Poem-A-Day 2019: Kabir (India)

I’m sorry I didn’t post a poem last night. My cousin Vali fronts a metal band called Black Market Tragedy, and last night they were playing a rare acoustic show at the House of Blues, and I didn’t get home until much later than anticipated.

The band was awesome. No regrets, none whatsoever.

I’ll give you an extra poem this weekend, when I have a little more time.

A friend of mine from grade school and high school, Nicole, gave me a book last year for my birthday called Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems. It contains fragments of beautiful poetry, sometimes centuries old, that I found just lovely to read and meditate on in the evenings. Here’s one of the poems that resonated with me the most, and continues to do so, especially now, when I’m frankly having a particularly stressful time at work. It would have done wonders for some of my family members back in the day, too.

This meditation is from Kabir of India.

 

If you circumambulated every holy shrine in the world
ten times,
it would not get you to heaven
as quick
as controlling your
anger.

***

Kabir Das (ca. 1440-1518, India) was raised by a Muslim family of weavers, though legend has it that his birth mother may have been a Brahmin widow. Kabir became a disciple of the Hindu bhakti saint Ramananda at an early age, and his name is often interpreted as “Guru’s Grace.” Though a great mystic and contemplative, Kabir never abandoned a worldly life. He sought to bridge the religious cultures yet was denounced by mainstream religious leaders during his lifetime. At Kabir’s death, his body turned to flowers, and his Hindu and Muslim followers each took half to perform last rites. A saint in the bhakti and Sufi tradition, Kabir expressed through his poetry self-surrender, divine love, and inward worship of the beloved with the heart.

Biographical information quoted from Mala of the Heart, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt.

Poem-A-Day 2019: Sandi Stromberg

I have some close friends, Scott and Paula, who live in the northeast now but who are from Texas. Scott’s dad and stepmom have a marvelous goat ranch and bed and breakfast out near Wimberley, Texas, in the Hill Country. When my husband and I and Scott and Paula and a lot of our close friends were all in our twenties we used to go out to the ranch every year to help clear some of the land of unnecessary cedar that was starving the narrow waterways, the streams and creeks and waterfalls. We all had desk or computer jobs, and a weekend of physical landscape labor every January was just what we thought we needed to reset ourselves.

In actuality, what we needed was time in the Hill Country, time spent on a cold, sunny landscape bright with a winter sun in a turquoise sky. We needed a bumpy ride over caliche roads, a truck’s jaunt across a bridge over a narrow tributary of the Blanco, a bonfire in the large fire pit at night while we rocked on the enormous porch and peeked at Milky Way in the freezing black sky. We needed to wander the tall grasses, a weather eye out for coyotes and mountain lions, with the shepherding dogs and each other. We needed to come back near the house to feed and pet the goats and hold their kids, to pick burrs out of our socks, to sit up all night talking books and art and Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang. We needed breakfast casseroles with three types of corn in them and Paula teaching me to make a tartine at night. We needed time to sit, time to nap. I needed time to wander off to a corner with my journal and write while Paula painted my portrait for practice.

Almost twenty years later, when we go back to visit our friends at the ranch, we still wander the land and look at the cedar bough graveyards we built, now brittle bleached by age and the elements, and take a small sliver of pride at the rushing waterfalls and streams and creeks we helped resuscitate. When we aren’t having a drought year, anyway. The Great Pyrenees, those huge shepherding dogs, are used to us now. The goats are still sweet and loud and make us squeal with delight, especially now when we take our our kids to see theirs. And never fear, the cedar just goes on and on.

We need spaces like this, even in our urban lives, our urban inner landscape, just to have a moment to sit in a rocking chair with nothing pressing upon us. It’s the only way, sometimes, we can figure out how to relax.

I love this poem tonight, from the gracious and excellent Sandi Stromberg; it reminds me of faraway friends and a place and people I hope to get back to soon.

