Monday’s Verse 2/20/2018

Dear readers,

I had a great day at the record store last weekend and came home, wallet not too much lighter, with a short stack of music ranging from 1796 right up to 2016. Later, on Sunday, I found myself listening to three of the more recent albums in a row (1978, 2008, 2016), and all of a sudden realized, wait, all these artists are also known as poets! And not only that , poets who’ve been read on Monday’s Verse: Bob Dylan, the Silver Jews (band leader David Berman has published several books of poetry; see MV 5/4/2015), and Jamila Woods. You may remember that Ms. Woods’ "Ghazal for White Hen Pantry" was one of my favorite poems of 2015. It was published in Poetry Magazine in December of that year; I think I discovered it a few months later. At some point, in 2017, I heard the DJ on a local station say that the track I’d just caught the last 20 seconds of was from an album by Jamila Woods, and I thought, that Jamila Woods? Indeed.

So when I saw it on brand-new vinyl (blinding white vinyl, no less), I had to give it a listen. I’ve only heard it once, but so far so good. Her writing chops show, and there are some great references, both lyrically and musically, to 80’s pop music. More importantly, it drove me back to her Poetry Foundation page, where I recalled that she runs poetry workshops for youth in Chicago and works in that city’s nonprofit sector. And found today’s poem. I love poems about music anyway–we’ve read so many of them over the years, and 2 weeks ago we had another–so this one seemed perfect given the writer and my circular route, via turntable, back to her poems. I didn’t even look up who Herb Kent is, I think I’ll let one of our Chicago readers (not to be confused with the Chicago Reader) reply all and enlighten us. Have a great week, -ed.

ODE TO HERB KENT

Your voice crawls across the dashboard of Grandma’s Dodge Dynasty on the way home from Lilydale First Baptist. You sing a cocktail of static and bass. Sound like you dressed to the nines: cowboy hat, fur coat & alligator boots. Sound like you lotion every tooth. You a walking discography, South Side griot, keeper of crackle & dust in the grooves. You fell in love with a handmade box of wires at 16 and been behind the booth ever since. From wbezto V103, you be the Coolest Gent, King of the Dusties. Your voice wafts down from the ceiling at the Hair Lab. You supply the beat for Kym to tap her comb to. Her brown fingers paint my scalp with white grease to the tunes of Al & Barry & Luther. Your voice: an inside-out yawn, the sizzle of hot iron on fresh perm, the song inside the blackest seashell washed up on a sidewalk in Bronzeville. You soundtrack the church picnic, trunk party, Cynthia’s 50th birthday bash, the car ride to school, choir, Checkers. Your voice stretch across our eardrums like Daddy asleep on the couch. Sound like Grandma’s sweet potato pie, sound like the cigarettes she hide in her purse for rough days. You showed us what our mommas’ mommas must’ve moved to. When the West Side rioted the day MLK died, you were audio salve to the burning city, people. Your voice a soft sermon soothing the masses, speaking coolly to flames, spinning black records across the airwaves, spreading the gospel of soul in a time of fire. Joycetta says she bruised her thumbs snappin’ to Marvin’s “Got to Give It Up” and I believe her.

-2015

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Monday’s Verse 2/14/2018

Good morning, acolytes of Erato! As has been our tradition, MV gives you Diane Wakoski’s (1937) "Blue Monday" on this Valentine’s Day. Bathe yourself in her aural stream. Love hurts, man! -ed.

BLUE MONDAY

Blue and the heaps of beads poured into her breasts
and clacking together in her elbows;
blue of the silk
that covers lily-town at night;
blue of her teeth
that bite cold toast
and shatter on the streets;
blue of the dyed flower petals with gold stamens
hanging like tongues
over the fence of her dress
at the opera/opals clasped under her lips
and the moon breaking over her head a
gush of blood-red lizards.

Blue Monday. Monday at 3:00 and
Monday at 5. Monday at 7:30 and
Monday at 10:00. Monday passed under the rippling
California fountain. Monday alone
a shark in the cold blue waters.

You are dead: wound round like a paisley shawl.
I cannot shake you out of the sheets. Your name
is still wedged in every corner of the sofa.

