Sunday, November 04, 2012

Welcome Back! Just in time for the election

I’ve been away so long I forgot my password.  Well, I guess the time has come to come back.  In the meanwhile, I was the assistant coach for my daughter’s U-11 soccer team!  It was great, their first year as a club team, and it’ll start back up in March. 

I’m now seven months into my attempt at a year of not writing poetry.  It’s rough going, but I might be up to the task. 

And also, I’ve completed the first draft of Time Is a Toy: The Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt, and am sending it off to Laura Boss (who is still without power in New Jersey). 

To welcome myself back, here are sixteen poems I like:

Matthew Zapruder
American Linden

When you’d like to remember the notion of days,
turn to the barn

asleep on its hill,
a red shoulder holding the weight of clouds.

You could stand still for so many moments.
So little is over and over required,

letting the wind brush your crown.
The lathes of tobacco swing into autumn.

Swallows already discuss the winter.
I know you are tired of imagination.

All that clumsily grasping the sunlight.
Aren’t you tired of bodies too?

Whenever it rains, they fall from the sky
and darken your window.

Clutching each other they call out names
while you sit in the circle thrown by a lamp

and pretend they are leaves.
The potatoes cringe and bury their heads.

Do you see them?
They know where to return when hoofbeats come.

Like you they were not born with pride,
they were born with skins made of earth.

Their eyes are black, and they sing out of tune,
quietly, under the snow.

Thomas Lux
To Help the Monkey Cross the River,

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river's far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They're just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child's,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

John Ashbery
Old-Style Plentiful

I guess what I’m saying is
don’t be more passive aggressive
or purposefully vague than you have to
to clinch the argument.  Once that
happens you can forget the context
and try some new bathos, some severity
not seen in you till now.  Did they
send the news of you?  Were you forthcoming
in your replies?  It’s so long ago
now, yet some of it makes sense, like
why were we screwing around in the first place? 
Cannily you looked on from the wings,
finger raised to lips, as the old actor
slogged through the lines he’s reeled off
so many times, not even thinking
if they are tangential to the way we
slouch now.  So many were so wrong
about practically everything, it scarcely seems
to matter, yet something does,
otherwise everything would be death. 

Up in the clouds they were singing
O Promise Me to the birches, who replied in kind. 
Rivers kind of poured over where
we had been sitting, and the breeze made as though
not to notice any unkindness, the light too
pretended nothing was wrong, or that
it was all going to be OK some day. 
And yes, we were drunk on love. 
That sure was some summer. 

Russell Edson
A Letter from an Insomniac

Dear Mr. Furniture-Maker,

The bed you have made for me is a very difficult one.  When I pull on its reins it rears up protesting the road.  And it seems to fear heights, for when I ask it each night to jump from the window, it hesitates.  It is impossible to sleep in a bed that is afraid of heights . . . I dream so often of the mountains.  I believe this bed is a valley creature. 

Louise Glück

There is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you’ve been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky. 

You’ve stopped being here in the world. 
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning. 

You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Then you’re in the world again.
At night, on a cold hill,
taking the telescope apart.

You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.

You see how far away
each thing is from every other thing.

Laura Jensen
The Red Dog

You know that he is going to die
as soon as I tell you
he is standing beside me
his hair in spikes and dripping
from his body. He turns his head.
Canadian geese
all of them floating along the shore.
The red dog is swimming for them
only his head shows now
they flap into a curve and move
farther along the bay.
You know that he is going to die
this is the time for it
while there is a way to vanish
while the geese are moving off
to be their hard sounds
as their bodies leave the water.

Jonah Winter
Have you ever been on a steam train ride?
I love trains!
That is why today is a special day for me.
The railroad yard is huge!
The first thing I do is meet the engineer.
Steam makes the steam train go!
Shoveling coal is hard work!
“W” stands for whistle.
The train is coming!
The man in the blue uniform is conductor Bill.
I can see sheep!

Joy Katz
Big Baby

Scraping sounds, metal straining, and the baby—gainly, smooth-skinned—enters the world with its canyonlike spaces and big things going wrong. And quick big things too: shadows from hopping toads on streets dry as pancakes. Even the raspberries hang heavy-lobed; even the grasshoppers make sturdy sounds of lovers pulling up to long tables. Three balloons on rough waxen cord float upward. Welcome! Take big steps. (The baby brings its feet down with aplomb.) No one is inside my head whispering; people speak clearly into loudspeakers on utility poles. Welcome also to the large-and-quiet world: simple shape of mountain, fat emeralds, carven alphabet block, rhinos moving smoothly on dolleys. In the light and air the shadows of the clouds move bigly over the baby’s arms. I speak to it in complete sentences. The baby gains a natural understanding of civics, geologic time, and Canada. Emphasis shifts: the baby will come to accept hormonal changes. Meanwhile it helps itself to large portions and moves about with whales, having learnt to swim in wide shallows. I think up terms of endearment that are not diminutive: my bus, my tarmac. What a relief to crush tininess underfoot into an expanse of sand on which you can find pounds and pounds of whelk. To raise up a house of timbers and catch in it bucketfuls of clear soup! To cart the empties to the dump and listen with equal pleasure to Wagner and Dalrymple. To prefer autumn’s bigger name, fall, and its battering changes. The baby makes big noises, signifying to me its loud big love.

