I met with Jason Camlot [left] on the afternoon of March 17, 2009 in his office at Concordia University in Montreal. I had misplaced my voice-recorder that day but luckily had recently downloaded a voice-recording applet onto my phone. Camlot also had a professional recorder on hand, which he told me had been used to record some of his practice jam sessions and also for recording poetry readings. We ran both recorders at the same time, just in case, and sure enough one of them ran out of batteries midway through the interview. Many thanks to Jason for having the good sense to suggest we use both of them. –- Greg Santos
GS: Montreal poets like A.M. Klein, Earle Birney, Louis Dudek, P.K. Page, Irving Layton, and Leonard Cohen dominated much of the Canadian poetry scene between the 1920s and 1960s. In his classic 1954 essay, “The Montreal Poets”, Louis Dudek wrote “we can see in their poetry a sense of place, of a real city that has an odd, ugly vitality of its own.” How would you define a Montreal poet nowadays?
Jason Camlot: There are a lot of different kinds of Montreal poets, as there have always has been. I don’t think there is a single definition of a Montreal poet. Some of them are here for a couple of years. Some of them were born here and are here for their lives. I suppose if I had to answer that question and I’ve obviously been engaged in trying to or trying not to answer that very question…more like what is an Anglo_Quebec poet…someone who’s positioned a little bit differently in relation to language and in relation to macro versus micro culture.
I went to parochial or private Jewish school. I read the bible and studied it in Hebrew. That’s probably the first poetry I actually read but didn’t really understand. Which is a really nice way to encounter poetry. It’s probably how everyone first encounters poetry. You read something you don’t understand. But also being exposed to it in high school in my North American literature class. That’s how the course was described. It wasn’t American. It wasn’t Canadian literature. It was my North American literature class. Which consisted of American poetry but also especially of Canadian poetry so the first real poetry I read wasn’t Layton or Cohen but it was Earle Birney. And I think Birney was the first poet that I’ve ever understood in nationalist terms or in the kinds of terms that you seem to be at least asking about. But it just so happens that the guidance counselor at my high school, for example, was the daughter-in-law of A.M. Klein. There were connections to other poets and I was exposed to them in different ways but it was only really when I left Montreal when I started thinking more about the kind of question you’re asking.
GS: You received your Masters in Boston and your PhD in Stanford. What would you say are the differences between the poetry scene in those places and in Canada?
JC: I was in the academic program at Boston University. I could say more about California or San Francisco because I lived there for five years. I actually sat in on a workshop with Simone Di Piero while I was there and so met some poets within the workshop like Nicole Krauss. I was also involved in a poetry scene there, through music as well, with poets who I’m still sort of in touch with and whose work and activities as poets were completely separate from Stanford. They weren’t Stegner Fellows, these people. They were students. Or not. They were San Francisco dwellers. One is Katie Degentesh. Another is Eugene Ostashevsky. We held readings and we did things but they were meant to have nothing to do with the university.
above: ¡Socialismo Americano! album cover/Mister Entertainment & the Pookiesmackers
below: Zira's guitars
Humbert, The Holy Terrors, The Postmarks, Kill Miss Pretty, The Gruntled, Bling Bling, Map of the Universe, Tongues of the Heartworm, Mister Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers, the Curious Hair, Clambake, Trapped by Mormons, Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, Whirlaway, I Am Stereo, Zombies! Organize!!, the Freakin' Hott, Secret PE Club, Secret French Kissing Society, Secret Service, The Brand, Livid Kittens, The Eat, the Creepy T's, The Laundry Room Squelchers, To Live and Shave in LA, Harry Pussy, Xela Zaid, Ex-Cretins, Load, the Dharma Bomb, Catalonia, The 18 Wheelers, The Avenging Lawnmowers of Justice, Machete, Milkcan, Sixo, Natural Causes, Los Diablos, Baby Robots, Frosty, Number 3 Pencils, The Heatseekers, Mongo, Dakota, Shuttle Lounge, The Enablers, Doersam, Postface, The Bikes, Psycho Daisies, Dooms de Pop, FivesixsixFive, Plutonium Pie, For Squirrels, See Venus, Spam Allstars, the Cichlids, Monotract, Zira, Boise Bob, Angry Pudding, Rimsky, I Don't Know.
