“Living” — C.D. Wright

“Living”

by

C.D. Wright


If this is Wednesday, write Lazartigues, return library books, pick up passport form, cancel the paper.

If this is Wednesday, mail B her flyers and K her shirts. Last thing I asked as I walked K to her car, “You sure you have everything?” “Oh yes,” she smiled, as she squalled off. Whole wardrobe in front closet.

Go to Morrison’s for paint samples, that’s where housepainter has account (near Pier One), swing by Gano St. for another bunch of hydroponic lettuce. Stop at cleaners if there’s parking.

Pap smear at 4. After last month with B’s ear infections, can’t bear sitting in damn doctor’s office. Never a magazine or picture on the wall worth looking at. Pack a book.

Ever since B born, nothing comes clear. My mind like a mirror that’s been in a fire. Does this happen to the others.

If this is Wednesday, meet Moss at the house at noon. Pick B up first, call sitter about Friday evening. If she prefers, can bring B to her (hope she keeps the apartment warmer this year).

Need coat hooks and picture hangers for office. Should take car in for air filter, oil change. F said one of back tires low. Don’t forget car payment, late last two months in a row.

If this is Wednesday, there’s a demo on the green at 11. Took B to his first down at Quonset Point in August. Blue skies. Boston collective provided good grub for all. Long column of denims and flannel shirts. Smell of patchouli made me so wistful, wanted to buy a woodstove, prop my feet up, share a J and a pot of Constant Comment with a friend. Maybe some zucchini bread.

Meet with honors students from 1 to 4. At the community college I tried to incite them to poetry. Convince them this line of work, beat the bejesus out of a gig as gizzard splitter at the processing plant or cleaning up after a leak at the germ warfare center. Be all you can be, wrap rubber band around your trigger finger until it drops off.

Swim at 10:00 before picking up B, before demo on the green, and before meeting moss, if it isn’t too crowded. Only three old women talking about their daughters-in-law last Wednesday at 10:00.

Phone hardware to see if radon test arrived.

Keep an eye out for a new yellow blanket. Left B’s on the plane, though he seems over it already. Left most recent issue of Z in the seat. That will make a few businessmen boil. I liked the man who sat next to me, he was sweet to B. Hated flying, said he never let all of his weight down.

Need to get books in the mail today. Make time pass in line at the P.O. imagining man in front of me butt naked. Fellow in the good-preacher-blue-suit, probably has a cold, hard bottom.

Call N for green tomato recipe. Have to get used to the Yankee growing season. If this is Wednesday, N goes in hospital today. Find out how long after marrow transplant before can visit.

Mother said she read in paper that Pete was granted a divorce. His third. My highschool boyfriend. Meanest thing I could have done, I did to him, returning a long-saved-for engagement ring in a Band-Aid box, while he was stationed in Da Nang.

Meant to tell F this morning about dream of eating grasshoppers, fried but happy. Our love a difficult instrument we are learning to play. Practice, practice.

No matter where I call home anymore, feel like a boat under the trees. Living is strange.

This week only; bargain on laid paper at East Side Copy Shop.

Woman picking her nose at the stoplight. Shouldn’t look, only privacy we have anymore in the car. Isn’t that the woman from the colloquium last fall, who told me she was a stand-up environmentalist. What a wonderful trade, I said, because the evidence of planetary wrongdoing is overwhelming. Because because because of the horrible things we do.

If this is Wednesday, meet F at Health Department at 10:45 for AIDS test.

If this is Wednesday, it’s trash night.

