I am arguing with an idiot online. He says anybody can write a poem. I say some people are afraid to speak. I say some people are ashamed to speak. If they said the pronoun "I" they would find themselves floating in the black Atlantic and a woman would swim by, completely dry, in a rose chiffon shirt, until the ashamed person says her name and the woman becomes wet and drowns and her face turns to flayed ragged pulp, white in the black water. He says that he'd still write even if someone cut off both his hands. As if it were the hands that make a poem, I say. I say what if someone cut out whatever brain or gut or loin or heart that lets you say hey, over here, listen, I have something to tell you all, I'm different. As an example I mention my mother who loved that I write poems and am such a wonderful genius. And then I delete the comment because my mother wanted no part of this or any argument, because "Who am I to say whatever?" Once on a grade school form I entered her job as hairwasher. She saw the form and was embarrassed and mad. "You should have put receptionist." But she didn't change it. The last word she ever said was No. And now here she is in my poem, so proud of her idiot son, who presumes to speak for a woman who wants to tell him to shut up, but can't.
Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.
Even the butter's a block of sleazy light. I see that first, as though I am a dreary guest come to a dreary supper. On her table, its scrubbed deal trim and lonely as a cot, is food for one, and everything we've ever hated: a plate of pallid grays and whites is succotash and chops are those dark shapes glaring up at us. Are you going to eat this? I want to ask; she's at the stove dishing up, wearing that apron black and stiff as burned bacon, reserved for maids and waitresses. The dream tells us: She is still a servant. Even here. So she has to clean our plate. It's horrible to watch. She pokes the bits of stuff into her mouth. The roll's glued shut like a little box with all that sticky butter. Is this all living gets you? The room, a gun stuck in your back? Don't move, It says. She's at the bureau lining up bobby pins. Worried and fed up I wander to the window with its strict bang of blind. My eyes fidget and scratch. And then I see myself: I am this dream's dog. I want out.
I have been thinking about the love-hat relationship. It is the relationship based on love of one another's hats. The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial. You don't necessarily even know the other person. Also it is too dependent on whether the other person is even wearing the favored hat. We all enjoy hats, but they're not something to build an entire relationship on. My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them. Try having like-hat relationships with one another. See if you can find something interesting about the personality of the person whose hat you like.
Five-legged pocket spiders, knuckled starfish, grabbers of forks, why do I forget that you love me: your willingness to button my shirts, tie my shoes—even scratch my head! which throbs like a traffic jam, each thought leaning on its horn. I see you waiting anyplace always at the ends of my arms—for the doctor, for the movie to begin, for freedom—so silent, such patience! testing the world with your bold myopia: faithful, ready to reach out at my softest suggestion, to fly up like two birds when I speak, two brown thrashers brandishing verbs like twigs in your beaks, lifting my speech the way pepper springs the tongue from slumber. O! If only they knew the unrestrained innocence of your intentions, each finger a cappella, singing a song that rings like rain before it falls—that never falls! Such harmony: the bass thumb, the pinkie's soprano, the three tenors in between: kind quintet x 2 rowing my heart like a little boat upon whose wooden seat I sit strummed by Sorrow. Or maybe I misread you completely and you are dreaming a tangerine, one particular hot tamale, a fabulous banana! to peel suggestively, like thigh-high stockings: grinning as only hands can grin down the legs—caramel, cocoa, black-bean black, vanilla—such lubricious dimensions, such public secrets! Women sailing the streets with God's breath at their backs. Think of it! No! Yes: let my brain sweat, make my veins whimper: without you, my five-hearted fiends, my five-headed hydras, what of my mischievous history? The possibilities suddenly impossible—feelings not felt, rememberings un- remembered—all the touches untouched: the gallant strain of a pilfered ant, tiny muscles flexed with fight, the gritty sidewalk slapped after a slip, the pulled weed, the plucked flower—a buttercup! held beneath Dawn's chin—the purest kiss, the caught grasshopper's kick, honey, chalk, charcoal, the solos teased from guitar. Once, I played viola for a year and never stopped to thank you—my two angry sisters, my two hungry men—but you knew I just wanted to know what the strings would say concerning my soul, my whelming solipsism: this perpetual solstice where one + one = everything and two hands teach a dawdler the palpable alchemy of an unreasonable world.
The fist clenched round my heart loosens a little, and I gasp brightness; but it tightens again. When have I ever not loved the pain of love? But this has moved past love to mania. This has the strong clench of the madman, this is gripping the ledge of unreason, before plunging howling into the abyss. Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.
