HERE AND NOW
What’s up this time – first, a return to the previous practice of including poets from my library, plus, all my own work here is from my early writing, in the 2002-2005 years. Only one, the first one, has been revised with a couple of lines to update.
Me – an almanac of lived stories
Gary Blankenship – Washington D.C.
Me – home fires
Wislawa Szymborska – Children of Our Age
Me – north wind on a southern beach
Wanda Coleman – Dear Peter Pan
High Time Lovers
Me – before the estate sale
sunset on South Alamo
from the porch at Casa Chiapas on a rainy morning
Vandana Khanna - Alignment
Me – in defense of dirty old men everywhere
Leslie Ullman – Night Trade
Me – what God don’t like
John Ashbery – April Galleons
Me – meanwhile in the Hydra Constellation
an almanac of lived stories
I have made years
Worth of stories
Out of less than a year
Driving a taxicab
In a small city in
Same for a year
On a foreign desert
And months of construction work
On the hot Tex/Mex border,
And drinking too much -
Lots of good stuff there
When the midnight drunk
Bled into a sullen, overcast morning
Never got any poems
Out of cashier work at a grocery store
Except establishing my asshole detector,
First activated by customers
Who came in to do their weekly shopping
Five minutes before closing time
While I have my day’s pay
Burning a hole In my pocket,
Saturday night plans put on hold,
Never got much
Out of my first serious girlfriend,
Tall and lean, a dead ringer
For Paula Prentiss,
Except how love is like
Pork chops left out in the sun,
Even the best love and pork chops
Turn bad with just a few weeks inattention,
Especially when a best friend
Is there to provide what I
In my absence could not…
Mostly a good life, success
and achievement beyond
expectation, a 45 year marriage
and a son who brings great pride,
a minor rebirth in art late in life
still, that life turning
At times, temporarily rough,
and in the end,
Making poems out of good times
And I think of the new
Whose work reflects
Neither good times
I read them and think,
Jeez, if they had just
A couple of months
Driving a cab through
Or woke up drunk, mouth
Agape, head in a stupor
Resting on a foul-smelling bar,
The last near-survivor
Of a night of wrong moves,
Dawn breaking through an
Encrusted window, neon
Still flickering, near dead
But not yet…
What great poets
They might be!
This next piece is by my poet friend Gary Blankenship who passed away earlier this year. Although Gary and I never met in person, we did meet many times over the years in our poetry as we read and enjoyed the work of each of us, with and without commentary.
This poem is from his book The Poetic States in which he commemorated each of the 50 states with a short poem, plus the following, sometime farcical, piece about the state who hasn't yet, but will someday, become a state, the Capital of the country, Washington D.C. The book was published in 2014 by Writers and Lovers Studio.
A Short History of the Not-Quite-
Independent State of New Columbia
January 1791 - George Washington selects a swamp close to the site of the proposed cross-Aleghany water route to be his new capital. New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia complain. York, Pennsylvania, does not.
December 1800 - The City of Washington is occupied by Congressmen, lobbyist, saloon owners, pick-pockets and prostitutes.
May 1802 - The first of many schemes for a municipal government is passed by Congress. Pick-pockets and prostitutes take no notice.
find the red queen
shell under the pea
three card tom-foolery
August 1814 - The British burn the White House. Dolly Madison saves a portrait of President Washington. Congress is also burned. We call it the War of 1812.
July 1846 - Congress returns the city of Alexandria and Alexandia County to the state of Virginia. A petition to return Congress is circulated.
January 1867 - Black males are given the right to vote in local elections. Strom Thurmond objects.
February 1870 - Iowa ratifies the 15th amendment prohibiting race as a qualificaton to vote. Jim Crow takes no notice.
I have a dream -
when all the nation's citizens
have rights held by all other citizens
June 1878 - Another scheme
November 1928 - District voters celebrate Humiliation Day. Failure to ratify the ERA is still decades away.
March 1961 - Ohio ratitifies the 25th amendment giving District voters the right to vote in presidential elections. All Confederate States except Tennessee object until 2002 when Alabama ratifies the amendment.
May 1974 - Another scheme gives the District home rule. Washington is elected the first mayor.
As of June 1984, only sixteen states ratify an amendment to allow a full vote for District representative in Congress. Washington state is not one of them.
the river rolls to the sea
May 2006 - The House of Representatives rejects giving the District congressional representation in the House, but not the Senate. The Senate never notices.
