Monday, February 28, 2011
Ode to American English
"Ode to American English" by Barbara Hamby
I was missing English one day, American, really,
with its pill-popping Hungarian goulash of everything
from Anglo-Saxon to Zulu, because British English
is not the same, if the paperback dictionary
I bought at Brentano's on the Avenue de l'Opera
is any indication, too cultured by half. Oh, the English
know their dahlias, but what about doowop, donuts,
Dick Tracy, Tricky Dick? With their elegant Oxfordian
accents, how could they understand my yearning for the hotrod,
hotdog, hot flash vocabulary of the U. S. of A.,
the fragmented fandango of Dagwood's everyday flattening
of Mr. Beasley on the sidewalk, fetuses floating
on billboards, drive-by monster hip-hop stereos shaking
the windows of my dining room like a 7.5 earthquake,
Ebonics, Spanglish, "you know" used as comma and period,
the inability of 90% of the population to get the past perfect:
I have went, I have saw, I have tooken Jesus into my heart,
the battle cry of the Bible Belt, but no one uses
the King James anymore, only plain-speak versions,
in which Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead, says,
"Dude, wake up," and the L-man bolts up like a B-movie
mummy, "Whoa, I was toasted." Yes, ma'am,
I miss the mongrel plentitude of American English, its fall-guy,
rat-terrier, dog-pound neologisms, the bomb of it all,
the rushing River Jordan backwoods mutability of it, the low-rider,
boom-box cruise of it, from New Joisey to Ha-wah-ya
with its sly dog, malasada-scarfing beach blanket lingo
to the ubiquitous Valley Girl's like-like stuttering,
shopaholic rant. I miss its quotidian beauty, its querulous
back-biting righteous indignation, its preening rotgut
flag-waving cowardice. Suffering Succotash, sputters
Sylvester the Cat; sine die, say the pork-bellied legislators
of the swamps and plains. I miss all those guys, their Tweety-bird
resilience, their Doris Day optimism, the candid unguent
of utter unhappiness on every channel, the midnight televangelist
euphoric stew, the junk mail, voice mail vernacular.
On every boulevard and rue I miss the Tarzan cry of Johnny
Weismueller, Johnny Cash, Johnny B. Goode,
and all the smart-talking, gum-snapping hard-girl dialogue,
finger-popping x-rated street talk, sports babble,
Cheetoes, Cheerios, chili dog diatribes. Yeah, I miss them all,
sitting here on my sidewalk throne sipping champagne
verses lined up like hearses, metaphors juking, nouns zipping
in my head like Corvettes on Dexadrine, French verbs
slitting my throat, yearning for James Dean to jump my curb.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Child In Church
by David Lee Garrison
The sanctuary sloped down
to the altar. I saw
a field of heads and then
the haloed head of Jesus
kneeling at Gethsemane.
Pews were the dark red
of his blood;the organ swell
was his breath and heartbeat;
the cross, his skeleton.
We whispered the letter "s"-
forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those
who trespass against us-
as if we knew one letter
of the sacred alphabet,
one sound we chanted,
calling to the others.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
for my mother
You broke my heart, you said.
And then you died
leaving the two raw pieces in my lap,
like weeping pomegranate.
Because I tasted the seeds and knew
the underworld? Because your meadows
couldn’t hold me, and beyond the fence
I found a wilderness more tempting
than you – virtuous as a nun –
could comprehend? Was I to blame?
You loved the idea of my life: dinners for eight,
bright kids, bright flowers, filling your dreams
of domesticity. Was it wrong
to hide frayed edges as they pulled apart?
Only daughter of a lonely mother
I was doomed to disappoint
as every seed you planted escaped
your nurturing to flaunt
its own wild weedy dance.
Look, the marsh marigolds we treasured
have disappeared this spring
gobbled by deer, overrun by reed canary grass
but still the redwing blackbird sings.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Living In The Body
by Joyce Sutphen
Body is something you need in order to stay
on this planet and you only get one.
And no matter which one you get, it will not
be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful
enough, it will not be fast enough, it will
not keep on for days at a time, but will
pull you down into a sleepy swamp and
demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.
Body is a thing you have to carry
from one day into the next. Always the
same eyebrows over the same eyes in the same
skin when you look in the mirror, and the
same creaky knee when you get up from the
floor and the same wrist under the watchband.
The changes you can make are small and
costly—better to leave it as it is.
Body is a thing that you have to leave
eventually. You know that because you have
seen others do it, others who were once like you,
living inside their pile of bones and
flesh, smiling at you, loving you,
leaning in the doorway, talking to you
for hours and then one day they
are gone. No forwarding address.
Joyce Sutphen, “Living in the Body” from Straight Out of View (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Poem: "Some in Pieces" by Darnell Arnoult, from What Travels With Us.
Some in Pieces
In World War Two
of my uncles
some in pieces
and threw them
onto the beds
His work spread
far as he could see.
