"Salute" by A. R. Ammons
from The Really Short Poems of A. R. Ammons
"Salute" by A. R. Ammons
from The Really Short Poems of A. R. Ammons
The reader says "this is my last poem
but"--smiling--"it's twenty minutes long"
then reads an epigraph from the Diamond Sutra
saying life's one long series of illusions--
which, like his poem,
is boring too
-- Ed Ochester
from Sugar Run Road by Ed Ochester (Autumn House, 2015)
On the subject of brilliant closure, consider the endings of the final two stanzas here. Notice the power of understatement -- how rhetorical restraint can serve to underscore rather than undermine. I'm thinking of "kept on" in the last stanza, and even more so "and thought" in the second to last. -- DL
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere, The tarnished, gaudy, wonderful old work Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow, That never touch with inarticulate pang Those dying generations-at their song. The One remains, the many change and pass The expiring swan, and as he sings he dies. The earth, the stars, the light, the day, the skies, A white-haired shadow roaming like a dream Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines, Think not of them, thou hast thy music too -- Sin and her shadow Death, and Misery, If but some vengeful god would call to me, Because I could not stop for Death, Not to return. Earth's the right place for love. My playmate, when we both were clothed alike, Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Suffer my genial spirits to decay Upon the bridal day, which is not long? I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.
These translations were downloaded from the web:
Ce centre ton lit est, ces murs, la sphère:
le travail vieux non jamais terni, voyant, merveilleux
de la main, du pied, de la lèvre, de l'oeil, du front,
de celui contact avec douleur inarticulée ceux qui meurent
génération à leur chanson. Celui reste,
les nombreux changement et passe le cygne expirant,
et pendant qu'il chante il meurt.
La terre, les étoiles, la lumière, le jour, les cieux, ombre blanc-d'une chevelure
comme un rêve sans limites hors du crépuscule,
hors des cèdres et des pins, pensent pas à eux, au trop-Péché la musique less pensees et à son mort d'ombre, et à la misère, si mais un certain dieu vengeful appellerait à moi, puisque je ne pourrais pas m'arrêter
pour la mort, pour ne pas retourner.
Ont mis à la terre le bon endroit pour l'amour.
Mon ami, quand nous tous les deux avons été vêtus de même,
devrait thé et gâteaux, après qu'et glace, souffrent mes spiritueux réconfortants pour
se délabrer sur le jour nuptialenqui n'est pas long?
J'ai pensé que l'amour durerait pour toujours; j'avais tort.
Diese thy Mitte des Betts ist, diese Wände, thy Bereich,
die getrübte, gaudy, wundervolle alte Arbeit
der Hand, des Fusses, der Lippe, des Auges, der Braue,
des dessen nie Note mit inarticulate Pang die, die Erzeugung-an ihrem Lied sterben.
Das man bleibt, vielen Änderung und führt
den ablaufenden Schwan, und während er singt, stirbt er.
Die Masse, die Sterne, das Licht, der Tag, die Himmel,
A der weiß-behaarte Schatten, der wie ein Traum grenzenlos ist aus der Dämmerung heraus, aus den Zedern und den Kiefern heraus durchstreift, denken nicht an sie, Thou hast thy Musik AuchSünde und ihren Schatten Tod und Elend, wenn aber irgendein vengeful Gott zu mir benennen würde, weil ich nicht für Tod stoppen könnte, um nicht zurückzukommen. Bedeckten den rechten Platz für Liebe mit Erde.
Mein Spielkamerad, als wir beide gleich gekleidet wurden
sollte I, nachdem, Tee und Kuchen und gefriert,
erleiden meinen genialen Geist,
um nach dem Brauttag zu verfallen, der nicht lang ist?
Ich dachte, daß Liebe für immer dauern würde; Ich war falsch.
A Woman of Worth
A woman of worth who can find?
For her province is far above rubric.
A woman of wood, hooks, and rind.
