What we think we know

I have read this poem by Heather McHugh several times in several places, but most recently as part of an essay in Sewanee Review.

She says this about it: “I’ve read this poem now a hundred times to audiences…but I revisit it to relive it, to remind my own tenacious habits how a nourishment abides inside its stubbornest unknowns, inside another person’s mind.”

What He Thought

for Fabbio Doplicher

We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the mayor, mulled
a couple matters over (what’s
a cheap date, they asked us; what’s
flat drink). Among Italian literati

we could recognize our counterparts:
the academic, the apologist,
the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib—and there was one

administrator (the conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone narrated
sights and histories the hired van hauled us past.
Of all, he was the most politic and least poetic,
so it seemed. Our last few days in Rome
(when all but three of the New World Bards had flown)
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he’d recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?)
to whom he had inscribed and dated it a month before.
I couldn’t read Italian, either, so I put the book
back into the wardrobe’s dark. We last Americans

were due to leave tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there
we sat and chatted, sat and chewed,
till, sensible it was our last
big chance to be poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked
                                             “What’s poetry?”
Is it the fruits and vegetables and
marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or
the statue there?” Because I was

the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn’t have to think—”The truth
is both, it’s both,” I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest to say. What followed
taught me something about difficulty,
for our underestimated host spoke out,
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

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Elegies

I have been working on arranging a memorial at Marin Poetry Center for Linda Gregg, and also received word that my old friend died this week. So elegies are on my mind. Here is a beauty by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Elegy, Surrounded by Seven Trees

              for Michele Antoinette Pray-Griffiths


Ordinary days deliver joy easily
again & I can’t take it. If I could tell you
how her eyes laughed or describe
the rage of her suffering, I must
admit that lately my memories
are sometimes like a color
warping in my blue mind.
Metal abandoned in rain.

My mother will not move.

Which is to say that
sometimes the true color of
her casket jumps from my head
like something burnt down
in the genesis of a struck flame.
Which is to say that I miss
the mind I had when I had
my mother. I own what is yet.
Which means I am already
holding my own absence
in faith. I still carry a faded slip of paper
where she once wrote a word
with a pencil & crossed it out.

From tree to tree, around her grave
I have walked, & turned back
if only to remind myself
that there are some kinds of
peace, which will not be
moved. How awful to have such
wonder. The final way wonder itself
opened beneath my mother’s face
at the last moment. As if she was
a small girl kneeling in a puddle
& looking at her face for the first time,
her fingers gripping the loud,
wet rim of the universe.

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A brilliant use of rhyme

Here is Padraig O’Tuama reading his poem, “Narrative Theology #2,” from his book, In the Shelter.

https://padraigotuama.bandcamp.com/track/narrative-theology-2
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Back on track

It was a crazy week, including travel to the writers conference in Portland, so I missed the Monday vitamin for all of you. But here you go with a lovely poem by Julie Bruck.

Blue Heron Walking

Not one of Mr. Balanchine’s soloists had feet this articulate,
the long bones explicitly spread, then retracted, even more
finely detailed than Leonardo’s plans for his flying machines.
And all this for a stroll, a secondary function, not the great
dramatic spread and shadow of those pterodactyl wings.
This walking seems determined less by bird volition or
calculations of the small yellow eye than by an accident
of breeze, pushing the bird on a diagonal, the great feet executing
their tendus and lifts in the slowest of increments, hesitation
made exquisitely dimensional, as if the feet thought themselves
through each minute contribution to propulsion, these outsized
apprehenders of grasses and stone, snatchers of mouse and vole,
these mindless magnificents that any time now will trail
their risen bird like useless bits of leather. Don’t show me
your soul, Balanchine used to say, I want to see your foot.

Julie Bruck

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Two deaths

Two amazing poets died this week, W. S. Merwin and Linda Gregg. I have posted several of Merwin’s poems before. Somehow though, I never have posted a poem by Linda Gregg. Here’s a sample:

Death Looks Down

Death looks down on the salmon
A male and female in two pools
one above the other
The female turns back along the path of water to the male 
does not touch him and returns to the place she had been 
I know what Death will do
Their bodies already sour and ragged
Blood has risen to the surface under the scales
One side of his jaw is unhinged 
Death will pick them up 
Put them away under his coat against his skin 
and belt them there
He will walk away up to the path through the bay trees
Through the dry grass of California to where the mountain begins
Where a few deer almost the color of the hills will look up until he is under the trees again 
Where the road ends and there is a gate
He will climb over that with his treasure 
It will be dark by then
But for now, he does nothing 
He does not disturb the silence at all
Nor the occasional sound of leaves
of ferns touching 
of grass or stream
For now he looks down at the salmon 
Large and whole 
Motionless days and nights in the cold water Lying still 
Always facing the constant motion

Linda Gregg

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Lynn Emanuel

This wonderful poet is coming to read here next week. I have posted one of her poems before, but thought I’d post another, from her book “The Dig.” This poem, as many in the book describe a childhood at the edge, with unreliable caretakers. The description of “wringing of every cent from every dollar,” resonated with me, and I love the details of the description.

The Red Kimono

I stare at the brass scarred by beating until
it is as bright and uneven as a lake in August when the sun
melts all reflections into one wide gold zero, when the sky
itself is wide, is hot as the bell that this schoolmaster,
inappropriately strict, tips to summon the children from the unrelenting
heat of noon. The long tape unrolls from the teeth of the adding
machine onto the scarred deal. Over and over the budget unreels
and spills, liberated from the sprockets and machinery of will.
My mother sits with a pencil and ticks her teeth, we are broke,
every avenue of escape is closed, even the car tires at the curb
are fat black zeros, all the scheming and coaxing, the wringing
of every cent from every dollar, has come to nothing. I watch
my mother swab up the dust, her hair tied in a rag, her naked
feet, nails bloodied by a tiny brush. Misery, misery, the cranes
of good luck hunch at the snowy mountain of her left breast
as she bends to set the empties on the step in the housecoat
the landlady lent.

Lynn Emanuel, from The Dig

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Vija Celmins and spiders

I have been wanting to see Louise Bourgeois’ massive bronze spiders at the remodeled San Francisco Modern Museum of Art, and finally got there this week. They were as wonderful as I expected, muscular, dynamic, fun.

The bonus was the Vija Celmins retrospective. Her work starts as representations of single objects (very moving, somehow, painted with love on gray backgrounds) and moves into meticulous graphite representations of the ocean, the desert floor, the night sky. All very tenderly, lovingly done.

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A new poet

I subscribe to several “poem-a -day” sites, and once in awhile, discover a poet I don’t know whose work interests me, as this morning, a poem by an Irish poet.

Makebelieve

And on the first day 
god made  something up. 
Then everything came along:  

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A reading I’m proud to invite you to

I’m excited about this upcoming reading because I’m reading with two terrific poets in a very congenial setting, Britt Marie’s Wine Bar on Solano. Here are the details.

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A series of poetry videos

Barbara Reynolds runs a reading series the second Sunday of the month at Britt Marie’s, a wine bar on Solano. I am reading there March 10th at 3:30. But here is Barb herself, speaking one of her poems. This is the first in a series of three.

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