LOVE POEM #53 – BLUE EYES

They look like the summer sky at midday

dotted with lazy summer clouds,

or perhaps like the arctic frost in spring

as it sheds from winter’s grasp.

Yet without the warmth of your coy smile

or the hymn in your flowered voice

I can’t shake that the icy glare you’ve got

means lonely nights for me ahead.

Which makes me think to Vivaldi’s Seasons:

that in your eyes I can find life.

That I can find the fresh roots of new spring

and summertime jingles that birdies sing

mixed in with the faded red leaves of fall

before winter comes to bury it all.

And that hidden beneath these vibrant songs

is the love you held for me all along.

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I’m posting away from home right now, so I can’t link my normal stuff below!

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BROKEN NEWS

They broke The News with “breaking news,”

Trying to give us some breaking blues.

Trying to give us our just desserts.

And turning our children into perverts.

 

This just in: a black cat’s stuck in a tree,

and why it’s his fault will be on at three.

And come three o’clock, you know what they said?

That all black cats have it wrong in the head.

 

The clock strikes ten on Tuesday at the bar,

and the TV asks where my children are.

Me, who spent his pay on Satan’s water.

Prob’ly good that I don’t have a daughter.

 

Then again, there’s a fat man two seats down,

red cheeked because his daughter “dates a brown.”

He’s been drunk since that program on the cat,

and applauded when it fell in a splat.

 

But nowadays, that’s a good Christian man:

Claiming that he knows the depth of God’s plans.

——

 

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THE RED RIVER

For the past three weeks, traces of red liquid had been found in the clear blue waters of the rivers, growing more solid with each passing day. At first, it was just a whisk, like a droplet falling in a cup, before it disperses and becomes unnoticeable. Then eventually, the water began to darken, from blue, to purple, to a beautiful shade of red wine. When it hit that shade, the water became undrinkable, and we knew we had to find out what was going on.

We began our trek up the river, to see what we could find. A few days later, it morphed into a bright, angry red, like a vicious sunburn. Eventually, we came to a massive forest, and followed the red river in. It was dark, like night, spackled with the occasional beam of sunlight peaking from in between tree branches. It was enough to light they way, but hardly bright. The angry red of the river looked more like smoldering ash in the dark. We began to worry when the sunbeams grew thin and orange—it meant the sun was going down, and all sorts of things could inhabit the forest.

We made camp, set up a fire, and picked roles for the watch. Mine was the last, which I was thankful for. It was easier to sleep through most of the night, and simply stay awake, than it was to sleep for a short three hours, wake up to keep watch, then sleep again. My eyes had glazed over by the time the first beams of sunlight touched down through the trees. It was like a heavenly ascension piercing through the heart of the darkness.

We kept this routine for another two days, marching through treacherous pitfalls and shifting terrain. All the while, we kept along the river, following its unexpected. It was growing wider, which we took to mean we were getting close to its source. A few hours later, the river widened into a lakebed, with a massive red waterfall, which, as it smashed into the lake, created a thin, red mist. The waterfall itself seemed to stretch off into the distance, far above the trees above us.

The unexpected base of the cliff met us as we drew closer, and we began our ascent upward. The way up was full of dangers, but eventually we crossed the upper threshold of the trees. The break of sunlight on our faces was soothing, as a cool glass of water is to a man returned from a desert. We could see the top, not far above the trees, and took the last hundred meters quickly.

When we reached the top, we were awestruck by the sight before us. Lodged in the middle of a massive lake—ten times the size of the one below us—was an enormous heart. It looked almost like a titanic boulder, bigger in size than any we had ever seen, beating fiercely, as though whatever body it had inhabited had been running for miles before.

And it was split in two, held weakly together by tethers at the bottom. From the center of the split sides, it was gushing blood like a fountain, pouring tons into the water around it by the second. The air stank of rot and decay, but the heart showed no signs of weakness. It was incredible to see something so full of life yet so broken. All we could do was stand there still, looking on amazed and frightened.

