National Poetry Month, Day 29: Mike Dockins

Today on the penultimate day of NPM I feature my good friend Mike Dockins, author of Slouching in the Path of a Comet (Sage Hill Press, 2007) and the forthcoming “Letter to So-and-So from Wherever” (C&R Press, due out, we hope, in January). Mike and I studied together in school and have kept in touch for many years. He favors letter poems (there exists a seven-page poem called “Letter to Meserve from Orgeval”), and together we’re in the midst of a postcard poem project: he writes me a poem on a postcard and mails it off; I read it, write a response, and mail one back. It’s been great fun, and stay tuned because there will be more news on that tomorrow!

For today, please enjoy “Splitting the Atom for Dummies.”

Splitting the Atom for Dummies

America the plum blossoms are falling.
?Allen Ginsberg

The atom cannot remember its baby-
hood, when it was whole. At a state fair,

west of someplace, a muscled barker
whomped it with a rubber mallet.

This was the atom?s bildungsroman:
it traveled the world, splitting itself

over islands, atolls, & fishing villages.
The atom learned Japanese, composed

lucid odes to harbors, to wings, to light?
little flashes of genius piloting down

through bright mornings, alighting
on bookshelves as thin, papery Buddhas.

(? Mike Dockins)

National Poetry Month, Day 28: Franz Wright

 

Always, since I discovered him in my last year of graduate school, Franz Wright’s poetry is with me. Even during one of the times when I’m not really reading much poetry, I pick his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Walking to Martha’s Vineyard off the shelf occasionally and read “Fathers,” a terribly sad poem about Wright’s own father, poet James Wright, and about God, whom Franz Wright discovered somewhere along the way. My own faith is very nebulous, but for some reason when I read about God in Franz Wright’s work it feels incredibly powerful. I guess that’s the mark of an excellent writer–to be able to make non-believers into believers…or something.

Franz Wright’s life, as recorded in his poetry, has not been an easy one. There was alcoholism, homelessness, mental illness, and a great deal of other tragedy. Here is “Asking for my Younger Brother,” from Ill Lit. Enjoy.

ASKING FOR MY YOUNGER BROTHER

I never did find you.
I later heard how you’d wandered the streets
for weeks, washing dishes before you got fired;
taking occasional meals at the Salvation Army
with the other diagnosed. How on one particular night
you won four hundred dollars at cards:
how some men followed you and beat you up,
leaving you unconscious in an alley
where you were wakened by police
and arrested for vagrancy, for being tired
of getting beaten up at home.
I’d dreamed you were dead,
and started to cry.
I couldn’t exactly phone Dad.
I bought a pint of bourbon
and asked for you all afternoon in a blizzard.
In hell
Dante had words with the dead,
although
they had no bodies
and he could not touch them, nor they him.
A man behind the ticket counter
in the Greyhound terminal
pointed to one of the empty seats, where
someone who looked like me sometimes sat down
among the people waiting to depart.
I don’t know why I write this.
With it comes the irrepressible desire
to write nothing, to remember nothing;
there is even the desire
to walk out in some field and bury it
along with all my other so-called
poems, which help no one–
where each word will blur
into earth finally,
where the mind that voiced them
and the hand that took them down will.
So what. I left
the bus fare back
to Sacramento with this man,
and asked him
to give it to you.

Reno

(? Franz Wright, from Ill Lit: Selected and New Poems, Oberlin College Press, 1998)

 

 

National Poetry Month, Day 26: Dorothea Lasky

Boy holding book

Boy holding book

Today’s poem is by the talented Dorothea Lasky.

Dotty and I studied together briefly at UMass Amherst and she’s a love. Her book Awe (Wave Books, 2007) is beautiful and very compelling, and she’s published two more books, since. It’s nice to see someone, you know, making a successful go at this poetry life.

Here is “Love Poem,” which you can hear Dotty read via this link.

Enjoy!

Love Poem

The rain whistled.
.
A taxi brought me to your apartment building
And there I stood.
.
I had dreamed a dream
Of us in a bedroom.
The light shining upon us in white sheets.
.
You were singing me a song of your sailing days
And in the dream
I reached deep in you and pulled out a cardinal
Which in bright red
Flew out the window.
.
Sometimes when we talk
On the phone, I think to myself
That the deep perfect of your soul
Is what draws me to you.
But still what soul is perfect?
All souls are misshapen and off-colored.
Morning comes within a soul
And makes it obey another law
In which all souls are snowflakes.
.
Once at a funeral, a man had died
And with the prayers said, his soul flew up in a hurry
Like it had been let out of something awful.
It was strangely colored, that soul.
And it was a funny shape and a funny temperature.
As it blew away, all of us looking felt the cold.
(? Dorothea Lasky, from Awe)

National Poetry Month, Day 25: Langston Hughes

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red
her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumphets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumphets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like a pain.
Sweet silver trumphets, Jesus!