“Blown Away” — Tom Clark

“Villanelle for Charles Olson” — Tom Disch

“Christmasse-Eve, Another Ceremonie” — Robert Herrick

herrick

“Christmas Guilt” — Tom Disch

Screenshot 2020-03-25 at 6.29.15 PM

I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake | Walt Whitman

Enough! enough! enough!
Somehow I have been stunn’d. Stand back!
Give me a little time beyond my cuff’d head, slumbers, dreams, gaping,
I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake.
That I could forget the mockers and insults!
That I could forget the trickling tears and the blows of the bludgeons and hammers!
That I could look with a separate look on my own crucifixion and bloody crowning.
I remember now,
I resume the overstaid fraction,
The grave of rock multiplies what has been confided to it, or to any graves,
Corpses rise, gashes heal, fastenings roll from me.
I troop forth replenish’d with supreme power, one of an average unending procession,
Inland and sea-coast we go, and pass all boundary lines,
Our swift ordinances on their way over the whole earth,
The blossoms we wear in our hats the growth of thousands of years.
Eleves, I salute you! come forward!
Continue your annotations, continue your questionings.

“The Soul Unto Itself” — Emily Dickinson

“House: Some Instructions” — Grace Paley

“House: Some Instructions”

by

Grace Paley


If you have a house
you must think about it all the time
as you reside in the house so
it must be a home in your mind

you must ask yourself (wherever you are)
have I closed the front door

and the back door is often forgotten
not against thieves necessarily

but the wind oh if it blows
either door open then the heat

the heat you’ve carefully nurtured
with layers of dry hardwood

and a couple of opposing green
brought in to slow the fire

as well as the little pilot light
in the convenient gas backup

all of that care will be mocked because
you have not kept the house on your mind

but these may actually be among
the smallest concerns for instance

the house could be settling you may
notice the thin slanting line of light

above the doors you have to think about that
luckily you have been paying attention

the house’s dryness can be humidified
with vaporizers in each room and pots

of water on the woodstove should you leave
for the movies after dinner ask yourself

have I turned down the thermometer
and moved all wood paper away from the stove

the fiery result of excited distraction
could be too horrible to describe

now we should talk especially to Northerners
of the freezing of the pipe this can often

be prevented by pumping water continuously
through the baseboard heating system

allowing the faucet to drip drip continuously
day and night you must think about the drains

separately in fact you should have established
their essential contribution to the ordinary

kitchen and toilet life of the house
digging these drains deep into warm earth

if it hasn’t snowed by mid-December you
must cover them with hay sometimes rugs

and blankets have been used do not be
troubled by their monetary value

as this is a regionally appreciated emergency
you may tell your friends to consider

your house as their own that is
if they do not wear outdoor shoes

when thumping across the gleam of their poly-
urethaned floors they must bring socks or slippers

to your house as well you must think
of your house when you’re in it and

when you’re visiting the superior cabinets
and closets of others when you approach

your house in the late afternoon
in any weather green or white you will catch

sight first of its new aluminum snow-resistant
roof and the reflections in the cracked windows

its need in the last twenty-five years for paint
which has created a lovely design

in russet pink and brown the colors of un-
intentioned neglect you must admire the way it does not

(because of someone’s excellent decision
sixty years ago) stand on the high ridge deforming

the green profile of the hill but rests in the modesty
of late middle age under the brow of the hill with

its back to the dark hemlock forest looking steadily
out for miles toward the cloud refiguring meadows and

mountains of the next state coming up the road
by foot or auto the house can be addressed personally

House! in the excitement of work and travel to
other people’s houses with their interesting improvements

we thought of you often and spoke of your coziness
in winter your courage in wind and fire your small

airy rooms in humid summer how you nestle in spring
into the leaves and flowers of the hawthorn and the sage green

leaves of the Russian olive tree House! you were not forgotten

Behind God’s back | On Thulani Davis’s poetry collection Nothing but the Music

Here are the first lines of Thulani Davis’s 1978 poem “Mecca Flats 1907”:

On this landscape

Like a thin air

Hard to breathe

Behind God’s back

I see the doors

I wanted to underline the line Behind God’s back—such an image! But the book itself is so pretty, lithe, lovely. Better to leave it unmarked?