——

 

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CRITIQUING BILLY COLLINS

So, I just got back from USC this past weekend after my month at the USC/LARB publishing workshop, which was an absolutely amazing experience. The people at the Los Angeles Review of Books are all extremely outgoing and kind. They clearly care about the value that every publisher brings to the table—we heard from smaller presses like Angel City Press and Tia Chucha, as well as massive corporations like Netflix and Amazon, and all the magazines, authors, and so on in between.

It was this constant dedication to diversity that made me wish to discuss the work of Billy Collins today briefly. Specifically, I wanted to talk about the poems in The Rain in Portugal, since I just finished it and it is fresh in my mind still. I should preface this with A) that I have not read all his work—in fact this is the only collection of his work that I have read, so take what I say with a grain of salt and B) that I really enjoyed his work. Like it was some of the most inspiring, thought provoking poetry I have ever read.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk about the issue I have with the collection. The issue I have found is that, in many cases, Collins provides only a male-centeric narrative to his poems. Under the Stars, Cosmology, and A Day in May (also titled “May Day”) I think illustrate this issue the best. Under the Stars portrays a person, who is most likely a man, pissing under the stars. While the overall message is to find tranquility in the most unusual of areas, the emphasis on fraternity creates a sort of in-group versus out-group mentality, where the reader may feel alienated if they lack a penis.

Similarly, Cosmology paints the image of the world resting on a variety of unusual pictures (the infinite backs of turtles, for example). Collins decides that placing the world on the back of Keith Richards, holding a bottle of Jack Daniels and smoking a Marlboro cigarettes is the ideal place to rest the world. Of course, this is meant to create humor, but the decision continues to uplift the male narratives. Which isn’t necessarily bad, until Collins begins to represent women to the contrary.

In Collins work, women often become objects. A poem is personified as a woman, for example. And truthfully, it is extremely romantic and lovely to read. But it also can be one-dimensional. One example of this is in A Day in May, in which Collins highlights a girl telling him “have a nice day.” In his brief commentary afterwards, he mentions this statement as being “an irritant” because the girl could not possibly know how good the day was already. Yet to describe her as an irritant seems unfair. She was simple a cashier doing her job, and being polite about it at that. This representation presents women as “lesser” people. Which I think is on the border of cruel.

Anyways, that’s just my opinion. I still adore his poetry—I just ordered a couple more of his collections. But I still think that we can do better—or at least should be aware of the problems that exist even at the highest branches of poetic form. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

 

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NEWLYWEDS IN FLIGHT

A quick intro before this short poem today. I wrote it as a response to “The Bard in Flight” by Billy Collins. You should definitely read that, too. 🙂 Ok, anyways, here it is:

 

Newlyweds in Flight

On the plane,

across from Billy and the Bard

was a newlywed couple

voyaging on their honeymoon travels,

 

and when the shock of turbulence

caused an echo of whispered fear,

he was comforted that his hand

held more than just history.

——

 

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DEFEATED BEFORE BREAKFAST

When I woke up, I was already defeated. The thick, mass of blankets pinned me down, while waves of lethargy threatened to drown me beneath them. My eyes felt hazy, as though I had awoke intoxicated by some unknown drug, and every muscle in my body seemed to whisper stay just a little while longer. Gravity itself pulled me back toward the warm confines of the bed when I finally rocked myself up.

And as I stumbled about my room, the cozy grooves of the carpet felt like roots, begging me to drink their nutrients and become a tree. The shivers of cool air whisking through the window cut me deep in my nudity, as if to order me back to bed. The same was true for the bathroom tiles, the shock of frigid water, and the hasty toweling off. I looked at myself in the mirror—might I mention that looking in the mirror in the morning is never a good idea. My salt and pepper beard was scruffy; I looked older than I was. Though, in truth, I felt older than I looked. Which meant, that morning, I could only conclude that I had no idea how old I was, but that “old” was certainly the correct descriptive word.

Looking in that mirror was the last twist of the knife though. It was like watching the walls of Constantinople crumble, or the Russian winter cripple Napoleon’s armies. I saw myself—my sunken eyes, my wrinkled arms, and my weakened knees—and the miniscule warmth in my heart was snuffed out. I picked up the phone and dialed some numbers.

