Category Archives: poetry

New U.S. Poet Laureate

The first Native American poet has been named U.S. Poet Laureate: Joy Harjo. She is a writer and a musician and a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation, I just learned here: NPR piece.

Let’s all order a volume of her work from our local bookstore!

In the meantime, we say farewell to Tracy K. Smith.

Here’s one of the poems from Smith’s Pulitzer-prize winning, “Life on Mars.” I really like how she combines the most ordinary observations with the big questions.

The Universe as Primal Scream
Tracy K. Smith

5 pm on the nose. They open their mouths
And it rolls out:  high, shrill and metallic.
First the boy, then his sister. Occasionally,
They both let loose at once, and I think
Of putting on my shoes to go up and see
Whether it is merely an experiment
Their parents have been conducting
Upon the good crystal, which must surely
Lie shattered to dust on the floor.

Maybe the other is still proud
Of the four pink lungs she nursed
To such might. Perhaps, if they hit
The magic decibel, the whole building
Will lift-off, and we’ll ride to glory
Like Elijah. If this is it – if this is what
Their cries are cocked toward – let the sky
Pass from blue, to red, to molten gold,
To black. Let the heaven we inherit approach.

Whether it is our dead in Old Testament robes,
Or a door opening onto the roiling infinity of space.
Whether it will bend down to greet us like a father,
Or swallow us like a furnace. I’m ready
To meet what refuses to let us keep anything
For long. What teases us with blessings,
Bends us with grief. Wizard, thief, the great
Wind rushing to knock our mirrors to the floor,
To sweep our short lives clean. How mean
Our racket seems beside it. My stereo on shuffle.
The neighbor chopping onions through a wall.
All of it just a hiccough against what may never
Come for us. And the kids upstairs still at it,
Screaming like the Dawn of Man, as if something
They have no name for has begun to insist
Upon being born.

FIRE: guest poem

“FIRE” by Claire Boskin
a fellow traveler in my writing circle
with family in California
claireboskin11@gmail.com
designer, facilitator of issue-focused study groups, all ’round mensch

FIRE

fire rages
once again
now history making

fire rages
orange, yellow, red sky
black dense smoke
veils the air

eyes witness war zone
hell on steroids
california ablaze

unreal
surreal
too real

california fires on the sweep

fear
unrelenting
taste on the tongue
knot in the chest
grip in the gut

neighbor’s house
hollowed
collapsing

a whole city
razed to rubble

stay reasoned
court calm
decisions to make
actions to take

children to calm
comfort, assure
touch, hug, kiss

Evacuate now
official,
devastation declared

choose, pack
what to take
what to leave

clothes, toys,
papers, photos
memories

dogs, cats
horses to
set free

crisis self
survival self
full grown
let loose

evacuate now
a life stripped down
to fit a car
maybe two

evacuate, escape
a friend’s place
a relative’s place
a strange place
anywhere but this place

california fire in your face

evacuate now
flames hungry,
skip, lick
defy control

engine revved
foot on pedal
seat belts bolted

will i ever see home again
move over world
we live among you

fire rages
california horrific
on a big screen

dedicate to my beloveds,
to all everywhere
who know this
and may again, and again

 

Thank you Claire, for letting me share this piece. I know it will touch many.

Accidental beauty

Accidental Beauty

Look at the clipped grasses! The curb with its
divets. Tell me, could the ribbons of tar
shining in the midday sun be
any more gorgeous?

I’m waiting
for the light to turn, for the grey
hulk of hospital to leave the rearview —
waiting for the return of things
or the start of them, or even the
end.

Impatience is a surly thief!

And, shopping, a deficient religion.
I should have known better.
By the time I arrive,
the capris of summer are picked over.

Meanwhile, my sister’s heart flutters
in uncertain alarm and children
dead from cholera in Yemen pile up,
200, 300.
Somehow, I’m alive and shopping for pants.

In the swanky interior, the clack of my sandals
on the polished geometry stirs
sorrow. How it is these days.
“This is it,” my shoes percuss. “This is it.”

Going one place to another, you are never
anywhere but here.

Impatience acts the rude interloper
while uncertainty takes you to your knees.

Later, but not much, I slap my notebook
on the shiny ebon surface of a grand piano
and pull a pen out of my hair. One of
two. There, in the sunlit atrium, a prop of luxury
holds my weight. To one side, the familiar
bronze statue of girl and dog and to the other,
an absence I can’t get used to even though
the beloved fountain’s been gone for years.