The forks have gone suddenly ruthless.
The hearth of her husband,
husk of her --
She does him good, she evolves.
Dislodges God the last days of her life.
A woman of words: who could mind?
So what if her rupees surprise us.
She is fond of her housefly,
her housefly is cloned with garnet.
She consoles a friend yet bests him.
The fruit of her hands is vincible.
A woman of wound who can find?
She gilds her lawn in streaks, makes song her law.
Her hands hoist the splendor, the spilt.
She strews her hands toward the pool.
“A woman at war with her mind.”
“Her parlance is totally useless.”
She counts singers in fields, and bison.
Steak and doubloons in her cloud chamber.
She opens her mouth: hysteria.
Its likeness on her tongue.
A woman reorders, combines.
Chills rise up into her breast, blessing the husk also, singing:
Favor is false and beauty is vain,
flavor is pulse and bedding is vale.
This woman yet fears the Lord, praise her.
Praise the wood, praise the intimate grain.
-- Joy Katz
The entirety of the literary community and fans of his work are all grieving the loss of Mark Strand this week. The faulty area at school was abuzz with memories and stories of the iconic poet. Professor Deborah DeNicola, my colleague at Broward College, celebrates Strand in a poem she had published in Nimrod a few years ago.
Loving Mark Strand
It’s as if he knows how close he’s always been to Spirit.
As if your hand might pass through the numen of his voice
and a little shadow shiver on the auditorium wall.
If you asked I bet he’d glance away with a half smile and husky
whisper . . . Everything ages . . . We get old . . . Everyone disappears . . .
and this with a hissing sigh: . . . Love fades . . . But his eyes
would twinkle like wild dice and you’d know underneath
that haunting still lives a romantic, why else would he
strike us so humble, so droll? One could do worse
than scribble ethereal sighs while years slip by
as pages lifted by wind. Maybe he sees something
we can’t imagine beyond this earthly timeline. Always
his quavery moans purr like a couple of mongrels,
wounded but playful. Oh Strand! Oh handsome Strand!
Your towering gaze taught us tricks that held out mystery,
ships made of words, lifelines we almost grasp
as we read poems built of vowels, poems mocking
themselves, poems so pleased to be poems, bemused
at the range of their pain, consumed with their own toiling
well into twilight— elusive, mewing poems whose feet
never touch ground. And here in the pin-drop quiet,
ten deep in the standing-room-only of his vapory breath,
we’re almost splay-legged in rapture while there
at the podium, he’s merely mouthing the syllables
of light and air and glass in the perfectly stitched font
of The New Yorker. We could sail the rictus of cryptic
grin, its crescent aisle, while we cling to his piper’s cape
and flow from the building up a Bread Loaf embankment
where wind blows color out of the gloaming and the smoky
poems dissolve, deliquescent as rain beclouding
the synchronous rise of birds. And Strand,
with the bittersweet smile, glad to have touched our lives,
never giving a hoot who mimicked him . . . he just keeps moving,
holy over the fields, an Aquarian Orpheus, one with his head
intact, toes dangling over the edge of our good green planet
into the mythic skies of poetry history, taking his place beside
Homer, Virgil . . . Demosthenes’ stones under his tongue,
back to the first bicameral tribe, the blue mother cave where
he first dreamed in the silence the tender language of the born.
-Deborah DeNicola, published in Nimrod
The happenings in Ferguson have had us all reading articles, thinking a little deeper, and maybe looking for answers. I definitely was. In between feeling articled out and strung out on news sources, I kept coming back to On the Subway by Sharon Olds. Much of the chatter I’ve heard about race relations in that section of Missouri has been about the balance of power. The majority of the police force is white, which doesn’t reflect the bulk of Ferguson’s racial makeup. On the Subway is certainly topical, and it touches on a power we all give each other (earned or not) based solely on things that have nothing do with earning it.
ON THE SUBWAY, BY SHARON OLDS
The young man and I face each other.
