You hold your hands up to the light. The small mirrors of your fingernails are painted over with blood. You help me knot the black tie tight around my throat. Tonight we are going to dine. We have a hunger that nothing has filled. It grows large and rigid. We stand in it like a room.
Drawings: For John Who Said to Write about True Love, Lorna Dee Cervantes
“The writer. It’s a cul-de-sac,” you wrote that winter of our nation’s discontent. That first time I found you, blue marble lying still in the trench, you, staked in waiting for something, anything but the cell of your small apartment with the fixtures never scrubbed, the seven great named cats you gassed in the move. I couldn’t keep them. You explained so I understood. And what cat never loved your shell-like ways, the claw of your steady fingers, firme from the rasping of banjos and steady as it goes from the nose to the hair to the shaking tip. My favorite tale was of the owl and the pussycat in love in a china cup cast at sea, or in a flute more brittle, more lifelike and riddled with flair, the exquisite polish of its gaudy glaze now puzzled with heat cracks, now foamed opalescent as the single espresso dish you bought from Goodwill. What ever becomes of the heart our common child fashioned, red silk and golden satin, the gay glitter fallen from moves, our names with Love written in black felt pen? Who gets what? Who knows what becomes of the rose you carried home from Spanish Harlem that morning I sat waiting for the surgeon’s suction. What ever becomes of waiting and wanting, when the princess isn’t ready and the queen has missed the boat, again? Do you still write those old remarks etched on a page of Kandinsky’s ace letting go? Like: Lorna meets Oliver North and she kicks his butt. The dates are immaterial to me as salvation or a freer light bending through stallions in an air gone heavy with underground tunnels. Do you read me? Is there some library where you’ll find me, smashed on the page of some paper? Let it go is my morning mantra gone blind with the saved backing of a clock, now dark as an empty womb when I wake, now listening for your tick or the sound of white walls on a sticky street. Engines out the window remind me of breathing apparatus at the breaking of new worlds, the crash and perpetual maligning of the sand bar where sea lions sawed up logs for a winter cabin. I dream wood smoke in the morning. I dream the rank and file of used up chimneys, what that night must have smelled like, her mussed and toweled positioning, my ambulance of heart through stopped traffic where you picked the right corner to tell me: They think someone murdered her. You were there, all right, you were a statue carved from the stone of your birth. You were patient as a sparrow under leaf and as calm as the bay those light evenings when I envisioned you with the fishwife you loved. And yes, I could have done it then, kissed it off, when the scalpel of single star brightened and my world blazed, a dying bulb for the finger of a socket, like our sunsets on the Cape, fallen fish blood in snow, the hearts and diamonds we found and left alone on a New England grave. Why was the summer so long then? Even now a golden season stumps me and I stamp ants on the brilliant iced drifts. I walk a steady mile to that place where you left it, that solid gold band thrown away to a riptide in a gesture the theatrical love—so well. What was my role? Or did I leave it undelivered when they handed me the gun of my triggered smiles and taught me to cock it? Did I play it to the hilt and bleeding, did I plunge in your lap and wake to find you lonely in a ribbon of breathing tissue? Does this impudent muscle die? Does love expire? Do eternal nestings mean much more than a quill gone out or the spit? I spy the bank of frothed fog fuming with airbrushed pussies on a pink horizon. I scored my shoes with walking. My skill is losing. It’s what we do best, us ducks, us lessons on what not to do. Thanks for the crack, you wrote in my O.E.D. that 30th renewal when the summer snapped and hissed suddenly like a bullet of coal flung from a fire place or a dumb swallow who dove into the pit for pay. Kiss her, and it’s good luck. I palm this lucky trade but the soot never sells and I never sailed away on a gulf stream that divides continents from ourselves. But only half of me is cracked, the other is launched on a wild bob, a buoy, steadfast in storm. I may sail to Asia or I might waft aimlessly to Spain where my hemp first dried from the rain. My messages wring from the line, unanswered, pressed sheets from an old wash or the impression of a holy thing. But don’t pull no science on this shroud, the date will only lie. She’ll