The book is Nothing but the Music, a new collection of Thulani Davis’s poems. Its subtitle Documentaries from Nightclubs, Dance Halls, & a Tailor’s Shop in Dakar: 1974-1992 is a somewhat accurate description of the content here. These are poems about music—about Cecil Taylor and The Commodores and Thelonious Monk and Henry Threadgill and Bad Brains and more. “About” is not really the right word, and of course these poems are their own music; reading them aloud reveals a complexity of rhyme and rhythm that might be lost to the eye on the page.

But where was I—I wanted to underline the line Behind God’s back, but I didn’t. I didn’t even dogear the page. Instead, I went back to read Davis’s acknowledgements, a foreword by Jessica Hagedorn, and an introduction by Tobi Haslett. The material sets the stage and provides context for the poems that follow. Davis’s acknowledgments begin:

I have heard this music in a lot of clubs that no longer exist, opera houses in Italy that will stand another hundred years parks in Manhattan, Brooklyn, L.A., San Francisco, and Washington, DC as well as on Goree Island and in Harare, Zimbabwe. Some of it was in lofts in lower Manhattan now inhabited by millionaires, crowded bistros in Paris that are close, and legendary sites like Mandel Hall and the Apollo, radio studios, recording studios, and my many homes.

Acknowledging the weird times that have persisted (behind God’s back or otherwise), Davis touches on the COVID-19 lockdown that took the joy of live music from her—and then returned it in the strange form of “masked protesters massed in the streets singing ‘Lean on Me'” during the protests following the murder of George Floyd.

Poems in Nothing but the Music resonate with the protests against police violence and injustice we’ve seen this year. The speaker of “Back Stage Drama (For Miami)” (surely Davis herself?) repeats throughout the poem that “I was gonna talk about a race riot,” but the folks around her are absorbed in other, perhaps more minute affairs:

They all like to hang out

Thinking is rather grim to them.

Composed in 1980, the poem documents an attempt to attempt to address the riots in May of the same year in Miami, Florida, after several police officers were acquitted in the murder of Arthur McDuffie, a black man.

The speaker of the poem embeds a poetic plea, a poem-within-a-poem:

I said, ‘they’re mad, they’re on the the bottom going down/

stung by white justice in a white town

and then there’s other colored people

who don’t necessarily think they’re colored people

taking up the middle/leaving them the ground.’

But her would-be audience is weary:

I am still trying to talk about this race riot.

Minnie looked up and said, ‘We don’t have anywhere

to put any more dead.’

Snake put on his coat to leave, ‘We never did,

we never did.’

1992’s “It’s Time for the Rhythm Revue” takes for its erstwhile subject the riots that ensued after the acquittal of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King. The subject is far more complex though—the speaker of the poem desires joy of course, not violence:

did they acquit somebody in LA?

will we burn it down on Saturday

or dance to the Rhythm Revue

the not too distant past

when we thought we’d live on?

Is God’s back turned—or do the protagonists just live behind it?:

…I clean my house

listening to songs from the past

times when no one asked anyone

if they’d seen a town burn

cause baby everybody had.

In Nothing but the Music, music is part and parcel of the world, entangled in the violence and injustice of it all, not a mere balm or solace but lifeforce itself, a point of resistance against it all. In “Side A (Sir Simpleton/Celebration), the first of two poems on Henry Threadgill’s 1979 album X-75, Vol. I, Davis’s narrator evokes

at the turning of the day

in these winters/in the city’s bottomless streets

it seems sometimes we live behind god’s back

we/the life blood

of forgotten places/unhallowed ground

sometimes in these valleys

turning the corner of canyons now filled with blinding light streams caught between this rock & a known hard place

sometimes in utter solitude

a chorale/a sweetness/makes us whole & never lost

And again there that line, a note from a previous jam—it seems sometimes we live behind god’s back—I’ll dogear it here, digitally, underline it in my little blog scrapbook.

I think seems is the right verb though, above. Does the star of “Lawn Chair on the Sidewalk” not remain in God’s gaze?

there’s a junkie sunning himself

under my front tree

that tree had to fight for life

on this Brooklyn street

disease got to its limbs

while still young

Typing the lines out, I wonder who I meant by star above.