His feet are huge, in black sneakers
laced with white in a complex pattern like a
set of intentional scars. We are stuck on
opposite sides of the car, a couple of
molecules stuck in a rod of energy
rapidly moving through darkness. He has
or my white eye imagines he has
the casual cold look of a mugger,
alert under lowered eyelids. He is wearing
red, like the inside of the body
exposed. I am wearing old fur, the
whole skin of an animal taken
and used. I look at his unknown face,
he looks at my grandmother’s coat, and I don’t
know if I am in his power —
he could take my coat so easily, my
briefcase, my life —
or if he is in my power, the way I am
living off his life, eating the steak
he may not be eating, as if I am taking
the food from his mouth. And he is black
and I am white, and without meaning or
trying to I must profit from our history,
the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the
nation’s heart, as black cotton
absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is
no way to know how easy this
white skin makes my life, this
he could break so easily, the way I
think his own back is being broken, the
rod of his soul that at birth was dark and
fluid, rich as the heart of a seedling
ready to thrust up into any available light.
-Sharon Olds from The Gold Cell
Like John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins, though not as flamboyant as the first or as metrically inventive as the second, George Herbert proved that devotional poetry can generate high intellectual excitement.
Born in Wales in 1593, Herbert distinguished himself at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was elected to Parliament twice. In 1630, a year after he married, Herbert took holy orders. He served as rector in Bemerton near Salisbury, delivering sermons and writing poems, for the rest of his short life. Before he died in 1633 he entrusted a gathering of his poems, “The Temple,” to a friend. The poems won an immediate audience.
Herbert is one of the so-called metaphysical poets, who rely on cunning wit and use elaborate, sometimes incongruous metaphors to explore complex themes. He has a poem, “The Pulley,” in which God pours all his pleasures on man except “rest.” Anyone who doubts that the lowly pun can perform sublime feats need only consider these two lines in which “rest” meaning “remainder” and “rest” meaning “repose” are entangled to their paradoxical enhancement: “Yet let him keep the rest, / But keep them with repining restlessness.”
Where Herbert is most obviously innovative is in his use of carmen figuratum—shaped or patterned poems. He has one in the shape of an altar and another, “Easter Wings,” that demands to be viewed as a pair of birds in flight. Herbert was also an inveterate compiler of proverbs. To him we owe one that has since become a durable cliché: “His bark is worse than his bite.”
I discovered Jenny Zhang about a year ago because her book had just been published by one of my favorite small independent presses, Octopus Books. That book, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find is like a fart joke camouflaged as a refreshing example of modern poetry. I’m not the first to say that some modern poetry is praised purely for being subversive. (flarf, anyone?) However, Zhang’s work is truly revolutionary, but not just for the sake of being so.
Zhang lets everything go in a way that made me feel like I was up to her ear and being fed secrets in the most deliciously impish way. She’s a poet’s poet and touches on everything from the kind of tangible jealousy we can almost taste in our mouths to a virtually comic-book style use of onomatopoeia.
The exaggerated line breaks and seemingly simplistic colloquial tone are without doubt characteristic of many modern poets and can be found here, in I Ate Marigolds.
I Ate Marigolds
I ate Marigolds for attention no one noticed
I was forced to go public people watching themselves as long-
er limbed creatures they have um no beauty
-By Jenny Zhang, from Dear Jenny, We Are All Find
Here’s another favorite:
your tinny hands are inside tins
I grow as I finish fourth
each de grade action is a great thing
I feel like a great thing
great things are called things and this thing is not inside time which is as tinny as
I wasted dishwater again
I feel feelings
this is touchable
Some kids died rollerblading
It’s very touchable
my mother spoons me and in kissing my lips she says she wants to stay
like this forever
me too and I also want to be my own mom
and kiss myself
-By Jenny Zhang, from Dear Jenny, We Are All Find
"These socks?" he said to me, leaning in with a big conspiratorial grin, and lifting the leg of his absurdly high-end-looking jeans.