[ All of the above bands are, or were, from South Florida. ** I've seen them playing one smoky club or another over the course of many years. ****Writing this list reminds me of late nights followed by a morning visit, in my pajamas, to the Cuban coffee walk-up window down the street from my apartment.******The guy who owned it was named Manny.****** The list also brings to mind a line from "Heat," by Denis Johnson, whose poems I was quite taken with in grad school. ******I used to write in my contributor's bio that I tended bar at the Incognito Lounge.********Here in the electric dusk your naked lover/tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth ]
What follows: some Cuban-son-meets-Afro-urban-funk beats from the Spam Allstars, playing at Hoy Como Ayer in Little Havana.
Right around the time of my last birthday, I started to think seriously about death. I spent the next several months writing and ruminating on the emotional fallout. I was reminded of that time last week, in Paris sleeping on a narrow mattress on the floor of an apartment belonging to a stranger. Although that could be the set-up for a salacious crime novel, Paul, a friend of my traveling companion Heinrich, turned out to be very gracious even though we were constantly in the way. His entire apartment is smaller than the kitchen of a place I once had in Ohio, and costs four times as much. Of course, my apartment was down the street from a Giant Eagle and a Jiffy Lube, whereas Paul lives three minutes from a bakery that sells golden-crusted baguettes and a rich flakey pain au chocolat that grandmothers fight in line for.
It wasn’t sleeping on the chilly floor that reminded me of death. Nor was it the fact that as a cheese-hating, light drinking, cream-avoiding slender-budgeted vegetarian, all of traditional French cuisine was pretty much off the table. No, what reminded me of death was my visit with Heinrich to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the most eerie and beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen. Instead of rows of flat tombstones, Père-Lachaise has the feel of a quiet village of tree-lined lanes and diminutive houses with arched doors and latticed windows.
Each little neighborhood in the cemetery had its own character. Only the omnipresent sense of decay—cobwebs, blackened stone, copper lattice turning green, occasional shoots of maples growing out of roofs—indicated something amiss. Or rather, not amiss. What was striking about the cemetery was how natural it seemed, a village for the dead, wandered by the living. The return to the earth, weeds and trees taking their toll on the monuments of man, and our muted observation of it all. It was reassuring, that beauty comes from disintegration, that I could suddenly feel death as a kind of rejoining. Among the names of the dead, the sepulchres and stones, so solid and yet losing themselves to the rain, the almost-unimaginable was less overwhelming. It brought me back to a poem I wrote on that terrible, illuminating birthday.
They will die, the ones you
from murder face-eating cancer
a throttled heart no matter
the others you save
in imaginary heroisms
as though each broken fall
of someone else’s father
or every wish
of health extending
into loss like a vine
is a stay against it
is a comfort to anyone
at our end
there is this sickness
we call hope
and further there is nothing
between beauty and terror
nothing half-living has
over death and yet
the illicit thump
of every wasted heartbeat
the love of strangers
who will also die
on streets you’ve never seen
of wounds you couldn’t heal—
their luminescent eyes in the wreckage.
We over here in Hot Hot Bella Italia are very pleased to pass on the news that our friend and poet-we-like-to-translate MASSIMO GEZZI has won the category "Poesia Giovane" of the Cetonaverde Prize for 2009. We are very happy for Massimo.
This year's winner of the Premio Cetonaverde for lifetime achievement in poetry was Seamus Heaney. The prize is a biennial, very prestigious affair, decided upon by a committee of writers, editors, and journalists (many wearing multiple hats of course). The pictures were taken by Damiano in 2007, when he was accompanying Mark Strand, who won that year's prize. So we're talking some good company!
Good company deserves good poetry: below the jump you'll find a couple of Massimo's poems, in translation.
The Rolling Stones are making it hard for me to garden. I am thinking too much about the underground. Live on the green side of the grass (forget walk on the sunny side of the street) is what I advise, but for myself, I got a dark heart.
