Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 15: Pat Anthony

There have been times in my life when I have pulled my car hastily into a parking lot and yanked napkins and a pencil from the glovebox to scribble a poem down before it evaporated from my head. The ten weeks between my taita’s diagnosis and her passing come to mind: a whole series of lamentations was conceived on the well-traveled streets between my aunt’s house and my apartment.

My elder child turns sixteen this weekend. My younger is a teenager now, too. I try not to get nostalgic about the days when they were small enough to fall asleep in my lap. I was exhausted then and could just as easily fall asleep with them, weighted down by their milky warmth. I’m exhausted now, too, and only a little bit from missing the time when it was easy to solve their problems for them just by meeting their basic needs.

I love the adolescents they’ve become as much as I loved the babies they were. But parenting is like one long series of fleeting moments dragging you through their timeline, alternately endless and the length of a blink, a chronology of fatigue punctuated by bliss and terror.

I can’t imagine I would ever trade it.

Tonight’s poem, “For Little Hawk” by Pat Anthony, reminds me of the holiness of ephemeral moments and of how much we miss when something larger than ourselves interrupts them. I hope, fervently, that we will reach some comfortable medium of immunity and stability by later this year. My ambitions are not grand, but sometimes, honestly, when I look at the world around me, they feel immense.

For Little Hawk

I stop the car to write
            how it’s been six months now
arms aching from the weight
            your sleeping little boy body
                        this cradle of absence

my shoulder bowed yet
            from the curve of your head
my lap waiting for the spill
            of your blanketed legs

Then we breathed each other
            my quick inhales fragrant
            with your milky exhales
                        your gentle settling into sleep

Now I press my fingers against glass
                        this air between us laden
                                    green walnuts
                                    chattering squirrels

                                    the lot of us at risk
                        of losing so much

we mask
            squares of cloth
                        straining  
                        cataracts
            threatening to breach

larval we twist inside
                        colorful chrysalises
suspended
            by a single strand from
                        which we thought to anchor
            before the dizzying spinning
                        thinned the sheath
                                                translucent
                        the struggle within
you
            trying out first words today
me
            holding back my own
love
            across an unsocial distance

But here along this road
            where I’ve stopped
                        beside melons split open
                        their bloody hearts raw and dying

I just wanted you
            to know how much I miss.

***

Pat Anthony writes the backroads, often using land as lens to heal, survive, and thrive while living with bi-polar disorder as she mines characters, relationships, and herself. A recently retired educator, she holds an MA in Humanities, poems daily, edits furiously and scrabbles for honesty no matter the cost. She has work published or forthcoming in multiple journals, including The Avocet, The Awakenings, The Blue Nib, Haunted Waters, Orchard Street, and more. Her latest chapbook, Between Two Cities on a Greyhound Bus, was recently published by Cholla Needles Press, CA. She blogs at middlecreekcurrents.com.

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 9: Mike Alexander

How often have you wandered outside of your office or some all-day appointment with a lunch bag and sat down on a concrete ledge or park bench to sit and eat, alone perhaps, trying to imagine yourself in nature even though this iteration of it was only some boring hedges and a few trees next to a glass and steel building full of people who didn’t know each other, not really, next to a parking lot that smelled of heat and exhaust next to a street that was loud?

Mike Alexander, another mainstay of Houston’s poetry scene, reminds me of this in his poem “Holy Places of the World,” which I love.

And now I want to tell you another story, a lunch downtown story. Half my son’s life ago (literally — he was seven), I took him to the medical center for an all-day appointment. For those who have never seen the Texas Medical Center (the largest in the world, if I’m not mistaken), it is many city blocks populated by very large buildings and decently sized sidewalks. There’s a light rail that goes along the street and a lot of both car and pedestrian traffic. There aren’t really any green spaces between the buildings themselves — only parking garages and more buildings — and not even any piazzas to speak of, but a few of the buildings do have stone or cement steps leading up to their front doors.

On his lunch break, I took my son and our lunch boxes down the street to one of these cement staircases leading up to another official-looking building. We were outdoors, at least. It was a pleasant spring day, about this time of year. I knew my son had, at that time, a phobia of the wide-open sky, but since there were so many tall buildings, it didn’t seem like the sky would be much of a problem today. Plus he had a hoodie, and wearing a hood or a hat was always a good antidote to that particular phobia. As we walked along the sidewalk, and he plastered himself to my side and wanted me to walk with my arm around him and my hand covering his head, it became clear his dislike of tall buildings was not just about architecture.

