The goosebumps on my legs have not retreated for months.
As if I have always shaved two days ago. A dusting of snow
is a taunt straight out of Martha Stewart – something you want
that sublimates as soon as it arrives, or that turns to gray slush
in your mouth. Whoever iced the phrase into being never dusted much
and felt the rolls of grime accumulate under the cloth, greasy on his fingers.
What woman could think dusting of snow without recoil.
What snow could fall without recoil, without scattering.
Winter could not scamper fast enough, but at night the squirrels return
to their holes and winter swoops out of them. Most mornings
the mountains to the west are crowned with snow, a dye-dip
that fades as the slope shades into the city. There hasn’t been shade
here and won’t be for months; all the pines cinched up
and the paltry maples bare, shaking. You have a greater chance
of being burned in winter as in summer: sun’s arrows bounce from below.
Even the geese are antsy, circling the pond as though planning an attack.
The white and black arrows of their heads look like heiroglyphs from here,
an abstract arrangement in a tapestry from a hundred years ago, or in a huge pane
of Tiffany glass. It felt like a hundred years ago when I was last
in the Tiffany room at the Met. Summer or winter? Only his wine-hills,
his women of light come through in that room. I don’t know if the park
was draped in leaves or gray slush. Only bunches of grapes.
Then light across the marks on the Temple of Dendur like sun throwing gooseprints
into relief. In central park, geese are rounded up every summer, slaughtered,
packaged for dinner. It keeps them out of airplane turbines.
Everywhere else the geese are fruitful and multiply
(but not in those words). Everywhere else the subways are clean
and river crossings don’t involve a tangle with the police.
My mother sends me pictures of the snow at home, so high the dog
stands level with the top of her car. But in a month the lake will swell,
the snow will muzzle down among the skunk cabbage.
The mountain laurel and blueberries will shake out a few new leaves.
The canoe is sure to be tipped and full of brown sludge, then the peepers
that make all evening ventures a chorus. I can almost but not quite
hear it. The wind and drifting snow have scrubbed them from my memory.
All I get is shaker and marimba, what stands in for the frogs on TV
when we’re supposed to feel the press of the night marsh
in our clean and far off living rooms. Don’t get me wrong. I love the million yellows
that grass wears here, the call of ravens in winter across the parking lot,
the snatch of mountains from the bus stop that’s different each morning.
The only details I can still see without my glasses are on those mountains.
I love not running into high school classmates at the deli, not having to be home
at midnight before my dad puts his guitar down and pours himself a drink.
I love seeing the sun in winter, that berries and asparagus from California
make it here when the ground still shivers and freezes.
But winter has frozen me to my chair. I feel congealed, like olive oil
left in a too-cold cabinet. Today I tried to move, really feel my limbs.
It was as if I’d been plunged into deep water: pressure
filling lungs and ears. Stop, they said, we’re killing us.
I tried to come up for air but only saw blue at the end of the tunnel,
the egg blue of flat sky over the parched plains, not the pull of leaves
that brought me back to the surface of the lake when diving for weeds.
The cold air has left me gasping for spring, and even the snowmelt
and the cornflowers in the dry grass are not enough to satisfy.
Despite the heat of the sun and the wildfires to come in a few months
nothing will warm me except leaves exploding at every angle from tiny fists,
the warm hug of walking among hundred year old trees,
the light percolating through them filled with life, like a long drink.
The goosebumps on my legs have not retreated for months.
Just like the painting below, my writing and writing life is a work in progress. Old habits keep trying to kick through and overshadow the new. But I’m making another attempt to wrangle those old habits into something useful, not a blotch on the page but a reminder of how much work, fun work, there is to be done.
Every so often, I post a promise to myself on this blog (and maybe to you, readers, though many of you know how often I break these promises) that I’m going to write and post more often. Here’s another one! It is always in the fall and in the spring when I feel something must change in my habits, a carry-over from when school dictated the rhythms of life.
