For Poem-A-Day Challenge, April 2009
First is the topic, next line is title.
1. Origin poem
Hunger on the Spine of Guyana
Out of the mouth of the river
shout wallets of fish.
They collapse in nets
of waiting workers
who line the Essequibo.
After a long week of mining diamonds
and gold from shit-brown banks,
flesh is worth than a gem.
Along the bend,
a woman's hips appear
to the men who watch from above.
Two helicopters and a biplane
trace her length with wings,
hands between their legs.
Salmon seen from the airships
(above the heads of working men)
bursting lust from the banks,
flood waiting arms.
No one will eat this feast.
Inside her skirt are legs.
Between them are sweaty hairs
that poke at the opposite thigh,
(swords in battle at night)
blindly finding opponents
From the outside, he hears her
sigh, shake her hips (not out of confidence
Her extra weight goes jiggle jiggle
and he translates her wiggle wiggle
into busty beast behavior.
She shivers and waits
for the seduction to end.
3. The Problem With_______
The Problem With Genes
the sexy name for brains that break
and sway in the winds of change.
Why would it not be this way?
Two twin brothers,
born of the same genes,
create totally separate lives.
One's body pulses sex,
finds the earth, whose roots push,
whose parts parse each scintillating star
until the sun itself orgasms.
The other mind's master grasps the girth
of his own girl, wound up in the whirl
of the night, right hand then left
over and around her breasts.
The problem is that we all breed
with the world, whether with each other
or with no one. She slips inside each of us,
hidden behind gene masks.
"Just you try and make me into one lover,"
"I will change you like water."
Is it part of a word you tell me
as we fall asleep?
I think you meant to say
but I am not entirely sure.
Maybe you are referring
to an arsenal in the secret place we should
meet when the world falls apart
(since we read about the economy again
today in the NYT at the coffeehouse around
Our friend Michael insists
we will have to fight over food
like tigers over antelopes
like wild beasts.
Perhaps you express
your concerns about our car,
in need of its 90,000 mile check-up.
"How will we pay for this
what with the cat surgery
my job catastrophe
the rising cost of horse feed?"
I worry, too, about this
Then you reach for me
bite into my shoulder
until I bleed.
"Oh, I see," I say,
"you need me. You need me."
"Growing up in Appleton, WI, home to Harry Houdini and Joseph McCarthy"
My father pissed on McCarthy's grave.
Said he passed major holidays
celebrating this way.
His urine turned to ice for Christmas,
steamed in dark Fourth of July.
In Dad's office at work, McCarthy's face
was a dartboard above his desk,
pimpled with well-aimed blows.
My mother swore Dad dated a cousin of the Rosenberg's
right before marrying Mom. A point of pride for them both.
When I was ten we took a family trip to the Houdini Museum.
I saw in small print
a tiny caveat:
"Is is still debated by historians
whether Houdini was, in fact, born in Appleton."
My mantel in Madison misses
photos of my father and mother,
now buried alongside both Joseph and Harry.
When I married, I removed their knots,
slipped free of my history.
6. "What's Missing?"
How can I know all of these people well enough
to want to invite them to my wedding,
and no longer have their home addresses?
The earth where they stand
now or yesterday
is still made up of land stranded to mine through mycelium.
But the circuits don't care
that post office boxes have become obscure
that I can only IM my best friend.
Only me, here with the last stand of postcards
and envelopes lined in pretty patterns
try to make permanent
that which the internet
has finally rendered ephemeral.
7. Clean poem or dirty poem
On the sidewalk outside, to-be stars
traipse by, guitars on arms.
I spy on their excitement.
Off they go to make careers
at the corner; record first albums,
The stream headed to the sewer
parallels their path
fresh water waiting to rock.
It begins with a pencil
falling off my bedside table.
Following, the mirror squeaks
as if Snow White hides inside.
Kleenex pop out of the box
and float down to the floor.
Eventually, the whole tabletop
is at my feet.
Then, only then, do I stop my sleep
to wake and feed the cat.
"Haiku use memory,
also direct perception."
First grade poetry.