Monday is the first of the week,
and I think of you all week.
I beg Monday not to come
so that I will not think of you
all week.

You paint my body blue. On the balcony
in the soft muddy night, you paint me
with bat wings and the crystal
the crystal
the crystal
the crystal in your arm cuts away
the night, folds back ebony whale skin
and my face, the blue of new rifles,
and my neck, the blue of Egypt,
and my breasts, the blue of sand,
and my arms, bass-blue,
and my stomach, arsenic;

there is electricity dripping from me like cream;
there is love dripping from me I cannot use–like acacia or
jacaranda–fallen blue and gold flowers, crushed into the street.

Love passed me in a business suit
and fedora.
His glass cane, hollow and filled with
sharks and whales. . .
He wore black
patent leather shoes
and had a mustache. His hair was so black
it was almost blue.

"Love," I said.
"I beg your pardon," he said.
"Mr. Love," I said.
"I beg your pardon," he said.

So I saw there was no use bothering him on the street.

Love passed me on the street in a blue
business suit. He was a banker
I could tell.

So blue trains rush by in my sleep.
Blue herons fly overhead.
Blue paints cracks in my
arteries and sends titanium
floating into my bones.
Blue liquid pours down
my poisoned throat and blue veins
rip open my breast. Blue daggers tip
and are juggled on my palms.
Blue death lives in my fingernails.

If I could sing one last song
with water bubbling through my lips
I would sing with my throat torn open,
the blue jugular spouting that black shadow pulse,
and on my lips
I would balance volcanic rock
emptied out of my veins. At last
my children strained out
of my body. At last my blood
solidified and tumbling into the ocean.
It is blue.
It is blue.
It is blue.

-1968

Monday’s Verse 2/5/2018

Dear friends,

well, that hiatus wasn’t intended, but I guess in retrospect it was necessary, and that’s why it happened. I flew out to Phoenix on MLK weekend and just lost all sense of space and time. As happens in Phoenix. My interactions with poetry have been limited over the past weeks, outside of good music on my car radio. And there was also a brief moment at some point in the last 3 weeks when I had to recite "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" to myself just to settle the ol’ nerves, knowhattamean?

I do follow the Poetry Foundation and Poetry News on Twitter, so every once in a while a new poem just flits across my screen, and if the title or photo grabs me, I take a swipe at it. Like the title of this one.

Cornelius Eady ("Say uncle, or die!") co-founded the Cave Canem poetry workshops in 1996. The group promotes work by emerging African American poets, many of whom have passed through the University of Pittsburgh — and many of whom we’ve read in Monday’s Verse. He uses the rich traditions of African American music in his poetry, and the title of this one caught me because I assume it’s about Nina Simone, one of my favorite singers. The mention of keyboards and the gigs she turned her back on tells me so. I’ll assume most readers have listened to her a time or two; if you haven’t today’s a great day to start! Have a great week, -ed.

NINA’S BLUES

Your body, hard vowels

In a soft dress, is still.

What you can’t know

is that after you died

All the black poets

In New York City

Took a deep breath,

And breathed you out;

Dark corners of small clubs,

The silence you left twitching

On the floors of the gigs

You turned your back on,

The balled-up fists of notes

Flung, angry from a keyboard.

You won’t be able to hear us

Try to etch what rose

Off your eyes, from your throat.

Out you bleed, not as sweet, or sweaty,

Through our dark fingertips.

We drum rest

We drum thank you

We drum stay.

-2008

Monday’s Verse 12/18/2017, mid-week edition

Dear readers,

What I’m looking forward to most this week is getting together with loved ones to celebrate a miracle of rebirth, to sit in a reverent and music-filled temple, awe-struck by the mysterious forces of good in the universe. I’m speaking, of course, about my Saturday night tickets to go see "The Last Jedi" with my HS besties in Indianapolis. Can’t wait!!!

