Poem-A-Day: Adam Holt

Today on the blog is a poem from Adam Holt, my friend and colleague. He gave me this poem along with his own commentary, so I’ll just let that speak for itself.

A note from the author: I wanted to submit something with a bit more depth to Angélique’s blog series, but this is the freshest thing I’ve written. It’s a tribute to the poet Gary Soto, who wrote Neighborhood Odes. I read it with my students this year while we could all still sit together in a classroom. They even acted out some of the poems, memorably. At any rate, with the pandemic on, I’ve found solace from all the graphs, charts, and press conferences in the down-to-earth magic of the ukulele, in the three-note perfection of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” I hope you will, too.

Down-to-Earth Angel Music:
An Ode to My Ukulele

It’s a little brother of an instrument:
the pint size sibling of the guitar.
It’s not always in tune
but it’s easy to tune.
No matter where I put my fingers
I hear angels sing —

Not big fancy angels
in bleached white robes,
but down to earth angels
sprawled on the couch
in their sweatpants singing,
“Hey, hallelujah, everybody!”

“Free Fallin’” only takes three fingers to play,
and I strum it for my mom
while she cooks jambalaya.
That’s how I pay for dinner
when I go to my parents’ house —
with down-to-earth angel music.
She likes music and I like to eat:
We both feel like we’re getting
a steal of a deal.

Now, whenever the sound resonates
through my apartment,
blessing me with thrumming strings of hope,
I think of my mom
and all the savor of the Gulf of Mexico
rising like prayers to Heaven from that pot
full of spice and oversized shrimp.

I smile and play my song,
even though the jambalaya is long gone.
I’m free, free fallin’,
no matter how many times
I hit the wrong note.
I’m free fallin’,
with my little brother of an instrument
fixing all the crooked notes
until my song of three chords sounds
not perfect
but
triune, Texan, together,
messy, masterful, and maybe a little
McConaughey:
alright, alright, alright.

***

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!

***

Adam Holt is a novelist, singer-songwriter, and poet. He was a featured poet for the Houston Public Library’s Public Poetry Series, and most recently his work was featured in the Color:Story2019 art exhibition. His band Lone Star Rambler released their album Stars and Wonder in 2017. The Tully Harper Series, his YA sci-fi series, is a near-future story meant to inspire young readers’ interest in human space exploration. He is as an instructor at Writespace and The Kinkaid School. He lives in Houston, Texas. For more information about his work, click on http://adamholtwrites.com.

Poem-A-Day: Jane Creighton

I love featuring a poem by Jane Creighton here because she was one of my first poetry professors at the University of Houston, and she encouraged my work at a time when it really wasn’t good enough to merit her praise. But I’m glad she did, because eventually I became a poet, writing worthwhile things. She was just the teacher I needed at the time I landed in her classroom, and it makes me happy to run into her now and then, all these years later, and know that her tender care of her students meant something, that it paid off. That inspires me as a teacher, too.

We’ve both moved on to other schools now, but I see her sometimes at Mutabilis Press events, and I have to stop myself from telling her how much I appreciated the generously kind critique she gave me on a maudlin sonnet I wrote when I was twenty that was inspired by my boyfriend at the time, whom I didn’t realize yet was not good for me, and Sara Teasdale, whose poetry I loved in high school. Not only would it be weird for me to tell her this all these years later, but frankly, I’ve already done it, at a Houston Poetry Fest reading a long time ago.

 

Where There Is No Else
            (Panna Maria and Cestohowa)

Maybe 200 miles inland of hot road
spinning by, cotton fields, bony cattle,
barren land spitting up dust. Two immaculate
churches of Polish origin rise up out of the prairie
amid rumbling trucks hauling cotton bales,
amid turkey buzzards, shuttered houses
paling in the sun. You can’t say
you know what’s going on. You’re simply
taking an outing away from your month
at the coast. You wouldn’t say
you understand what it means
to build a church that echoes the triumphs
and travails of centuries of life
in southern Poland out here in the great
crisscross of southwest conquest and migration,
Texas. You wonder how these Poles managed
the difference between Russian onslaughts,
the promise of spring and mesquite, rattlesnakes,
precious little water. Where is home
when one needs it? Where is the whistle
in the distance calling you back? Pulling faith,
this is the great beyond, the pick-up-
your-bed-and-walk, the road
where, if you don’t survive,
someone else does.

***

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!

***

Jane Creighton is a poet, writer, and Professor of English at the University of Houston—Downtown. Her work has been published in Ploughshares, The American Voice, Gulf Coast, The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century British and American War Literature, Encountering Disgrace, We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon, Still Seeking and Attitude: Critical Reflections on the Work of June Jordan, Unwinding the Vietnam War, and Close to the Bone: Memoirs of Hurt, Rage, and Desire. She has an early collection of poems, Ceres in an Open Field.

