Sunday Morning Muse in Bedlam

I’ve been slowly and painfully reading Claudia Castro Luna’s stunningly beautiful book, Killing Marias (Two Sylvias Press, 2017), in which she celebrates in elegiac poems the “disappeared women” of Juarez, Mexico. Of course, these stories portray the same conditions that women in Central America continue to confront, conditions in no small part fostered by US policies. The added insult however, is that now families are being torn apart at US borders.

This morning I looked for my copy of To Bedlam and Part Way Back, Anne Sexton’s first book of poems, published in the early 60’s, which reflects on her first psychiatric hospitalization, an event that separated her from her young daughter.  I didn’t find the book, not surprising, having moved so many times since it was placed in my hands by a friend who saw the suicide in me, back in the seventies, while I was trying to make sense of having lost contact with my son. I had already swallowed Plath’s The Bell Jar whole, and was identifying more with feeling like I was crazy, less with how power and abuse were shaping my life, and just on the verge of reading/writing poems myself. I held on to the Sexton book at least long enough to remember these lines:

I could not get you back
except for weekends.

My son was kidnapped by his father when he was four; afterwards, the legal sham of a custody war dragged on for over a year. I don’t speak about losing custody of my son often or easily; the experience was too awful and left me with unremitting feelings of shame and helplessness. I identified with Sexton when I read those lines, my own poetic line for my relationship with my son was briefly, in summers.

And I think I know something of how the mothers feel, the ones whose children were snatched  from their arms as they showed up seeking asylum at US borders. I can imagine how terrified these children must be, taken from parental arms. The idea that some of these mothers (and yes, fathers too) were deported without their children, that others will possibly never be united,  is so unbearable. It’s been difficult to look at how close to home this has hit me. I speak for myself when I say such trauma leaves a lifelong imprint, one that never fully resolves; even as I pray for mother/child reunions and empathetic welcoming of immigrants seeking asylum.

The whole year my son was seven, when it was time 
to say goodbye, we both tried not to cry.

“Goodbye, I’ll never see you again,” is all he said
every time he went back to his dad.

 

 

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Update: 25 Years Today

Twenty Years of Dead

—for Jon (1956-1993)

There’s not a lot of love that isn’t brutal, but we

had our East Village dives that didn’t open for Sunday
liquid-brunch until 1 pm and Monday nights at the G&L
community center where all the boys were cruising and
you hung out with me anyway, and

your pâté, your miraculous leg of lamb, your
hundred layers of filo, and

your ten plagues, the infusions that didn’t kill
the germ that killed you, and how

after I met your parents, and
after I found the shoebox of postcards of martyred Saints
and slush pile of short stories you wrote in college,

I read your journals.

I should never have read your journals.

Your love was hilarious
and full of grand gestures and
caution tossed, and

Christ how we could talk smart and fast like 2 Jews do,
I could meet up with you after an AA meeting, count
on you to say good god girl, you need a drink, because

you knew you were going to die and you could say
things so brainsick as after I die, I want you to burn
my body in the street and eat my flesh. 


jon.jpg

 

 

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Sunday Morning Muse after the Poetry Festival

My day is permeated with a vague sort of sadness, making it difficult to want to post a Sunday blog. What to do with sadness? With the sense that needed words will not come or won’t be enough? Only the pull of being a part of the Poetry Bloggers Revival Tour, and Dave Bonta’s generous weekly postings of a digest of poets’ blogs, has given me the impetus (and by this I mean grace) to push into it.

Yesterday was “Poets in the Park” day at Anderson Park in Redmond, Washington. I’ve attended this event for the past 3 or so years, and it’s always a sunny day full of poets, music, running into new and familiar faces, and ice cream. I appreciate the enormous effort that goes into planning and pulling off this event, and grateful to live in a community where poetry is celebrated.

I was totally captivated during the presentation by our state Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, whose heartbreaking reading sent me searching for tissue. She framed her topic around children, reading poems about her own children, reminding us that we each harbor a child within, then reading from her book, Killing Marias (Two Sylvias Press, 2017), in which each poem is addressed to a woman named Maria who has disappeared or been murdered in Juarez, Mexico. While she read about other children and women in other places and other times, it was impossible to not feel a connection between her words and the despair surrounding the wrenching separation of children from their parents being perpetrated by our government in the present moment.