How must it be to swim among your kind, Dull with the cold and dreary with the dark, Enclosed above, beneath, before, behind In green uncertainty, from which a shark At any time may dash And doom you like some huge demonic fate With lust insatiate?— He cuts the water with a seething gash;— What use to dart aside? Those great jaws, grinning wide, Will close your frolic as the long teeth clash. But I forget your gift; the bonds that hold The others of your race are loosed for you, For you alone. The silver dolphin bold Shoots like a spray-haired comet from the blue, But may not poise or flit As you do—. What if but a minute's space? Hardly a longer grace Has poet, saint or lover. Nor a whit Less sure to sink are we; Our wings of ecstasy No loftier, no longer joy permit. Yet joy it is! to scorn the dread of death, To dwell for shining moments in the sun Of Beauty and sweet Love, to drink one breath Of a diviner element—though but one; To reach a higher state Of being, to explore a new domain; To leap, and leap again, Unheeding the gray menace of our fate That follows till we fall: For—fishes, men and all— The grim old Shark will have us, soon or late.
O little root of a dream you hold me here undermined by blood, no longer visible to anyone, property of death. Curve a face that there may be speech, of earth, of ardor, of things with eyes, even here, where you read me blind, even here, where you refute me, to the letter.
Dear murderous world, dear gawking heart, I never wrote back to you, not one word wrenched itself free of my fog-draped mind to dab in ink the day's dull catalog of ruin. Take back the ten-speed bike which bent like a child's cheap toy beneath me. Accept as your own the guitar that was smashed over my brother, who writes now from jail in Savannah, who I cannot begin to answer. Here is the beloved pet who died at my feet and there, outside my window, is where my mother buried it in a coffin meant for a newborn. Upon my family, raw and vigilant, visit numbness. Of numbness I know enough. And to you I've now written too much, dear cloud of thalidomide, dear spoon trembling at the mouth, dear marble-eyed doll never answering back.
I'm writing to you from the loneliest, most secluded island in the world. I mean, the farthest away place from anything else. There are so many fruits here growing on trees or on vines that wrap and wrap. Fruits like I've never seen except the bananas. All night the abandoned dogs howled. I wonder if one dog gives the first howl, and if they take turns who's first like carrying the flag in school. Carrying the flag way out in front and the others following along behind in two long lines, pairs holding hands. Also the roosters here crow from 4am onward. They're still crowing right now and it's almost noon here on the island. Noon stares back no matter where you are. Today I'm going to hike to the extinct volcano and balance on the rim of the crater. Yesterday a gust almost blew me inside. I heard that the black widows live inside the volcano far down below in the high grasses that you can't see from the rim. Well, I was going to tell you that this morning the bells rang and I followed them and at the source of the bells, there I found so many animals all gathered together in a room with carved wooden statues and wooden benches and low wooden slats for kneeling. And the animals were there singing together, all their voices singing, with big strong voices rising from even the filthiest animals. I mean, I've seen animals come together and sing before, except in high fancy vaults where bits of colored glass are pieced together into stories. Some days I want to sing with them. I wish more animals sang together all the time. But then I can't sing sometimes because I think of the news that happens when the animals stop singing. And then I think of all the medications and their side effects that are advertised between the pieces of news. And then I think of all the money the drug companies spent to videotape their photogenic, well-groomed animals, and all the money they spent to buy a prime-time spot, and I think, what money buys the news, and what news creates the drugs, and what drugs control the animals, and I get so choked I can't sing anymore, Lonely Animal. I can't sing with the other animals. Because it's hard to know what an animal will do when it stops singing. It's complicated, you know, it's just complicated—
Translated from an anonymous eighth-century Irish poem It is late last night the dog was speaking of you; the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh. It is you are the lonely bird through the woods; and that you may be without a mate until you find me. You promised me, and you said a lie to me, that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked; I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you, and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb. You promised me a thing that was hard for you, a ship of gold under a silver mast; twelve towns with a market in all of them, and a fine white court by the side of the sea. You promised me a thing that is not possible, that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish; that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird; and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland. When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness, I sit down and I go through my trouble; when I see the world and do not see my boy, he that has an amber shade in his hair. It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you; the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday. And myself on my knees reading the Passion; and my two eyes giving love to you for ever. My mother said to me not to be talking with you today, or tomorrow, or on the Sunday; it was a bad time she took for telling me that; it was shutting the door after the house was robbed. My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe, or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge; or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls; it was you that put that darkness over my life. You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me; you have taken what is before me and what is behind me; you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me; and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!
Write about a radish Too many people write about the moon. The night is black The stars are small and high The clock unwinds its ever-ticking tune Hills gleam dimly Distant nighthawks cry. A radish rises in the waiting sky.