Monday, November 19, 2012

On Tigers in the East

"It is a well known fact that the great Emperors of the East kept, as pets in their courts, the great cats known as Tigers. It is a lesser known fact that the great Emperors of the East judged the value of a Tiger not by its size, nor by the luxuriance of its fur, nor by the beauty of its eyes, nor by the length of its fangs or of its claws. Rather the great Emperors of the East judged the value of a Tiger by the amount of debris it left behind in its trail."

- Samuel the Apostate, Adventurer and Historian, in The Histories

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Re-reading...

Even the poets agree, Gentle Reader, that sometimes, even a dictionary can make a good date...


I beg to dicker with my silver-tongued companion, whose lips are ready to read my shining gloss. A versatile partner, conversant and well-versed in the verbal art, the dictionary is not averse to the solitary habits of the curiously wide-awake reader. In the dark night’s insomnia, the book is a stimulating sedative, awakening my tired imagination to the hypnagogic trance of language. Retiring to the canopy of the bedroom, turning on the bedside light, taking the big dictionary to bed, clutching the unabridged bulk, heavy with the weight of all the meanings between these covers, smoothing the thin sheets, thick with accented syllables—all are exercises in the conscious regimen of dreamers, who toss words on their tongues while turning illuminated pages. To go through all these motions and procedures, groping in the dark for an alluring word, is the poet’s nocturnal mission. Aroused by myriad possibilities, we try out the most perverse positions in the practice of our nightly act, the penetration of the denotative body of the work. Any exit from the logic of language might be an entry in a symptomatic dictionary. The alphabetical order of this ample block of knowledge might render a dense lexicon of lucid hallucinations. Beside the bed, a pad lies open to record the meandering of migratory words. In the rapid eye movement of the poet’s night vision, this dictum can be decoded, like the secret acrostic of a lover’s name.

As befitting its clearly tongue-in-cheek nature, I'll largely leave this here, as is, without undue amounts of commentary.

However, I should point out, if only for clarity's sake, that prose poems confuse me, as I have always understood prose and verse to be two things. Why must the world alway collapse my categories, Gentle Reader? Why?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"I have no strength...From which to speak..."

I wonder sometimes what you must think, reading these words here, Gentle Reader. Why poems, and why write so much of love?
Why not, Gentle Reader? Why not write of that thing that makes so many mad? That drives so many to do so much?
Or perhaps, that drives so many to the point that they can not do any more.
I am a man driven, I suppose, and so I write. Most often on love.
A big thing, love. As big, perhaps as a windmill. And as hard to pin down, with a lance, or a word. Because maybe there are different kinds of love, or maybe different people love differently. There are certainly different kinds of poems about love, as I'm sure you may have noticed, reading these words here, as you do.
And this one, this one is different. But it talks of a kind of love, and what it says, Gentle Reader, just might apply to other kinds as well.


We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to   
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,   
just because you don’t know what work is.

Love might not always be work for you, Gentle reader. And stories of horses, and of windmills, for that matter, can't simply be bandied about. One always needs to be careful with stories, I know. But maybe there are different kinds of love, and maybe sometimes, you need to know work to know them. But they're there, and they are real, and they are good. So maybe Wagner is beautiful. More likely, Wagner is Wagner, and it's beautiful because some one you love loves it. And some days, those long days, the grinding ones, the foot-shuffling, rainy ones, it's no wonder we look for the beauty in the world, that our thought turn to those we love, and why we love them. Life sometimes gives us "the same sad slouch, the grin that does not hide the stubbornness, the sad refusal to give in to rain, to the hours of wasted waiting," but love sometimes gives us Wagner. I read these words here, and I think of love, even though you are not my brother.
What do you think, Gentle Reader, when you read these words here? Do you think of love, or of me?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Here There Be Tygers"

The Jesuits have argued for the inclusion of what I suppose I'd call subjective miracles in the Roman Catholic Church's process of canonization. The system currently only accepts medical miracles, which can be proven objectively (albeit with some difficulty). This change would allow the saint-makers to accept as evidence of someone's holiness other types of miracles, such as the saving of a failing marriage, the cure of an alcoholic, or having succeeded in something against all odds, provided, of course, one prayed for such a miracle to come about.

Life, of course, on the day to day, is full of little miracles. There have been times in my life when I forget this, and times when I wait to see the big miracles, to see the cure of the terminal disease, the Big Miracle.