(All those pennies tossed and wishes made
two little tow-heads at my side —
where are they now — pennies, wishes, and
boys turned brown-haired men?)

Regret followed far enough
takes you to love.

The Tiffany’s clerk paces
behind jewel-filled cases, not sure
what to make of a woman writing in fury
in the middle of the morning, in the middle of
the atrium and where did
that notebook come from anyway?

the ribbons of tar, the cement divets
polished geometry, regret,
bronze.

Oh tissue first, silver medallion next and finally,
the tasteful grey bag. The clerk chirps
“Have a good day of shopping,” even as
my ribs smolder about to combust, one hour
being thirty minutes too long.

How much time do we have? Ever?

Tick. Tick. Swipe. Delete.

How much time do we have
to be kind, to be kind,
to preserve the republic?

Fairness gone amok in every quarter
makes a girl want to cry —
even a girl who never cries.
No wonder the ordinary sound
of sandals clacking on
polished tile calls out, “Wake up!
This is it!” rattling up a
ferocious grief twinned
with gratitude.

“These are no ordinary times.” Say.
Repeat. Do nothing. The acts
held in reserve depend on gross
miscalculations of risk — as if we
have time and time and more time?

Tick. Tick. Delete. Swipe.

Regret followed far enough
leads to damnation.

Would the clerk in Tiffany’s understand
why a woman wails in the bathroom
corridor given our collective failure
or would she choose not to hear?

You lean your frantic frame against the
silent instrument, hoping to leave
behind more than the echoes of impatience
or a sweaty hand print that the cleaners
will have to buff off later.

Let me be kind. Let me speak up. Let
me pause long enough
to give thanks.

Regret expressed deeply enough always
turns into prayer.

The ribbons of tar, the polished geometry,
vanished pools and children, wishes
gathered and held in regions unknown.




img_2353-1

Erasure Poems

1). Start with a source document. Mine is a letter written in 1740 by Eliza Lucas Pinckney to her father.

2). Black out some words (or select some) or both.

3). Type up and read, edit if desired.

4). Repeat. Enjoy the variations.

I followed two rules: 1) all words in the Erasure Poem must be in the order that they appear in the source document and 2) all words must remain in their original form (i.e. the same tense or person). I made an exception to rule two and updated archaic spellings.

This technique, very popular in altered book circles, is one I’ve used for collage, but never for poetry. Relative to the historic fiction I’m writing (Eliza is one of the main characters), I was curious what might be revealed — anything new or useful about Eliza or her circumstances?

All of this was inspired by a poetry reading a few weeks back at Sam Durant‘s “The Meeting House” in Concord, Mass. (an Arts and the Landscape event sponsored by Trustees of Reservations). Four poets read. One of them was 2015 National Book Award winner for Poetry, Robin Coste Lewis (pictured above), who offered an erasure piece. It was intensely moving (you can hear her read three of her poems, here).

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
ONE

Honorable Sir,

Words to express the situation
beyond expression

the fearful immediate
danger

as I must own some
advantages
such as honor, perhaps profit too.

Put in with my just cause
the love you avoid
by unjust means.

The assurance that this life
depends on Dear Sir,
you.

Injurious to imagine
Heroism.

I deserve
this time.

You always persevere
Honorable Sir.

Your Daughter

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
TWO

To Colonel,

I want words
from you.

The situation terrifies us.
Immediate danger.
I must own

You are sensible.

Might some advantages arise
such as honor, profit too,
mere trifles
in the balance?

A just cause in preference
to every other means.
Courage enough
to will the thought
unworthy of you.

To pretend to Heroism
should conceal fears

and affections.

Always prayer.

Your most obedient
Daughter

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
THREE

To Sir,

I want words under you, us
Beyond and increased

Some place to differ

There, when put in the balance

Life
A just cause
Love

You avoid the assurance
that this welfare
injurious, I deserve.

To pretend
Heroism, I conceal
perpetual apprehensions.

I am always the prayer.

Your Eliza

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
FOUR

I am sensible and
I esteem the fight
as well as the love

Advantages arise

These mere trifles
honored a just cause
as well as every means
to retract anything more
than I deserve.

Mama and the Almighty
The constant prayer

Your obedient Eliza