April 24th poem

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Artist 

You move to a cold climate and meet an artist on an online dating site.  When he contacts you, his profile is an image of his face squashed against a scanner, so you can't really see what he looks like.  Still, he seems smart and funny, and on the phone you like how his voice is a cross between a public radio announcer and a young Jack Nicholson-- soothing, affable, with an edge of danger.  You meet him at a bakery with good soup and high ceilings, and unsure of what to do with all the space, you read him a passage from the book of Lorrie Moore stories you're re-reading.  He is working as a manny when you meet, and his suite of rooms in a large house in the suburbs overlooks a lake.  Huge paintings he's done line the walls-- angry self-portraits, blurred landscapes.

Years later, you are still friends and living with different people in different states.  Your climate is warmer and greener for more of the year.  Your relationship went down a weird alley and never re-emerged.  Part of you feels that you are still in there, but you would never admit it to your artist friend.  He has won fellowships and had work exhibited in galleries and museums.  It's hard to keep track of all his news.  You video chat with him while he's on fellowship in Berlin.  There is something of the penitent about his space and his haircut, something vulnerable and new.  For a minute, you don't know what to do with yourself again.

You're always planning a collaborative project, but they never take off.  In one, you were to write a script for some sort of cryptic self-help video.  Another was to be a book of his drawings and your words.  The drawings he sends are barely there-- spare black lines curving against a white background.  You write something about feelings in response, but it doesn't suit.  Every few weeks, you speak on the phone, and every once in a while the artist asks if you are angry, if something has happened between you.  No.  What has happened is that you had a baby, now a small child, not yet in school full-time.  Some days you are so tired you can't remember which way to turn the light switch for "on."

You live with a musician who is preparing his exhibit for the electronic music festival.  He translates computer data into audio files, then feeds them into a keyboard.  He tells you about it at length, but your mind glances off the information.  In the background of your mind, you're busy writing, but that's hard to explain.  Your partner is capable of not hearing others when he is concentrating.  He's capable of concentrating every day after work for weeks on end.  Mostly you are tired in the evenings.  One evening, though, you shut yourself in the bedroom to write a poem.  The musician knocks on the door tentatively soon after.  You say, "What!" in the sharpest way possible.e  He needs a shirt because it's cold in his office.  You've just written your first line, and you hold your pen aloft, hovering over the paper, staring into space as he quickly walks in for his shirt and back out again, closing the door behind him.

April 23rd poem

Sunday, April 23, 2017

On Angels and Other Things

Didn't I once write a poem about Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire
And didn't I once watch Herzog's movie about the eighteenth-
century villagers, all the parts played by hypnotized actors,

when R. was taking that seminar on the sublime?  Wasn't it
then that I walked out of his apartment on my own, around
the corner to get ice cream?  Maple walnut?  Didn't it

please me, the city, the people and their books and dogs
and basketballs, though I held myself apart, my habit?
Haven't I been all over?  I've been everywhere, man.

But what I started to tell you about was the angels, how
for a couple of years I dreaded going home for holidays, 
how I once sat alone in a wood-frame house in Lawrence,

Kansas, watching Wim Wenders' angels over Christmas. 
Maybe I made myself a meal.  Maybe I ate leftover cheese
and crackers.  Alone and inviolate is how I like to think

of myself, despite my myriad human connections, despite
all the minor molestations of this world, despite all the 
attendant angels, the one at my shoulder taking notes.  

April 22nd poem

Saturday, April 22, 2017

 Afternoon in the Garden 

"Oh!" I tell Elias, who is four.  "The rhizomes want to be near the surface of the soil."  I've been reading up on thinning irises while he plays with the hose.  "See the thick brown root here?  Come look!  They're all connected with this.  It's supposed to be showing like that ..." I make him come to me.  We both look.

