I Will Not Waste My Life Part Two, OR: Inviting My Kid to A Friend’s House on a Sunday Morning in a Desperate Effort to Write

Long time.

The Kid and Me

The Kid and Me

It’s almost the end of National Poetry Month and I haven’t even posted one poem. This time of year is a killer: taxes, mid-terms, spring soccer, and a rash of birthday parties. Why were so many children born between February and April? And why do they all adore my son and want him to come for cake, ice cream, and super-fun activities that I’m sure I will never be able to measure up to come July, when L turns seven? (Though the climbing gym was pretty great.)

I’ve been remembering the post I wrote a year ago about Not Wasting My Life. I’m still fighting that good fight, but I’m also facing a lot of questions about what an unwasted life is supposed to look like. Should I be making lots of time to lie in the hammock, enjoy L, take long walks, and meditate—can you even imagine?!—or should I be working every spare minute on my writing, when I’m not being the best mother, teacher, and wife I can be?

I was sucked into this recent article in The Cut by Kim Brooks called “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom: Is Domestic Life the Enemy of Creative Work?”, in which Brooks describes her slow-dawning realization that it’s impossible to be a great mother, a domestic Goddess, and a dedicated writer. As she says, “Surely, I thought, there was no reason in the 21st century that a person like myself couldn’t be a great wife, a great mother, and also the sort of obsessive, depressive, distracted writer whose persona I’d always romanticized…I was so confident in this conviction, in fact, that it took me almost a decade to admit to myself that I was wrong.”

And if that sounds like a crazy thing to think, well, welcome to my head.

Brooks goes on to detail many things, including the number of terrific contemporary novels that take up this theme; and, most poignantly for me, her decision to cut out what she calls “the white noise of parenthood,” e.g., playdates, birthday parties, dance lessons, soccer, PTA, and swim class, in order to create more space for her creative work.

I read this as I was sitting at L’s Friday afternoon soccer practice, as it happens, an experience that, while mildly pleasant because it’s been sunny, and there’s another mom I like to talk to, and I’m happy for L that he’s got a great coach and seems to be learning a lot of good skills, is also a bummer—a bummer because we used to have leisurely Friday afternoons together at home, L doing his thing and me doing mine, until soccer practice became Another Thing We Have to Do.

I was already feeling a bit like the weird parent on the sidelines because I was distracted, watching L run drills just occasionally, immersed in my three-inch thick novel, a notebook and pen furtively stashed in my bag, when I turned to Twitter to see what was up. When I found the link to this article, I absolutely sank in—I basically swallowed my phone. I’m sure I was nodding my head emphatically and groaning like a crazy person. Because to say I can relate to the dilemma Brooks describes is an understatement. I live it. I nearly shouted out loud when I got the part in the essay where she quotes her writer friend Zoe Zolbrod:

“The truth,” [Zolbrod] says, “is that I think I’m a better mom when I’m not writing. I’m not writing right now and I’m enjoying the kids more. I’m better at home when I’m writing less.” When she’s engrossed in her work, it’s different. “My eyes glaze over or something when I’m going off into that other place, and my daughter notices it and doesn’t like it. Like we’re sitting on the floor coloring together. And I’m getting in my zoned-out space and she’s always watching to see when I do that. ‘Don’t make your face like that,’ she says. She just watches me really closely, and she’s less satisfied with what I can’t give her. She senses that I’m keeping something to myself. It never feels like it’s enough.”

I have written before about this dilemma, about this constant feeling of distraction and how I would love, at the end of the day, to actually feel done. To not be off in another place—writing a scene in my novel, or absorbed in my anxiety about getting published—when, actually, I’m with my husband and kid. But I don’t think, crazy as this may sound, that I realized that in order to lessen this sensation I could just say no—to a birthday party, or soccer practice, or piano lessons, or any number of other (arguably optional) parental obligations, in favor of myself, in favor of the selfishness a writing career demands.