Well, I rounded out the Pitt alum reading series last week with Stacey Waite. So I’m done running poems by live poetry witnessed in November, right? Wrong! Because the week Brandon Som was in town, I managed to see 7 poets read in a 3-day span; more poetry than I usually take in in a 6-month span. At the White Whale book store, 3 semi-local poets shared their work. Up first was Rochelle Hurt of Slippery Rock U’s English Department. Several of her poems had people laughing, in a good way. Later, I found this one from 2107 online. The nice thing about it for me is the McDonald’s reference and this week’s intro, given that in HS the McDonald’s parking lot was a regular meet-up for me and my friends. I think the idea was that it was a launching pad for other, more diverting venues… but sometimes, hanging out in the McDonald’s parking lot, or the McDonald’s, was itself the event. Why? I don’t know. We weren’t what you would call "cool." We also weren’t what you would call cool. Lot of good sounds in this poem — it’s a quick read. Lots of assonance, which also happened to be Brian’s nickname in HS. Have a good week, -ed.

I WANT TO WALK TO MCDONALD’S FOREVER, FRIEND

I want to wade there with you on a snow day,
wheeze-winded & teary. I want to smash the ice
in your lashes, then let the oily steam breathe us
back to running blood. Or I want to walk there
in crop tops we’ll swap in the lime fluorescent
of the slime-tiled john so we can walk home as one
another. I want to wooze in your menthol-cherry
aura as we find every flickering arch in the city.
Delicate licker of grease-dipped French tips,
send me a Rite-Aid valentine that says be my bitch
& I’ll be yours. No take-backs, no joke, no jinx
when I answered that trick crush question with you,
you who then flipped & tramped the whole year solo.
But I swear on my mamaw’s spine we can walk
it all back with Big Macs & a thousand half-hug pats.
Please let’s just meet on the mouth of straw,
suck it up, crush only our cups, & let the year drip down
the sewer slats as we walk back & back & back.

Monday’s Verse 12/11/2017

Dear readers,

Rounding out my recap of Pitt MFAs who read in Pittsburgh last month: Stacey Waite (Wait–cat’s eye). I can’t recall if we have read her poems before — I’ll name drop and say she’s one of the MV poets I’ve met in person. We got a quick handshake in as our dinner plans and mutual friends overlapped for 10 minutes or so at the MLA conference in Chicago about 4 years back. I know we’ve got at least one slam poetry fan (and competitor) out there in MV dist-list-land, and Stacey is not only a lit professor, not only an award-winning published poet, but a slam poet as well. Accompanying this piece, which she read in town, is a link to a performance of it.

One reviewer said that Stacey Waite’s poems do not so much rearrange language, they rearrange your internal organs. How do your guts feel after this one? -ed.

THE KIND OF MAN I AM AT THE DMV

"Mommy, that man is a girl," says the little boy
pointing his finger, like a narrow spotlight,
targeting the center of my back, his kid-hand
learning to assert what he sees, his kid-hand
learning the failure of gender’s tidy little story
about itself. I try not to look at him

because, yes that man is a girl. I, man, am a girl.
I am the kind of man who is a girl and because
the kind of man I am is patient with children
I try not to hear the meanness in his voice,
his boy voice that sounds like a girl voice
because his boy voice is young and pitched high
like the tent in his pants will be years later
because he will grow to be the kind of man
who is a man, or so his mother thinks.

His mother snatches his finger from the air,
of course he’s not, she says, pulling him
back to his seat, what number does it say we are?
she says to her boy, bringing his attention
to numbers, to counting and its solid sense.

But he has earrings, the boy complains
now sounding desperate like he’s been
the boy who cries wolf, like he’s been
the hub of disbelief before, but this time
he knows he is oh so right. The kind
of man I am is a girl, the kind of man
I am is push-ups on the basement
floor, is chest bound tight against himself,
is thick gripping hands to the wheel
when the kind of man I am drives away
from the boy who will become a boy
except for now while he’s still a girl voice,
a girl face, a hairless arm, a powerless hand.
That boy is a girl that man who is a girl
thinks to himself, as he pulls of out of the lot,
his girl eyes shining in the Midwest sun.

-2013

Monday’s Verse 12/4/2017

Dear readers,

the anagram for C.M. Burroughs’ name is something you might say coming in from a frigid walk this month: "Brr! Um… [coughs]." I can hear Gabriel say it as he literally sweeps Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, off her feet while entering Aunt Julia’s house… This is how we’re trained to think in December, even though it’s 60 degrees in Pittsburgh.