You see, Gentle Reader, sometimes I get caught up in the ugly details of life. Deadlines, groceries, chores, and all the little things that seem like they always need to get done. But I forget, when I do this, that there is beauty in these little details. There is beauty in doing the groceries, to eat a nice meal with someone you love, say. Or in making the place you live in that much better, or a really well written novel. There is happiness in those details, if you look at them the right way.

There is beauty, of course in the big things, too. Adventure, romance. One can't get so caught in the details, good or bad, and miss that.

It is a small miracle, a subjective miracle, for me to be able to see those kinds of beauty again. It is a bigger miracle, although still subjective, that there are tigers in the world:

The Beautiful Animal

By the time I recalled that it is also
terrifying, we had gone too far into
the charmed woods to return. It was then

the beautiful animal appeared in our path:
ribs jutting, moon-fed eyes moving
from me to you and back. If we show

none of the fear, it may tire of waiting
for the triggering flight, it may ask only
to lie between us and sleep, fur warm

on our skin, breath sweet on our necks
as it dreams of slaughter, as we dream
alternately of feeding and taming it

and of being the first to run. The woods
close tight around us, lying nested here
like spoons in a drawer of knives, to see

who wakes first, and from which dream.

Miracles are like the beautiful beast here, which, because they too depend on a certain point of view, a certain outlook, to make them valuable. Details, and miracles, depend on who wakes first, from which dream.

Thank you for showing me the miracles again, Gentle Reader.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"But I never had the feeling I could offer that to you"

I hear someone say, the other day, that to be in love at 16 was the greatest of all things possible. He said he knew it was true love, that he didn't believe those who cautioned otherwise, those calling it puppy love, those who mocked him for it.
Love is a strange thing, Gentle Reader. It can come upon us at strange times, and in strange places. The woods, say. When we're bleeding, maybe. There could be a horse. Or holding someone's hand during a blood test. Anytime, really.
I've been thinking, lately, about an advice column I happened across, as I boldly attempted, as I do every day, to read the entire Internet. The column suggests that a life without love isn't really a life at all. Or, rather, a life where one gives up on love, even the possibility of it, where one loses hope in love all together, isn't really a life.
It's a good read.
It's gotten me thinking, I suppose, about love. Granted, this is not new. Love is something I often turn my thoughts to, and not just in the springtime. Thus:

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,  
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:  
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,  
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries  
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,  
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose  
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,  
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,  
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,  
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

Love can be dangerous, gentle reader. It can be sharp, and cruel. To love, when it goes badly, can be the worst of all human experience.
However, and this is one of those big "However's" of life, if it goes right... If you find the one who loves you back...
I'm not sure if Neruda has found that someone to love him back here. Is his secret love, one of obscure things, "between the shadow and the soul", a hidden love? Is it the love one might never have the feeling one could offer to you? Or is it simply a love that is free from the conventions of modern life, not the over-the-top RomCom love, not the Bodice-Ripping love so often encountered? Perhaps not even the love we so often see in poetry, and that so often catches my eye here, that my Muse seems to want me to see more than others? 
Neruda's love strikes me as a different sort. Of course, Neruda himself might not know himself what sort of love he has, as he loves "without knowing how, or when, or from where", and knows no other way. That may be the truth of love. Who, I wonder, is to say?
Gentle Reader, this seems to me like a fine way to love, no? Like the love, the true love, of a 16 year old, who is sure, beyond all things, that his love is pure. Perhaps I, you, and all our inner 16 year olds should strive to love "directly without problems or pride", and above all not give up on a live where love is possible.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On Ghosts...

I can do a lot of things with the past. I can look back at it, from the vantage point of the present, and attempt to make some sense of it. I do this by times. Or I can try to retell the past, to myself, or anyone else who will listen. Not everyone will. I try not to do this anymore. It smacks of dishonesty to me now, although it did not always. Of course, I can forget the past. Wipe it from my mind, condemn it the the dark places of history. And hope that no one ever finds it there. I no longer deliberately do this, either. Although I've forgotten large swaths of my past, I did not do so directly. Deliberately, maybe. Directly, no.

The one thing, gentle reader, that I can't do with the past, try as I might, is change it. Despite my best attempts, there it remains, staring back at me across the abyss of time. Grim, non? Some of you surely, feel no particular need to escape your past, and wonder why I should want to.

What if there was a way, Gentle Reader, to change the past? What if there was some power, the power of a good story, say, that could banish from the past all the ghosts that linger there, tethered by strange desires?

