No More Access to Her Underpants
Her red dress stretched across the remembered small
of her dear bare back, bare for me no more,
that once so nicely bent itself in bed
to take my thrusts and then my stunned caress,
disclosing to my sated gaze a film
of down, of sheen, upon the dulcet skin--
her red dress stretched, I say, as carapace
upon her tasty flesh, she shows a face
of stone and turns to others at the party.
Her ass, its solemn cleft; her breasts, their tips
as tender in color as the milk-white bit
above the pubic curls; her eyes like pits
of warmth in the tousled light: all forfeit,
and locked in antarctic ice by this bitch.
-- John Updike
Some Lines I love From Brenda Shaughnessy’s amazing poetry book, Human Dark With Sugar:
If time were tellable, we wouldn’t keep asking.
What kind of poetry is all question, anyway?
Oh Materialists! Thinking matter matters.
If we dream of snow, of banks and blankets
to keep our treasure safe forever,
what world is made, that made us that we keep
making and making to preplace the dreaming at last
To stop the terrible dreaming.
It’s easy to make more of myself by eating,
and sometimes easy’s the thing.
I don’t need a cult of sleep to tell me to die
every night. I don’t trust the world
not to come in and steal my stuff every
night. It’s this “every night” business
I have issues with. I can’t waste another
third of my life drooling, snuffling,
spilling secrets from my honking mouth.
I’m selling the bed.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on March 25, 2009 at 08:06 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
feels sharp as swords or stones. I am no saint.
I have wanted to write about this for so long, but am completely daunted by the task. How do I get it across, the way words can hurt you, can hurt the ones you love?
I have tried to post about this on my blog. I have tried to put it in an essay. But so far, all I have managed is a few lines in a poem, the poem which provided the title of both my blog and my first collection of poems, "Saint Nobody." It refers to an actual incident, less than a year after my daughter Stella was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome, and I suddenly found myself a new world, or at least a new country--the sort of experience that Emily Perl Kingsley describes as landing in Holland when you thought you were headed on a trip to Italy.
My friend had even heard me talk about the language of disability, the way certain words set my teeth on edge. She knew that "mentally challenged" or "developmentally delayed" were the "right" words to use. But somehow she forgot--she couldn't help it, because "retarded" sprung easily to her lips, as it always had to mine.
Since then it has come to sting less and less, and I admit that I (and Stella's father) have slipped and used it ourselves from time to time--I sometimes joke privately that my daughter has Down syndrome, but I'm the one who is "retarded."
Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth's Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.
Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps —
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.
Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.
He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.
Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.
-- John Updike
I am a little obsessed with Eugene Ostashevsky's latest book, The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza. I first encountered his work a few years ago, when someone introduced me to this fantastic video of him reading at UC Berkeley's Lunch Poems series. (It is long and you will like it.) My current top hit is this poem, "P or Not P," which perfectly combines alogic, grief, extreme rhyme, and achingly simple syntax (not all at the same time). What is it like? It is like a child with a proof and a blog and a healthy sense of wonder and doom. And a boat. I am broken from loving this poem.
P OR NOT P
Excuse me, is this P or ¬P, the sky or not the sky, the building or
not the building?
Does the building imply the sky, does the sky imply the building,
what does the not-building imply?
There are waves to one side of the building
and a boat.
We stepped down into the boat
and sailed away.
We sailed past an island where Dave Cameron stood
reading his poetry.
We sailed past an island where Brandon Downing stood
reading his poetry.
We sailed past an island where Macgregor Card stood
reading his poetry.
So much poetry for one day!
Though most of them aren’t much to write about—
mere squibs and nubs, like half-smoked pale cigars,
the tint and stink recalling Tuesday’s meal,
the texture loose and soon dissolved—this one,
struck off in solitude one afternoon
(that prairie stretch before the late light fails)
with no distinct sensation, sweet or pained,
of special inspiration or release,
was yet a masterpiece: a flawless coil,
unbroken, in the bowl, as if a potter
who worked in this most frail, least grateful clay
had set himself to shape a topaz vase.
O spiral perfection, not seashell nor
stardust, how can I keep you? With this poem.
-- John Updike
I had decided that I would not want to put together a "reader" which would contain such gems of literary discovery that other professional literary men would tell each other how clever I am; I decided that I did not want to put together a "reader" the contents-page of which would prove it to be a selection from the contents-pages of other people's anthologies; no, I decided that I would go back over everything I could remember reading in the past thirty years, and glean from them...all the kernels which it now seemed to me to prove enjoyable when read by a sailor.
George Macy, preface to A Sailor's Reader, 1943
Like many (most?) people, I first learned to love books and reading from my parents. Neither of them were well-educated: my mother finished high school in 1938 but, despite her aptitude and intelligence, could not afford to go nursing school and instead went to work for Bulova Watch Company in, I think, Brooklyn (it might have been Queens); my father dropped out of high school in his senior year (1935) to help support his own family by joining the Navy.
Both of them were perceptive, voracious, but unguided readers. My father in particular loved poetry - any and all kinds of poetry. There are many poems today that, when I read them, I hear only in his voice. He loved Shelley and Byron and Edna St. Vincent Millay and Joyce Kilmer and Longfellow and Kipling. His reading was wide-ranging and perhaps a little desperate - trying to find for himself the path that a complete education might have shown him. But he had the ear, and he knew what he loved, and his enthusiasm and joy in reading to me made me love those poems, too.