Nothing but the Music is filled with stars. Here’s avant-piano great Cecil Taylor in “C.T. at the Five Spot”:

this is not about romance & dream

it’s about a terrible command performance of the facts

of time & space & air

In a synesthestic moment, the speaker merges her art with its subject:

the player plays/Mr. Taylor plays

delicate separate licks of poems

brushes in tones lighter & tighter/closer in space

In the end it’s one art:

I have heard this music

ever since I can remember/I have heard this music

There are plenty more famous musicians, of course, but more often than not minor players emerge with the greatest force. There’s the unknown hornplayer whose ecstatic playing inspired 1975’s “He Didn’t Give Up/He Was Taken.” In “Leaving Goree” there are the “two Bambara women…gold teeth gleaming” who “sit like mountains” and then explode in song.

Davis crafts here characters with deft economy. Here’s the aforementioned couple of “Back Stage Drama (For Miami)”:

Snake & Minnie

who love each other dearly

drink in different bars,

ride home in separate cars.

They like to kiss goodnight

with unexplored lips.

They go out of town

to see each other open.

Or the hero of 1982’s “Bad Brains, A Band”—

the idea that they think must scare people to death

the only person I ever met from southeast DC

was a genius who stabbed her boyfriend for sneaking up on her in the kitchen

she was tone deaf and had no ear for French

 

she once burned her partner in bid whist

for making a mistake

At the core of it all is Davis’s strong gliding voice, pure and clean, channeling miracle music and synthesizing it into new sounds. The speaker of “C.T. at the Five Spot” assessed Taylor’s performance as a work of physics, a transcendence beyond “romance & dream,” but the speaker of 1982’s “Zoom (The Commodores)” gets caught up in the aural romance of The Commodore’s pop magic:

zoom I love you

cause you won’t say no/cause you don’t want to go

cause it’s so cruel without love

give me the tacky grandeur of Atlantic City

on the Fourth of July

the corny promises of Motown

give me the romance & the Zoom.

I love those corny promises too. The romance and the zoom are not, at least in my estimation, behind God’s back, but rather, if you believe in that sort of thing, might be God’s special dream. Nothing but the Music cooks raw joy and raw pain into something sublime. I like poems best when they tell stories, and Davis is a storyteller. The poems here capture place and time, but most of all sound, sound, rhythm, and sound. Lovely stuff.

Nothing but the Music is forthcoming from Blank Forms Editions.

“Thanksgiving” — Kenneth Koch

“Thanksgiving”

by

Kenneth Koch


What’s sweeter than at the end of a summer’s day
To suddenly drift away
From the green match-wrappers in an opened pocketbook
And be part of the boards in a tavern?

A tavern made of new wood.
There’s an orange-red sun in the sky
And a redskin is hunting for you underneath ladders of timber.
I will buy this tavern. Will you buy this tavern? I do.

In the Indian camp there’s an awful dismay.
Do they know us as we know they
Know us or will know us, I mean a—
I mean a hostile force, the month of May.

How whitely the springtime is blossoming,
Ugh! all around us!
It is the brilliant Indian time of year
When the sweetest Indians mate with the sweetest others.

But I fear the white men, I fear
The rent apple blossom and discarded feathers
And the scalp lying secretly on the ground
Like an unoffending nose!

But we’ve destroyed all that. With shocking guns.
Peter Stuyvesant, Johnny Appleseed, Aaron Copeland.
We’ve destroyed all that. Come,
Do you believe right was on either side?

How would you like to be living in an Indian America,
With feathers dressing every head? We’d eat buffalo hump
For Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone is in a tribe.
A girl from the Bep Tribe can’t marry a brave from the Bap tribe. Is that democracy?
And then those dreary evenings around the campfires
Listening to the Chief! If there were a New York
It would be a city of tents, and what do you suppose
Our art and poetry would be like? For the community! the tribe!
No beautiful modern abstract pictures, no mad incomprehensible
Free lovable poems! And our moral sense! tribal.
If you would like to be living in an Indian America
Why not subscribe to the newspaper, Indian America?