tell you it’s sacred, even sell you a piece of the fray. She appears on the cracked ravines of this country like a ghost on the windshield of an oncoming train. She refuses to die, but just look at her nation without a spare penny to change. My wear is a glass made clean through misuse, the mishandling of my age as revealing as my erased face, Indian head of my stick birth, my battle buried under an island of snow I’ve yet to get to. What could I do with this neighborhood of avenues scattered with empty shells of mailboxes, their feet caked with cement like pulled up pilings? Evidently, they haven’t a word for regret full heart. Someday, I said, I can write us both from this mess. But the key stalls out from under me when I spell your name. I have to fake the O or go over it again in the dark, a tracing of differences spilled out on a sheet. If I could stick this back together, would it stay? It’s no rope, I know, and no good for holding clear liquid. I gather a froth on my gums, and grin the way an old woman grimaces in a morning mirror. I was never a clear thing, never felt the way a daughter feels, never lost out like you, never drove. My moon waits at the edge of an eagle’s aerie, almost extinct and the eggs are fragile from poisoned ignitions. I’m never coming out from my cup of tea, never working loose the grease in my hair, the monkey grease from my dancing elbows that jab at your shoulder. But I write, and wait for the book to sell, for I know nothing comes of it but the past with its widening teeth, with its meat breath baited at my neck, persistent as the smell of a drunk. Don’t tell me. I already know. It’s just the rule of the game for the jack of all hearts, and for the queen of baguettes; it’s a cul-de-sac for a joker drawing hearts.
There Were Footsteps in the Garden, Frank X. Gaspar
I can’t figure out the earth, everything saying yes and no at the same time, everything shedding its hair and licking its teeth and waiting to be eaten. And then there are the great wings of the galaxies I’m looking at as they shudder through the wilderness like spirits until they stoop through my garden of lenses and mirrors. What is the loneliness of all those shattered islands, what is so lofty, so hungry, so intelligent, so needy about them? I’m reading in a holy book about how the color red shifts and retreats in this sidereal world, as though the stars are trying to hide their forms from one another, as though they are afraid of their nakedness─they all race away, and only the distance grows, only the distraction, as if that were the point. Now the yard is so quiet I can hear the snails being pulled through the long grass by some reckless force beyond their snail imagination. There are sayings now that would help me. They would be nothing by daylight. The words try to avoid embarrassment too. How can you blame them? But in these pure hungers of the night it is another story. Precisely another story, and then another and another. Oh, there were footsteps in the Garden, all right. There was a firmament hung with lights. But that was then. This is now. That’s what makes me ask for the next story. That’s what makes me curl in the blanket on the shivering grass and stare outward. That’s what makes tonight so safe for this one thing I’m trying to say.
“Civil disobedience, that’s not our problem. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”—Howard Zinn (via ageofreason)
“I have no advice for anybody; except to, you know, be awake enough to see where you are at any given time, and how that is beautiful, and has poetry inside. Even places you hate.”—Jeff Buckley (via jeffbuckleyforever)
“You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk. But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.”—Charles Baudelaire (via quotesforintellectuals)
Today, from a distance, I saw you walking away, and without a sound the glittering face of a glacier slid into the sea. An ancient oak fell in the Cumberlands, holding only a handful of leaves, and an old woman scattering corn to her chickens looked up for an instant. At the other side of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times the size of our own sun exploded and vanished, leaving a small green spot on the astronomer’s retina as he stood on the great open dome of my heart with no one to tell.
from A Book of Shadows, For Tita Reut by Jerome Rothenberg
It is a shame to watch my face to see it running through your hands like jelly. I am my own dark friend a shadow set against a darker shadow. I hear a sound like pianos buried in the earth. The pressure of my feet against the pedals opens a flood. A carrousel is bobbing up & down. The happy singer enters paradise with seven others.