As the late Philip Seymour Hoffman says in The Big Lebowski: “That had not occurred to me, dude.”

Had it really not? I mean, of course it had, in that abstract, not-possible way we think of so many possible changes we could make in our lives. I’m not totally crazy; I haven’t volunteered for a PTA board position or anything. But nonetheless, I have always been a little too ambitious, in small and perhaps, let’s face it, probably gender-prescribed ways. When I was in grad school, living alone, I did not subsist on ramen noodles; I cooked myself intricate meals every night, because it brought me pleasure, of course, and because it quelled my anxiety to eat well. And now, with a kid, a husband, and a full-time teaching gig, I still cook those kinds of meals, almost every night. I make my own granola too, and bone broth a few times a month, and while we have a house cleaner, she only comes once every month or six weeks. And somehow I became the room partner in my kid’s class when the other parent decided to switch schools, and I not-so-mysteriously ended up on the aftercare committee, too.

Perhaps, because this force lives in me, this force that tells me to be all things to all people, I have transferred this force to L, too, insisting that he not only brush his teeth every morning and have a healthy packed lunch, but that he also do his homework and practice piano and make it to soccer every Friday afternoon and again on Saturday mornings. And who is the person who reminds him to do all these things, who prods and nags and enables? That would be me. I am much like Brooks was before she woke up, which is to say—I have, for all these years, thought that I could Do It All; and in many ways, I have.

But at whose expense? Does L like this life? Do I? Would we both feel happier if we just ate frozen pizza a couple times a week, if I’d graciously let another parent be room partner, if Friday afternoons were still ours? Even if I didn’t spend that time writing, mightn’t I spend it doing the other kind of things—paying bills, tidying, email—that free up my writing time during the week? Or, God forbid, sitting in my hammock just thinking, exaggeratedly not wasting my life?

***

That evening after soccer practice, I talked to B about the article. “I need to carve out more time to write,” I told him. “I want to spend every weekend with you and L, because I miss you during the week, but I’ve realized that I can’t. I need to start taking some time on the weekends to write, or maybe even a weekday evening, because with teaching and all the other obligations, I’m just not spending as much time writing during the week as I need to.”

Guilt, that old monster, rose up. B, with his nine-to-sixer, has less time during the week than I do, and despite everything I’ve said above, that must make it sound like I bustle about like a charwoman, taking care of all the housework for my man, he’s (almost) as engaged in the domestic sphere as I am: he does most of the laundry, cooks breakfast most days, bakes all our bread, maintains our garden, and is as involved with bedtimes and bath times and all the rest as I am. A tiny voice in my head whispered: selfish. 

“So can you take L to soccer on Saturday morning?” I asked, even though I had plans on Saturday afternoon, too.

And, of course, because he is a decent human being, he said yes, and I spent the time in my studio, writing.

At the end of Kim Brooks’s article, she seems to come to a place of acceptance that all of us moms who write must, obviously, come to. She maintains her resolve to cut out the “white noise,” and, brilliantly, if a little unrealistically, she swears she’ll do a yearly artist’s residency—a week away, every year, just to write. But she also accepts that doing both things well is doing both things poorly: you rob Peter to pay Paul. You neglect your parenting, or you neglect your writing. It’s this elusive idea of balance, and you just have to make it work.

In my mind’s eye, I can see the possibility of an artist’s residency every year, and of saying no more. This life beckons to me like low-hanging fruit, just barely in reach. I’m not quite there, yet, though. I will, undoubtedly, continue to take on too much for my child at the expense of my own work: I’ll still cook these great meals, and feel guilty when I don’t return phone calls, and volunteer for too many activities at L’s school.

But I’ll also, I’ve decided, hold a little more space for myself. I’ll say “no” more. And I’ll think, as a friend reminded me to, to realize what I am giving up when I say “yes.”

