Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Meal Plan (8/6/06)

This is the age
of our convalescence
waiting for
and wandering attention
to soak in.

We are at an age
of re-absorption
of gauzy language
and forgetting how wounds heal.

In the age of
unnecessary procedure,
an unconsidered steam hangs
over exotic soup.

With those holes in your mouths
it is all you care to eat --
and isn't that a better deal,
at our age?

This one was written very shortly after I had my wisdom teeth pulled. I was away from home and, I think it's safe to say, feeling cranky during my recovery.

I was also thinking about the fact that our University's dining halls were "all you care to eat" facilities, not "all you can eat."

This is another one where several observations came together and seemed to give rise to a picture of the mood of a particular moment. In this case, in my self-pitying and possibly drugged state, that moment morphed into an entire age, a picture of a whole generation.

I don't think I've read 'Meal Plan' on stage since college -- I'm not sure it would make any sense.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Untitled (2/23/06)

Because of the wildfires
we waited for cigarettes
to burn orange to black
between the leaves
even after the rain.

Driving south to Texas
great black swaths
crossed the highway
but marked only the grass,
so yellow elsewhere, it was orange.

Now green near Houston,
"We got your rain,"
says Aunt on the back porch.
Dad's skin a pale orange,
twelve days in his memory
so dim, as not even to be black.

A title just never congealed for this one. I always sort of call it, 'After the Rain,' but I think that's pretty cheesy. In the margin of my journal here, I see that I toyed with titles that brought out the themes a little more clearly: "Potential Risk," "Fires on the Evening News," "Risk Horizon," but none of them sounded right.

It is about a couple of seemingly unconnected things -- illness, travel, wildfires -- that are all linked for me by a particular time and place. I felt the need to put them side by side to try to remember the strange feeling I had during that time. The colors, and the way the sounds work together (at least, I think they work pretty well), were almost coincidental.

The more I thought (and still think) about this one, the more they seem connected thematically too, though. All of the risky things move from far-off, potential risks to intensely personal, bizarrely real events. And I like to think the poem does the same: moves from the impersonal to the personal, from big, natural surroundings to dialogue and familial relationships.

Maybe. Again, there's a lot of coincidence in the construction of this one, and it doesn't feel as well-controlled as some of the others.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

After Dinner (7/17/05)

I feel like laying my face
on this slab of steak.

Will you bring up the recycling?
Will you mention the waste?

Its thickness is
the solace I deserve.

Fred would love this t-bone,

And who else could continue
to be so excessive?

The first stanza of this one did actually arise out of a moment after dinner, while I was staring at a leftover piece of steak. The absurdity of that image made me laugh.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Apology (6/05)

let me be quiet.

I will walk around,
baking pies.

I have to say, I laughed pretty hard after writing this one. The contrast between the melodrama of the first half and the absurdity of the second is definitely supposed to be funny.

But I had the privilege--and it was a wonderful experience--of listening some peers review the poem and consider it for publication in Brown's undergraduate arts journal, Clerestory. It was anonymous, so I basically got to hide and hear what they thought.

I was blown away by their ability to find meanings in it. Someone suggested, for example, that it was about the Jewish holiday of atonement, which apparently involves food.

I think (as much as I hate to paraphrase poetry) I originally wrote it to say, "I'm sorry, but I don't want to talk right now. The domestic actions I'm doing (both directed and flighty) are keeping me busy and taking the place of normal communication. I need you to read them that way." The reason I think the poem says this effectively is because it really doesn't say it. It's terse, abrupt and uncommunicative--very much my mood at the time.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

For Fred (6/05 and 3/07)

Man, Fred,
you are a furry furniture,

a french-fried
phantom feline.

Fat friend
with football physique,

a favored little fellow
for fetching.

Do not forget me.

rather rangy.

A rail-thin
ragamuffin, really.

Remember romping recklessly
when rewards were richer?

Rotund, rambunctious
and radiant?

