around the same time that I took on the Teahouse
Project I decided to try and teach myself to write poetry as well.
Anyone who knows anything about the topic will probably tell you that
this is a terrible idea and the results are guaranteed to be abysmal.
I can't say that they're wrong and I won't argue about the quality of
the results in this case but I have a theory - backed up by conversations
with "real" poets and based, in part, on my experience of trying
to become a musician in high school - that this decision, taken more or
less consciously, is behind the artistic calling of poets great and small.
The decision has two components:
The experience of being deeply moved by reading a piece
of poetry, in my case "To
The Harbormaster" by Frank O'Hara.
A realization that the reader has a glimmer of an idea
about how it all works and that he or she might be able to do the same.
Somewhere in the middle of the Poetry Project I took
a poetry class at Emerson College with Richard
Hoffman just so I could read this stuff I was writing to someone,
anyone. I'm tremendously indebted to Mr. Hoffman, who was a generous teacher
and a good listener. He talks about poems as "built things"
that are, in some way, engineered to work on the poet and the reader.
Viewed in this way it makes perfect sense that I would want to write poetry.
Anyway. here are a few things I wrote and you can download
a collection here.
In order to avoid
tripping the bear
trap in your chest,
It is of utmost
appear in the
by a dog.
Keep a careful record
of the exact colors.
Before putting on
your shoes in the
morning, check for
The café counter
girl probably calls
even her dog.
The vein snaking
across her jawbone
is “robin’s egg blue”.
My half-brother lives a
sunken life. His house is the
sea-green ribcage of a wrecked
ship. Most days, he wears a
diving suit and spends hour
upon hour drifting with the
current, tethered only by a
thin line stretching away
towards some unknown
surface. At night, far off, he
can see great, slow fish, each
one lit up like a whole city.
Once a fish swam close and
he could see that its eyes
were on fire. Once his
breathing tube got tangled
in some seaweed. He put
something complicated in
my hand and said here, hold
this but don’t ever touch it.
A while or maybe 50 years
later I decided to have a look.
We were standing in a round
puddle of yellow light there
on the threshold and he said,
this is the skull of a starling.
If you put it up to your ear
and listen very carefully
you can hear an evening
sky and violet air rushing
through the door to be born
on the other side of the world.
My Role in the Spanish Civil
They served tapas on tiny plates that
were difficult to see and shifted
around aimlessly on the tiled counter.
The bartender smiled his approval
at each of our choices and then,
when I wasn’t looking, wrote his
phone number in Catalan
in the apricot sauce surrounding
my wife’s dessert. We felt fortunate
to be seated at all. The wall outside
was pitted with bullet-holes where larger
parties with dimmer prospects were lined up
and shot to save them the trouble
of waiting. In the small cemetery,
headstones were painted Sky Blue and Burnt Umber.
One of the epitaphs read, “Smith, party of 6.”
Rinse the face and hands
in gasoline, dust your skin
with a mixture of ash
and powdered bone.
These are the protocols.
The light inside
the 5-Points Laundromat
where absolution can
be purchased for around
$3 in quarters
is tired and grimy
is fumbling at the door
shoving his hands
through the mail slot
and rattling the latch.
He’s gasping as though
every in-drawn breath
is his first, as though
he’s constantly waking
from a deep sleep.
Megatherium rears up on massive haunches
and peers through the glass
glass-bead eyes glittering with glum resignation.
In a nearby display a woman in a dirndl
is serving sauerbraten and home-made
root-beer. That which eludes memory
may be preserved. Our ancestors walked here
all the way from Siberia, or took the bus
from St. Louis. Barefoot, they could run down
the swift mule deer and kill them
with bare hands, although they preferred
to use slow-acting poison. They could
easily add long columns of figures
in their heads even while stinking drunk
and in flagrante delicto. Those things
that are corrosive to memory can only be
preserved. Each one built a tiny palace
of pale stone. I too am a heathen king who
embalms himself, then stays up nights
devising a fitting exhibit for his remains.
That which extinguishes memory must
be preserved. Our great liberator
was as thorough as he was industrious.
Every morning he took a moment to nail
a plaque to the wall above his bed
which read, “The great liberator slept here.”
– teahouse – music