Wimberley Winter

Country music two-steps around a worn
leather couch. Flickers of yellow and orange
rise from smoldering logs. And my pen glides
across the lined page, gathering thoughts.
Outside, drizzle fogs the air. Ice crystals
drop from leaf tips onto the redwood deck,
tinkling as clear and harmonious
as a triangle.
.                                     All is so right
with my world, I would stop time in the middle
of this moment, snuggle into an endless
Hill Country winter. But when the flames fall
into their embers, and the ice crystals melt,
my blood rushes on.
                                   I anticipate—
the way the sycamore dreams of spring buds
or the stag, drinking at Cypress Creek, aspires
to more points on his antlers. The way
a mother holds her breath, watching
her child’s life unfold, step by step.

***

Sandi Stromberg is the mother of two sons, whose steps she still anticipates, one a director of motor-yacht development in France, the other a musician/composer in Singapore. She has been an award-winning magazine feature writer, editor, poet, and translator over the past 40 years. Her poem “The English Student” was recently published in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Her poetry has been published in many small journals and anthologies, most recently in the Ekphrastic Review. For 10 years, she served on the board of Mutabilis Press, during which time she edited Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston.

 

Poem-A-Day: Paige Poe

It’s important to feature not only established and mid-career poets in this series every year, but also emerging writers who are just coming onto the scene or who have been published but don’t have a book out — yet. Paige Poe is one of those authors to be watching for.

War Paint

Conceal insecurity
and blot blemishes,
Set with flour dusted
From the hands
of your mother’s mothers.

Take a fistful of soil from the nearest
crossroad and trace
the hollows of your power starved cheeks,
your burdened temples, the contour
Of your family nose.

Stain your lids with glamour,
Paint your lips like blood,
Pack on enough glitter to blind your enemies,
Enough color to distract a predator.

Practice a smile, then a grimace,
a giggle, a growl, a war cry—
Practice saying no
and then practice throwing punches.

***

Paige Poe is a feminist poet, writer, and theatre artist based out of Houston. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 2018 with a degree in theatre and English, and her work has been published in eleven40seven, Texas’ Best Emerging Poets of 2017, and Brave Voices Magazine. Inspired by Mary Oliver and the confessional poetry tradition, she strives to present modern femininity, mental illness, and her rich family history in her artistic endeavors. Currently, Paige is working as a freelance ghostwriter, editor, and research assistant.  You can find her at paigegpoe.com and on instagram as paige_outofmybook.

Poem-A-Day 2019: Martin Elster

At the start of this month, I was posting these Poems-A-Day in the evenings because my days were so busy with school/work that evening was the only time I could sit down and write these blog posts. And now, some days (like Monday through Friday) that’s still true.

But I’ve also found that I genuinely prefer doing these posts in the evenings, and so maybe that will continue. I like settling down after the rest of the household has settled down (enough, anyway) and just resting with these poems, unhurried, reveling in the noble fiction that this is the only thing I have left to do before bedtime.

I earnestly look forward to the time in my life when that noble fiction might be true.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep settling into a poem each evening and sharing it with you.

That quietness, that take-a-breath-and-relax-for-a-moment feeling, is the same kind of settling in I feel when I read this wonderful poem, filled with music, by Martin Elster.

The Pigeons
 
Close by the bridge, they javelin
the frosty blue. Flashing, fading,
dipping, climbing, as if to win
the Bird Olympics, emulating
their wild forebears, forever together,
bonded by the sturdy tether
 
of kinship. The townsfolk dare not bustle
about in gales. They’re all shut in
like rabbits in their huts. The rustle
of remnant leaves and twigs is a thin
and bony xylophone. The flocking
aces wheel round and round the walking
 
man on the bridge, who watches each bird
click with the cloud in euphoric flight.
Strolling alone, for a moment cured
of the whiteness under the frigid light
of sunset, he can’t help but stare
as spirits soar and fade and flare.
 
***
 
Martin Elster is a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Autumn Sky, Better Than Starbucks, Cahoodaloodaling, Poetry Quaterly, The Flea, The Road Not Taken, and in various anthologies, includingTaking Turns: Sonnets from Eratosphere, The 2012 and 2015 Rhysling Anthologies, New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan, Poems for a Liminal Age, and the Potcake Chapbooks. Honors include co-winner of Rhymezone’s 2016 poetry contest, winner of the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition 2014, third place in the SFPA’s 2015 poetry contest, and three Pushcart nominations.

