Read all About It

On the day you will be born:

The U.S. eliminates 95% of H-

bomb fallout. Atom test rips

blockhouse 14 miles from blast

site. U.S. officers in Soviet radio-

TV accord. Law group head hits

high court. Free speech no

protection for obscenity high

court rules – and that is all

the news that’s fit to print,

or your mother has time to read,

in a taxi in Cincinnati, on her way

to meet you this fine morning

in June.

Writing

Writing 

Is like living with a snake.

You spend a lot of time watching it sleep.

It requires only sporadic feeding,

When it moves, it unwinds slowly,

imperceptible, yet it will not be stopped.

It has a mind of its own. It will shed its skin

whether you are ready for it or not.

And when you are asleep, not watchful, think 

you are handling it just fine, the snake will

strike out, bite, and you will fear it.

You must not be afraid.

This is what snakes do.

You own the snake for this purpose.

The blow only startles. 

Suck the venom out, spit,

nurse the wound.

The scar you carry will remind you.

Sommer Idyll

all the empty chairs
are facing me, blue-backed
straightbacked
like good soldiers
they do not look me in the eye
they do not move
to break the silence
which is not silence at all
but the noise of an empty room,
hum of fans, buzz of lamps
my breathing
these snapping keys

outside
through a wall of windows
June is grey, rain-laden cement
and green, the leaves and grass
who are the only ones who know
what to do with all this water

Reconstruction

The older the poem
the more uncut words
there are, the more said
the more meaning
thank god for manilla folders
and filing cabinets
for the egomania
of saving drafts

When we go back far enough
through the layers of cosmetics
past the rendering and polishing
and find the excess verbiage
we so cleverly excised that time
we were so clever with the pen-
knife, there in the heap of vowels
and consonants is a word

You must retrieve it, extract it
like a diamond from dung, see
how it pulsates, palpable
the very heartbeat of the poem
is there, the poem that became,
for want of it, a mere shell
a propped up scaffolding of bones
in the shape of something
you thought you knew

You knew nothing, thank god
you knew enough not to throw away
the pages behind the poem
you called finished
to finish well you must always
go back to the start
find out what it was
that stopped the world
and your breath
and had to be written down
what it was that you later removed
to make it all so neat

Neatness is for corpses, remember this
while you are still alive: shun neat
flail, fling, whirl, leap and turn
strive to increase, expand
take up space, fill the world with more
not less of you, use more words
that are pulsing, fewer that are
blank bones

Hva profeten ønsket seg til jul

å gud hvis jeg hadde
et hemmelig språk
ville jeg si noe her
som bare du, ja du ikke gud
skulle lese
og skjønne, det ville lyde
noe slikt: qnwzixssm
og ingen
skulle tørre kommentere
eller beundre
eller misunne
eller fordomme
det som guds håndflate
maler i fingermalingens
tydelige farger
ja da måtte jeg også
ti stille og lytte
og kanskje skjønne
noe som alle disse
vellskapte og gjenkjennlige ord
ikke snakker om
ikke skjønne
ikke sier

The Girl Waiting for Her Mother in Gina Tricot

waits alone
in a small bubble
her fist so close
to her compact cheeks
to the little knob of her nose
this is it, all of her
right here in this little bag

she drills one finger into a nostril
over and over
but nothing comes out
it is hollow
she is empty
but digs all the same
trying to reach within
since there is nothing without
everything in the world
is right there

it is all so small
and inside the invisible walls
she is huge and alone and insignificant
wiping her dry finger along the counter
as if to leave a trace, a smudge, a smear of her slime
as if to mark a trail in the dust
but at Gina Tricot it has all been wiped away
there is nothing for her to touch
outside
and nothing for her to reach
within

she rubs and dubs her nose
it is all she has
this distance between nose and fist
but it is not enough
and she doesn’t question
how the world can be so completely full
of nothing
she doesn’t wonder if it could be unlike this
somewhere else
she knows only this, it is everything
and it is
so
not
enough

Not A Muse: The Inner Lives of Women

not a muse
not amuse
not amused
knot of my ooze

all this the interior
of a woman
rooms of a house
that is woman
all the roles
the rolls of women

read one page a day
and you will find me
at the end of one year

you will find me looking
you will find me by looking
I will be the one looking
down looking for something
hidden something lost
something I feel I lost
though I don’t know it
by name or shape
only know it is missing
so I go on looking

and you go on reading
there are many more pages
of poems, many more poems
of rooms of states of ages of eras
the book is as thick as a bible
though here there is more room
between words

the empty spaces have their own language
they are what we are not
defining, there is not
a muse to be seen in the whole place, just rooms
the interior spaces

each room a name of an age
of woman, and I
you will find me where they found
it meet and fitting to put me
among the keepers of secrets