March 2007 - A new version of the bill is approved by the House and is pending in the Senate. The President has vowed to veto it.
July 2027 - British Columbia becomes the 53rd state. The District of Columbia still waits for voting rights in Congress.
as the end to desert war
I was going through several three-ring binders looking for some specific poems that I was thinking I could gather into a chapbook. Didn't find what I was looking but did find a number of very early poems that I hadn't looked at in many years. So that's what this post is about, early, nearly forgotten poems from a poet just beginning what would become a stretch of writing a poem a day for near to 15 years, thousands and thousands of poems.
I begin with a few short pieces written in 2004 and 2005.
full moon bright
on black winter sky
wisp of cloud
like chimney smoke
drawing me home
against the midnight sky,
its gently arc
to the weary
and leaves fall
soft and slow
like red and yellow
drifting in the sun
a small mole
at the base of her spine
calls to me as she walks away
this tiny imperfection
on taut, tanned skin
like a god
at the absurdity
of his creation
a woman in red
stands quiet and still
before a red wall
becomes like a shadow
on the wall
while I, standing,as it passes
become a shadow
on the parade of daily life
The next poem is by Wislawa Szymborska, taken from her book View with a Gain of Sand, published by Harcourt Brace om 1993. The original Polish text was translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clair Cavanagh.
Children of Our Age
We are children of our age,
it's a political age.
All day long, all through the night,
all affairs - yours, ours, theirs -
are political affairs.
Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political cast,
your eyes a political slant.
Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don't say speaks for itself,
so either way you're talking politics.
Even when you take to the woods,
you're taking political steps
on political grounds.
Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
And though it troubles the digestion
it's a question, as always, of politics.
To acquire a political meaning
you don't even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,
or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months;
Should we arbitrate life and death
at a round table or a square one.
Meanwhile, people perished,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immorial
and less political.
I grew up about 35 miles from South Padre Island and years later lived further up the coast in Corpus Christi, Texas, across Corpus Christi Bay from North Padre/Mustang Island. I left the coast to live in San Antono until the mid-90s when the state agency I worked for was eliminated. In the early 2000's I moved back to Corpus Christi for a year to work for United Way.
This piece was written in 2002, drawing on many coastal and beach memories.
north wind on a southern beach
a north wind blows strong
against the incoming tide
and all across the bay
white caps flash in the sun
fluttering across a field
of salty sea-green
dressed for the day
in a silver windbreaker
walks the beach barefoot,
shoes tied by their strings
to hang around his neck,
throws bread to the gulls,
greedy birds, swooping, fighting
each other and the wind
for every crumb
Next, two short poems by Wanda Coleman from her book, Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems and Stories 1968 -1986. The book was published by Black Sparrow Press in 1987.
The poet was born in Watts, know for it's 1965 rebellion, an event which cemented in her a determination to become a writer. A struggling welfare mother, she held true to her ambition and eventually became the eighth minority member of the Writers' Guild of America.
Dear Peter Pan
your son really looks like you
down to the freckles
your daughter is more like you than he is
we talk of you from time to time
i'm done with you
but they have questions
High Time Lovers
so they never had anything together
except sessions in bed
to a backdrop of jazz and pretzels
silver satin wine pillows
seasonal red devil mattresses
and green brown marijuana blankets
to get hot
cause their bodies
enough heat to copulate
The next short piece is from 2005, early in the time when I wrote a new poem every morning. It was a fun period of discovery and writing. Part of the reason I quit writing a year or so ago, after thousands of poems, is that it just wasn't fun anymore.
before the estate sale
a dead man's house
in this husk
of a life
of a falling tide
end of the end
This is another piece from 2005 when I was writing in the morning and evening from the front porch of a coffeehouse near downtown. This is one of a number of poems written on that porch.
sunset on South Alamo
the air is still at sunset,
a pause before the night edges
out days shortened
by the passing of summer
here on South Alamo
and lights brighten
across the way
the sun dips to afterglow
and the nigh air comes,
through spreading shadows
not far away, the river
flows green and sluggish
music drifts across the water and
through the gathering crowds
here, in this neighborhood,
as quietly as day has ended
This is another poem from the same porch, this one a morning poem from 2006.