When Mark Strand smiled, you could almost see the little 1960s Tony Curtis special effects "pling!" of light glinting off his teeth.
"They're cashmere." And he sat back in the porch rocking chair with a distinctly canary-eating look.
They were. They were, really, splendidly nice socks.
Mark Strand died Saturday from liposarcoma. He was 80. Many have, and will, write about Mark with far greater perspicacity and depth than I ever could, so I'm not going to pretend this is at all scholarly or profound. But Mark was one of those writ-large personalities who just seemed to generate legend everywhere he went -- minimalist on the page, Strand's personal presence was massive. In fact the majority of poets over the age of about 26 probably have a Mark Story. So... this is mine.
First of all, poets are supposed to have the decency to be dumpy, or homely, or slobs, or jerks, or mildly autistic and incapable of normal social interaction; or hacks. I mean -- aren't we? Awkward and weird, at the least?
But no. Mark was cool. He was bright, witty, talented, debonair to the nth, highly charismatic, and, it mist be said, head-turningly handsome even decades after AARP must've started haunting his mailbox. He talked like Clint Eastwood and that smile of his could just about blind you -- and he smiled a lot. Because that guy was always in on the joke.
But what annoyed me was that sort of Majestically World-Weary schtick that he sometimes had. I think it bugged me because everything about him seemed so effortless and I would have given anything I had to have one twentieth of his CV or body of work and he just semed so utterly Over It I wanted to scream "Pay attention!" When we first met, at Sewanee in 2008, we bonded over a shared admiration for James Merrill and Constantin Cavafy. Then we bonded over my alma mater -- Mark had briefly taught at Mount Holyoke in the 60s, discussion of which put him in a sort of grin-trance during which he seemed to be seeing a potentially scandalous movie on the ceiling. I tried to imagine a guy like Mark presiding over a literature class at Holyoke and immediately came up with an image sort of like this:
Then he promptly forgot who I was. Anyway, I didn't know what to make of him. At one point I was sitting behind Mark in the reading room at Sewanee when the announcement came that that later that evening there'd be the annual book signing party at the cute college bookstore. Mark moaned loudly enough to be heard at the podium: "Awwwwww... I don't wanna sign BOOKS."
Well, this gal, who'd have given her teeth to have a book on which people actually wanted my autograph, unfortunately lacks the Shy and Retiring gene that runs through the Swiss side of the family, so naturally I leaned forward and whispered into the ear of one of the most famous poets writing in English: "Yeah, well, god forbid you burn a calorie, Mark."
The much, much more polite poet sitting next to Mark turned turned a distressing shade of purple around the ears, and for half a second I wondered what amount of therapy it would take for me to learn not to say stuff just because I was thinking it. Why in God's name would I be impolite to Mark Strand? So I had a bone to pick with his Magnificent Ennui thing and he looked at a point somewhere over my head when he spoke to me. So what? The man had enough laurels on his head I'm surprised he could turn around.
But his did. With alacrity. And grinning as if I had just said the funniest thing ever.
"You don't get it," he said in his Eastwood growl. "There are more signed Strands than unsigned Strands. It's a devalued currency!"
And we laughed, and the reading started. However, at the book signing, I couldn't leave it alone. I gathered copies of every Strand volume in the bookstore and whomped them down onto the table in front of him.
"Mr. Strand," I said, pompously as I could. "Would you do me the immense honor of NOT signing these for me?"
The grin again; bigger than ever. "Why, yes, I would be delighted not to sign those books!"
"Fabulous! I'll just go put them back on the shelves then," I said. And did.
Mark and I developed a ribbing, slightly snarky, bantering style much colored by the fact that it was a continuum for me and apparently a totally new conversation for him every single time, because he never, ever, ever remembered who I was. Not that year, not the next, not the time I ran into him downtown, not the time we met through a mutual friend and not the time we shared the podium at the Best American Poetry launch reading in 2012 -- a peak experience for me, during which I am pretty sure he checked his watch twice while I read.