This weekend, B was away, up in Portland partying it up with his college friends. So I had to do soccer; in fact, I had volunteered to bring snack (old habits, old habits!). But on Sunday, I called some other parent friends and asked whether they could take L for the morning so I could work.

And because they are decent human beings, of course they said yes. 

And there I sat, writing, enormously relieved to have put this down.

——

Further (Great) Reading:

Curtis Sittenfeld on The Pool, in which she asks why it is only women novelists who are asked how they “balance” writing and parenthood:  “The Secret to Work-Life Balance? There Isn’t One”

Aya deLeon on her blog, in which she posits that writer moms of color have never assumed that there will be “balance”: “Portrait of the Writer Mom as a Member of the Working Class”

 

I Have Wasted My Life

The view from my hammock

The view from my hammock

Lately, everything has felt busy. Sometimes I think this is the mantra of my generation, at this time in our lives: we’re working parents, we’re social beings, and we’re ambitious, and many of us feel like things are about as full as they could be. In the past year, my life has amped up in several ways, and it’s left me simultaneously dizzy from the excitement of it—I’ve felt, finally, like a real adult, a real breadwinner with a real career path—and overwhelmed by the day to day.

In general, I’ve been proud of the way my family has adjusted to me working more and L starting Kindergarten and all the other things we’ve added to our plate. B has become an extraordinary caretaker, making bread for us every week and planting the garden with veggies and folding all the laundry. L is a pain about doing anything to help out, but he’s five, after all. And I’ve loosened the reins on certain projects and I still manage to get a good dinner on the table most nights and keep us in groceries and a clean bathroom. Our life together has felt very manageable, and very happy, if at times a little too…full.

But something small can throw a huge wrench in the gears, and that’s what March was: this weird cold/flu I had that migrated to my ears and became a double ear infection. For the past month, I’ve had tinnitus (no fun) and this constant sensation like a valve in each ear is popping open, closed, open, closed. I missed a week of classes, which I had to make up, and once I felt a little better I found that my work ethic was shattered: it didn’t feel like much fun to sit at my computer and listen to the roaring in my ears, so I started to postpone grading and planning until the last possible second. And of course, when you get sick, you end up having doctor’s appointments, which means time away from work and writing, and then there are those bills to pay and meanwhile everything else continues unabated. I’m not complaining—it’s been an interesting reminder to me about the nature of life, and in particular the nature of my life, and now that’s it’s all getting a little better I’m much happier seeing it in a different light—but nonetheless, all the worry and sickness and anxiety and discomfort have been…disorienting.

And so, on the most practical level, I had a few days there where I felt quite firmly that my life was spinning totally out of control. I worked a lot over the weekend, just trying to get caught up with a book proposal and all the grading I’d been neglecting, all the while feeling like I was barely making a dent. Hardest were the liminal spaces, the hours and minutes in between classes or events, when I’d expect to accomplish small tasks or phone calls and for whatever reason, utterly fail. Finally, on Monday night after a full day, I spent a few hours catching up with travel plans and my son’s school activities (oh, how I had been neglecting the various appeals from the PTA) and filing bills and paying bills and generally trying to get my head to clear.

It was amazing how much better I felt once I’d done all that.

But one thing I still hadn’t managed to do was blog, here in National Poetry Month, of all times, when I always feel I should be blogging.

And then, a certain poem came barreling into my consciousness yesterday and I knew exactly what I wanted to blog about.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
© James Wright, from Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Vision (Random House, 1987)

When I read this poem in college, the professor asked us to interpret the last line. And I recall many of us, then on the cusp of becoming adults, saying that the last line meant that lying in the hammock, looking around, was a waste of life. I felt quite firmly that what Wright had meant when he wrote this poem was that he had been lazy in his life, that he should have been more ambitious.

How wrong I was. Now, saddled with all the things I’m saddled with at 41, bills and obligations and worries, I see clearly that what Wright meant was that all the noise we fill our lives with is, truly, the waste. Now, this poem speaks to me in a way it never could have when I was twenty-one.