Poem-A-Day: Mike Alexander

I always like to include a poem by Mike Alexander in this annual series. He was heavily involved — possibly even running? I don’t even remember now — the poetry reading series at a bar called The Mausoleum here in Houston back in the late 1990s. I used to read there, and it was a pretty fun venue. A lot of Houston poetry scene regulars were part of that series, and I have fond memories of it.

That bar eventually changed its name to Helios because the owner, a woman named Mariana, wanted to let some metaphorical light into the place. A while later, she changed the name again to AvantGarden, which is what it still is named now. Over the years countless musical acts and even music festivals have performed there, my brother debuted his music video in a party there, and back when I was still bellydancing, I hosted a monthly show there called Eclectic Bellydance. Before us, back when it was The Maus, some friends of mine hosted the Gothic Bellydance show there on Tuesday nights, and plenty of other dance troupes and shows took their turn in the venue as well.

Just across the fence from AvantGarden is a friendly little retail center with, among other things, a coffee shop called FIX. Mike Alexander now runs a poetry reading series there called Poetry FIX, which is in its third year, and which has been one of the places I’ve most enjoyed reading my work over the last couple of years. If you’re ever in Houston on a Tuesday night, see if they’ve got a reading there that week, because it’s really fun. They’ll have two features and an open mic, and I highly recommend it.

This poem of Mike’s was recently published in the Mutabilis Press anthology Enchantment of the Ordinary.

POEM IN WHICH A CHICKEN CROSSES THE ROAD

A block from my suburban home, just off the highway –
a host of emails in my head, a deadline met, a deadline
threatening, my radio a celebration of long-awaited weekend,
already overbooked, the volume absurdly high, it’s true,
on Lady of the Morning, a song I hate by a band I hate,
but at this moment, its syrupy bombast, a delicious irony,
a final crescendo announcing my triumphant return
from another day’s battle at the office, when, just as I pass
the last of so many stop signs, that’s when I see it.
A large white Leghorn, I think, — what do I know
about chickens, right? — tall for a bird,
its prominent breast meat proudly held, steps
deliberately, defiant, with a certain military
precision, like a brigadier general in its dress uniform,
but aesthetic, like a dancer working out a routine
for his next performance of the Nutcracker,
directly into the road. I ease my foot off the gas,
come to a standstill, knowing this is a moment to wonder at.
At the same time, I fight my first impulse, which is to roll down
my window to yell, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!”
That would be crass. This might be somebody’s prize pet poultry.
Besides, I’m not thinking food, I’m thinking probabilities.
Situational ethics. Zeno’s paradox. I’m thinking
my wife will never believe this, but for some reason,
I don’t pick up my cell phone to snap a picture.
A chicken crosses the road, & a lawn, surreal blessing,
like a poem, into a stand of azalea bushes, & then it’s gone.

***

Mike Alexander came to Houston in 1996.
Everything here is so extraordinary, it’s hard to define the ordinary. Nevertheless, he contemplates the quotidian every day.

 

Poem-A-Day 2019: Emily Rose Cole

Sometimes a poem inspires you. Sometimes a poem delights you. Sometimes a poem makes you think. Sometimes a poem sneaks up on you and gives you something profound and excellent and terrible all at once, and you know part of its power is that only half the people who read it will understand it in the same way you do. Sometimes you want everyone to feel it and so you keep coming back to the subject from as many different angles as you can in the hopes that finally, at some point, the message will come through.

Anatomy of a Rape Joke

A girl walks into a bar with her roommate & her roommate’s
new boyfriend. He’s mountainous. All sinew. The kind of man

I wouldn’t want ambling behind me at night,
even in this small town where nobody used to

lock their doors. “You know the great thing about executions
In Texas?” he drawls, quoting Carlin. “Less Texans.” I slosh

Yuengling from the pitcher & don’t laugh. “We could use
less of ‘em around here, takin’ all the good work.” Hard

to blame him. Fracking pays better than almost any job here,
in what my dad calls Pennsyltucky, what I call home. Texas

frackers overrun this town like the forget-me-nots grown wild
in my roommate’s garden, first a patch, then a chokehold

of blue. “Oh Stan,” she purrs. “You’re such a cut-up.”

