A Sixty Hour Work Week On Just Above Minimum Wage. While it is, of course, a reference to the lost city, it is also a reference to Mark Doty's book and the time of my life when I first read it.
Atlantis At Nineteen
Sun starved leaves
A handful of wet beach ready for sculpture
The color of a paper bag under transparent tape
protecting textbooks from my clumsy adolescence
Horseshoe crab shell
All of these things we'd touched together And all i could think of
when you took off your hat in your parents' basement was
You have brown hair
It was only in the darkness that I could realize
the misdiagnosis of your hair color
Two years of loving someone without
noticing this basic physical trait
I was still flash cards at lust
At a bar with my coworkers
from the Reconnaissance Faire
I didn't note
the leather taut
atlassing the twin planets of the wax maiden
as the exhaust of her day and her bourbon
warmed my ear
I thought why is this woman
blowing in my ear?
Everything so straight
I didn't even know her name
just the job she weekended for two months of the year
The best part of her year
when her ex took her two twelve year old sons
and she dipped hands and roses into hot wax
and blew hot air into the ears of nineteen year old gay boys
too paralyzed to turn their heads
I was of course staring at you
a single row of straight white stones
the lower shelf never
cresting your bottom lip
On the drive home you kissed your own hot air
towards me without so much as leaning closer
This was how I learned to love with distance
2. Strangers & Family Members Are Fiction
I did not choose Mark Doty's "Long Point Light"
for its language
for how I would later imagine it
an apt description of our relationship
You liked lighthouses
I was too stiff for "Homo
Shall Not Inherit"
read a poem to a diverse group of people
ask them to tell you what the poem means
Diverse on Cape Cod
meant my ashen mother
my pasty boss
the blanched friends of the pale children I nannied
the cobweb customers at my corporate record store job
my eggshell psychology classmates
Diverse meant not the same age
level of education
All these diverse listeners patiently described what this poem
which was so obviously about how
every day was a new opportunity to be honest with you and
was so obviously about how I could see metaphor only
in things you cared about
All of these diverse listeners presented me with their own
incorrect translations of this obvious poem
Mistaking Doty's hazing and
flickering as an invitation to
build their own lighthouse to
I bought whiteboard
I mod podged photos of your favorite lighthouses
printed out all these wrong interpretations of what was
obviously our poem and threw away everyone else's truth
I drew crude approximations of boats
emerald fiberglass like your favorite color of seaglass
polyurethaned wood like your hair
silver like your car
barn red like your duvet
Each boat labeled with the description of an imaginary person
The waves beneath them
fake quotes I attributed to them
each one a different way I looked at the poem
Who else had ever had an opinion that mattered?
3. There Is Never Enough Ocean
I was twenty and selfish without understanding what my self was
I read Atlantis but came away with only "Long Point Light"
said everything else was ocean and shimmer
I had enough ocean around me
enough shimmer when I tried to look to the future
Today's interaction is sourced from reading Ben Berman's Strange Borderlands. But is more an interaction with they type of poems and conversations the collection reminded me of, through minimal fault of the author.
The briefest review of the book is "A person goes to a country with an organization that sets out to improves lives throughout the world and comes back with poems about cultural differences."
That's a really tough topic to pull off without sounding like an elitist asshole. And I think Berman does, occasionally, pull it off. So, rather than write an interaction specifically with his book, this is more an interaction with all the poems and anecdotes I've ever heard from other white people who've visited Africa.
The Best Of Intentions
The best of intentions sometimes leave their native land to learn about other cultures and improve the lives of other people. It is worthy of note but not maybe applause.
If the best of intentions are traveling to learn, I wish them education and wisdom and peace and whatever other vague intangible concept they desire that doesn't come at the expense of anyone else.
But if the best of intentions are traveling to learn, they should be more eager to come back with facts than stories. Percentages of homeless children in Zambia, and how they can be housed, rather than how the best of intentions saw a homeless child and gave them their granola bar.
The best of intentions' travelogues read in paragraphs of privilege, stanzas of condescension. Even when the narrator believes they are at eye level, the pesky nose gets in the way, and they end up looking down. Do you believe these people (not we people, not us, not where the best of intentions are from) live without this thing that the best of intentions all take for granted? Isn't that stunning? Haven't the best of intentions educated themselves to how better the world is where they're from? Surely, anyone without this thing is leading an inferior life. Not a different life. Or maybe they do call it a different life. The gods must be crazy. See how they are not patronizing, merely sharing cultural differences. Don't they deserve biscuits or cookies or wafers or whatever baked flour and sugar is called where the best of intentions are from?
The best of intentions should be writing almanacs not manuscripts. They should be hanging out in government offices talking about solutions instead of telling humorous anecdotes in bars.