And so, yesterday, after I’d taught two three-hour classes back to back, and used all my liminal spaces for phone calls or emails, I came home to a quiet house. I calmly washed the dishes, changed my clothes, and sat quietly at the table filling out raffle-ticket stubs before picking up L at school. And when we came home, and he decided to run off to play with the neighbor, I sat in the hammock in my backyard for fifteen minutes, reading The Remains of the Day and listening to the birds and the sounds of the guys working on the house across the way.

I will not waste my life.

It’s National Poetry Month! And, two great books of poetry you gotta read

Eliot was wrong: April is not the cruelest month (I have a particular belief that February is, but actually, I think it’s different for everyone). For me, March was a bear, since I spent much of it sick and am still temporarily (we hope) deaf from a double ear infection that’s lingered. So it was not with great sadness that I said goodbye to March yesterday (but it was with great sadness that I said goodbye to my parents, who, visiting for three weeks, made the month somewhat bearable).

Because I’m still digging out from illness, I don’t know that I’ll be able to post a poem a day in April this year. But we can celebrate National Poetry Month nonetheless.

Today, I wanted to plug two beautiful books of poetry that found their way to me this winter.

The first is called Where’s Jukie? (Absurd Publications, 2013) by poet Andy Jones and essayist Kate Duren. I met Andy at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February. It’s interesting to meet someone as charismatic and upbeat as Andy. He’s something of a legend, with his own radio show and a reading series in Davis. But his book is about his family’s struggle to figure out life with a child with a rare disorder called Lemli-Opitz syndrome and regressive autism, to boot. It’s a really beautiful book. Kate Duren’s essays about her son feel controlled and confident and wise, but Andy’s poems attest to the incredible doubt and difficulty of parenting a special-needs child.

Here’s the poem “Dinner” from Where’s Jukie?

DINNER

When I get up from the table,

you cry.

Our relationship is the most honest.

 

Sometimes with the spoon,

sometimes with the napkin,

I wipe the applesauce from your chin.

 

The crow caws to us

from the backyard.

You crane your neck to see.

 

At dinnertime your fingers

are dull tools.

You swat at the spoon.

 

Feeling gravity too keenly,

you sink into the chair.

You must be strapped in.

 

You look at me as if to speak.

Your eyes refocus before

you chirp like a hyena.

 

The wasps thump against the screen.

How they wish the door

were thrown open.

 

Sometimes your mouth opens

so wide that I think you could roar.

 

The wind shifts the vertical blinds.

You look at them and cry.

How I wish I could understand you.

© Andy Jones

The second book is called Thunderbirds, by Christine Penko (Turning Point Press, 2015). This is an extraordinary book. It’s poetry, but the poems are linked so as to tell a story, so it feels as much like a memoir in verse. And the subject of the memoir is a family riddled with dysfunction and confusion, and a mother who’s both observer and orchestrator. I came away–having not been able to put the book down, I should add–with great respect for the writing and the characters in the book. Here is “Science Fiction” by Christine Penko:

SCIENCE FICTION

Dazed by your news, I pretend

it’s possible for us to take

that summer trip we’d planned,

possible to leave our alien selves

locked in the battered house

I’d once considered a fortress.

In Sedona, it’s monsoon season.

Clouds boil against mountains.

Buzzards reel.

Words pass between our mouths, melt

into lozenges of despair.

The future is impossible to imagine.

Inside my chest, something poisonous rips

open, spreads wings, gains speed.

© Christine Penko

 

 

What I Learned from National Poetry Month, or, Trying to Get Published in a Major Magazine, or: How to Tweet?