But speaking of Pittsburgh, C.M. Burroughs was one of the "alum" poets invited back by the Pitt English department for a reading last month. She completed her MFA here, and now teaches at Columbia College, Chicago. She has composed poems in conjunctions with art installations at the Warhol Museum, and the Studio Museum of Harlem (which incidentally did a collaboration with our Carnegie Museum this fall, from which the "Cleopatra’s Cape" we looked at while back was taken). She’s also the winner of several prestigious fellowships. Her first full-length collection came out in 2012.

The Poetry Foundation’s Twitter feed brought this new poem to my attention today, as a reminder that I wanted to share all the poets I heard read back in November. This looks like a sonnet with an extra stanza thrown in. Has a lot of noun repetition, but I haven’t figured out the pattern to that. Have a good week! -ed.

GOD LETTER

Do I have to dress up or can I wear jeans? Dear Joaquin,

casual Sunday is a plus! Can a woman be fully present in heels?

Remember the other day at the shops, we saw the T-shirt that

read “Blessed” across the front? I know

you picked it up for me as a joke, but it made me pause. I think

I am blessed in the way I understand people to mean it: having

good fortune. But this is where faith messes with my clean concept,

because practicing Christians don’t believe blessings come

out the clear blue sky. So here’s God again, all up in the Kool-Aid.

I’m dating myself, but I mean that He gets in the way of

spiritual minimalism. He is at once contained and uncontainable,

which, intellectually, is hard to understand. So being blessed

must require that one acts in such a way that presses God to bestow

blessings, which isn’t the same thing as good fortune, but I want

to believe that people are saying, “You have such good fortune,

I hope for good fortune, too,” because it means that no one is

preaching at me like, “You have good God-God,” “Father

God I hope He Gods for us, too,” “You got God?” Et cetera.

-2017

Monday’s Verse 11/27/2017

Dear readers,

last time we featured Ross Gay (b. 1974) was November, 2015, 2 years ago. And I chose "To Sleeping in My Clothes," because it was the right length for this forum, and… who can’t relate to the title and subject? In honor of Thanksgiving, I’ll run the title poem from his 2015 collection, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. It’s a long one, but worth a read for those who would agree that the catalog of things to be thankful for can, indeed, be astonishingly long. And let’s not forget that the "catalog" is a poetic technique as old as the medium itself. Remember the list of ships in Homer’s Odyssey? Of course you don’t! But you remember it exists, right?

Whoever you are, you’re the "you" in this poem! I like the way the conversational diction keeps pivoting around to a new second person (a third person, a fourth person, an undefined fate/force/fact of a person) depending on how the speaker is expressing gratitude.

Among many, many things to feel thankful for, I’ll toss out seeing longtime MV member and all-around great reader Patrick Donahue in the flesh this holiday week. Have a great week, -ed.

CATALOG OF UNABASHED GRATITUDE

Friends, will you bear with me today,

for I have awakened

from a dream in which a robin

made with its shabby wings a kind of veil

behind which it shimmied and stomped something from the south

of Spain, its breast aflare,

looking me dead in the eye

from the branch that grew into my window,

coochie-cooing my chin,

the bird shuffling its little talons left, then right,

while the leaves bristled

against the plaster wall, two of them drifting

onto my blanket while the bird

opened and closed its wings like a matador

giving up on murder,

jutting its beak, turning a circle,

and flashing, again,

the ruddy bombast of its breast

by which I knew upon waking

it was telling me

in no uncertain terms

to bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones,

the whole rusty brass band of gratitude

not quite dormant in my belly—

it said so in a human voice,

“Bellow forth”—

and who among us could ignore such odd

and precise counsel?