I've come out to plant the grassy things with purple flowers I bought at the pottery festival.  I've gotten a hand spade from the shed, and I go to the front to hack at at the flower bed by the porch, loosening the roots of encroaching vines, upending old bits of rubber and plastic.  Perhaps it's called a trowel, the thing I'm holding.  Nothing in the shed is mine.  Not really.  I find something that I think at first is a squashed golden ring, but it's just a gold packaging tie.  I'm a bit scared of it all.  The digging.  The finding.

I leave Elias to do some of the loosening of roots while I run to the back to retrieve something.  When I return to the front, he says, "Don't look," and I see that he's uncovered a pink worm and is afraid it's injured.  I reassure him, move the worm aside.  I pull out two hearty dandelion plants, continue trying to find space among the rocks and roots.  "This is what's nice about gardening," I'm thinking.  "You can be a little crazy, attacking certain things, nurturing others, red in the face, throwing yourself into a plan all your own."  Elias is backing away, holding his face carefully.  He is having a much different feeling.  "I feel bad for everything that grows," he says.

I get the grasses planted.  I stand to inspect things.  "All we have to do is cut the grass, maybe trim those bushes.  Later, we'll transplant some irises.  Oh, I need new begonias for my big pots.  I could have saved the begonias from last year in a bag in the shed, but I realized it too late."

"I'll remind you," he says.

Surveying the pollen-covered porch, I turn to Elias.

"You know what I need?" I say.

"A disguise?"

At bedtime, I'm telling my son's father about the irises.  I've let Elias replant the weeds in the back.  I've washed us off and cooled us down, fed us dinner.

"They're all connected with that big root," I'm saying.  "What's it called?  Rhizome, right?'

"That's what I call it," Elias says.

April 21st poem

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Artist

The punk performance artist I live with sends audio messages to one of my friends from my phone, which I only find later.  In the messages, he's shouting, "Yes!" and "no!" and "maybe!", punctuated by silence.  He wakes up and rummages around for his mask, settles for his cape, then discards it on the hallway floor when he's done.  We have a fight about that and he weeps.  He's so punk that he gives people fake names when introducing himself and takes conversations with strangers into weird and unexpected areas.  He feels things deeply.  Cries about a deflated balloon.  On a walk, we study the new spring color of leaves and stop to pick up rocks of interesting shape and possible mysterious power we can scarcely understand.  From his stroller, the artist looks high overhead and sees a barely visible object that I would have missed. Exclaims, "A daytime moon!"

April 20th poem

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rules of the Game 

When I was a young child, my mother played endless games of rummy with me because she read that card games make children smart.  She hated games, but I didn't know that at the time.  She was barely more than a child herself then, but already setting up conditions and interested in outcomes, already a social scientist with a qualitative bent.  Interested in developing my humanness.

Early in elementary school we played Mastermind.  One person set up a code of colored pegs, and the other person had to guess their order through a process of elimination.  I learned that if I was patient and went through every permutation in my mind, I could win.  I'm not sure I'd have the patience for it now, or the interest.

For a time in middle childhood, I was passionate about backgammon-- the counting, the focus, the satisfying slides and clicks of the pieces.  I haven't played it in years.  I couldn't tell you the rules.

A friend of my mom's from her hometown reports that once he and my biological father, David,  made a trip to see us when my mother was in grad school.  David was reportedly disturbed that I cheated at a board game we all played, worrying that I'd turn out to be a bad person.  I play by a pretty decent set of rules now, but as a child I could be wily.  The visitors came and went, and I retain only the dimmest memory.  I didn't know then that my father was my father.  

Rolling dice with Anna to see who would go first in Monopoly the first time she came to my house, we got the same number ten times in a row.  We were thirteen, and she would be my closest friend for approximately the next ten years.  Maybe more.

My great-grandmother Eva loved games.  She would dress up and go to someone's house to sit at a card table for hours, talking, playing, and probably drinking.  Sometimes she would even spend a few days with friends.  This was my grandmother's mother-in-law, and she is the one who tells me about it.  At that time, my grandmother worked as a clerk at a bank and left her small children with Eva, who was not an attentive babysitter, which arrangement threatened to derange the poor young mother's mind.  She still speaks of Eva's great sense of style with admiration.  But I have never known my grandmother to play games.