After the intensity of my daily posts in May for National Poetry Month, I haven’t blogged much. I actually had a brief mourning period when that month was over–mostly, I felt relief because choosing the poems and blogging them felt like a very important task that I was constantly worrying over–but I also loved the feeling of being so connected with readers and poems. Many people wrote me privately to say thanks, and, as I said on the last day, I felt after posting those daily poems like I was reminded of poetry’s great importance in my life. My recent feelings of cynicism about poetry’s power were dashed in favor of a great respect and awe for that most underdog of forms, teacher of children and adults, reminder of the daily wanderings of the mind, irreplaceable, sturdy, delicious poetry, for which we should all be very grateful.

Image from mpclemens, whom you can find on flickr

Image from mpclemens, whom you can find on flickr

So have I been writing any? Not a lick.

In fact, I owe the esteemed Mike Dockins a postcard poem in a big way, but I’ve been very busy attending to other things: personal essays.

And brooding, of course.

I turned forty this past year, and had the important realization that, to quote a good friend, life should not be treated like a rehearsal. What would I have to lose, I wondered, if I just put myself all out there? More to the point, what will I feel if, on the verge of 50, I’m still in the same place I am now–mostly happy, mostly lucky, yet angsty about my writing career? I don’t have an answer for that, but suffice it to say I decided this year to push my writing in every direction possible until it makes sense not to. To be relentless in my pursuit of an agent for my memoir. To be shrewd, smart, driven, and careful. To keep at it. And, though this may sound crazy, to learn how to Tweet.

Yes, Tweet. One thing about this crazy stupid world of ours: you can become someone, sort of, through social media. I guess if you do it right you can at least generate interest, book sales, a following. And more and more, my rejections from agents say things like “I need someone with a strong media platform” or “You’re very talented but I’m afraid I won’t be able to sell this in the current market.” Maybe my work is unsellable, or maybe I just need to work harder, better, different, to become someone with more cache and power. So I’m trying both to get published in more high-profile places than poetry ever allows (read: personal essays in women’s magazines with huge readerships), and, well, to Tweet about it. Or something.

But back to the personal essays. And angst. A friend recently stopped writing. She said she was too wrapped up in ideas of her own success, too obsessed. If an agent told her her book lacked X, she’d stay up all night rewriting it. If a different agent then told her it lacked Y, she’d freak out and rewrite it again. She asked me, if your memoir never gets published, would you still want to keep writing? And for me the answer was a very quick yes. Maybe that’s crazy; maybe the fact that I am not yet published means I should give this up, but the truth is if I could do anything all day long, it would be write. So I’m keeping at it. For now. Until it makes sense not to. What’s my point? I don’t know. Something about perseverance.

The personal essays, wow–they’re fun. And raw. It’s a challenge to remember that while you can ramble and play with language all you want in a poem or a longer work, in an essay that will stand out online or in a women’s mag you want to be pithy, smart, funny, honest, not too cerebral but not too light. It took me a lot of revision to get the first essay polished up and tight as a drum, and I think it’s really, really good.

Now to find someone who feels the same and wants to publish it.

In the meantime, follow me on Twitter: @susiemeserve.

Onward, friends,

Susie

 

National Poetry Month, Day 30: Plugs!

Well, folks, it’s been a great month.

A living room. Where one could, say, sit in the sun and read poetry.

A living room. Where one could, say, sit in the sun and read poetry.

I’m going to say out loud something I have mostly only said in my head: poetry is a dying art. I don’t always believe that, but more and more, I do. In this world of blogs, tweets, and texts, we all have lost our attention spans. And poetry, usually, requires us to sit with things for a bit. It’s a hard task, and I wonder how many of us will still be sitting down to read poetry in ten or twenty or thirty or a hundred years.

Doing this blog all month, I have realized a couple of things about myself. I used to be a very dedicated poet. I inhabited that basement room where poets live: we were off the grid, into something a little off-kilter, part of what felt like a secret world, because so few others were in the room with us. And I loved it. I wrote many, many poems, some of which got published, many of which did not. I didn’t have to miss poetry because it was my entire existence.