In New York, after forgetting for the 93'd time that we'd met 92 other times, he tried to get around the "should I know you?" thing by saying, "And... where do you go home to?" When I said San Francisco he literally recoiled, saying with disbelief, "You came all the way here? For this?"
"This" was a killer reading that included Mark, and a chance to visit a number of good friends in one of my favorite cities in the world. "Strand," I said, "It's Manhattan. Yeah, I came here for this."
"I live in Chelsea," he said airily, and walked away as I said "I know..." to his retreating back.
When I saw him nine months later, again at Sewanee, I instantly knew it would be the last time. He'd lost half his body mass -- people were discreet and professional about it but he was obviously dying. Now, Mark has written so hauntingly on the subject of death and particularly of his own erasure from this life that I don't stand a chance of saying anything about it that he didn't already say better. I had a lot of questions, big questions, as I looked at him -- things I couldn't ever ask. Like was he scared or had all those poems somehow exorcised the existential dread of nonexistence from his psyche? Was he in pain? He didn't seem to be -- a little more easily tired than I'd seen him in the past, but also a lot more lively. Did talking about it make it feel better or worse? Had different things become important to him? Or unimportant?
But even I am not quite that impertinent as it turns out. Or, even if I were, I'd have choked on the words because it was just so shocking to see Mark Strand look so... mortal.
He gave a wonderful craft lecture and the best reading I had ever seen from him that week, footage of which is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJylQzQBxKQ
If you listen carefully there is some ambient noise in the room which is probably me sobbing. It starts around "Almost Invisible," which is where I started to realize I had never given Mark Strand his propers as an artist. Not that I didn't admire his work; I did. But I'd dismissed him too, in a way -- something about his work seemed so effortless that I mistook it for easy. No: not easy. I heard things I'd never heard before; a longing to be understood, an awe at the immensity of death; a self-deprecating charm made the more poingnant because it was just so clear he was becoming one of those poems, cell by cell. He was funny. Gracious. Stirring. It was one of those hours you just feel privileged to have been a witness to. And the immensity of knowing I would never see him again was all the more overwhelming because he held that understanding, that the clock was ticking, so incredibly lightly.
A few hours before this reading, I'd been sitting with a friend having a glass of wine on the porch of the Have a Glass of Something building. Suddenly Mark appeared, and sat in the chair next to me, holding a bottle of beer.
"You changed your hair color," he said.
I almost choked. "You... remember me?" I said, stupidly. But... seriously. After all that?
"Of course," Mark said. "You like James Merrill."
I laughed. "I wanted to be James Merrill when I grew up," I said.
"You know, I kind of did too," said Mark.
And we chatted for a while, and then I pulled my copy of one of his books out of my bag and asked him if he'd sign it. "Of course!" he said. And I started laughing and couldn't stop. Mark handed me back my book, leaned in close and said, "You know what? These socks -- they're cashmere."
I'll sign off with this poem, which he read delightfully that night. Mark, you will be deeply missed, and I hope there are Ferragamo bedroom slippers and $25,000 cases of Bordeaux in the afterworld.
Harmony In the Boudoir.
After years of marriage, he stands at the foot of the bed and
tells his wife that she will never know him, that for everything
he says there is more that he does not say, that behind each
word he utters there is another word, and hundreds more be-
hind that one. All those unsaid words, he says, contain his true
self, which has been betrayed by the superficial self before her.
"So you see," he says, kicking off his slippers, "I am more than
what I have led you to believe I am." "Oh, you silly man," says
his wife, "of course you are. I find that just thinking of you
having so many selves receding into nothingness is very excit-
ing. That you barely exist as you are couldn't please me more."
