Join us this Sunday for Poetry Sonidos at Castelli Art Space this Sunday March 11 from 5pm to 8pm for readings from Peter J. Harris, Andrea Gutierrez, Claudia D. Hernández, Luis Antonio Pichardo and Ryan Scott Nance (me), all hosted by Yago Cura of Hinchas de Poesía as part of Gus Harper's Sojourner's Art exhibit.
“Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out”
The first was that I was very busy.
The second—I was different from you: whatever happened to you could
not happen to me, not like that.
The third—I worried.
The fourth—envy, disguised as compassion.
The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too—its face. And the ant—its bifurcated body.
Ok the first was that I was so busy.
The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.
The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer
of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.
The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living
The sixth—if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I
touchedthe left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had
to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.
The seventh—I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that
was alive, and I couldn’t stand it.
I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word—cheesecloth—
to breath through that would trap it—whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in.
No. That was the first one.
The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened?
How had our lives gotten like this?
The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it—distinct, separate
from me in a bowl or on a plate.
Ok. The first was that. I could never get to the end of the list.
The second was that the laundry was never finally done.
The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was
The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.
The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.
The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying,
the sound she made—her mouth wrenched to the right and cupped open
so as to take in as much air… the gurgling sound, so loud
we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.
And that I couldn’t stop hearing it—years later—grocery shopping, crossing the street—
No, not the sound—it was her body’s hunger
finally evident—what our mother had hidden all her life.
For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.
The underneath. That was the first devil. It was always with me
And that I didn’t think you—if I told you—would understand any of this—
by W. S. Merwin
I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war
don’t lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you’re older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity
just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice
he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally
it was in the day before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop
he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England
as for publishing he advised me
to paper my walls with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry
he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention
I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write
More on John Berryman
For a long time I have known that my poems lie there, inert things, until a reader comes along and breathes life into them.
As the first in my Read My Poem series, I invited some people to record themselves reading the text for a poem called "Brothers at Lakeside" the way they would read it, and present here there voices.
You can scroll down to listen to all the recordings. Or you can check out the three soundcloud playlists:
Brothers at Lakeside
And after pulling through the dark green trough
of the mountain road, a dim carpark behind
a bar. The lake below. The blackened face
is smooth enough for us to see the stars.
But one of us prefers the girls who lift
heavy glasses of beer again, again
to touch their mouths with a galaxy of foam,
and the other one prefers the girls themselves.
If movement were a form of grace, the lake
a kind of pillow, not to find tonight
a darker bar, a further station, would
the moon that is and is not the sun still rise
above the hills directly across the lake
from us? Its watery twin so much requires
our diving in. A bat twivers from tree
to tree and says Go in, below is where
the action is. The moon that is and is not.
As the second in my Read My Poem series, I invited some people to record themselves reading the text for a poem called "We Burn" the way they would read it, and present here their voices.
You can scroll down to listen to all the recordings. Or you can check out the three soundcloud playlists:
There are bowls on our
windowsills. Bowls of clear
broth, never boiled or broken—
insoluble domes of oil, a whole
carcass in the pot, slices of
unpeeled ginger, a lemon maybe—
some moments we want to
unzip our hot stomachs onto the
subway floor, or tumble.
hands outstretched, for the third
rail which will allow us to regain
steam lifts off the surface of
the broth. Deep in the bowl,
the heat is churning the liquid
invisibly, fields of oil coil and
separate. The spoon is coated
with it, lively and bright
going in, coated like plasma
by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It is what I was born for—
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world—
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant—
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
Elegy with Apples, Pomegranates, Bees, Butterflies, Thorn Bushes, Oak, Pine, Warblers, Crows, Ants, and Worms
The trees alongside the fence
bear fruit, the limbs and leaves speeches
to you and me. They promise to give the world
back to itself. The apple apologizes
for those whose hearts bear too much zest
for heaven, the pomegranate
for the change that did not come
soon enough. Every seed is a heart, every heart
a minefield, and the bees and butterflies
swarm the flowers on its grave.
The thorn bushes instruct us
to tell our sons and daughters
who carry sticks and stones
to mend their ways.
The oak tree says to eat
only fruits and vegetables;
the pine says to eat all the stirring things.
My neighbor left long ago and did not hear
any of this. In a big country
the leader warns the leader of a small country
there must be change or else.
Birds are the same way, coming and going,
wobbling thin branches.
The warblers express pain, the crows regret,
or is it the other way around?
The mantra today is the same as yesterday.
We must become different.
The plants must, the animals,
and the ants and worms, just like the carmakers,
the soap makers before them,
and the manufacturers of rubber
and the sellers of tea, tobacco, and salt.
Such an ancient habit, making ourselves new.
My neighbor looks like my mother
who left a long time ago
and did not hear any of this.
Just for a minute, give her back to me,
before she died, kneeling
in the dirt under the sun, calling me darling
in Arabic, which no one has since.
Rock and Hawk
Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.
This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,
Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.
I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,
But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive
Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.
On Saturday, March 7th, 2015 at 7 PM, Gus Harper Art (11306 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, Ca. 90066) + HINCHAS (www.hinchasdepoesia.com) would like to invite you to a poetry event.
The Problem of Describing Trees
The aspen glitters in the wind
And that delights us.
The leaf flutters, turning,
Because that motion in the heat of August
Protects its cells from drying out. Likewise the leaf
Of the cottonwood.
The gene pool threw up a wobbly stem
And the tree danced. No.
The tree capitalized.
No. There are limits to saying,
In language, what the tree did.
It is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.
Dance with me, dancer. Oh, I will.
The aspen doing something in the wind.
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”
But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.
Dinosaurs in the Hood
BY DANEZ SMITH
Let’s make a movie called Dinosaurs in the Hood.