Then, in 2004, when I cut out and went to travel around the world with my now-hubs, B., my relationship to poetry changed. When we got back to the States I decided I was going to write very seriously for a year, so we got a cheap apartment, I took a part-time job, and I wrote. The trouble was that I couldn’t fill the time. For me poetry happened in little fits and starts; I’d write all morning some days, and on others, I’d write for ten minutes. Or not at all. There was all that time. It was only natural that after a while, I started to write prose, which for me is something you can chip away at all day, all week (or for seven long years).

But I realized that I lost something when I stopped writing poetry: I had stopped slowing down and sitting with things in the same way. And I missed it. I still miss it.

I’m pleased to report that my long break from poetry officially ended when I started the postcard poem project with Mike Dockins. It ended because now I have an imperative to write a poem every couple of weeks. It’s not the same as it used to be, but it’s something. And it’s all coming back to me: that necessity of being slow, of being careful, even of being kind of frivolous and capturing a moment or an emotion without dogging it to death (as I do when I write, say, an essay). And I realized that the world really does need poetry, for that very reason. Because it slows us down, because it exists outside of our crazy world. It gives us a unique challenge. There’s nothing else like poetry.

Which is all to say that I hope I’m wrong that poetry is dying out, and I have resolved to help in that cause. Here’s how you can help, too.

Support Poetry Daily! It’s a great site, with a poem a day, and while I have not yet been featured there, I hope someday I will be. They’re in their spring membership campaign, and you can donate here.

faith-meserveBuy books of poetry! You can buy mine here.

Support your local literary magazine!

Support your local poetry in the schools effort. California’s can be found here.

Read poetry to your kids! Some of my favorite kids’ books include everything by Shel Silverstein and Judith Viorst’s If I Were in Charge of the World.

Read poetry yourself. In addition to the many fine poets I featured this month, check out T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, H.D., Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Ashberry, Gary Snyder, Jorie Graham, Louise Glück, Adrienne Rich, Cathy Song, Carolyn Forche, Joy Harjo, Carolyn Kizer, Heather McHugh, Russel Edson, James Tate, Dara Wier, Ai, David Rivard, Tomaz Salamun, Wislawa Zymborska, Adam Zagajiewski, Margaret Atwood, Rita Dove, Tess Gallagher, Marie Howe, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver, W.S. Merwin, Charles Olson, Cornelius Eady, Matthew Rohrer, Matthew Dickman, Michael Dickman, Joshua Beckman, Cate Marvin, Brenda Shaughnessy….the list goes on and on. Who are YOUR favorites?

Finally, good news for me! I got a poem accepted for publication recently. It’s forthcoming in the journal Rock & Sling. Stay tuned.

All warm poetic thoughts to you,

Susie

National Poetry Month, Day 29: Mike Dockins

Today on the penultimate day of NPM I feature my good friend Mike Dockins, author of Slouching in the Path of a Comet (Sage Hill Press, 2007) and the forthcoming “Letter to So-and-So from Wherever” (C&R Press, due out, we hope, in January). Mike and I studied together in school and have kept in touch for many years. He favors letter poems (there exists a seven-page poem called “Letter to Meserve from Orgeval”), and together we’re in the midst of a postcard poem project: he writes me a poem on a postcard and mails it off; I read it, write a response, and mail one back. It’s been great fun, and stay tuned because there will be more news on that tomorrow!

For today, please enjoy “Splitting the Atom for Dummies.”

Splitting the Atom for Dummies

America the plum blossoms are falling.
—Allen Ginsberg

The atom cannot remember its baby-
hood, when it was whole. At a state fair,

west of someplace, a muscled barker
whomped it with a rubber mallet.

This was the atom’s bildungsroman:
it traveled the world, splitting itself

over islands, atolls, & fishing villages.
The atom learned Japanese, composed

lucid odes to harbors, to wings, to light—
little flashes of genius piloting down

through bright mornings, alighting
on bookshelves as thin, papery Buddhas.

