Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mother Carey's Hen

There are days I don’t think about the sea;
weeks wash by in fact,
then a shearwater—or some such—flutters by
on the salt flats fanning out in my mind’s eye,
reflected there, a shimmering reverie,
recalling the pact

I once made (and renew today) to hold
to a higher altitude.
But note the difference between this bird
and me: a slight disruption or harsh word
and I crash, folded seaward, letting cold
life intrude;

whereas the petrel, mindless of such height,
scales each watery hill
that rises up, adapting to the shape
of each impediment, each low escape
instinct in it, the scope of its flight
fitted to its will.

--David Yezzi in this fantastic collection

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ducks

A pair of fat, iridescent ducks
struggling to lift
from the green-grey surface of a lake
upon the dentist's office wall
reminds you of the anywhere you'd rather be

as he keeps bringing you back
into the world of gravity
and shrill, bone-corroding drills,
making you pay for all those years
you wasted thinking about

things less real than tooth decay.
In the thin, fluorescent light the ducks
look like an endangered species,
with their heavy, satin bellies
slung low above the pointy waves--

but still, their plumage glows,
and you can see that this is the essential
confrontation--pain and beauty
braced against each other
like a pair of teeth,

a tug of war
in which the prize is you
and whether you will swallow or spit out
this contradictory life.

So you relax, lean back, and open wide,
letting science pave the inside of your mouth
with painkillers and gold.
But you keep looking at the ducks--

long necks outthrust, intent
on their ascent
towards some distant patch of sky
which won't exist
until they get to it.

Like you, they have a motive,
they have an opportunity.

(for Jack Myers)

--TH

Expensive Hotel

When the middle-class black family in the carpeted hall
passes the immigrant housekeeper from Belize, oh
that is an interesting moment. One pair of eyes is lowered.

That's how you know you are part
of a master race--when someone
humbles themselves without even having to be asked.

And in that moment trembling
from the stress of its creation,
we feel the illness underneath our skin--

the unquenchable wish to be thought well of
wilting and dying a little
while trying to squeeze by

the cart piled high with fresh towels and sheets,
small bars of soap and bottles
of bright green shampoo,

which are provided for guests to steal.

--TH

The Situation

When the pain was fresh,
for a while the problem got very clear

and the clarity constituted a kind of relief
as if the problem had withdrawn
to watch what you would do.

But after a while the clarity began to fade,
and three days later you couldn't have articulated
precisely what the problem was,

and three days after that you forgot
that there even was a problem,
and your old way of thinking resumed.

You're just a citizen
of your own familiarity
who can't remember himself in a different way.

You go along and every now and then
the path jumps out from under you.
And you have learned to expect this upheaval,

as much as that is possible.
One might say it is with a kind of fidelity
that you keep making your mistakes,

and then renewing them,
as if you were following a sign that says,

This Way to Freshness.

--TH

Plastic

One could probably explain the whole world in terms of Plastic: the plastic
used for almost everything--the little ivory forks at picnics
and green toy dinosaurs in playrooms everywhere;

the rooks and pawns of cheap $4.95 chess sets made in the People's
Republic of China

and those Tupperware containers that open with a perfect quiet pop
to yield the tuna fish sandwich
about to enter the mouth of the secretary on his lunch break.

You could talk about how the big molecules were bound in chains
by chemical reactions, then liquefied and poured like soup

into intricate factory molds
for toy soldiers and backscratchers, airsick bags and high-tech Teflon
roof racks;

you could mull over the ethics of enslaving matter
even while feeling admiration for the genius it takes

to persuade a molecule to become part of casserole container.

And what about plastic that has dear to you?
Personal plastic?
--the toothbrush and the flip-flops,

the hollow plastic Easter egg that held jellybeans inside,
the twelve-inch vinyl disk that in 1976 brought you Copacetic Brown and
the Attorneys of Cool?

Plastic companions into which the lonely heart was poured,
which gave it color and a shape?

--Or in another case, the blur polyethylene water bottle
sitting on a table in the park on Saturday

between two people having a talk about their relationship

--which I could tell was probably near its end
since the various lubrications
usually coating the human voice

were all worn away, leaving just the rough, gritty surfaces
of need and fear
exposed and rubbing on each other.