On the subject of ghosts:

On the day we moved in, the pings, bumps, and snaps
Were scary, it's true, but probably normal;
A house accepting new patterns of weight
With protest, the way no conviction goes gently.
We laughed a little, and called it "our spirit."

Later that night, when the power conked out
And the kids were crying, the ghost got a name,
"Daniel," and a history of whispered exploits,
All of them harmless, like nursery rhymes,
Or like the little fibs we tell ourselves
To explain why this or that has led to suffering.

Pretty soon, we were using him for everything.
When the Christmas tree fell, it was "Daniel";
When my wife lost her ring, it was "Daniel";
When the kids forgot to feed the goldfish
And it turned up dead, its eyes silvered over
Like water shadowed under sheets of ice,

Well, that became Daniel too, which was curious;
And pauses me now as I make the long walk
Down the hall to the bathroom in darkness,
And hear, in soft concert, the sound of my footfalls
Answered at once by my children's voices

Still calling to Daniel behind their door.

Daniel is not, of course, quite the same as the ghosts I made reference to earlier. Still, he seems to be an accurate portrayal, to me, of how these things work. They are convenient for a time, funny even, until all at once they are too real, and something shifts, in perception, or in reality, and you are faced with some painful realization. The father here sees in Daniel his own mortality, and further, the growing distance between himself and his children. Your ghosts might remind you of other things. But they are real, Gentle Reader, and maybe I'd better start thinking of an awfully good story to make them go away. I wonder if my Muse would want to help?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Tell me all the things you want to do"

On the bus the other day, I saw a woman reading a book entitled something like "Ghost Hunters and Graveyards." Silly woman, I thought, believing in ghosts. Then, without thinking much more about it, I returned to my own book on Catholic Saints.

I suppose this all ties in to a larger internal monologue I've been having for a while now. I know some people who don't, on the whole, seem as concerned with death as I am. I also am not nearly so concerned with human mortality as I was a few years ago. But I still seem to come up against it an awful lot. Could be something in the water, I suppose.

Recently, I told someone about what I do here these days (the poetry bit, not the silence), and she suggested that it was a form of bibliomancy. She is, I suppose, correct, and somewhere, I knew that. Like with the poets, though, sometimes I need someone else's word to complete my thoughts. Like I sometimes need my Muse to help me break the silence, to use those other words. Gentle Reader, if you do not yet have a Muse, I cannot stress enough how lovely they are to have. I love mine, and you should find one of your own.

Bibliomancy or no, butter always hold my attention, and so this one was doubly arresting:


What every painter knows, but most others forget
is how bright colors dim in artificial light

and lobster tastes most fresh
the nearer to death
you set your teeth into the lobster’s flesh.

All jokes aside, the grim simplicity of Allen's lines here stopped me dead in my net-surfing tracks, to stare mute for a moment at the screen. Death, as I mentioned to A. today, makes me profoundly uncomfortable. So simple here, the lines, that maybe these borrowed words can be left on their own.

Not so much those of a few days previous:


Can't swim; uses credit cards and pills to combat intolerable feelings of inadequacy;
Won't admit his dread of boredom, chief impulse behind numerous marital infidelities;
Looks fat in jeans, mouths clich├ęs with confidence, breaks mother's plates in fights;
Buys when the market is too high, and panics during the inevitable descent;
Still, Pop can always tell the subtle difference between Pepsi and Coke,
Has defined the darkness of red at dawn, memorized the splash of poppies along
Deserted railway tracks, and opposed the war in Vietnam months before the students,
Years before the politicians and press; give him a minute with a road map
And he will solve the mystery of bloodshot eyes; transport him to mountaintop
And watch him calculate the heaviness and height of the local heavens;
Needs no prompting to give money to his kids; speaks French fluently, and tourist German;
Sings Schubert in the shower; plays pinball in Paris; knows the new maid steals, and forgives her.

Note, Gentle Reader, the sheer perfection of the pun in "Still, Pop can always tell the subtle difference between Pepsi and Coke." When discussing bibliomancy and the borrowing of words, the topic of fathers happened to come up. My interlocutor's father was named Buddy as well (mine, more formally, was Bud. Buddy to his friends, though). My father was not, in many ways, like this Pop of Lehman's. But the sense of him is there. The idea of him. And that, Gentle Reader, made me stare even more mutely at the screen than buttered lobster had.