I have the best of intentions when I meet someone. I want them to be a person and not a series of stories I tell to get other people to like me. See how entertaining I am? Do you believe that person (not me, not us, not someone involved in the conversation who could offer an opposing view) did that thing that I and we would clearly never do?
I should be speaking to them not about them. But sometimes the best of intentions can't help themselves. They must share. I saw this different thing. I experienced this cultural discord that is humorous hopefully from both perspectives. See how it makes me human. How thoroughly human to strip someone else's humanity away in an attempt to appear more human to other humans.
April Penn's response to Dear Darkness, like my own, involves food and hunger. Maybe don't read this book while fasting.
Reader Response Poem to Kevin Young’s Dear Darkness
is what the past
~ Kevin Young, “Ode to Cushaw”
You search everywhere in the cemetery,
but you can’t find your great grandfather’s grave.
Instead, you delight in odes of the food he may have eaten.
Hunger never leaves, craving always the next poem
for okra, grits, crawfish, catfish, black eyed peas,
Gumbo, sweet potato pie, watermelon…
You say, “like rice/ you rise,” (Ode to Boudin) --
the transcendence of food, not magic
but history trying to taste your tongue.
Eating your most edible story, figs of smoke.
So sweet and vanishing an author, a lost uncle
memory of a man burning too bright.
It was only a matter of time before this project went meta. Seventeen days, to be exact. Jeffrey McDaniel's The Splinter Factory is one of my favorite collections to read and reread. This time, I read it front to back on a bus trip and then went back and siphoned out my favorite lines to structure a conversation around I hadn't intended said conversation to be about why I'd missed some deadlines in this project, but that's what ended up happening.
As is the norm, any text in black was written by me, italicized blue text is from Jeffrey McDaniel's book.
The title of this poem is also from a line by McDaniel, in which he describes how one goes crazy.
One Marble At A Time
I promised myself I'd read a book of poetry a day
the way I promised my mother I'd call once a week
the way I promised I'd get my homework done
the way I promised I'd tell
whoever it was that year
how I felt about them
the way I promised I'd eat better
I'd start running
I'd drink less soda
whoever it was that year
the way a kitten promises frolic
the way a bus schedule promises ibuprofen
the way a road trip promises silence
When I am confronted by the screeching car alarm of a deadline
I get so lost in the hideous intoxication of the honk
how you can tell in what year they bought that useless alarm
based on how familiar the rhythm
you and all your neighbors deliberately ignore
I get so lost that I forget it's supposed to signal urgency
I broke my word so many times, it became
a handful of crumbs I sprinkled at my father's ankles
whenever I needed money.
It's so easy to dress my parents in all of my failures
not because my father didn't remember my birthday enough
or my mother never forgets to carry my most embarrassing
childhood experiences in her purse
but because they spent so much of my teenage years
trying on my blame in the department store mirrors of my eyes
that it's difficult to imagine them without it
Every time I have dinner with a parent
they drop a hundred on my plate until
I sing the misery of their ex-spouse
I'm the canary watching multiple coal mines via Skype
Each of them twenty years removed from shared bank accounts
Forty-five years removed from a ring and a question
neither of them budgeted for
I wonder how that question gets popped. Is it like a bottle
of expensive champagne, or a big, ugly, zit
that won't go away?
My mother has never once not ever forgotten even a single time to
ask who I am seeing
I always say a therapist and thank her for asking
But I can't see therapists the way dogs can't see color
In that they can see color
but differently than humans and
have no way of expressing how they see
My mother never laughs
at this joke of my solitude
but always offers to pay for my next meal
She always predicts what her husband will order
because he is not so much a creature of habit as
a varmint of obsession
When I eat with them I am expected to still be
seventeen and growing in every way but diet
Instead of salt
and pepper, I'd like a think layer of antique
store dust enthusiastically sprinkled on
the lettuce, so halfway through the sandwich,
a wave of nostalgia will wash over me
If it isn't my parents' fault that I am less behind and more
rolling beneath deadlines of my own design
can I blame desire
How I could read a recipe book for inspiration and
spend the rest of the night tasting a stranger
determined to know the precise ratio of ingredients that led him to
the awkward of us
I mean, isn't it odd—how you can buy a lap dance,
phone sex, or blow job in a snap, but can't
pay a person a dollar just to sit next to you
on a park bench and simply hold your hand?
Oh, I've been down that road before.
In fact, I still have property there
So let's pretend my commitment issues and my love have never
accidentally sat down across from each other on a train
and spent the entire trip
pretending they're strangers
Let's say I miss deadlines like they are highway exits
and I'm not driving but I am distracting the driver
Let's say I miss deadlines like they stop calling me
and I don't want them to think I need them any more
than they need me so I don't call them either
Let's say I miss deadlines like
the only way I can communicate with my responsibilities is via Ouija board or
Let's say I am so Over deadlines
But that's not in the cards. Heck, it's not even in the casino.