Okay, go to Wyman's Website. Wait for the top line of menu items to appear and click on Archaeology. You don't get the metaphysics that Holman helps him get at, but you get pictures and the strange sense that there is something on which strange is going. I too, am a strange thing, so I rully like it for that reason too. But mostly the metaphysical and actual digging. So much less messy than autopsy. Well, less sticky.
Enjoy the sun, chums.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on July 15, 2009 at 04:12 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
This is me, not seen, sitting on the front steps of the Art Institute of Chicago in June and listening to Lisel Mueller's poem.
Here's a beautiful bit of it.
Kiely Sweatt, spending the year in Barcelona, has been writing poems in Spanish and then translating them into English, an experience she characterizes as adventurous and scary. Here is "Cuerpos," meaning "Bodies," the collective title for a sequence of five poems:
My love has the form of a shoe
And in a little while a man
Is going to be inside my mouth.
In my bed
The smell of you stains my sheets.
You throw your feet outside the window
as I suck you like a cigar.
It is the first time.
The moon takes a knife
And gouges out my eyes. I sweat blood.
But the blood doesn’t have doors in
for the blood I cry at the foot of my bed.
My love has the form of a shoe
And the people at the shoe store can’t save me.
My pain bleeds in the afternoon
And when I am alone
(After that night in summer)
You will stay with me.
-- Kiely Sweatt
Hail to the Chief
In White Sox jacket
walking with Albert Pujols
roots for the Sox but doesn't hate the Cubs
met Stan Musial met Bob Gibson
two for two in predictions
North Carolina (NCAA basketball)
So who's going to take it all?
It's a little early for that.
Is the NL finally catching up to the AL?
David Wright singles
Shane Victorino singles
Throw gets away
And the game is tied
And then untied
by a Prince Fielder
ground rule double
And the NL has the lead!
It's about time, Obama says.
Hilary Kole's new album is Haunted Heart (Justin Time Records)
It's Bastille Day 2009 and what do I recommend you do
to celebrate the 220th anniversary of the storming
of the prison and the beginning of the end
of the old regime one thing you can do is sing
the Marseillaise (Berlioz version) but you can also
ignore the whole croissant and read Donald Hall's new
baseball poem in The New Yorker it's called "Meatballs"
but is really about baseball in nine parts, nine lines
each part, nine syllables each line, and tonight's the All
Star Game with Obama throwing out the first pitch
but I think I'll listen to Fred Astaire sing with Oscar
Peterson on the piano thanks to Stacey or maybe
try this fine new singer Hilary Kole whose last name
means voice in Hebrew or Anita O'Day whose last name
is dough in Pig Latin she has a version of "You're the Top"
that's jazz specific i.e. You're Tatum's left hand, You're
the Goodman swing band, you're Lester Young! but
whatever you do I hope you have the time to read
a French poem or two I recommend Rimbaud (did
you know Ashbery is translating the Illuminations)
and listen to Charles Trenet sing "La Mer"
which Bobby Darren of Bronx Science
sang in English somewhere beyond the sea
The second season of Mad Men is released on DVD today. I'm assuming that if you read this blog and you own a TV, you watch this show, to judge from the enthusiasm BAP has shown the 1960s ad-agency series. The DVD set offers a lot of episode commentaries, the most interesting emanating from series creator Matthew Weiner, who's such a stickler for detail (kind phrase for: so obviously a control-freak), you get used to him pointing out a shot in a scene and saying things like, "I won't let the directors [of other episodes] do that, but I was directing this one, so... " (I wouldn't be surprised if Weiner not only told the actors how to say their lines, but also wiped down the water-stains left by the martini glasses on Roger Sterling's desk.
Of note to readers of this blog is Weiner's commentary remarks about the use of Frank O'Hara's Meditations In An Emergency, which Don Draper reads in the season premiere and which serves as the title for the season finale. Weiner reveals he really wanted to use Lunch Poems in the first scene (Don was, after all, drinking his lunch in a bar, as you'll recall), but, meticulous researcher that he is, Weiner learned that Lunch Poems hadn't yet been published at the time that particular episode was set.
The new season of Mad Men starts Aug. 16.
2. I am already a dilettante on the bass guitar.
3. I prefer mulling to doing.
4. I hope never to attend Art Basel Miami Beach again. Okay, maybe the more intriguing satellite fairs, but that is absolutely it.