Flicking pennies into an empty jar on top of the TV with Ross in graduate school in a Philadelphia row house.  Another time he learned that I really can't catch a ball, and he had me stand in the cobbled alley and catch a football fifty times in a row.  If I missed the catch, we started over at one. (Imagine a very tall poet who had been a college athlete.  And ... me.)  For a while, I was part of the gang.  Next door, Peg lived alone despite the dementia, and we talked to her about her childhood when she wandered outside.  Was there something about the Prohibition and hiding in a coal bin?  Ross found her crying in the alley once about when her mother was coming back, and we took her back inside.  In her kitchen, everything was labeled.  Clock.  Coffeemaker.  Stove.  Her daughter came to check on her during the day, but after a while Peg no longer lived there.  This was after Mark found her out in the snow in her nightgown, at the end of the alley, waiting for someone. 


Over Thanksgiving, illness and looming mortality.  Playing a word association game with family, our minds slide away from the clues that speak of death and misfortune.  For now, at least, we are here around the table together, focused on the same game. 

April 19th poem

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Creation Myth 

After every trip the world is new
or my life and I forget basic things--
one year I forgot which floor my office
was on.  I have no office anymore
just a home, but is this where I live? 

C opens the windows every time I leave, 
even for the afternoon. He begins cleaning,
leaving the floors spick and span, all the
clutter set in different places. What I meant 

to say was that on the way home from the 
airport we argued and I got out of the car
(my son asleep in the back) and walked. We 
were in town by then and everything seemed
new, the teenagers leaving school with their 
trombone cases and running shoes the trees 
leaning in, dark and full from rain.  It was
an hour and a half until dusk but cloudy 
barely warm full spring the earth s
beautiful then I felt bare and new and almost 
washed clean. Baptized in my love of the world.

April 18th poem

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Afternoon with Family

Mitchell Hammock Road, I say.  Or Mitchell Hammond Road?

Hammock! Mom replies.  A hammock is like an island in a  swamp!

Mom says, Look at all this construction.  They're building a bunch of stuff exactly like a bunch of other stuff that already exists.

Me:  There's another park.

Mom: That's a vulture! 

Me: Park, Mom.

Mom: I thought you said bird. 

I poke at the buttons to the satellite radio, stopping to listen to the beginning of an Artie Shaw song.  To the four year-old, I say, Do you hear that?  That's the clarinet.  

I don't want to hear the clarinet! he replies.  Why is this clarinet still happening? 

Maybe it was Benny Goodman.

When I was a little boy, my stepfather says decorously, we always ate dinner together, even though we didn't like one another.  Starting out serious, and then veering off.

Frank O'Hara said, Go by feel.  Or was that my mom?

April 17th poem

Monday, April 17, 2017


Your small son comes in from playing at dusk and asks you What's happening now? What's happening in another part of the world? Dusk is like that, the air slows and hangs in place, the mind slips through time and space, and maybe you're walking into a kitchen in another part of North Carolina, bike-dusty and tired, your head knocking against your grandmother's hip as you greet her, which means, "All right, I'm done.  Wipe me down with a washcloth and tuck me into clean sheets." On your grandmother's dressing table are electric lamps shaped like oil lamps, the white glass with even rows of white bumps all over.  She has set up her surroundings, in fact, to evoke any number of previous years-- the rag rug, the turned bedposts, the old copy of a book about Little Annie Rooney on the low dresser, which book you are meant to leave alone.  The coolness of the air on your skin after she wipes you down, and the stars, and the smell of earth and box elders through open windows . . .  But sometimes she calls me Little Annie Rooney, you're thinking, burrowing down into your warm spot in the sheets, snug in your child body as your mind begins the plunk-plunk harp creep out the window and through the starry cool trees.

