Monthly Archives: September 2015

Monday’s Verse 9/28/2015

Dear Readers,

In 2005 we commemorated the flood in New Orleans by reading the lyrics to John Lee Hooker’s Tupelo–still probably my favorite blues recording. And then the anniversary flew past last month without so much as drop of attention from us. However, the week after the anniversary, my Dad asked me if I knew who Nikky Finney (b. 1957) was. I had to admit that I did not. But she is a National Book Award winner who currently teaches at the University of Kentucky. Coming of age in the 1960s South, Finney says, "I’ve never been far away from the human-rights struggle black people have been involved with in the South. That has been one of the backdrops of my entire life."

The poem below is from her prize-winning collection Head Off & Split. It is a good candidate for your favorite "read it out loud" strategy. -ed.

Left

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
—Rudyard Kipling, “A Counting-Out Song,"
in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

 The woman with cheerleading legs has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof, four days, three nights, her leaping fingers, helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week- old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty- two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy in the New Orleans Saints folding chair. Eenee Menee Mainee Mo! Three times a day the helicopter flies by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on not being helpless, so she waves a white hand- kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head toward the cameraman and the pilot who remembers well the art of his mirrored-eyed posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son, Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue as the Observation Pass. The roof is surrounded by broken-levee water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv- ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous, but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old anniversary of observation begins, again— Eenee Menee Mainee Mo! Catch a— The woman with pom-pom legs waves her uneven homemade sign: Pleas Help &hbsp; Pleas and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e do you know simply by looking at her that it has been left off because she can’t spell (and therefore is not worth saving) or was it because the water was rising so fast there wasn’t time? Eenee Menee Mainee Mo! Catch a— a— The low-flying helicopter does not know the answer. It catches all this on patriotic tape, but does not land, and does not drop dictionary, or ladder. Regulations require an e be at the end of any Pleas e before any national response can be taken. Therefore, it takes four days before the national council of observers will consider dropping one bottle of water, or one case of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof where the e has rolled off into the flood, (but obviously not splashed loud enough) where four days later not the mother, not the baby girl, but the determined hanky waver, whom they were both named for, (and after) has now been covered up with a green plastic window awning, pushed over to the side right where the missing e was last seen. My mother said to pick The very best one! What else would you call it, Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind. Anyone you know ever left off or put on an e by mistake? Potato Po tato e In the future observation helicopters will leave the well-observed South and fly in Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation. They will arrive over burning San Diego. The fires there will be put out so well. The people there will wait in a civilized manner. And they will receive foie gras and free massage for all their trouble, while there houses don’t flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground. The grandmothers were right about everything. People who outlived bullwhips & Bull Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar- heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by forty feet of churning water, in the summer of 2005, while the richest country in the world played the old observation game, studied the situation: wondered by committee what to do; counted, in private, by long historical division; speculated whether or not some people are surely born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear. My mother said to pick The very best one And you are not it! After all, it was only po’ New Orleans, old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would 

be left alive to care?

-2011

Monday’s Verse 9/21/2015

Dear readers,

In summer 1791, one Mercy Warren sent to Alexander Hamilton a book of dramatic verse titled Ladies of Castille. It included other miscellaneous lyrics like the one below. In a flirtatious written response, Hamilton wrote, "Not being a poet myself, I am in the less danger of feeling mortification at the idea that, in the career of dramatic composition at least, female genius in the United States has outstripped the male."

With the publication, Warren joined Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley as the only American women to have published poems in book form. She was also an essayist and historian, deeply involved in the cultural and political upheavals of the revolution (as this poem attests–it takes from Shakespeare a political lesson about American independence). Mercy Otis Warren ("Ne’er warm is to cry") lived from 1728-1814. A cache of unpublished poems was published in 1981, leading to renewed interest in her literary output. One can find academic articles on her political and literary writings, including at least one by a leading scholar, from the 1990s and 2000s.

The poem below takes on a lot: literary criticism, independence, feminist history, and–like Shakespeare–just a little self-referential horn-tooting. -ed.

TO MRS. MONTAGUE, AUTHOR OF "OBSERVATIONS ON THE GENIUS AND WRITINGS OF SHAKESPEARE"

WILL Montague, whose critic pen adds praise,
Ev’n to a Shakespeare’s bold exalted lays;
Who points the faults in sweet Corneille’s page,
Sees all the errors of the Gallic stage —
Corrects Voltaire with a superior hand,
Or traces genius in each distant land?
Will she across the Atlantic stretch her eye,
Look o’er the main, and view the western sky;
And there Columbia’s infant drama see —
Reflect that Britain taught us to be free;
Survey with candour what she can’t approve;
Let local fondness yield to gen’rous love;
And, if fair truth forbids her to commend,
Then let the critic soften to the friend.

The bard of Avon justly bears the meed
Of fond applause, from Tyber to the Tweed;
Each humbler muse at distance may admire,
But none to Shakespeare’s fame ere dare aspire.
And if your isle, where he so long has charm’d,
If Britain’s sons, when by his mantle warm’d,
Have soar’d in vain to reach his lofty quill,
Nature to paint with true Shakespearean skill —
A sister’s hand may wrest a female pen,
From the bold outrage of imperious men.

If gentle Montague my chaplet raise,
Critics may frown, or mild good nature praise;
Secure I’ll walk, and placid move along,
And heed alike their censure or their song;
I’ll take my stand by fam’d Parnassus’ side,
And for a moment feel a poet’s pride.

-Plymouth, July 10, 1790

Monday’s Verse 9/15/2015

People get so damned cheery when the weather starts to break. But you know, people, it’s an instant gratification sort of thing. Sure, who doesn’t love cool, windows-open, lovely-sleeping nights, or being able to take a jog after work without sweating for the next 4 hours? Everyone loves this. But do you know what everyone doesn’t love? Scraping ice off their windshield. And I’ll tell you what a leading cause of winter is: Fall. EVERY YEAR. So my mind goes immediately to the black heart of the autumnal equinox, a mass of frozen misery.

As always, Wallace Stevens feels my pain. He’s a good one for the seasons, writing about snow men, women in sunshine, things of August and such. The pleasant weather of September isn’t fooling him a bit. It transports him, in 4 simple quatrains, through the leaf-fall, the sky falling, to the dark months so cold he can’t even chatter out the syllables. -ed.

METAMORPHOSIS

Yillow, yillow, yillow,
Old worm, my pretty quirk,
How the wind spells out
Sep – tem – ber….

Summer is in bones.
Cock-robin’s at Caracas.
Make o, make o, make o,
Oto – otu – bre.

And the rude leaves fall.
The rain falls. The sky
Falls and lies with worms.
The street lamps

Are those that have been hanged.
Dangling in an illogical
To and to and fro
Fro Niz – nil – imbo.

-1942

Monday’s Verse 9/7/2015

Special MV congratulations to readers Tara Donoghue and Jeff St. John, who were married yesterday in Sonoma, CA. This Billy Collins poem was read at their wedding. ~mjl
It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,
and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.
All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of you shoulders
that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way that stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.
Then all of the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all of the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.
Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.

-1998