In Wisconsin, Ben, I stand, I walk up and down and try to decide.

Is this country getting any better or has it gotten?
If the Indian New York is bad, what about our white New York?
Dirty, unwholesome, the filthy appendage to a vast ammunition works, I hate it!
Disgusting rectangular garbage dump sending its fumes up to suffocate the sky—
Foo, what fumes! and the scaly white complexion of her citizens.
There’s hell in every firm handshake, and stifled rage in every look.
If you do find somewhere to lie down, it’s a dirty inspected corner,
And there are newspapers and forums and the stinking breath of Broadway
To investigate what it feels like to be a source of stench
And nothing else. And if one does go away,
It is always here, waiting, for one to come back. And one does come back,
As one does come back to the bathroom, and to a fine suffering.

Where else would I find such ardent and grateful spirits
Inspired and wasted and using and used by this horrible city,
New York, New York? Can the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving dinner really compare to it?
And the Puritans? And the single-minded ankle-divided Indians?
No, nothing can compare to it! So it’s here we speak from the heart
And it’s rotting so fast that what we say
Fades like the last of a summer’s day.
Rot which makes us as prolific as the sun on white unfastened clouds.

“First Thanksgiving” — Sharon Olds

“First Thanksgiving”

by

Sharon Olds


When she comes back, from college, I will see
the skin of her upper arms, cool,
matte, glossy. She will hug me, my old
soupy chest against her breasts,
I will smell her hair! She will sleep in this apartment,
her sleep like an untamed, good object,
like a soul in a body. She came into my life the
second great arrival, after him, fresh
from the other world—which lay, from within him,
within me. Those nights, I fed her to sleep,
week after week, the moon rising,
and setting, and waxing—whirling, over the months,
in a slow blur, around our planet.
Now she doesn’t need love like that, she has
had it. She will walk in glowing, we will talk,
and then, when she’s fast asleep, I’ll exult
to have her in that room again,
behind that door! As a child, I caught
bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds,
looked into their wild faces,
listened to them sing, then tossed them back
into the air—I remember the moment the
arc of my toss swerved, and they entered
the corrected curve of their departure.

“Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams” — Kenneth Koch

“Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams”

by

Kenneth Koch


1

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next
summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

2

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

3

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten
years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

4

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy, and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

“The Ball Poem” — John Berryman

“The Ball Poem”

by

John Berryman


What is the boy now, who has lost his ball.
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over—there it is in the water!
No use to say ‘O there are other balls’:
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him,
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
Balls will be lost always, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up
And gradually light returns to the street,
A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight.
Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,
I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
With all that move me, under the water
Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

“The Great Birds” — Kenneth Patchen

“hist whist” — e.e. cummings

“hist whist”

by

e.e. cummings


hist      whist
little ghostthings
tip-toe
twinkle-toe
little twitchy
witches and tingling
goblins
hob-a-nob     hob-a-nob
little hoppy happy
toad in tweeds
tweeds
little itchy mousies
with scuttling
eyes    rustle and run     and
hidehidehide
whisk
whisk     look out for the old woman
with the wart on her nose
what she’ll do to yer
nobody knows
for she knows the devil     ooch
the devil     ouch
the devil
ach     the great
green
dancing
devil
devil
devil
devil
        wheeEEE

“A Sort of Song” — William Carlos Williams

“Glass of Water Encounter” — Terese Svoboda

“Glass of Water Encounter”

by

Terese Svoboda


She dances only in her necklace,
scotch-lit surely. He touches his glasses.

Nightie-less, dugs whipping, hair sprung,
some music inside, out, wet tongue

tip at her lip, no mere palsied shuffle,
both bony feet lifted, elbows awful.

Shakespeare’s banshee of wailing parts,
a woman with hair, a woman with warts.

He’s fixed to the floor. Dear Heloise:
do other presumed-sane mothers do this—

wait in the dark after the ball
to strip for their sons at the end of the hall?

A dream, insists his sister
but his first wife knows better.