Eight-Ball

My father taught me how to level
a pool cue across the bridge of my hand
on the table. He’d take me
to the kinds of bars open in daytime,
lit by dim fluorescents in the ceiling
and neon beer signs hanging
over faded green felt.

I would pour my own tall glass
from the tea pitcher on the wait table
while he placed the balls in their rack:
yellow ‘1’ at the head, black ‘8’ in the center,
a stripe-solid-stripe pattern resting
inside the white plastic triangle.
When he finished, he would knock
its three corners with the cue ball;
say it kept them all together.

I learned to recognize the clack
a pool cue makes against the ball when it needs
chalk; the feel of testing a shot before swinging
even, my arm a pendulum; and the number of scratches
against the lock his key would make
before I could offer to fit it in, turn the knob.

I’m excited to show off the final version of this poem, and to announce that it is doing well out in the world! It will be published in Issue 65 of Colonnades, Elon’s very own literary and art journal, which will be revealed on April 29. It’s also a finalist for the 2014 NC State Poetry Contest and an Honorable Mention for the Anthony Abbott Award.

On a personal note, it’s also probably the poem I’m the proudest of at the moment, so I’m thrilled it’s found a home in print and in these contests.

Coming to This – Mark Strand

We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

This came through my inbox the other day thanks to Poetry Foundation, and I was blown away by the sadness of it. I love, love, love poems like this one; its words are so simple, but it communicates something so true.

Exact – Rae Armantrout

Quick, before you die,
describe

the exact shade
of this hotel carpet.

What is the meaning
of the irregular, yellow

spheres, some
hollow,

gathered in patches
on this bedspread?

If you love me,
worship

the objects
I have caused

to represent me
in my absence.

*

Over and over
tiers

of houses spill
pleasantly

down that hillside.
It

might be possible
to count occurrences.

Outgoing – Matt Rasmussen

Our answering machine still played your message,
and on the day you died Dad asked me to replace it.

I was chosen to save us the shame of dead you
answering calls. Hello, I have just shot myself.

To leave a message for me, call hell. The clear cassette
lay inside the white machine like a tiny patient

being monitored or a miniature glass briefcase
protecting the scroll of lost voices. Everything barely

mattered and then no longer did. I pressed record
and laid my voice over yours, muting it forever

and even now. I’m sorry we are not here, I began.

Oh my goodness, brutal. Another incoming MFA at the uni I’ll be attending this fall just mentioned Rasmussen to me, so I had to look up everything I could find by him (of course). This was my favorite. Gut wrenching.

Rest. – Richard Jones

It’s so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
by starlight,
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I’ve done it before,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers’ breath.
But instead of resting, I’d smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and had felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the small, peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I’m not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything’s fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I’m driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I’ve got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I’ll be home by dawn.

Need to read and write again.

The Things We Can’t Throw Away

At first we thought it was a bird erupting
from the chimney, scattering ash and soot
over our new-used sofa, down the hall.
Two black wing-beats marked the door’s molding
before it flew into the room full with unused furniture,
boxes waiting for unpacking. My mother
chased it with a broom, swinging the frayed straw end
and murmuring, you poor dear, you poor thing.

I was standing in the doorframe, my head barely to the knob
when the force of her swing grazed my shoulder. She abandoned her broom
and told me to sit very still on the stairs, watch the threshold
while she found a rag – the better, she said, to catch and release
our winged intruder. When she went into the room she closed the door.
Emerging minutes later, triumphant, she clasped the keening black
thing in a worn yellow towel. I undid the latch on the screen door.

Flinging the bat to the sky, she explained
how in that room she’d turned
the lights off, the blinds down; how her hands spread
under the cloth; how she waited
among the stacked shadows of cardboard marked,
in my father’s hand, Kitchenware and Things Rita says
I can’t throw away, until the creature calmed
its circling the ceiling, settled on a dresser.
Before each step she took to close the space between them
she paused, waited, at last reaching out and covering its wings.

Good news from the poetry world! This poem of mine has been chosen as a finalist in Hollins’ Annual Literary Festival! Yay! I’ve also got a poem (not sure which) in the final round of NSCU’s 2014 Poetry Contest, which is very very exciting as I will be attending their MFA program in the fall. But I’ll post that one when I know.

ALSO, I’m off to London tonight!

Ice Storm Inspiration

In case you haven’t heard, North Carolina is experiencing some downright bipolar weather: crazy ice storms, warmth the next day, half-feet of snow that melt because it’s 70 two days later. It’s been crazy. But, as it turns out, the way everything has looked—especially with the ice—has been amazing and surreal, and the images are turning out to be decent writing springboards. Huzzah!