Tag Archives: poems about poetry

St. Vincent

“…there is a certain amount of writing that can only come from a monastic space.”  — St.Vincent

 

Alone. A lost tree
seeking a forest — thing about
trees, though, is they

can’t move so is it lost at all
if it’s living where it’s 
been planted? Perhaps

solitary is a better word
if it is a happy tree. It stands by
itself, seeking best words.

All of its time caught in a web
of slow growth and searching.
Speaking of best words,

happy doesn’t enter into
a lone tree’s vocabulary. 
Say instead it’s self-contained

and always fixed upon 
what it grows from: it grows
from matins through lauds

to vespers, morning prayer
through to night prayer. Speaking of
St. Vincent, musician and not

saint, it is always possible that prayer
may become song. Speaking 
as man and not tree, I refuse

to see difference between those
words. Speaking as a solitary,
i am not ashamed to grow bark,

resolve to be rooted,
settled without patronage.
St. Vincent non-musician was

patron saint of poor people and vintners.
Never an extra word for poets. I am
poor and I am drunk on my assets:

I speak of course of words, prayers, 
songs, monastery walls,
vows, oak, bark, and bite.

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The Leonard Cohen Poem

When I lose myself
in sleep while writing
I will sometimes
find upon waking one odd line
in an otherwise perfectly
coherent paragraph or stanza.

I call those the cracks
where the light leaks in,
a concept I admit I borrowed
from that Canadian poet
I never liked, the one
I feel guilty for not liking, the one
everyone loved right up
until he died and then
they loved him even more. Anyway,

upon waking I’ll sometimes find
a single line, a crack full of light
in the middle of work I’d finished
in a fever, trying to get my point across
before darkness fell, and I’ll look at it
and scratch my head and chin
and try to decide if the light’s
from a window or a fire, and if

it’s from a window I then decide
if I should close it and keep that light
out of this poem, then decide if I should see
if the line belongs to another poem
and go to the room where that one lives
and make the line comfortable there instead;

and if it is from a fire I then decide
if I must extinguish it, bask
in its warmth and try to contain it
within this poem, or use it to burn
the whole poem down so I can sift its ashes
for something on which to build anew
that starts with that line as a cornerstone.

Whatever I do, before deciding
I stare at the crack and the light inside
and the older I get the more I feel
like a baffled king composing, one who knows
not everyone will love what I do
or how I rule, but the light’s still there
and the line’s been let in, and
regardless of what I do with that line
it’s holding me hostage until I choose.

Someday I too will die, and some
will remember me fondly and some 
will shrug me off and say
I never made much sense to them
in the first place, the way I feel

about that croaking Canadian
who I must admit had some 
damn good lines that made me
sit up now and then and put
my distaste on hold and say
Hallelujah, that light’s
indeed glorious.


The Arts As A Profession

On the clock
for a whole day
with no rest. 

There are people
who consider that
a hardship, an 

inequity to be
redressed at some point
with a dramatic exit

and all the fireworks
they can muster. 
I am not one of those —

I welcome this 
round the clock job,
all week gig, all year

career. Any stoppage
or break feels like a death
or at best a sickness.

I did not sign up
for this life but I take it
as my reward for

something I did in
a previous one where
I was stunted and kept

from this. This is no
job, after all. This is
an identity; why would I want

to break that? 
I turn back to it.  Go 
away. There’s work to be done

and I would prefer
to be alone, wearing myself
to a nub, as I do it.

Like most others 
who are called to this,
I’ll rest when I’ve 

died. I’ll take my break
on my back, or slumped in
a chair, better yet, head fallen

onto the desk. They’ll
pull me up and wheel me out
and someone else

will sit right down
and go, go, go
all hours until they fail.

It’s how it’s done.  Once
you’re in you stay in
till you drop

right beside
your last word
and someone new steps up.


If I Could Explain

If I could explain
why I listen to gospel services
on Sunday morning radio
though I am no Christian or even
much in sympathy with Christianity,
paying nearly the same attention 
to its content

as I do to a stray episode
of “Law And Order” on a barroom television,
though I am not at all a cop, neither
am I at all a lawyer, and am
slightly less criminal than many;

and slightly less attention
to either of those than I do 
to distant salsa tunes from two floors up,
though I am no dancer or singer
in Spanish or anything else,

then perhaps I could explain to you, 
and to myself as well, 
how I became a poet. 

