Thursday, February 16, 2012

The 99th Poem: Lycopodium Obscurum, Timothy Donnelly

Timothy Donnelly

If it’s true that a person has to become more than half-
     dead to this world to live in it happily, then I’ll be happy
never to live in it happily again. Let the phenomena
     alternately capsize and crank me up into the Atlantic

air—I will hang there jangling till the point of view
     turns out to be borne on the concave back of some far
too faulty conception of happiness, which is to say just
     say the word and I’ll tear it down and get back to work.

Here in my dirt laboratory, here where I take my time
     and have it, what shatters on the workbench wends its way
to the floor in light-feathered sentences whose truth
     content amounts to as much as the average rainfall

between syllables in silver. Sentences that chirp insights
     back and forth nights like peckish metaphysicists
united over pastry, an altarpiece of it, baroque in an effort
     to avoid further scrutiny of the universal diagram

for the formation of questions regarding every possible
     proposition. Having only recently tattooed it to the taut
backs of truffle hogs we then released into the autumn
     of their abutting acreage to no avail, I can’t fault them.

They can’t be faulted. Not entirely. Not when the need
     to articulate their quest in material terms animates limbs
no less than hungers of the body. But something keeps
     going wrong, something that calls for cold long walks

through quiet acreage. A chance to glimpse, as in time-
     lapse photography, the pert tassels of what’s classified
as a fern-ally insist through the topsoil. I never knew
     its binomial till long after the woods in which it grew

got axed to pay for my tutorials. Wee ranch-style houses
     fortify that land now, habitats where lives like mine
go drab between lasagna and last month’s crossword puzzles.
     Dust descends on candy dishes. Radon detectors blink

plainly in the basements. The sentences want to know
     how much of what they perceive is actually a message.
Sorry. I stand corrected. What they really want to know
     is how much of what they perceive is actually a pastry.

Pretty much all of it, I say. After so many failed strivings
    into darkness, into ether, they’ve come to value most
what they can lay their hands on, place inside their mouth.
    All that animus spent hunting the intrinsic instead of

honing methods to evaluate the relative wore them out.
     Go to bed, little sentences. The ghosts of club moss rise
up because I’ve felt them here. I tend to them this way,
      a member of their movement. And maybe what irrupts

calls for that. For less gridwork and more choreography,
     for a form including time, change, and not just setting into
fixed position—although back in the day the sentences
     would’ve wagered all dance had gridwork hidden in it.

Tonight I’ll board the ship with caution because it is too
     dark now not to, hands on the rope rail, eyes on my feet up
the gangplank and back against the stars beneath which
     happiness will be thought the motion of a mind whereby

a value is performed. Like a show of respect for the forest
     that startles us into feeling at home being lost in it. Insofar as
this position can only be borne on the back of a somewhat
     loose conception of feeling, I am starting a new way to feel.
About "Lycopodium Obscurum," Timothy Donnelly writes
“Lycopodium Obscurum” takes its name from an evergreen clubmoss that grew in abundance in the woods behind the house I grew up in in what was then a semi-rural suburb of Providence, RI.  Commonly known as “ground pine” or “princess pine,” the plant resembles tiny, densely branched pine trees, and for this reason it featured prominently in the dioramas of my childhood imaginative play.  In the late 80’s, these woods—which had once extended for acres, and which I remember as full of wild blueberry bushes, various pine, old oak, white birch, colonial stone walls, sassafras, occasional horseshoes and arrowheads, numerous types of fern and the wild orchids known lady slippers, too, and through which I could probably still find my way through today blindfolded, if they existed—were lost to suburban sprawl.  I later found out that my parents had had to sell this land to pay for my college education.  This poem was written as a refusal to let that sacrifice go uncommemorated, and in my insistence on preserving (in some form, in my poetry) articles of value and sources of happiness that our market-driven culture overlooks.  

This poem first appeared in Washington Square Review, Winter/Spring 2011.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Self Portrait As Rejected Inaugural, Dean Rader


The land was land before we were us.
Our regret, freshly cut, clumps in the front yard.

History, memory’s buttonhole, needs a new suit:
Its shoes, scuffed and spit-shined, wait by the door.

We wear ourselves as though it means something,
As if identity’s moustache and glasses were made

To order. We are who we show others we
Should be, at least this is what we told

Ourselves as we dragged our whiteness across
The plains. We are what God wants us to be,

At least, this is what God told us as we dragged
Our blackness along the field. We are what

Our treaties say we are, at least this is what
Our fathers told us as we dragged our redness

Into the forests. As we did that first day,
We walk out onto the yard in our bare feet.

Today, though, we keep the mower in the
Garage. It’s raining and it is going to rain.

