Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

Tremolo

January 25, 2011

Listening to the hallowed thump of my father’s fingers on the wood, the tiny squeak of the tuning pegs pulling tension on the strings, my two brothers and I gazed like giddy, perfect Buddhas into the hollow bodies of our parents’ Martin guitars from our spot on the floor at their feet.

And we watched their fingers strum and pick—the steel and the nylon—as they fumbled with their capos, and belted out the pages, one soprano, one alto, of torn sheet music with their throats.

John Denver, Jerry Jeff, Emmy Lou, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Kris Kristofferson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band…

These folky jam sessions where my father sang into my mothers eyes and struggled to reach those higher notes never lasted all that long. The moments before someone was first to put down his or her guitar, to grab a cigarette, sounded best. The last notes hung sweetly like a tremolo, something mysterious and dark hovering overhead, a lumpy fog of calamitous death.

And it held us in place, for fear the slightest of our movements be the cause of this end. Except our voices, which rose above each plucked string along the fret, and danced, and knew we had no choice but to let go.

Teenage Angst: know thyself

October 1, 2010

Friday morning and the tweenage angst is in full force. My one son yelled at me for not letting him bike to school in a downpour; the other whined about not wanting to go to school at all.

“I hate school,” he said.

“Well, how come just yesterday you were pumping iron in the garage at seven in the morning, putting on loads of deodorant and couldn’t get out the door fast enough?”

“That’s different. That’s for a girl who happens to be at school. Everything else is just nonsense.”

“Oh, I see.”

Anyway, at least they are attempting to know themselves. As for me…I seemed to be pretty confused at their age, as these poems attest. I don’t think I need to get too analytical with them. It’s safe to say that they are pure embarrassment.

1. (c. 1984)

Y’know I was just thinking
Bout what I believe
Kinda hippy, peace, love
Put on earth for me to receive

This world I don’t find easy
But I’m doing the best I can
God, you know I don’t belong here
This generation I can’t undertand

Feels like I’m in the dark
A misfit in the light
Honey, everybody knows I’d be better off
Just coming out at night

These days aren’t mine
It’s hard to believe in peace
In a world full of hate
My world long ago ceased.

2. (c. 1984)

This one is a little deeper, and more philosophical …

Finding yourself
Is like going on a trip.
You just travel,
Not knowing where you’re going
But somehow you just end up there.

3. (c. 1986)

This one seems to be profoundly existential and probing. And yet, teacher’s comments were discouraging: “This needs work,”  (to put it lightly). I guess I was grateful that the other poems, which presumably were turned in with this one, didn’t have the same comment on them and thus, were works of genius.

If I Never

To die.
To never breathe again
If I never drank from the rivers of peace
Never smiled at the trees
Or drew my expressions
Painted them onto my canvass
if I never felt the beauty of the sky
Never felt the heat or cold
If I never got out of bed and did
the stuff that I usually do
If I never…
I wouldn’t be.

I take back everything I said…

June 23, 2010

Isn’t it ironic?

A teacher, criticized for his own work as having “limited relevancy due to…heavy usage of cultural references,” (see blurb below) criticizes a student for virtually the same thing. A comedic writer, not finding a comedic piece funny. And a classroom full of frustrated MFA students whose tolerance for argument seriously diminished due to an earlier line by line by line by line by line by line…analysis of one student’s 18-page story.

Such was our fate this afternoon, which made me want to take back everything I said the previous day.

Poor, poor Pete G____, whose story kicked ass but who got such bad reviews by Max Apple that I squirmed in my seat with discomfort (I think Prof Apple asked us not to use the word “squirm” to describe a character). This was not the kind of criticism I was talking about. I didn’t want anyone to have to hear over and over again “Your piece just isn’t funny.” “It’s just not funny.” “I didn’t find it funny in the least.”

But Pete’s piece was funny. It was subtly funny, and it poked fun at mass consumerism. Apple said consumerism isn’t funny anymore. It was funny But it’s not now. He also said that Pete never took his work to the next level. “It’s stale,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere.” Adding, “especially not for me.”

So, instead of giving Pete his fair share of a line by line analysis, he opted instead to read something that was “actually funny.”

And it was actually funny. It was “The School” by Donald Barthelme. And everyone laughed. BUt I argued that Pete’s goal was not just to offer a “farce” or a “satire” as Barthelme had done. Instead, he was giving us magic realism, farce and social criticism on consumerism. We shouldn’t compare. Max Apple’s reply? “It wasn’t funny.”