I wonder if it would have done any good then
if I had walked over and explained a few things to them

about Plastic?
About how it is so much easier to stretch than
human nature,

which accounts for some of the strain imposed on
the late 20th-century self,
occasionally causing what has been called Interpersonal Adhesive
Malfunction.

They might have been relieved to know
that science has a name
for their feelings at that precise moment of modern living,

which may be why each of them kept reaching out
to seize the plastic water bottle

and suck from it
in fierce little hydraulic gulps,

as if the water was helping them to wash down something hard to ingest;
or the bottle was a life vest keeping them afloat on open sea--

though their pink elastic lips, wrapped around the stem of the container
were so much more beautiful than plastic

and the smooth ripple
of their flexible muscular throats

made the only sound audible
above the tough, indifferent silence
starting to stretch over everything.

--TH

Hard Rain

After I heard It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
I understood there’s nothing
we can’t pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can’t turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people

quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen-hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.

You can’t keep beating yourself up, Billy
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
About all those people you killed—
You just have to be the best person you can be,

one day at a time—

and everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.

Dear Abby:
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood-
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
Signed, America.

I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,

but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth—

whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking through the Springdale Mall.

--Tony Hoagland here

Food Court

If you want to talk about America, why not just mention
Jimmy’s Wok and Roll American-Chinese Gourmet Emporium?—
the cloud of steam rising from the bean sprouts and shredded cabbage

when the oil is sprayed on from a giant plastic bottle
wielded by Ramon, Jimmy’s main employee,
who hates having to wear the sanitary hair net

and who thinks the food smells shitty?
And the secretaries from the law firm
drifting in from work at noon
to fill the tables of the foodcourt,
in their cotton skirts and oddly sexy running shoes?

Why not mention the little grove of palm trees
maintained by the mall corporation
and the splashing fountain beside it

and the faint smell of dope-smoke drifting from the men’s room
where two boys from the suburbs
dropped off by their moms

with their baggy ghetto pants and skateboards
are getting ready to pronounce their first sentences
in African-American?

Oh yes, everything
all chopped up and stirred together
in the big steel pan
held over a medium-high blue flame

while Jimmy watches
with his practical black eyes.

--Tony Hoagland here

Safeway

Even after an hour in her room
with eye shadow and rouge,
moisture whip, lip gloss, and perfume
my mother still looked like she was dying

unexotically,
still looked like a person
trying to impersonate a person
going somewhere other than the grave,

though she was only going to the store,
after weeks of living
horizontally
while her blood was scoured by detergents
bleached by blasts of subatomic light.

Riding on her bony little head,
the glossy auburn wig
looked like something stolen,
the lame hip pulled her to one side
like the stuck wheel of the shopping cart we pushed

past pyramids of fruit,
down mile long corridors of breakfast food
where cartoon animals shot sugar stars
over an infinity of bowls,

--a landscape which seemed,
in the brightness and abundance of its goods,
like somebody’s idea
of paradise--

and the bright, continual ringing of the registers
was like the sound of happiness
for sale.

I was angry, dutiful, and seventeen,
afraid she was going to read her obituary
in the faces of the shoppers;

frightened they would stop and stare
at the black cloud hovering above our heads
as we moved slow as history
up and down the aisles.

Maybe months of sickness had burned away my mother’s shame
and left in her dry mouth
a taste for irony, maybe she wanted
to show the populace

what death looked like in person
or maybe it was simply her last chance
to make small talk with the neighbors
who stopped to say hello--

Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Green,
whose kindness I imagined, then despised,
caught awkwardly among them as I was,
between the living and the dead.

But looking back across the years,
the scene looks different to me now. I see
a little group of people, halted
in the midst of life,
their carts jammed up
against the lettuce and the tangerines.

There is no gallows standing there,
no spectral executioner fingering his blade.

And I seem sweet at seventeen, innocent
even in my rage--
trying to protect
what didn’t need protecting
from what couldn’t be saved.