James Tate
Land of Little Sticks, 1945

Where the wife is scouring the frying pan
and the husband is leaning up against the barn.
Where the boychild is pumping water into a bucket
and the girl is chasing a spotted dog.
And the sky churns on the horizon.
A town by the name of Pleasantville has disappeared.
And now the horses begin to shift and whinny,
and the chickens roost, keep looking this way and that.
At this moment something is not quite right.
The boy trundles through the kitchen, spilling water.
His mother removes several pies from the oven, shouts at him.
The girlchild sits down by the fence to stare at the horses.
And the man is just as he was, eyes closed,
forehead against his forearm, leaning up against the barn.

Sarah Manguso
Kitty in the Snow
Meanwhile I fuck this sculpture
In my mind until it melts, then stop. 
Mmm, cold. 
At the party I talk to everyone’s honey
And sip poison and then go home,
Get shitfaced, and get it on with myself. 
I’m so good, I give it to myself every bad way I know. 
I whisper in my ear as I come:
Sarah Manguso, you’re a damn fine lover. 
Maybe someday we can be together, too. 

Michael Palmer


What of the wolfhound at full stride?
What of the woman in technical dress
and the amber eye that serves as feral guide

and witness
to the snowy hive?
What of the singer robed in red

and frozen at mid-song
and the stone, its brokenness,
or the voice off-scene that says,

Note the dragonfly by its iris
but ask no questions of flight,
no questions of iridescence?

All of this
and the faint promise of a sleeve,
the shuttle’s course, the weave.

What of these?
What of the century, did you see it pass?
What of the wolfhound at your back?

Charles Wright

The older we get, the deeper we dig into our childhoods,
Hoping to find the radiant cell
That washed us, and caused our lives
                                                          to glow in the dark like clock hands
Endlessly turning toward the future,
Tomorrow, day after tomorrow, the day after that,
                                                                               all golden, all in good time
Hiwassee Dam, North Carolina.
                                                   Still 1942,
Still campfire smoke in both our eyes, my brother and I
Gaze far out at the lake in sunflame,
Expecting our father at any moment, like Charon, to appear
Back out of the light from the other side,
                                                                low-gunwaled and loaded down with our slippery dreams.

Other incidents flicker like foxfire in the black
Isolate distance of memory,
                                             cross-eyed, horizon-haired.
Which one, is it one, is it anyone that cleans us, clears us,
That relimbs our lives to a shining

One month without rain, two months,
                                                             third month of the new year,
Afternoon breeze-rustle dry in the dry needles of hemlock and pine.
I can't get down deep enough.
Sunlight flaps its enormous wings and lifts off from the backyard,
The wind rattles its raw throat,
                                                 but I still can't go deep enough.

Mary Ann Samyn
Who Are the New Saints & What Are Their Miracles

In the middle of the extremely on-time experience, I kept feeling late. Did someone say “paradox”? Did someone mean “wallowing”?  Did anyone hear me chirp in the museum?  One guard looked over; one looked sad.  Situation in Yellow: my cheek coveting your hand.  At the miniature village, this sign: “Be prepared to see more than you expect.”  Is that possible?, I whispered, cupping your fingers to my mouth.  Or, just imagining that as the freight elevator shook us up. 

Saskia Hamilton
The First Evening

Listen to that drumming, so light it skims along the surface
like the birds at dusk dipping down to the water,
or a nonsense rhyme going on below the song.

He sipped.

Then the evening was over, even though
it was soft and if we were to go on we would reach the sea.

I wore red beneath my shirt.

What was to come?

There was a plank between my shoulder blades
leaning against the wall inside of me, waiting to be put to use by the workmen
who come at six and work until three.

Sleep while you can for tomorrow it will be morning.

Albert Goldbarth

It’s hunger and territory
although we choose to call it song.

Zachary Schomburg
Scary, No Scary

One night,
when you return to your childhood
home after

a lifetime away,
you'll find it
abandoned. Its

paint will be
completely weathered.

It will have
a significant westward lean.

There will be
a hole in its roof
that bats fly
out of.

The old man
hunched over
at the front door
will be prepared
to give you a tour,
but first he'll ask
Scary, or no scary?

You should say
No scary.


At 11/04/2012 8:34 AM, Blogger C. Dale said...

I had totally forgotten the Tom Lux poem. Love it. Such a strange poem, but I still love it. Glad to see you back.

At 11/04/2012 10:02 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Your tastes are similar to mine. I wonder how content we'd be if we exchanged libraries?

But I still have old horror and whodunit paperbacks I used to read when I had time for escapism... Maybe you wouldn't want those...

At 11/04/2012 10:13 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And glad to be back, I guess!

David, my "other" library is full of Ross Macdonald, Conan Doyle, Louis L'amour, Clifford D. Simak, Robert Heinlein, etc.

I can't rid myself of my first loves because I don't want to.

At 11/05/2012 7:17 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

I'm happy to see you give some air time to Sarah Manguso. You picked a pretty rugged sample!


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