Over lunch he articulated something new about his phobia to me.

“The problem, I think,” he said around a mouthful of ham sandwich, “is the word skyscraper. I don’t like that word.”

“Oh, that’s interesting,” I said. “What about the word bothers you?”

“Well, are the buildings going to poke holes in the sky? Because I know that behind the sky is space, and I really don’t want that falling on me.”

He was afraid the skyscrapers would scrape tears across the sky, and then the enormous infinity of space (another thing that terrified him — and OMG why wouldn’t it??) would come hurtling at his head.

Fortunately, this was a really helpful and logical explanation, and I’m pleased to say that with a fair amount of loving support from his family and school, he has overcome his phobia.

He still wears hoodies, though. (Just like nearly every other teenager we know.)

A city park, the sky and space beyond it, even a cement staircase in front of a nondescript building downtown in a huge city — these can all be holy places in the world.

 

HOLY PLACES OF THE WORLD

You take lunch outside the bank.
It’s not the hanging gardens of Babylon,
but at least it’s out of the sun.
A chlorine sting washes the sculpture
garden, emerges from pre-fab waterfall.

You get used to the smell, the no smell,
the no taste to the egg-salad sandwich
you make yourself chew. You swallow
artificial air. Watch the long shadows crawl
from one end of the hour to the other.

Do you wish yourself elsewhere?
An architect worked late into the night
to give this corner an anchoring holiness.
In a poster outside the travel agency, a woman
walks a suntanned Mecca, nearly naked.

Wading into a postcard of the Aegean, snorkeling
the great coral reef? Ruins of unnatural blue
shimmer in your vision. Okay,
so it’s not the wailing wall.
Can’t you at least pretend to pray?

***

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 2021, Day 4: Laurinda Lind

I hope you’re having a lovely Sunday, and if you’re celebrating Easter today, that it’s wonderful. I actually don’t want or need to say too much about today’s poem, “Year One” by Laurinda Lind, because it speaks beautifully and poignantly for itself.

Year One

On Easter morning I fed
my seventeen-year-old son’s
funeral cake to the yard crows.
We heard they were starving,
in this spring that came
and then uncame,
the same way my son and
reportedly Jesus did.

New snow smothered the green grass
and the crocuses, and iced
the backdoor steps
and ate down into cracked concrete.
The stones someone hauled here
a century and a half ago
lay flat and still under the slush.
He is gone and I can’t help it.

The crows watched, or didn’t,
from all our trees. The branches
went black with them,
the sky was full but waiting.
He is so brilliantly gone.
Spring is alive, over and over.
It just can’t be alive enough.

“Year One” first was previously published in Paterson Literary Review.

***

Laurinda Lind quarantines in New York’s North Country, near Canada. Some publications are in Atlanta Review, The Cortland Review, New American Writing, Smokelong Quarterly, Spillway, and Stand; also in anthologies Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan (New Rivers), What I Hear When Not Listening: Best of The Poetry Shack & Fiction (Sonic Boom), and Civilization in Crisis (FootHills). She is a Keats-Shelley Prize winner; Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee; and finalist in Patricia Dobler Award, Please See MeDappled Things, Poetry Super Highway, and Joy Bale Boon Poetry Prize contests.

Poem-A-Day: Dede Fox

A few months ago I was invited to become a member of the Board of Directors for Mutabilis Press, a publisher of poetry, and of course I jumped at the chance! I’ve long been an admirer of their anthologies and have had the pleasure of being published in some of them over the years. This year I’m including some of the Mutabilis Press poets in the Poem-A-Day series for National Poetry Month. Today is the first.

This poem by Dede Fox reminds me of the precarious balance I observe on the daily, as a parent of two teenagers (even saying that wracks my nerves) and as a high school teacher. I want so very much for my children, my own and the ones I teach. I want so much for the world to be an excellent place for them (even if it’s a wreck with, as the poet Maggie Smith suggests, good bones). I want so much for them to find their passions, and for those passions to contribute in beautiful ways to the world. I want so much for them to be unburdened enough to enjoy their youth but responsible enough to recognize it’s okay that youth doesn’t last forever, because good choices make for a much better other side of age.

I want so much.

