It feels like time to look at some new poems–but new is a relative term. Most of these are recent, but some are just new to me, poets whose names I’ve known but haven’t read at all or haven’t read closely. Poems from recent books by poets whose previous work I do know. New ways of seeing and hearing, of taking in the world and giving voice to it. Most of these are new to the blog. Poets are always torn between reading new work and re-reading long time favorites, and of course we do both, shuttling back and forth between them, sometimes resisting the ones new to us, arguing with them, then seeing what they mean, all that they open our hearts and minds to.
I hope you’ll take time to research a little context for ones you don’t already know. Feel free to add your comments here and bring them up at this week’s Friday discussion. Please note that this week only it will be two hours earlier, at 2 eastern time.
Here are two poems from Rick Barot’s book The Galleons. In the first one, the person described is the speaker’s grandmother.
THE GALLEONS, 1
Her story is a part of something larger, it is a part
of history. No, her story is an illumination
of history, the matchstick lit in the black seam of time.
Or, no, her story is separate
from the whole, as distinct as each person is distinct
from the stream of people that led
to the one and leads past the one. Or, her story
is surrounded by history, the ambient spaciousness
of which she is the momentary foreground.
Maybe history is a net through which
just about everything passes, and the pieces of her
story are particles caught in the interstices.
Or, her story is a contradiction, something ordinary
that has no part in history at all, if history is
about what is included, what is made important.
History is the galleon in the middle
of the Pacific Ocean, in the middle of the sixteenth
century, swaying like a drunk who will take
six months to finally reach his house.
She is on another ship, centuries later, on a journey
eastward that will take weeks across the same ocean.
The war is over, though her husband
is still in his officer’s uniform, small but confident
among the tall white officers. Her hair
is marcelled like a movie star’s waves,
though she has been too sick with the water’s motion
to know that anyone sees her. Her daughter is two,
the blur of need at the center of each day’s
incessant rocking. Here is a ship, an ocean.
Here is a figure, her story a few words in the blue void.
At a certain point I stopped and asked
what poems I could write, which were different
from the poems I wanted to write, with the wanting
being proof that I couldn’t write those poems, that they
were impossible. What I could do
was different from what I wanted. To see this
was the beginning of work that could be work,
not simply pursuit after pursuit that was
bound to fail, yearning for qualities that were not mine
and could not be mine. Aiming for a muscular
logic that could be followed by a reader’s mind
like an old stone wall running along a landscape, I got
nothing so solid or continuous. The authority
I wanted dissolved always into restlessness,
into a constant gathering of images whose aggregate
seemed like things that had come to settle
inside a glove compartment. I had no faith
in my flaws, but I had a grudging faith
in the particular. There was the actual stone wall,
its mongrel irregular blocks harmonized into use, rich
and ordinary as a soul. There was the flea
that landed on my forearm one night as I sat reading.
The black speck of it, then the outsize sting.
The flea that is an insect, has no wings, can jump
vertically seven inches and horizontally thirteen inches.
The flea that looks, through the magnifier,
like the villain spaceship from a science-fiction movie,
that can live for years in good conditions, and lives
by drinking the blood of animals and birds,
in a practice that is called, by science, hematophagy.
from Obit, Victoria Chang’s book written about her many losses surrounding her father’s illness and her mother’s death. It includes prose poems and lined poems.
Language—died again on August
3, 2015 at 7:09 a.m. I heard about
my mother’s difficult nights. I hired
a night person. By the time I got
there, she was always gone. The
night person had a name but was like
a ghost who left letters on a shore
that when brought home became
shells. Couldn’t breathe, 2:33 a.m.
Screaming, 3:30 a.m. Calm, 4:24
a.m. I got on all fours, tried to pick up
the letters like a child at an egg hunt
without a basket. But for every letter
I picked up, another fell down, as if
protesting the oversimplification of
my mother’s dying. I wanted the night
person to write in a language I could
understand. Breathing unfolding,
2:33. Breathing in blades, 3:30.
Breathing like an evening gown,
4:24. But maybe I am wrong, how
death is simply death, each slightly
different from the next but the final
strike all the same. How the skin
responds to a wedding dress in the
same way it responds to rain.
from OBIT [The Blue Dress]
The Blue Dress—died on August 6,
2015, along with the little blue flowers,
all silent. Once the petals looked up.
Now small pieces of dust. I wonder
whether they burned the dress or just
the body? I wonder who lifted her up
into the fire? I wonder if her hair
brushed his cheek before it grew into a
bonfire? I wonder what sound the body
made as it burned? They dyed her hair
for the funeral, too black. She looked
like a comic character. I waited for the
next comic panel, to see the speech
bubble and what she might say. But her
words never came and we were left
with the stillness of blown glass. The
irreversibility of rain. And millions of
little blue flowers. Imagination is having
to live in a dead person’s future. Grief is
wearing a dead person’s dress forever.
AN ISSUE OF MERCY, #1 from Jeffers’ book The Age of Phillis, poems about Phillis Wheatley
Honorée Fanon Jeffers
What the mother might have said, pointing
at the sun rising, what makes life possible.
Then, dripped the bowl of water,
reverent, into oblivious earth.
Was this prayer for her?
Respect for the dead or disappeared?
An act to please a genius child?
Her daughter would speak
of water, bowl, sun—
sometime after the nice white lady
paid and named her for the slave ship.
Mercy: what the child called Phillis
would claim after that sea journey.
Let’s call it that.
Let’s lie to each other.
Not early descent into madness.
Naked travail among filth and rats.
What got Phillis over that sea?
What kept a stolen daughter?
Perhaps it was mercy,
Water, bowl, sun—
a mothering, God’s milky sound.
Morning shards, and a mother wondered
if her daughter forgot her real name,
refused to envision the rest:
baby teeth missing
and somebody wrapping her treasure
(barely) in a dirty carpet.‘
You know the story—
how we’ve lied to each other.
Driving past a phalanx of white tombstones
along a south-facing slope
I recall, “No one hates war like soldiers,”
from a mechanic replacing
an oil pump to a Fiat engine; then another floater
appears when I blink—
peach blossoms on flowing water
into the distance—
and, as I ponder how a line written in 740
stays present tense—
a curved thrasher nests in a cleft of spined cholla—
a man, on ayahuasca,
types with his hands, and his hands disappear;
he types with his hands,
and his hands disappear—shimmer the words
as his hands disappear.