This is an ugly poem.
Its muscles are thin
so it topples over,
stretches and leaves
a yowling yawn to the air.
It sits wringing its hands,
elbows on knees,
broken by words it wants
to say, but can’t, will not.
It is silent because
it doesn’t care to be seen.
Its serif edges will buckle,
its first line will cave in
and lead passersby
to only glance.
Company, warmth, love
will not come to it.
One day, it will be dusted off.
The light will strike through a crack.
Its beauty may be found in a beat,
in a phrase that rolls off the tongue
and is still tasted.
In time, it will be buttressed
by wet ink,
dried by warm air,
rededicated to purpose and care.
Someday its ugliness will be vogue.
We share kisses like handed-down recipes,
covered in scribbled notes
and spills of former loves and lusts.
We modernize old dishes:
add the hiss of steam,
a gurgle of hunger,
the sweetness of cinnamon,
a dash of salt.
Licking each other’s lips, we test the temperature,
improvise the seasoning.
Hands knead the pulse of me, squeezing and guiding,
flattening and rolling.
Soft pecks and slight tongue,
the backs of knees,
palms on cheeks.
From where we’ve grown, life lines of ingredients
formulate our mixtures – they comfort and warm.
They reminisce of campfire cookouts,
coal stove winters, stovetop holidays.
We learn balance:
when to hold back,
when to add one more pinch.
Improvising and substituting,
bettering what was already made better,
we ready these instructions
for our own childrens’ melting and cooking,
fumbling and burning.
I want to tell a story with full words and slight stops, but it’s too high in the throat. I have to throttle it out into full drive.
Where it started I can’t say- a silent stare into your eyes, a touch that tattooed my skin, a laugh that jumped into the air and never broke. I sing the songs I’ve hung onto for so long, downcast and depressing, and they have lost meaning, they fly into the background, crash, lay flat, and deflate. The music of vision and purpose, one step in front of the other; a defined path and a case for setting it right on foot, out of the wilderness.
Where it starts- a morning yawn that mouths your name, a stretch that shakes of you, a sound that mimics the crisp Spring.
Lost and grasping, I need to refresh this blank page and start writing, but the blank page collects my imagination and pushes it to months of growing older, to hours of talking it over, to seconds of hanging on.
I want to tell the story with full words and slight stops of who we’ve become to each other, of old eyes seeing new again, of old souls finding home. Of saying good morning and meaning it first, of stepping off this brake and enjoying the ride, of turning fear into life.
This story gets written from here, our tongues in their proper places, our lips pursed to start, our throats clear and ready to scream.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a poem and believed it to be true. The seasons have slid in, replacing the words – spring cleaning, winterization, falling back, summer vacation. Instead I write what I will do down, a way to recognize them but not fully commit – hours and days become lists of chores, shopping trips, phone calls, and follow ups. They read like lyric to me now and I race to scratch them away:
When I was a child, I literally thought a snake would jump up and bite me in the ass. Waking in the middle of the night, I’d be terrified to pull my legs off the bed, put my feet on the ground. Just like the shadows of leaves I pictured being men with moving mouths on the way, I swore there were snakes and mice on the ground, waiting to get at my toes. I’d pee in the dark bathroom once I half ran there. And I’d sit on the toilet thinking this would be the night I didn’t check to see if the water snake slithered up the pipes, in wait. I’d hurry and wipe and half run, half jump onto the bed, covers over my head to ignore the shadows creeping in.
Now, when I pee in the middle of the night, half groggy, listless, I keep the door open and stare into the dark hallway. I often feel like someone’s waiting, someone’s watching, some invisible curious being that I believe Ivan notices sometimes. I hear a scurry of a possible apartment mouse. They keep coming back. Who am I to think they find interest here, that this is even worth being around?
I speak to the dog to keep from speaking to myself. But I still practice dialogue out loud that I plan to use for the fiction I have yet to write. The fiction ideas that pile up on some white page in an unnamed file on the desktop of computer. In bed, on my side, I wrap one arm around my shoulder not to feel so distant from the empty. I write a line of poetry in my head that’s so good to write down, but I wake in the morning and it’s smoke.
One night, I sit alone on the couch as the dog snores behind me. I watch a baby mouse scurry across the living room carpet and then jump for a minute repeatedly, finally to grasp a vent rung and slink into the utility closet. I turn on the TV.
