18 Aug 2015

Mementos, 1 -- WD Snodgrass

Sorting out letters and piles of my old
    Canceled checks, old clippings, and yellow note cards   
That meant something once, I happened to find
    Your picture. That picture. I stopped there cold,   
Like a man raking piles of dead leaves in his yard
             Who has turned up a severed hand.

Still, that first second, I was glad: you stand
    Just as you stood—shy, delicate, slender,
In that long gown of green lace netting and daisies
    That you wore to our first dance. The sight of you stunned   
Us all. Well, our needs were different, then,
             And our ideals came easy.

Then through the war and those two long years
    Overseas, the Japanese dead in their shacks   
Among dishes, dolls, and lost shoes; I carried
    This glimpse of you, there, to choke down my fear,   
Prove it had been, that it might come back.
             That was before we got married.

—Before we drained out one another’s force   
    With lies, self-denial, unspoken regret
And the sick eyes that blame; before the divorce
    And the treachery. Say it: before we met. Still,   
I put back your picture. Someday, in due course,
             I will find that it’s still there.

Source: Snodgrass, WD 1987, 'Mementos, 1' from Selected Poems, 1957-1987, Soho Press, New York. Retrieved 18 August 2015, www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171518.

Late Night Ode -- JD McClatchy


It’s over, love. Look at me pushing fifty now,
   Hair like grave-grass growing in both ears,
The piles and boggy prostate, the crooked penis,
   The sour taste of each day’s first lie,

And that recurrent dream of years ago pulling
   A swaying bead-chain of moonlight,
Of slipping between the cool sheets of dark
   Along a body like my own, but blameless.

What good’s my cut-glass conversation now,
   Now I’m so effortlessly vulgar and sad?
You get from life what you can shake from it?
   For me, it’s g and t’s all day and CNN.

Try the blond boychick lawyer, entry level
   At eighty grand, who pouts about overtime,
Keeps Evian and a beeper in his locker at the gym,
   And hash in tinfoil under the office fern.

There’s your hound from heaven, with buccaneer
   Curls and perfumed war-paint on his nipples.
His answering machine always has room for one more
   Slurred, embarrassed call from you-know-who.

Some nights I’ve laughed so hard the tears
   Won’t stop. Look at me now. Why now?
I long ago gave up pretending to believe
   Anyone’s memory will give as good as it gets.

So why these stubborn tears? And why do I dream
   Almost every night of holding you again,
Or at least of diving after you, my long-gone,
   Through the bruised unbalanced waves?

Source: McClatchy, JD, 1998, ‘Late Night Ode’ from Ten Commandments, Alfred A. Knopf.  Retrieved 18 August 2015, www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/236602

19 Jun 2015

Anorexic -- Eavan Boland

b. 1944 Irish. 

Flesh is heretic.
My body is a witch.
I am burning it.

Yes I am torching
her curves and paps and wiles.
They scorch in my self denials.

How she meshed my head
in the half-truths
of her fevers

till I renounced
milk and honey
and the taste of lunch.

I vomited
her hungers.
Now the bitch is burning.

I am starved and curveless.
I am skin and bone.
She has learned her lesson.

Thin as a rib
I turn in sleep.
My dreams probe

a claustrophobia
a sensuous enclosure.
How warm it was and wide

once by a warm drum,
once by the song of his breath
and in his sleeping side.

Only a little more,
only a few more days
sinless, foodless,

I will slip
back into him again
as if I had never been away.

Caged so
I will grow
angular and holy

past pain,
keeping his heart
such company

as will make me forget
in a small space
the fall

into forked dark,
into python needs
heaving to hips and breasts
and lips and heat
and sweat and fat and greed.

Source: Boland, E 1980, 'Anorexic', In Her Own Image, Arlen House.