In fiction workshop today I learned several important things:

  1. Criticism can be harsh and hurtful. It’s all in the delivery. I think too little criticism on something that is obviously in need of it is not good. Nor is too much criticism to the point of the author feeling belittled. Some where there needs to be reality. As Stephen Dunn put it, “Our work here [in class] is provisional. These are poems on the way to becoming poems. Everyone wants their poems adored and that happen now and then…but not a lot.”
  2. Faces don’t “smolder like a freshly lit cigarette” (but I think I already knew that)
  3. Sometimes things aren’t always as they seem. Students can love a piece for one reason, while an instructor can find reasonable fault with it. Both side have merit. It’s your job to pay attention to both.
  4. And lastly: Don’t argue with an old man who’s written five books and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Respect him, despite disagreeing with him.

More to come on Stephen Dunn.

“Apple has been compared favorably with John Barth, Philip Roth, and Woody Allen. Although his work has received critical acclaim and enjoys considerable popularity, some commentators think it may have limited relevancy due to Apple’s heavy usage of cultural references. However, it has been posited by some scholars that Apple’s audience is increasingly a younger generation, more sympathetic to his flashy postmodern technique and for whom written language is less meaningful than Apple’s pictographs.” –Taken from enotes

Summer of trees

September 11, 2009

This bizarre thing was written in response to a writing project we had to do in Lauren Grodstein’s Fiction class. It’s a sestina and if you know anything about sestinas, they’re pretty difficult to do. If you don’t know anything about them, here is a little definition below. I’m not sure I did it exactly right, but whatev. It’s done. Feedback is appreciated.

A sestina (also, sextina, sestine, or sextain) is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to asretrogradatio cruciata (“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6 (but other versions exist, described below). English sestinas are usually written in quadratic hexameter or another decasyllabic meter. -taken from Wikipedia

I.

All my summers are filled with trees.

Here in Philadelphia.

But through broken glass and black mosaics and ragged, cold metal…

From a ground floor window, of a basement, hot and wet with humidity and stagnation he still knocks on the wall.

He knocks hard, repetitively, like the monotonous hammering of ceramic rubble from when I was a kid.

He knocks persistently, to let me know it’s time to see that dark place once again and set aside my dreaming.

II.

I run to lock the door but he has a key, and so I put to rest the dreams I’m dreaming.

Through the window stretches a limb from an Elm tree.

And I reach through the bars and out into the open and I climb the branches like an eternal kid.

I bend my knees and stretch my arms high and twist my spine up and around each branch in the beautiful, clean, city sky of Philadelphia.

And there I rest and wait, perched with closed eyes, leaning on the outer wall.

I rest through it all—the darkness, (he is right) and the sharp pain of coarse rope, fist and metal.

III.

He takes my wrists and twists them up with rope, he pulls my hair into his fist and lifts my dress, and soon I feel the click of metal.

I am untouched; dreaming

I try to tell myself, there was no knock on the wall—

No; these walls are soft and padded with real windows and a real view of trees.

I can see clear across the tops of sycamores, elms, maples, oaks; every tree in all of Philadelphia…

Gathered at the pretty feet of this here kid.

IV.

Oh, but when I was a kid.

I lived in a house of a sculptor and an artist who worked with mosaic tiles and metal.

It was right off Broad Street in Philadelphia.

I spent most of my days in a concrete yard, dreaming.

And looking up into a sky filled with the soft leaves of a hundred trees.

The only things that kept me safe, in those days, from my father, were my mother’s screams and a wall.

V.

My room was in the far corner of the basement next to my father’s workshop; he and I separated only by this wall.

And when he had too much to drink he’d knock and scream, hey, kid!

And breeze in with his artist’s tools, like wind through the trees—

Almost invisible; except for wood and glass and scraps of twisted metal

He had fashioned these things into daggers and pointed toys that he had thought up in one of his many dreams.

And he would visit me during hot summer nights, just like all the tourists visited Philadelphia.

VI.

The basement was cool in summer; summers were hot in Philadelphia.

And he would lock the door and push me against the wall.

And in the very beginning, I did not move or think or dream.

Heck, I was just a kid.

And when he’d jab me with the object, whatever it was, always cold like metal

I only stared out my window and imagined trees.

VII.

And then, one night my mother screamed, she’s just a kid!

And searched the floor of my father’s shop for her own piece of metal.

And as I lie slumped in a corner, too late, still staring at the trees

Newly dreaming of climbing high and safe into the trees—

My mother ran across his heart and head a jagged piece of metal

And scratched out both his eyes and said, this is for the kid.

