May 17, 2005

Poems for collection


First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma
and steel-tipped boots,
your blue collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later on it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.

You can now read poetry.

*new version



(For the victims of 9/11/2001)

I wasn’t there, I’m sorry.
I would have helped if I could
but I was at home watching television,
eating a tuna fish sandwich or orange sherbet.
I was answering the phone, opening the mail.
I was still in bed, asleep.
My life is still quiet. Mostly I stay in.
I solve crossword puzzles, I read,
I play with the cat.
If I don’t go out often
I do sometimes long for company.
I guess you know what that’s like now—
the hunger that starts deep in your fingertips
and penetrates to your bones,
how much you can ache
for the touch of some other human being.
Ah, but here I am telling you my troubles
as if they compared to yours.
You see, that’s what happens
when you haven’t survived such awfulness.
I didn’t feel the weight of calamity on my skin
I didn’t taste the smoke
or hear the frightened
cry. I didn’t see anything
but what the cameras packaged
for my little screen.
I wasn’t there. I can never understand.
You must accept this: you are alone
with your terrible particular knowledge.
It is yours, a burden
I cannot share
I’m sorry. I’m sorry—
I wasn’t there.



Be fat and green and still,
little jade Buddha of my heart,
broken by love in my thirteenth summer.
Is it possible to want nothing more
than to want nothing more perfectly?
Smoke of sandalwood rising dreamy
amid the burn of tallow candles,
flowers of white light
fractured into color, pomegranates
globed and teeming – maya --
to not want all this?
And if I one day wake, not
wanting anymore what I thought I always
wanted, let me not contemn
the lush seductions of commerce
and the useful body. For the world,
it seems, is always too much,
its prescient polar looming
a dream of shifting green water,
snow blown hard against the door.



We've learned to hear them, haven't we,
the sounds of silence in subway graffiti,
in a Zen hand clapping,
and on the railway trestle
over the Shunpike Thruway, in names
we’ve seen a hundred times
without hearing,
which, according to physicists,
doesn't matter: a tree falls in the forest
and bodies vibrate -- leaves,
loam, the rush of air filling the space
left behind: sound.

Thirty-five years ago,
when words came between us,
my father stopped speaking to me,
his lockjaw shunning so brutal, so righteous,
those years I still endured the holidays
I detoured my requests for salt, the gravy,
to the next person down the table,
aware of the lightning-struck air,
the dangerous thrum,
his silence telegraphing: All
visits cancelled. Stop.
Do not come home.

The earth sings, yes,
but not necessarily for us
which is what mattered yesterday
on my half-mile last lap
when I heard a father bellow
at his small daughter, the caustic scald
pumped clear through a half-open
“Listen, young lady, when I say no,
I mean no. Do you hear me?”
And she, flaming up, scorched,
helpless: “I hate you! I hate you!”
as if her utterance,
like the bottlenose dolphin’s,
were enough to stun, deafen, kill.

And what, finally,
of my own father’s silence?
Beneath the relatives’ gossip
at the Thanksgiving table
where we gathered together
came his jokes like winter roses --
first fruits for the rest of the family
for me, outside the family pale,
forever beyond the kingdom
and the power
just withered mustard roses
tossed like so much shmutz
upon the rotting snow.



Men once burned for less.
To say the earth was like an orange
or an eyeball -- the very idea of it
threatened souls.
And who wanted a globular world
where there was no true center,
where one latitude led to another
until you met yourself coming home, where
huge unspeakable intimacies were not

And if the entire landscape of Christendom
felt menaced, is it any wonder
when his sister informs him
the world is round
two year old Oliver races to the kitchen
burying his face in his mother’s side
afraid to let go, certain the ground,
suddenly tentative beneath his feet,
won’t hold on?

Seven year old Hannah’s not so sure
she believes it either,
the fact so contrary to common sense.
It’s obvious the planet’s like a table,
or a plate on the table
of the universe: go far enough
and you’ll reach that steep edge
where you teeter, toes clinging
to dirt that crumbles underneath,
praying lest you pitch headlong
and drown in deep sky.



(for Lynn L)

The buff-bellied hummingbird nested
on a Rio Grande housewife’s clothespin
might not mind a poem, though,
if her nest is left unmolested
till the tablet eggs hatch out safely
and her brood is fledged,
so I’ll say, l’chaim,
and this one’s for the bird,
lest I unduly burden the unnamed friend
of 70+ years and a birthday approaching
who well deserves a poem
but might view being given one
like a social phobic shaking hands or a hug.
I should know.
And should I prove I’m huggable
if she can tolerate being versed?
Or would we be denying each the need to be
the person she is: the same
as she was yesterday?
But that’s not need, just habit --
and sometimes habits, like desire and memory
mix badly, breeding not lilacs but ruts
when shaking things up's the only thing to do,
doing what's needful only, since change
is the only thing that never changes.
If I the unhuggable who never shakes
a hand, if I embrace my friend,
for whom poetry’s impenetrable,
a for-the-birds waste of verbiage,
will she accept this gift from me,
though it’s (horrors!)
a poem?



Sometimes when I’ve spent hours rushing somewhere
and just as many hours rushing back
I like to make myself stop ten minutes from home
ten minutes short of where I can put my feet up
finally, and get out at the road’s edge
stretch like a cat and ask myself where I am
going and where have I been and why
am I hurrying just to get it over with, or is there no point
to this day but in the ending of it?
Ten minutes, this pause
wrenched out of the rush by the roadside
getting the kinks out, lets me hear the sudden quiet
of my own thoughts
as the out-of-doors pours in and gives me pause.
What have I been doing all day
racing, rushing, wasting my time all day
for what, to get what over with?
Better to have rested more along the way,
to have seen, to have been, to have watched, listened
to have paid attention
than to have beeped and swerved so much
sped and sweated in bottlenecks
and cursed the traffic for what could neither be avoided
nor its fault, being its nature.
Where had I been all day
in my hurrying to get home, but on my way
along the only way there was: mine.
Oh, but I should have known better--
how all homes are but temporary shelter:
a roadside or leafy park bench,
a ramshackle timber lean-to --
each a place to rest as good as any mansion
ten minutes away. Ten mere minutes from home
the roadside beckoned with saffron mustard sprigs,
sprays of Bouncing Bet. I was too much in a hurry,
no time to pay attention, so nearly home.
Oh, but I should have known better--
There are times and places we must stop
or we pay the rest of our lives.

Posted by pamwagg at May 17, 2005 05:16 PM



Have you been told lately that you defy definition? Have you been told lately that as you have matured in flesh and in spirit, your poetry has become like precious heirlooms to be read and reread and cherished for thier quintessential value? Have I told you lately that I admire you more than I admire a memory of a late fall afternoon when the trees were so ablaze with color that I thought I should never know the equal of the intensity of that experience? If not, consider yourself so informed.
With intense admiration,
Paula,your friend of the heart

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at May 18, 2005 03:13 PM

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