The Romance of Middle Age -- Mary Meriam

Now that I’m fifty, let me take my showers
at night, no light, eyes closed. And let me swim
in cover-ups. My skin’s tattooed with hours
and days and decades, head to foot, and slim
is just a faded photograph. It’s strange
how people look away who once would look.
I didn’t know I’d undergo this change
and be the unseen cover of a book
whose plot, though swift, just keeps on getting thicker.
One reaches for the pleasures of the mind
and heart to counteract the loss of quicker
knowledge. One feels old urgencies unwind,
although I still pluck chin hairs with a tweezer,
in case I might attract another geezer.

Meriam, M 2009, 'The Romance of Middle Age', Rattle, vol. 15, no. 2.

24 Mar 2015

Starting to Show -- Kevin Young

She sleeps on the side
her heart is on —

sleeps facing the sun
that juts through our window

earlier and earlier. In the belly
of the sky the sun kicks

and cries. My wife
has begun to wear the huge

clothes of inmates, smuggling you
inside her — son

or daughter. I bring her
crackers and water.

Wardens of each other,
in the precincts

of unsteady sleep, we drift
off curled

like you are, listening
to the night breathe.

Source: www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/magazine/starting-to-show.html?_r=0, published 13 March 2015.

29 Jan 2015

August -- Mary Oliver

(1935–Current, American)

Our neighbor, tall and blonde and vigorous, the mother
of many children, is sick. We did not know she was sick,
but she has come to the fence, walking like a woman
who is balancing a sword inside of her body, and besides
that her long hair is gone, it is short and, suddenly, gray.
I don’t recognize her. It even occurs to me that it might
be her mother. But it’s her own laughter-edged voice,
we have heard it for years over the hedges.

All summer the children, grown now and some of them
with children of their own, come to visit. They swim,
they go for long walks at the harbor, they make
dinner for twelve, for fifteen, for twenty. In the early
morning two daughters come to the garden and slowly
go through the precise and silent gestures of T’ai Chi.

They all smile. Their father smiles too, and builds
castles on the shore with the children, and drives back to
the city, and drives back to the country. A carpenter is
hired—a roof repaired, a porch rebuilt. Everything that
can be fixed.

June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter. I
think of the painting by van Gogh, the man in the chair.
Everything wrong, and nowhere to go. His hands over
his eyes.

Source: Oliver, M (1993) 'August', Poetry magazine, August 1993. Retrieved 29 January 2015 www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse/162/5#!/20603668 

16 Jan 2015

Untitled (Often when I imagine) -- Rainer Maria Rilke

(Bohemian-Austrian, 1875-1926)

Often when I imagine you 
your wholeness cascades into many shapes. 
You run like a herd of luminous deer 
and I am dark, I am forest. 

Source: Rilke, RM 1899, Book of Hours.

5 Jan 2015

You Get Proud by Practicing -- Laura Hershey

(American, 1962 - 2010)

If you are not proud
for who you are, for what you say, for how you look;
if every time you stop
to think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing
with golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.
You can
get proud.

You do not need
a better body, a purer spirit, or a Ph.D.
to be proud.
You do not need
a lot of money, a handsome boyfriend, or a nice car.
You do not need
to be able to walk, or see, or hear,
or use big, complicated words,
or do any of the things that you just can’t do
to be proud. A caseworker
cannot make you proud,
or a doctor.
You only need
more practice.
You get proud
by practicing.

There are many many ways to get proud.
You can try riding a horse, or skiing on one leg,
or playing guitar,
and do well or not so well,
and be glad you tried
either way.
You can show
something you’ve made
to someone you respect
and be happy with it no matter
what they say.
You can say
what you think, though you know
other people do not think the same way, and you can
keep saying it, even if they tell you
you are crazy.
You can add your voice
all night to the voices
of a hundred and fifty others
in a circle
around a jailhouse
where your brothers and sisters are being held
for blocking buses with no lift,
or you can be one of the ones
inside the jailhouse,
knowing of the circle outside.
You can speak your love
to a friend
without fear.
You can find someone
who will listen to you
without judging you or doubting you or being
afraid of you
and let you hear yourself perhaps
for the first time.
These are all ways
of getting proud.
None of them
are easy, but all of them
are possible. You can do all of these things,
or just one of them again and again.
You get proud
by practicing.