5. Chemicals make me sneeze. A lot.
Why I Am Not a Painter
by Frank O'Hara
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.
Hold up: I just discovered this love letter that Joan Mitchell wrote to Michael Goldberg while he was in Rockland State Hospital, Orangeburg, N.Y., "in lieu of serving prison time for writing bad checks on her husband's account." Thank you Washington Post, for feeding my lust for all that was Mitchell.
Just got your letter . . . -- God you mean a lot to me -- it's never been like this before in my life. I cleaned the studio -- made the bed . . . -- I'm using the paint off your palette -- I feel so close to you . . . -- I'm drinking the beer you left on the windowsill -- & I'm kissing you -- this I do all the time . . .
You know how you meet a new person and you start talking about Elvis and you say, "Do you like the late Elvis or the early Elvis?" and they say, "The early Elvis" -- and your heart just sinks because that person doesn't get it.
But then maybe you meet another person and she's talking about how he sang 'Unchained Melody' and how it was different from Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers -- not better but different -- and she says, "I was ten years old and my father was away on business and I was fishing in the toilet with a plastic bag on my hand for a gigantic turd of my constipated little sister's that had clogged up the toilet and it was oldie's night on the radio and 'Kentucky Rain' came on and I listened and I started crying. My sister thought I was crying because I had my hand in the toilet but really it was the song, and that was the first time I heard Elvis."
The topic of Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee" came up. I said, "What album was that on?" and she said, "'Desire.'"
The conversation turned to Phil Spector. She said, "He formed The Teddy Bears straight out of high school and had a hit with 'To Know Him Is To Love Him.' It sounds like a straightforward little love song but nothing about Spector is simple and even in the beginning dark currents are present.
"Maybe you should write a poem about Phil Spector."
"Okay. It'll be about 'He Hit Me (and it felt like a kiss)' -- something of a cult classic, written by Carol King, and immediately pulled from radio play because of the connection with domestic violence. It's very murky. The euphoria when you're near the person, the agony when you're apart, the first touch, the first kiss..."
"Don't try to put it into words."
"I thought you wanted me to write a poem."
He hit me (and it felt like a kiss)
So he explained at the first blow followed by a caress --
Promises encased in black vinyl spinning
As my head and heart like Kafka's top.
I should be thankful.
A philosopher of eros he made me, counting revolutions
(Only forty eight per minute?)
The space between action and reaction
Blow and caress:
And let us not forget the moments in between--
The calm respite, the human animal flinching instinctively
No thought, no philosophy, no hesitation there
But only a woman standing
Ah, "but it didn't hurt me."
Or so I whispered, parried, parlayed with him
Or perhaps just with myself, as sunglasses donned
(A mask of anonymity) I stalked
The city streets, bristling,
But his voice would sneak through (he always had the knack)
His aural kisses following like a Spectre
Blaring from televisions, booming from speakers--
Smoking on the curb as I heard him intone
That there was only me,
That I would always be
His baby now.
Now (O you liar -- don't you know that now never ends?)
Still, at the old refrain, the glasses would come off.
Like a sucker, the real face revealed--
My heart and my eyes the same shade of indelible black
Mascara running down and mingling with ashes
As I recalled his promise
And knew that it was true.
That when he took me in his arms
With all the tenderness there is
All thought, all philosophizing, all masking
That I had to admit that he had hit me.
And that I was glad.
Cher Li lives in Toronto.
Hey, what does Law and Order Criminal Intent have against poets? In last night's episode, "Passion" an arrogant poet/editor pimps out his young attractive assistants to potential financial backers. During tonight's episode, "Folie a Deux" a poet who is likely involved in the caper (I'm writing this mid-show) is a plagiarist. Why so many poet-criminals?
Maybe one of the show's writers is an aspiring poet. What do you think?
The moment you put the blah-blah-blah on it, it destroys the whole thing.
I am currently fixated with the late painter Joan Mitchell.
My obsessions with artists usually come courtesy of a documentary film, one I can record (let us now praise the power of the DVR!) and watch repetitively until I can quote, from memory, most of the declarations made by its subject.
My paintings repeat a feeling about Lake Michigan, or water, or fields of...It's more like a poem, no? And that's what I want to paint.