Hear ye! hear ye! I am here

to holler that I have hauled tons—by which I don’t mean lots,

I mean tons — of cowshit

and stood ankle deep in swales of maggots

swirling the spent beer grains

the brewery man was good enough to dump off

holding his nose, for they smell very bad,

but make the compost writhe giddy and lick its lips,

twirling dung with my pitchfork

again and again

with hundreds and hundreds of other people,

we dreamt an orchard this way,

furrowing our brows,

and hauling our wheelbarrows,

and sweating through our shirts,

and two years later there was a party

at which trees were sunk into the well-fed earth,

one of which, a liberty apple, after being watered in

was tamped by a baby barefoot

with a bow hanging in her hair

biting her lip in her joyous work

and friends this is the realest place I know,

it makes me squirm like a worm I am so grateful,

you could ride your bike there

or roller skate or catch the bus

there is a fence and a gate twisted by hand,

there is a fig tree taller than you in Indiana,

it will make you gasp.

It might make you want to stay alive even, thank you;

and thank you

for not taking my pal when the engine

of his mind dragged him

to swig fistfuls of Xanax and a bottle or two of booze,

and thank you for taking my father

a few years after his own father went down thank you

mercy, mercy, thank you

for not smoking meth with your mother

oh thank you thank you

for leaving and for coming back,

and thank you for what inside my friends’

love bursts like a throng of roadside goldenrod

gleaming into the world,

likely hauling a shovel with her

like one named Aralee ought,

with hands big as a horse’s,

and who, like one named Aralee ought,

will laugh time to time til the juice

runs from her nose; oh

thank you

for the way a small thing’s wail makes

the milk or what once was milk

in us gather into horses

huckle-buckling across a field;

and thank you, friends, when last spring

the hyacinth bells rang

and the crocuses flaunted

their upturned skirts, and a quiet roved

the beehive which when I entered

were snugged two or three dead

fist-sized clutches of bees between the frames,

almost clinging to one another,

this one’s tiny head pushed

into another’s tiny wing,

one’s forelegs resting on another’s face,

the translucent paper of their wings fluttering

beneath my breath and when

a few dropped to the frames beneath:

honey; and after falling down to cry,

everything’s glacial shine.

And thank you, too. And thanks

for the corduroy couch I have put you on.

Put your feet up. Here’s a light blanket,

a pillow, dear one,

for I can feel this is going to be long.

I can’t stop

my gratitude, which includes, dear reader,

you, for staying here with me,

for moving your lips just so as I speak.

Here is a cup of tea. I have spooned honey into it.

And thank you the tiny bee’s shadow

perusing these words as I write them.

And the way my love talks quietly

when in the hive,

so quietly, in fact, you cannot hear her

but only notice barely her lips moving

in conversation. Thank you what does not scare her

in me, but makes her reach my way. Thank you the love

she is which hurts sometimes. And the time

she misremembered elephants

in one of my poems which, oh, here

they come, garlanded with morning glory and wisteria

blooms, trombones all the way down to the river.

Thank you the quiet

in which the river bends around the elephant’s

solemn trunk, polishing stones, floating

on its gentle back

the flock of geese flying overhead.

And to the quick and gentle flocking

of men to the old lady falling down

on the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patiently

with the softest parts of their hands

her cane and purple hat,

gathering for her the contents of her purse

and touching her shoulder and elbow;

thank you the cockeyed court

on which in a half-court 3 vs. 3 we oldheads

made of some runny-nosed kids

a shambles, and the 61-year-old

after flipping a reverse lay-up off a back door cut

from my no-look pass to seal the game

ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods

and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker’s scar

grinning across his chest; thank you

the glad accordion’s wheeze

in the chest; thank you the bagpipes.

Thank you to the woman barefoot in a gaudy dress

for stopping her car in the middle of the road

and the tractor trailer behind her, and the van behind it,

whisking a turtle off the road.

Thank you god of gaudy.

Thank you paisley panties.

Thank you the organ up my dress.

Thank you the sheer dress you wore kneeling in my dream

at the creek’s edge and the light

swimming through it. The koi kissing

halos into the glassy air.

The room in my mind with the blinds drawn

where we nearly injure each other

crawling into the shawl of the other’s body.

Thank you for saying it plain:

fuck each other dumb.

And you, again, you, for the true kindness

it has been for you to remain awake

with me like this, nodding time to time

and making that noise which I take to mean

yes, or, I understand, or, please go on

but not too long, or, why are you spitting

so much, or, easy Tiger

hands to yourself. I am excitable.