Poem-A-Day: Cyra S. Dumitru

Hey there. I apologize for not putting up a blog post yesterday. It was one of my heavy teaching days, and then I had multiple meetings after school, and then last night was my flash fiction writing class. I was on Zoom more than I wasn’t, almost the entire day and evening from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. And then I needed to go to bed early, which is why I didn’t spend an extra half hour on screens after all of that. To compensate, I’ll post two separate poem posts today.

The first is from Cyra Dumitru, another Mutabilis Press poet.

My favorite thing about this poem is its unrhymed sonnet form; it might appear to be free verse, but its fourteen lines and occasional slant rhyme and very strong argument suggest otherwise. I admit I also appreciate that this poem reminds me that in the calculus of my life and the way I spend my time, I shouldn’t let housework become my default activity, that at the end of my life I won’t weigh the virtue of a magazine-quality house equally with literally anything else good. So maybe I should relax about it, just a bit. (I know my family will appreciate that.)

 

Reason Not to Dust

Let there be shivers of recognition
as we slide our fingers along
windowsills and bookshelves,
tops of kitchen cabinets.

Let fingertips feel kinship with
what has settled: drifted
unseen through open doors.
Let us see ourselves

in this delicate shedding,
memory of skin,
infinite debris of stars:
what we will become—

slightly heavier than breath,
levitating lightly upon wind

 

***

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!

***

Cyra S. Dumitru has lived in San Antonio for nearly 40 years. She teaches poetry writing and writing as wellness courses at St. Mary’s University. Certified as a Poetic Medicine Practitioner, she also provides therapeutic writing circles for: college students confronting mental health issues, women veterans voicing their experiences, LGBTQ teens embracing their identities, and adults voicing their spiritual journeys. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, regional anthologies, and Dumitru has four published books of poetry.

Poem-A-Day: Mary Christine Kane

Tonight we have another of the Mutabilis Press poets, Mary Kane. The most recent of their anthologies asked poets to magnify ordinary things into something special. Reminiscent of Pablo Neruda’s wonderful odes, if you ask me. Mary’s poem gets at that charge in a subtle way, first glorifying the object and then magnifying its meaning in a gut-punch kind of way. I love how this poem hurts.

 

Your Sweater

That day I refolded your sweater,
Silly girl
Before it went back in the box
With your other things
Lying there too long

I meant not to
But I buried my face in it
And got lost

And then it was there
A moment
The kind we spend our lives avoiding

Suddenly it was like a splinter
A hunk of wood in my heart
And I knew all of you had to go
The frostbitten sorbet, the never-watched movies, our lists of plans

If my heart was bigger,
Perhaps I could have kept you
If it were strong like the ocean
I could let life and death lie
Within me,
Smooth shards of glass
Until harmless
Pummel shells with my tide
Until humbled
Into dust

But I gave away your things
Piecemeal
Friends wondered why the labor

Love makes you do things, I said
And I am small

***

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!

***

Born in Texas, Mary Christine Kane grew up in Western New York and has lived in Minneapolis most of her adult life. She works in marketing and is a volunteer for the arts and animal rescue. In 2019 her poetry chapbook, Between the stars where you are lost, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her poetry and nonfiction has also appeared in journals and anthologies including BluestemThe Buffalo Anthology, Right Here, Right NowPonder ReviewSleet and others.

Poem-A-Day: Mike Alexander

I first met Mike Alexander — with regard to being a poet, he went by M. Alexander in those days — back in the late 90s at a regular reading series in Houston that was held at a dive bar called The Mausoleum. I think I learned about that series from Bucky Rea, who had been in a poetry class with me in college, and I read at The Maus in that series every now and then. That bar’s owner took the place through several incarnations, including Helios and Avant Garden. In the mid-2000s, I ran a monthly bellydance show there called Eclectic Bellydance; it was a fun and easy gig; the bar’s owner had actually been a member of the first dance troupe I was in, too. I can’t tell you how many concerts and festivals I’ve been to at that place. It’s a Houston institution and has for decades been a haven for artists of all types.

But I digress. As a poet, I’ve always trended toward the reclusive, not attending or even giving readings very often. But eventually I did come back into the scene more regularly and found Mike again at a Mutabilis Press anthology launch party. We were both published in it. Mike also runs a reading series in Houston now called Poetry FIX at Fix Coffee Bar — incidentally, next door to Avant Garden (or whatever it might be called now). That’s a fantastic series.

I’m so pleased to be back in touch with Mike again, and equally pleased that he shares a poem with us on the blog more Aprils than not. He’s extremely adept with form, capable of “hiding” even true rhyme in the clever rhythm of his work. Enjoy this wry and deft critique.

