Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Crocodile

I used to love and fear you.

The bright algae than lines the surface,
hides the murk under a guise of lime green.
I imagined how animals must pass through,
after trying their way across that field.

You understand what I’m saying.

You are light and dark, both steady eye
and ivory bloom. I do not always question
what makes a pain pleasurable or what
turns the blood in its place like a blindness.

I used to love you, I said; the fear too

was always there—only now it remains alone
among what coiled pleasure stalks the robed depth.
I didn’t know what I feared most; an animal
bucks unharmed from the empty water.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Welcome Home!

Stephanie and Sam just got back from Russia. And all I did was walk around in America.

So, um...

You are Elizabeth Bishop
You are Elizabeth Bishop and, God help us, you know
it! You suffer no fools and you cannot even
suffer yourself. No wonder you drink yourself
into a stupor often. You cannot stand the fact
you aren't perfect.

Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You?
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That couldn't be further from the truth! I think I answered the quiz wrong. I did it again and am Ashbery. What? Sigh. If you say so Quizilla.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

sometimes the light comes on while I’m driving

and a voice like the voice you made that night
comes hissing up from someone else’s fear
saying sorry things about safety and dark roads
and piles of fast food cups soiling the back seat
--I know even then that it isn’t you, but somehow
it still makes me angry and I want to pull over
my face still mine but strangely something new

I miss driving stick, miss how the metal jolt
splits mid-sentence to set me, still sputtering
names of elementary school teachers, down
in the calm plain of inertia, the chair back
coughing up dust and stale smoke like bad words
from a child’s mouth—they’re not supposed to
be there, not supposed to smell so sickly of us

when a man called and I didn’t remember
his name, you shot me a look like I was the one
you wanted to kill, I was the one who floored you,
twinned children lapping their sugared shoots
in your whiskeyed view, the barking dog still proof
--or not--that rescue was possible, though no one
came, no small siren unzipping its jagged sheath

so that now there are only two of us in a time
reserved for pairs, the lantern packed tightly
in a cardboard box, the glass pressed safely
against balled print, and there in the back seat,
like a child remembering his father’s face,
your voice rattling in its room of precious objects
--I mean, come on, as if I could forget your name.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A word of advice...

If you have a blog and post poems, poems that are intended for an individual, be warned that said individual may feel the urge to post back, especially if it means humiliating his son with admittedly sing-songy, greeting card-esque "poetry of the heart."

It may be my favorite of all of my blunders. I am blushing for days.

Friday, June 17, 2005

For My Father*

My father doesn’t know all the good
he’s done—each sweet cell in me
that splits, in time, from reaching.

He doesn’t know how often I thank him
for my childhood—he only hears
sorrow’s easy answer to each question

as I pace these wooden rooms, remembering.
My father speaks to me in my own voice.
When I call, he makes a sound

like happiness. My father answers perfectly,
or just as I would like for him to answer.
When he can. A boy, I was not sad

by what could have followed me sadly home.
Instead, he helped teach me to love
each small pain that I found in a face:

someone else’s dulled eyes. My father
taught me to imagine death, helped me
rehearse each sober step of someone else’s

winter—so that now it feels natural
to shrug off cold. To lose a little heat.
When my lover cries I cry next to him,

wondering who I am crying for.
Meanwhile, a life away, my father waits
elsewhere. I hope he knows it was him

I wanted to be, him who first lifted me, him
who helped me see past my childish blinders.
I hope he doesn’t think it hurts

when I’m bent by sorrow for us all. Instead,
let the river lead him to the source: a boy
and the man he loves, walking together in one life.

*written for Father's Day (awww), but felt perennially.

RENT: the movie

After years of rumors about RENT, the modern-day rock opera based on the opera La Boheme, being adapted for the big screen, I just saw the trailer! I'm quite excited about it and will surely see it opening day.

Check it out at!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Light Is the Least Natural Thing

It wasn’t the darkness that called them
from the far room, my salt body branded
by blush and carpet burn. Think bunk bed,
think night rouge—there’s nothing for you

in the cold of a boy’s young need.
He doesn’t know the difference.
If there is a calm to how it will be done
once his lover comes, finds him, and settles

them down to take him without heat,
it may be because of this: quiet jerk
of a boy in a shared room of childhood.
He holds his breath as light recedes.

And as for the rest of us, there is a barrier
that keeps death from finding out whose face
is which or to what final voice we’d come to
once the bags are packed, the old house burning.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Book of Elegies

Don’t let on that the water’s poisoned.
This is the anchorage, the hair in the mouth
after sex. The river’s own empty gain.

Apocalypse is beautiful, the curtains drawn
for endlight. Once our trespassers have
finished the work of fixing the wheel,

us women will return outdoors, paint the wall,
fell the cane to suck the sugar. Death
will not be giving up. Our children

will wait for us on the other side, their hands
writing our names on the wet wall. Peace
is hilarious now, but just you wait.

