Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I am tripping in plain sight. I write poems about survivors. Here's one:

Never Can Tell
She wakes and feels this past
lurking beside her,
the ghost that will not fall behind,
pummeling, insistent.

She wakes and prays,
whoever is there to hear,
get me through this day.
I’ll not ask for more.

She wakes and dresses
her bits of scattered self,
hauling scarred pieces
to proper places, endlessly preparing.

At the door, she checks for menace
in hallways, scanning streets
for fleshy threats and phantoms,
seeking her whom she always meant to be.

Out the door,
she strides ahead
as if fearless,
limitless and ready.

She arrives feeling
unreckoned power, feeling this day
pregnant with difference, this day

ready, perhaps, for what yesterday was not.

and here's another:

Applause Is Overrated
Of all the workouts,
this run down by the
river of our downbeat,
this stretching of the heart

muscle, this reaching for
who you were, for how you
are now, for the nature of your
next epiphany,

is only the beginning
of me here thinking about
you ready
to play

the game you find
yourself in now. This is how
you fill the outline of all you
meant to be,

willful and wilding,
a minute late and a step too far.
You get up, and you go,
you go girl, live this day

and fuck the
deafening silence.

But I am not the poet I wish to be. To be that poet, I would have to produce a poetry of survival that is also a poetry of joy in overcoming. Here's one such poem by Audre Lorde:

The Women of Dan Dance with Swords in Their Hands to Mark the Time When They Were Warriors
I did not fall from the sky
nor descend like a plague of locusts
to drink color and strength from the earth
and I do not come like rain
as a tribute or symbol for earth's becoming
I come as a woman dark and open
some times I fall like night 
and terrible
only when I must die
in order to rise again.

I do not come like a secret warrior
with an unseated sword in my mouth
hidden behind my tongue
slicing my throat to ribbons
of service with a smile
while the blood runs
down and out
through holes in the two sacred mounds
on my chest.

I come like a woman
who I am
spreading out through nights
laughter and promise
and dark heat
warming whatever I touch
that is living
what is already dead.

I do try to be that poet, one who can write poems of survival that are also poems of joy in overcoming. Here's one of my attempts to do so:

Wild Once and Captured
On hearing Annie Lennox

A whisper full of rhythms,
an echo raw with power,
a people spilling outward
in tidal flows of fever.
Here music summons silence,

here longing a language,
touching an allure,
dancing a passion play
and searching leads us
one by one

to stories all our own,
and to stories told in common.
Here smolders spirit
rich and ripe with promise,
peace and legend.

There drums yammering in clearings
where we are jamming with justice
who was wild once
and captured
and has broken out again.

But to be that poet, the one I want to be, I would have to go beyond a poetry of survival that is also a poetry of joy in overcoming. It must also be a poetry of commitment and of grim determination. Here's one such poem by Marge Piercy that I've posted on Outdoor Poetry Season repeatedly:

Joy Road and Livernois 
My name was Pat. We used to read Poe in bed 
till we heard blood dripping in the closet.
I fell in love with a woman who could ring
all bells of my bones tolling, jangling.
But she in her cape and her Caddy
had to shine in the eyes of the other pimps,
a man among monkeys, so she turned me on the streets
to strut my meek ass. To quiet my wailing,
she taught me to slip the fire in my arm,
the white thunder rolling over till nothing
hurt but coming down. One day I didn’t.
I was fifteen. My face gleamed in the casket.

My name was Evie, we used to shoplift,
my giggling wide-eyed questions, your fast hands;
we picked up boys together on the corners.
The cops busted me for stealing, milled me,
sent me up for prostitution because I weren’t
no virgin. I met my boyfriend in the courts.
Together we robbed a liquor store that wouldn’t
sell us whiskey. I liked to tote a gun.
It was the cleanest thing I ever held.
It was the only power I ever had.
I could look any creep straight on in the eyes.
A state trooper blew my face off in Marquette.

My name was Peggy. Across the street from the gas-
works my mom raised nine kids. My brother-
in-law porked me while my sister gave birth,
choking me with the pillow when I screamed.
I got used to it. My third boyfriend knocked me up.
Now I’ve been pregnant for twenty years,
always a bigger belly than me to push around
like an overloaded wheelbarrow ready to spill
on the blacktop. Now it’s my last one,
a tumor big as a baby when they found it.
When I look in the mirror I see my mom.
Remember how we braided each other’s hair,
mine red, yours black. Now I am bald
as an egg and nearly boiled through.

