Category Archives: poetry

Surveyor in New England, a prose poem

Surveyor in New England, a prose poem

And so, since there were no detailed official maps, he named small lakes after himself, solitary hills, even shy, dusty lanes marked only by the great thumping hooves of his horse — a patient, taciturn beast, dun-colored, remarkable mainly for the seven white spots on its flank, arranged like the constellation Ursa Major.

Back then, a hundred years ago, electrical-survey men like him sweated gracefully during summer, their cheeks burnt into dark Scotch grain, their hairlines preserved white as milk under the dimpled felt of U.S.-issue hats. Though he was the youngest of the crew, his moustache grew enviably broad and full, waxed close at the tips, bowed under his classical nose like the extended wings of a pigeon.

Reining to a stop, as he slid down, he pulled from the saddle-bags yet another wooden stake flagged with a length of wrinkled red muslin, kneeling to pound it into the rocky Vermont ground, leaving it there for eternity.

As he rode on farther north — past the tall flowering weeds around Lovell Pond, the drunken bees bouncing off his boots — continuing along the route he’d laid out for the electric poles to follow, he thought of his mother: the way her fierce blue eyes glittered on foggy mornings, the way his father caressed her wrist at the dinner table, and, above all, how skillfully she ironed, gripping the rag-wrapped handle, fluttering the heavy, blunt-nosed tool over the damp white cotton of his shirts in rhythms as comforting and certain and lovely as the slow tick of a butterfly’s wings as it feeds from the bright center of a blossom.

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Love Is A Wound In The Body

illustration liadan 7th century poetess nun

Gain without gladness

Is in the bargain I have struck

–Liadan (7th century A.D.)

Illustration erasmus holbein

But he who hides his sickness

can hardly be brought back to health;

love is a wound in the body,

and yet nothing appears on the outside.

–Erasmus, Paraphrase on the Gospel of John (pub. 1523)

illustration marie of france

What would become of her finer qualities

if she didn’t nourish them by a secret love?

–Marie de France (1160 – 1215?)

illustration mother of sumangala

A free woman. At last free!

Free from slavery in the kitchen

where I walked back and forth

stained and squalid among cooking pots.

–Mother of Sumangala (3rd – 1st century B.C.)

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Edie Sedgwick Discusses Her Early Years, a Monologue/Poem/Story/Lyric.

illustration edie sedgwickI felt I was Gloria, some angel living in her own hallucination of time. We were angels on LSD, on LPS. I was cheesecake, chocolate-dribbled, sexy & asexual, pop-rocks eye candy. Wrapped in a wealthy, yet tragic, past. DEEP BREATH. With my dreamy tones; those slow, hypnotic lyrics, my subliminal heavenly chorus of all that is female, the goddess inside us. Hypnotic, larger than life.

And so were the commercials. We really were all famous for about 15 minutes, but we couldn’t see that, all we could see was right now, right then. The atom bomb age, the Cold War, suicides, the Third World starving to death… children dropping like flies in Africa from famine. India, hit by an earthquake. Viet Nam cranking up, with war profits for the conglomerating corporations; divvying up the spoils of war. Kennedy, dead in Texas.

Be the girl all the bad boys want. DEEP BREATH. Sex turned into a Technicolor rock show, pure fantasy; turned into reality. People started living according to their own fantasies of what the world was like. The awakening grew harder; grew easer; grew harder; again & again.

Material wealth. An intoxicant. A drug. Addictive behavior. Spread it around. Moderation in everything. Reasonable assumptions? No? DEEP BREATH. Spell it the fuck out. Rules-based understanding. It takes me a long, long, long time to learn all the rules, all the techniques, all the subtleties. But when I figure something out, I have fucking figured the fuck out of it! DEEP BREATH.

I’m a dreamer; I’m a practical schemer. I’m a dreamer with a BMW; I’m a bad-ass schemer; I’m a waterlogged dreamer; I give up when there is trouble; I run like a rabbit. I dig in like a lion at bay.

Falling in love is wonderful. Once you fall in, take care never to fall out. Find something to keep your love alive… anything! Fasten on & fasten hard. In every way, so they say. Rumors fly. Determining actual facts is hard. All the shit I ever believed about myself came true. DEEP BREATH.