 

Hide and Seek

She posts photos:
her dreadlocks through stages
in the dying process—
brown to blonde to purple,
lips stained dark blue,
emaciated torso in a black T-shirt,
feet in stiletto platforms

her favorite animals:
red-feathered chickens playing
follow-the-leader across hardscrabble soil,
turtles that she’s saved from 18-wheelers
crossing country highways,
dogs, cats, donkeys, fish, horses,
a bearded dragon with a human name,
all squatting at her dead grandmother’s
house with the girl and a boyfriend,
so young that he hides his age
behind a bushy beard and glasses

She sketches:
faceless teens with the words
“don’t let your light go out,”
or “I hope that one day you see me
for who I am
and not who you want me to be,”
but people who love her
at nineteen know her —
no GED, no job,
no driver’s license,
a frightened child
playing grown-up,
hiding out,
allowing her promise
to dim in the settling dust.

Only she can’t see
her unlimited talent,
wasted until she ignites it,
accepts responsibility
for lighting her own world.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Dede Fox is the 2017-2022 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Texas. For four years she mentored writers as the NEA/DOJ Artist-in-Residence at the Bryan Federal Prison Camp for Women and currently works with Houston’s Writers in the Schools at Texas Children’s Hospital. THE TREASURE IN THE TINY BLUE TIN, her first novel, was listed in 2010 BEST JEWISH BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS.  Dede’s poetry collections include CONFESSIONS OF A JEWISH TEXAN and POSTCARDS HOME. “Chapultepec Park,” winner of the Christina Sergeyevna Award at the Austin International Poetry Festival, served as catalyst for ON WINGS OF SILENCE, her novel-in-verse published in 2019.

Poem-A-Day: Lee Herrick

Today is my daughter’s birthday. We have an official teenager in the house now. It’s pretty exciting to watch her grow, as it always has been, but particularly because she is growing into an outspoken young woman, finding peace in herself every now and then and finding purpose in positive activism. She’s aware of the world and knows what she would do to fix the problems with it.

She is utterly baffled by the nonsense around us.

She’s an amazing artist — watch for her Etsy shop this summer, my friends — and she has marched in more protests than I have. She believes in her causes, and they are some very fine causes: women’s rights/human rights, gun reform, climate change correction, anti-bullying campaigns, LGBTQ rights. She stands up for what matters to her, even in her classes sometimes, where she’s not the most popular kid but wow, she knows how to speak her truth.

One day maybe I’ll tell you about how, at the March For Our Lives last month, she posed for a picture with the police chief and led a group of kids in a chant of “Am I next?” until it became just a little too hard to bear.

Anyway, I’m not focusing on those things today, but instead just on my awesome kid and how much I love her and how adorable it is when she video chats with her sweet friends and we have to tell her it’s time to hang up and she rolls her eyes and says yeah okay and we tell her friends good night and they tell us good night and she hangs up and I marvel at how tall she has grown this year and how long her hair has gotten and how incredible and baffling it is that she likes to style it like mine sometimes.

And if I’m honest, I’m also focusing a little bit on the occasional kindness of the random world: on this poem, and how it came to me.

Last year, when I was curating my April series here, I went looking for poems about birthdays and found “How to Spend a Birthday” by Lee Herrick on the Poetry Foundation website. I looked him up and asked if I could use this poem for my series on my daughter’s birthday. I explained that her father’s last name is Herrick, too, and that he grew up not too far from where this poet lives. Not the same family, as far as we can tell, but hey, what a coincidence.

He didn’t get my message in time for me to use it then, but when he did, he was so gracious and said I could, so I saved it for today. The poem is from This Many Miles of Desire (2007).

***

“How to Spend a Birthday”

Light a match. Watch the blue part
                                                             flare like a shocked piñata
                                            from the beating
                                            into the sky,
                                                             watch how fast thin
wood burns & turns toward the skin,
the olive-orange skin of your thumb
                                                             & let it burn, too.
Light a fire. Drown out the singing cats.
Let the drunken mariachis blaze their way,
streaking like crazed hyenas
over a brown hill, just underneath
a perfect birthday moon.

***

Lee Herrick is the author of Scar and Flower, forthcoming from Word Poetry Press in January 2019. He is the author of two previous books of poems, Gardening Secrets of the Dead (WordTech Editions, 2012) and This Many Miles from Desire (WordTech Editions, 2007). He is a Fresno Poet Laureate Emeritus (2015-2017) and his poems have been published widely in literary magazines, anthologies, and textbooks including The Bloomsbury Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, The Normal School, The Poetry Foundation online, From the Fishouse online, ZZYZYVA, Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, 2nd edition, The Place That Inhabits Us: Poems from the San Francisco Bay Watershed, One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form, and Indivisible: Poems of Social Justice, among others.​ He currently serves on the leadership team of The Adoption Museum Project.