There's been a lot of talk about Barack Obama being a President who reads and knows about poetry. I've taken all this with a few grains of salt, but was quite interested to see that in his recent message to Iran, Obama quoted the 13th-century Persian poet Sa’di - who is, you might say, to Iranian culture what Shakespeare is to ours.
As it happens, Basil Bunting had an abiding interest in Sa'di and Persian poetry, starting when he found a French translation of Ferdowsī's epic, Shāh-nāma, in a book stall on the harbor quays of Genoa in the early 1930s:
"I found a book—tattered, incomplete—with a newspaper cover on it marked Oriental Tales. I bought it, in French. It turned out to be part of the early 19th century prose translation of Firdausi, and it was absolutely fascinating. I got into the middle of the story of the education of Zal and the birth of Rustam—and the story came to an end! It was quite impossible to leave it there, I was desperate to know what happened next. I read it, as far as it went, to Pound and Dorothy Pound, and they were in the same condition. We were yearning to find out, but we could think of no way. The title page was even missing. There seemed nothing to do but learn Persian and read Firdausi, so, I undertook that. Pound bought me the three volumes of Vullers and somebody, I forget who, bought me Steingass's dictionary, and I set to work. It didn't take long. It's an easy language if it's only for reading that you want it."
Bunting applied for a Guggenheim in 1932 to translate the poem (which tells the history of the kings of Persia from mythical times down to about 628 A.D. in some sixty thousand couplets); he didn't get one. He even named his children for figures in the poem: daughters Roudaba (b. 1934) and Bourtai (b. 1932), and his son Rustam (b. 1937, d. 1953). Bunting went on to spend much of his long life reading, translating, or thinking about Persian poetry: at one point he lived in Iran (apparently working as a spy!), married an Iranian woman, and spent time "amongst the nomadic mountain-tribes, who taught me to ride & to shootmoufflon and ibex." Late in his life, wrote the foreword to Omar Pound's fascinating Arabic & Persian Poems in English.
One of Bunting's most poignant poems, written on the occasion of his son's death, is "A Song for Rustam," which begins:
Tears are for what can be mended,
not for a voyage ended
the day the schooner put out.
Short fear and sudden quiet
too deep for a diving thief.
Tears are for easy grief.
Much has been written about Pound's obsession with economics. Bunting was far subtler, to say the least. With no small wryness - given the depressed economy of the thirties, when he began to translate Persian poetry - Bunting called some of his translations "overdrafts;" as Richard Price sees it,
"By calling these works 'Overdrafts' Bunting publicly affirms that he has come to an understanding of indebtedness with the poets who, as it were, underwrite him. On that basis, he can only supply what is provisional—a draft—and must also in some sense obscure, write 'over,' the work of his poetic betters. But to take out an overdraft is usually to smoothen cash flow problems: in this case by translating these works, the poet keeps his own poetry moving, in currency, in credit."
Ah, cash flow problems! The poet is prescient.
I'll leave you with a snippet of Bunting's Sa'di:
Many well-known people have been packed away in cemeteries,
there is no longer any evidence that they ever existed.
That old corpse they shovelled under the dirt,
his dust's so devoured not a bone of him's left.
Naushervan's honourable name survives because he was open-handed,
though a lot has happened since Naushervan died.
— Better be open-handed, What's-your-name, (write it off: Depreciation)
before the gossip goes: 'What's-his-name's dead.'
If a few publishers give the go-ahead, a book on Bunting's Persia may soon be in the works.
Facebook has evolved. It is a place to take quizzes. We need quizzes to help us understand ourselves and which president we are. It is hard to think without quizzes. This is why I have designed this quiz to help you understand which Mark Leidner video poem you should watch. Ideas like "I am not a president," or "I should not watch a Mark Leidner video poem," are not really viable.
The quiz goes like this.
It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
"Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
Of promise -- depths unplumbable!"
Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
"I thought he died a while ago."
For life's a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.
-- John Updike
This week we welcome Heather Christle as our guest blogger. Heather Christle grew up in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Her first book, The Difficult Farm, will be published by Octopus Books later this year. She lives, studies, and teaches in Western Massachusetts. Welcome, Heather.
Amy Lemmon will also post occasionally this week. Amy teaches at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Her first book, Saint Nobody, (Red Hen Press) is in bookstores now. Welcome, Amy.
In Other News . . .
Show us your space. Details here.
Hosted by Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez & Michael Quattrone
KGB Monday Night Poetry Reading Series
Joshua Beckman was born in New Haven, Connecticut. He is the author of six books, including Take It (forthcoming in 2009), Shake and two collaborations with Matthew Rohrer: Nice Hat. Thanks. and Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty. He is an editor at Wave Books and has translated numerous works of poetry and prose, including Poker by Tomaz Salamun, which was a finalist for the PEN America Poetry in Translation Award. He is also the recipient of numerous other awards, including a NYFA fellowship and a Pushcart Prize. He lives in Seattle and New York.
Hosted by Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez & Michael Quattrone
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.