So, my body believes, at least. Next, to make my logical mind decipher the hieroglyphs. DEEP BREATH. Then my heart shall feel; then my soul shall live. DEEP BREATH.

It’s what Andy always used to say: artists are artists, no matter their profession or occupation or job or outward circumstances, and artists are the commodities of the very wealthy. DEEP BREATH. We’re all falling prey.

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The Latest Fashion: New Toilettes, a poem

illustration new toilettesThe Latest Fashion:  New Toilettes, a poem

(title and subtitles from an essay by Mallarmé)

 I.  An At-Home Gown in Garnet Velvet.

I receive you at my front door, formally, immaculately dressed, delicately arrayed, impeccably scented.  You think of me as I last appeared at the beach, tousled, salt-encrusted, and burned by the sun, dusted from scalp to toe with golden sand.  You see underneath my gown a double exposure — the natural, the cultivated — which rises up so that my two brown eyes turn to four, eyes within eyes, nudity within garnet velvet.

You think of wine, the vintner’s trembling hands caressing grapes, silently pleading with them to reveal when they will give up their most perfect secrets.  We live for moments such as those, we live to take up our wine in a crystal goblet and put it to our lips and breathe the scent of rain, sun, earth and sweetness.  Sweetness which has by virtue of aging embraced its opposite — sweetness which has given birth to tart recognition.

We are both innocent as three-year-olds and jaded as madams.  You touch the supple velvet, but what you are feeling is the smoothness of my insides.  I remember the sound you made, long ago, an explosive sound which you tried so valiantly to muffle.  The report of your exhalation was echoed in each cell of my body.  Garnet velvet becomes a skin I will shed.  Nothing before was unskinned.  I will turn myself inside out, only for you.

II.  A Hostess Gown in Gray Russian Satin.

 Together, we receive cadres of admirers — come to look upon our glowing faces, hear the way we laugh, breathe in the air of passion which surrounds us.  We understand this loveliness we display is not ours, rather on loan merely, a magnification of the same electric forces which keep every atom together, proton and electron and neutron dancing their way in a wild mazurka.  Those atomic particles, those rapscallions.

My gray dress hugs my body tightly, exposing each curve, revealing my body but keeping it a magnificent secret at the same time.  When your fingertips slide across my shoulders, the fabric moans, and the assembly gasps.  I can take no credit for my beauty, only for the courage to allow it free rein.  And I count every electron of your body, I feel the whirling clouds as they circle your atomic nuclei, endlessly proclaiming not beauty, not usefulness, but truth.

Please be advised you are in the presence of ananda.  Or at the very least, maple syrup.  Even the trees know.  How the sparks flew when first we met!  We confused the friction with dislike, at least until you saw me lick my lips.  Gray satin reminds us of the cries of mourning doves, the way they’d scatter as your car pulled into my driveway.  Such murmurings as felt like satin threads, pulled through my heart.  You came to me.  I will stay found.

III.  A Frock for Paying Calls in Plum-colored Faille.

We deign to visit the world, after a twenty-three year sabbatical, and everywhere we go the air matches my dress.  The moon becomes a large opal, the sky an onyx abyss into which I fall upward, tethered only by your voice.  When you laugh, I hear my father.  I hear the way he held me, our skin where it touched on fire with longing only for more bare skin.  He died too soon, and so did I.

My skirt is cut on the bias — when I walk it moves as the tops of the Australian pines moved that day you first kissed me, at the beginning of hurricane season.  You and I ask our hosts if they are prepared, but they don’t understand.  Once, you lusted for books — 27,000 of them — 19 cartons fit into your truck, each trip.  The hardwood shelves groaned under the beautiful weight of your hope.  Please, don’t read too much into the facts.  What do the pages tell you?  Do you remember when you hated me?

It is so difficult to construct a garment on the bias, I must consult experts in the field.  I show them the dress I wear, ask, can you make me the same dress, in the same fabric, over and over.  I want nothing varied, because in this dress is all the world.  My father has been dead now for longer than I knew him.  I still see his hair, iridescent red-gold feathers, under my fingertips, my nails painted purple.  I asked for you.  I found your succulent eyes.