He has traveled throughout Latin America and Asia and has given readings throughout the United States. He was born in Daejeon, South Korea, adopted at ten months old, and raised in the East Bay and later, Central California. He lives with his daughter and wife in Fresno, California. He teaches at Fresno City College and in the MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.

Poem-A-Day: Jeannie Gambill

My children are eleven and about-to-be-thirteen. Sometimes I wonder whether I will ever stop worrying about them. I’m confident the answer is likely no.

Sometimes at school events, I test this. I’ve been teaching at this school for eighteen years. They’ve been attending this school since they were four. They treat the campus — which, after all, is a comparatively safe one most of the time — like they have the run of it. This is not uncommon among faculty children who have grown up within its walls and gates.

But I still worry. Part of me wants to walk them to their building every morning and pick them up from it after school. (I don’t, though, not anymore.) And sometimes when we go to a game, I even let them run off and play — excuse me, “hang out” — with their friends on the other side of the fields, and I plant myself in the bleachers as if it were the only place I wanted to be.

On such occasions I like to tell my friends I’m snapping off a helicopter blade.

At the last reading I gave, several poets were presenting their work, and one of them, Jeannie Gambill, read this one. It resonated, to say the least.

I sometimes think I will start to relax when my kids are past the age of twenty-five. Jeannie assures me this will not be the case.

***

Directive
to a grown daughter

When you ride your motorcycle
wear your helmet.
Not the half helmet.
Wear your full helmet
always.
When you go out on your motorcycle
take only streets
where
there are no cars
no trucks
no buses
no other moving vehicles.
Do not go out in the rain.
Never on the freeways.
When you decide instead
to go on your bicycle
be faithful to all of these
instructions. The routes
you’ve shown us you take to work
through neighborhoods
on your bicycle, there are
cars parked on these narrow
streets. Be careful. It’s hard
to see you.
Your motorcycle surely lost
from view when you are in traffic.
Do not go into the traffic.
Do not go anyplace where
there is danger. Stay
blocks away from any vehicle
in which the driver
is un-focused. Please say
you will do these things.
When you train on the highways
in the hills   when you want
the challenge   need the long
stretch   the cumulative miles
when you bike into the hills

when you take your bicycle
round the curve   slow
on the upward incline
and   down   down   gaining speed
the curve   go round the curve
go round and down the hill’s
curve     not too fast.
When you line it out
the song of you
adhere please
to this
entreaty.

***

Jeannie Gambill’s poetry has appeared in Gulf Coast, Cenizo, The Weight of Addition: An Anthology of Texas Poetry, Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston, and the Texas Poetry Calendars of 2011 and 2012. She was recipient of the 2011 Dana Award for Poetry, and a winner in the Artlines Competition (2012). She has been a featured poet in Houston’s Public Poetry Reading Series and was a finalist in the Ruth G. Hardman/Nimrod Poetry Competition. She lives in Bellaire, Texas.

Poem-A-Day: Sarah Blake (again)

Remember that searing poem by Sarah Blake yesterday? Here’s another one. I love how the poem weaves together a child’s impulse, some interesting knowledge, a captivating animal, and a comment on human society in just a few lines. It’s poems like these, short but punchy ones, that I think demonstrate one of the great powers of poetry: to make us see and understand and appreciate and wonder all in the economical space of a moment.

***

Throats

 

My son howls at the fox. I guess
the long snout is enough, the body

we associate with a dog, doggish,
even the terrier next door throws

back his head, howling at us when
we come close. I always feel like

it’s an invitation, over the fence,
the vulnerability of the neck, and I

learned wolves howl to rally, to unite.
I can imagine that a silent pack would

be quicker to disband than one that
offered themselves like that, throats

bared, always saying to each other,
Me too, me too.

***

Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West and the forthcoming collection, Let’s Not Live on Earth (both from Wesleyan University Press). An illustrated workbook accompanies her first chapbook, Named After Death (Banango Editions). In 2013, she was awarded a literature fellowship from the NEA. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son. http://www.sarahblakepoetry.com

Find Me At Femmeliterate

I’m so pleased to announce that an essay of mine about Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Harry Potter, and reading with my daughter across the generations has been posted at one of my favorite blogs, Femmeliterate, as part of their Women Writers Reading series. Go check it out! Just click on this link to go there:  http://www.femmeliterate.net/reveuse-by-angelique-jamail/