I often feel I'm not emotionally invested in anything to miss it
Deadlines sure and sometimes people also but money when
I'm broke love
when I'm alone That nostalgia sprinkled on a sandwich
is to impress you
I can't even taste it
April Penn is the first...multiple interactor to meet....all their deadlines...mainly because...April is awesome...here she uses haiku to tackle...Nikki Giovanni's ellipses addiction.
Reader Response Haiku
(Responding to Those Who Ride the Night Winds by Nikki Giovanni)
Why the ellipses?
Are they the uncharted path
of riding night winds?
room for air and for lost words
needing new worlds.
Why the ellipses?
To move close to the body,
to refrain losses?
To select the scraps,
the poet muses with time,
quilting lived garments.
You do not love wrong
or by mistake, always love,
find heroes in self.
Colored people couldn’t vote… couldn’t use the bathroom in public places… couldn’t go to the same library they paid taxes for… had to sit on the back of the buses… couldn’t live places… work places… go to movies… amusement parks… Nothing if you were colored … Just signs … always signs … saying No … No … No… (From “Harvest (for Rosa Parks)”)
The sign that says no
Everywhere no no no no--
Love should change your life.
Move you beyond the boundary
of your stubborn self.
Love Thoughts like a song, a drum,
a music in you.
A good writing prompt:
Begin with, “You were gone like…”
then fail to compare.
Champion of the joy
that cries out lonely, someone
to sing for, to love.
Kim Addonizio's What Is This Thing Called Love always shows up at interesting times. This week was no exception. I've been handwriting some projects while I travel around the city and say goodbye to departing friends and started writing a conversation between me and an ex-roommate, using only quotes from this book Then I had another idea. Then another. In many ways, this interaction is nothing like her very structured book. But I come back to this book over and over. Every time, taking something different away with me.
I struggled not to focus this on "Cat Poem" because no one wants to read about my pet.
I know there are people who think waking up is the best part of their day. Such potential. Such nothing is wrong yet. You don't remember who's dead. Who's left you. Where that bottle of Maker's Mark came from. Why it's empty. Your head is fine. Your bed is just you. Such potential. Such daylight.
On the other end of the ugh. Not enough curtains. Neighbors teaching themselves to play the sousaphone. A stranger in the shower. Your roommate owes you four months rent. Your roommate ate the last slice of your birthday cake. Your roommate. You don't know when you poured that bottle of tequila directly into your head but you know it was your hands that poured it.
My mornings are neutral. Mostly. Since the most affectionate cat died, I wake up mostly alone. Mostly. Today a book. Kim Addonizio's What Is This Thing Called Love. Not the first time.
Last time I put it out on the shelf my roommate picked it up. We were both electively maybe single. Recently maybe singled.
the benches in Washington Square Park,
briefly occupied with lovers, have been reclaimed
by men who stretch out coughing under The Chronicle.
Tonight I am amazed by all the people making love
while I sit alone in my pajamas in a foreign country
with my dinner of cookies and vodka.
The foreign country is Everywhere. My bedroom. The daybed in the living room when the neighbors are fighting on the porch below my window. Wherever is the person who once occupied the barren next to me. The vodka is whiskey but otherwise Yes Kim Addonizio exactly.
Our room was too small, the sheets scratchy and hot ---
Our room was a kind of hell, we thought,
and killed a half-liter of Drambuie we'd bought.
It's been almost twenty years since I first identified my arms as a hotel room. Though maybe motel would be more appropriate. Cheaper rates. The upkeep of the room adequate. Not professional. No hospital corners. But at least a fitted sheet on the appropriate sized mattress. A place to wake up. No matter how you feel about waking.
Kim Addonizio isn't just love poems. Also grief. Also dead. Also cat dying. Also No. Her every poem in this book is dog-eared. Come back. Don't kiss a fan at a poetry reading. Oh. Oh. Oh that is ten years I'm never getting back. That kiss. That job. That walk-in closet. That stack of unpaid loans and bills.
When he takes off his clothes
I think of a stick of butter being unwrapped,
The younger man. She views as nothing has harmed him yet, though he is going to be harmed. I've never seen a body without a dead father guttering the eyes. A pinch of keloid from when they first suspected their body was not theirs. Even just an ingrown hair signifying their desire to stop their body from aging. Or their belief that if they do not stop their body from aging nobody will lust them. Is there even a possibility of love if no one is lusting.
He lies on his side like a glass knocked over.
He lies on his side like a glass knocked over.
Only a little sweetness left, poor boy.
Only a little sweetness left, poor boy.
Only his little lies, a glass-like sweetness.
Poor he, a left boy knocked over on side.