 

OUT OF EGYPT

In time of plague we all subscribe
to Exodus. Hysterical,
the paranoia of our tribe
eclipses the merely clerical
dispensaries of diagnosis.
We anodyne the tell-tale sores.
Obedient to a coxcomb Moses,
we butcher lambs, then tag our doors.
Ankh-eyed, mummified & Coptic
at the threshold, one hand reaching
for our dollop of antiseptic,
we echo back the viral preaching.
An angel of quarantine shall slaughter
the firstborn sons of swollen glands.
Believers, see the parting water.
Inoculate. Wash your hands.

***

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!

***

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: Paige Poe

It is always fun to include a poem in this series written by one of my former Creative Writing students. Tonight’s poem comes from Paige Poe, who has gone on to write excellent poetry, among other things. This poem in particular resonates with me because its smart defiance reminds me of my daughter, whose birthday we just celebrated. Can you believe the Orange-Belt Fairy Princess has turned 15? Tonight at dinner we had a serious and logistical discussion about driver’s ed. Tempus fugit and all that.

While I wait for my head to stop spinning, please enjoy Paige’s poem, which was published originally in eleven40seven in 2016.

girl culture

I pinky-promise
I will punctuate my sentences
with like forever, and I will
never stop up-talking.
my thoughts do not
soak like old paintings
hung in my mind’s palace,
some stuffy intellectual ideal
imposed on writers
to swell their egos.
I will proudly admit,
I think in pink
sparkly gel pens on colored paper,
doodles of hearts and flowers,
memories like bright stickers, shiny
and eye catching,
and my mind is always scribbling
like age 13 with baby angst and
diary locks,
every “I” sporting a heart, sentences
using like as punctuation,
words like Grrrl, rad, bitch,
whatever scrawled in the margins.
so yeah, when I consider theories
and literature and complex ideas,
they show up in glitter ink.
Is that a problem?

***

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!

***

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 Vamp Cat Magazine, 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 administrative assistant at her family’s business. You can find her at paigegpoe.com and on Instagram as paige_outofmybook.

Poem-A-Day: Marie Marshall

Tonight we have a clever short poem by Marie Marshall from her unpublished chapbook Letters to Erinna (2010). The collection contains a mix of prose and poetry in a variety of styles. One thing I love about Marie’s poetry is that her style is broad and deep and variable, and yet I would recognize the voice of her poetry easily, even though her poems do not always come to us in the same voice.

Dear Erinna – a Valentine,

A calendar of moons impose
   their will on Capricorn;
I reach to take a second rose,
   my fingers grasp a thorn.

My blood, let by that tine’s indent,
   I give, and give again;
If love is worth one wooden cent,
.     then it is worth the pain.

Love from ?????

***

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!

***

Marie Marshall lives in Scotland. She is an author, poet, editor, and recluse. “I identify as the Log Lady from Twin Peaks.”
.
Marie’s poetry has been featured in many magazines, but she says she hasn’t submitted anything for several years, even though she continues to write. A little. She has had two collections published, Naked in the Sea and I am not a fish; the latter was nominated for a T.S. Eliot Prize. Her poems have appeared in some strange places — the wall of a cafe in Wales, etched into a drum in the New Orleans Museum of Art, pinned up in the portable toilets at Burning Man. She prefers to be known by her published and blogged work rather than in any other way.
.
“I’m awkward. In all senses of the word.”

Poem-A-Day: Ray Gonzalez

Tonight I’m featuring another Mutabilis Press poet, Ray Gonzalez and his vivid and scorching prose-poem. Rather than my giving you a daily hot take on it, though, I want to know what you think. Interpret this stunning poem in the comments section. What does it make you think of? Discuss!

Assemblage

In the middle of the desert, there is a sleepless assemblage, bolted to the rocks with the fire of laughter, a mute pounding, its iron arms and legs mutating the sun until the earth around it burns, each day growing hotter than the last, the limbs twisted to pronounce the silence of landscape is the punishment of history where the maker cut his hands erecting this thing, bolting it down until it extended beyond the rocks because the melting center of the desert erupts into scorching air to add design to the constructed veins, their iron will smashing the mountain until it is a canyon, the tall thing boiling, its thick arms embracing the haggard face that rests on its hot beams, brands its cheeks with the heat of intrusion, giving its drilling chest the will to push the river beyond anything we are able to comprehend.

***

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!