I had not known myself
which room on the interior of woman
was mine, but when I see the title on the door
I know it is home, it has always been home

and this is why everything I say
and don’t say is a woman’s articulation
manifestation, transfiguration, transubstantiation
of what is not said, do you hear

do you hear
what I say is what is not said
and this is how you know me
this is how you hear me tell you
my name, it echoes
in all the empty spaces
between the jots and loops and tittles

where the voice resides
like a hum, a purr, resonance of a mechanism
ticking, ticking, like a heart marking the minutes
marking the words, five thousand or more
words not to amuse but to silence you
to make you listen, here

hear my heart hear me swallow hear
me not tell you anything
and everything
in the same word

Found Poem: Everything Returns, after Adam Zagajewski

(“Is it more important to focus on the loss or the coming back?”, Theresa D. Smith in “An Interview with Adam Zagajewski,” Sycamore Review, vol. 21, issue 1, 2009)

Poetry, like philosophy
and every art, is preparation
for death, trying to establish
at every single turn
the last thing that happens.

The departure from a native city
is a one-time event.
Each visit back is not
a real return
the city gives the artist a huge gift
a paradoxical anchor
a negative anchor
a kind of a poisoned gift
because you also lose something.

Once you get that gift
you have to be careful
to not overdo it
hysterical nostalgia.

Terms of departures
and returns
are not about place,
it is the state of mind
which produces poetry, poetry
is the thing that disappears
and returns all the time.

One day
we’ll disappear forever
poetry
is a way to tame
the hostility of the world
by stressing this rhythm
of departing
and return.

Yes, but

yes but you said No
I said
Yes can mean no
I agree
or disagree
English has no word
for the French word si
the Scandinavian jo
the negation of a negative
the affirmation of what
you didn’t mean or
rather what you did mean
was wrong

count the words
tally the wrongs
go on
lay them in store
let them be
your wealth
your layby
for hard times
to come

days of roses
and pansies

Coming Home at Nine

I got Marilyn in the bag
and big fat strawberry chews
and big fat strawberries covered
in chocolate
white for you
milk chocolate for me
I got nougat
wrapped in that thin
paper you can eat
and Malabar espresso beans
from India
acid-free the lady said
in the foreign food shop
No! real! she said, quite insulted
when I asked if the strawberry chews
were fake, if they were candy

they looked like candy
like cheap candy at 13.90 a bag
but she tossed the bag on a scale at the checkout
13.90 a hecto
so they got to be real
strawberries

and I got a four-novels-in-one volume
of John Steinbeck, and an English reader
for Gymnasium from 1951
and a three-novels-in-one volume
of an author I never heard of
but the jacket quoted the Post and Times
saying he is an American treasure
we should know about

and I got Roald Dahl’s stories for grown-up
and The Bloomsbury Reader, a cross-reference
that says if you liked this author
you will also like that one
the same with books
it directs you through a literary
maze of must reads
a must, I thought, for our library
which is twelve or fifteen
or some such number of bookcases
bookcases in every room
bookcases as common as chairs
in our house

so when you said Bring me a present
I knew it had to be a book or two
I got five actually
and when I found the Marilyn Monroe hatbox
I had to bring her home to you too

so I sent my carry-on as luggage
with the books, and Marilyn’s got the coffee
and chewy candy looking strawberries
in her hatbox, and I’ve got Marilyn
in a big brown paper bag
and all I have to do now is decide
if you get her for Christmas
or for when I get home at nine
you said we’ll have spaghetti boulagnaise
if the plane’s on time
which it is, I am sure because I heard
the message bell tinkle on my phone
right as the woman next to me
got buzzed with a message
and the two bald men in matching blue shirts
that match the blue of the waiting lounge chairs
they both got messages and reached
like synchronized swimmers into their back pockets
as the old woman in the rain parka
and tennis shoes also got a message

all these phones pinging and zinging
so it was obvious the airline had sent little
welcome on board reminders
to get ourselves to the airport
so I didn’t bother to look at my phone
since all the others looked at theirs
and remained calm

all that’s left for me to do
is what criminals have always done:
line up and lay my finger on the pad
and they’ll let me through the gate
carrying Marilyn with her big fat
chocolate covered chewy strawberries
we’ll have for dessert
we’ll drink espresso from India
we’ll read a story at bedtime
so set the table, open the wine
I’ll be home at nine bearing gifts
all these and more I may have forgotten
just for you, for nobody else
but you