A rough sketch to prove I haven’t totally wasted my time so far.
I left the art history girls behind me
And the single moms of Edmonton miss me
I’m pulling magic from the Pacific Ocean
I think of you when I put on sun screen
You know who you are
I feel better about my weight when I’m
in America. The averages are higher.
The freeways pulse and digest cars,
I guide myself by memorizing the order
of the foreign street names. La Cienega
Cahuenga. San Vicente. I’ll Fairfax
my way down the road and farmers
market all afternoon. No one knows who
I am but we all pretend together at least
one of us is famous.
Four dollars a gallon for gasoline, tempers
are high too. You’ll be honked at for
hesitating and screech if you start too fast.
Straight lines are rare. Even the sidewalks pitch
pushed up by old roots
trees old and in control of their domain. DWP
bears its Art Deco letterings with promise
It’s an hour by air to Bay Area where love lives
or maybe it lives here too, where fog
settles into canyons shielding stars
from streetlamps and klieg lights. Premieres
are miles away and mean nothing to me.
I’ve never met a celebrity but I know where
they shop. I’d rather point myself at the ocean
where the magic happens and happens.
This is one of my favourite poems. It always makes me think of the women I know who are raising kids, a lot of them just on their own. Being alert to other people’s needs and being anxious all the time are experiences I can relate to but I’ve never had the responsibilities that are attendant to those acute conditions. In any case, CD Wright really nails something with this.
Hair appears on my chest in dreams.
The paperboy comes to collect
with a pit bull. Call Grandmother
and she says, Well you know
death is death and none other.
In the mornings we’re in the dark;
even at the end of June
the zucchini keep on the sill.
Ring Grandmother for advice
and she says, O you know
I used to grow so many things.
Then there’s the frequent bleeding,
the tender nipples, and the rot
under the floormat. If I’m not seeing
a cold-eyed doctor it is
another gouging mechanic.
Grandmother says, Thanks to the blue rugs
and Eileen Briscoe’s elms
the house keeps cool.
Well. Then. You say Grandmother
let me just ask you this:
How does a body rise up again and rinse
her mouth from the tap. And how
does a body put in a plum tree
or lie again on top of another body
or string a trellis. Or go on drying
the flatware. Fix rainbow trout. Grout the tile.
Buy a bag of onions. Beat an egg stiff. Yes,
how does the cat continue
to lick itself from toenail to tailhole.
And how does a body break
bread with the word when the word
has broken. Again. And. Again.
With the wine. And the loaf.
And the excellent glass
of the body. And she says,
Even. If. The. Sky. Is. Falling.
My. Peace. Rose. Is. In. Bloom.
poems replace what they represent
the poem becomes the object
the thing the abstract
it’s slippery but we hold it
a slippery bit of magic
take a swing and the clock
take a swing and the clock
empty shopping carts line the alleys
empty shopping carts line the alleyways
some clouds come tumbling over
tumbling over the mountains
some clouds come tumbling over
it’s the bricks the bricks the bricks
the bricks make the buildings the buildings
the buildings make the canyon walls
of the streets the sidewalks
it could be the mouth of a cave
the mouth of the new day rising
to kiss you on the lips the day
rising to kiss you on the cave
send time to you in shoeboxes old shoeboxes
sending time to you to hold and use
sending you my time to use
Maybe you'll fall in love with an Internet t-shirt site
t-shirt model and the model will fall in love with
the books you’re holding close to your chest and
the books will fall in love with the lamp and its light
no trains give breath to trees the trains run underground
the trees reach branches reaching branches breathing
trees cutting themselves down cutting down the trees themselves
the trains running raining underground trains branching tracking
I imagine this is a skeletal thing I'll try and flesh out.
The structure is clunky, but they always are with me.
Come to Edmonton,
These days we’re preparing for the cold.
Burlap goes around the trees,
air conditioners get their nylon sleeves,
grey paint gets applied to graffiti,
the leaves pile up in bags in the alleys.
A train will take you through a farmer's field,
past a morgue where the Christmas lights are lit
by the extension cords of recent suicides.
The train crosses over a river, but if you look up
instead of down you'll see the old ironwork bridge,
a dominant feature of the airstream of the valley.
