Five poems that remind us the current is not the permanent

Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun: “In the first part of my life with Sotatsu, he lived in a cell in a jail where the sun came south through the window on an avenue all its own where it was forced to stoop and stoop again until when it arrived at its little house it was hardly the sun at all, just a shabby old woman. Yet we were always looking for her, this sun, when she would come, always eager to have her meager presents, her thin delineations.”

Robert Frost,  writing a letter in 1913: “The best place to get the abstract sound of sense is from voices behind a door that cuts off the words.”

These two quotes are the only two reasons I’ve dog-eared pages recently. The first is from late in this story, and the second is from late in this one.

I haven’t been focusing as much as I’d like. I’ve been working or packing all the time recently, one or the other. I’m getting ready to move, and tasks at the other end of the apartment are always calling, no matter at which end I may be. Work is kind of the same. These poems have broken through a bit and directed my focus outward, at least for short periods of time. Yes, they deserve better. They throw me off kilter in a way both scary and hopeful.

Son of Fog,” Dean Young.  Makes me think of being in San Francisco two or some  years ago, staring into a foggy cove and having no idea where life would go next. “What a mess. We stand at the edge / of a drop that doesn’t answer back,  / fog our only friend although it’s hell  / on shrimpboats.”

From “The Sonnagrams,” K. Silem Mohammad. He puts a Shakespearean sonnet into an anagram engine, then rearranges the text until it makes some sense again. I feel this way at the end of almost every week these days. Productive but scrambled. “A purple fist, a Federalist, a sunspot, / A bird that’s got a big big butt to study, / A guy named Toots, ten dumb galoots, a gunshot, / Die Fledermaus by good ol’ Strauss (my buddy)….”

You’re,” Sylvia Palth. For Plath, happiness looking at her baby before her eventual final sadness. “Clownlike, happiest on your hands, / Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled, / Gilled like a fish.” And then we flip the journey…

Epilogue,” Robert Lowell. Starts with sadness, ends with a higher calling, within sight of happiness? In life, sadness haunted him, but he never gave in.  “Pray for the grace of accuracy / Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination / stealing like the tide across a map / to his girl solid with yearning.”

Song,” John Fuller. Naturalism of the face. “You don’t listen to what I say.  / When I lean towards you in the car / You simply smile and turn away.” A lover? God? Life? Take your pick, your perspective. Take the smile, at least.

Not really resolutions but maybe sort of for 2014

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. But picking up Dean Young’s The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction again today — as this vacation nears its end — has left two passages stuck in my brain.


Two explains how you might deal with birds. Which, as I have dream after dream about work this vacation, is something at which I need to do better. Adding paragraph breaks to the passage to make it more Web-readable:

Poetry is an art of beginnings and ends. You want middles, read novels. You want happy endings, read cookbooks. Not closure, word filched from self-help fuzzing the argument. The ever-grudge of love and endsville. I believe in scars and making scars shine.

Kaput. Form is the shape of the selecting intelligence because time is running out. Form enacts fatality. To pretend otherwise is obfuscation, philosophical hubbub. A lie. We die. We go to art to learn the unlearnable, experience the unexperienceable. Art reports back.

Form is the connect, primal haunt, carbon chain end-stopped. You can tell it’s late because we prefer the songs of Orpheus after he’s torn apart. Pattern as much a deficiency as a realization. No one gets to count forever. When you slice yourself open, you don’t find a construct.

Bloom rhyming with doom pretty much took care of Keats. Already I feel the flowers growing over me, he said, looking up at the daisy design in the ceiling. Wire in the monkey’s diencephalon prints out a wave most beautiful. Open form prone to mouse droppings just as closed to suffocation. The river swims in the fish. The girl ties back her hair in a universal gesture. “The world of dew / is the world of dew / and yet, and yet” (Issa). A menu isn’t a meal.

“Put your trust in the exhaustible nature of the murmur.” Breton said that and know when to shut up, I’m saying that.

We’re not equations without hats. Nothing appears without an edge. There’s nothing worse than a poem that doesn’t stop. No one lives in a box. The heart isn’t grown on a grid. The ship has sailed and the trail is shiny with dew. Door slam, howling in the wood, rumble strips before the toll booth. Enter: Fortinbras. Ovipositor. Snow. Bam bam bam, let’s get out of here. What I know about form couldn’t fill a thimble. What form knows about me will be my end.

