Monthly Archives: January 2016

Monday’s Verse 1/25/2016

Dear readers,

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) is one of the 5 or 10 poets who have become touchstones of this forum. When seasonally appropriate, we’ve read his poem "The Snow Man" probably 3 or 4 times over the years. Is that too much? Hell no–if anything, it’s not frequent enough!

To really understand the snowy world, to "have a mind of winter," one must adopt the perspective of the snowman, who–free of human attachments–sees the world as it really is. The snow man understands that the world is not cold and miserable–you are. I meant to send this poem yesterday, but I got caught in a snow bank.

Our Massachusetts readers are thinking to themselves, enough of the pity-party, dillholes, last year was a snowstorm. Feel free to share your Stevens-filtered experiences of the weekend snow here. -ed.

THE SNOW MAN

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-1921

Monday’s Verse 1/19/2016

Dear readers,

Kevin was right to expect some David Bowie ("a vow: I’d be id") last week. Alas, the timing was a bit off because of my debt to Ms. Sullivan. But I’ve held some solo tributes in my living room and done some reading on the matter since last weekend’s sad news. Many people know the story about how, as the result of a childhood fight, his left pupil was permanently dilated. It gave him a unique look (and the appearance that he had irises of 2 different colors), but think about it from the other point of view. One’s pupils dilate as a result of, for example, ingesting LSD. No wonder he saw the world a little differently, huh?

Bowie was a terrific lyricist, for himself and for others. One of the reflections I read last week described the writer’s grade-school experience when everyone was asked to bring in a poem to read to the class. The weird, lonely girl whom no one talked to brought in "Rock ‘n Roll Suicide" and skyrocketed to coolness in the writer’s estimation… and immediately turned her onto to this oddest of pop stars.

This song concludes the 1972 album "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," and also the D.A. Pennebaker documentary "Ziggy Stardust." It makes so much sense as a conclusion. As Bowie said of it years later, "At this point I had a passion for the idea of a rock star as meteor… At that youthful age you cannot believe that you’ll lose the ability to be this enthusiastic and all-knowing about the world, life, and experience. You think you’ve probably discovered all the secrets to life. "Rock ‘n Roll Suicide" was a declaration of the end of the effect of being young."

And yes, I do encourage all of you to share your paeans, eulogies, encomiums, pensees, and general laudates for this most timely of timeless rock ‘n roll stars. ~mjl

ROCK ‘N ROLL SUICIDE

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Ohhh, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

You’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it

And the clock waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don’t eat when you’ve lived
too long
Oh, no, no, no, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suciide

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road

But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don’t let the sun blast your shadow
Don’t let the milk float ride your mind
You’re so natural — religiously unkind

Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful
Oh gimme your hands.

Monday’s Verse 1/11/2016

Dear readers,

Monday’s Verse is glad and humbled to recognize the genius of long-time member Theresa Sullivan, who graduated cum laude from the Ohio State University in 1991, with distinction in English. This edition is dedicated to her, and to her accurate prediction that her beloved Buckeyes would beat another college football team on January 1.

And I have found a football poem published by a fellow OSU grad to mark the occasion. Erin Belieu ("In lieu, beer"), like Theresa, has a graduate degree from a Boston school, and also earned an MFA in poetry from Ohio State. She hails from Nebraska, which plays into this poem, which is kind of about Bill Parcells, and is hilarious–perfect for these playoff-ridden winter days. Enjoy! -ed.

I HEART YOUR DOG’S HEAD

I’m watching football, which is odd as
I hate football
in a hyperbolic and clinically revealing way,
but I hate Bill Parcells more,
because he is the illuminated manuscript
of cruel, successful men, those with the slitty eyes of ancient reptiles,
who wear their smugness like a tight white turtleneck,
and revel in their lack of empathy
for any living thing.
So I’m watching football, staying up late to watch football,
hoping to witness (as I think of it)
The Humiliation of the Tuna
(as he is called),
which is rightly Parcells’s first time back in the Meadowlands
since taking up with the Cowboys,
who are, as we all know,
thugs, even by the NFL’s standards. The reasons

I hate football are clear and complicated and were born,
as I was, in Nebraska,
where football is to life what sleep deprivation is
to Amnesty International, that is,
the best researched and most effective method
of breaking a soul. Yes,
there’s the glorification of violence, the weird nexus
knitting the homo, both phobic and erotic,
but also, and worse, my parents in 1971, drunk as
Australian parrots in a bottlebush, screeching
WE’RE #1, WE’RE #1!
when the Huskers finally clinched the Orange Bowl,
the two of them
bouncing up and down crazily on the couch, their index
fingers jutting holes through the ubiquitous trail of smoke rings
that was the weather in our house,
until the whole deranged mess that was them,
my parents, the couch, their lit cigarettes,
flipped over backward onto my brother and me. My husband
thinks that’s a funny story and, in an effort to be a “good sport,”
I say I think it is, too.

Which leads me to recall the three Chihuahuas
who’ve spent the fullness of their agitated lives penned
in the back of my neighbor’s yard.
Today they barked continuously for 12 minutes (I timed it) as
the UPS guy made his daily round.
They bark so piercingly, they tremble with such exquisite outrage,
that I’ve begun to root for them, though it’s fashionable
to hate them and increasingly dark threats
against their tiny persons move between the houses on our block.
But isn’t that what’s wrong with this version of America:
the jittering, small-skulled, inbred-by-no-choice-
of-their-own are despised? And Bill Parcells—
the truth is he’ll win
this game. I know it and you know it and, sadly,
did it ever seem there was another possible outcome?