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Night-Blooming Jasmine, a poem

illustration night blooming jasmine

Night Blooming Jasmine, a poem

After dark, anything could happen – each

moment was disconnected from the last.

There was no logical progression to our lives:

most events had the dramatic essence of a car

accident. One evening, my mother decided

to sneak out my bedroom window when my

stepfather cut her off. He was drunk himself,

but for some reason decided she shouldn’t have

more Scotch. I remember her butt, in white

nylon undies, decorating the center of my open

window. I both fretted and hoped that she might

fall and hurt herself. Another night, my stepfather

decided it was time to throw all the pillows away,

including mine, because to him they smelled like

“horse piss.” My mother followed, protesting

loudly, wrestling him for the pillows. She lost:

the pillows went into the garbage cart. This

happened in our front yard, on a warm night scented

with night-blooming jasmine. I watched the two

drunken grown-ups, distancing myself from the scene.

I watched it like a T.V. show or a movie. When

I try to tell people about these things now, I can’t

keep a straight face. The laughter chokes me,

renders me unable to speak. I am silenced.

They’re both long dead now… but I’m still here.

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This Road I Am Traveling, a prose poem

illustration this road i am traveling

This Road I Am Traveling, a prose poem

I used to think it was possible, even desirable to order the world into alphabetic categories, though I never dared cut someone open with such a blunt knife as you.  The most I ever tried was harvesting a few drops of blood — they oozed through the cleanly raked skin underneath my claw like rare jewels.

You do not offer help.  You are scientific, curious, high on espresso, perfumed with the thick odor of fatty, fruity soap.  You tempt me to weep on your flannel jacket, though you don’t for a minute pretend to love me — or anyone.  It is all part of your elaborate theory.

You ask me what it was like to watch her body go, you say you hesitate to dredge up old muck, yet you persist in an ignorant, wheedling way, pulling the raw edges of the wound farther in your fretful passion to get at the truth.  I can’t believe a word you say.

Death is foreign to you.  Open your eyes!  See mine, clouded with the desire to cause your enlightenment.  Yes, I recall a hundred details:  the way a hand is not any longer a hand after that last breath, just a heavy piece of meat.  I remember the stiffening of flesh, the way heat emanates in nearly visible waves from the stilled body.  Though as you observe, time has continued to flow, my thoughts have not yet moved on — you are deluding yourself to think they ever will.  Shut up!  Your sympathies are worth nothing.

There are a million out there who know what I know — until you have allowed the fleeting soul of the one you love to pass through you, risking the internal injuries, the scarring from radiation, you can forget trying to follow for your own amusement.

This road I am traveling is ice — I have been skating with my silvery feet for more than ten years, and though it grows ever wider, I can see no end.  I grow tired, but there is nowhere to stop.  Living is grieving — sooner or later, only grief survives.  Once you learn to skate down memory lane, it’s something you never forget.  Though my legs ache, I have to keep them pushing.  Still, the bare trees arch gracefully overhead.  This cold air burns, yet cleanses.

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Ode to Citizen’s United (The Corruption-Spangled Banner)

illustration citizens united

Ode to Citizen’s United (The Corruption-Spangled Banner)

Oh, say can you see by the sunset’s late light…
What so proudly we hailed at morning’s first gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars now doom us to fight,
O’er the ramparts, we watch, so miserably screaming?

See the money’s gold glare, FOX lies bursting in air?
Solid proof through this night that the hate is out there.

Oh, say does that corporate-stained banner now bleed…
O’er this fat land of ignorance, this sad home of greed?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of vast wealth,
Where the haughty one percent in dread silence repose,

What is that which the breeze, o’er slumbering stealth,
As it fitfully blows, FOX used to conceal, to disclose?

Now it catches the gleam of the twilight’s last beam,
Its full shame reflected now, blood-red in the stream:

‘Tis the corporate-stained banner! Oh long may it bleed…
O’er this land of ignorance and this new home of greed!