Jurassic Park meets Friday meets The Pursuit of Happyness.
There should be a scene where a little black boy is playing
with a toy dinosaur on the bus, then looks out the window
& sees the T. Rex, because there has to be a T. Rex.
Don’t let Tarantino direct this. In his version, the boy plays
with a gun, the metaphor: black boys toy with their own lives,
the foreshadow to his end, the spitting image of his father.
Fuck that, the kid has a plastic Brontosaurus or Triceratops
& this is his proof of magic or God or Santa. I want a scene
where a cop car gets pooped on by a pterodactyl, a scene
where the corner store turns into a battle ground. Don’t let
the Wayans brothers in this movie. I don’t want any racist shit
about Asian people or overused Latino stereotypes.
This movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks —
children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town
from real-ass dinosaurs. I don’t want some cheesy yet progressive
Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny yet strong commanding
black girl buddy-cop film. This is not a vehicle for Will Smith
& Sofia Vergara. I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors
with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty,
screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.
I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick
through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. But this can’t be
a black movie. This can’t be a black movie. This movie can’t be dismissed
because of its cast or its audience. This movie can’t be a metaphor
for black people & extinction. This movie can’t be about race.
This movie can’t be about black pain or cause black people pain.
This movie can’t be about a long history of having a long history with hurt.
This movie can’t be about race. Nobody can say nigga in this movie
who can’t say it to my face in public. No chicken jokes in this movie.
No bullets in the heroes. & no one kills the black boy. & no one kills
the black boy. & no one kills the black boy. Besides, the only reason
I want to make this is for that first scene anyway: the little black boy
on the bus with a toy dinosaur, his eyes wide & endless
his dreams possible, pulsing, & right there.
You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.
Book of Isaiah, Part I
BY ANNE CARSON
Isaiah awoke angry.
Lapping at Isaiah’s ears black birdsong no it was anger.
God had filled Isaiah’s ears with stingers.
Once God and Isaiah were friends.
God and Isaiah used to converse nightly, Isaiah would rush into the garden.
They conversed under the Branch, night streamed down.
From the sole of the foot to the head God would make Isaiah ring.
Isaiah had loved God and now his love was turned to pain.
Isaiah wanted a name for the pain, he called it sin.
Now Isaiah was a man who believed he was a nation.
Isaiah called the nation Judah and the sin Judah’s condition.
Inside Isaiah God saw the worldsheet burning.
Isaiah and God saw things differently, I can only tell you their actions.
Isaiah addressed the nation.
Man’s brittleness! cried Isaiah.
The nation stirred in its husk and slept again.
Two slabs of bloody meat lay folded on its eyes like wings.
Like a hard glossy painting the nation slept.
Who can invent a new fear?
Yet I have invented sin, thought Isaiah, running his hand over the knobs.
And then, because of a great attraction between them—
which Isaiah fought (for and against) for the rest of his life—
God shattered Isaiah’s indifference.
God washed Isaiah’s hair in fire.
God took the stay.
From beneath its meat wings the nation listened.
You, said Isaiah.
I cannot hear you, Isaiah spoke again under the Branch.
Light bleached open the night camera.
God smashed Isaiah like glass through every socket of his nation.
Liar! said God.
Isaiah put his hands on his coat, he put his hand on his face.
Isaiah is a small man, said Isaiah, but no liar.
And so that was their contract.
Brittle on both sides, no lying.
Isaiah’s wife came to the doorway, the doorposts had moved.
What’s that sound? said Isaiah’s wife.
The fear of the Lord, said Isaiah.
He grinned in the dark, she went back inside.
This Friday, July 11th, I'll be reading alongside some of the most dynamic poets in Los Angeles for the last of the Copa Poética series, looking to capture some of the spirit and energy of the World Cup in words.
For the series, I've been writing a new form I am calling the XI (and 11-lined poem).
The most recent post over on Manipulated Bestiary (my poem a week for a year book project) is a tribute to Miroslav Klose, the player with the most World Cup goals in history who will be playing this Sunday in the finals.
XI: Klose - Die Mannschaft
The years swim back to you, brightening
your implacable wisdom with strength
Do you not stand at the edge of the sky
with your nervous arms extended invoking a personal
God to breathe a wind into your empty heart
like the rest of us? Exchanging your being with
the terrible angels wheeling overhead one exhaled breath
at a time? The winds gnaw at your face
the time you move through is the time of monument
and story, grain for grain exchanging marble for stone
we outlive our own lives in your softening cheek.
by Louise Glück
Read by Daniel Dean Demerin
I’m awake; I am in the world-
no further assurance.
No protection, no promise.
Solace of the night sky,
the hardly moving
face of the clock.
I’m alone- all
my riches surround me.
I have a bed, a room.
I have a bed, a vase
of flowers beside it.
And a nightlight, a book.
I’m awake; I am safe.
The darkness like a shield, the dreams
put off, maybe
And the day-
the unsatisfying morning that says
I am your future,
here is your cargo of sorrow:
Do you reject me? Do you mean
To send me away because I am not
full, in your word,
because you see
the black shape already implicit?
I will never be banished. I am the light,
your personal anguish and humiliation.
Do you dare
send me away as though
you were waiting for something better?
There is no better.
Only (for a short space)
the night sky like
a quarantine that sets you
apart from your task.
Only (softly, fiercely)
the stars shining. Here,
in the room, the bedroom.
Saying I was brave, I resisted,
I set myself on fire.
by Richard Brautigan
Read by Brandon Jordan Brown
was the werewolf
in his evil forest.
We took him
to the carnival
and he started
when he saw
the Ferris wheel.
green and red tears
his furry cheeks.
like a boat
out on the dark