We left our watches…

June 30, 2009

sleeps_alone_tonight_by_nightide_reaper

We left our watches, left them on the nightstand, next to a half glass of water with a ring of condensation under it, sweating through the night.  Some hours before, I crossed your fields, burned your crosses, dressed your burns, and ripped your dress, or at least I talked about it or maybe it was you doing the talking.  You were beautiful and spiritual and endless and a fourth thing that I cannot describe or explain or now even recall.  The images were fleeting, sexual and possibly in black and white, but mostly grey.  The lights flickered on and off.  By your hand, by your foot.  In the moments after, I seemed confused but I felt that I was not.  You looked at the clock but could not quite make out the hands across the room.  The sun was going to come up soon or it had just gone down.  The natural light was falling faintly across the ground outside your window.  Later you were gone, writing, and I was finding myself where I was supposed to be.  I looked at my watch, drank the water, and waited for you.

-DH

She’s smiling

June 29, 2009

She’s smiling
She’s smiling at him
She’s smiling at him but you can’t see him
Because he’s not in the picture
But he’s smiling back at her who is
And they’re laughing about a joke he just told
Something funny
Something funny about a Vespa
And wearing matching crocs
Something that makes her laugh so much
That she feels like she’s connected again
That she feels like she’s in the right place
For the first time
Photogenic
And smiling

Now

March 19, 2009

I’ve given up my writing for her.
All the words that were in my head,
I’ve let them go, and now
I’m hollow and barren
and reading shit poetry
for no fortune or fame.
I’ve given up my confessions
for him
and his reputation
and his people
and his feelings.
Being in love with a surgeon
rips your heart out.
I’ve lost the wide
open space of those empty
days when the lilt of time
is filled with the ups
and downs of my own brave,
imbalanced
world of emotions.
Those moments which
are no longer mine,
where I was the source
and the sink
and all the mundane stuff in between.
Those days when you lie in the grass
looking up at the sky
and watch the clouds
wax and wither like
smoke from a match, and
you have the time to think
how everything is so damn
vague and changing
and that all you want
is for this moment 
to last forever.

A Caution To Everybody

February 27, 2009
Consider the auk;
Becoming extinct because he forgot how to fly, and could only walk.
Consider man, who may well become extinct
Because he forgot how to walk and learned how to fly before he thinked.   

Ogden Nash 

 

The lawyer and the barista

February 21, 2009

You are not normally self-effacing.

Until you push past the carts.

In a black suit.

Against a dichotomous background.

On your way to the Cafe

To buy  black coffee

Circumnavigating the aisles of Whole Foods,

Where you obviously don’t belong

At two in the afternoon

While there’s work to be done

At your desk;

Your glass office

Some ordinance to file.

You are

Linear and finite

Braving a sea of amorphous,

Communal, leftist, hippies

Who brush past you with their flowered dresses

And canvas tote bags

And downplay their superiority,

Just so you can catch a glimpse

Of your girl’s smile.

 

 

 

you are not erased

February 3, 2009

I remember you like a woman who comes up and out of the subway like a flower opening in the spring. Quite unsuspectingly. Brushed by the crowd. Thinking of nothing in particular but the sun on your face, the clarity of sound of your shoes on the pavement. And the girl you passed three minutes ago who reminds you of a doll that you once had as a child. I remember the lightness of your thoughts and the strangeness you always felt knowing that something else more important was about to happen. That your shoes and the doll and the passing girl is nothing compared to the face in the crowd you are about to see that will bring you to a place of unpredictable gracelessness.

I remember your face and your swirling hair when he appeared as if starting from a pinpoint in the distance in that slow, steady, irreversible manner in which dreams occur or a movie in slow motion is played out. And at each step, I remember your face, seemingly locked into a pattern of recognition—yours for his— forming the ability to block out stimuli, tunnel vision, drawing yourself closer in no other manner more appropriate than the way an average business woman walking down a crowded street at rush hour would. Only, for a moment, you and he share the same tempo in your walk. A pace that is not only yours but his. And the brain and the eyes like the magic that is synchronicity form from the shared memory that is reborn and says, “There is my old lover.”

Dorothy Moore tunes go through your head. Roy Orbison’s In Dreams goes through his. And an “I heart you,” written on a chalkboard that was erased many years ago comes back in dust to reshape those same words, like the glittery bang of a dying star. The passing is nothing less than a miracle— the work of a god that believes in reminding us that this felt good once. But it’s gone. Just like a cruel trick. Erased. I remember you like a woman who smiles a cordial smile. Briefcase in hand. Flustered and hurried and harried. Passing close enough to rub shoulders with a stranger. Your mind always elsewhere. I remember the very faint smell of a cologne and a perfume that once, when mixed, made its own smell and lingered much longer than we had expected.