This morning I saw Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter for the sixth time since I recorded it in May. I could explain away my compulsion by saying that I wanted to write about her today, and what better way to do so than with her rough and quick voice in my head, or to follow her slight frame as it moved among her lyric and hypnotic pictures.
I wanted to see the small town of Vétheuil where she lived and painted, just outside of Paris, and how she dissolved its light and trees.
I wanted to hear about her time in New York with Hans Hofmann and de Kooning and Pollock. I wanted to close the blinds against the glare of July, sit in a cool, dark room, and see with Mitchell's eyes: her dogs, her sky, the importance she placed on the "feeling of a dying sunflower."
Mitchell possessed much of the contradictions found in her work. She could be cutting and abrupt, but she was also humble. She didn't think her work held light, for example. She didn't think many painters could contain what St. Augustine called the queen of all colors. She thought Franz Kline knew how, and of course, Matisse.
He has light as well as color. Oh, he's fabulous. Look at it! Come on, baby...
Open Window, 1905, by Henri Matisse
The road to knowing Mitchell's work is mapped with deep blues and yellows culled from the hot heart of summer. Her blacks are penetrating, her brushwork both fierce and fragile. Her mother was a poet, and when Mitchell was a girl, she also wrote poems. In the film, she recites the last line of one she remembers writing before her father pushed her to pick one art and master it.
...and bleakness comes through the trees without sound.
Mitchell went on to collaborate with several poets, among them James Schuyler, Frank O'Hara, and Nathan Kernan. But the title of this post comes from a recent poem by Mark Doty, and I would not want to be the one to dismiss ekphrasis as anything less than the meeting of two makers.
To Joan Mitchell, by Mark Doty
At twilight the locusts begin,
waves and waves,
nothing to do with lamentation...
... like her great canvas
in four panels,
continuous field so charged
as to fill the room in which it hangs
with an inaudible humming...
Watched some videos of you singing about the
famine, which made me really hungry. I ordered
the worst food on the menu, the most powerful
drinks. I sat below a giant screen on which the
golf championship went on and on, with nobody
anywhere paying any attention, including all the
golfers throughout the global golfing
community. I hate the word community
because everything is a community these days:
the nose-picking community, the community of
AM radio listeners. Don’t make me part of your
community. I hate golf, too, though I like the
idea of a hole-in-one. Keep your language
experiments to yourself. Everyone hates them.
Yes, there were micro-bikinis and oiled muscles, but there was also a panel of humanities professors noting how the human form has infused visual art through the ages. Works considered included Bernini's Apollo and Daphne (right), Michelangelo's David, and what is arguably the most famous weathervane in the country: Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Diana.
I wrote about the fete for a local newspaper, and even though the story's been filed, published, and likely forgotten, my brain is still chewing on a sliver from it: the idea that artists gravitate towards the efforts of others. They especially like to spy on what their creative brethren are doing.
This might explain why musicians write poems and poets play Fenders, why Eudora Welty wrote stories about the South and photographed it as well.
Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
about those woods is hard, so tangled and rough...
Do his lively pastiches bleed into his poems, or is it the other way around? Does he have a cedar box where he keeps his cuttings, or are they stashed in a kitchen drawer alongside the scotch tape and the forgotten keys?
I wonder if Ashbery collects words the same way he gathers images, hoarding fairy and funhouse and asters for later, then piecing them together on the canvas of the page.
I got rid of the book of fairy tales,
pawned my old car, bought a ticket to the funhouse,
found myself back here at six o'clock,
pondering "possible side effects."
There was no harm in loving then,
no certain good either. But love was loving servants
or bosses. No straight road issuing from it.
Leaves around the door are penciled losses.
Twenty years to fix it.
Asters bloom one way or another.
*from "Meaningful Love," by John Ashbery
This week we welcome Emma Trelles as our guest blogger. Emma is the author of Little Spells (GOSS183). She is a Pushcart Prize nominee for poetry and an arts and culture journalist. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Verse Daily, 3 AM Magazine, OCHO, New Millennium Writings, Newsday, the Miami Herald, Latina magazine, and the Sun-Sentinel, where she worked as the art critic for three years. She is the editor of MiPOesias Magazine's American Cuban Issue and the recipient of a Green Eyeshade Award for arts writing. She teaches creative writing at the Art Center of South Florida and the Florida Center for the Literary Arts.