Today, we wait for the sun, sky's
only coin, to drop itself into the slot

Of America's phone: we ask who might
Answer when the other millennium

Calls to check in. We reply as we did then:
Look in your window. We are whomever

We are when we answer that phone. We are
What we say into the silence on the other end.

We are, as we always have been, the little chain
That dangles from mercy's bulb. We are,

As we always will be, the bulb at the end
Of conquest's wire, at least that's what

The soldier told us as we touched the switch.
We are what we say we might be. We are

Neither invention nor anodyne. As we
Walk across the yard, we say to ourselves:

We are what God asked us to be,
But we know that's never been true.

We are who we ask to be us.
About "Self Portrait as Rejected Inaugural," Dean Rader writes
I wrote this poem after President Obama was elected but before he was inaugurated. I was thinking about voting and democracy and representation and access to power. This poem and the 99 Percent movement share a desire to say who we are. Several people have chided me for not posting one of my own poems, so, on this second-to-the last day of this blog,  I thought I should walk the walk and say something about who we all are.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

White Phosphorus, Martha Zweig


               Gaza, 2008-2009

Today I shot all the fish in the barrel
dead then strafed an entire 
cemetery targeting each unearthed
body bit bigger than ten
centimeters zeroing in on my cold-
seeking drone.

Little bullets shuttled the mineral
rubble back & forth in slime.
I am exquisite
in timing, I’m history’s texts attuned
by lute to the blood thrumming
my ear, the ear alive.

I am King Shit
the sublime. I hear the homing 
hum brimming from all Zion’s fine
motor coordination in orchestra;
in goggles’ green night 
vision diaspora rides aurora.
About "White Phosphorous," Martha Zweig writes
No one knows "occupation" better than the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Reading about "Operation Cast Lead" online when it happened, I ran into some boasting by Israeli pilots, including the description of strafing to rip up Gaza's cemeteries to erupt buried Palestinian flesh in pieces no larger than 10 centimeters, in order to mock the sanctity of burial for Muslims. This poem first appeared in North American Review, Winter, 2010.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Goodwill, Julie Bruck

Julie Bruck

On his knees, the new employee adds more
black shoes to the black shoes rack.
His manager floats by in a leopard muumuu, 
says, Good job, Johnny. When you're done,
your shift's up, so punch out for today.

He raises his face to each customer, says
Sir or M'am, offers help which no-one takes,
his face wide and eager as a child's.
It's a new job: to arrange black shoes
which smell like people's feet, to offer
unsolicited assistance, and to like it.
This first day has gone very well, indeed.
About "Goodwill," Julie Bruck writes
What's surprises me isn't the rare person who "goes postal," it's the rest, who get up mornings, put on their shoes, and go on hoping for the best.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Scientific American, Daniel Luevano

Daniel Luevano

I almost couldn't buy the issue:
one page past the cover feature
What Makes Us Human?

a photo from the Congo:
children raising empty bowls
like hands with questions

I don't have to tell you
I saw familiar little arms.
We share 99 percent DNA

with our nearest relative
the chimpanzee: 99 percent
3 billion particulates

of the human genome
as figured by a chain of computers
with serious dedicated cooling

picking for the differences.
The future humans organize,
the history biology

expresses as each of us:
difficult gods to appease.
I almost couldn't

buy the issue. We diverge
at the cerebral cortex
at where we sound words

at what new we digest
at wrist-to-thumb
at how big our brains must be.
About "Scientific American," Daniel Luevano writes
Both mindsets, the scientific and the American, expect some purity to experience. Yet humans confound purity, and certain magazines and blogs confound illusions of it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Memory/Memorial, Ingrid Wendt


You whose family four years fled through jungles, whose mother,
Camp by camp, weakened, the cancer left to spread, untreated
You, whose mother fled with her children from Russian invasion
Your train bombed and bombed again as it inched its way south
You whose daughter disappeared on her everyday route home.

You to whom a government gave blankets riddled with smallpox
You whom radiation ravaged, whose fatherland won’t remember
You for whom the midnight knock on the door will echo forever
You for whom the syllables Tiananmen, Kent State, still smolder
You whose generation’s memory is short

You who cannot bear the sound of movie gunfire, cars’ backfires
You who’ve gathered together severed limbs from the wreckage
The swamp water; you, family whose mourning can never begin
You who never again will look into cameras, you who have seen
More of the face of evil than anything minds can begin to imagine

You who look for reasons where none exist, who bring to these
Elegies, images of your own, too deep for speech, wave upon
Wave they return when least you expect them, flotsam weighing
The future down. What shape do we give to horror, what form?
Silence between the paving stones of these stanzas: this is for you.
About "Memory/Memorial," Ingrid Wendt writes
Throughout human history, with all of its changes, one thing is constant in every country in the world: for every horror, every death, caused by other human beings – from large-scale warfare to airline crashes to the kidnapping and murder of a child coming home from school – there are those left behind who remember, who mourn, who often are isolated in their grief and in their inability to give shape to it.