“Hello?” A familiar female voice called out to me.

“Hi, Allie, it’s Jim. I’m not feeling well today. I’ve got a 103 fever, and I’m not going to make it in today.” I could hear the pause as she typed out a few things

“Well hi Jim. I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well, but didn’t you get the email?” There was a note of sorrow in her voice.

“What email?”

“Oh. Well they rescheduled you. You don’t have to come in until tomorrow at five.”

“Oh. Well thanks for telling me. When did they send out the email?”

“This morning,” my heart stung with annoyance as she spoke, “don’t you check everyday?”

“No. Do you?”

“Hmm well you should.” She sounded bored.

“Well, thanks for telling me that,” I said, “talk to you later.”

“By Jim!” then the phone clicked off.

I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up. They had cooled since I had left them. At least my defeat didn’t actually cost me anything.

——

 

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LOVE POEM #49 – SCHADENFREUDE

The Germans made this lovely noun,

which we adopted into English

somewhere in the mid 19th century,

precisely so I could talk about you today

 

with the utter respect you deserve.

You have spoiled me these past years

with your tantalizing lips, your perfect

hair, and your illustrious body. Too long

 

have you called me your sun and stars

behind closed doors and through keyholes

only to remind me that when we walked,

we could never walk together. Not while he

 

paid your rent. Not while you needed him

to get through college. Life is expensive.

That’s what you told me on the mattress

between sweat sessions in the apartment

 

last Tuesday morning before classes. Yet

the only expense I suffer is your big smile

every time you see me down the hall,

trying my best not too look at him

 

standing with his hands on your hips.

You don’t even hesitate to reach up

and pluck a ripe, juicy kiss from him then,

just to make my day taste sour.

——

 

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FEELING LOST ON THE BEACH

“When did I start walking? I don’t really remember…” my voice trailed off as I looked into the distance. The old man had pulled up along side me just as I noticed the sun was setting. He was a short fellow, but had a certain youthful spring to his step.

“Well, if you don’t remember when you started walking, do you remember why?” The smile hidden inside his beard broke into a laugh. He reminded me of my childhood house cat in that way. He was scruffy, in a well-worn Hawaiian shirt and loose cargo pants, with a deep tan.

“I don’t really remember that either,” I said. I turned my attention to where I was. We were along the beachside, at sunset, walking at the edge of the sand and the sidewalk. The last thing I remembered was tying my shoes in the morning—yet when I looked down to see them, I saw only my bare feet. And had it been this morning?

“Well, you don’t know why you’re here, or how long you’ve been going where you’re going, but you’re still going somewhere. Ain’t that something else? Next thing you’ll tell me, you don’t even remember your name.”

“My name is Adam,” I said.

“Adam is it?” the old man replied. He pulled his beard between his thumb and index finger thoughtfully. “Adam has always been a favorite name of mine. Good strong name.”

“I’m not sure I’d describe myself as a strong man,” the words fell out of my mouth before I had even thought of them.

“Oh,” the man looked at me curiously, “and why is that?” I stared off into the distance again, unsure how to proceed. The relatively flat surface of the beach had turned into an uphill climb as we approached the dunes.

“I’m not sure,” I said finally, “perhaps that’s why I’m walking?” I smiled at him. A look of hesitant concern crossed his face.

“Could be, Adam. It’s no old geezer like me’s business, but I think maybe you’re feeling lost.”

“What gave you that impress—” his tone turned stern, in the way a grandparent’s does when they need to teach a lesson, but without making their grandchildren cry.

“Now don’t go interrupting me, Adam,” he wagged a meaty finger in my face, “I’ve seen boys like you before. Look over their,” he gestured out to the many small silhouettes along the shoreline, watching the sun sinking beneath the ocean. “All those people? They’re going through something just like you. Might be they just got through it; might be that they’re about to run into it.