“You have his eyes,” she’d say to me, and then to my old aunt, “Those are the eyes I saw!” And she would tell again how Saint Francis caught her in the woods when she was a young girl. Dominic,
her husband, would never sit still when she spoke of it, would rise slowly from the Morris chair and go outside, down the rows of kale and corn to his barn, his hammers and lasts.
“He took the breath from under my heart,” she said, her thin fingers crooked at her breast. “It was not what you think, He was a power, a beast. And the rain came down, and he held me there, my dress sticking, my body showing.”
When I wanted to wander out the door and sit among the sharp-smelling hervas in her garden, they let me go and kept talking behind curtains that breathed in and out in the slow air,
and they prayed the Rosary together, droning through the Mysteries. “Don’t cross her,” is what my mother said. “She’s a bruxa and can give you the evil eye herself.” “That kind of talk is foolish,” said my aunt.
Whenever we left, my aunt would take my arms and lean to me─”Remember that she is only talking about a dream!” But I remembered Dominic’s hammering like a bell, and how she said even the wet trees shivered.
“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, be the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.”—Judith Butler, Undoing Gender via pasithee. (via tobia)
Today I’m thinking of all the people not in love: I’m with you! I’d like to say, though one of the conditions Of not being in love is that you can’t hear other people not in love. You can only hear beautiful people, who have Symphonies for faces: Grace Kelly, Dominique Sanda, Emmanuelle Béart, ah, beautiful (can you hear the cellos And clarinets?), but hmm, maybe not, they are beautiful but distant: and what we want is not only the beautiful But the possible: for what is love but an opening of the possible? To be possible you must be new and nearby: You must also look available, or the windows will inevitably close: oh Alexs with an “s” at the record store, Alexs so inscrutable, with your long blonde hair and Sanda-like face and that Sanskrit tattoo on your wrist, You died, you died that day I bought the new Tom Waits and said, “Hi, Alexs, right?” and you said, “Huh,” Nodding your head and not looking up: Jo Ann vanquished you, Jo Ann of the perfect mouth and imperfect Yoga technique, who gave me her number in the YMCA parking lot but halfway through our first coffee date Revealed she was married: now I’m struggling, really struggling, to keep her alive. I walk around these days And my footsteps go, Nobody, nobody. I cup possibility in my hands like a mouse. Oh you out there not in love, I know how it is, when you wake up in the morning and look down at your body like an émigré looking back Disgustedly at his homeland; when you peer through the blinds and the world is nothing but a grey side; When you feel each day is a dart flung at a target you keep missing because who, or where, or what is the target? The soul cannot live like this, the soul needs a cable, a clasp, its talons are hungry for a peak, there’s too much space And it’s thinning out like smoke: you step out of the furrow of the future onto an asphalt present. Worse, there’s A whiff of sin about you, because not to be in love with a person should never stop you from being In love with the world: and the problem is you’ve fallen out of love with the world. You’ve come to hear An underlying Goddamit! in everything, and never notice the trees tossing their heads in the wind like conductors.
For a nickel, you can take a picture of me standing just so in front of a wooden board with a heart painted on it.
For a dime, you can take a picture with me, you squatting behind and peeking through like I’m one of those cardboard cut-outs of an “Indian Chief” or a unicorn or some other supposedly mythical creature.
When you offer a quarter, we move to the tent, dim-lit and dusty, where I sit on the low quilt-covered bed and pat the space beside me. You are nervous. “Will it hurt? I mean, will it hurt you?” I shake my head. “It never hurts. Not anymore.” And then I take your hand and guide it up towards the hole in my chest. You tremble for a second as you reach through me, wiggle your fingers around behind my back, disbelieving.
“Where is your heart?” you ask. “How do you live without your heart?” I don’t know how to answer, so I say, “It’s amazing the things you can learn to live without.”