Oh fake form become real. Possibly the paradelle. Possibly his body. How she grew inside him demanding out. How I ever could possible to understand who he had been or would be. How even who he was right then was not the person I saw. How all of us falsely identify. How we all put our I in their I because everyone must I like I I. Right? Even if they I differently. I can imagine their I through my I because we all start as I?
My I. I am trying to overcome my I. I am reading so many I. I keep thinking I understand Kim's I. That maybe we've almost had similar I but I can't even tell the I of the person I no longer wake up on the same coast as.
I think of all them and the filaments in my brain start buzzing
crazily and flare out.
Every kiss is here somewhere,, all over me like a fine, shiny
grit, like I'm a pale
fish that's been dipped in a thick swirl of raw egg and
dragged through flour,
slid down into a deep skillet, into burning.
She is talking just. Maybe just. I don't know. She is talking mostly of kisses. I am talking about everything. Maybe poetry forms. Maybe exes. Maybe mornings. Maybe all of them. When she doesn't mention forms, I don't always see the form in her poems. She Kim. She visible. Form mist. Form important. Sometimes the important part isn't immediately apparent. Sometimes you love a person or a thing without actually seeing how it formed. How it structure. How it I.
I don't sleep with books anymore. Always back to the shelf. Or in the backpack if they're joining me for a tomorrow. I only share my bed with. Actually sometimes cats. Sometimes laptop. But mostly I only share my bed with pillows. No authors or books whispering sweet something cribbed from other writers and lovers in my ear. I still don't have as much time with my eyes closed as would make the daylight brighter. I still always morning at the inconvenient times.
She's the one sleeping all day, in a room
at the back of your brain. She wakes up
at the sound of a cork twisted free
of a bottle, a stabbed olive
plopped into gin.
Kelly Cooper responds to phrases and images from James Gendron's Sexual Boats (Sex Boats).
A Response To Sexual Boats (Sex Boats) by James Gendron
I am not knowledgeable or in-tune
or out-of-tune enough to understand.
I came to poetry through metaphor
simile, word play, and white men
stayed for the women and the
revelation of blank verse and
the rawness of the other voice
the not-heard voice
not heard in my suburban town
suspended between the polo club
and poverty’s friends: the Red Cross,
the Salvation Army, the food stamps.
I grasp and turn and read, reread
Rereading I tease out fragments
You can forgive the one
who makes your life amazing
Pulling out words that glitter
Pulling the wire
Laughing at the unknowable
The smell of the jagged mint leaf and the smell
of one trillion farts pervade the atmosphere
I shake my head I
skipped a line or three
lost my place.
On my side of the bed, I made a sweat angel
Truth or what passes
for memory flickers
In fat I see myself distilled
more honestly than in my face.
My childhood was all ragged knees
and pockets full
All I ever had in my pockets is still there:
hundreds of pounds of it.
My eyes burn with
anger exhaustion tears
You can improve a star
simply by turning it. The other side is fresher.
It hasn’t been looked at as much.
My thoughts can’t track
the random elements
I get lost.
Ideas and I are at cross-purposes, like the wings of Christ.
Shake my head again
resetting my eyes
I don’t know what an entity is, so I don’t trust entities. Entities are assholes.
And look again.
Can the judge fulfill her duty
and arrest the wicked sun, serial murderer?
Or is she more of a pragmatist?
Have I chosen only
what I recognize?
The Louvre is too big. Everyone knows & denies it.
Like a hurricane: so big, it competes with the soul.
Only what speaks to me.
I’m just a haunted question mark.
Only what I’m able to hear.
Justin finally tracked down a copy of Langston Hughes's The Panther & The Lash, (take that public library!) and has his second interaction, this time with the actual text.
My Privilege Has Nothing To Say But It Will Speak Anyway
My privilege has nothing to say, but
it will speak anyway - it's wont and whatnot
My privilege has nothing to say,
but its ignorance does
My choice of your text, based solely on lyrics
by rapper turned actor
In the grand tradition of fake gangstas playing
The real crime of their acting, unsolved
reparations of vaudeville
My privilege has nothing to say
about the way your verse seems plain
as if the anger in your soul
Stripped adjectives allusions like acetone
the varnish coming off in patches
The hues removed from pale wood not lost on me
(and yes I am looking for your mocking approval)
Marched in traffic
spewed forth on social media
Stood up against admittedly uncomfortable abercronies
to defend a muslim kid at prayer
A marine at my side
Mecca's position shifting parallel to the view of huddled masses' avatar
I consume mindfulcinos daily to stay woke
Can I get a gold-star back-pat cookie now?
My privilege has nothing to say
Except that I have an excuse
for moving to Bed Stuy
about how little has changed
Since Leontyne belted out of darkness
My privilege has
grown weary of the echo in my skull
First assumed as chorus
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.