And whence the greedy who so lightly engage…
Wreaking havoc thru war and battle’s “solution,”

Leaving our home and ourselves forever in rage?!
Our blood has been sucked for foul lies & pollution.

No refuge can save us, now mere hireling & slave,
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:

And the star-spangled banner in despair doth bleed…
O’er the land of ignorance and the home of greed!

Oh! Thus be it ever, when sleeping citizens don’t stand…
Between their beloved homes and war’s desolation!

Cursed with intolerance and pain, will our troubled land…
Bitch-slap the one percent that birthed this abomination?

And bitch-slap we must, when our cause it is just,
And this will be our motto: “In gold is not our trust.”

Lest the corruption-spangled banner forever bleed…
O’er the land of ignorance and the home of greed!

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Pregnancy, a poem

illustration pregnancy

Pregnancy, a poem

(after Alice Neel’s painting, Margaret Evans Pregnant)

Puffy hands clutch the seat
of the ruffled boudoir stool
to keep the woman from tumbling
to the floor, injuring
more than dignity;

her cumbersome belly bulges
taut, looms over the
bewildered thighs
like a great question mark.
Around her delicate knees

are small white dimples;
the pulse in the blue vein
revealed within a pale breast’s
transparent skin
taps in dreamy rhythm and

though her hair is unkempt,
her eyes gleam with gentle
confidence, patient sureness
that she will pass through
the coming ordeal of body

unharmed, spirit intact; that
everything in the world,
all the movement both inside and
outside her flesh, will emerge
from its hiding place at last….

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Living On The Moon, a poem

illustration living on the moon

Living On The Moon, a poem

I remember all she had, stockpiled
in a child’s Easter basket.  Necklaces
of ivory, turquoise and amber beads —
hopelessly broken and tangled.  Cheap

metal pins, plastic bracelets, a dozen
stilled watches.  Dried-out jars
of skin cream, mangled greeting cards,
portraits of her sisters.  Often,

I allowed her to caress my face with
her trembling, soiled hands.  On the pillow,
my head next to hers, pretending
I was a small child, and she my beloved

mother.  Afterward, I scrubbed myself pink
with harsh soap.  In a moment captured
years ago, Brandy, her tiny poodle,
dances on his hind legs, his pink toenails

scrabbling against her tanned,
scrawny calves, a rhinestone collar
tight around his limber ashen neck.
She tempts him to please her with a bit

of bacon — herself very plump around
the middle, silver hair teased and
sprayed, a perfect bouffant.  You
would never guess then she was fated

to end up living on the surface of the moon,
by herself, without shame, without desire.
I must restring the beads, drape them over
a mirror, say a few words to her picture.

She will appear in my dreams nightly, dancing
with a small white dog, twirling her brittle
bones around and around until they catch fire.
She will sparkle like cut glass; gulping for air.

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The Evolution of the Orgasm, a poem

illustration the evolution of the orgasm

The Evolution of the Orgasm, a poem

Does the new-twinned cell, as it sorts out
one tangled rat’s nest of nucleus

from the other with its slow patient dance
of cytoplasm and membrane, somehow know

the sweet involuntary contraction and release
of its division?  An organism’s inner tension

promotes as well as restrains
total disintegration.  Is each duplicating

mitochondrion frozen fast in the stream
of its own powerful, mindless barrage

of electrons?  Life on a cellular level
is both straightforward and incomprehensible.

Could any physical laws possibly hold
resolute in the embrace of such rapture?

Was the orgasm the means of our worldly
creation, or the end?  Less can be more,

but not in this case.  Is what makes you
come so easily explained?  As usual, let us

personify:  she is rich-skinned, veiled
cool in a white ruffled nightshirt….

Well-muscled, each movement sure, swift,
with only one purpose.  Her hair is short

or long, pulled tight or draped loose,
but the look in her eyes is a steely

constant, it says, I know you. I have always
known you.  I will know you even after

your tired flesh has flown away singing
through the air like a frightened dove,

and your pale, forgetful bones have fallen
into fine dry grit.  In my relentless arms

you will learn to surrender all fears, all
your dark secrets.  Forever and ever

will I love you.  Is it any wonder we dream
of her so often, with such helpless longing?

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