Monthly Archives: November 2012

Nov 26, 2012 Aunt Helen

Dear Readers,

I read the craziest thing the other week–well, more like my eyes passed over a subheadline, and my brain immediately said, “that can’t possibly be true,” and then I forgot all about it for weeks. The headline read, “Widow of T.S. Eliot Dies at 86.” Now look, we all know who Eliot is, I studied him as a high schooler and college student and there’s this funny, profile picture of him in all the anthologies, looking like it was taken by Louis Daguerre himself. He’s lumped in with all the modernist masters, a giant, sure, but he started publishing more than 100 years ago. Reading that headline was like hearing that Benny Goodman would be performing a live show in town next month.
So the Guardian says, “Friends said the marriage was a happy one despite the almost 40-year gap in their ages.” And then it all starts to make sense, you know? He was a publishing bigwig at Faber & Faber, she a secretary. It was his 2nd marriage. And she was his literary executor until this month. Eliot himself, of course, was born quite a very long time ago (1888-1965), in St. Louis. For me he’s always had this dense air of complete seriousness–his poems are big, and monumental, and they consume and spit out within themselves reams and reams of western history and literature: myths, symbols, drama, religion, psychology, war… all these themes and topics are considered and given a weight of words they deserve. 
 
Therefore I was delighted to find this little near-sonnet, which I would never have recognized as an Eliot poem. Some of the vocab retains his formality, but there’s a pleasant tone to the speaker’s voice, and even a little quirky humor with the reference to the deceased’s pets. As for full-rhyme–it’s there, but I’ll let other readers dissect all that. Hope you all got to spend some time with your oddball relatives this Thanksgiving week. -ed.
 
 
 

Aunt Helen

Miss Helen Slingsby was my maiden aunt,
And lived in a small house near a fashionable square
Cared for by servants to the number of four.
Now when she died there was silence in heaven
And silence at her end of the street.
The shutters were drawn and the undertaker wiped his feet —
He was aware that this sort of thing had occurred before.
The dogs were handsomely provided for,
But shortly afterwards the parrot died too.
The Dresden clock continued ticking on the mantelpiece,
And the footman sat upon the dining-table
Holding the second housemaid on his knees —
Who had always been so careful while her mistress lived.

Nov 19, 2012 Marathon

Give it up for MV reader Nydia, who completed yesterday’s Philadelphia in a blistering pace! Since mile 24 was dedicated to me and all our worthy clients and friends at PIRC, I am dedicating today’s reading to her. And I’ve found something most fitting: a lyric by a poet-activist named E. Ethelbert Miller (what do you suppose he goes by?), whose name is an anagram for “RE: I’ll melt the beer,” which actually reminds me of an e-mail chain from back when Nydia and I accidentally left some kegs outside for a party we were supposed to host one December. Anyhoo, this fellow is from the Bronx, born in 1950, an expert in African-American literature, the recipient of many awards and teaching honors, and also a memoirist. We didn’t really celebrate Veterans Day properly last week, but it’s good to know that Mr. Miller also participates in writing workshops for soldiers and their families through “Operation Homecoming.” I think that’s pretty cool.

And I think this poem is pretty cool. I like the short ones that fall into your morning just like a little sharp-angled gem. Morning is always a good time for reflection, if you can drag yourself into it, and to be alone and outside does have its rewards. Running is a repetitive, solitary undertaking, just like the poem below. -ed.
 
MARATHON
 
it’s a strange time which finds me jogging
in early morning
the deadness of sleep alive in this world
the empty parks filled with unloved strangers
buildings grey with solitude
now near the end of another decade
i am witness to the loss of my twenties
a promise invisible
i run without purpose
far from the north star
i run with the sound of barking dogs closing in
i have lost count of the miles
i am older and nothing much matters
or has changed
 
-1994

Nov 12, 2012 Indiscriminate Kisses

I know, I know, I should be printing something valedictory, or contemplative, or grateful, or mournful, about the country’s distinguished service veterans. But instead I’ve chosen this random poem, which is really mystifying me. I have no idea what this is about. You think this poem is gross? The other I was considering used the F-word. This poem seems a little bit like a horror movie, or a psychological thriller, at times. Author Nance Van Winckel has been a writing teacher in Washington State, Vermont, and at Bucknell University. Enjoy this, and please tell me what the heck it’s about! -ed.




Indiscriminate Kisses

Foreplay of obscene graffiti carved
into trees—foot-long boners
gouge the bark. Beaks and snouts
on a restroom mirror. Slick lips.
Succulent lips. I go out among them
sometimes. So sweet how they pucker up
out of pity. A practiced pathos
in a saloon of woodsmen whose axes
wait in trucks out back. Lips full of yawn
or yes. Lips thick with God-spit
and God-suck. Chapped lips, bloody lips.
Pierced or tattooed, they pout
into view—here to give, willy-nilly,
what’s been too long held in the body.
Something passes across tongues. It sayeth not
a name; it taketh everyone’s turn. Mute lips
of a swift unbuttoner. Mouths fording
frothy streams, vaporous bogs.
I stumble forth in their midst. Maybe
I am out of bread or in a bad place
with a book. The streets have an attendant
caress. Moon lapping rumor. Fat lip
approaches hare lip. There go pasty
lips. All are readied as if for a race
or to be plucked like rare moths
by bright wings from the air. Betty’s lips
and Bobby’s and Bucky’s just before the collision
and the siren’s red wail. Laddy, keep
a light on. I may have to come ashore
some distance from where I set in.

-2004

Nov 5, 2012 Allegories

Hands in the air for all the Oberlin College and University of Iowa grads! Lia Purpura, today’s featured writer, is both. And apparently teaches just down the road from me at a small college in Baltimore. What kind of poems does she write? I don’t know. I don’t know anything about her. But I read this about a month ago and it knocked me out. I’ll leave the discussing to you all. Now get out there and vote! And then come back and analyze poetry, online. -ed.

ALLEGORIES

That crag, in its hunching,
suggests a shawl
under which we can slip
our burdens, since
we alone among creatures
bestow likenesses
for assurance
we really exist,
and name boulders and peaks
Widow’s this, Widow’s that,
so others might navigate
by the forms
of our grief.
-2012