Late September – Charles Simic

The mail truck goes down the coast
Carrying a single letter.
At the end of a long pier
The bored seagull lifts a leg now and then
And forgets to put it down.
There is a menace in the air
Of tragedies in the making.

Last night you thought you heard television
In the house next door.
You were sure it was some new
Horror they were reporting,
So you went out to find out.
Barefoot, wearing just shorts.
It was only the sea sounding weary
After so many lifetimes
Of pretending to be rushing off somewhere
And never getting anywhere.

This morning, it felt like Sunday.
The heavens did their part
By casting no shadow along the boardwalk
Or the row of vacant cottages,
Among them a small church
With a dozen gray tombstones huddled close
As if they, too, had the shivers.

Appropriate, right? I like it. It’s unassuming, nondramatic.

In other news, I cannot stop listening to the new Mumford & Sons album, Babel. Pure goodness!

Smoking with Jacob

Jake passes his lit cigarette into my fingers,
careful of the burning end. I take it, gingerly
holding the filter to my lips. inhaling deep
and slow. It’s two in the morning and we’re drunk
on the front porch swing. Jake only lets me smoke
with him when we’ve been drinking. I pass it back.

I wouldn’t want to – smoke, I mean, except that back
in our hometown I’d spent summer watching Jacob wrap his fingers
around cigars, practiced, nonchalant about having a smoke
even though he’d told his girl he quit. I’ve come to, somehow, gingerly
equate smoking with our friendship. Now we’re drunk
on his front porch and deep

in thoughtful conversation, the kind that only happens in deep
friendships, those with a closeness that formed years back,
in childhood. Neither of us was old enough to be drunk
when we met, and back then I never saw Jake’s fingers
curved around cigarettes or cigars – only footballs, and never gingerly.
Jake’s cocky-calm confidence still shows in the way he exhales smoke.

Later, Jake will light a new cigarette, handing it to me to smoke
all by myself for the first time. I will let him show me how to breathe deep
and hold the smoke in my lungs. I’ll blow two fiery columns gingerly
out my nose and the burning will make me wish to take them back.
Jake will laugh, not unkindly, and he’ll swipe the butt from my fingers
when I put a hand up to my watering eyes. We are drunk,

two friends outside in the warm night air, drunk
on whiskey and old, comfortable friendship and smoke.
Jake will pour two more fingers
of bourbon in a pair of low-ball glasses, though my newly deep
and scratchy voice will protest back
at him, good-natured and slurring. Jake will gingerly

hand one to me and I will take it, also gingerly,
because by then I’ll know I’m really drunk
and swaying back
and forth, just a little bit, in the smoke
that had clouded the deep
darkness of the night air. Later still Jake’s fingers

will reach for my glass and, gingerly, my fingers
will return it to him. After all, I’m drunk and our deep
conversations have floated in ribbons to the backs of our minds, like smoke.

This is what I’ve been working on for the past couple of days. It’s a sestina, a formal poem, and I need some kind of formal piece for my poetry class. Somehow this idea turned into one. I’m not really sure how.

I’ve been debating about throwing it up here since I got the first rough draft down, simply because I’m thinking that some people who read this won’t be too happy with the setting. Tonight, I finally decided I didn’t care. It’s not all autobiographical, anyway; after the first bit got started it sort of took on a life of it’s own. Anyway, it’s art, or it’s trying to be art. I know it isn’t finished yet, but let me know what you think!

The Voices of the South at Suppertime (draft 3)

Drawn out vowels hang heavy
in air already thick with moisture.

Sweet as pie. She don’t have the sense
God gave a June bug! Bless his heart.
Laws, darlin’, use some butter in that cooking!
That dog won’t hunt. Tuck your shirt in
and button up girl; you ain’t a hussy.

Languid voices set the table
with a checkered cloth and the profligate use of “ain’t.”
There are fixin’s and suppertime instead
of appetizers and dinner. A child with a wooden spoon adds
one more cup of sugar in sun-brewed sweet
tea to reach the perfect, syrupy sweetness
in the glasses that accompany every meal.
On the table? ‘Mater sandwiches
spread with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper;
mush-melon, a sweet, overgrown cantaloupe;
and banana puddin’ with no ‘g’ to speak of,
or at least none you can hear.

The phrases, the menu, the dropped letters:
the voices of the south at suppertime.

Work-in-progress. Thoughts?

