Monday, April 20, 2009

Why do we write poetry?

I've always lived life by one simple credo: happy people don't write poetry. I believe that I may have to modify that a little. Wordsworth (I think) wrote that poetry was engendered by "The spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion, recollected in tranquility." That strikes me as true. I've written maybe two dozen poems, and all are connected to events powerful in emotion, usually negative. After all, the theme of all country music is "He/she done me wrong."
What I'm wondering about right now is that I am suddenly willing to share my poetry with other people. My own impression is that my poetry is refrigerator door stuff, like 5th grade drawings, but somehow, for some obscure reason, I'd like others to read it.
You've been warned.

Night Cards

Black as a the loss of hope
The cloth lay on the table
Between us.

She laid a card on the table.
A slim finger tapped
The card, once, twice.
“This is you.”

The King of Swords.
A man on a throne
Posed as for a tintype,
His eyes on the far horizon,
A sword in one hand, scales
In the other.

Another card on the table.
The same slim finger
Tapped, tapped.
“This is me.”

The Queen of Swords
A woman on a throne
Stiff and disapproving
Sword at the ready.

She moved the cards
Together, side by side,
Almost, but not quite,

In my mind
The hands, the cards,
The cloth black as despair,
Began to whirl like water
Spiraling down a drain.

I felt my heart bunch and
Explode into a bright
Red mist like sunlight
Through parchment.

Blood is life, red and hot.
It surged through the artery
Of my left arm, out the
Aristotelian ring finger,
Evaporating as it met the
Air into an evanescent
And invisible plasma.

Like fog in the streets,
It crept over the dark cloth,
Caressed the two slim hands,
Turned the two cards
Face to face, queen on top,
And wrapped them
In the dark blanket.

Thus I refute the fates.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The things we do to our kids

I had a friend once who told me that her mother taught her to swim by putting her in a tub full of water and shoving her under. It was supposed to be an early attempt at waterproofing. It reminds me a little of the medieval snakepit approach to insanity. The logic was that you threw people into a pit full of snakes, it would cure them. See, they reasoned (?) that a thing which would drive a sane person crazy would drive a crazy person sane.
Do we do the same thing to our children? Of course we do. We teach them to be tough, to ignore pain, to "suck it up." But what we are really teaching them is to avoid whatever it is we want them to ignore, live through, tough out, or overcome. After all, kids aren't dummies. They know, in the words of Linus in Peanuts, "Pain hurts." I was so moved by my friend's description of her swimming lessons that I wrote a poem about it.

Learning to Swim

An odd place for a grave,
On the kitchen floor.
An odd shape for a coffin,
Long, enameled white porcelain,
Blue trim around the lip.
Odd material for a winding sheet,
Water, the birthing material.

Mrs. McKay from down the street
Kneels by my coffin, tests the water
With her elbow.

I stand nearby, shivering, it is not cold.
I have my pale green swimsuit on,
The one with pink daisies and
A bow in the back. My hair
Is tied up behind me in a ponytail.

Mrs. McKay stands, nods, and steps back.
I climb into the coffin, water as warm as my blood.
I lie back.
Mrs. McKay puts her large hand on my chest
And shoves me under.

I struggle against her hand, I thrash, I grab,
Trying to move the solid hand,
Or shift the stolid weight on my body,
Though the struggle uses air I know I will need.

Is this what dead is? To struggle for air for eternity?
To try to move the weight on your heart?
Through the water I can see my loving mother,
As wavery as a ghost, standing above my grave
With her arms folded.

Crying, spitting, choking, enraged,
I am pulled forth at the last moment.
Now I know how to swim.
But never have.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What are they thinking

On PBS today, I heard a report about a man, can't remember his name, who is the new U.S. Czar for immigration. Before that, he'd been with the INS in San Diego, where he brought order out of chaos. However, some people don't like him or what he did. Here's what he did: He focused on the San Diego area, where most of the border crossings were. Why is this bad? Well, the focus on San Diego, which is a relatively easy and safe crossing, forced illegals to resort to other, less safe crossing spots. Because of this, a number of them died or suffered.
There are people who think that this man is little better than a murderer. After all, he forced those poor unfortunate people to risk life and limb (and sometimes to lose them), by cutting off the easy routes into the United States.
Is there anyone else out there who thinks people like this should be lined up against a wall and hit with rancid cherry pies? I mean, what sort of logic are these folk deviating from to come up with such conclusions. By this logic, I should be locked up because I lock my door at night, making it hard for the poor burglars to break in.
I can just see a scene in the courtroom. The judge asks, "Did you or did you not lock your car door?" "I did, your honor." "And are you not aware that this makes it harder for car thieves to steal your car, strip it, and sell the parts in Mexico?" "I don't know, your honor. I guess I just lost my head." "Well, since this is a first offense, I'm going to let you off easy, but I don't want to see you in my court again." "No sir. And you'll be happy to know I'm taking up pickpocketing."
That type of argument, by the way, is called reducio ad absurdem - taking a silly argument and making it really silly.
We will never run out of stupid people, will we?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


One of my new years resolutions is to be less cynical. So, I have decided that from time to time I will drop a poem into my blog. Sometimes it will be one of mine; sometimes a good one. Is this the time to go into litcrit and discuss what makes a good poem? I don't think so, except to say that a really good poem makes you feel just a little short of breath.
So, let me start with one of mine. As a teacher and pedant, I can't give the poem just any title; it has to be mysterious, pretentious, and packed with secret meaning. So, here's my poem:

Nolo Me Tangere*

We stand, close but not touching, touching not,
She with her back to me, watching
The darkness climb the mountain.
Arms crossed, curve of back, hips just so,
Head slightly to one side.

She is
Soft as twilight
Calm as the river
Lovely as the sunset
Distant as the mountains

What if I should put my hand, palm out, near her back,
Just where the spine flows into hips?

Would lightning fly from my fingertips?
Would small arcs of fire dance about her back
Driving away the shadow that steals up the mountain?

Would she turn, give a slow smile,
Blank and compassionate, then
Turn back to the mountain?

Oh Lord, why so many nerve endings in our hands,
If not to touch?
Why the slow clip and mend of evolution
If not to bond person to person
With a stroke to a cheek,
Or a hand in a hand?

Or to touch a shoulder,
Look, point, there is a hawk.

I drop my hands to my sides.

*Touch me not