What’s the deal with humor anyway, I wonder. I killed
in there, the comic slurs, post-show. I slayed. We even laugh

violently. Let’s be more direct. I pillaged that audience.
Butchered them. I dragged that crowd’s sister

into the cornfield by her flimsy wrists. I don’t finish
my beer. “Crime rate’s up,” the boyfriend observes.

“These Texans ruin everything. Rape reports’ve tripled.”
“Seriously?” It’s the first time all night paid attention

to him. “That’s—” I thought we were done with jokes,
but it’s a setup. He cuts me off, reels back for the punch-

line: “I know, right? They should go home & rape
their own damn women.” My roommate

doesn’t smile. We don’t say a word.

***

Emily Rose Cole is the author of Love and a Loaded Gun, a chapbook of persona poems published by Minerva Rising Press (previously a finalist for the Fool for Poetry competition). She has received accolades from Jabberwock ReviewPhiladelphia StoriesRuminateThe Orison Anthology and the Academy of American Poets. Her poetry has appeared most recently in NimrodThe Pinch, and Southern Indiana Review, among others. She is pursuing her PhD at the University of Cincinnati.

“Anatomy of a Rape Joke” first appeared in Southword Journal.

Poem-A-Day 2019: Rick Lupert

I may have mentioned this before, but when I lived in Los Angeles I enjoyed some time on the fringes of their thriving poetry scene. One of the poets I got to know out there, whose work I have always loved for its humor and ever-increasing excellence over the years, is Rick Lupert. He has published something like a kajillion books of poetry — all of them so much fun to read — and he created and maintains the Poetry Super Highway and Haikuniverse, two websites every lover of poetry should get to know well.

I’m also really grateful to Rick for making a space in his town for this Houston girl to spend her summers reading her poetry in very cool bookstores and libraries. Props to him also for handling with major defusive charm one of the most obnoxious drunk heckling dudebros I’ve ever encountered in a physical (i.e. not online) public space before, one July twilight at a café reading in the valley.

This poem of his is coming out this May in a collection entitled Hunka Hunka Howdee!

The Mississippi Delta is Shining Like a National Guitar

I’ve never woken up in Memphis before and already
there’s a hangover of sorts. I’m going to need the day

to flush out Los Angeles. First on the docket is
buying a postcard with a picture of ducks on it.

Second, breakfast at a place that chases the sun.
The amount of humidity is fist fighting with the

available oxygen, and we’re putting on all the
loose clothing. We’re detaching our hair from

our heads. We’ve got biscuits in our future,
Addie just wants to rock and roll all night, which

is a hell of thing to see this early in the morning.
We are going to Graceland.

***

Rick Lupert has been involved with poetry in Los Angeles since 1990. He is the recipient of the 2017 Ted Slade Award, and the 2014 Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Distinguished Service Award, a 3-time Pushcart Prize Nominee, and a Best of the Net nominee. He served as a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets for 2 years, and created Poetry Super Highway. Rick hosted the weekly Cobalt Cafe reading for almost 21 years. His spoken word album Rick Lupert Live and Dead featured 25 studio and live tracks. He’s authored 23 collections of poetry, including Hunka Hunka Howdee! and God Wrestler (Rothco Press) and edited the anthologies A Poet’s Siddur, Ekphrastia Gone Wild, A Poet’s Haggadah, and the noir anthology The Night Goes on All Night. He also writes and draws (with Brendan Constantine) the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” and writes the poetry column “From the Lupertverse” for JewishJournal.com. He has been lucky enough to read his poetry all over the world. You can also find him online at http://facebook.com/rickpoet and http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ricklupert.

Poem-A-Day 2019: John Gardner

One of the books I teach in my 12th grade AP English class is John Gardner’s Grendel. It makes a marvelous companion — and counterpoint — to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and gives us new ways to explore the difference between humanity and monstrosity and each person’s individual capacity for both.

Some days it feels like I spend more time thinking about this than is strictly good for my cortisol levels.

Still and all, there is a hauntingly lovely and sad poem in the middle of this slim novel, told from the perspective of Hrothgar’s queen, Wealtheow, a young woman given away by her warlike loser brother to an aging loser anus of a king as both bounty and peace-gift. (You know, that same old story that just keeps getting told in a narrow rotation of demeaning ways.) And the woman finds a way to make something of it that’s meaningful, even more meaningful than the monsters, literal and figurative, populating her space.