I am sorry. I am grateful.

I just want us to be friends now, forever.

Take this bowl of blackberries from the garden.

The sun has made them warm.

I picked them just for you. I promise

I will try to stay on my side of the couch.

And thank you the baggie of dreadlocks I found in a drawer

while washing and folding the clothes of our murdered friend;

the photo in which his arm slung

around the sign to “the trail of silences”; thank you

the way before he died he held

his hands open to us; for coming back

in a waft of incense or in the shape of a boy

in another city looking

from between his mother’s legs,

or disappearing into the stacks after brushing by;

for moseying back in dreams where,

seeing us lost and scared

he put his hand on our shoulders

and pointed us to the temple across town;

and thank you to the man all night long

hosing a mist on his early-bloomed

peach tree so that the hard frost

not waste the crop, the ice

in his beard and the ghosts

lifting from him when the warming sun

told him sleep now; thank you

the ancestor who loved you

before she knew you

by smuggling seeds into her braid for the long

journey, who loved you

before he knew you by putting

a walnut tree in the ground, who loved you

before she knew you by not slaughtering

the land; thank you

who did not bulldoze the ancient grove

of dates and olives,

who sailed his keys into the ocean

and walked softly home; who did not fire, who did not

plunge the head into the toilet, who said stop,

don’t do that; who lifted some broken

someone up; who volunteered

the way a plant birthed of the reseeding plant

is called a volunteer, like the plum tree

that marched beside the raised bed

in my garden, like the arugula that marched

itself between the blueberries,

nary a bayonet, nary an army, nary a nation,

which usage of the word volunteer

familiar to gardeners the wide world

made my pal shout “Oh!” and dance

and plunge his knuckles

into the lush soil before gobbling two strawberries

and digging a song from his guitar

made of wood from a tree someone planted, thank you;

thank you zinnia, and gooseberry, rudbeckia

and pawpaw, Ashmead’s kernel, cockscomb

and scarlet runner, feverfew and lemonbalm;

thank you knitbone and sweetgrass and sunchoke

and false indigo whose petals stammered apart

by bumblebees good lord please give me a minute…

and moonglow and catkin and crookneck

and painted tongue and seedpod and johnny jump-up;

thank you what in us rackets glad

what gladrackets us;

and thank you, too, this knuckleheaded heart, this pelican heart,

this gap-toothed heart flinging open its gaudy maw

to the sky, oh clumsy, oh bumblefucked,

oh giddy, oh dumbstruck,

oh rickshaw, oh goat twisting

its head at me from my peach tree’s highest branch,

balanced impossibly gobbling the last fruit,

its tongue working like an engine,

a lone sweet drop tumbling by some miracle

into my mouth like the smell of someone I’ve loved;

heart like an elephant screaming

at the bones of its dead;

heart like the lady on the bus

dressed head to toe in gold, the sun

shivering her shiny boots, singing

Erykah Badu to herself

leaning her head against the window;

and thank you the way my father one time came back in a dream

by plucking the two cables beneath my chin

like a bass fiddle’s strings

and played me until I woke singing,

no kidding, singing, smiling,

thank you, thank you,

stumbling into the garden where

the Juneberry’s flowers had burst open

like the bells of French horns, the lily

my mother and I planted oozed into the air,

the bazillion ants labored in their earthen workshops

below, the collard greens waved in the wind

like the sails of ships, and the wasps

swam in the mint bloom’s viscous swill;

and you, again you, for hanging tight, dear friend.

I know I can be long-winded sometimes.

I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude

over every last thing, including you, which, yes, awkward,

the suds in your ear and armpit, the little sparkling gems

slipping into your eye. Soon it will be over,

which is precisely what the child in my dream said,

holding my hand, pointing at the roiling sea and the sky

hurtling our way like so many buffalo,

who said it’s much worse than we think,

and sooner; to whom I said

no duh child in my dreams, what do you think

this singing and shuddering is,

what this screaming and reaching and dancing

and crying is, other than loving

what every second goes away?

Goodbye, I mean to say.

And thank you. Every day.

-2015