(© Mike Dockins)

National Poetry Month, Day 28: Franz Wright

 

Always, since I discovered him in my last year of graduate school, Franz Wright’s poetry is with me. Even during one of the times when I’m not really reading much poetry, I pick his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Walking to Martha’s Vineyard off the shelf occasionally and read “Fathers,” a terribly sad poem about Wright’s own father, poet James Wright, and about God, whom Franz Wright discovered somewhere along the way. My own faith is very nebulous, but for some reason when I read about God in Franz Wright’s work it feels incredibly powerful. I guess that’s the mark of an excellent writer–to be able to make non-believers into believers…or something.

Franz Wright’s life, as recorded in his poetry, has not been an easy one. There was alcoholism, homelessness, mental illness, and a great deal of other tragedy. Here is “Asking for my Younger Brother,” from Ill Lit. Enjoy.

ASKING FOR MY YOUNGER BROTHER

I never did find you.
I later heard how you’d wandered the streets
for weeks, washing dishes before you got fired;
taking occasional meals at the Salvation Army
with the other diagnosed. How on one particular night
you won four hundred dollars at cards:
how some men followed you and beat you up,
leaving you unconscious in an alley
where you were wakened by police
and arrested for vagrancy, for being tired
of getting beaten up at home.
I’d dreamed you were dead,
and started to cry.
I couldn’t exactly phone Dad.
I bought a pint of bourbon
and asked for you all afternoon in a blizzard.
In hell
Dante had words with the dead,
although
they had no bodies
and he could not touch them, nor they him.
A man behind the ticket counter
in the Greyhound terminal
pointed to one of the empty seats, where
someone who looked like me sometimes sat down
among the people waiting to depart.
I don’t know why I write this.
With it comes the irrepressible desire
to write nothing, to remember nothing;
there is even the desire
to walk out in some field and bury it
along with all my other so-called
poems, which help no one–
where each word will blur
into earth finally,
where the mind that voiced them
and the hand that took them down will.
So what. I left
the bus fare back
to Sacramento with this man,
and asked him
to give it to you.

Reno

(© Franz Wright, from Ill Lit: Selected and New Poems, Oberlin College Press, 1998)

 

 

National Poetry Month, Day 26: Dorothea Lasky

Boy holding book

Boy holding book

Today’s poem is by the talented Dorothea Lasky.

Dotty and I studied together briefly at UMass Amherst and she’s a love. Her book Awe (Wave Books, 2007) is beautiful and very compelling, and she’s published two more books, since. It’s nice to see someone, you know, making a successful go at this poetry life.

Here is “Love Poem,” which you can hear Dotty read via this link.

Enjoy!

Love Poem

The rain whistled.
.
A taxi brought me to your apartment building
And there I stood.
.
I had dreamed a dream
Of us in a bedroom.
The light shining upon us in white sheets.
.
You were singing me a song of your sailing days
And in the dream
I reached deep in you and pulled out a cardinal
Which in bright red
Flew out the window.
.
Sometimes when we talk
On the phone, I think to myself
That the deep perfect of your soul
Is what draws me to you.
But still what soul is perfect?
All souls are misshapen and off-colored.
Morning comes within a soul
And makes it obey another law
In which all souls are snowflakes.
.
Once at a funeral, a man had died
And with the prayers said, his soul flew up in a hurry
Like it had been let out of something awful.
It was strangely colored, that soul.
And it was a funny shape and a funny temperature.
As it blew away, all of us looking felt the cold.
(© Dorothea Lasky, from Awe)

National Poetry Month, Day 25: Langston Hughes

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red
her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumphets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumphets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like a pain.
Sweet silver trumphets, Jesus!