from the porch at Casa Chiapas on a rainy morning
it is a cool morning,
wet at long last, rainwater
pooling atop the table on the patio
on the street
workers are building
curb and gutter forms,
first step in repaving
this old street
high and dry
on the porch, enjoying
the cool morning,
the workers, their yellow
hardhats dripping from the rain,
even the noise,
the hammers, the concrete saw
curtting through trough old sidewalk,
the screechy peep of the front loader
as it backs up to drop its load
of broken asphalt and concrete
in the idling dump truck
the morning is all around me,
the stink of diesel exhaust,
the big engine of the motor grader, rumbling,
(see how delicate and precise its cut)
I watch it all, hear it all, smell it all
even the worker on the side,
taking a break, lighting up, letting
loose a cloud of tobacco smoke,
I smell that, too, and remember the taste
and for the first time in ten years, miss it
I imagine a cigarette between my fingers
and wait for a poem
This poem is by Vandana Khanna, taken from her book, Train to Agra, published by Southern University Press in 2001.
Khanna was born in New Delhi and has lived most of her life in the United States. She attended the University of Virginia and received her M.F.A. from Indiana University, where she was recipient of the Yellen Fellowship in poeetry.
In Hindi, love is always the long version:
"You are in my heart." In Hindi movies,
you can tell always it's a love scene because the man
and woman never kiss, just sing and gyrate
their hips towards each other. Love is splashed
like billboards all along the Delhi streets in a blur
of reds and blues.
Every time my grandmother tried to learn how
to drive, she got pregnant. She never learned
how to shift gears, but she had three children.
I know the lines give me away. My palms hold
all the stories: you will lose like your mother
and great-grandmother, like all the women
in your family, all of them widows.
My grandmother at thirteen: married a man
she had never seen before the wedding day,
before the fire and the pundit. Fifty years
later my grandmother at sixty-three:
"That was not the best way but the only way."
Before the wedding, before years of marriage,
my parents consulted an astrologer to see
if their stars were aligned. Thirty years
of marriage based on stardust and heat.
Love is all numbers. The math insists upon it.
This piece is from 2004.
in defense of dirty old men everywhere
it's not sex
that makes us pause
at the passing
of every pretty girl
it's not lust,
longing for times passed,
for the clear slate of youth,
the vigor of a body unbroken,
the clear and undiminished joy
of life unburdened by experience,
life free of debilitating knowledge,
free of the sharp grinding edges of life
that have worn us down and make us old
no, it's not sex that makes us pause
and longing for a second chance
This poem is by Leslie Ullman and is taken fom her book, Slow Work through Sand, published by University of Iowa Press in 1998.
For many years, Ullman lived in the Southwest in the company of horses with access to the desert. She directs the creative writing program at the University of Texas, El Paso and is also on the faculty of the MFA program at Vermont College.
This is the way coyote sleeps:
leaving his skin
behind him, all plumage
and stilled breath.
Taking his skinny self
elsewhere, to dart after rabbits
and dream at the moon. Pealing
howls under the moon, shrill gold coins
tossed to other coyotes and gotten back
doubled. Then he lowers his nose
and curls his tail about his paws, smug
as a house cat, as teh coins roll
gleaming into the night to scare chickens
and toss ranchers in their bunks.
All night he licks he lips
over this meal of noise,
this gab-fest with cousins posted
like radar stations in the dark.
By day, they disappear, all
thousands of them, leaving the desert
to sunlight and trucks. They go back
to their sleeping hides: one tanned
carefully by a boy with his first gun,
one eaten by moths
in a Dakota trading post,
one tagged with a high price
on Rodeo Drive, and this one
stretched across the foot
of my bed at the watered edge
of desert, where I wake some nights
shivering in gold light and ghost money.
This piece is from 2004. It's the kind of satire that keeps getting me banned from Facebook in 30-day increments. It's frustrating posting on Facebook, especially satire or parody, since I have to decide if the humor of the piece will be understood by the stupid 13-year-olds who run their censorship program.
what God don't like
I was seeing this preacher fella on TV the other day
that was saying God don't like men fucking men.
I don't know how in the world he would know that,
except maybe he was talking to God
and just straight out ask him, like, hey, God,
what do you think about this men fucking men thing?