Power makes you proud, and power
comes in many fine forms
supple and rich as butterfly wings.
It is music
when you practice opening your mouth
and liking what you hear
because it is the sound of your own
true voice.
It is sunlight
when you practice seeing
strength and beauty in everyone
including yourself.
It is dance
when you practice knowing
that what you do
and the way you do it
is the right way for you
and can’t be called wrong.
All these hold
more power than weapons or money
or lies.
All these practices bring power, and power
makes you proud.
You get proud
by practicing.

Remember, you weren’t the one
who made you ashamed,
but you are the one
who can make you proud.
Just practice,
practice until you get proud, and once you are proud,
keep practicing so you won’t forget.
You get proud
by practicing.

Added to this blog in memory of Stella Young, who had the words "You get proud by practicing" tattooed on her arm.

Source: Originally published 1991. Retrieved 5 January 2015 from www.laurahershey.com/?p=340

11 Nov 2014

Ogden Nash poems

The Dog – Ogden Nash

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I've also found, by actual test, 
A wet dog is the lovingest. 

Grandpa is Ashamed – Ogden Nash

A child need not be very clever 
To learn that "Later, dear" means "Never."

Crossing the Border – Ogden Nash

Senescence begins
And middle age ends 
The day your descendents
Outnumber your friends.

Reflexions on Ice-Breaking – Ogden Nash

is dandy
But liquor
is quicker 

Introspective Reflection – Ogden Nash

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance. 

Source: www.ogdennash.org/ogden_nash_poems.htm, retrieved 11/11/2014

27 Aug 2014

Instructions for Survival – Heather Cam

[1955–current, born Canada, migrated to Australia in 1977]

A week after the break-up note:

The pools are dry again,
their salt crusted rims 
smell faintly of tears;
the sponges, once so responsive,
are high and dry,
stiff and stinking on the beach;
the sky is washed out, reeling;
the sea birds register nothing
behind unblinking pebble eyes,
but scream as they plunge,
chiselled and deadly,
to splinter the sea;
the surf pounds and points,
impersonal, enduring.

And realise
there’s nothing here for you;
and the wind’s assault – 
rippling the sands, erasing your footprints –
induces amnesia
amidst the flotsam and jetsam.

Source: Cam, H 1990, ‘The Moon’s Hook’, Poetry Australia 125, South Head Press, Sydney.

Kissing Coco – Liz Queeney

It was March. I’d just turned twelve
two weeks before, so I was finally 
old enough to think about having 
sex with somebody outside
my family. Somebody not male,
and not too much older. Somebody
like Coco from Nasella Park. 
She was everything I wanted
to be (smart & strong & very tough).
She smoked Lucky Strike nonfilters
and could spit as far as any guy.
Already thirteen, so I told her I was 
too, pressing my biceps tight 
against my sides, trying to make
my breasts appear bigger. Hers were
stretching out her too-tight sweater 
(the sweater soft and blue
like her eyes). Catching me staring, 
she boldly stared back. She grinned,
and then she winked at me.
I was afraid maybe she was 
teasing me, afraid maybe she wasn’t.
My heart swelled up till it almost 
hurt. In the past, wanting touch
had only brought pain, but I knew that
I could trust someone who purred
with stray cats. Late at night,
on the swing set in Nasella Park, 
she opened up to Michelobs, 
and asked, “Have you ever
gotten drunk?” “Of course! A lot 
of times,” I lied. I wanted her
to think I was cool. She was
so hot. My mouth was dry.
I sucked down the beer, then
following her lead, I threw the empty
into the bushes. My mouth still dry,
I pulled a Certs from the pocket 
of my Levi’s, then popped
it into my mouth with relief.
Coco asked, “Ya got any more?” then 
seemed all disappointed to hear it was
my last. Without thinking, I offered
her the one in my mouth. “Sure,”
she said as she jumped off the swing. 
Instantly her hands were on mine, 
the chains of the swing digging into
my palms. I was sweating,
though the night air was crisp.
My heat beat so wild
I could hardly hear.
Coco commanded, “Give it up,”
opening her mouth before mine.
The swing no longer moving, still
everything was swirling
as our lips caressed and out tongues shared
the Certs and our first kiss.

