April 30, 2009
She stands beside me, stands away,
the vague indifference
of her dreams. Dreaming, to go on,
and go on there, like animals fleeing
the rise of the earth. But standing
intangible, my lust a worked anger
a sweating close covering, for the crudely salty soul.
Then back off, and where you go? Box of words
and pictures. Steel balloons tied to our mouths.
The room fills up, and the house. Street tilts.
City slides, and buildings slide into the river.
What is there left, to destroy? That is not close,
or closer. Leaning away in the angle of language.
Pumping and pumping, all our eyes criss cross
and flash. It is the lovers pulling down empty structures.
They wait and touch and watch their dreams
eat the morning.
—Amiri Baraka, 1964
April 29, 2009
Miracle Ice Cream
Miracle’s truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart.
Take what’s still given: in a room’s rich shadow
a woman’s breasts swinging lightly as she bends.
Early now the pearl of dusk dissolves.
Late, you sit weighing the evening news,
fast-food miracles, ghostly revolutions,
the rest of your heart.
—Adrienne Rich, 1995
April 28, 2009
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate–and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
—Gwendolyn Brooks, 1949
Something was about to go laughably wrong,
whether directly at home or here,
on this random shoal pleading with its eyes
till it too breaks loose, caught in a hail of references.
I’ll add one more scoop
to the pile of retail.
Hey, you’re doing it, like I didn’t tell you
to, my sinking laundry boat, point of departure,
my white pomegranate, my swizzle stick.
We’re leaving again of our own volition
for bogus patterned plains streaked by canals,
maybe. Amorous ghosts will pursue us
for a time, but sometimes they get, you know, confused and
forget to stop when we do, as they continue to populate this
fertile land with their own bizarre self-imaginings.
Here’s hoping the referral goes tidily, O brother.
Chime authoritatively with the pop-ups and extras.
Keep your units pliable and folded,
the recourse a mere specter, like you have it coming to you,
awash with the new day and its abominable antithesis,
OK? Don’t be able to make that distinction.
—John Ashbery, 2007
April 26, 2009
Tonight I look down
from the upstairs window
at the snow angel
I fell to make in the yard
now lit by moonlight,
What glorious wings.
What a tiny fucking head.
—Jim Daniels, 2000
The Tattoo Artist
I go to get a tattoo. A butterfly, coy flutter on an ankle. I take a little something to relax. I fear the needle, that gleaming serpent’s fang. But then I think of the tattoo artist’s arms, the way an amethyst panther prowls up one forearm, the way along the curve of his bicep a dolphin dips into a fantastic sea of starfish and seaweed, the way bright phantasm brood beneath his shirt. I call to say I’m coming. His apartment hums with heat. He smiles seriously as he lets me in; he’s naked except for a pair of shorts. And the tattoos. His body blooms with color: a tropical garden teeming with orchids and brilliant birds of paradise. A vine—riotous with scarlet flowers—snakes up one leg, glides beneath his shorts, slinks up the beach of his belly. His back fecund with fantastic beasts, a bridge between dreams and waking. A mermaid weeps indigo tears that transform into fans of diminutive fish. A Chinese dragon exhales a shower of stars. A herd of plum-colored horses, hooves sparking saffron light. Hallucinatory color, the electric glow of pigment injected beneath his skin. A palimpsest of symbols, illustrations from a trance. I would read those images like braille, my fingers, tongue traveling along the labyrinths of ink, discovering entire continents between his shoulder blades, along a thigh. I tell him what I want. He frowns, his face the only part of him unmarked, a blank banner flowting above the tumultuous images parading across his chest. Then he shrugs. “A butterfly, if you like. But it is so ordinary, so unlike you. Maybe something more . . . original?” I nod. He smiles and his teeth catch the light like pearls. A tangerine tiger shivers, tensed to leap from beneath bamboo shadows. A leaf green snake undulates on his chest. “Where?” My ankle seems an unworthy offering, too tame, too far away from those undiscovered continents of desire. I pull my T-shirt over my head, proffer one breast. And he busies himself with paper and pencil, and he rubs the pattern onto my skin. And he slips his hand under my breast, holds it reverently, as if weighing gold. My nipple hardens at his touch. Then the needle whines to life, begins its burn on my skin and I can barely hold still—it’s like an itch you can’t scratch—and the needle moves in and in and in and my bright blood eases out around it and I sink into the sea swirling and swelling on his arm. “Do you like it?” he asks, hand still cupping my breast, dabbing at the beads of blood and sweat with a cloth moist as a mouth. And I rise through his waves to see. I open my eyes and images surface like leaping fish. On my left breast, a violet flower blooms. Into its trembling depths a hummingbird—all emerald green and garnet—inserts its narrow beak, sucking the nectar from the flower’s long throat. The wings vibrate with the rise and fall of my gasped breath. The flower stems from a bottle green vine that fades into my skin. If I could only pluck that vine, follow it like a thread into the maze of patterns yet to be traced. I can almost see them, the ghostly phosphorous of tattoos waiting to be needled in, waiting for the hand of the dream master, the vision giver, the tattoo artist. “Oh, yes,” I say. “Oh, yes.” My flesh demands design.
—Lisa D. Chávez, 2001
April 24, 2009
when I watch you
wrapped up like garbage
sitting, surrounded by the smell
of too old potato peels
when I watch you
in your old man’s shoes
with the little toe cut out
sitting, waiting for your mind
like next week’s grocery
when I watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman
who used to be the best looking gal in Georgia
used to be called the Georgia Rose
I stand up
through your destruction
I stand up
—Lucille Clifton, 1987
I’ve not made much of a secret in my offline life of my feelings for our local newspaper, the Topeka Capital-Journal: I’m not a big fan. I think it’s biased and poorly written/edited. (Check out an example that made it to the blogosphere a couple of months ago here.) As much as I’d like to support local print news, then, I tend just to ignore the CJ. Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to avoid; today while I nuked my lunch I glanced at the front page of a copy that had been left on the break room table. The top two stories focus on Governor Sebelius and the national spotlight that’s currently shining on her. It only took a few sentences for the top of my head to come flying off (emphasis added):
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to veto Thursday a bill amending Kansas law on late-term abortions occurred at a critical juncture in her bid to become a Cabinet secretary in the administration of President Barack Obama.
Sebelius, who supports abortion rights but says she personally opposes the method of birth control, said the vetoed legislation likely would have been ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.
Now, maybe they’re paraphrasing words Sebelius herself used, but a cursory search makes me dubious that that’s the case. I think that sentence conflates — whether deliberately or unintentionally — abortion (the termination of a pregnancy) with contraception (the prevention of pregnancy). At best, it’s clumsy. At worst, it reflects an anti-choice bias. Either way, it frustrates me. And the thing is, I do think it’s possible to report on this issue without writing things that make my head explode (see this article from the Wichita Eagle). So — what gives, CJ?
April 23, 2009
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
—William Shakespeare, c. 1600
Out of the deep and the dark,
A sparkling mystery, a shape,
Comes like the stir of the day:
One whose breath is an odor,
Whose eyes show the road to stars,
The breeze in his face,
The glory of heaven on his back.
He steps like a vision hung in air,
Diffusing the passion of eternity;
His abode is the sunlight of morn,
The music of eve his speech:
In his sight,
One shall turn from the dust of the grave,
And move upward to the woodland.
—Yone Noguchi (1875-1947)