I was Teresa. I used to carry a long clasp
knife I stole from my uncle. Running nights
through the twitching streets, I’d finger it.
It made me feel as mean as any man.
My boyfriend worked on cars until they flew.
All those hot night riding around and around
when we had no place to go but back.
Those nights we raced out on the highway
faster faster till the blood fizzed in my throat
like shaken soda. It shot in an arc
when he hit the pole and I went out the windshield,
the knife I showed you how to use still
on its leather thong between my breasts
where it didn’t save me from being cut in two.

I was Gladys. Like you, I stayed in school.
I did not lay down in back seats with boys.
I became a nurse, married, had three sons.
My ankles swelled. I worked the night hours
among the dying and accident cases. My husband
left me for a girl he met in a bar, left debts,
a five-year-old Chevy, a mortgage.
My oldest came home in a body bag. My youngest
ran off. The middle one drinks beer and watches
the soaps since the Kelsey-Hays plant closed.
Then my boy began to call me from the alley.
Every night he was out there calling, Mama,
help me. It hurts, Mama! Take me home.
This is the locked ward and the drugs
eat out my head like busy worms.

With each of them I lay down, my twelve-
year-old scrawny tough body like weathered
wood pressed to their pain, and we taught
each other love and pleasure and ourselves.
We invented the places, the sounds, the smells,
the little names. At twelve I was violent
in love, a fiery rat, a whip snake,
a starving weasel, all teeth and speed
except for the sore fruit of my new breasts
pushing out. What did I learn? To value
my pleasure and how little the love of women
can shield against the acid city rain.

You surge among my many ghosts. I never think
I got out because I was smart, brave, hard-
working, attractive. Evie was brave,
Gladys and Teresa were smart. Peggy worked
sixteen hours. Pat gleamed like olivewood
polished to a burnish as if fire lived in wood.
I wriggled through an opening left just big enough
for one. There is no virtue in survival,
only luck, and a streak of indifference
that I could take off and keep going.

I got out of those Detroit blocks where the air
eats stone and melts flesh, where jobs
dangle and you jump and jump, where there are
more drugs than books, more ways to die
than ways to live, because I ran fast,
ran hard, and never stopped looking back.
It is not looking back that turned me
to salt, no, I taste my salt from the mines
under Detroit, the salt of our common juices.
Girls who lacked everything except trouble,
contempt and rough times, girls
used like urinals, you are the salt
keeps me from rotting as the years swell.
I am the fast train you are travelling in
to a world of a different color, and the love
we cupped so clumsily in our hands to catch
rages and drives onward, an engine of light.

But ultimately I am no more or no less than the poet that I am. I'm not becoming something different--in fact, in some ways, I am always and repeatedly something different; a poet, like all poets, of mood, of reckless joy, of fading courage, of gifts that come and go, and sometimes mute, sometimes no poet, at all. Here's a poem from that poet:

The Last Night
Heart, moon, breath and secrets—
jackpot of life and greater than rubies
for a silk-gowned queen—
invested long ago in goddesses and mysteries,
stories and familiars.
Infrequently, a god on this theory:
If one falls likely another will rise.

So jewel by jewel dropped or planted
like magic beans in wetlands
or in pools of courage
or in an eternity of fingertips
or in tears of fathers
as heart and moon,
breath and secrets.

Tumbling, reflecting,
life, joyful and ferocious
this heart splashes down,
sinking to the depths of Diana,
my fantastic huntress across eons
and cultures light years of difference
and no further apart than the space
between humans; which is to say,
sometimes no space, at all,
and sometimes like the deaf
speaking in lost tongues.

She is elegant in silk,
delicate in sheer,
fierce and opaque like darkness
at the end of life
trialing the tigress.
Oh, my incomparable beauty,
here to love every soul willing to love back.

And moon falls next to mysteries deep,
becomes this angel, David,
who also loves the young or old,
the robust and the waiting,
and gifts them with wild yearning 
for his touch,
and trades one for another
and another, until yearning becomes us all,
and the job is done.

Oh, my sweet, isn’t this a terrible delight,
the way the swamp gasses glow,
the way breath in aerosol gasps
becomes clouds of trilling vapor?
Stutter, speak, desperately sing then,
relying on voice and sorcery.
start and stop and start again until,
unhalted, shout savage, melodious joy,
defy the bully thunder,
contest the wild’s winking rumors,
confront its sly cunning.

Oh, finally,
my writhing, ecstatic secrets go further,
go firmer, go longer, go sunset to sunrise,
go sunrise to sunset, glow incandescently,
as if to banish trailing shadows,
as the dark of which we spoke
galloped after the huntress.

And next the tomcat rode
behind the young, infatuated witch.
What a story that one will be,
but this end arrives, leaving nothing
for now to say and surprise
that glory would last so long.

I’d bow but for the stiffness
overtaking my once moist and fertile self.
Still, my thanks.
You’ve been great.
You are great.