November 10th

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

(I'm writing some more dispatches in November.  I won't post all of them, but I will post a few.  Here's one.)

An Education

I've stood in front of the best art in the best museums of the Midwest with my little brother, having driven him there and installed him in front of pieces from a variety of periods in a variety of media, all in the interest of developing his mind.  Contemporary Mexican baroque at the Walker.  Sculpture gardens.  Portrait rooms with eighteenth century courtiers etc.  We stood there, still and taking it in-- face of youth, ridiculous clothes-- and I said to him, "That's you."  When he visited me in New York City, I continued my work, taking him to the Poetry Project for the James Schuyler tribute.  Or, no, it was the Jack Spicer tribute.  The Met for the Temple of Dendur.  (I lived perched on the upper edge of Manhattan the, moping around Inwood Hill Park at dusk for my desultory version of exercise, back when I thought that was safe.)  This is Thai food on the Upper West Side.  This is Central Park.  Ethiopian food.  This is the face you make on the subway.  On one visit, I took him to the Cloisters, and he made me German tart with Italian plums from the market.  In that one convenience store near NYU with the obscure Japanese candy, he ate ice cream with pieces of corn in it.  Cursed me for taking him to a very slow Jim Jarmusch movie.  Like, even more slow than usual.  We peered through a locked gate in Soho at some kind of David Byrne installation.  Listen, I took my role seriously.  In a lavish room at the Frick, again we stood in front of a young nobleman of some kind, huddled there, unable to giggle in such a close atmosphere.  But anyway, that is you. 

The Long Game

Friday, September 11, 2015

by Todd Colby and Joanna Penn Cooper

Fridays are always good for me.
On Fridays I could be a grifter because
people trust me on Fridays. Everything
is always right there on my face, like
the flaky piece of a croissant I ate yesterday.

Long stretches of time get away from me
and then I'm in it again. The golden chain 
of forebears, and me in genie pants on a 
palanquin. It's ok, honestly, it's really ok.

When I woke up and got your message, we
were buying tickets for Paris. It was going to
be April, and I was trying to decide if that 
was too cliche. In dreams, begin dreams.
Still waters turn green in the sun.

Is a beautiful day a luxury? I watched it with
a few others from the cheap seats. The sound
was a little distorted, but it was such a refreshing 
change from my old roost under the mesquite trees.

In the old days, we used to hang out in the flesh. 
This is how I remember it, anyway. Someone is always
leaving or getting taken away, that's my statement
of artistic purpose in a nutshell.

Sustainable Effort

Monday, August 17, 2015

(by Todd Colby and Joanna Penn Cooper)

We all wish to awaken on a day like today
and just smear unguents, which is a fancy way
of saying "smell the coffee."  Wake up, wake up 
whisper-hisses the figure in the corner.  He's there
every morning.  On good days he reminds you of
Keith Richards, but with thicker thighs from pushing
a mower up the hill in the backyard year after year.
Next week I will sleep better and un-ruin my life
because I read about how to do it online.
Hire someone to tie you into a sleeping bag
with Boy Scout knots. I'm always so close to really
being free of almost everything that bothers me.
And then your face is always there.  It's a pleasant face,
but it's always there. Thanks for holding down the fort.

I've been revisiting Rukeyser this morning

Monday, June 29, 2015

Then I Saw What the Calling Was

All the voices of the wood called “Muriel!”
but it was soon solved;    it was nothing, it was not for me.
The words were a little like Mortal and More and Endure
and a word like Real, a sound like Health or Hell.
Then I saw what the calling was    :    it was the road I traveled,
    the clear
time and these colors of orchards, gold behind gold and the full
shadow behind each tree and behind each slope.    Not to me
the calling, but to anyone, and at last I saw    :    where
the road lay through sunlight and many voices and the marvel
orchards, not for me, not for me, not for me.
I came into my clear being;    uncalled, alive, and sure.
Nothing was speaking to me, but I offered and all was well.

And then I arrived at the powerful green hill.

                            --Muriel Rukeyser

April 30th

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Eleven More Poems for Poetry Month

Thought: "71 poems.  One for each year of my life." 

A minute later: "Wait." 

On Sibling Day, I wrote my brother, "Happy Sibling Day.  What should I write a poem about?"  And he wrote, "That time you showed me The Exorcist in Philadelphia." 

When my brother was 12, he visited me in Philadelphia.  I was 28.  We walked around the city, and he picked up every rubber band he saw.  I read to him from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  One night a fire alarm went off in the building that was so loud I was frightened, but he slept through it while I went down to the lobby to reset the alarm.  I was wearing the bumblebee boxer shorts I sometimes slept in, and a man about my age gave me a surprised look when he came in the building.  I realized later that all my hair was sticking up.  My brother drew a cartoon of this when I told him about it the next day.  One night we watched The Exorcist, and then he had to stand outside the bathroom door while I peed.  Cats were yowling in the alley.