On Living – Nazim Hikmet

I

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example–
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people–
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees–
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
II

Let’s say you’re seriously ill, need surgery–
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast …
Let’s say we’re at the front–
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind–
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.
III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet–
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space …
You must grieve for this right now
–you have to feel this sorrow now–
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived” …

Was given this for Poetry class today and just had to share. Seriously, this is wonderful. I love it. I love the empty walnut, I love person about to go into surgery and looking out the window to see if it’s raining, I love the “like a squirrel, for example,” oh! I just love it.

Wild Air – draft #?

Wild Air
“Live in the sunshine. Swim the sea. Drink the wild air.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

We drank in the wild air
of our youth, the lessened heat
of August twilight. We swam
in a blueblack darkness broken
only by constellations and fireflies
the color of the sun, reaching out
to catch their flickering lights
in our cupped hands.

We were three and one,
I and my sister. She chased one fleeting spark
and then another, toddling in the thick
swathe of lawn that spread out below
our wide front porch like a young belle
might once have spread her hoop skirt.

We gathered folds of clover
outlined by starlight, capturing
the bright pinpricks in mason jars
to sit, shining, beside our beds. Mother
let the fireflies free
once children drifted off to sleep –
in the summer’s nightfall,
those fireflies seemed
the earthly equivalent of stars.

Revisions based on feedback in Poetry today. Any thoughts on the repetition of certain words (aka is it working, is it too much?), the addition of background information in the second stanza, or any places that sound at all cliche? Thanks in advance!

What I’m Looking For – Maureen McLane

What I’m looking for
is an unmarked door
we’ll walk through
and there: whatever
we’d wished for
beyond the door.

What I’m looking for
is a golden bowl
carefully repaired
a complete world sealed
along cracked lines.

What I’m looking for
may not be there.
What you’re looking for
may or may not
be me. I’m listening for

the return of that sound
I heard in the woods
just now, that silvery sound
that seemed to call
not only to me.

I literally just ran across this poem and stopped. If I was a cartoon, I would have made that screeching sound their feet make, like tires on asphalt, with smoke coming up off the ground. I love this! I love the simplicity, the length, the way it’s softly melodic and haunting. Need to read more of this McLane character.

Dear muse…

I showed up to work today. It would be nice if you did, too.

I have, for all intents and purposes, adopted the Greco-Roman idea about muse and genius (as paraphrased by Liz Gilbert in this Ted Talks video on creativity. To paraphrase, art-inclined people of the past two centuries seem to have come up with this notion that all the spectacular-ness that is true beauty comes out of their own head (ie. they are the genius). Subsequently, a lack of producing what we feel as artistic goodness can lead to…well, alcoholism, drug abuse, and an alarming rate of suicide in the art world (Sylvia Plath, Van Gogh, etc.). Gilbert says that we’re looking at it all wrong: the muse, the genius, is not in us. It is floating somewhere out there, in the ether, and sometimes it comes to us and sometimes it doesn’t. And, while we certainly ought to do our best to sit down and pen or type or paint or play the best thing we possibly can, we need to do so with the attitude that we are not the only participants in this thing.

There’s a lot less pressure on us that way. Thinking like this could – probably – greatly reduce the number of artists who do damaging things to themselves.

Anyway, I say all this so that you know what I mean (without watching the twenty minute video) when I say to the muse that I showed up to work today. Because I have been sitting here for four hours, trying to type, revising one of my stories and trying to muster up the creative energy to work on another. And today, for whatever reason, it just isn’t coming. The whole thing’s a struggle through molasses or something and I am just so frustrated with the entire situation.

I’ve been waiting to write this post because it is the 100th post of this blog, a fact about which I am very proud, and I wanted it to be something beautiful and profound (perhaps another poem). Instead I’m slogging through the details and wondering why the cogs are just not falling into place tonight, why I’m so reluctant to work on these pieces that before I was so thrilled to work on.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I love this, I do, but I am so incredibly frustrated with the monster that is revisions and the bane of my existence that (what I consider to be) other useless schoolwork that is not writing and the expectations of graduate schools and scholarships and…oh, everything.

I want to sit in my chair with a cup of hot tea and stare at the wall while the music plays.

I want to type, type, type with the purposeful strokes that mean there is something good going on up there in the darkness of my subconscious with the muse and my head.

And instead I’m sitting here, somewhere in between both of those places.

Joe Brainard’s poem, Poem, sums it up pretty well:

Sometimes
everything
seems
so
oh, I don’t know.

– – –

That’s all.