Monthly Archives: February 2009

Monday’s Verse, February 23/09

Themes of dislocation, disorientation, fragmentation, confusion:

We’d think pastoral poetry is NOT the place to find them. Ah, but the pre-Raphaelites, for all their willful archaism, never did anything straight-up, did they? Note that here Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894) takes a genre that promises the MOST connection with terra firma and gives us a sense of dislocation that is psychological, not existential, and seemingly caused by the absence of some other, not by overwhelming conditions in the world. Still: what is supposed to be happening in this site of saying will not happen because of an absence, a loss (If he comes the next day/ He’ll not find her at all). I just found it interesting that in my search for poems from the mid-to-late 20th century, I stumbled across this mid-19th century artifact. And there’s always some nice music in Rossetti’s poems.

-ed.

SONGS IN A CORNFIELD

A song in a cornfield
Where corn begins to fall,
Where reapers are reaping,
Reaping one, reaping all.
Sing pretty Lettice,
Sing Rachel, sing May;
Only Marian cannot sing
While her sweetheart’s away.

Where is he gone to
And why does he stay?
He came across the green sea
But for a day,
Across the deep green sea
To help with the hay.

His hair was curly yellow
And his eyes were grey,
He laughed a merry laugh
And said a sweet say.
Where is he gone to
That he comes not home?
To-day or to-morrow
He surely will come.
Let him haste to joy
Lest he lag for sorrow,
For one weeps to-day
Who’ll not weep to-morrow:
To-day she must weep
For gnawing sorrow,
To-night she may sleep
And not wake to-morrow.

May sang with Rachel
In the waxing warm weather,
Lettice sang with them,
They sang all together:—

‘Take the wheat in your arm
Whilst day is broad above,
Take the wheat to your bosom,
But not a false love.
Out in the fields
Summer heat gloweth,
Out in the fields
Summer wind bloweth,
Out in the fields
Summer friend showeth,
Out in the fields
Summer wheat groweth;
But in the winter
When summer heat is dead
And summer wind has veered
And summer friend has fled,
Only summer wheat remaineth,
White cakes and bread.
Take the wheat, clasp the wheat
That’s food for maid and dove;
Take the wheat to your bosom,
But not a false false love.’

A silence of full noontide heat
Grew on them at their toil:
The farmer’s dog woke up from sleep,
The green snake hid her coil.
Where grass stood thickest, bird and beast
Sought shadows as they could,
The reaping men and women paused
And sat down where they stood;
They ate and drank and were refreshed,
For rest from toil is good.

While the reapers took their ease,
Their sickles lying by,
Rachel sang a second strain,
And singing seemed to sigh:–

‘There goes the swallow—
Could we but follow!
Hasty swallow stay,
Point us out the way;
Look back swallow, turn back swallow, stop swallow.

‘There went the swallow—
Too late to follow:
Lost our note of way,
Lost our chance to-day;
Good bye swallow, sunny swallow, wise swallow.

‘After the swallow
All sweet things follow:
All things go their way,
Only we must stay,
Must not follow; good bye swallow, good swallow.’

Then listless Marian raised her head
Among the nodding sheaves;
Her voice was sweeter than that voice;
She sang like one who grieves:
Her voice was sweeter than its wont
Among the nodding sheaves;
All wondered while they heard her sing
Like one who hopes and grieves:—

‘Deeper than the hail can smite,
Deeper than the frost can bite,
Deep asleep through day and night,
Our delight.

‘Now thy sleep no pang can break,
No to-morrow bid thee wake,
Not our sobs who sit and ache
For thy sake.

‘Is it dark or light below?
Oh, but is it cold like snow?
Dost thou feel the green things grow
Fast or slow?

‘Is it warm or cold beneath,
Oh, but is it cold like death?
Cold like death, without a breath,
Cold like death?’

If he comes to-day
He will find her weeping;
If he comes to-morrow
He will find her sleeping;
If he comes the next day
He’ll not find her at all,
He may tear his curling hair,
Beat his breast and call.

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Monday’s Verse, February 14/09

The past two Valentine’s Days I have made short stabs at explicating this Diane Wakoski poem, a MV tradition for about 8-9 years. This year it will speak for itself. Beware, enjoy, and have a great week. -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, February 2/09

I know, I know, y’all thought I was gonna print some ode to the Pittsburgh Steelers today. Well here’s my paean: way to go Steelers, GREAT Super Bowl game for all. No, having been in Boston all weekend I’m suffused with a nostalgia I didn’t even know was there. Thought of many ghosts while walkling in Central and Harvard Squares, including that of Anne Sexton (1928-1974).

It’s no surprise that her name anagrammizes to a bashful high school student’s reaction upon first reading her work: “N-n-neato, sex!” This poem, however, finds Sexton in an expansive mood, using the river as a universalizing touch for her moment of personal reflection. One gets that way around rivers, no? Sometimes, you can step into the same river twice. -ed.
JUST ONCE

Just once I knew what life was for.
In Boston, quite suddenly, I understood;
walked there along the Charles River,
watched the lights copying themselves,
all neoned and strobe-hearted, opening
their mouths as wide as opera singers;
counted the stars, my little campaigners,
my scar daisies, and knew that I walked my love
on the night green side of it and cried
my heart to the eastbound cars and cried
my heart to the westbound cars and took
my truth across a small humped bridge
and hurried my truth, the charm of it, home
and hoarded these constants into morning
only to find them gone.

Monday’s Verse, February 2/09

All,

I decided last week, during  my brief researches into Anne Sexton, that I will produce a little theme-pack on disorientation and directions for the next few weeks. Note: the exception will be next week, and those who have been in this game a while know why that is. Monday’s Verse will also run on Saturday next week, couple days early.

But for now, disorientation. It’s been said that themes of dislocation and fragmentation came to the forefront of poetry in English following World War I–perhaps appropriately, following social upheavals and physical destruction on a scale most Europeans had not witnessed before (one can complicate this claim, but here is probably not the place to do so). This theme was pushed even further in the post-World War II era, when the type of horror was not only harsh to witness, but difficult to understand. Artists of all genre (painting, film, theater, novel, etc.) used disorienting techniques and themes in an attempt to come to grips with the unreal reality they lived in. I only mention these thumbnail sketches because I consistently see in the mid-late 20th century art that I favor, poems and paintings that end up looking like directions to some kind of hellish wake. The language (or in painting, representational technique, or in film, camera placement) may be normal, even prosaic. But the ground shifts beneath one’s feet, and people and objects lose their reference: “where the people are alibis/ and the street is unfindable for an/ entire lifetime.” Even an upper-crust Bostonian like Sexton was not immune. -ed.
45 Mercy Street
In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I’m walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign —
namely MERCY STREET.
Not there.

I try the Back Bay.
Not there.
Not there.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
the servants.
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant’s teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Not there.

Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
with great-grandmother
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.M.
at noon
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was…
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
me,
with the stranger’s seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.

I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I walk. I walk.
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
entire lifetime.

Pull the shades down —
I don’t care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?

Not there.

I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
my life,
and its hauled up
notebooks.