? Langston Hughes

National Poetry Month, Day 24: Jane Kenyon & Donald Hall

Last night I read a lot of sad poems. I love sadness. It’s not an emotion I fear, and maybe for that reason my favorite poems are often about loss, death, and grief (I have a major “thing” for break-up songs, too). And I got to thinking about one of the saddest poetry stories out there: poet Jane Kenyon, who died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 47 and left behind her husband, poet Donald Hall. The story is sad for many reasons; one, because Donald Hall himself had had cancer, and shortly after he learned he would survive Jane Kenyon became ill and died quite quickly; and also because of his famous book Without (Mariner Books, 1998), which is one of the finest books of poetry I’ve ever read and which has become something of a primer about grief. After she died, Jane Kenyon’s book Otherwise was published, and to read the two side-by-side–well, I recommend it.

So for today, I wanted to post a poem by Jane Kenyon, written, one assumes, when Donald Hall was sick; after, one by Donald Hall, written after Jane Kenyon died. To me, the two poems speak to one another beautifully. Enjoy.

Afternoon at MacDowell

On a windy summer day the well-dressed

trustees occupy the first row

under the yellow and white striped canopy.

Their drive for capital is over,

and for a while this refuge is secure.

.

Thin after your second surgery, you wear

the gray summer suit we bought eight

years ago for momentous occasions

in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap,

under the fine cotton shawl embroidered

with mirrors that we bargained for last fall

in Bombay, unaware of your sickness.

.

The legs of our chairs poke holes

in the lawn. The sun goes in and out

of the grand clouds, making the air alive

with golden light, and then, as if heaven?s

spirits had fallen, everything?s somber again.

.

After music and poetry we walk to the car.

I believe in the miracles of art, but what

prodigy will keep you safe beside me,

fumbling with the radio while you drive

to find late innings of a Red Sox game?

(? Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems, Graywolf Press, 2005)

—-

The Gallery

Back home from the grave,

behind my desk I made

a gallery of Janes:

at twenty-four, with long

straight hair sitting

beside me in my Piitsburgh

Pirate suit; standing

recessive in shadow

wearing her nearsighted

glasses, Kearsarge behind us;

stretched out glamorous

in her bathing suit

at Key West; foxy

and beautiful at forty-five;

embracing me last year;

front page of the Sunday

Concord Monitor

in color with the headline:

POET JANE KENYON DIES

AT HER HOME IN WILMOT.

(? Donald Hall, from Without, Mariner Books, 1998)

 

On a windy summer day the well-dressed trustees occupy the first row under the yellow and white striped canopy. Their drive for capital is over, and for a while this refuge is secure. Thin after your second surgery, you wear the gray summer suit we bought eight years ago for momentous occasions in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap, under the fine cotton shawl embroidered with mirrors that we bargained for last fall in Bombay, unaware of your sickness. The legs of our chairs poke holes in the lawn. The sun goes in and out of the grand clouds, making the air alive with golden light, and then, as if heaven?s spirits had fallen, everything?s somber again. After music and poetry we walk to the car. I believe in the miracles of art, but what prodigy will keep you safe beside me, fumbling with the radio while you drive to find late innings of a Red Sox game? – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23334#sthash.40xupYWM.dpuf
On a windy summer day the well-dressed trustees occupy the first row under the yellow and white striped canopy. Their drive for capital is over, and for a while this refuge is secure. Thin after your second surgery, you wear the gray summer suit we bought eight years ago for momentous occasions in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap, under the fine cotton shawl embroidered with mirrors that we bargained for last fall in Bombay, unaware of your sickness. The legs of our chairs poke holes in the lawn. The sun goes in and out of the grand clouds, making the air alive with golden light, and then, as if heaven?s spirits had fallen, everything?s somber again. After music and poetry we walk to the car. I believe in the miracles of art, but what prodigy will keep you safe beside me, fumbling with the radio while you drive to find late innings of a Red Sox game? – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23334#sthash.40xupYWM.dpuf