(Ed note: Brenda Shaughnessy wrote about Mark Strand on her facebook page. She kindly agreed to let me share her moving tribute here.Thank you, Brenda. sdh)
Like many others, I was very young when I first encountered Mark Strand's poems--and they seemed like they issued from some faraway, magical, impossible world where some exalted humans were deigned poets. These pieces of art were otherworldly. It made sense that the person who made them was this tall drink-of-water silver fox with an excess of charm (or so I saw in photos and heard in anecdote.) The chance to get to know him a little--enough to call him a friend, to love his wit, admire his generosity, and to appreciate his joyful embrace of younger generations of poets--made me feel like I was really part of poetry, past and present. He wasn't just his poems, of course. He was kind, full of vim, was devoted to poetry and cared about those who wrote it. I'm so sad that Mark Strand, the person, is now elsewhere forever. Here's one of my favorites:
A man has been standing
in front of my house
for days. I peek at him
from the living room
window and at night,
unable to sleep,
I shine my flashlight
down on the lawn.
He is always there.
After a while
I open the front door
just a crack and order
him out of my yard.
He narrows his eyes
and moans. I slam
the door and dash back
to the kitchen, then up
to the bedroom, then down.
I weep like a schoolgirl
and make obscene gestures
through the window. I
write large suicide notes
and place them so he
can read them easily.
I destroy the living
room furniture to prove
I own nothing of value.
When he seems unmoved
I decide to dig a tunnel
to a neighboring yard.
I seal the basement off
from the upstairs with
a brick wall. I dig hard
and in no time the tunnel
is done. Leaving my pick
and shovel below,
I come out in front of a house
and stand there too tired to
move or even speak, hoping
someone will help me.
I feel I’m being watched
and sometimes I hear
a man’s voice,
but nothing is done
and I have been waiting for days.
One day a kid yelled
and everybody on the street
-- Ed Ochester
The poem appeared in Poetry in 2000 and in Ed Ochester's book WHITE HORSES: SELECTED POEMS (Autumn House Press). Originally in Poetry.
A friend from Cambridge, England, writes:
The sexiest word in the language, I think sometimes on lovely days as I walk along tree-lined streets and look at the women in their loose summer frocks, is liquefaction. The word refers to the transformation of a substance from a solid to a liquid state. Robert Herrick (1591-1674), in one of his most beautiful short poems, captures the exact sense of the word that I have in mind.
UPON JULIA'S CLOTHES
Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
O how that glittering taketh me!
-- Robert Herrick
And here is the man himself:
THE BEST THANKSGIVING EVER by Jennifer L. Knox
After the meal, Sandy decided we should spice up charades
by slapping the loser’s butt with a ping-pong paddle.
Whenever Ed got slapped, he farted because he was so nervous.
The ladies won, slapped all the men’s butts, but then what to do?
“Take off your clothes!” I told Sean, who didn’t seem like the kind
of guy who’d do such a thing—but he was, and he did. Then Jim
took off his clothes. Then John. And then the other Jim
The Latin poet Catullus is often presented in expurgated versions thought to be suitable for teenage boys. But the whole transgressive flavor of the original is lost in the process. His poems are full of invective, passion, lust, and a graphic delight in body parts.Catullus was born in Verona in 87 B.C. and died in Rome in 58 B.C. He had a love affair with a consul's wife, whom he calls Lesbia and whose real name may have been Clodia. He praised her pussy ("A single whiff and you'll get on your knees") and denounced his rivals for her affections ("scumbags") in immortal verse. The following is a good example of the intimate insult as practiced by Catullus:
Improba Carmina by Catullus
I will fuck you up the ass and in the mouth,
Aurelius you sodomized ass-licker
And Furius, you perverted cock-sucker
Who read my sensual poems and conclude
I'm too wanton. For everyone knows
It's meet and proper for a poet to be
Pure, pious, and always correct in his behavior.
But we don't expect the same of his poems.
