Poems

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Word 

 

Not just a syllable, a ululation, click, roll, slur, trill. I want

the whole damn thing, the roller-coaster ride of consonant, vowel,

accent and innuendo. I want serendipity do-da, I want somnambulant

rapture, and I want it bad—malcontented, maladjusted, maloccluded.

I want it alpha and penultimate—there is no end. I want the sound

and everything it conjures up, the surprise—that wasp nest

still clinging to the eaves of memory, thin paper that seems empty

but buzzes to life with a little warming—or should I say warning—

a little onomatopoeic poltergeist in my head, a haunting, a mesh

of sound and moment, fit tight as tiles in a Moroccan mosaic,

or the cowry shell wrapped about its softer insides, the subtle

pianissimo of what it is—these sounds our companions, linking us

one to another like some species specific duet—or should I say

diet—the panda and its bamboo, the koala and its eucalyptus, how

things are joined as, when I say a word--veranda, for example—

or a name, Einstein—it never means strictly what I want it to

because of all the baggage, everything it ever was—including the madness—

everything the seine net of memory can hold--squirming shiners,

bits of vegetation, muck and grit and algae—the small, the smell of it,

the wind catching at its webbing, the primal smell like bedsheets

after sex—a skin, a skein of sound, whirl of x and y, both cargo

and carriage—like any word—part cure, part tremor at the core.

 

     —Harvard Review, Soluble Fish

 

 

On Being Asked by a Student How You Know When a Poem Is Done

                                                                -after Dean Young

 

I say three-and-a-half hours for medium rare

or when the juices run clear. If you prefer sweets,

when the syrup reaches the hard crack stage.

I say, when your childhood backyard becomes

the Garden of Eden and innocence becomes

an electric tomato, all juice and spark.

I say, when the time spent equals the emotion felt.

Wait. Reverse that.

I say, if you've been standing in a thunderstorm

half the night and all you've gotten is wet.

If you've written a baboon into a love poem

it might be time to stop. Or not.

I say, check the poem for chandeliers of fish,

the shimmer factor. Then I shrug and say

what Valery said. (At some point even

O Captain, My Captain abandoned ship.)

I say never stop until you've achieved zpxtflo,

unattainable zpxtflo. At least we've established  

that. I say, when you've given up searching

for something to rhyme with orange because

you've eaten the orange. I think of Jarrell,

a sense of innate order when the poem

takes the place that has awaited it. I say

the poem might be done when the seventeen

whooping cranes following an ultralight

twelve hundred miles from Wisconsin to Florida

realize it's not one helluva big bird.

Then I tell my student what Deborah told me—

you must put on your leather jacket and go into

the cave. Even when the poem bares its fangs.

Maybe the poem's done when the stake of imagination

has been driven through the Frankenstein

of intent. I say the poem's done

when form and chaos get in bed together.

 

     —Sycamore Review, Soluble Fish

 

 

Dirty

 

As days stiffened to ice and snow, field mice

would squeeze in, slipping through the smallest space

 

in the cottage walls, the d-Con in place

along imagined paths where the dark rice

 

of their shit might be found. And how poison

scatters. Chemical green mixed with small turds,

 

bits of shit mother called their "calling cards"

—genteel words, fact recast beyond reason,

 

curlique script left behind like a name

coyly slipped. As if dark truths could be cast

 

off, refashioned by imagination

to cloak our discomfort, our silly shame

 

in the body's workings. As if what passed

through the gut were the cruelest machination

 

     —New South, Dance Like a Flame 

 

 

Dance

 

Consider the land snail, lust-driven,

rearing up onto the tip of its tail,

 

or rather, its foot, ballerina

en pointe, slippery critters

which naturalists tell us then sway

 

in a tricky balance of shell and flesh

to face each other and in some species

 

to shoot an arrow which is in no way

a metaphor but an actual arrow,

a tiny dart of calcium carbonate

 

shot right through one slick surface

into the other in order to seal the deal,

 

so unlike or else not at all unlike

how we two might come face-to-face,

the sharp barb of losing one's self

 

in the other balanced against

the by and by inevitable absence

 

so that we hope to save some part

of whatever tango, twist, pirouette

we can manage, clutching the photo,

 

the token, as if to hold, to embed

the swirl and color, fire and heft of it--

 

as in a paperweight, a stay against the willies,

the toxins, the loneliness, the too-soon

quiet pressing its full weight upon us.

 

     —The Southern Review, Dance Like a Flame