Six poems with which to escape the week

It’s only Monday. How is it only Monday? Do the number of problems to solve ever become less rather than more? Coming through my streams recently: “Bird-Understander” by Craig Arnold, “Extinction of Silence” by A.E. Stallings, “Almost Ashore” by Gerald Vizenor,  “Muscadine” by Mary Moore Easter, “For Jane” by Stephen Stepanchev, and “Emerald Spider Between Rose Thorns” by Dean Young. I am escaping this very minute.

That it was shy when alive goes without saying.
We know it vanished at the sound of voices

Or footsteps. It took wing at the slightest noises,
Though it could be approached by someone praying.


So many poem links in this blog, but I can’t stop

They’re all so good. And they keep coming my way! I have to share them.

“How I got from then to now / is the mystery that could fill a whole library / much less an arbitrary stanza…” – Al Young’s “Birthday Poem.”

“Strike deep, divide us from cheap-got doubt, / Leap, leap between us and the easy out; / Teach us to seize, to use, to sleep well, to let go…” – Marie Ponsot’s “Private and Profane.”

“This morning I have the distinct impression my house is about to crumble so let rubble be my crown.” – Dean Young’s “How to Glow.”

From Rilke’s “Letters on Cezanne,” quoted by Laura Morris in the February issue of Poetry mag, remembering artist (and poetry lover) Joan Mitchell:

As if these colors could heal one of indecision once and for all. The good conscience of these reds, these blues, their simple truthfulness, it educates you; and if you stand beneath them as acceptingly as possible, it’s as if they were doing something for you.… It’s as if every place were aware of all the other places — it participates that much; that much adjustment and rejection is happening in it; that’s how each daub plays its part in maintaining equilibrium and in producing it; just as the whole picture finally keeps reality in equilibrium.

Lydia Davis, writing about Mitchell’s “Les Bluets” (the cornflowers).

Eventually I began to find answers to my questions, but they were not complete answers, and after a time I did not feel the need for complete answers, because I saw that part of the force of the painting was that it continued to elude explanation. I became willing to allow aspects of the painting to remain mysterious, and I became willing to allow aspects of other problems to remain unsolved as well, and it was this new tolerance for, and then satisfaction in, the unexplained and unsolved that marked a change in me.

Plink plink, perfect poetry for the subway

How much have I enjoyed reading Dean Young’s Elegy on Toy Piano poems? Very much. Who knows what the other people on the Metro must think, with a cover so strange on a paperback so thin. But the book has accompanied me on my rides the past couple weeks, and no one has said anything. Except in my head where I’ve been reading every poem aloud.

The collection — and Dean Young in general — fits the train. When there isn’t silence, there are noises, bodies and parcels from every direction. But there is some silence, and life (and poems) are unexplainable without it.


Original Monkey. “I’m working on my vanishing point. / I’m practicing my zenith.” Ghost Gash (not online). “You’ll have maybe forty dollar, maybe a roadmap of Vermont, only an inkling of what you’re escaping….” Facet. “I can’t make it any clearer than that / and stay drunk.” Alarm Clock (not online). “Clank of the lightning factory, clank / of the leopard’s leash.”

Peach Farm. “How far we are from kissing / our damage deposit goodbye.” Whirlpool Suite (not online). “Every day is crash day.” Bathed in Dust and Ash. “So the shadows vanish and return / carrying their young in their jaws….” Elegy on Toy Piano. “The injured gazelle falls behind the / herd. One wild last enjambment.” Last Words. “What if everyone’s combined into one big poem / and I’m stuck with a preposition?” And another, Flamenco, which cannot be quoted well and instead must be danced in one’s head.

I continue to bookmark poems, too many of them

But probably just enough. Because I want you to read them. I read them and think, “I want everyone to read this!” And I rush to the bookmarking machine. Straight from the machine to you now:

“Butter, like love, / seems common enough / yet has so many imitators.” — “Butter” by Connie Wanek.

“I am learning to abandon the world / before it can abandon me.” — “I Am Learning To Abandon the World” by Linda Pastan.

“We are the characters / who have invaded the moon, / who cannot stop their computers.” — “The End of Science Fiction” by Lisel Mueller.

