Some of my Poetry

Not a really long poem, but a longer-than-usual-for-me poem. This came from a prompt in a writing group I am in, so I have to thank Laura Weeks for the inspiration!


Needs More Science

The way I saw our cat Yowie, named for the Australian aboriginal god 
of the underworld, out of the corner of my eye for months
after he died, making him both dead and alive, like Schroedinger’s cat.
Italians have such beautiful words; this one, the way an older painting peeks
out from the painting we know:
Blue Boy and the mysterious dog.
Rembrandt’s doubled hat brim in Flora.
The way Winslow Homer’s seas will someday
become ponds: his walls, pebbles.
Stretched like a canvas, that word can mean 
how your inner self, that child still in your psyche, 
can crash through. Tired or anxious, the wrong thing said, 
and suddenly the 8-year-old you is there,
reacting for a moment, then sinking back 
as the adult you, the now you, takes over.
And maybe that peek isn’t always so bad,  you a bit giggly at 8, 
that age of infinity between ignorance and fear,
with your bangs and cotton playsuit, sitting next to your brother 
on the Tilt-a-Wheel at Whalem Park, which unlike your child self
no longer exists, except as a ghost in old photographs and memories.
But there are other places, like Oaks Park, on the other coast, 
where the carousel’s center column still hums. The paintings 
it exhibits, created first at the end of one world war and painted over
years later as the world was again at war have sloughed off 
their 1940s’ skins. Basic science with a magical result.
Like a containment field around childhood
pentimento has frayed the younger edges,
so a 1920s party girl in a red top and black shorts, 
her limbs in movement to express joy, 
now steps over mid-century cedars and junipers, 
the trees part of a mostly peeled landscaped.
Pentimento continues in the way we can lose ourselves 
on an amusement park ride—fugue state—no matter
how old we are. The way I remember 
visiting Disneyland as a teen 
but what I really remember 
from that trip decades ago is my aunt making pasta 
in her kitchen—I don’t mean heating up water 
and opening a box, but making the noodles 
by hand. She and my uncle 
met in Italy at the end of the war when she wasn’t 
much older than I was then; she’d seen enough bad times
and was happy to leave. I had not been 
through a war fought in my country, but life
already seemed tough at times.
Even at 16 how I longed to go back 
to when I was 8 and  had no worries; 
I longed to be on the Tilt-a-Whirl
with my brother, laughing, making sure my parents
waved each time we came around again,
which of course they did.
The way we whipped by—at 8
no one we knew had died, no one was
ghosting around in my peripheral view—
is always underneath everything.
And those rides, like that faded party girl
stepping over forests, keep us all spinning
even after the park has closed or been bulldozed,
its land turned into condos.
That party girl understands war, understands
pentimento, must know that science as it is now
is against her, that one day she, too, will fade away,
as if retreating into the underworld,
leaving nothing except canvas and smears.
But anyone who knows she is there
will always have her underneath,
in the corner of the eye. Enternamente
                                                           published in Prime Mincer, Winter 2011

I was a Poet-in-the-Schools a few years ago. I taught in two rural Oregon schools, and I had a blast. Introducing kids to poetry--reading it and writing it--is one of my great joys in life. Here is a poem inspired by that experience.


The Eighth Graders, After a Day of Poetry

We knew it was a poem because our teeth
caught on its edges and every sound we had never heard
bounced off our ear drums. We knew a poet
had written those words because when we pressed
our hands to the pages our fingers
glowed and throbbed and turned the color
of shooting stars. We knew we were reciting a poem
because our mouths tasted war, coconuts, 
rivers, city cats, hurricanes in foreign countries
and bird songs, and we rolled the flavors inside us,
letting them fall into our stomaches, 
absorbed like a monk taking in silence.
We knew this poem was for us because it opened wide
on our desks and let loose the smell of dew,
the stench of bad cheese, the perfume of events
from long ago that we'd only read about before
in history books. We knew that the paper given to us
by that woman we had just met—a visiting poet—
was a poem because when we looked at it,
it was nothing we had ever seen before,
and as we looked closer and the woman told us
that we, too, could write poems, the poem on the pages
moved around like cows dancing,
the spaces on the page became secret tunnels,
and when the words moved, we moved,
and then we wanted more.
                                                               published in Encore, 2010

It’s not often that I take a photo of the actual thing that has inspired a poem, or that I have a clear and direct line to the source of inspiration. Below is a poem from my book, The Skeleton Holding Up the Sky, and the photo of the sight that inspired the poem is underneath.

Early Evening

The buzzards land by the dozens,
roost in dead trees
behind my sister-in-law’s house.
They make no noise.
They are the small talk of this
Georgia county, but I am
a visitor: I continue to stare
as my hosts start to lose interest.
Sometimes a few circle,
wings spread like a child
preparing to hug a tree,
and I wonder why: searching
for food or just stretching?
Do I look like food?

In the dark winter morning,
I stand on the back porch,
smoking, careful to make no noise
and wake the others.
The huge black shapes are still,
perched in silhouette,
almost blending into the horizon.
I like to think that they wait,
as I do, for the sun to rise,
the day to begin. We all understand
the difference between life
and death, and those moving
from one to the other.
I put out one cigarette
and light another.

from The Skeleton Holding Up the Sky




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