Sunday, May 28, 2006

Born with a slight preference

Born with a slight preference
for one hand or the other,
the body hangs one up to please
father and mother.

Into one hand the soul exerts
the animal of love.
The other, wasted by neglect,
hangs on the wrist a glove.

I have misplaced my birthday gift
on the way to he.
I have lost my rights, displaced
ambidexterity.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

There Is No Safety in Distance

I am working on a series of poems on the body and the soul. One inspiration is Elaine Scarry's book, The Body in Pain, which has me thinking about the relationship between the body and civilization, the body and barbarities like torture and war. The tentative series title, There Is No Safety in Distance, a line in one of these poems, plays on the notion of safety distance, a term an Operationally Ready National Serviceman like me is all too familiar with. The series is divided into four sections. Some Body focuses on the body of an individual's experience. Any Body explores the felt disjuncture between body and identity. Every Body looks at what our bodies have in common, pain. Finally, No Body meditates on death. I experiment with the ballad stanza to see how its narrative capabilities can be used for conceptual thought; we feel our body in and through time, after all. I also think of the form as hymn stanza, in an attempt to re-direct reverential attention to the mortal body. In this, Scarry's insistence on the body's primacy in our thinking is, for me, exemplary.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Payday Loans (31 of 31)

Work is not love. It does not waltz
or swing to the rhythm of blood.
It does not probe for signs beneath
the skin. It does not conjure metaphors
out of an ice cream or a bouquet
of roses walking down the street
or make promises it cannot keep.
It does not sweat through the night
to make things last but sees them
through to their necessary ends.

Work is not pious. It does not cross
its chest or raise its hands or kneel
to offer incense or a cup of tea.
It does not jerk the leash of flesh
and blood or collar the soul’s throat.
It has no stomach for loyalty.
It is not communal like ten-course
dinners, faith-healing meetings
or mahjong in void-deck funerals.
It forms a team to build a house.

Work is not art. It cannot entertain
or legislate. It cannot pay epiphanies
or transmogrification of the mongrel;
to work, a dog is a dog is a dog.
It cannot imagine "What If" but
creates "What Is." It cannot be pop
or classical or modern; it cannot be
but here. It cannot tilt at windmills
but marches in a definite direction
and shovels earth for pipes and people.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Payday Loans (30 of 31)

I can’t decide which organic bread to buy,
the pumpernickel or the multi-grain.
The tents of death still fly on flooded plains
and campers pray for drops of food supply.
I can’t decide which organic bread to buy.
The fucked-up prisoners-of-war complain.
The pumpernickel or the multi-grain,
I ask the empty counter. No reply
but the new pope speaks out against the tie
of gay marriage legalized in Spain.
The prisoners protest for check-out lanes
and campers pray to satellites that fly
over their heads while I decide to buy
the pumpernickel, or the multi-grain.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Payday Loans (29 of 31)

What’s on tonight but lips pressed on lips,
the neck, the hollow of the collarbone,
down on the silver strings from chest to hips,
bass guitar counterpointing basement’s groan;
and on the stirring cord, lips fawn, and tease,
teeth sheathed, to please and worry its backbone:
an arctic wolf licking the meat it sees,
meat spiked onto a knife, the foam its own.
On this white horse, the lancer sits astride.
He jerks the bit and bloods its jaws, care thrown
to the wind, pain spurring the pleasure-ride,
slippery saddle, mounting to one moan—
we come together, separate. Tonight
blunts hunger’s edge and whets the appetite.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Payday Loans (28 of 31)

Over lunch, you said you hadn’t written much
but nursed your fiancé’s sister whose tumor burst.
How could you have done otherwise? Death first,
then babies suckle as you get in touch
with the Mother archetype. Sure, you’re engaged
to a devoted man but he can’t breast
feed, can he? Babies are bottles of thirst.
Your words at lunch betrayed no sense of grudge.
Maybe I was too dense. Maybe too glad
I have a dick and not your breasts and clit.
I don’t have time and patience for the act
of bearing with the world. Never a dad,
I’m free to fuck and run and write of it.
I’m going to sign up on the job contract.

for J. E. P.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Payday Loans (27 of 31)

I thought being gay saved me from being a man
and man’s mistakes: great wall, sacked city, rape
and either/or. Victor or also-ran.
Pope or poop. Beta-male or top ape.
Or, in my mind, Poet (upper case) or not.
Last week, before you read, your daughter ran
and tied your hand in hers. You loosed the knot
for a while and read to strangers, students, friends.
I think of the women who lived, loved and wrote,
those who still do, as someone’s daughter, wife
and mum. I’m that man-poet who to his wife
left the children, so he could read and quote
Bradstreet, Dickinson, Smith, Browning, Glück,
Rossetti, Bishop, Chin, Plath, Dove and Rich.

for Marie Howe

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Payday Loans (26 of 31)

Consider this: life is no clinical trial
with safety measures and a control group.
It may give brief reports but the feedback loop
functions, if we’re lucky, once in a while.
So we join studies wishing for the denial
of suffering, wishing not to be life’s dupes,
wishing the trials nourish like chicken soup
the nervous heart and make it versatile.
But why fear actions and decisions as though
they are more real than trials? Is it a sham
to say I’ll try my best instead of do?
Not all attempts set out to be a scam.
Even in trials, some who take the placebo
get well. They claim, I try, therefore I am.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Payday Loans (25 of 31)

Because my mother whispered on the phone
so as not to wake my sister from her sleep
and face the darkening features of the grown
daughter on whom she banks for her upkeep;
because your father doesn’t remember you,
forgets ten minutes after you tell him,
pretends he knows who he is talking to,
and you, my love, may share his fate and shame;
because we won’t have children of our own,
and you or I must be the first to die,
and poems are rich outlay but poor loans
for dying years, good answers but bad replies;
therefore I’ll spend my days paying the cost
of work, too poor to gain Paradise Lost.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Payday Loans (24 of 31)

I dreamed of you last night, my classmate said,
the dyke who smokes dope and consults voodoo.
I dreamed you were sitting by yourself on a bed
and your right leg, man, ended in a club foot.
Had she confused me with one of the crew—
J who graduated last year and treads
on one good leg, one wood? He writes instead
of working full-time. Publishing his first book.
What does her dream mean? Is it an omen?
A curse? A prayer? My wish-fulfillment vibe?
I’ve always stood on my two feet, took pride
in not relying on family and friends.
I’ve never seen J’s stump nor heard him describe
gimp’s benefits, so how can I understand?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Payday Loans (23 of 31)

Honestly, I don’t give a shit for spring
poems. Look how alert I am, mince they,
how sensitive. I’ve never seen the gray
budding to green in brown-toned, -stoned Brooklyn.
The leaves appear overnight on the scene.
Those tulips look transplanted from some bouquet.
They’re not mouths. Call them tongues and still they say
nothing. The grass, o green grass, does not sing.
The birds are so noisy I cannot think
and so down to the promenade I stray,
hoping to see Manhattan’s bright buildings
across the East River, bridges and quays.
A mist has risen and turned air to spray,
distance to sea. I can’t see a damn thing.