Source: Queeney, L 1996, ‘Kissing Coco’, in L Elder (ed.), Early Embraces, Alyson publications, pp. 185–186.

4 Aug 2014

Managing the Common Herd – Julie O’Callaghan

[1954–current, born America, migrated to Ireland in 1974]

      two approaches for senior management

THEORY x: People are naturally lazy. 
They come late, leave early, feign illness. 
When they sit at their desks 
it’s ten to one they’re yakking to colleagues 
on the subject of who qualifies as a gorgeous hunk. 
They’re coating their lips and nails with slop, 
a magazine open to ‘What your nails say about you’ 
or ‘Ten exercises to keep your bottom in top form’ 
under this year’s annual report. 
These people need punishment; 
they require stern warnings 
and threats – don’t be a coward, 
don’t be intimidated by a batting eyelash.
Stand firm: a few tears, a Mars Bar, 
several glasses of cider with her pals tonight 
and you’ll be just the same old 
rat-bag, mealy-mouthed, small-minded tyrant 
you were before you docked her 
fifteen minutes pay for insubordination.
      Never let these con-artists get the better of you. 

THEORY z: Staff need encouragement. 
Give them a little responsibility 
and watch their eager faces lighting up. 
Let them know their input is important. 
Be democratic – allow all of them 
their two cents worth of gripes. 
(Don’t forget this is the Dr Spock generation.) 
If eight out of twelve of them 
prefer green garbage cans to black ones 
under their desks, be generous – 
the dividends in productivity 
will be reaped with compound interest. 
Offer incentives, show them 
it’s to their own advantage to meet targets. 
Don’t talk down to your employees. 
Make staff believe that they 
have valid and innovative ideas 
and that not only are you interested. 
but that you will act upon them.
      Remember, they’re human too.

Source:   O’Callaghan, J 1991, What’s What, Bloodaxe Books. 

13 Jun 2014

Hijab Scene #7 -- Mohja Kahf

[1969-present, born Syria, migrated to USA as a child]

No, I’m not bald under the scarf
No, I’m not from that country
where women can’t drive cars
No, I would not like to defect
I’m already American
But thank you for offering
What else do you need to know
relevant to my buying insurance,
opening a bank account,
reserving a seat on a flight?
Yes, I speak English
Yes, I carry explosives
They’re called words
And if you don’t get up
Off your assumptions
They’re going to blow you away

 Source: Kahf, M 2003, E-mails from Scheherazad, University of Florida Press.

Love -- Kate Clanchy

[b. 1965, Scotland]

I hadn’t met his kind before.
His misericord face – really,
like a joke on his father – blurred
as if from years of polish;
his hands like curled dry leaves;

the profligate heat he gave
out, gave out, his shallow,
careful breaths: I thought
his filaments would blow,
I thought he was an emperor,

dying on silk cushions.
I didn’t know how to keep
him wrapped, I didn’t know
how to give him suck, I had
no idea about him. At night

I tried to remember the feel
of his head on my neck, the skull
small as a cat’s, the soft spot
hot as a smelted coin,
and the hair, the down, fine

as the innermost, vellum layer
of some rare snowcreature’s
aureole of fur, if you could meet
such a beast, if you could
get so near. I started there.

Source: Clanchy, K 2003 (autumn), Poetry Review, 93, 3, from Newborn (London: Picador, 2004) 

Atlas -- UA Fanthorpe

[1929-2009, English]

There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.

 Source: Fanthorpe, UA, 1995, Safe as Houses, Peterloo Poets.