This poem belongs to a 10-part poem sequence: my part of a collaborative project with a sculptor and painter in 1999. The horrors I refer to are events in the Philippines and Germany during and after the second world war, in China, Chile, Argentina, the United States during the Indian wars, and the United States today. For this poem, I created all lines (except one) of nearly equal length, to resemble paving stones of an imagined path.

from The Angle of Sharpest Ascending, Word Press, 2004

Friday, February 10, 2012

Prepositions, Elizabeth Savage

So much depends

the burdens
with which

we wheel

our happiness. So much

depends upon a rural

glazed with white

beside darker

So much hangs

short words

long arms
tea, bill,

all, free
Beside ourselves

once upon
a time

with our laurels
at rest

So much for

balancing its red
About "Prepositions," Elizabeth Savage writes

“Prepositions” began as a meditation on the function and character of prepositions, a powerful part of speech determining the relationships of words to other words, but often overlooked because they are small and common and plentiful.  Once I figured out how to focus my considerations, the poem became a comment on the current state of our democracy. 

“Prepositions” was first published in Prime Number and is part of a book entitled Grammar from Furniture Books Press, 2012. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Sound That Gathers, CJ Evans

CJ Evans

It’s a claxon perhaps, mixed with
lowing cows. It’s a starlet’s scream

from the radio era, saved on
a scratched wax cylinder, a looped

tsunami warning, and raccoons
in the chimney. It’s the hushed money

discussion at a midnight kitchen table,
the unanswered knock of the super.

It’s fragile, but there is menace
within it, like the catfish’s teeth,

hidden by delicate whiskers. It isn’t
a prayer, it’s a keen, the cry

of the cold infant who doesn’t
understand, and it comes from

my mouth. It’s a warning, radiating
from the lighthouse’s isolated island

in the storm, and it’s ire, adrenaline,
the pop of a gas canister,

and the stutter of small arms.
It’s an opening jaw and the distress

in learning to plan for less.
It’s the lighthouse keeper behind

the beacon, who knows he won’t
be saved, but yells over

the indifferent ocean anyway,
as if it might be him that is the storm.
About "The Sound That Gathers," CJ Evans writes
I'm not sure if this poem is hopeful or not, but it's a reflection of the relationship between the personal and the plural in the 99%/OWS movement. How the difficulties so many of us face, while inevitably personal, are mirrored on a national scale. It strikes me that the basic premise of society is to come together as a collective to lessen the burden on us individually, but that foundational concern seems to have gone missing at some point.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Folks Did, Ann Privateer

Ann Privateer

When I was a child
so much time was spent
cleaning things.

We lived with my grandparents
for a time, where cousins, aunts,
and uncles lived too.

Monday was wash day
many loads kept
the agitator humming.

Laundry suds were
saved in buckets to wash
floors or  the cars.

Tuesday was ironing day
with 5 boards set up
in the basement.

I sat on the stairs watching 
the women's technique 
and learned to iron

and listened to gossip
and learned about
human nature.

Wednesday's furniture
polish smells sent me
outside to play.
About "What Folks Did," Ann Privateer writes
The poem is about my childhood, It was a time that was both open and closed in many ways.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Paradelle for the Masses, Erika Moss Gordon


We, the ninety nine percent!
We, the ninety nine percent!
shouting to one and all.
shouting to one and all.
And the one percent,
all shouting to we ninety nine.

In the Middle East, a fight for freedom.
In the Middle East a fight for freedom
from beneath dictators paid for by the United States.
From beneath dictators paid for by the United States.
A fight for freedom from beneath dictators
in the United States, paid for by the Middle East.

We drive the cars, they drink the gas.
We drive the cars, they drink the gas.
Too much on this earth, and the ice is melting.
Too much on this earth, and the ice is melting.
The cars on this earth, they drive the gas,
we drink too much, and the ice is melting.

When will we all stop and listen?
When will we all stop and listen
to the voices who are calling, rising up,
to the voices who are calling, rising up?
When will the voices stop and listen
to we who are calling - all rising up?
About "Paradelle for the Masses," Erika Moss Gordon writes
The paradelle is a four stanza poem invented by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins as a parody of the villanelle.  The form follows a strict line and word format so that in the first three stanzas, lines one and three are repeated and then every single word from the first four lines must be used in lines five and six.  Technically, the final stanza is supposed to use every word from the first three stanzas and only those words, but oh well – these days it’s all about breaking paradigms, right?