--Tony Hoagland here

Emigration

Try being sick for a year,
then having that year turn into two,
until the memory of your health is like an island
going out of sight behind you

and you sail on in twilight.
with the sound of waves.
It's not a dream. You pass
through waiting rooms and clinics

until the very sky seems pharmaceutical,
and the faces of the doctors are your stars
whose smile or frown
means to hurry and get well

or die.
And because illness feels like punishment,
an enormous effort to be good
comes out of you--
like the good behavior of a child

desperate to appease
the invisible parents of this world.
And when that fails,
there is an orb of anger

rising like the sun above
the mind afraid of death,
and then a lake of grief, staining everything below,
and then a holding action of neurotic vigilance

and then a recitation of the history
of second chances.
And the illusions keep on coming.
and fading out, and coming on again

while your skin turns yellow from the medicine.
your ankles swell like dough above your shoes,
and you stop wanting to make love
because there is no love in you,

only a desire to be done.
But you're not done.
Your bags are packed
and you are travelling.

--Tony Hoagland here

Second Nature

I must be enjoying my sixth of seventh life by now,
watching the orange, early morning sun
gleam thickly through the fabric of an evergreen

as the smoke churns dark and sap-like up,
then wafts away from the chimneyspout.
In the past , when I heard people talk about

how a place becomes a part of you,
I always thought that they were being metaphorical,
but right now I can feel this orange and tender light

taking a position inside of me--
painting a stripe of phosphorescent,
pumpkin-colored warmth along one wall

of the inside of my skull. I can feel
the washed-out scarlet of these winter fields
becoming an ingredient

of my personality,
the way that in the noisy urban center
of every molecule of chlorophyll,

one atom of magnesium resides,
as quiet and essential as a church.
Seated in appreciation of this calm,

in the easy chair of my appreciation,
I have a view of what has brought me here--
not just the landscapes I’ve survived,

not just the blind motion of the waves,
but what I grasped and made a part of what I am--
a second nature, scavenged from those things

I chose to love or fear.
There was a sycamore in Arizona I cared
enough about to take into my heart, and now

I hear the wind moving through its branches
just below my clavicle. There was a kiss
that changed the history of my mouth--kiss

that was a courtship, marriage and divorce
sandwiched in the thirty-second intersection
of her lips and mine. When I look

at all the odds and ends I’m made of,
I think some kind of
irrationally-proportioned

Frankenstein,
on pilgrimage to god knows where,
humming a song as he lumbers through the forest

of the middle of his life.
His left eye still remembers
a sunset that it saw in 1964; his right

beholds the snow upon a branch
with so much childish love
it threatens continually to break

the rockpile of his heart.
But he keeps going on,
half-thrilled and half-appalled

by his own strangeness--wondering what god
he could be fashioned in the image of?
What handiwork of what mad scientist?

--Tony Hoagland here

Oh Mercy

Only the billionth person
to glance up at the moon tonight
which looks bald, high-browed and professorial to me,

the kind of face I always shook my fist at
when I was seventeen
and every stopsign was a figure of authority

that had it in for me
and every bottle of cold beer
had a little picture of my father on the label

for smashing down in parking lots
at 2 AM, when things devolved
into the dance of who was craziest.

That year, if we could have reached the moon,
if we could have shoplifted the paint and telescoping ladders,
we would have scribbled FUCK YOU

on its massive yellow cheek,
thrilled about the opportunity
to offend three billion people

in a single night.
But the moon stayed out of reach,
imperturbable, polite.

It kept on varnishing the seas,
overseeing the development of grapes in Italy,
putting the midwest to bed

in white pajamas.
It's seen my kind
a million times before

upon this parapet of loneliness and fear
and how we come around in time
to lifting up our heads,

looking for the kindness
that would make revenge unnecessary.

--Tony Hoagland* here (Isn't that a great cover?)

*TH is totally my current fav poet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reluctance

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

--Robert Frost here

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between "green thread"
and "broccoli," you find
that you have penciled "sunlight."

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning--to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

--to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

--Tony Hoagland* here

*God I love this poet.

Heaven

It will be the past
and we'll live there together.

Not as it was to live
but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.
We'll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.
And it will last forever.

--Patrick Phillips here

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Sun = source of infinitely quotable quotes

"We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements ... profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces." --Carl Sagan

"The notion of saving the planet has nothing to do with intellectual honesty or science. The fact is that the planet was here long before us and will be here long after us. The planet is running fine. What people are talking about is saving themselves and saving their cash flow." --Lynn Margulis

"It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good." --Margaret Mead

"God isn't interested in technology. He cares nothing for the microchip or the silicon revolution. Look how he spends his time: Forty-three species of parrots! Nipples for men!" --Evil, in the movie Time Bandits

Friday, September 9, 2011

Quatrain 511

The clear bead at the center changes everything.
There are no edges to my loving now.