Maybe I could explain why Jesus
and Lenny Briscoe and
Marc Anthony rotate through
my firmament on some 
indecipherable yet certain timing;

or I might be able to explain
why I feel like life barely grazes me
most of the time, 
though I feel all of it 
at least lightly;

I could even maybe explain 
how when I am nicked by living 
I bleed out everything 
I’ve ever felt
and call that art 
once I’ve run my fingers
through the flood
and tried to make patterns

in what lands and dries 
in front of me, although
it never does the job
quite well enough;

so I go back to cursory church and 
peripheral crime and loving music 
I can’t understand
just for the sake of listening

while waiting for the next barrage
to brush me, the next wound to open me, 
the next opportunity
to play in my red.


Two Woodpeckers

I used to robe up before writing,
slapped on a wizard cap to make of myself
a mystic, kept a wand under
my clothes to wield when I needed
to drape clouds around my words.

Then one day I stood at my window
and watched two downy woodpeckers,
male and female, perched on opposite sides
of a suet feeder.  They fluttered

back from the cage and landed again,
having switched sides. Returned every day
for a season and repeated this swap
at least once per day. The world is already
a miracle and a mystery. Why overdecorate it?


Fossil Poems

In anger, we say, “Fuck it.”

That’s a kind of poem. One kind of poem, the memory of a moment of utter disgust digested, compressed into a singular phrase. Cliches are fossil poems; pat phrases are living, wriggling fragments of attempted poems — and who among us doesn’t have a pat, pet phrase…?

These are attempted poems.

All around us a murder of attempted poems, their wings barely raising them from the ground.

All of us are poets.  All of us are suspect to the art police. — daring us, goading us to say something at once superfluous and necessary.  

When we say “Fuck it,” we decide how the scale tips.


Three Hundred And Fifty Failures

I’ve tried fifty-eight times
to explain the modern world as
a game show,

started and crumpled sixty-two drafts
about sexual love as
an orchard,

and made two hundred
and thirty attempts at an epic
on the sonic characteristics of each
key on a piano as compared to
the landscapes of nations
along the Mediterranean coasts.

All I have to show for all that work is

one sad brain, garish as a TV soundstage;

self-loathing slumped under an apple tree
that’s been split from age and rot;

a postcard from Tunisia that reads,
“having a decent time, wish you were here;”

this song of three hundred
and fifty failures
that I might yet turn into something
of worth if

I can stop chewing on it long enough
to give myself time to search 
every inch of it
for meat to live on.


Sometimes

I wanted to give up
on poetry

but I kept falling 
into it and sometimes

I was wet with it
when I got up

and sometimes
I drew my finger

through the wetness
and sometimes it was 

dew and sometimes it
was blood and 

sometimes you could see it
after I was done and 

sometimes it said something
or looked reasonably 

presentable and sometimes
I presented it and 

people sometimes said
it meant something to them

and sometimes it meant 
to them what it meant to me

and so sometimes I still 
call myself a poet and say

I haven’t given
up quite yet.


The Lake

After a lifetime
lived under the water
of a deep cold lake called

the art of 
finding new ways
to say old things
and sometimes even
of finding new things
to say

sometimes by
using old ways and
sometimes by
creating new ways

I have risen to
the surface
in daylight
looked
and searched
and shouted

and realized that

up here where
the people
who allegedly 
wanted me to say
things
were alleged to be
dying for my news
of old and new

the shores are empty
as they are all
living perfectly well
elsewhere

I tread water
in panic
certain to return
to my breathless depths
but whether I shall go
by diving 

or sinking

I do not yet know


For The Sound

You think of this work I do
(when you think of it at all)
as the opening 
of petals, or veins.

No matter how many times
I tell you otherwise.
No matter how many years
I’ve been at it.

If it were the opening
of petals, 
I’d have long ago
turned to fruit,
fallen to the ground,
rooted as seed, 
regrown.

If it were the opening
of veins? How red 
would your hands be if
every time you touched one
of these you then
chose to just wait 
for the next one?

This isn’t as easy
as simply blooming
or bleeding —

it’s opening, sure,
but more like cracking
a safe or picking 
a lock and then pulling 
a door until it swings wide.
Inside,

maybe flowers, maybe
buckets of brimful red;

you can have those
as I live

for the cracking, the picking;

for the sound (my God, the sound!)
of moving doors.


Trying All The Keys In All The Locks

Hard to believe now, 
but when I was a child
I spoke more
of my mom’s Italian 
than English, knew 
all the Russian she knew,
and could mix it with 
my dad’s sprinkling
of Korean, Chinese, 
German, and Apache 
as needed.

I lost them all
in elementary school
where they made me
an English-only exclusive
and it worked so well that
when I got to high school,
as hard as I worked,
I could not get past Mr. Albert
and junior year French.
Never made it out of 
the replacement Spanish class,
either.  What little 
of each language I can recall 
still tangle in my mouth
when I try to use them
just to pronounce names 
of people and places.