© Langston Hughes

National Poetry Month, Day 24: Jane Kenyon & Donald Hall

Last night I read a lot of sad poems. I love sadness. It’s not an emotion I fear, and maybe for that reason my favorite poems are often about loss, death, and grief (I have a major “thing” for break-up songs, too). And I got to thinking about one of the saddest poetry stories out there: poet Jane Kenyon, who died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 47 and left behind her husband, poet Donald Hall. The story is sad for many reasons; one, because Donald Hall himself had had cancer, and shortly after he learned he would survive Jane Kenyon became ill and died quite quickly; and also because of his famous book Without (Mariner Books, 1998), which is one of the finest books of poetry I’ve ever read and which has become something of a primer about grief. After she died, Jane Kenyon’s book Otherwise was published, and to read the two side-by-side–well, I recommend it.

So for today, I wanted to post a poem by Jane Kenyon, written, one assumes, when Donald Hall was sick; after, one by Donald Hall, written after Jane Kenyon died. To me, the two poems speak to one another beautifully. Enjoy.

Afternoon at MacDowell

On a windy summer day the well-dressed

trustees occupy the first row

under the yellow and white striped canopy.

Their drive for capital is over,

and for a while this refuge is secure.

.

Thin after your second surgery, you wear

the gray summer suit we bought eight

years ago for momentous occasions

in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap,

under the fine cotton shawl embroidered

with mirrors that we bargained for last fall

in Bombay, unaware of your sickness.

.

The legs of our chairs poke holes

in the lawn. The sun goes in and out

of the grand clouds, making the air alive

with golden light, and then, as if heaven’s

spirits had fallen, everything’s somber again.

.

After music and poetry we walk to the car.

I believe in the miracles of art, but what

prodigy will keep you safe beside me,

fumbling with the radio while you drive

to find late innings of a Red Sox game?

(© Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems, Graywolf Press, 2005)

—-

The Gallery

Back home from the grave,

behind my desk I made

a gallery of Janes:

at twenty-four, with long

straight hair sitting

beside me in my Piitsburgh

Pirate suit; standing

recessive in shadow

wearing her nearsighted

glasses, Kearsarge behind us;

stretched out glamorous

in her bathing suit

at Key West; foxy

and beautiful at forty-five;

embracing me last year;

front page of the Sunday

Concord Monitor

in color with the headline:

POET JANE KENYON DIES

AT HER HOME IN WILMOT.

(© Donald Hall, from Without, Mariner Books, 1998)

 

On a windy summer day the well-dressed trustees occupy the first row under the yellow and white striped canopy. Their drive for capital is over, and for a while this refuge is secure. Thin after your second surgery, you wear the gray summer suit we bought eight years ago for momentous occasions in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap, under the fine cotton shawl embroidered with mirrors that we bargained for last fall in Bombay, unaware of your sickness. The legs of our chairs poke holes in the lawn. The sun goes in and out of the grand clouds, making the air alive with golden light, and then, as if heaven’s spirits had fallen, everything’s somber again. After music and poetry we walk to the car. I believe in the miracles of art, but what prodigy will keep you safe beside me, fumbling with the radio while you drive to find late innings of a Red Sox game? – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23334#sthash.40xupYWM.dpuf
On a windy summer day the well-dressed trustees occupy the first row under the yellow and white striped canopy. Their drive for capital is over, and for a while this refuge is secure. Thin after your second surgery, you wear the gray summer suit we bought eight years ago for momentous occasions in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap, under the fine cotton shawl embroidered with mirrors that we bargained for last fall in Bombay, unaware of your sickness. The legs of our chairs poke holes in the lawn. The sun goes in and out of the grand clouds, making the air alive with golden light, and then, as if heaven’s spirits had fallen, everything’s somber again. After music and poetry we walk to the car. I believe in the miracles of art, but what prodigy will keep you safe beside me, fumbling with the radio while you drive to find late innings of a Red Sox game? – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23334#sthash.40xupYWM.dpuf