I've heard it said there's a window that opens
from one mind to another,

but if there's no wall, there's no need
for fitting the window, or the latch.

--Rumi

Good Morning, Crisis

To see the feather on the filthy mat beneath the gas pedal is infinite sadness.
No more opposite a place for a feather to be, no worse way
for it to get there than how it must have come,
on the bottom of a shoe.
I'd like to think it floated through a window like some answered prayer,
but it's winter and the windows haven't been open in months.
I keep holding my hands to the heater as if waiting for someone
to throw me a ball I'm supposed to catch.
When I see the steam rise from a cup of tea, I imagine the souls of the leaves
have been released.
No earthly reason to feel lonely for feathers, each bird having so many.
One can go unmissed. And yet I think of my wife's finches, how naked they looked
when they hatched. They came out of their eggs and for weeks did nothing
but open their mouths to the sky.

--Eric Anderson here*

*Blogger's not letting me format as intended/originally published. Boo.

Please Don't

tell the flowers — they think
the sun loves them.
The grass is under the same
simple-minded impression

about the rain, the fog, the dew
— and when the wind blows,
it feels so good
they lose control of themselves

and swobtoggle wildly
around, bumping accidentally into their
slender neighbors.
Forgetful little lotus-eaters,

solar-powered
hydroholics, drawing nourishment up
through stems into their
thin green skin,

high on the expensive
chemistry of mitochondrial explosion,
believing that the dirt
loves them, the night, the stars —

reaching down a little deeper
with their pale albino roots,
all dizzy
Gillespie with the utter
sufficiency of everything

— they don’t imagine lawn
mowers, the four stomachs
of the cow, or human beings with boots
who stop to marvel

at their exquisite
flexibility and color.
They persist in their softheaded

hallucination of happiness.
But please don’t mention it.
Not yet. So what

if they are wrong? So what
if you are right?

--Tony Hoagland here

At Night, in November, Trying Not to Think of Asphodel

I’m no use for parties, for the idle language
which is all how hellish are the days
and dark or where did I find
that thread count or what do I think must be
done about et cetera. So I smile
and nod and never say much,
happy to be thought impaired
or mute and when asked
to name what I couldn’t live without
were I marooned on a desert island,
I say viable organs. Not a book and its pages
slipping from cheap binding
and not an album
that’s not an album
but summer’s totem forever
and not one deft lover
and not the red ringlets
of her hair let down in a grotto beside the sea.
To be consigned there,
to that island, that home
to the fetish of consolation,
is nothing I ever want
to want. To be stripped of desire
as if it were a bandage.
But here in the night made of alarms,
a train shambles
through the dark
and it’s hard to hear the trees speaking
the language we made
for them. Or I did,
thinking of you
who taught me regret.
There are nights when I dream
of stolen oranges.
How we ran away with the sun in our arms.
And there are nights
when I can’t speak,
not even to the wind
in the strange tongue of the dark pine trees.

--Paul Guest here

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Conscience Ambassador

"Contrary to a generally held view, poetry is a very powerful tool because poetry is the conscience of a society. [...] No individual poem can stop a war — that's what diplomacy is supposed to do. But poetry is an independent ambassador for conscience: It answers to no one, it crosses borders without a passport, and it speaks the truth. That's why ... it is one of the most powerful of the arts." —Ellen Hinsey in a 2003 interview w/ Poetry

Friday, September 2, 2011

Piano

Her wattled fingers can’t
stroke the keys with much
grace or assurance anymore,
and the tempo is always
rubato, halting, but still
that sound—notes quivering
and clear in their singularity,
filing down the hallway—
aches with pure intention, the
melody somehow prettier
as a remnant than
whatever it used to be.

--Dan Howell here

Draw Near

προσέλθετε

For near is where you’ll meet what you have wandered
far to find. And near is where you’ll very likely see
how far the near obtains. In the dark katholikon
the lighted candles lent their gold to give the eye
a more than common sense of what lay flickering
just beyond the ken, and lent the mind a likely
swoon just shy of apprehension. It was then
that time’s neat artifice fell in and made for us
a figure for when time would slip free altogether.
I have no sense of what this means to you, so little
sense of what to make of it myself, save one lit glimpse
of how we live and move, a more expansive sense in Whom.

--Scott Cairns here