Thursday, December 30, 2010

Revision of "After Adrienne Rich's 'Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law'"

I have changed Sections 6 and 10 drastically, and made what I hope are improvements to the other sections. I am too close to the poem right now to judge its worth, but I need to give it a tentatively finished form before I can leave it alone and go on to other things. The change in the title should clarify the form and approach of the poem.


An Essay after Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

One of the tallest boys of Class 1A,
you posed against the older scouts, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in muscle mags
while night coaching your little flared dick.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

Your heart was still flushed the day after
when a patrol leader, with strawberry for lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Mr. 01 Scout!
Your arm jerked shut before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you had left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, friend of a friend, a pair of shopping cousins,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two for one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady rough with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
to silence your complaining boss. You dreamed in bed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were trained to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you licked because you hankered to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown, and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns while stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.


5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”

Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a hothouse plant.

But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the tar off the imaginary blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.

Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.


6. “love, for you the only natural action”

The way the body bops to the jukebox’s be,
the louche sunlight at dawn, the martini’s torch,
the burst of a raspberry on the tip of the tongue,
are such persuasive proofs of love’s naturalness
you forget that love is also more than natural.

The truth that will never be told to the gardener
is that love must grow in order to stay love,
not flower, ripen, die, replanted, that old cycle,
but accumulate by slow rotation in a crucible
requirements from a supersaturated solution.

As a silicon crystal attracts random molecules
to turn semi-conductor in a radio or solar panel,
I organize the bits of love that come to me,
airport fingerprinting, fairground fingerpainting,
into an integrated circuit, into a life.


7. “who fought with what she partly understood”

The Czech do not hope… they have been through too much,
said the pale Irish-looking girl back home for Christmas.
They eat their cabbage and down their homemade brandy.
They don’t understand why Americans reject healthcare.
Groups are suspicious. They remind them of Communism.

Her voice to your ears was soft, unassertive, careful,
much older than her years, unAmerican, European.
Differently from the important announcement on C-Span
that the Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,
she talked about the textbook she is helping to design

to teach Indian children their grandparents’ language
before the last surviving speakers disappear and leave
behind tape recordings, dictionaries and textbooks.
What does it mean for me to be doing this? she mused.
She asked your question. Silence, enormous and eloquent.


8. “like the memory of refused adultery”

What does it mean for you to be doing this, to write
poems that take for their departure women poets,
as if waving goodbye to your Ma at the airport gate,
she crying with familiar tears, you impatient to go
but obliged to stay, guilt at your feet like your bags?

Or is it an effort to understand women’s rage,
its different temperatures, women’s happiness,
its predilections and dilations, women’s grief,
its consequences, and who better to approach
than your colleagues—counterparts—the women poets?

When your teen sister complained of a tummy ache,
you were afraid that your semen, spilled with high
delirium, had swum from the bath into her.
Not sex but you take the words of the women poets in,
delirious words that stir up a disturbance, me.


9. “Our blight has been our sinecure”

An American reviewer once praised your poetry
for using English far better than native speakers.
A straight man walked up to you after a reading
to say how human were the poems on anal sex,
his girlfriend adding, how perceptive. For a man,

she meant but didn’t say. For an Asian. For a gay.
You could live on these poisoned scraps, toss off
the soda and let the gas expand to fill your hunger.
Or you could return these allowances, saying to one,
I am a native speaker, to the other two, Fuck off.

Or you could do what I usually do, banquet
off the table groaning with dishes in the wilderness,
and trust your body to extract strength from trash,
discarding the rest through the alimentary method,
and trust your soul, when it is stretched by gas, to burp.


10. “more merciless to herself than history”

If time is male, as Rich accuses, place is female.
Cave, hearth, woods, ocean, satellite, and space
are so many reiterations of the womb
that no place does not hold me back like mother,
most plaintively when pushing me to run and play.

See this room, rented for a time, is now a home,
all its material comforts have turned maternal,
the soft duvet, the morning light, the cup of coffee,
all reassure me that my life is going well,
that I can’t do more than what I am able to.

Will you, the man who is not who I am, the boy
who punched the air when styled Mr. 01 Scout,
the star who left the set, the stranger who heard
the bearded lady and the beautiful Irish girl,
will you be more merciless to yourself than I?