April 16th poem

Sunday, April 16, 2017

I'm taking the day off today and posting a poem I wrote for NaPoWriMo 2013.  This is the last time I wrote about my brother's azalea/ozalea joke.  This poem was written for a Facebook friend who has since died.  I dedicate it to her.

Poem for Bonnie

I am walking around in my temporary neighborhood-- all my neighborhoods so far are temporary-- and thinking the names of flowers as I walk.  Tulip.  Pear tree, maybe?  Daffodil.  Jonquil.  Both a type of narcissus.  Thinking, What's that flowering bush again?  Hydrangea or azalea?  I once asked my brother to remind me which it was in my mother's yard, and he said, Azalea.  Or actually, Oprah just bought them all and renamed them Ozalea.  So those must be Ozaleas . . .  If I have done nothing else of value, I have had a little brother who says things like this and who I somehow helped make like this because I appreciate that he says things like this.  But then I think, Oh, and I made a new human, too, now.  He is riding along at the end of my arms, squinting at me until he falls asleep.  I could say, Right, baby?  Azaleas, huh, Bubba?  Or hydrangeas.  Right?  I'd better get it straight before he's old enough to know that I don't know all my flowers.  Or maybe he'll appreciate that I'm the way I am.  And I'll appreciate that he's the way he is.  And in this way we will each of us become more who we are.  We will become our funny, endearing selves and keep on becoming them, which is, at its best, what it means to be part of a family.  Which is a buoy and also a type of courage.  I am thinking, Hydrangea hydrangea Hypatia.  All I know about Hypatia is that she was a Greek philosopher and mathematician renowned for her beauty and learning.  That's all I know about that.  Or, wait-- wasn't she torn apart by a mob?  Why would they do it?  Poor Hypatia.  I present you with these azaleas.   

April 15th

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In media res

So, there I was in this dark wood, thinking
I'd been there so long, my youth felt like someone's
dream of quickly moving cloud shadow across
a green, green landscape, as viewed through a snow
globe.  I remember learning the phrase "personal
mythology," loving the audacity and poetry of
that.  A personal myth can become a dark wood.
Still, moments lay track in the mind, the dream
of Professor Schultz ferrying me down a misty
river, wearing her '80s glasses, pointing out
ruins along the shore, my inheritance.  Or the time
I asked my brother what those flowers were called
again.  "Azaleas," he said.  "But they've all been
bought by Oprah and now we have to call them
Ozaleas."  Was it worth it?  The long reaching
line of ancestors' struggle, forbearance, violence,
colonization, births, disease, all that mess,
just so Zander could stand in the yard and tell
me about Ozaleas?  It's just what happened,
I suppose.  Belly of the whale.  All I have is this
rickety ladder reaching, reaching built of
tenderness, built of my fierce loyalty to odd
moments.  And here I sit, ghosts and birds calling
to me behind a sheer curtain on a beautiful day,
outside the Ozaleas throwing out their arms.    

April 14th poem

Saturday, April 15, 2017

(a clerihew)

Walt Disney
is in a tizzy.
Starlings alight and fly away
without having been planned that way.

April 13th Poem

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I have no poem today, only a ringing ear in a quiet room, 

and the "mother of all bombs"
can cause deafness
up to two miles away,
when it does not kill or maim
or shake you or knock you over.
Some mothers are like that,
I suppose.  But the women I know
who became mothers felt raw
and exposed, too sensitive
to the pain of others, especially
children, even to speak of it, even
to read the news.  At the Orlando
Science Center, a young white man
wears a red t-shirt with a political
message that to me speaks of hatred.
He walks past me, a woman
(a person to be grabbed?),
past my brown-skinned son
of indeterminate race (a person to be
dragged on or off airplanes?).
The young man wears a crucifix
so large and detailed he should hang it
in a quiet corner and pray.  I think of
his rather brawny Jesus returning on Easter.
Christ is back.  And this time he's pissed.
The sunlight holds us in the glass walkway
above a busy street.  "Do you believe in
science, then?" I want to say.
"Do you believe in mercy?"

