Monthly Archives: August 2012

August 27, 2012 Wolf Cento

If you like reading poetry, like taking poems apart, would like to write your own poetry, but cannot write poetry, you can write a cento. What is a cento? It is that, and much more. You tell me. Here’s one by Simon Muench! Answers in next week’s issue. Winners to be announced via snail mail. -ed.

WOLF CENTO
Very quick. Very intense, like a wolf
at a live heart, the sun breaks down.
What is important is to avoid
the time allotted for disavowels
as the livid wound
leaves a trace      leaves an abscess
takes its contraction for those clouds
that dip thunder & vanish
like rose leaves in closed jars.
Age approaches, slowly. But it cannot
crystal bone into thin air.
The small hours open their wounds for me.
This is a woman’s confession:
I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me.
-2011
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Aug. 21, 2012: THE BLUE TERRANCE (Terrance Hayes)

I woke up yesterday sick and tired and angry and blue, so much so that even when I went searching for poems to share, I came up empty. But then sometimes the US Postal Service just plops the answer right down in your lap, doesn’t it? A Boston friend sent me a book of Pittsburgh mystery stories, and among the contributors was MV regular Terrance Hayes. Mr. Hayes teaches at CMU, and maybe he just tried his hand at short stories for fun, because he’s known as a poet. A reader recently commented that he just likes poems that rhyme, so this should satisfy anyone with a similar taste. Note that the tercets here have inter-locking rhyme as well. Is there a word for that? Isn’t this similar to the pattern Dante used in the Divine Comedy? Little help? Lotta repetition here, too. The swinging, personable rhythm throughout really lets him free up that cliche at the end, and use it to full effect. -ed.

THE BLUE TERRANCE

If you subtract the minor losses,
you can return to your childhood too:
the blackboard chalked with crosses,the math teacher’s toe ring. You
can be the black boy not even the buck-
toothed girls took a liking to:

the match box, these bones in their funk
machine, this thumb worn smooth
as the belly of a shovel. Thump. Thump.

Thump. Everything I hold takes root.
I remember what the world was like before
I heard the tide humping the shore smooth,

and the lyrics asking: How long has your door
been closed?
I remember a garter belt wrung
like a snake around a thigh in the shadows

of a wedding gown before it was flung
out into the bluest part of the night.
Suppose you were nothing but a song

in a busted speaker? Suppose you had to wipe
sweat from the brow of a righteous woman,
but all you owned was a dirty rag? That’s why

the blues will never go out of fashion:
their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of
consequence; that’s why when they call, Boy, you’re in

trouble. Especially if you love as I love
falling to the earth. Especially if you’re a little bit
high strung and a little bit gutted balloon. I love

watching the sky regret nothing but its
self, though only my lover knows it to be so,
and only after watching me sit

and stare off past Heaven. I love the word No
for its prudence, but I love the romantic
who submits finally to sex in a burning row-

house more. That’s why nothing’s more romantic
than working your teeth through
the muscle. Nothing’s more romantic

than the way good love can take leave of you.
That’s why I’m so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I’m lonesome and I’m blue.

-2006

August 13, 2012 Fall Plowing

Dear readers,

I spent a fair amount of time in the flatlands of Iowa this weekend, including a brief drive-by in the hometown of this week’s featured poet, James Hearst. Note: Iowans do drive-bys differently. We just drive up slowly in a car, stop, gaze out the windows at any old thing, and then say, “Oh. Sure.” before driving on. Anyway, James Hearst is the famous Iowa farmer-poet, born in 1900, who lived his adult life paralyzed, using a wheelchair and all sorts of other implements, while teaching poetry at the University of Northern Iowa.

I discovered a really nice website devoted to his work while looking for today’s selection. You can read a bio, see basically all his published work, look at photos, and also –hey!– learn a little bit about Cedar Falls, Iowa, here:

http://www.cedarfalls.com/index.aspx?NID=917

The poem below strikes me as a 15-line sonnet. Don’t know why he’s cheating a little bit, but he’s cheating a little bit. I’m convinced it’s a sonnet because of the ABAB-rhymed opening quatrains, the shift in, hmm, mood, or perspective, at the outset of the longer stanza, stanza 3, and of course the lovely rhyming couplet to close. Thematically, this is not a terribly novel poem: you can find similar reflections across times and cultures. The interiority of those final 4-5 lines, though, is distinctly modern. Instead of telescoping his reflections into a universal statement on death/fall, he’s rather put himself under the microscope in an oblique and photophobic way. It’s like he’s got something inside of him that’s more deathly than the endings he senses in the natural world around him. And what a wonderful control he brings to it all! -ed.

FALL PLOWING

The claim the stubble had no longer defends
This field, and mice laid bare in shallow burrows
Dart through the listless grass; a plow extends
Its shoulders of steel and the field goes back to furrows.

Slowly weeds stiffen to ash. All day the breeze
Cools the blazing sumach and rustles light
Syllables of death from frigidly burning trees
In each dry leaf that falls, in every blackbird’s flight.

Autumn, Autumn, I can feel your harsh beauty
Closing around me as the end of the year
Moves into place to the sound of falling leaves,
I too have deaths to honor and the passion of death;
While grief sings in a shaking bush, while fear
Hunts in the furrow, my monuments arise
Like sudden shadows under October skies.

-1937

August 6, 2012 Heyday

Weary and uninspired, I’m simply cribbing from the Writer’s Almanac page today because I woke up not even knowing where to look for a good poem. I’m not completely satisfied with today’s selection, but that’s what you get when you copy. If “On turning Ten” showed for some of our readers a brief jolt of nostalgia, here it is in a double-dose. If Billy Collins never quite veers into cheese, this one, I venture has a hint of falseness about it. Still worth it for the last stanza, though, the rhythm and sounds of which are pitch-perfect. -ed.

HEYDAY
We wore fedora hats
and ate nickel sandwiches,
played johnny-on-the-pony
and pitched copper pennies.
We worked all day, dreamed
of marrying saints and after
hours ran straight up to Harlem.

It was a good time to be a man,
a good time to know your way
around the block and a dollar.
Once you knew who lived where
and why you had friends
for life and rules to live by.
Bright Eyes owned the bar on
President Street. He only let his
sister in after hours. Even with a mop
in her hands she smelled like chocolate
and flowers and made you dream
about her dress on a hanger.

The war was still a world away
and Brooklyn still a world of its own.
Friday nights we’d take the train to
Ebbets Field or maybe split a cab
to Coney Island. From the top of
the Steeplechase you could fly across
Queens, or scratch your back on
the Empire State Building.

Only the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts
were rich. The rest of us shuffled
ends and means, drove our trucks,
stitched our seams and gave our ears
and our pay to Mr. Roosevelt’s plants.
“I like his voice,” Bright Eyes’ sister
said, wiping her hands on the back
of her jeans. Not much for politics,
I stared anyway. The right girl could
change your mind about anything.

-Peter Serchuk