11.

Beneath the noise of factions, beyond the silent music,
I hear the breathing of a will to overcome,
denied, half acknowledged, strong or staccato,
the eye that deepens photographs with shadows.
I look up from this poem when you hold my shoulders,

your few belongings in your waterproof rucksack,
to kiss me goodbye before leaving for the future.
I want to detain you by pulling you down to the bed,
unwrap your smooth body of its furry coverings,
but I refrain. Instead, I close your hand over this token:

In this leveling age, it is still possible to be noble.
Nothing but what you fight others for is yours.
As you struggle against the hollow of the thigh,
he will change in his face to monster, god and you.
Nothing but what you fight yourself for is yours.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Phil Grabsky's "In Search of Beethoven"

A feature-length documentary on Ludwig van Beethoven, with rather more biography than music commentary, more panegyric than analysis. Van, which means the family came originally from Belgium, and not the aristocratic von. The son and grandson of court musicians, Beethoven was constantly wooing noblewomen who could not or would not marry beneath them. Although reputed to be a misanthrope in his later deaf years, he could also be generous, giving an English visitor a ten-bar composition, which was only discovered in Cornwall in the 1980's. I was surprised to learn that he prayed twice a day, according to the testimony of his nephew, to a God not of the established Church, but of his own interpretation.

I would have loved to be at the 1808 concert that he gave, entirely of his own music. The documentary mentioned only the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, but this blog gives the entire program for that cold Vienna night. It included the Gloria and Sanctus from the Mass in C, and concluded with the Choral Fantasy.

Of all the music historians, conductors and musicians who spoke in the film, I was most impressed by Emanuel Ax. He frankly admitted that he did not have the technical ability to play a very difficult passage from one of the piano works. That kind of humility is so rare, and it underlines Beethoven's genius more firmly than any high-flown words of praise can.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pasolini's "The Hawks and the Sparrows" (1966)

Uccellacci e uccellini (original title) is a comical, picaresque political allegory. A father and his son walking on a road meet a talking raven who tells them the story of how Saint Francis sent a pair of monks very like them to preach to the hawks and then the sparrows. Though the monks finally found a way to preach to the birds in their own languages, the gospel did not prevent the hawks from eating the sparrows.

After that digression, the film reveals that the father is on his way to collect rent. His impoverished tenants are so poor that they eat boiled bird's nest (like the Chinese do, the wife said, in an allusion to the Chinese Communist Revolution) and keep their children in bed so that they don't have to be fed. Having to leave empty-handed, the father in turn is set upon by dogs when he cannot turn over any money to his rich landlord.

Other episodes on the road enrich this otherwise deliberately simple tale. Father and son meet a group of circus folks at one point, and at another a beautiful woman whom both lust after. Tired and hungry near the end of their trek, having missed their bus, they kill the raven and eat it. So the Italian left-wing intellectual is destroyed by the petty bourgeoisie who are themselves both oppressors and oppressed. The Italian comedian Totò plays the father while the son is played by Pasolini's lover Ninetto Davoli. Both are great portraits of political innocence.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Andrew Jarecki's "All Good Things" (2010)

It could have been a superb movie but it was merely good. Inspired by the story of Robert Durst, the scion of a New York real estate dynasty, "All Good Things" was about the mystery of childhood trauma. At seven David Marks saw his mother throw herself off the roof of their house and kill herself. The film revealed later that his father did not carry him away from the scene because he wanted to use David to dissuade his wife from jumping. So, added to the horror of seeing one's mother braining herself at one's feet, was the knowledge that one was useless in preventing it. The literal life-and-death struggle between a couple broke a child in its middle. Ryan Gosling was compelling as that broken child in the adult.

Or was the child broken to begin with? According to Sanford, the patriarch (Frank Langella), David had always been "weak," in contrast with his younger brother who took over the family business. Sanford's dismissal could, of course, be explained as self-exculpation but that did not mean that it could not be true. The film, cannily, did not show that primal scene and so it remained out of sight as it must be to every senses of its participants, except the organ of memory. What the film did show was David's romance with Katie McCarthy (a very believable Kirsten Dunst), whom he married despite his father's disapproval. When Katie tried to assert her independence, finally by filing for separation, David did the desperate thing to keep her, he killed her.