I’m working on a project with a forum friend: we’re going to start discussions about a different work of poetry or fiction each week, both in an attempt to learn more ourselves and to encourage more rambunctious consideration of writing, serious writing, stuff that everybody in our community can learn from. I’m going to post those discussions here as well. I’d love to hear people’s take on the poems I write about! And I’d love suggestions for contemporary poems or poets that you think deserve a little attention from a bunch of young-ish writers trying to learn some craft.
I want to use my desk more. I want to be present more. I want to talk about poetry more. I want more reasons to analyze, to write, to paint, to look out the window.
Today the fake spring bounded out to greet me
but soon it will be back beneath the earth
gnawing on bones and knowing better
while up here, god help us, it snows and snows.
It leapt through my open arms and its breath
was as clean as the snow:
no fume of dirt and grass, no spark of memory
to make my body twang like a bird on a wire,
and not a hint of that unnamable smell
that masqueraded as magnolias while I was foolish
but which has always been this other thing.
Like the face of someone once loved deeply
transformed in memory to a blur of scowl and hair.
Like a rare fern unfurling in the rock garden.
Like a rock garden behind a train station,
like finding your man in the pricker bushes
at the train station, like weeks at a time
alone outside the library with only books
as company, like living on borrowed
time, like giving something to a man
who only wanted to borrow it, like looking
for a friend and finding only wet magnolias,
like breathing in a green so bright you go blind.
Like a color without a name that hunts you
year after year, arresting you in front of paintings
that you would otherwise hate. Like getting arrested
beneath a painting of lawless abandon.
Like searching so hard for something you know
it will stay hidden out of spite.
Like being robbed by the woods.
Whatever it is, I wonder if it can find me here,
where all the grass stays dead. And I wonder
if I want it to – I should know better by now
than to welcome spring’s messy, animal form
into my arms and let it wake it’s mate in me,
that animal part that wants to play rough
and run through some new love
until its coat is streaked with foam.
Without spring I may never run through the woods
again or know how light tumbles rock walls
or remember the stupid joy of speeding
down Route 6 into trouble.
But behind it I might never find my way
from beneath the trees, and be forever chasing
a red tail that whips under wall after wall
leaving me panting and gasping for breath.
to grow cells in red media, not like blood or wine but some depressing
cranberry thing without any alcohol
and wait impatiently while they get gorged and angry;
only each other in a culture dish and no body
to defend as is their nature
it snowed, and blood defends my body,
and gorges itself on fresh air in my swollen fingers
the sky is a deep lake long covered with ice
that the wind has whipped clean of snow
blue and shallow-seeming, opaque and rippled
with the quavers that made it, and shot through
with smoke burned by the last boat trolling for trout
and the snow clouds have slumped deep behind
the first guard of the mountains, and for a moment each mountain to the north
is echoed by a radio dish on the ground, angled together in gossip
and the moon is a radio dish
and I alone am on the right frequency
This has been a good start to the year, and I’m looking forward to the rest of 2013!
My work appears in PANK this month: 5 poems
These are part of the Claudine series, and though they aren’t in any particular chronological order I hope you enjoy the story.
Also, a few months ago the forum where I learned how to write poetry and how to be an ok person on the internet essentially went defunct, disbanding an awesome community of writers. We’ve been working on a new forum and now it’s open to the public! Where the Wild Things Write is a forum geared at students – teenage, twentysomething, and thirtysomething writers who are up for learning their craft along with other cool people. One of the main focuses of the forum is on helpful and friendly critiques. If your goals are to learn, improve, and talk shop then please join us.
The glow from the bar
turns the girls dressed in white
outside an inside-out green
the way moths seem to sizzle
in the sick dark of my single light
on the grass. Their powder
turns my fingers into moon tips
after I cup their orbit
around the paper lamp
and slingshot them around the beacon
blinking Coors across the street.