Emma also helped compile the honor roll of independent bookstores that you can find here.
terry winch, jesse winch, alan oresky, joe stork, pete adland, doug pell ca.1973.
Once upon a time (actually, late 1971), the strangest old-time string-band in American musical history was formed, and I was there at the beginning. The Fast Flying Vestibule (named after a train celebrated in a song) did a little bit of everything, from Charlie Poole to Carl Perkins to doo-wop to Kerry polkas. We lived to have a good time. We were not purists like The New Lost City Ramblers, preserving the sacred traditions of the past, or the Red Clay Ramblers, the brilliant North Carolina group that stayed pretty close to the approved text. We did whatever felt good.
jesse, terry, doug, alan, and joe in the 1970s
The other night, at McGinty’s pub in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, near where I live, I told a friend that my old string-band was having its first reunion in decades on Sunday, 12 July. “Oh, I love old-timey music,” she said. “What did you play in the group?” “Tenor banjo and button accordion,” I replied. “There is no button accordion in old-timey music," she informed me. “Well, there was in our version of it,” I told her. There were no tenor banjos in old-timey either, if the truth be told. But, the FFV was sui generis.
Flags and shamrocks galore at The Tara House in DC, where "Crazy Guggenheim" of the Jackie Gleason Show once sat in with us, and where I make a rare appearance on the drums
Pete Adland, 5-string banjo player, left the band after about a year and a half, to become a psychiatrist. Pete has never even met Ric Sweeney (pictured below), our talented guitarist, who is also a terrific songwriter and a singer, with a voice to rival Jimmie Rodgers or Hank Williams, IMO. Ric---whose show-stopper was a song of his called
We played the Red Fox Inn, a mostly bluegrass venue, in Bethesda, on Tuesday nights for years. We played Ireland's Four Provinces in DC for the first year it was open (we could crank out 4 sets of Irish music if the gig called for it). We went to folk and fiddle festivals, played for antiwar rallies and leftwing fundraisers, and in the backyards and front porches of our friends. At one event we won a contest, with the prize being three hours of recording time in a state-of-the-art studio, and wound up recording a song of mine called "I'm Glad I'm Prepared for the Recession," whose objectionable last word kept it off the airwaves (until we recorded an expurgated version for an anthology on the Paredon label, now part of Smithsonian/Folkways). We self-produced an album entitled Union Station, after a song of mine (sung by Joe Stork--Download Union Station). The actress Karen Allen, still a dear friend, can be heard on the chorus of "Goodbye Miss Lisa," another song on the album. Vinyl copies are still available (for real).
Everyone still plays music—Alan is a great demand for weddings and other events; Doug put out a wonderful recording of teddybear songs he wrote for children; my brother Jesse is in about four bands and is Cathaoirleach (chairman) of the local branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the global Irish music society. Ric plays and sings in Virginia, where he has a devoted following. Joe and Pete squeeze the music into very busy professional lives.
It’s been a pleasure writing these posts this week, but I am very rusty on the tenor banjo and have to spend the rest of the day re-learning the words to "FDR's Back Again."
You might also like: Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers
My father at the dictionary stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand
His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word 'Carnation'. Then he bends
So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard
A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
"The obligation due to every thing
That' s smaller than the universe." I bring
My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle's eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly
Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study's gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb
To read what's buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor
Trying to stitch "Beloved" X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle's point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text
I cannot read. My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as "Christ's flowers," knowing I
Can give no explanation but "Because."
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does
Where following each X, I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, "A pink variety of Clove,
Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh
Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,
He turns the page to "Clove" and reads aloud:
"The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud."
Then twice, as if he hasn't understood,
He reads, "From French, for clou, meaning a nail."
He gazes, motionless,"Meaning a nail."
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,
I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth "Beloved", but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,
The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I've sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,
I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, "Daddy Daddy" -
My father's hand touches the injury
As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ's when I was four.
PS Happy 25th birthday, Molly Arden!
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.