“But it’s too easy to just walk away from your problems like you’re doing here. Leaving the whole world behind, as if the world did something to you that you didn’t deserve. You’ll keep walking till your feet are blistered, your legs are cramped, your stomach is knotted, and your hair is in tatters. And you’ll still feel lost, because that’s not how we overcome our problems. It’s good to know when and why to walk away, like from some hothead in a bar, but it ain’t no good to just be walking empty headed—letting them bad thoughts cloud your mind and eat away at your soul. You need to stand up, and figure out where you’ve been and, more importantly, where you’re going.”

His hands closed into fists with these last remarks. Then, he put a hand on my shoulder and stopped. I paused and looked up. We were at the top of the sand dunes. The ocean could be seen for miles, and the sun was just a fleeting sliver, before it would wink out for the night entirely. His eyes were full of determination, yet also so full of sadness. Like he knew what I was feeling even better than I did.

“I—” the words wouldn’t come to me. I could feel a tear slipping down my cheek, though I wasn’t sure when it had gotten there.

“That’s alright Adam,” he took his hand off of me, “you’ll figure it out. Just stay here till you do.” And like that, he spun on his heels, and marched off down the hill, while I sat and watched the clouds turn from orange, to pink, to purple, and finally to a deep, empty gray.

——

 

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IN CLASS (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

To Class

The crisscrossed brick walk

Is coated in shade, lightly

Spattered by sunbeams.

 

In Class

Quiet, happy cheers

Of the children running by

Seep through the windows

 

From Class

Oh, look at that sky!

Bluer than clear Po’ipu.

Now I miss the sand.

 

Walk Home

Two boys sit in cuffs

With bloodied lips and black eyes.

Look the other way.

 

Getting Inside

There’s a black widow

Tying a web on the key

I need to get in.

——

 

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ESCAPING THE LAUNDROMAT

I was told that everything could be interesting if you tried hard enough. My father would tell me that, out in the garage in the summer heat, with a fan running on high, blowing hot air in my face. I was something I never really understood until I was older; when the world started to become something that I could make choices in, rather than follow blindly.

Those are exactly the words that floated through my head as the elevator ticked from floor two to floor three. The white light, which had faded to a dusty yellow over the years, flashed “3” on arrival, and the quick accompanying Ding-ding noted that I should prepare to depart. The doors slid open, slowly, like sludge through a pipe. It was early on the weekend—before most people get up. That’s the best time to go; you’ll be able to find an open washer.

That morning I had gotten up extra early. Work had called me late the night before to ask me to cover a shift, and my uniform was still dirty. Ruined my Saturday, but work was money, and money was tight. So early, that the sun was still coming up when I walked in the door. I loaded my cloths into the washer, put the detergent in, set the water temperature, and hit “start.” Suddenly I had forty minutes to burn. And I had forgotten my book.

So what was I to do, dad? What to do what to do what to do what to—Ding-ding. The elevator clicked open again, and a little old women came out. She hunched over was pushing a square cart full of cloths. She was so ancient, it looked like she was sinking into the ground in front of me. But she shuffled by, wheels squeaking loudly.

And I wondered about her. When was she born? What did she do as a child? The little spiral of a story unwound in my head like an old toy from my childhood. The little girl, walking down an empty street, that slowly filled with the buzz of cars. Her mother was dead, and her father was still out from a night of gambling and drinking, but she—she was fine. Every few steps she broke into a happy skip. Then the scene morphed away, and suddenly I saw a beautiful young woman. Her black hair twisted lightly down her backside. She was walking again, this time with a man at her arm. They were dressed in elaborate outfits that denoted the importance of them, yet for all they had, her eyes held a sense of fear in them.

Again, I watched as her hair was peppered with streaks of grey, and her warm eyes glazed over. A barrel of caramel colored children ran around her ankles, with the same glee she had been filled with not five minutes before. Almost as if they had sucked the life out of her. Of course, it must have been the fifties then. So it would have been just her. Men of such “importance” didn’t stick with black women at that time.

And as my mind found her in the elevator, struggling to push that cart of clothes, I realized my own clothes had finished washing and she was staring back at me, as if to tell me it was my turn to tell my own story. And suddenly, even the Laundromat didn’t seem quite such a boring place.

——

 

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