I crossed the water there and back on the ferry, usually a joyful part of travel, instead I found myself thinking about isolation and being cut off from the metaphoric mainland. Words often fail me when I am sad, but this morning I am grateful for the abundance of political poetry, truly great poetry, that is being written and published today. I think of these poems by Castro-Luna, but also of Terrance Hayes’ Sonnets, and so, so many others.  So many poets trying to raise a house together. So grateful to be a small part of that.

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What I’m Reading: Empty Clip

Empty Clip, Emilia Phillips (University of Akron Press, 2018)

At the publication of Empty Clip, this is how Emilia Phillips, introduced it on her twitter feed:

This is my “book of fears”

It is true there is much fear in these poems–molestation, animal murder, hotel fights, campus shooters, prior tenant on the lam, suicide,  self-inflicted gunshot wounds, and on and on, poem after poem of frightful situations and the poet’s responses captured in pristine time capsules. So stomach up, because the rewards here are large. Phillips has developed, in this book, the uncanny ability to put the reader right into the scene of the poem, through exposing meticulous authentic details accompanied by pinpoint emotional responses. You feel these poems as much as read them.

While reading, I highlighted a number of phrases–way too many to share here– that struck me as prophetic. A warning. What can happen. What does happen. What has happened. What might happen again at any moment.

Lie down,
said the grass to the sky. 

the same
stiff casualness of someone
pretending they’re not on guard 

another girl in the class said, “Girls
get raped all the time here  I don’t know why
this time was so special.” 

back when I was looking down the barrel
of days of grief 

how the bullet grooved clean into the skin below
her clavicle. A button hole
a baby’s mouth. 

So yes, there is pain, distress, frightful memories. You already know about that, even if you haven’t been as close to the barrel of a gun as Phillips has. This happened. Face it with me. Feel it with me. And so, make it bearable or at least help me to resist.

But. Then. There is the lyricism– the translation of facts into emotions into lyrics, a skill Phillips is expert at.  This is the balm of language that demonstrates how horrifying experiences can be digested, how poetic sense can be made of of terror.

I watched instead
the tree in your parents’ yard
sway,turning out its leaves
like wrists 

in the way we say water
is blue, although it has
no color 

it knows
me like tomorrow
does.
that a need lives
in lack’s because. 

We will never forgive one another
for being human 

 

But it is clear in these pages that we do forgive one another for being human because there is no choice if we wish to live. “Empty Clip” discharges the “Hollow Point” of life, by looking twice, by using a “Split Screen”. These are the section titles of the book warning us that there is always a bullet with our name on it and we must push forward anyway.

 

 

 

 

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Sunday Morning Muse on A Cloudy Morn

cloud, earth, sky, water

The lore on the Olympic Peninsula is that Summer starts on July 4th. It seems uncannily true. We have all day sun pretty consistently from the 4th through some time in September. Until then, during what we call Spring, we have amazing arrays of cloudy days, drizzle, and rolling fog. We’ll still have fog roll in on many summer mornings, which is why I post the rare gorgeous sunrises when they are offered, if I’m awake around 5 AM, which I usually am.

And, like the R.L. Stevenson poem,

In summer, quite the other way, I have to go to bed by day.

I’m from the East Coast, most people I meet out here aren’t surprised to learn that about me. But like many others, I’ve learned to love the Pacific Northwest. I may even have become a PNW poet.

 

When I'm not thinking about you, I learn the names of trees

I've learned to tell the fir from the yew; the silver
from the red cedar. At sunrise, there is a thin glint of light
northeastward where I await Mt Baker's frozen specter

careening over Discovery Bay. The lamps of Port
Townsend blink; strands of fog hang over fields.
Peckish deer nibble dandelions. I spare my lawn

for their graze. The squirrels, miniature and rust-bellied,
easily reach the hanging bird seed. I don't try to learn
bird calls, they come to feed and that's enough.

There are rumors of big cats. I've seen two elk—
one stared through me as if she knew my secrets, the other,
roadkill. You once told me my poems are too grim

and I should try my hand at something more pastoral.
I've seen powdered snow on Cedars, and I've grown
passably fond of rain. Everyday, the clouds amaze.

 

from “slight faith”, MoonPath Press, 2018
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Sunday Morning Muse Report

The awful year at work finally over.
I’ve settled into a less toe-curling job.
I've even started to float by drinking
water and dropping liquid tears.  Losing
weight is a losing endeavor, but I go
to the gym—occasionally—and lift weights
in the kitchen instead of noshing on cheese
curds. I stopped yoga but don't know why.
Perhaps one good habit must be sacrificed
for another. Summer fruits are a reviving joy. 
The weather has lightened up and so have I,
but I know summer solstice signifies return
of the dark. My niece almost died last week.
My cat reminds me to laugh once in a while.

