Long time readers of this blog — and poetry connoisseurs in Houston — will know of Mike Alexander. He has long been a mainstay of the Houston poetry scene, and I’m happy to call him my friend lo these many years. I hope you’ll enjoy this offering from him, “Graphite Furens,” which expresses early on an image from my fond childhood — the hardcore, pre-electric variety, classroom pencil sharpener. They just don’t make them like that anymore.
Here is Mike’s wonderful poem.
Never the sharpest point in the classroom box of pencils,
I tried to whittle something out of silence,
only to fall in love with the turbine sharpener mounted
beside the blackboard with its chalk-lip pouting.
Nothing I narrowed down – reductio ad absurdum –
created any permanent impression.
I was the squeak of a cursive letter the second the chalk broke,
a snap that gathered nobody’s attention.
Never, until the day I did something so utterly stupid
as running down the street; I wasn’t looking
where I was going, a sharpened pencil held in my tight fist,
as if to write down something in a fury.
Tripping, I fell in the gutter; falling, I could have dotted
my eye, to spend the rest of life a pirate,
eye-patch over a marble replacement, a cylops squinting,
oracular, at sketches of the future.
Luckily, no, for my mouth was, as usual, comically open.
The spear-point scored the soft roof of my palate.
Blood bestowed eloquence to my newly inspired out-pouring.
I felt the flood-gates open in my word-horde.
Orpheus couldn’t have sang any louder when he was in Hades
to woo his loss. I don’t know what I swallowed,
face-down flat in the gutter, but somebody must’ve heard me.
It wasn’t anyone I knew. A stranger,
often in myths, is a god or a goddess who happens to drive-by.
I made it to the hospital, where stitches
closed the new mouth the graphite had opened, writing my new name,
a secret message from the god, deposit
under the base of my brain, hidden from anyone else’s
unaltered voice. From that point, ever after,
answers appear on the tip of my tongue to idiot questions
that no one else around admits to hearing.
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. He also served for a time on the board of Mutabilis Press.