When Eve walked among the animals and named them— nightingale, redshouldered hawk, fiddler crab, fallow deer— I wonder if she ever wanted them to speak back, looked into their wide wonderful eyes and whispered, Name me, name me.
Then God said to me, stop feeling sorry for yourself─isn’t it enough that I love you? But I was angry and sleepy in that indistinct way when dreams linger like a fog in your head all morning long, and I went out to the work I grudged: God wanted me to walk through the garden naming things, but the wind was coming off the ocean six miles down the boulevard, and a mockingbird Sat on the roof painting the whole house with polyphonies, and then the finches and the gray doves and the parkway crows began lighting up the eaves and the canopies, and then God told me to be humble, so I trellised the sweet peas and hosed the spall and whitefly from the citrus leaves, and I was thinking the whole time about love, how so many live and die without it, and what that must mean, but God rebuked me and bade me wrestle with the tree, so I took the saw and hatchet down to the narrow place along the neighbor’s cinder blocks and prepared to cut and hack, as I do each spring, this anonymous tree that sends out its runners, and God said, That tree will strangle your roses and smite your false heather─ left alone it will crack the sidewalk and rise up waving and whistling, and so I attacked the saplings that had sprung up window-high and wrist-thick along its buried roots, and I chopped and I sawed, and the leaves shivered green and gray in the morning light, and a shower of small orange moths burst up like hands dancing all around my head, and I looked at them and saw how they moved in the world, like light bouncing from shadow to shadow; and I saw their terror.
No blame. Anyone who wrote Howl and Kaddish earned the right to make any possible mistake for the rest of his life. I just wish I hadn’t made this mistake with him. It was during the Vietnam war and he was giving a great protest reading in Washington Square Park and nobody wanted to leave. So Ginsberg got the idea, “I’m going to shout ‘the war is over’ as loud as I can,” he said “and all of you run over the city in different directions yelling the war is over, shout it in offices, shops, everywhere and when enough people believe the war is over why, not even the politicians will be able to keep it going.” I thought it was a great idea at the time a truly poetic idea. So when Ginsberg yelled I ran down the street and leaned in the doorway of the sort of respectable down on its luck cafeteria where librarians and minor clerks have lunch and I yelled “the war is over.” And a little old lady looked up from her cottage cheese and fruit salad. She was so ordinary she would have been invisible except for the terrible light filling her face as she whispered “My son. My son is coming home.” I got myself out of there and was sick in some bushes. That was the first time I believed there was a war.
I can’t explain the rain’s attraction to my head, though I’m touched by its will to touch me, and I don’t understand how I got here any more than a lobster understands how it ended up in a tank next to a Please wait to be seated sign, but both of us can read the faces of the cruelly beautiful women pointing at us. I always feel eyes on me so I apologize to insects after I kill them and to the salmon on my plate, caught being nostalgic for home. Everything makes sense if you squint just right, and at least once a day I realize that whatever I’ve been saying isn’t the point at all. Like yesterday, I heard myself say “Nostalgia” comes from Greek roots meaning "painful return," which is why your childhood home is paved over, a bump in the commuter path of your old classmates, the ones who have never gone anywhere. And so instead of leaning in for a kiss, I give my beautiful wife the umpire’s signal for “safe.” And when I say “I love you” she becomes red-faced, hits me with the back of her fists, and calls the cops, because those words no longer mean what they once did.