How like magic to them, like tumbling
into a Buick’s trunk to emerge
on a pier with only the moon
glancing off water and steel
for guidance, or stepping from
the dark rush of the bar
into a gaggle of powdered reaching
creatures. One leans far over
a concrete barricade that holds
the lake out of the lot and retches,
twisting her hair in one hand
like it was holding her up, a blue black tether.
She sheds pink powder
like the moth dragging a broken wing
across the porch, trying to shake
something broken free into the arms
of the lake. I want to take her
translucent self into mine
and wipe the glimmer off with my thumb.
Posted for Open Link Night #61 over at dVerse poets pub. You should check it out! Also, any feedback on this is welcome: critical, interpretations, reactions, anything is helpful.
someone once told me, you make me think of tangerines.
you make me think of summer girlfriends. you are
a summer girlfriend.
those socks make you look like an old man. what time is it. no what time.
did you ever let a cowboy sit on your lap? where’s the beer?
when you’re done with the cookie, put your fortune in the cup.
that cup. cup your hands – gently now. I have something for you.
why don’t I just order for you
if you’re going to eat my food? open your mouth.
wear something nice, my mother’s coming. close your mouth.
you sound just like my mother. my mother
doesn’t like you very much, so can I pick you up
instead? baby, I’m no pick up artist, but those jeans, girl.
you don’t punch like a girl.
My final tally for August: 23 (out of a goal of 31) poems, a few of which I am really happy with and have sent out into the world. While this is not a poem a day, it does seem to be my limit for a mont: previous (mostly successful) poem a day months have resulted in 28, 19, 21 poems. This tells me something about my next goal: to write 20 poems each month.
Has anyone set a goal like this and had success with it? I need days to just veg out, to process what I’ve read, or to focus on school and work. How have you handled pushing yourself creatively, on a schedule, around other things?
And to start off the month:
WHEN WE ARE YOUNG WE ARE ACCIDENTS
I used to sit on a stone wall in the woods and watch the ferns move slowly back and forth like kelp in a rising tide, like green geese swaying as they feed with heads under the even greener surface of the water. Every time I walked from the cul-de-sac behind my house through the gate of the trees some magic entered me. The smell of life beneath a pile of leaves. Or like the smell of someone you used to love on a bus-bound stranger, just before you transfer. But then the schoolbus interior was all I knew, its patched green leather and persistent cruelties, the same unfortunate color of the couches in the school health center. I walked into the woods the way some people can walk through floral wallpaper and pass through the 19th century to their ultimate destination. I had no destination, neither from nor to. Ferns, thankfully, have no destination save to wave their spores into the wind which slowed to a stumble, a ramble beneath the trees, pausing where I paused and speeding up along the trail to avoid capture by a landlord with a rifle. Once, the man who owned the woods stopped me at the bottom of a snowy hill, his gun slung across the back of a quad. I’m hunting deer, he said, blank as the ice that the sled had carved, and I wouldn’t want to hit anyone by accident.
My neighbors smoke by the cypress
that divides our courtyard from the complex next door
as its ancestors must have divided fields in Tuscany,
and now my apartment smells almost like the alleys
in Florence, all graffiti and clove cigarettes, newspaper
and dried clay, but also like the busting edges of Lucca
which promised flaxen stubbly grass beyond the wall
which we trudged through while contemplating tiny bridges
olives, and the mysterious Etruscans, kicking up locusts
or some winged tomb insects with every step.
I remember your smell the best,
or rather, I remember almost being knocked on the grass
by your smell, it hanging on my elbow when I brushed yours
but didn’t dare get closer, it steaming off your white shirt
in the sun. Now I try to wind my way back
but the smell of your body in the heat at seventeen
has been overwritten by so many others:
the smoke, the nothing smell of mountains,
the previous owner of my death red roadbike,
olive oil and anchovy paste still clinging to a plate.
You, grown-up, curled in our bed. The list is infinite
and every side-street of smell leads me down another,
as if you were in the Piazza San Michele
in the rocky heart of Lucca and I had just passed
a bakery and a cathedral, hungry, without a map.