No day comes before today.
Clean slate licking the plate.
Where there was a hump
there is now a down slope,
which is actually an up slope
in my mind. Friday, I am
Robert Smith for you, in love
with the passing of time.
11. Object Poem
"That's not an object," my teacher insists.
"It shines *on* objects, allows us to see them.
Without light we don't know what exists."
But light is light without silken fur
raised up in the warmth,
without her hands touched with the shading
and shape of fading sun.
At night when the last of the street lights
turn to morning
that light is its own existence
its own dawn.
12. "So We Decided To..."
So We Decided To Clean the House
What better way to spend a day off?
Lick down the counters with our sponges,
swipe our wet hands through our hair.
Open the window - it's getting warm in here -
let the dust from a good part of a year
drift out through the screen.
We decided in the middle of cleaning the house
to clean each other.
Breasts grown dull from not enough use,
hips unslick, blocked over
with long underwear, all stripped down
revealed to the sunshine,
to each other.
No Task Too Small
"He's probably one of those geeky guys who makes useless chainmail by hand."
This assessed to me from a friend, in regards to another friend.
But he could have meant me
18 years ago
along the trail of the desert fathers turned sea fathers
trying to find home in a new country.
As the rail rattled us north, my brother and I wove our armor
side by side, sharing screwdrivers (Phillips head the best, so the loops
could slide off easily), needlenose pliers, and the restful, satisfied sleep
After all those months of twisted hands, we had headpieces
and bands for our arms. Nothing for our chests. Nothing
to protect our hearts for her death.
Tell Me This
Where did you get the ingredients
for the biscuit dough?
How long does it rise, does it take longer
in the snowy winter, what about if he comes home
looking for something slimmer, on a diet he didn't tell
you about before he left for work that morning?
When he turns his stomach away from supper,
where do I throw the remaining food?
Into my own sadness or out onto the flood
plain where nothing has grown now
since our daughter rejected my womb?
15. Changed title
(after "Making a Fist" by Naomi Shihab Nye)
A headache on some empty road bumping
north through Michigan. My first migraine.
My mother complained about my complaining
until the car stopped running all together.
My brothers took off down the vast expanse
for help from the firs and beech trees.
"How do you know I won't die?"
I hammered at my mother for an answer.
The sky was shocked white, all light,
no room for my dark pain to sneak out.
"You are still thirsty. That is why I know."
Years later she is dead, the only thirst
she can feel is from the dirt that steals
the last of her tears through the coffin seal.
Here I am, gardening, living, sucking
the last of the rain from the ground
from tomatoes like water on my lips.
Post-its on table
disrupt the pink summer dawn.
Blue sky to do lists.
17.All I want_____
All I want is Peanut Butter Flavored Fudge
Sure, it's true that I'm on a diet.
The value of these balls of chocolate
rolled in peanuts with a layer of cherry sugar
on top is nothing but emotional.
My heart pulses for this concoction, this creation,
this temptation from the land of pants
that fit and runnable knees.
Right now, in the moment, all I can see is layer
upon layer of fudge, lining my stomach, sealing
off my needs for anything else. All else is ego,
all else is attempting to make everyone love me,
tell me they love me when in fact all they want
is for me to share my peanut butter flavored fudge.
My partner says the most crucial
thing in common between us, that keeps
us together is communication.
We laugh at each other's problems at just
the core moment when worry is about
to jump ship with death. We hold each other
when the cursed weather of our brain chemicals
make it too hard, too solid to chuckle apart.
I seem to drift toward the silence,
preferring the sighs and unspoken, the surreal
quality of being together and alone at the same
second. On Saturdays and Sundays, the ways
in which we spend as few words as possible
to say the significant things.
Between the wallet of his words and the box
of my silence, a static lingers and gives us life.
What My Fingers Know
I used to think she drank because she was angry.
Whiskey breath and burnt sadness smelled the same
to my heart. Every night, two fingers followed by a fist.
She was angry that I thought about her drinking at all.
Swallowed the crisp Whiskey until it soured her stomach,
tinged her words with sadness. Asleep, dreams dead.