I triple check locks on the door; set six morning alarms on my phone five minutes apart. I close all the doors and the drawers and the cabinets. I move books and coasters so they’re flush with straight angles.
I’m supposed to make lists to keep my mind from spinning. I’m supposed to Be Here Now, to practice the art of mindfulness to get these anxieties to wilt away. She says if you drink coffee, drink the coffee. If you shower, shower. If you read, read. Focus
How am I supposed to focus with so many lists? I could spend my day jotting down these schedules, these tasks, like every day poetry and never get to any one of them. I want the cold, clean calm of a fresh inked line through a word, through a thought. I feel like I’m inventing a new style of writing in this everyday feverishness of nothing ever finished.
I prefer the shorter parts of my life:
Grinding poetry from pulp to juice,
mashing the rind to sync the words with my meaning;
naps that lull of full-on sleep,
wearily rested and ready to move on;
a trail of thin lined cloud above my windshield,
the sun sherbet over my morning commute;
not the slow-sapping of pounding and putrid energy,
the night’s whispering and ear’s ringing, shuffling my legs,
the incessant throbs and aches ricocheting off bone and muscle.
The day often starts without me:
it’s awakening that’s easy.
I hear pages rustling in tender morning sleep,
stacks fanned through thick fingers,
the air gliding toward my nose.
The waking moments I can’t forget:
I did the work for you and
I’m not finished yet.
I forgot if you burned and itched my lips and tongue
when I first kissed you years ago,
so I tested by holding your
in my palm
and lifted you to mouth,
not to kiss you,
but to smell your
nature-bred gashes and scars.
You smelled like
when I held you up for me to see
the invisible teeth you used
to feed on spring day breezes.
I remember tasting the last drops of your
lightning-seared plumpness when
we passed around the dead harvest
after a rain-soaked and thundered day
that swept you halfway around your mother
after splitting her trunk
and sinking her to unhinged burial.
I mashed and smoked through your juices
of burnt sunset in orange and golden,
listing on my tongue your devoured sweetnesses and pleasings.
I wanted to roll and shake with you, sleepily within dreams, and
lick and chew your meat until it rotted out my tastebuds so none other
would sweat or spit or juice my cheeks
I didn’t remember if you burned and itched my lips and tongue
when I first kissed you,
but you came in slow and steady and scholarly,
showing me how to love
without a stinging sound.
In winter, there is too much
of rubbing elbows
and knocking knees
without making love.
Our bodies, rusty and frozen from stale winter
drain, click and bang;
our coughs, tiny and half-voiced sentiments,
rise as vapor and disappear.
Cramped, we air out our grievances
like two soggy papers
drying in the sun,
curling in at our sensitive edges.
We share this argument
like a cup of tea,
hot on the tongue,
but comforted to be speaking again.
I’m in the middle of a fairly large writing project due for my second week of the MFA program, but I felt compelled to post two items.
The first is an existentialist quote from Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat,” which I studied and deconstructed for my undergraduate thesis, using it as the basis of an argument that the close friendship between Stephen Crane and Joseph Conrad caused Conrad, either consciously or subconsciously, to almost completely crib whole passages and ideas from The Open Boat for his book Lord Jim. Regardless, this quote has been in the back of my brain all week:
“If I am going to be drowned — if I am going to be drowned — if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous. If this old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men’s fortunes. She is an old hen who knows not her intention. If she has decided to drown me, why did she not do it in the beginning and save me all this trouble. The whole affair is absurd. . . . But, no, she cannot mean to drown me. She dare not drown me. She cannot drown me. Not after all this work.” – “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
Secondly, I’ve decided to post a poem, from my archives, unedited. I consider this Found Poetry these days. Enjoy.
It’s nice to throw away this feeling once in a while:
That nothing I’ve done could ever amount to the
wide and deep of Wednesday nights,
when I am hungry and so tired I could bleed uselessly
The puddles in Baltimore today
were as wide and deep as the space between
our bodies, settling lightly in the dark.
And for once they could swallow me whole
if I didn’t keep moving.
Next: A rumination project on a useful object…
You held me and it wasn’t pretty.
We were stifled like a bird, matted feathers to concrete, days dead.
My legs hung like twisted streamers, thighs open-faced,
feet tight-heeled, digging notches into the carpet.
The veins sung and danced in your hands as you
shifted my weight. I drifted off
to your accent and dreamed
of teeth breaking in shards from my gums.
I just don’t have the time, I uttered
hushed like a lullaby,
a whisper of a busy woman.