You regret nothing.

engaged by my emergent expectation,

allow each utterance
to arrest your activity.

You acquiesce to our
accustomed understanding

as all vowels are allowed
to alliterate with each other.

Even unto the end.

Domestic decay
delicately descends.

Dust destroys.

Dander does damage.

Dogs do not deny death,
goddamn it.

But Fred
forgives everything.

Part I of this one was originally just the first two stanzas and its writing accompanied the writing of what eventually became 'Apology' (to be posted later). This was very early in my poetry-writing career--really less than two months in--and it's surrounded by some pretty bad stuff.

Not until February '06 did it become its current incarnation, originally titled, 'In Praise of a Schnauzer.' (I struggled a lot to decide whether Fred's dog-identity should be revealed at the beginning, and I still wonder this when I read it.) It was part of the spurt of writing that produced some of my favorite poems.

As I usually say when I introduce the last three sections, it became apparent, after I left home and came back a few times, that things had changed. Fred was a good barometer of that change for me, so his poem became this epic about communication and death.

The idea in the third stanza is that both our ideas of alliterative propriety and our communication with animals are conventionally determined--maybe sometimes surprising in the way they seem right but aren't logical or are messy and complicated but still work out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Notes from Mom (Feb 07)

I'm beginning with this one because it seems to be the most universally liked of my poems. Also because my dad googled my name and found it listed as a 2nd-place winner on this site. And he wanted to read it.

It's borrows heavily from 'I am Offering this Poem' by Jimmy Santiago Baca, which I was contemplating around the time I went to a poetry reading at Brown early last year. Poets reading there seemed to be very into the written word. I'm not one for 'spoken word' poetry as a genre, but I was very opposed to the sentiment that poetry could be left to speak for itself, without the reader putting much of herself into it.

The frustrations I had reminded me a lot of some typical mom-isms: "Why don't they stand up straight?" "Make eye contact!" "Get confident." And the poem began.

'Notes From Mom on Offering this Poem (After Jimmy Santiago Baca)'

For God's sake, stand up straight!
You are not an S-curve.

You are offering this poem--
you have nothing else to give.

Make eye contact
when you say these words.

Ask yourself their meaning,
and I will answer, give you directions.

Remember, you are offing this poem
because I have no other way to give.

Imagine publication! Bound in my name,
like I ever read to anyone but you.

Keep reading for the pathetic anticlimax,
for whatever you're worth.

Keep raising the stakes.
Say, "I am dying to offer you this poem."

Make them listen to me
even if you don't want to.

Remember, the medium is the message.
I love you.

I am offering this poem.
It is what I have to give,

and all anyone needs to live
and go on living inside.
This is the longest single-part poem I've ever written. I think it succeeds--despite its length--because it builds tension pretty effectively. (It was a late decision to start with 'for God's sake, since it's so emphatic, and I'm still not sure it was the right choice.) Basically, my method for writing poems is to write and then cut out absolutely everything extraneous. But I thought this one needed the room to work out its actions, which I'd like to write a bit about.

The first thing it does is conflate the speaker's reading with the Mother talking to the speaker internally. Several lines ('ask yourself their meaning/and I will answer') use pronouns that are deliberately ambiguous between the mother/child and speaker/audience pairings. (It's a blessing and a curse of English that 'you' is both single and plural.) Even that ambiguity not strict--sometimes the mother voice might be speaking directly to the audience, and so on.

The Baca poem is not only used here, it's also mentioned as an external object. That poem was (the only, as far as I know) one my mom recorded in her own handwriting and left in her desk. And that poem is presented as a comforting object, but it also requires the tragic absence of the speaker.

Both leaving a poem in a drawer and leaving your voice in someone's memory--particularly a child's--are ways of communicating after death. I think 'Notes from Mom' takes out both the warmth and the overt reference to death from the original poem, leaving only the fact that it is a poem; that it's being spoken here and now and that writing (of which the poem is one example) do have some great, mysterious power when it's given physical existence.