You haven't paid the trip and you watch for the fake cops
with their metal clipboards. The ticket means nothing,
Wait until their backs are turned and ride again.
“Who do you think you are?”
You will never be one the cover of Avenue Magazine,
Or curate Refinery, or sit beside Daryl Katz at a game.
A man holds a hard hat, an American Apparel bag at his side.
The sandwich he eats comes from one of the American chains
that populate our suburban malls and hospitals.
He may have a degree in art history, but he’s building a pedway.
No stars in the Amazon basin, there’s mercury in my fillings. Wild canoes catch my eyes and I sing sweet cinnamon.
Our names written in neon. A new ‘Atlantic Monthly’ in the mailbox. Hey Walter Cronkite, water your orchids tonite.
We’ll spend the night swapping shirts. A quartermoon hovers over the pumpkin field. These mirrors give us beauty.
Time discloses its secrets evenly. There are no shoes adequate for dancing against tomorrow. Heat rises to escape.
Shivers and nightshade; wolfsbane blooms under the porch. Shovels on our shoulders, we walk in silence until dawn.
We’re loose silverware, airplane propellers, birds lost in foggy air. A compass, a red dress; night is calling me.
Your eyes are TV screen blue. A reckless carp lives in my pond and I read it Jean-Paul Sartre under dead stars.
No taxis left in Buenos Aires. I walk, birdcage in one hand, lantern in the other. The wolfsbane smells delicious.
I was trying to learn Neko Case’s “Star Witness” on guitar when I realized I had cribbed a line from it and built up a poem. Her line “Hey there’s such tender wolves ‘round town tonight” made me think of coyotes that used to howl every night outside my house. I kept that line in my head for a few days and then did what I usually do to write a poem: I looked through my drafts folder for abstract fragments and assorted orphans. But the key was the idea of “tender wolves ‘round town tonight.” I liked the idea of predators being around, and a town at night. In my mind I pictured winter in a small town, since the place I lived conjured up a sense of isolation and it was winter. The “tender” part was tricky, but then I thought about wolf packs and how that tenderness was reserved for their own kind.
So I married it to two other ideas I had kind of left stagnant. One was my attempt to write a faux-David Berman poem (specifically “The Charm of 5:30”) and the other was something that came from something I saw while sleeping in a woman’s bed (on a winter night not too long before). I changed “wolves” to “coyotes” because that was my context. When you start to put the parts together you begin to see the shape of how the next thing is going to look, in terms of meaning and content. If you plot a few points on a graph you can begin to see where the line is going. I started to see something cyclical in the first two stanzas. I was in California at the time I was finishing it, having been in the snow just a couple of days earlier. I was stuck on the idea of stucco churches which is a popular style at missions in California [think of the church in Vertigo (which, come to think of it, makes sense considering I was presenting a long poem about Vertigo at the conference I was at)].
The Smaller Truth
Here’s the kind of day it’s been:
you turn that wine glass in your hands
as a rabbit runs across the yard.
Somewhere, God’s in a rocking chair
stringing wax thread through a needle
to sew up the tear in a baseball mitt.
The valley’s coyotes are howling;
they’re always smaller than they sound.
Spent moonlight falls off the side
of the neighbour's house, transecting the window
whose slats shade a cross on the wall
where your crucifix used to hang.
On Sunday the stuccoed cathedral
waits for the caretaker to ring the bell.
Meanwhile, God's in his rocking chair,
sewing small white stars to the black fabric
of a new creation. A coyote catches a rabbit.
You don't feel doomed but you are.
The title of the poem is pretty limp and the opening is a little watery. Otherwise I feel like there’s enough in there to make it a poem and keep people from getting too lost. I’m glad the coyotes came back in the last stanza and that they caught something. There’s still, I think, quite a bit of Neko Case’s line in this poem. The important thing is that it became the key, or what I like to call “the navel” of the poem since everything radiates outward from it. This became my first internationally published poem, in the 2012 DASH literary journal. My poetry professor, Derek Walcott, liked this poem, and I do too. I feel like maybe taking some sandpaper and glue to it, but it’s kind of OK that it gets rickety here and there.