When he came
home he poured
into a Co-Cola
as they lived.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Not only are selves conditional but they die. Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time? It is even possible to dislike our old selves, these disposable ancestors of ours. For instance, my high-school self—skinny, scabby, giggly, gabby, frantic to be noticed, tormented enough to be a tormentor, relentlessly pushing his cartoons and posters and noisy jokes and pseudo-sophisticated poems upon the helpless-high school—strikes me now as considerably obnoxious, though I owe him a lot: without his frantic ambition and insecurity I would not now be sitting on (as my present home was named by others) Haven Hill. And my Ipswich self, a delayed second edition of that high-school self, in a town much like Shillington in its blend of sweet and tough, only more spacious and historic and blessedly free of family ghosts, and my own relative position in the “gang” improved, enhanced by a touch of wealth and celebrity, a mini-Mailer in our small salt-water pond, a stag of sorts in our herd of housewife-does, flirtatious, malicious, greedy for my quota of life’s pleasures, a distracted, mediocre father and worse husband—he seems another obnoxious show-off, rapacious and sneaky and, in the service of his own ego, remorseless. But, then, am I his superior in anything but caution and years, and how can I disown him without disowning also his useful works, on which I still receive royalties? And when I entertain in my mind these shaggy, red-faced, overexcited, abrasive fellows, I find myself tenderly taken with their diligence, their hopefulness, their ability in spite of all to map a broad strategy and stick with it. So perhaps one cannot, after all, not love them.
[“On Being a Self Forever”, from SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, Memoirs by John Updike, Knopf, 1989.}
Friday, February 18, 2011
By William Stafford
When there was air, when you could
breathe any day if you liked, and if you
wanted to you could run. I used to
climb those hills back of town and
follow a gully so my eyes were at ground
level and could look out through grass as the
bent in their tensile way, and see snow
mountains follow along, the way distance goes.
Now I carry those days in a tiny box
wherever I go, I open the lid like this
and let the light glimpse and then glance away.
There is a sigh like my breath when I do this.
Some days I do this again and again.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.
~ Anne Sexton ~
(The Awful Rowing Toward God)
Monday, February 14, 2011
The Vinegar Man
The crazy old Vinegar Man is dead! He never had missed a day before!
Somebody went to his tumble-down shed by the Haunted House and forced the door.
There in the litter of his pungent pans,
the murky mess of his mixing place
Deep, sticky spiders and empty cans
with the same old frown on his sour old face.
Vinegar - Vinegar - Vinegar Man!
Face - us - and - chase - us - and - catch - if -you - can!
Pepper for a tongue! Pickle for a nose!
Stick a pin in him and vinegar flows!
Glare -at-us- swear -at-us- catch - if - you-can!
Ketchup - and - chow - chow - and -Vinegar -Man!
Nothing but recipes and worthless junk;
greasy old records of paid and due
But down in the depths of a battered trunk,
a queer, quaint Valentine torn in two?
Red hearts and arrows and silver lace,
and a prim, dim, ladylike script that said
"With dearest love, from Ellen to Ned!"
Steal - us - and - peel - us - and - drown - us -in - brine!
He pickles his heart in a valentine!
Vinegar for blood! Pepper for his tongue!
Stick a pin in him and
...once he was young!
Glare -at-us- swear -at-us- catch - if - you - can!
"With dearest love" to the Vinegar Man!
Dingy little books of profit and loss
(died about Saturday, so they say),
And a queer, quaint valentine torn across . . .
torn, but it never was thrown away!
"With dearest love from Ellen to Ned"
"Old Pepper Tongue! Pickles his heart in brine!"
The Vinegar Man is a long time dead:
he died when he tore his valentine.
by Ruth Comfort Mitchell
I found this poem in a 100 year old book of poems for children. The author had included an gentle admonishment to be kind to the many "queer" people who live among us. I think every childhood has some ghosts of Vinegar Men. Mine included a low functioning man who mowed lawns for his living and who was terrorized by teen boys who called him "Cherokee Chuck" and made mock war dances around him in order to evoke his peculiar rage.
I like the way this strange little poem captures the idea of the "other" we think we have pegged as having a mysterious backstory, which is, of course, truth.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Working in the Rain
By Robert Morgan
My father loved more than anything to
work outside in wet weather. Beginning
at daylight he’d go out in dripping brush
to mow or pull weeds for hog and chickens.
First his shoulders got damp and the drops from
his hat ran down his back. When even his
armpits were soaked he came in to dry out
by the fire, making coffee, read a little.
But if the rain continued he’d soon be
restless, and go out to sharpen tools in
the shed or carry wood from the pile,
then open up a puddle to the drain,
working by steps back into the downpour.
I thought he sought the privacy of rain,
the one time no one was likely to be
out and he was left to the intimacy
of drops touching every leaf and tree in
the woods and the easy mutterings of
drip and runoff, the shine of pools behind
grass dams. He could not resist the long
ritual, the companionship and freedom
of falling weather, or even the cold
drenching, the heavy soak and chill of clothes
and sobbing of fingers and sacrifice
of shoes that earned a baking by the fire
and washed fatigue after the wandering
and loneliness in the country of rain.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Even the Dead
by David Lee Garrison
Even the Dead Will Die Someday~ Miguel de Unamuno
Bury me in this graveyard,
lost among farms and forests,
where even the dead are dead;
where epitaphs can barely be read;
where the outline of a hand carved
in a slab points toward the sky
and demonstrates the faith
of all the men and women who lie
here in the hope of resurrection;
where stones record longings for
a stricken child, son killed in war,
wife or husband gone before;
where my whole life will
come down to a few true words.
At dusk, a flock of quiet birds.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The Past Is Still There
By Deborah Garrison
I've forgotten so much.
What it felt like back then,
what we said to each other.
But sometimes when I'm standing
at the kitchen counter after dinner
and I look out the window at the dark
thinking of nothing,
something swims up.
your laughing into my mouth
as you were trying
to kiss me.