Of mine they'll say sure, they have wit, they have charm
They're so sexy and lewd they can
Arouse – I won't say boys, but these hairy
Men whose unstiff dicks wilt on the vine.
You who have kissed many thousands of mouths
Upper and nether, man and girl,
How dare you think me less than manly?
I will fuck you up the ass and in the mouth.
Molly Arden (translator) majored in classics at Bryn Mawr. She has worked as a librarian and an arts administrator. Her translations of Catullus have appeared in Classic Literature in Translation. She is working on new translations of Gaius Valerius Catullus and Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, known in English as Juvenal.
Poem copyright c 2003, 2014.
For more "F-U" poems. . .see issue # 17 of SLOPE: http://slope.org/archive/issue17/FU_main.html
We truncate what you need to be
to fit you in your lucky life
with us. We cut and paste, to see
the version that brings us delight.
The almost-language in your eye,
that seems such sorrow to my own,
is just a suffocated cry
that leaves you, finally, alone,
and willing to accept much less:
a place beside the hearth, had we
still hearths; mock food; a pedigree
that shapes, yet won’t admit, redress.
Odrzucamy to, czym musisz być,
by wpasować cię w twe szczęście
z nami. Wycinamy i wklejamy
wersję ciebie, która nam jest miła.
Ten prawie-język w twoich oczach,
widzę, że jest straszliwym bólem –
zdławiony krzyk, który w końcu
przynosi ci twój święty spokój;
gotowość, by przyjąć o wiele mniej:
miejsce przy ogniu – jakbyśmy wciąż
mieli ogień; karykaturę jedzenia;
rodowód – rodzaj zadośćuczynienia.
przekład z angielskiego: Joanna Kurowska
Why, it’s nothing more than this:
To see the finish in the start, the end
In the beginning, and in the acorn,
The oak tree. Michael Jordan was cut
From his ninth grade basketball team
But God saw six NBA championships
In Michael Jordan’s future and he saw
How Harold Hamm the youngest
Of a sharecropper’s thirteen children
Born in the middle of nowhere would
Become an oil-rich billionaire and
He sees how girls that are funny-looking
In the fifth grade can become supermodels
Through the Ugly Duckling Syndrome.
The attacks of September 11th were very difficult for me as they were for many people. It was the last year of my MFA program. In addition to teaching and flying, I was finishing my thesis which was a book length collection of poetry about a flight attendant named Kimberlie.
I was surprised some flight attendants were able to work right away. I was afraid there were going to be more attacks. I took an unpaid week off which the airline allowed us to do without a problem. After a week, I had to go back to work. I was scared and grieving but broke. In the briefing I had with the two other flight attendants prior to our trip, I told them I was scared and it was my first trip back. One of the other young women said, “I’m scared too, it’s my first trip too. My mom is coming on all our flights with us.” Her mom could pass ride space available for free as part of our employee benefits and it wasn’t a problem getting on any of the flights because they were all practically empty. In spite of what anyone may think, I fully admit I was so glad to have a mom there watching over us. The other young woman working with us didn’t seem frightened at all. Her husband was a high school history teacher and the attacks caused him to change his entire course to 9/11 backstory. For the first time in his teaching career, his students were enthralled.
Of course, flying and finishing assignments and my thesis, 9/11 entered the poems. The fear I felt. The images I saw. Very shortly after 9/11, I went to the Hong Kong Ladies’ Night Market where a vendor was selling t-shirts with screened images of the Twin Towers burning right before they collapsed. The shirts were hanging outside his booth, high on display. He saw me looking at them with shock and disgust and he looked at me indignantly as if to say, “That’s right.”
I had scheduled for Eileen Tabios to be the Guest Author in the class I was teaching. She spoke to the class about the difficulty of finding language immediately after a tragedy occurs. Grappling with language myself, all I could see was the image of the dust settling and feel a sense of quiet dislocation. Images without sound. It became the final poem of the collection.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.