It’s a small deposit,
but I’m putting my faith in reincarnation. I need to believe
in the sweetness of one righteous image,
in Bill Parcells trapped in the body of a teacup poodle,
as any despised thing,
forced to yap away his next life staked to
a clothesline pole or doing hard time on a rich old matron’s lap,
dyed lilac to match her outfit.
I want to live there someday, across that street,

and listen to him. Yap, yap, yap.

-2006

Monday’s Verse 1/4/2016

Ah, the year-end best-of lists. Well here’s one for you, compiled from a thoroughly unscientific analysis of readers’ comments (many of which are not circulated to the entire readership) from 2015. These are a handful of the poem that caused people to reach out to their keyboards and talk back. And I’ve left it out due to its length, but don’t forget David Berman’s "Self-Portrait at 28," the long, funny, reflective piece that included the line, "the first thing I do/ is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like/ when you’re riding on a mechanical bull and you strain to learn/ the pattern quickly so you don’t inadvertently resist it." Many of you commented on that one, from May 5, 2015.

Readers, read on! -ed.

THE WAKING

Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

-1953

AN EXTRAORDINARY MORNING

Philip Levine

Two young men—you just might call them boys—

waiting for the Woodward streetcar to get

them downtown. Yes, they’re tired, they’re also

dirty, and happy. Happy because they’ve

finished a short work week and if they’re not rich

they’re as close to rich as they’ll ever be

in this town. Are they truly brothers?

You could ask the husky one, the one

in the black jacket he fills to bursting;

he seems friendly enough, snapping

his fingers while he shakes his ass and sings

“Sweet Lorraine,” or if you’re put off

by his mocking tone ask the one leaning

against the locked door of Ruby’s Rib Shack,

the one whose eyelids flutter in time

with nothing. Tell him it’s crucial to know

if in truth this is brotherly love. He won’t

get angry, he’s too tired for anger,

too relieved to be here, he won’t even laugh

though he’ll find you silly. It’s Thursday,

maybe a holy day somewhere else, maybe

the Sabbath, but these two, neither devout

nor cynical, have no idea how to worship

except by doing what they’re doing,

singing a song about a woman they love

merely for her name, breathing in and out

the used and soiled air they wouldn’t know

how to live without, and by filling

the twin bodies they’ve disguised as filth.

-2009

40°

Diane Wakoski

Agatha, the long-haired calico

from next door, who can

squeeze through a space the size of

a wedding ring,

walks delicately through the November-

bare

garden.

Each glimpse of her

white paws

against the damp earth

and their graceful engine movements

is a sputter of old images,

a face

I cannot forget, the man

whose tool room

was either perfectly organized

or a jumble.

When it

became too jumbled

he left me for

another lover.

I will not ever see this almost-winter

garden, the neighbor’s cat

swiftly and precisely climbing down

from the now empty summer’s arugula bed

without thinking of the fact

that living has not prepared me

to die. I failed at all the

tests–lost ungracefully,

always complained and fussed that

things were never fair.

Agatha’s white paws,

fastidious little tools which take her often

where she is not supposed to be,

move rapidly over

the dark earth this morning;

the desert motorcyclist

riding at dawn,

the crouched boxer

dancing under the speed bag,

the man who carves messages

on the large waxy leaves of the

autograph tree–

not te amo

but tempus fugit.

And I watch from the window

while motion is not the

passage of time,

but reconciliation of failed images/

the cat moving

as I never moved,

I standing still,

as I have always stood,

watching,

out of time, out of step,

but not timeless,

only

out of time.

-1995

HUSBAND

Jane Hirshfield

Some things can surprise you in both directions,

coming and going.

Like a stretch of single train track with shuntings over.

The auto-correct I don’t know how to stop

suggested, just now, "overwhelming,"

with shuntings overwhelming. Almost I took that.

Almost I took you as husband, love. Then you left me.

I took surprise for husband instead.

The Phoenician letter for "h," pronounced heth,

resembled at first

a slanting, three-runged ladder.

Later it straightened, becoming a double-hung window.

Husband surprise, I climbed you, I climbed right out of you.

-2015

GHAZAL FOR WHITE HEN PANTRY

Jamila Woods

beverly be the only south side you don’t fit in
everybody in your neighborhood color of white hen

brown bag tupperware lunch don’t fill you
after school cross the street, count quarters with white friends

you love 25¢ zebra cakes mom would never let you eat
you learn to white lie through white teeth at white hen

oreos in your palm, perm in your hair
everyone’s irish in beverly, you just missin’ the white skin

pray they don’t notice your burnt toast, unwondered bread
you be the brownest egg ever born from the white hen

pantry in your chest where you stuff all the Black in
distract from the syllables in your name with a white grin

keep your consonants crisp, coffee milked, hands visible
never touch the holiday-painted windows of white hen

you made that mistake, scratched your initials in the paint
an unmarked crown victoria pulled up, full of white men

they grabbed your wrist & wouldn’t show you a badge
the manager clucked behind the counter, thick as a white hen

they told your friends to run home, but called the principal on you
& you learned Black sins cost much more than white ones

-2015