Your Monday vitamin comes from Split this Rock

Split this Rock is an organization that posts a poem every week–they advertise as “poems of provocation and witness.” This one really caught my attention:

Still Life with Bullets

Orlando Jones, a black actor, douses himself
in a bucket of bullets. I flinch. Bullet against
brown skin even without the bruised and
busted aftermath is no easy thing to bear. Even
at the distance of Facebook. There is nothing beautiful
about the gilt curves of each bullet, nothing admirable Continue reading

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An essay or a prose poem?

This was listed as an essay in Five Points journal, but I think of it as a prose poem:

What I Think About When Someone Uses “Pussy” as a Synonym for “Weak”

At the deepest part of the deepest part, I rocked shut like a stone. I’d climbed as far inside me as I could. Everything else had fallen away: Midwife, husband, bedroom, world: quaint concepts. My eyes were clamshells. My ears were clapped shut by the palms of the dead. My throat was stoppered with bees. Continue reading

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The exemplary sentence

I’ve been reading a slim novel by Forrest Gander called A Friend. It’s a novel in three parts that closely parallels a real life event. The part told by the lover, Sarah, is made up of mostly one-line statements about her lover and her grief at his death. Here are a few samples:

“The first man I went down on. You tasted like well water.”

“When you opened my shirt, you stepped back and said, They must be jealous of each other.”

“The red-bellied woodpecker swerves over the primroses and claps itself to the crab apple trunck as if a magnet had drawn it. In dreams, that’s how I come to you.”

“Not seeing the cup in the bathroom, you brought me a mouthful of water in your mouth.”

“You do not age. Someone else will watch me grow old.”

There are many others I could quote. The way they form a portrait of the beloved, the relationship, the grief, is extraordinary. And the short, final section is as gorgeous an aria of vulnerability and connectedness as I’ve ever read.

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Heat by Hirshfield

Your Monday poem on Wednesday, by Jane Hirshfield, Worth the wait, I hope.

Heat

My mare, when she was in heat,
would travel the fenceline for hours,
wearing the impatience
in her feet into the ground.

Not a stallion for miles, I’d assure her,
give it up.

She’d widen her nostrils,
sieve the wind for news, be moving again,
her underbelly darkening with sweat,
then stop at the gate a moment, wait
to see what I might do. Continue reading

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After the Women’s March

This poem, by Dunya Mikhail seems appropriate.

The War Works Hard

How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places
swings corpses through the air
rolls stretchers to the wounded Continue reading

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A little perspective

It’s hard not to feel that things are worse now than they’ve ever been. But looking back at the fifties, I remember feeling they were pretty terrible then. This poem, from that period by Robert Lowell, gives a good description of that feeling:

Skunk Hour

(for Elizabeth Bishop)

Nautilus Island’s hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer is first selectman in our village;
she’s in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria’s century
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season’s ill–
we’ve lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill. Continue reading

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The Exemplary Sentence

I read about Bette Howland and her memoir/novel Blue in Chicago in the NY Times obituaries last month. She was a a protege (and perhaps lover) of Saul Bellow and had a troubled life.

 

 

 

 

 

I got her book out of the library, and Blue in Chicago is an extraordinary work, giving a rich portrait of Chicago and the complexities of Jewish family life. Here is an excerpt:

Words of Yiddish passed over the table like the Angel of Death. It was the language of bad news; bodily functions; the parts of dead chickens.

And this, about her grandmother’s funeral:

“It seemed strange to me that my grandmother was at one and the same time carrion–garbage–that had to be got rid of, shoveled quickly out of sight; and something precious and tender, of infinite value, being laid away for safekeeping–sunk in a vault. These things seemed opposed, bu the weren’t; they couldn’t be; because both were true. It was necessary to hold them both in your mind at once. That’s all we were trying to do, standing over the open grave… Continue reading

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From Tony Hoagland’s new book

There is nothing to say about this poem–just buy the book.

The Age of Iron

When I see an ironing board
folded in the closet of a motel room,
and the iron resting like a sledgehammer on the shelf above,

I think of the Age of Iron
and my mother standing in the kitchen,
folding clothes on the green table,
a bottle if spray starch at her elbow, not even the radio on—

Continue reading

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Of resolutions and poetry

I have a system for New Year’s resolutions that works well for me: Aim small and succeed. I’ve discussed this before.  But to update the list, I’ve since added: drive courteously (three years ago), no movie theater popcorn (two years ago), and better socks (last year). I’m still working on last year’s resolution, slowly replacing my ragtag collection with better socks, so I don’t need a new resolution this year.

The point is that these resolutions seem to last, not just for a year, but integrated into my life–unlike the grand, doomed resolutions I used to make. Of course, I have many projects and activities planned for 2018, both personal and political, but these are not resolutions, but practice.

I am also pleased that most Mondays for over six years, I’ve found and posted a poem I like. I almost always post poems that are contemporary, or at least 20th century. But last week Larry received a packet of broadsides that included one of my favorite poems by John Donne. So here is your New Year’s vitamin. It is the opening of the second stanza that I love most:

The Good-Morrow

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Continue reading

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About angels

It’s that season–all the old cliches brought out with music and glitter. On that note, there are very few poems that contain angels that are not overwrought, too fanciful or just plain schmaltz. But this, by B. H. Fairchild, avoids all that:

Angels

Elliot Ray Neiderland, home from college
one winter, hauling a load of Herefords
from Hogtown to Guymon with a pint of
Ezra Brooks and a copy of Rilke’s Duineser   
Elegien on the seat beside him, saw the ass-end
of his semi gliding around in the side mirror
as he hit ice and knew he would never live
to see graduation or the castle at Duino. Continue reading

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