It turns out I was the one who had rage. Fists pushed against
the page, making up stories of Rye and denial. The sadness
curdling in my stomach until my fists let go.
The story went into the publisher
made of grit and heart. A girl who steals
watches, told from the third person.
A Stitch in Time, a joking rhyme
with merit, though, and good plot.
Back two weeks later in my inbox.
"I have an 8-year-old and they don't
think like this," one editor said. "Maybe,"
another reported, "if she works on the fact
that the girl is said to be stealing but herself
doesn't feel that way about what she is doing."
My defenses rile up bile from my belly.
I want to shake my jelly fists at them,
"Don't you see, this is my baby! A tiny newborn
longing to live." At the end, one editor says,
"Please re-write with comments. We'd love
to see this again," and my ego takes a moment
off, my fist relaxes into fingers
as I pick up the pen and write again.
Mud pushes up between toes
Cell won't stop ringing
I buy books under the auspices
I need to read about writing
in order to write,
and I need to write
in order to teach writing,
Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio,
Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg,
Triggering Town by Richard Hugo,
The list goes on and on.
When I put the books down
that's when the real work begins.
Two rose petals lie
base of the Ikebana.
When will tulip bloom?
Where streets have no name
The hibiscus bloom on rust
It shouldn't be that much of an event.
Air trapped inside her lungs
tripping its way up and out.
Most babies do it daily,
adults can only be scared out of it
with pronouncements of pregnancy.
But she gets it a few times a day.
Cats can't be scared so instead she lies there
breathe skipping over her stomach
until her whiskers flinch
and we laugh. Who knows what gasp
will be her last.
Inside myself there is a cut wire.
in the tin can conversation between ego and its super,
who oversees plans for the day.
While one calls for tea the other demands work.
While seeking a raise, the other's a jerk.
On the vertical rise up the hierarchy of me
each give way and fall to their knees.
No communication along the wires
that cut through the trees.
Miscommunication between me
Around the edge of the rust
spread across the dumpster
like the state of Texas,
the new white paint traces.
This coat, which I slip on over
a container of trash,
tries to turn what is left behind
into a new sign, somewhere plants can grow,
someplace soil can make a home.
Peeking over the paint horizon
a little lettuce leaf waves in the wind.
If I don't eat him in time
He'll feed the rind of the late summer melon.
Sestina to a Dawn Death
Over the dawn lake, the college seniors rowed.
Susan tells me it's a fluke
that she joined the group. Never intended be at the bow,
paddling, stronger than her brother Joe. The sound
of her alarm clock at five
am bringing her closer
to God. She was raised close
to a Christian summer camp, but her family had a row
with them when she was only five.
One of the pastors threw his fluke
too far and it bottomed out the sound
they both shared. There's no repairing that with a bow
or a prayer. Her family became atheists, bowed
only to the morning sun, and she closed
her door to the dawn until twenty. Her snores sounded
like ships off shore, her brother told me once, rowing
and splashing and mourning, a whale fluke
in their shared bedroom. Never awake before five
after twelve on the weekends, five
minutes after lunch was over. Not even her brother's bow
and arrow with the rubber cup fluke
tip could come close
to getting her up early. Row
after row of wrinkles on her sheets, sound
asleep. Now the sound
of early sparrows gets her up at five
after four each morn. Rowing
is what keeps her going, tying bow
knots and pulling rigging. Closing
fish heads around the fluke
accidents of an awkward oar that, by fluke,
killed it dead. The sound
of her mom calling brought themall closer
together after their dad died. Five
tumors, all together, bowed
under the weight of each other.
Each other's voices on the phone rowed
them through the fluke of five
years of sound, bowing
grief. Closer than ever to life, the ultimate row to hoe.
Never Put off Today
Tomorrow won't be today
until it is tomorrow.
Tulips borrow only the raindrops
of yesterday and the sunshine on the lips
of the next day's dawn.
Never put off what you could do today
until tomorrow's today,
when the rays of sun
may be gone.
Rainy back roads drive
To get back home to see you.
Sun slit on your grave.