“Asleep until noon, I’m dreaming / we’ve been granted another year.” — “Forbidden City” by Gail Mazur.

“Be precise / authority is magic.” — “Editing the Moon” by Caroline Caddy.

“My dragon may be your neurotoxin. / Your electrocardiogram may be my fortune cookie.” — “Handy Guide” by Dean Young.

I also find I’ve bookmarked a rerun of Greg Sellers’ “Shy Boy,” which I blogged about here once two years ago. “I wait for my shadow to forget me, / to take that one phantom step that I keep / from taking.”

How did I not blog this stuff last year? … Poems

Over the holidays, cleaning up, I found there were many photos, papers and Web notes around my house of things I meant to blog but for some reason never did. To clean house in 2012, time to blog! Part three of five.

Here are 10 poems I meant to blog but never did.

1. “The Fatalist: Time is filled with beginners. You are right. Now.” By Lyn Hejinian. There’s a lovely last line about “a poem full of ruptures.”

2. “At Pleasure Bay.” By Robert Pinsky. One he read when I saw him last year. The work starts historical before turning personal and rich.

3. “The Enigma of the Infinitesimal.” By Mark Strand. When he writes about “lovers of the in-between,” I find myself in that category often.

4. “Expecting.” By Kevin Young. Beautiful.

5. “A Small Story About the Sky.” By Albert Rios. The lines are so short, and the images are so bright. The final line stuck with me for days.

6. “Changing Genres.” By Dean Young. So good. “I was satisfied with haiku until I met you, / jar of octopus, cuckoo’s cry, 5-7-5, / but now I want a Russian novel, / a 50-page description of you sleeping…”

7. “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII.” By Pablo Neruda. So good, in a so different way. “I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz, / or arrow of carnations that propagate fire: / I love you as one loves certain obscure things, / secretly, between the shadow and the soul.”

8. “The Instruction Manual.” By John Ashbery. No one writes poetry for digital CMS product managers, but this Ashbery poem comes close.

9. “Boy Breaking Glass.” By Gwendolyn Brooks. About urban youth and urban destruction but working for the lost, destructive rebel in all of us.

10. “Daisies.” By Mary Oliver. I blogged about the poem initially seven years ago, and life pushed me back upon it in 2011. I got it this time.

Picking ‘Poets Picking Poets’

Many of my colleagues bicycle to work, and some more aggressively than others want to know why I don’t. I try to explain, and I’m never sure if they understand. People join their days in different ways; and thinking some, I come to mine through lyric (words with motion) and the equivalent physical elision, a covered propulsion. I don’t want to turn on news, hear points of view (including my own) or, relevant to this discussion, navigate rush-hour traffic. I’m content being nobody until I have to be somebody, nowhere until I have to be somewhere.

In short, I have no early-morning desire to hurtle or brake. So, I walk and take the subway, the city’s covered propulsion. Standing, I read.

My book for weeks this fall on the train, as you know if you follow this blog, was McSweeney’s Poets Picking Poets compilation. I blogged my favorite poems from the first two chapters, and you promptly heard no more. Not that you noticed — I barely did, a paperback buried deeper daily under a new shovelful of papers on my home desktop — or that absence can feel prompt. But I did finish the book and planned to tell you more about it. How could I not have? Each day with the book was happier, more at peace, a surprisingly decent fit that helped me better understand my mornings. You’d think I was exaggerating to say so.

Go buy Poets Picking Poets. Go assist your morning. You may not even know your morning needs help, that you’ve been living at the mercy of the modulation and macadam industries. Or not. Your morning may be perfect for you. I’m not one to interfere, and you know I’m a stooge for toaster manufacturers. Inspired by the P.F. poem of the day using the gem phrase “imagined heat,” here are all my favorites from the rest of the book, linked if possible, and if not, here when you buy and return.