Whole _____s will arrive before us, their
homes made vacant for the retrieving.
Lords, let us this last opening. In heaven,

once the bees were gone, Eve split the atom
and fed half to a friend. If there was a garden,
it’s turned now. The proof is in the way

light is lost over water, past the turning.
We thought fire first, then flood, then hope.
And now the end, and nothing left to end it.

Rant: The Real Difficulty

“In fact, one could argue that poetry's difficulty for some readers stems from the very source of its incredible power: the merging of its irrational procedures with the rational nature of language. So that one mistake we often make is as simple as expecting poetry to be apprehended by the same reading methods and habits that "grasp" prose. While instead--mere practice and exposure to the art form aside--it's probably more a matter of avoiding the interference of fear in reading; more a matter of reading with one's most natural instincts and senses.”

-Jorie Graham, in her introduction to Best American Poetry 1990

Yes. Yes. Yes. Of course she’s right. And for some reason that I couldn’t possibly know this was exactly what I need to hear right now.

The balancing act, then, is one of keeping the reader on your side as you take them into truly dangerous territory. “Experienced” poets are seasoned guides we are willing to follow. Their danger is, hopefully, actually dangerous, and for us is a return instead of a risk—of being confused, bored, uninspired, unimpressed. To be made to question if it is worth it, this art form we choose to inhabit.

New poets don’t have the luxury (earned or otherwise) of being followed without some persuasion, nor should we. So what happens? Either we can appeal to more readers by making poems that aren’t dangerous (having only the illusion of danger) or we can attempt to make our initial readership self-selecting—make ourselves the gayest gay poets, the blackest black poets, the drunkest drunk poets, the funniest funny poets (need I go on?) that we can be. New poets rely on untidy excesses, beg you to participate by appealing to your vanity—we make promises (or perhaps our publishers do) that readers will find in our poems a startling and rewarding voice they’ve been waiting to hear. A voice like the reader’s own?

So many poets have to play the cards their dealt in order to play at all—but most of us aren’t interested in playing games, let alone ones that transform our individual insights, political interests and anxieties into sermons being preached, essentially, to the choir.

When I speak of interests in pop art and culture it is not so that I can get more royalties, hold a broader shadow of influence or keep any other figurative ball in my court. Like most poets, I’m in it for the art (a poet being one of the few professions in which a lifetime of even well-received work won’t necessarily yield financial or social rewards).

What is my point?

I’m not entirely sure, other than the fact that if I want to make a difference I have to decide if I want to spend my time getting my poems into the hands and hearts of readers outside my “given audience,” or if I’m going to focus on making the most “dangerous” and rewarding poems I can with faith that if they’re good enough my poems will be found by the readers that need to find them.

The decision is, of course, never to be wholly made—at least not if my faith in the poetry world is in question, which it almost always is.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Where the Picnic Was

Things aren’t so different
                                       as when we were alive.
Yes: two more graves
                                 now side by side
make a marriage
                           of stone—where we once were.

But the arrangement matters little
that our places have been
                                       left to new lovers.
Look: how the pair laps
                                 sun from the ground

where the negro girls,
                               named for flowers,
would play with
                           wild ones, after their chores:
elbows, knees
                             shadowed to the lace.

It looks so much like love.
                                           Even now, my mind
made up, my salt scattered
                                           to that lost landscape
in which we left shapes
                                     in the hot clay

when we were tired of sitting
                                           still. Look:
the grass is casting its net
                                       as it always has
—or has it? You left
                                 with all the answers,

and I—maybe a favorite
                                       poet to someone
by now—am gone too.
                                       Their cat will be
named for you maybe,
                                       and I will be happy.

After a Battle*

From the top of the hill one could think they were asleep,
but as we came down upon our fathers, we could see:
first, the moon-glint of goodness on the heaps, then
the love among them, grown crooked in the mouth.

We could almost tell where their souls came out.
Across Boeotia: not a woman, not a child is crying,
not even in sleepy hunger, dreaming their boys
will bring back the goods. The first she-goat fell

and the priestess let her blood flow toward the Spartan
who said Wait and one hundred thousand men
waited because the goat’s blood trickled wrong.
He sent for another and a boy younger than me,

all pitch and prowess, dragged a second up the slope.
We imagine, now, a naked heaven—one with no need
for armor. Strip stiff leather from loose bronze.
Carry with me these hollow pieces. No time for graves,

No time to mourn our brothers among them. Now
we are the men, stripped of whatever youth
they pinned us to. There, in the crush, one last animal
beckons buck and belt. I want you here

so you may see among the glint of gods
a morning full of flock and scrimmage—For now,
let’s hammer the plates flat, and later make the shapes
of who we’ll be when the goat can give herself willingly.

