My son carries the name
of the healing archangel. He
sits on my lap, at the computer’s
luminous screen. We look at photos
of my parents, divorced
when I was two. Their faces
sagging, eyes hopeful.
Still alive, but their visits to us
number less than a handful
in his five-year-old life.
Sometimes, after brushing our teeth
he’ll say, “Mom, make it like a river.”
And I’ll cup my palms together
under running water, and he’ll drink.
Tonight as we sit together
I’m silent, because it’s hard to explain.
He asks,” “Do you still love them?”
So gently, so gently.
— Carla Drysdale, from Inheritance, published by Finishing Line Press. Republished with permission of the poet.
Photo credit: Daniel Padua via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0.
You are the salt of the earth
If the salt has lost its savor, wherewith
shall it be salted?
She was driving home on a Friday night
suddenly he slumped forward in the passenger seat
and in mid-sentence he was gone I pulled over,
I called 911, I begged him, talk to me, talk to me!
Every move is sad and hard to make
the only positive distraction for her is work
her friends make sure she’s not alone during the week,
rattling around in that enormous house I’m numb,
I’m on automatic pilot, I still can’t talk
He was closing the summer house and didn’t want help
The fridge was full of food for Thanksgiving
her pie was cooling on the rack any minute his key
would be turning in the lock
I called the caretaker and told him to look
everywhere, even up in the attic
He was in the kitchen, he’d had a stroke
Continue reading “Widows, by Jacqueline Lapidus”
Find an uncomfortable chair.
There are old letters from a bomber pilot in the South Pacific. Discard them.
Do not conjure the lemony rot in the collar of his pajama top.
Find the ear syringe behind the ice cap in the medicine cabinet.
Give up vindictive nightmares for Lent.
Try on the dead dog’s collar that hangs on a nail in the basement.
Pull all the brown leaves off the geraniums.
Apply hot compresses of clam broth to your forehead.
Research the pain indices for bone cancer generated by malignant tumors in the prostate.
Invite the children over to watch home movies, and when they arrive, take a long trip in the car.
Inquire about the current rates at the motel where you checked in the afternoon you found
the tacky, sequined lady’s cigarette case on the passenger side of the front seat of the Falcon station wagon.
Search scrap metal junkyards for the cast iron skillet you threw at him on Mother’s Day,
Turn over the mattress.
from House You Cannot Reach: Poems in the Voice of My Mother and Other Poems, FutureCycle Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission of the poet.
Let’s keep the world through its own balanced kiss,
the kiss come from women made of our own blood,
the holder, the cooler (redeeming the earth,
shaping the room where we give you your birth).
Hands born of woman will not stop this flood,
this generous, selfish, long-opening gift
— Annie Finch
from Spells: New and Selected Poems. Wesleyan University Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission of the poet.
This poem comes from a collection put out by Dancing Girl Press in 2008 called “Billet-doux” (Love letters), which comes like a box of letters and postcards, each poem printed differently on a different missive. It must have taken the press a great deal of effort to produce these by hand. The format wouldn’t mean much, however, if the poetry itself weren’t high quality. I have many collections of poetry, and this is by far one of my favorite.
The myth of Persephone and Demeter has a great deal of personal significance for me. I appreciate the bare quality of this poem, and the hope offered at its end.
Persephone, to Demeter
handfuls of asphodels,
but their white edges
waste into air. I should be
thankful roots taste buttery
sweet and a feeling triggers–
your hair shaking out blue
sky, fingers pulling down knotted
threads of white birds
tiny then: stalks thicken with
shade distorting the light,
a shatter of wings where breast
and earth meet. But you are
careful, the rolling cart stands
upright on the precipice. Farmers
steady the harrow; smoke toils
on the horizon.
I walk into daylight and offer
you this bouquet, this earth stripped
from my side making you radiant.
– Shawn Fawson
Billet Doux, Dancing Girl Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
From Collected Poems
There are many kinds of cages. Some of them are more comfortable than others. But they are all cages.
Through the rain
And the lights
I met myself
I met berserk
On the traffic island between fifth and main
“you have so much left to learn” he told me,
Taking hold of the scruff of my neck
[This is a stub. It echoes three poems: one that I wrote in high school, which was inspired “Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks,” by Wallace Stevens; and also The Great Figure, by William Carlos Williams]
A singular consequence of the modern age of font-elasticity and many-sized screens is its effect on the ability of poets to reliably communicate how their lines are meant to indent and break. I taught myself how to type by writing poetry on an Apple IIe computer, before Steve Jobs stole the idea of GUIs and computer mice from a Xerox research lab in Palo Alto, California. Levertov (and e.e. cummings before her) most likely relied on a typewriter for idiosyncratic line spacing — spacing which is often intrinsic to the meaning of the poem. Neither Levertov nor cummings face the particular challenge of a poet caught in the crux of the major technological shifts of the late 20th and early 21st century. On the whole though, I find the ways in which form and content affect one another fascinating and try not to complain too bitterly when my pocket-sized computer can’t accurately reflect the line spacing of a poem designed to be read on the printed page.
In other words, Levertov’s poem looks completely different when you see it printed on the page. The lines are broken and indented in way that affect their meaning, and which don’t translate in straight-up HTML unless I cheat and use the PRE tag. And if I do that, the poem becomes unreadable on smaller screens. Levertov and cummings never had to worry about responsive design.
Levertov’s poem captured me in part because I glossed over the title on initial reading. Without the word “river” in mind, the more human — and perhaps spiritual — elements of the poem spring to the fore. Plus, I’m a sucker for water imagery. As with many modern poets, Levertov’s spare use of language can be deceptively hard to replicate. Think of this poem like a zen garden, artful in its minimalism.
I recommend seeking out Levertov’s book Evening Train, where you can find the poem in its original incarnation.
Dreaming the sea that
lies beyond me
I have enough depth
to know I am shallow.
I have my bowls, my pools
of rock I flow
into and fill, but I must
brim my own banks, persist,
vanish at last in greater flood
yet still within it
follow my task,
the calling sea.
– Denise Levertov
From Evening Train
New Directions, New York:1992
Last week, I was about to board a plan to San Francisco when I saw Adrienne Rich’s obituary on the front page of the New York Times.
It’s hard to describe Adrienne Rich’s impact on my life with grace and brevity. That’s because my relationship to her work mirrors my relationship to the literary establishment as a whole. I first heard of her when I was a junior in high school, young poet full of promise and bereft of friends after the class of 1989 graduated and scattered off to college. A precocious freshman named Deborah, with reddish hair and presumptuous mannerisms, was shocked to learn I hadn’t already read and loved her work. What Deborah didn’t know (and neither did I) was that I’d been raised on the literary canon, comprised then as it is now almost exclusively of men. Five years later I wrote my senior thesis at Vassar on her work and the arc of her life. Seventeen years later, Margalit Fox‘s obituary said it better than I ever could.
Continue reading “Rest in Peace Adrienne Rich: Fellow Poet, Feminist, Queer Woman, Trail-Blazer”
A beautiful poem — visual, verbal, musical — on the virtues of solitude.
“If you’re happy in your head, then solitude is blessed and alone is okay.”
Watch it on Youtube