I don't know what to say about haunting anymore.  I've moved too often and maybe lost the ghosts.  The Haunting of American Literature is a class I once taught.  The return of the repressed.  The sins of the fathers.  This year, we are still there, in the 19th century, having figured nothing out.  Haunted, I guess.  But some word more visceral than that.  Abjection, the grotesque.  But in real life, not literature.

Questions of volition become central at this time.  I'm thinking of toddlers now, and stay-at-home mothering.

"an energetic through-line"

Which of my boyfriends would not sit with their backs to the door and why.   Because of Malcolm X.  Or because that's what you do if you're a warrior type.

An email from "Move Loot":

Half-moon bookcase: $50
Gunmetal Table: $75
High-Society Dining Set: $1800
Butter Bean End Table: $75

Elias says, "Mama has blue eyes, Elias has brown eyes, Dada has brown eyes.  Mama has brown hair, Elias has brown hair, Dada has blackish hair.  Mama has pink eyes, Elias has blue eyes.  Mama has a black pagina."

"Urgent journey toward an important message":  Sometimes reading a poem can make a person feel less alone in her own head, as when I read James Schuyler on the subway in New York.  The brain has an amazing amount of plasticity is what I would tell a depressed person now.  I'll tell it to myself. 


I quit.
The ghost is sleeping.  

April 29th poem

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Bridge Too Far 

There are certain things you can correct
by force of will, like being pigeon-toed 
or eating an apple from the top of the core, 
seeds & all.  Other things are history.  
People all over are walking around
thinking whatever thoughts they want 
about you, and some of these thoughts 
and people seem a little irritable 
and agitated with the decisions you made 
earlier today. How do they know?
The woman on the subway doesn't like 
how you were short with your girlfriend
before you left the house, nor does her little boy 
care for what you chose to do with coconut oil
in the shower. The whole city could play 
itself like a theremin for all you care.

April 24th poem

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Notes toward an Essay on Home and Desire

In New York, sometimes you are the woman crying on the street, and sometimes you are the woman watching the woman crying on the street, thinking, "I have been that woman.”


Want to play with Ginger
Want a ginger cookie
my son says
He knows what he likes—
he likes his teacher named Ginger
he likes the ginger molasses cookie we ate this morning

Actually, at this age they cry because they want
two things at once.
Want wear bofe shirts.


In New York, sometimes you are the woman crying on the street

Did I ever throw anything at you?
is what I texted John

Ha!  I don’t think so.  Why?
is what he texted back

Drama:  the way rooms look different with different lighting.  The same characters appear in various configurations, together or separately, in changing postures, changing light, over the course of a few days.  Sometimes there is a break in the middle and a great deal of time has passed.  New lighting.  New costumes.

In sixth grade, my friend’s father, a colonel, came to talk to us after The Day After came out.  He was very certain that nuclear arms as a deterrent were a good idea.  We were very puzzled. 

At the end of the day, Mr. Martin read to us from Where the Sidewalk Ends, which was kind of him to do.  A good teacher is, in part, a professional kind person.

I lived in Bavaria then.  I remember getting off the bus and buying bratwurst from a window in a 500 year-old building.  The brotchen and the spices of the mustard and the bratwurst, the crunchiness of the bread and the juices of the meat.  This was the best thing I had ever eaten.  (Do I put something here about the next year being the one when all my friends reported on who had gotten their period?  Each week, a different girl.  Started.  Or ended.  But just then, I was still self-contained.)

In Bavaria, you were supposed to say Grüss Gott! to old people you passed as you walked.  Some of these old people are no longer living.  They had been alive during the war, when I was not yet living.  A chain.  Later, we moved to Heidelberg.  No one said Grüss Gott! there.  Once a man wearing a gas mask got on the street car.  The US bombed Libya, and my friend and I talked in public about how we much we missed our home ... Canada.  O Canada. 

I am sitting in a green room in Durham North Carolina my notebook says
Now I am sitting in a red room in Durham North Carolina
under bears in a frame, struggling under a roof, “Protection from Domestic Strife,”
nine of diamonds in each corner

Settings going on without me:
Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn
Kitzingen in Bavaria
The Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg
Lawrence, Kansas
My grandmother’s living room
The movement of light across a wall somewhere in Michigan
somewhere in Vermont
somewhere in Italy
A four story tree out this window, a black bird up there
Maybe bigger than a starling.

Changing postures
Transformation, even
Toward no “end”

Yesterday, I set my son down on a rolling expanse of lawn, so he could run away from me, arms outstretched.  I trotted after him, and when I was close, a cold breeze gusted through.  He turned to me then and jumped in my arms, clutching me, saying, “Want to go home.” 

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