*revised from the April poem "Propitiation"


The water burns its way to sleep.
You have a lot to learn, don’t you:
no course nor flux nor flow will lull
the anxious water flaunting through?

I understand you meant to please—
instead, distilled the mise-en-scene
to gaudy flaunts of gold. You made
a further sunset Byzantine.

You’re far too generous to use
all the gems and sheen you’ve worn
to robe the world with decadence, but
Lord, Caravaggio was born…

and with him came the aim of light;
(it’s half about the shadow now).
I’d like to claim your day has passed,
but still you earn my faith somehow.

Can I deny some air ablaze
among the unlit saffron rooms?
Although there is no depth-of-field,
the startled eye upon it blooms.

Shall I deny a wall of fire?
Glinting insects, mangrove knees:
bright conjugates of oak and ochre
rouged by shadow, smoke or sheer

diligence: the knots of wood,
despite the water, will not yield.
All night, in blinds of everglade
the sleepers weep at daylight’s bier.

Can you even guess the art in that?
How aptly you emboss tableaux,
forsake the truth for ornament—
forsake what's here for subtle throes.

There’s more than just one way
to heaven. Lord, there are a few.
The scene can burn or reach unlit
into the transient and the new.

*revised from the April version.

Monday, June 06, 2005

What happened to today?

As lame as it sounds, I spent most of the day trying to convert a DVD into a readable format for Nico—I bought Ultimate Kylie, the Aussie-Pop queen’s greatest hits video collection, for my boy when I was in London in January. I thought that the “0” region would mean that it would play in my sucky American DVD player. As it turns out, it doesn’t—but I can burn it and change the region to play in North America… that is, if I can get my new DVD burner to work. I wasn’t aware that it would take three separate programs to rip/condense/burn the damn thing.

Yesterday was Nico’s birthday, and though I made him a present and took him to a nice-ish dinner in our ‘hood, I wanted to surprise him with a post-gift he wouldn’t expect, knowing that if I spent too much more money he’d be annoyed. But all I have is a wasted day and a long list of good intentions. Sigh.

I did, however, manage to meet him this evening for a sweet dinner at Veselka, a charming 24-hour Ukranian restaurant we used to frequent when I lived briefly in the East Village. We then met some friends at a book party for my friend Chris, whose Heavy Metal and You just came out officially yesterday. Good times. So I can’t say it was really a day wasted.

I have a few new poems I’m eager to post… though they’re not finished and I’m fading fast (open bar, what can I say?)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Child's Myth

I am a boy in a metal world
whose eyes are rusted, blind, and green,
whose mind is lost to the shipper’s girl
and all the things he hasn’t seen.

I am the hollow that haunts the chest
of the boy of tin who loves her still,
am the empty spaces of his breast
and a coiling sorrow hard to fill.

I am the soil that lines the floor
of the cave inside the boy you met
whose body’s proof, and nothing more,
of a house collapsed in warm regret.

I am the seed brought in by air
that claims the soil that claimed the boy
whose made of tin both brushed and bare,
who claimed the house his to destroy.

I am the wood that’s all that’s left
of the shelter that was his to die,
am the rotting wood, unbound, bereft,
that held him close and kept him dry.

I am the sapling in the seed
that ticks inside the beating earth
made moist with pain he doesn’t need,
made bent by longing, bound by birth.

I am the ghost that haunts the rot,
who pulls the sapling from her place
to make new wood in the deepest lot
in the welded cave locked off from grace.

I am the poet who the ghost will lead
to the boy of tin, to the hallow lawn,
to the rotting ruin, soil, and seed,
to find the girl he thought was gone.

I am she who left, alone,
whose eyes are dry ‘cause they have to be,
whose father shipped her from her thrown
and made her veil a brackish sea.

I am the body that can’t forget
am made of tin and blood and thirst,
belong to a boy who you once met,
who kissed your cheek as we rehearsed.

I am the bounty born in you,
am the boy himself, your foreign friend.
I am the faith that makes him new,
am the pantry emptying toward an end.

I always thought I might be Shelley...

P. B. Shelley

You are Percy Bysshe Shelley! Famous for your dreamy abstraction and your quirky verse, you're the model "sensitive poet." A vegetarian socialist with great personal charm and a definite way with the love poem, you remain an idol for female readers. There are dozens of cute anecdotes about you, and I love you.

Which Major Romantic Poet Would You Be (if You Were a Major Romantic Poet)?
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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Stone Angel in the Cemetery*

The snow is not what blinds you
now that the geese are gleaning
among cloud and cornice.

America is not the answer,
not the shaking fist, not the tight screw.
In a cemetery in a long field

snow does not keep
stone eyes from seeing.
They’re made of stone.

America is the long field,
the geese at the angel’s feet.
What’s under that snow that keeps them coming.

*This poem was written in response to Charles Simic’s “Talk Radio,” which was posted today on Poetry Daily.