I'd be afraid to do that, but maybe it's OK for preachers,
especially this particular preacher fella,
since it looks like he's pretty close to God and
like he must talk to him about alll sorts of things
cause he's all the time on TV,
talking about what God likes and don't like
(mostly about what he don't like from what I've seen)
not just about men fucking, but all sorts of other things
God don't like, like treehuggers and feminazies
and Democrats and evolutionists and poor people
and those wussy-[ussy perverts who think
we ought not to be killing those raghead foreigners
without some kind of pretty good reason (I mean, hell,
he says, it's not like they're white people).
and all those Commies, whatever they call themselves now
but mostly what i get from listening to the TV fella is
that mainly what God most often don't like
are people who aren't exactly like the TV fella
so I'm thinking maybe I ought to study that fella
and try real hard to be as much like him as I can
then maybe God won't don't like me tool
This piece is by John Ashbery, taken from his book, April Galleons, published by Penguin Books in 1998.
Something was burning. And bersides,
At the far end of the room discredited walz
Was alive alnd reciting tales of the conquerors
And their lilies - is all of life thus
A tepid housewarming? And where do the scraps
Of meaning come from? Obviously
it was time to be off, in another
Direction, toward marshlands and cold, scrolled
Names of cities that sounded as though they existed,
But never had. I could see th escow
Like a nail file pointed at the pleasures
Of the great open sea, that it would stop for me,
That you and I should sample the disjointedness
Of a far-from-level deck, and then return some day,
Through the torn orange veils of an early evening
That will know our names only in a different
Pronunciation, and then, and only then,
Might be the profit-taking of spring arrive
In due course, as one says, with the gesture
Of a bird taking off for some presumably
Better location, though not major, perhaps,
In the sense that a winged guitar would be major
If we had one. And all trees seemed to exist.
There there was a shorter day with dank
Tapestries streaming initials of all the previous owners
To warn us into silence and waiting. Would the mouse
Know us now, and if so how far would propinquity
Admit discussion of the difference: crumb or other
Less perceptible boon? It was all going
To be scattered anyway, as far from one's wish
At the root of the tree from the center of the earth
From which it nonetheless issued in time to
In for us of happy blossoms and tomorrow's
Festival of the vines. Just being under them
Sometimes makes you wonder how much you know
And then you wake up and you know, but not
how much. In intervals in the twilight notes from an
Untuned Mandolin seem to co-exist with their
Question and the no less urgent reply. Come
To look at us but not too near or its familiarity
Will vanish in a thunderclap and the begger-girl,
String-haired and incomprehensibly weeping, will
Be all that is left of the golden age, our
Golden age, and no longer will the swarms
Issue forth at dawn to return in a rain of mild
Unsatisfacrtory honesty with tales of colored cities,
Of how the mist bult there, and what were the
Directions the lepers were taking
To avoid these eyes, the old eyes of love.
I wrote this next poem in 2004. At the time there was early talk of the best earth bound telescope's sighting of a massive collusion of galaxies in the Hydra Constellation. Now, nearly 20 years later we have clear photos of what is happening and what continue to happen over eons. Millions of stars, untold numbers of planets, and on some of them life like ours, with their own histories, religions, literature, political system, sciences, people with their own alien brand of everything that makes up our lives. All estinguished or in the process of being extinguished. Some righ now, some a thousand, ten thousand, a million years in the future.
Our fate too at some point. How puny our Gods seem when the all is seen on this scale.
This moved me 20 plus years ago, and I wrote about it in this piece and others. Today, actually seeing it, leaves me unable to imagine the limits or ends of creation and the accompying de-creation going on all around us.
meanwhile in the Hydra Constellation
a storm of stars
pass soundless through the void,
crossing unimaginable distances and times
to meet, to crash in a flash of
exploding suns and primordial fire
stretching across a billion year,
a furnace unlike any
since the first great eruption
that came from less than nothing
to blast a cosmos into being
and around those speeding suns
orbiters like our own earth,
and on some of them, creatures
like ourselves, products of an evolutionary
trail from muck to self-discovered glory,
inventions of their own histories, periods dark
and light, times of cruelty, death, and genius flowerng,
people like we are people, struggling though life,
seeking grace, forgiveness, the salvation of love,
seeking honorable life and an honorable end
that end comes to them now, across the void
in a storm of stars colliding, an end ablaze
with the light of creation deconstructing