April 12th poem

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cultivate Your Garden 

Skulking about outside churches
pointing out irises to my son-- See?--
I imagine burrowing down and being in place,
moving soil around, saving annuals
over winter.  Friends say it's a weed
if it isn't where you want it. The question
is how to allow flourishing. Or rather,
the extent to which we exert will
versus a graceful abiding.

April 11th poem

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Boat Sonnet 

My friend keeps sending me protective Marys,
and last year E. kept picking up gravel,
pressing it upon me in his small hand
with some urgency.  "Happy rock." I dated a guy
in Milwaukee who told me, "You just don't seem
as happy as you should."  You don't say?
He moved to Madison and bought a boat.
I imagine Hepburn saying, "you have to row
your own boat," but enabling Spencer Tracy, who
never divorced.  After that, though, she could wear
her white shirts & gardening trousers and go on
Dick Cavett, not giving a damn about anything.
In my daydream, I lie down in the bottom of a
boat and float away, meaning I marry my soul.

April 10th Poem

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pink Moon Self-Portrait  

Once I told a poet at a bar that I was having difficulty.  "Oh, Joanna," she said.  "Don't have difficulty."  I laughed at myself then, at all of it.  I tried to leave for the woods to stare at a fire, but the poets came and sat on my log, talking about the job market.  True story of difficulty.  Perhaps you will understand if I tell you that I sat in the driveway for a good five minutes before getting out of the car this afternoon, wondering if I should call someone because a squirrel was looking at me funny.  Finally I honked the horn to make it go away.  Then honked again.  It's like what Virginia Woolf said--if you could see what really moves through your friends' minds throughout the day, you'd be appalled.  Once something really odd gave me the giggles in a college fiction class, and the guy sitting next to me said, "That's exactly the kind of thing that would make her laugh."  The wave of affection I felt for myself then would appall you.

April 9th poem

Sunday, April 09, 2017

(in Lawrence, Kansas some years ago)

Maybe some days my neck hurts because of the cord
around it-- here I pause to write my mother, "How many
times was the cord around my neck?" Poor little mom,
round-bellied and small alone on a flat surface
in a building in Kansas.  I always imagine the right angles
of the bed she was on, and of any windows, and of
the building.  Attending nurses and the terrible costumed
quality of their uniforms back then (early '70s).  Somewhere
a ways away, though, the Kaw River wound past
morning, moving toward noon. And you may imagine
that Kansas is flat, but Lawrence is hilly, by the campus,
at least, where I would attend as a nymph of Mt. Oread,
or whatever, walking under stars to sit on a swing set
with Jason or whoever I was with, feeling our childhood
slip out of our bodies, like the spirit almost slipped out
of my body and maybe my small mom's that day.
I'd intended to keep writing lines until she wrote back
to say, "Six times, and we almost died."
I think it was six.

April 8th poem

Saturday, April 08, 2017

A Litany of Bodies

My body is alone in the co-working space,
chill in here and sunny outside, and
My body takes a break to study a photo
of an injured child in Syria,
Body’s head falls into body’s hands.
The body of the child is being attended to,
but it isn’t clear how his
Body is being supported.  One medical worker
seems to guide the child’s head to look
At the body of an older sibling.  They look into each other’s eyes,
the injured child’s eyes huge. 
A second medical worker prepares to suture.
Adult bodies look on.  “Civilians.”  Human beings,
Their bodies leaning in to support the child with their presence.
The body of a girl child is in the foreground,
also looking on, an adult’s hand
On her head.  That’s what made me cry, all the looking. 
These children have seen something together
that will separate them
From the bodies of those of us who haven’t
seen it, haven’t been there
With our actual bodies.  In Michelangelo’s Pietà,
The adult body of Jesus is cradled in his mother’s lap,
And this is what’s so terrible and beautiful
about being a mother.  To hold
The body, to cradle it, to send it out into the world,
the brutality of the world
Upon the body, which if we are to believe
the religious among us, houses
Also a soul.  Tell me.  Are we, then,
to believe it?

Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground