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
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
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