“At Tiller’s funeral, they made giant flower arrangement that said “Trust Women,” because that was his motto. You have to understand the other side, the radicals and their tactics, in order to understand what’s going on in the fight over reproductive rights. But in order to understand the way that people survive this, and the way that people can even hope to win these battles in the long run, understanding the way George Tiller did it is underappreciated. We’ve got these interviews of him that have never before run on television, and you see him, coming back to his clinic the day after he was shot and the day after his clinic was bombed, saying, “What we’re doing is legal. What these people are doing, these terroristic tactics and this anarchy, is illegal,” and putting up the sign outside his clinic: “Women need abortions and I’m going to do them.” And the devotion that his staff had to him, because of that resolution and that resilience that he had, that is a story worth telling about how to live in the face of threat, and how to live in the face of people who are coming at you in ways that are sometimes are very painful to think about. This is a painful story, but this is also an instructive story and a cathartic story for people who support reproductive rights.”—Rachel Maddow about “The Assassination of Dr. Tiller” (via linzo)
I smeared Aloe Vera on my sunburn. What is the best salve for my compulsion to burn bridges? How do I lick away the flames of a fire I started? My mouth is burning with, “We were so close but I grew to hate you.” My mouth is burning with goodbye.
James Hall: I love that you risk sentimentality in the poems. Can you talk about how you construct a poem’s emotion without letting that emotion subsume the poem? What tools are available to a poet to mitigate emotion successfully?
Richard Siken: I didn’t see it as risking anything, and I suppose the tool for mitigating emotion is undercutting, but I’ll try to answer the question sideways: Even if you don’t believe in God, you have to believe in narrative. Things happen, one after another, world without end. Just because you’re self-aware doesn’t mean you can change what’s happening. Eventually someone is going to break your heart. Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking “I am falling to the floor crying” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it—you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well and when you’re having sex with your next lover on this very floor they will also notice that you didn’t paint it very well and they will think less of you for it. And then you think “Is that sentence too long?” And then you have to hold the contradictions of sobbing uncontrollably and wondering about grammar in your head at the same time. I think if you are true to the entire experience, not just the sad part, you don’t risk sentimentality because you’re not overloading the experience with fake, melodramatic feeling. I also hear that whispering helps.
leaving is not enough; you must stay gone. train your heart like a dog. change the locks even on the house he’s never visited. you lucky, lucky girl. you have an apartment just your size. a bathtub full of tea. a heart the size of Arizona, but not nearly so arid. don’t wish away your cracked past, your crooked toes, your problems are papier mache puppets you made or bought because the vendor at the market was so compelling you just had to have them. you had to have him. and you did. and now you pull down the bridge between your houses, you make him call before he visits, you take a lover for granted, you take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic. make the first bottle you consume in this place a relic. place it on whatever altar you fashion with a knife and five cranberries. don’t lose too much weight. stupid girls are always trying to disappear as revenge. and you are not stupid. you loved a man with more hands than a parade of beggars, and here you stand. heart like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas. heart leaking something so strong they can smell it in the street.
“I know that homes burn and that you should think what to save before they start to. Not because, in the heat of it, everything looks as valuable as everything else. But because nothing looks worth the bother, not even your life.”—Pool Night, Amy Hempel (via ahuntersheart, expose)
“I had the misfortune to be nourished by the dreams and visions of great Americans—the poets and seers. Some other breed of man has won out. This world which is in the making fills me with dread. I have seen it germinate; I can read it like a blue-print. It is not a world I want to live in. It is a world suited for monomaniacs obsessed with the idea of progress—a false progress, a progress which stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects which men and women, in order to be exploited and degraded, are taught to regard as useful. The dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world. Whatever does not lend itself to being bought and sold, whether in the realm of things, ideas, principles, dreams or hopes, is debarred. In this world the poet is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of vision a criminal.”—Henry Miller (via ahuntersheart)
n. an emotion you haven’t felt in years that you might have forgotten about completely if your emotional playlist hadn’t been left on shuffle—a feeling whose opening riff tugs on all your other neurons like a dog on a leash waiting for you to open the door.
n. a mood totally out of sync with everyone else around you, from Friday night pensiveness to heart-to-heart snark, which is a symptom of emotional jet lag—caused by an inflamed suspicion of togetherness in an age of faceless anonymity—a condition whose only known cure is to perform the zombie dance from Thriller while openly weeping, which would effectively crash and reboot the collective vibe.