I’m as monolingual
(and thus as all-American) 
as all get out,
one ossified adult
turned to stone
in the coils of

a colonizer’s words,
sentenced to
their sentences, 

wondering who the hell
that kid was
who once moved
so well
among his given languages
that he felt at home
in the fullness of the world,

wondering if all the poems
he’s read and written
and spoken since
were just keys stolen
from the warden 
to be tried in every lock 
until he and his tongue
once again
got free.


For Sound

 

They tell us

to be at peace,

silence matters most.

That’s what they tell us

 

with their mouths,

say it out loud, praise 

silence with 

their voices though

 

language brought us here,

 

carried along the whorls

of our ears, through the labyrinth

concealed within.

What we are now

 

is what the last sentences

we heard made us.

 

When they praise our silence,

urge us to be silent, sit

with nothing in our mouths,

say nothing,

they are saying

 

shut up, 

we have no need

to be further built.

 

Write it down instead, they say.

Write it down,

 

we’ll read it in silence,

sound it out for ourselves…

 

they never stop talking about

how we should sit in stillness.

 

This is what they think 

of us — two ears, one mouth, 

they say. This is the balance,

they say:

more listening, less talk —

 

forgetting lungs, larynx, tongue,

lips, resonance from sinus, sonorities

built into our bones; we’re made 

to have voices;

clearly there is something 

to be said — so we

 

talk. They don’t like it. We

chant. They don’t like it. We

yell. They don’t 

like it. They don’t like it —

 

shhhh, they say. Shhhh,

 

to people built from sound,

built for sound.


How To Survive A Poetry Slam

Originally posted 8/13/2011.  

 

How can you deal 
with it all being so loud?

Recall the times
you went unheard.

It seems, sometimes,
that the words form
a powerful flood.
What is there to do
when you’re drowning in it?

Recall how the air
you pull into your chest
when you break surface
is cleaner and fresher
for having been riled.

But they use so many words!
How are you supposed to hear them all?

Recall your toys
and how they all got time
from you in turns.
Move yourself among the words
the same loving way.

It seems, sometimes,
that the passion overpowers
the poetry.  How then
do you worship the craft?

Recall the difference
between rock and roll
and jazz, how each
trips a different trigger.  
One does not do
as the other does.
Each suits its time.

But it seems sometimes
that it’s been said before,
sometimes right before.
How do you 
tell the difference?

Recall the story
of Cain and Abel,
how hearing it once
did not stop fratricide.

Are you saying it’s all
a matter of memory?

It is all a matter of memory.

Recall the campfires,
the hunt and the grief of 
how new we were once
to simply having tongues
that could do this —

every time,
it is new to a new listener;
every time,
memory lodges in one ear,
even as it goes out another.

But even after all that,
it seems so 
overwhelming, so unnecessary.

Recall the first thing
I told you,
that you should recall
what it was to be
unheard.

What part of being human
is so lost to you
that you should feel
so uncomfortable
in the presence
of a need
such as this? 


Definition

The best words in the right order.
The perfect ghosts to animate them. 
A rhythm, and the struggle to understand
how words slide over the crests
of those waves. Sound upside
of downbeat, and the opposite
as well. A trumpet in it,
a drum, a monster’s sharp and plaintive cry
as it realizes it’s the last of its kind.
A child’s scalp tingling — you can measure
the height of that raised hair in 
dactyls. You can explain the creation 
of the world in the precision of 
enjambements. Justice
made metrical, pain
made sibilant, war
made alliterative: slice of sword
and swoosh of bullet bringing back 
pull of projectile into purpled flesh.
Best words in best order and
a world fashioned in its enunciation:
and now what?  What spell
are you under?  What
happens now as a result of 
such a thing? How are the ghosts
faring now that it’s ended?


Hungry For Light

Hunched before my keyboard, trying.

This is how I live: waking up
hungry for light after swimming
all night through healing dark,
then trying to explain to you 
how that hunger keeps me alive.

When I say “trying to explain
to you…” I am not speaking to “you”
of course, but to a “you” beyond
any of us. You are welcome
to the conversation, but it is not
meant for you specifically…so…

unless I have erred, and you were
there in the dark stream of my night
without my knowing? If it is you
the work is meant for, speak up:
I will raise my eyes from this work
and look to you directly as you
know my core and the words
will likely just obscure it. 

We who wake up hungry for light
understand this: that the words,
the long strings of words we troll out
from our lonely rooms, are just
invitations to a table
that is set for a feast.