***

Ray Gonzalez, a native of El Paso, is the author of fifteen books of poetry. He received a 2017 Witter Bynner Fellowship in Poetry from The Library of Congress and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Book seven, From Falling was published Summer 2017 (Spirit-of-the-Ram Press). His work appears in journals like Agni, Cincinnati Poetry Review, Kansas Quarterly, Louisville Review, Mississippi Review, New York Quarterly, Rhino, Sonora Review,  Texas Observer, Texas Literary Review, among others. Everything Speaking Chinese received the SunStone Poetry Prize. His recognitions include NEA & NEH Fellowships and nominations for Pushcarts and NEA Western States’ Book Awards.

Poem-A-Day: Christa Forster

Tonight I’m posting a poem by my dear friend and colleague Christa Forster. Sometimes it feels as if every part of our life is shifting and buckling around and beneath us, but I try to remember that even when it is, that part is temporary. What comes after can be something extraordinary.

A lot of people right now are worried, and legitimately so. Sometimes I am too. That’s okay.

I try to center myself, despite the shifting and buckling, by holding onto very precise images. Good things that matter. Things that bring joy. Recognizing that bad stuff isn’t permanent. Trying to avoid the maelstrom — which means sometimes staying away from my computer and phone for a while.

Be well. Be the bamboo. Know that all of this mess will go too.

 

Southern California, 2001

Rain won’t affect bamboo’s determination
to flower. The sand has no choice of where
it will blow, on what night, into which barrio,
whose eye. Nothing is certain. (To know this
truth is easy to know.) Say Hemingway
came here, 1941, to write ad copy for Ballantine Ale: Purity, Body, Flavor.
Ground buckles up in Los Angeles. June 29,
2001. The center of gravity shifts; the sleeping
shore slips. One thousand year old monzogranite falls
on a wild sheep. I saw one once, its big horn
jutting out of the ledge’s profile,
like an ampersand, misplaced.
Blink & it’s gone.

This poem was originally published at Zócalo Public Square.

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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!

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Christa Forster: Writer, Teacher, Performer whose goal is to make life more meaningful for herself and others through Education and Art. Follow her on Twitter @xtaforster.

Poem-A-Day: Melissa Stein

Tonight I’m featuring another poem from Till the Tide, an anthology of mermaid poetry published by Sundress.

I really love this poem by Melissa Stein in part because of its subject matter — the potential of intimacy to create change within a person — but also because it’s a pantoum, which is one of those old forms that feels like a puzzle and a gift and a marvel of the dexterity of language and meaning all at the same time.

In case you’ve not read or written one before, a pantoum is a poem whose entire lines repeat in an interlocking pattern across quatrains, and whose final stanza overlocks back again with the first.

Pantoum

Little girl, your veins are showing through
your skin again. And again I will ignore it.
I will lay you down in the ordinary clover
and resume sex, our routine conspiracy.

Your skin again and again, I will ignore it—
although I can barely stand its blue-pink flush—
and resume. Sex, our routine conspiracy,
tethers me to the slim bent weed of your body

although I can barely stand. Its blue-pink flush
of fish’s gills, albino snake’s pellucid scales
tether me. To the slim bent weed of your body,
an artist might attribute the vulnerable beauty

of fish’s gills, albino snakes’ pellucid scales . . .
I am your husband. I can’t see things the way
an artist might. Attributing “a vulnerable beauty”
is like a wry poem admiring its own cleverness.

I am your husband; I can’t see things the way
I did before I knew you. Now my life
is like a wry poem: admiring its own cleverness,
it alienates the one who reads. I can’t remember what

I did before I knew you, now. My life
a deconstructed text. What’s the point of writing that
alienates the one who reads? I can’t remember. What
can save us from seeing too much?

A deconstructed text—what? Is the point of writing that
our roles are judged irrelevant? Only love
can save us from seeing. Too much
rain has filled the mossy gutters; too many hours

our roles are judged: irrelevant. Only, love
returns me to this house at night, where
rain has filled the mossy gutters. Too many hours
spent feeling thunder rattle the iron bedframe

return me to this house at night, where
I’m like one treading water, mindless,
spent. Feeling thunder rattle the iron bedframe,
I mistake its tremble for my own—

I’m like one treading water, mindless
of the riptide, deadly current so strong
I mistake its tremble. For my own
long sweet strokes in the pale water

of the riptide—deadly current so strong—
pull me out to sea. And hold me
long, sweet. Stroke in the pale water
your mermaid’s flesh: you belong here tangled in sea-reeds.

Pull me out to sea and hold me,
little girl. Your veins are showing through
your mermaid’s flesh. You belong here. Tangled in sea-reeds,
I will lay you down in this extraordinary clover.

***

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!

***

Melissa Stein is the author of the poetry collections Terrible blooms (Copper Canyon Press) and Rough Honey, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, Harvard Review, New England Review, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and others, and she’s received awards and fellowships from the NEA, Pushcart Prize, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She is a freelance editor in San Francisco. Find her online at melissastein.com.