…Chapter 3. “Identity Poem,” Brandon Som. “Jesus was fond of knock knock jokes and not so much wine, except maybe wine made from certain flowers, lilac or dandelion. It is Christian to say what…”

…Chapter 4. “Upon Waking,” Denis Johnson. “at the far edge of earth, night / is going away. another / poem begins. slumped over / the typewriter i must get this / exactly, i want to make it / clear…”

…Chapter 5. So many that grabbed me:

“The Rise and Fall of the Domestically Violent Empire,” Mary Karr. “She fell like a shot bird from a dawn sky, head down, full weight, with a splash at the end. Fell like a plane shot down — dials twirling…”

The Anti-Leading Lady Disassociates,” Courtney Queeney. “Some days I approximate a vacant lot. Instead of fire I have a face — a solid / slow-flowing, a target’s white and heart and near unhittable…”

Ghazal-Head,” Terrance Hayes. “No count number. Indentured mumbler. / Black shoe stumbler. Beer belly bumbler, that’s what.”

“The Atom Discovers String Theory DC Comics, June-July 1964, #13 ‘Weapon Watches of Chronos,’ ” A. Van Jordan. What a title! “I was merely running away to come back / To catch my villain by surprise.”

…Chapter 6, “Astral,” Tracy K. Smith. “For a moment / You become the fish — pure muscle, / Desire tethered to desire. A stone / Skipped across this same river. You tug back, sink the hook.”

…Chapter 7. “Driving with Dominick in the Southern Province We See Hints of the Circus,” Michael Ondaatje. “A tattered Hungarian tent…”

…Chapter 8. I hardly even know where to begin. My favorite is likely Kay Ryan’s “Ideal Audience” because it makes you thank God rhyme exists. Read it aloud to yourself! Even if you’re a public space. Do it.

But then we also receive: Atsuro Riley’s “Picture,” which requires more reading aloud just for the assonance; Ryan’s “Dogleg” to bring you up on rainy days; Sarah Lindsay’s “Cheese Penguin” to bring you down on nice days; Pattiann Rogers’ “In Addition to Faith, Hope and Charity,” which begins “I’m sure there’s a god / in favor of drums” and only gets better; and Jane Hirschfield’s “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World,” passionate. You should read all these poems aloud to yourself, really. Don’t let Bluetooth addicts grab all the crazy glances.

…Chapter 9. “This Couple,” C.D. Wright. “Now is when we love to sit before mirrors…” and it left me speechless (on the inside) on a long subway ride. Also, “Sleeping with the Dictionary,” Harryette Mullen.

…Chapter 10. “How I Get My Ideas,” Dean Young, who’s long had me as a fan. My favorite first line here: “Sometimes you just have to wait / 15 seconds then beat the prevailing nuance / from the air.”

Love and loss when you’re a Minotaur

Slayer of all beasts, the Minotaur meets the new girl in her corner at the computer, apparently lost in distraction with the screen, and in the Labyrinth the fear is both mutual and hidden between a mix of old and new social excuses. Stephen O’Connor’s fiction piece in this week’s New Yorker builds simply, the incorporated telling of one myth fueling exposure of another, one obvious but important. In the middle:

The Minotaur was a novice of arc and swell and dip, a new-minted connoisseur of smooth and tender and sway. That little snippet of bird-peep that entered the new girl’s voice whenever she got excited, or when she thought something she had done was stupid–he wanted to put that in a box, tie it up with a leather thong, and keep it around his neck. That way she had of elbowing him in the ribs, rolling her eyes, slapping herself on the top of her head and saying, “Only joking!”–why did his cobblestone feet always do a shuffling dance when she did that? Why did his shoulders squinch together and his floppy lips twist up at the corners? To his embarrassment was added shame, and the Minotaur found that he could bear his message of ultimate truth only on the sly, when the new girl was asleep, or when she was looking the other way. He took to wearing a kerchief and giving his lips a hasty wipe after every meal. Then, one day, the new girl was gone, and the Minotaur worried that, in a moment of thoughtlessness, he had gobbled her up. When he didn’t see her for several weeks, he could think of no other explanation. A year passed, and then a century, and new-girllessness became a fact–as simple and discrete as other facts. In a way, life became easier for the Minotaur, as easy as it had been before the new girl’s arrival. But only in a way. In another way, the Minotaur began to wonder if he was getting too old for his job. His vocabulary increased. To “embarrassment” and “shame” he added “joyless.” He added “regret.” He added “lost.”

In a different issue — my beach catch-up is well underway (halfway catch-up, at least, only feeling comfortable bringing so many issues) — there’s Dean Young’s poem “Delphiniums in a Window Box.” Insta-sad opening line’s internal rhyme, “Every sunrise, even strangers’ eyes.”