What I am reading:

What Is Not Beautiful, Poems by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (The Glass Chapbook Series, June 2018)

This small book of poems can be read in order and in one sitting, a process I like to apply to all books of poems, but am not always able to. There is this joy with chapbooks, when good–as this one certainly is–in that their concentrated effect can be mesmerizing.

Starting with the picture on the cover, a small girl looking at herself in the mirror with a look that is hard to decipher. Wise and knowing? or tough and jaded? Compare this to the author’s picture on the back cover and you have the same face, the same expression, the same wonderment that presages the narrative of the book. When

He does not see, 

nor does the garden,
anything apart from
her beauty: the way
she spreads her petals to touch
the air. 

They do not see
the small tears in her
fabric. They do 
not see she could be 
mad, too.

The word mad– as angry, as insane– is transformed into insanely angry at the transient, and therefore cheapened, meaning of the beauty of a woman’s face, of “garlands of roses,  jasmines”, of grandchildren who “do not need you”, of being

beautiful 
then, if only
for a moment: there is
a mirror where my nose
is holy.

Although Talukder appears to be speaking of temporal beauty, these lyrical poems touch
very deeply on so much more– fragility, transience, love, how life and distance create scars and our dependence on others–living and dead and those to come– for our self image. Finally she answers her own questions with this truth

nothing is
as it seems, you 

will never know
if you are beautiful.

 

 

 

 

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Sunday Morning Muse with Book of Poems in Hand and

2015-08-25 002

if only

every day

 began

with bird song

sun warming my shoulder

coffee cup close by

book of poems in hand, and

purring cat on lap

 

What I am reading this Sunday:

Boyishly, by Tanya Olson (YesYes Books, 2013)– this is an amazing book, winner of an American Book Award, which I just picked up again and could not put down. Again. The preface poem, “Exclude all other thoughts” brings us mouth to mouth with a corpse in a intimate parable of how to keep the dead, dead.  These poems are  full of imagining how to be: how to be “boyish”, how to be in the whale’s belly, how to cross the street; “how hard it is not to buy a tiger”; how to be an “old, old, old” woman; finally, how to die “with a giant wad of love jamming up your heart.” Buy this book. Here. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Second Anniversary

Mourning after Murders

For the murdered at Pulse, Orlando 6/12/2016

I knew I was changed
when memories began pouring
over the disquiet and despair
tempering and cleansing me
into a dwindling bar of soap, shapeless as tallow
dissolved in a split stream reflection
reminding me that I was,

No, I am, queer
and, to my utter consternation,
(lost as I had been in hibernation)
still in need of some sort
of caress, some clemency
from privation, a sudden urge
for intimacy, for nuptials,
for the bonds of kinship—
to offset the horror.

The calloused pressure points on my soles
that once evoked tears were roiling again,
letting free sobs that embraced both loss
and longing. Don’t leave me. Please,
don’t leave me like this.

I even dreamt that my mother birthed
again, gave me a little sister to cherish,
and flayed my flesh, now unfastened,
to sprout this repatriation.

 

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Tuesday Morning Poem

Faith’s Cavity

Faith is the slight stalk clutching tight the baby tooth
to its root. If it won’t let go, a father might tie a string
and slam the door. A mother might calmly let it fall
among the bedclothes while the child sleeps. Some
find coin beneath a pillow once it’s gone. But what
promises the child another truth will descend
from this cavity to fill the hollow?

 

from “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018)
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Sunday Morning Muse in the City with Friends

I came to NYC to read from my new book, one reading Friday night and another this afternoon. It’s the challenge of writing poetry to find readers. But it would have been a lonely trip without catching up with friends here.  I had lunch yesterday with a friend that I haven’t seen in 20 years and it was delightful. I’m having brunch today with a new poetry friend and dinner tonight with another old NYC friend. I’ll be reading this afternoon at the G&L Community Center which holds so many (often sad) memories for me during the 18 or so years that I lived in the East Village. I love being in the city for a few days, but it’s exhausting. I do still have friends here, old and new,  and a high school friend now spends time here, so even though I didn’t catch up with her this weekend, I’m sure I will on another visit. It’s enormously comforting, after so many years away, to have friends and memories in the city. I’ve spent the last decade intentionally alone a coast away from family and friends, and I am more than satisfied with a quiet life. But sometimes I forget the context is that I do have family and friends on this coast that love me. That’s all for now.

 

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