SCENE: The Queen Beside Hrothulf’s Bed.
                                    Wealtheow speaks:

So sad so young? And even in sleep?
Worse times are yet to come, my love.
The babes you comfort when they weep
Will soon by birthright have

All these gold rings! Ah, then, then
Your almost-brother love will cool;
The cousin smile must grind out lean
Where younger cousins rule.

When I was a child I truly loved:
Unthinking love as calm and deep
As the North Sea. But I have lived,
And now I do not sleep.

If you would like to learn about Gardner, his work, and the controversies he stirred by deigning to publish opinions about the craft of fiction — and see his picture — click here.

Poem-A-Day 2019: Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s poetry always felt to me — even when I was in grade school — like the fleeting thought-tendrils of a woman on the edge of some yawning chasm. As if these fragmented-feeling verses were some diaphanous grappling hook she hoped but didn’t expect someone would catch and reel her into their intellectual embrace.

.
Wild nights — Wild nights!  (#269)
.
Wild nights — Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!
.
Futile — the winds —
To a Heart in port —
Done with the Compass —
Done with the Chart!
.
Rowing in Eden —
Ah — the Sea!
Might I but moor — tonight —
In thee!
.
***
.
Emily Dickinson, in full Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (born December 10, 1830, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.—died May 15, 1886, Amherst), American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th-century American poets.
.
Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself. She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts. She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.
.
This biographical information is quoted from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I admit I might not entirely agree with the phrase “lack of high polish.” For more on Dickinson’s life and literary development, click here.

Poem-A-Day 2019: Mary Oliver

Not very long ago, the world lost the excellent and wonderful poet Mary Oliver. I don’t want to say too much about her poem “Wild Geese,” which is a poem I love, except that tonight it is exactly what I need in my life. Although I don’t know her entire body of work, I haven’t sought it out, because a strange thing happens to me with her poetry, which is that every time I come across one of her poems, often randomly, that poem is exactly what I need in that moment, and I don’t want to mess with that beautiful magic.

We have come again to April, National Poetry Month here in the U.S., and as has been my custom for several years now, I’ll be posting a poem each day to celebrate. (That’s the plan, at any rate, all other things being in equilibrium.) If you’d like to see past series of poems I’ve curated, there will be links at the end of this post.

For now, here is the text of Mary Oliver’s poem and also a video of her reading it, which is also, quite frankly, exactly what I needed in my life tonight.

 

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

 

To read past years’ Poem-A-Day series, please click on the following links for April 1st of each year and then follow the links forward at the bottom of each post.

2014
2015
2016
2017
2018

Mary Oliver, (born September 10, 1935, Maple Heights, Ohio, U.S.—died January 17, 2019, Hobe Sound, Florida), American poet whose work reflects a deep communion with the natural world.

Oliver attended the Ohio State University and Vassar College but did not earn a degree. She worked for a time as a secretary for the sister of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay’s influence is apparent in Oliver’s first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems (1963). These lyrical nature poems are set in a variety of locales, especially the Ohio of Oliver’s youth. Her childhood plays a more central role in The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972), in which she attempted to re-create the past through memory and myth. The Night Traveler (1978) explores the themes of birth, decay, and death through the conceit of a journey into the underworld of classical mythology. In these poems Oliver’s fluent imagery weaves together the worlds of humans, animals, and plants.

Her volume American Primitive (1983), which won a Pulitzer Prize, glorifies the natural world, reflecting the American fascination with the ideal of the pastoral life as it was first expressed by Henry David Thoreau. In House of Light (1990) Oliver explored the rewards of solitude in nature. New and Selected Poems (1992), which won a National Book Award; White Pine (1994); Blue Pastures (1995); West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems (1997); Why I Wake Early (2004); and A Thousand Mornings(2012) are later collections.

Oliver also wrote about the writing of poetry in two slender but rich volumes, A Poetry Handbook(1995) and Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998). Winter Hours (1999) includes poetry, prose poems, and essays on other poets. In Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004), Oliver explored the “connection between soul and landscape.”

In addition to her writing, Oliver also taught at a number of schools, notably Bennington College (1996–2001).

This biography is quoted from the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Mary Oliver.