A GOOD DAY
My mother was a beauty
and dressed it. One Sunday
the preacher quipped,
“Even Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.”
Now she’s 76. Thin and hairless,
she wears a cheap wig, dirty tennis shoes.
She sees poorly, drives worse.
One Monday, she hits a parked car
in the cancer patient lot. A day later,
police call. Somebody caught
her license plate number.
I’m surprised she tells this story on herself.
It’s not her way. Then I hear that old tone
in her voice. “The witness described me
as an attractive blond,” she says,
“in her fifties.“
The ghost of Christmas future, the ghost
of Christmas past. The ghost
of Hamlet’s father, the ghost
of Poe’s Lenore. The ghost
caught in a tree of burning fireflies. The ghost
with eyes of coal.
The ghost with missing fingers.
The ghost who knows your name.
Ghosts, swaying, drunk on memory.
The ghost of winter, settling
on you slowly. The ghost
of love, the ghost of loveliness
That ghost, your heart, invisible as absence,
sad as hope.
This week’s poem is about loneliness. It was the result of an exercise that Dorianne Laux assigned in a poetry workshop. It was based on a Stephen Dunn poem called Tenderness and we were supposed to write a poem based on an abstract emotion. I chose loneliness and turned it into a character, a feeling personified. It originally appeared in the Laurel Review. I hope you enjoy it.
It’s fashioned of fire or charcoal.
It always thrives in the dark,
but it also favors blank afternoons,
the works of failed clocks.
It has a soul, a cock-eyed walk,
a special place it likes to
the socks and the boxers, the job
and the junk mail,
the grasping heart
and the groin.
Is it distracted by money? No,
and it’s not derailed by fame.
Passion is no protection:
lovers know it by five or six names.
you can spot it by color. One claims
it’s the yellow of acid–
another the blue
of spilled ink.
If you try to escape it, it just follows along
like a poet
who is cobbling a language
from what’s left of the human heart.
it has something to tell you, a secret
it longs to share. It’s crying out
for you on the emergency band.
scratching your name on the pawnshop door.
Some time ago, a friend challenged me to write a “red” poem. I had a good time with it, and this was the result.
All dolled up in a ruby dress,
her fractured heart beating outside
her chest, she’s a living,
breathing Frida Kahlo painting.
She slips into scarlet espadrilles
and dances a bloody tango,
her lipsticked mouth puckering as if
she’s just eaten something tart.
Or wants to. Her henna hair is waving
like an SOS all over this dance hall.
God, it’s flaming hot in here.
Someone call the police, the fire department!
Don’t bother, she shrugs, feeling for a fever.
Just come closer. Pass me that cherry cola.
I’ll be your siren, your fire alarm,
your train track beacon,
your own personal red phone.
Since Sunday is Father’s Day, I wanted to honor my father with this poem about an incident that happened when I was 12. The poem originally appeared in Poetry Northwest.
Lantern scans, a searchlight
over water. My father and I
are floundering. I am twelve.
He’s just returned from war games
in Japan. We walk in Neuse River water,
metal gigs in hand, searching
for the tell-tale shapes of flounder.
For camouflage, they bury themselves in sand.
Still their outlines give these fish away,
like a girl’s small breasts
against an outgrown sweater.
I feel lost. He’s been gone two years;
he’s as strange to me
as the metal poles we carry,
poles designed to stab.
The wind is hot. The stars
outline the sky in constellations.
I am afraid. I don’t want to find the fish.
I would not have the heart
to lift the gig. I scuff through water,
My father sees. He starts to sing.
He kicks up sand like I do.
He takes my hand. We splash, we shuffle
through the swirling water.
The fish are safe. And I am safe.
The moon shines. The lantern shines.
The water shines. My father and I
are going home.
I decided to serve up some lighter fare this week. An overly serious poetry workshop inspired this comic poem–and if you’ve ever been forced to consider what a poem wants, this is your answer. The poem originally appeared in the Chattahoochee Review.
THE POEM WANTS A DRINK
In the workshop, students analyze
what each poem wants, what each one
strives to be. Well, this poem is
a layabout with limited ambitions. It wants
This poem doesn’t give a damn
for rhyme or reason. It only sings
off-key. It has no rhythm
in the jukebox of its soul.
It grew up without symbols.
It doesn’t know from assonance.
Give it mambo lessons, and it
still won’t learn to dance. It has
not one stanza with a lyric pedigree.
It’s late, and getting later, and this poem
wants a drink.
Call it gray and tired. Even call it
a cliché. This poem’s lived long enough
to know exactly what it means
to say: Don’t be stingy
with the whiskey, baby.
Yes, the night
has been a cruel one, and this poem
could use a drink.
I thought that since it is Memorial Day weekend, I would post a poem for my father, who served in both World War II and Korea. This one concerns my father after he returned home from that latter war.
My father is sleeping in that tent again,
where every night the rats still run and run
across his body, and every night
he still slaps them–hard–away from him,
never waking, never knowing
that it’s my mother’s hand, soft
against his chest, reaching
for him in the dark.