Most interestingly, he drove with the body of his wife to see his father. The action could be construed as a pathetic act of vengeance. Since his father had inflicted on him a dead woman (his mother), he would return the favor by leaving a dead daughter-in-law in the car boot for his father to deal with. David's action could also be explained, however, as an offering, a way of making up to a father for not ever being man enough. In this perspective, a man's masculinity is constructed on the body of a dead woman.

David's gender insecurity might help explain why he took to wearing drag when trying to escape police investigation. It was hard to tell because the second half of the film seemed so much less motivated, psychologically as well as artistically. Besides the puzzling question about drag, the film did not make it credible that David's roommate, about to be thrown out by the landlord, would drive from Texas to California to shoot and silence someone for the sake of a place to stay. The roommate (Philip Baker Hall) was just one in a slew of minor characters who were needed to carry the story in the second half. The film grew slack to accommodate the action. Better writing and direction could have made the film a dark gem.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1-11"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

One of the tallest boys of Class 1A,
you posed against the older scouts, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in muscle mags
while stroking your little flared dick.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

Your heart still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Mr. 01 Scout!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady rough with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
and demand a view of the cubbies. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were taught to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you did because you wanted to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns, stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.


5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”

Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a flowering plant.

But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the black off the imagined blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.

Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.


6. “love, for you the only natural action”

The way the body bops to the jukebox’s be,
the louche sunlight, the martini’s torch,
late night cab fare, lunch specials for a week,
the roof gutter rapidly filling up with leaves,
paperclip hearts, leather harnesses, windup birds.

The truth that will never be told to the judge,
protest marches, marches to protest the protest,
fairground fingerpainting, airport fingerprinting,
the lab that speaks with the voice of the church,
secrets leaking, Koran burning, stem cells research.

The life pulsing along quick invisible lines,
habit’s resistance, the generated poems,
men making love to men, men making love to women,
men making love to machines, as do women,
the hearing aid, the heart pacer, something made.


7. “who fought with what she partly understood”

The Czech do not hope… they have been through too much,
said the pale Irish-looking girl back home for Christmas.
They eat their cabbage and down their homemade brandy.
They don’t understand why Americans reject healthcare.
Groups are suspicious. They remind them of Communism.

Her voice to your ears was soft, unassertive, careful,
much older than her years, unAmerican, European.
Differently from the important announcement on C-Span
that the Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,
she talked about the textbook she is helping to design

to teach Indian children their grandparents’ language
before the last surviving speakers disappear and leave
behind tape recordings, dictionaries and textbooks.
What does it mean for me to be doing this? she mused.
She asked your question. Silence, enormous and eloquent.


8. “like the memory of refused adultery”

What does it mean for you to be doing this, to write
poems that take for their departure women poets,
as if waving goodbye to your Ma at the airport gate,
she crying with familiar tears, you impatient to go
but obliged to stay, guilt at your feet like your bags?

Or is it an effort to understand women’s rage,
its different temperature, women’s happiness,
its predilections and dilations, women’s grief,
its consequences, and who better to approach
than your colleagues—counterparts—the poets?

When your teen sister complained of a tummy ache,
you were terrified that your semen had swum into her,
the seed in the bathing tub spilled with such delirium.
Not sex but you take the words of the woman poets in,
delirious words that stir up a disturbance, me.


9. “Our blight has been our sinecure”

An American reviewer once praised your poetry
for using English far better than native speakers.
A straight man walked up to you after a reading
to say how human were the poems on anal sex,
his girlfriend adding, how perceptive. For a man,

she meant but didn’t say. For an Asian. For a gay.
You could live on these poisoned scraps, toss off
the soda and let the gas expand to fill your hunger.
Or you could return these allowances, saying to one,
I am a native speaker, to the other two, Fuck off.

Or you could do what I usually do, banquet
off the table groaning with dishes in the wilderness,
and trust your body to extract strength from trash,
discarding the rest through the alimentary method,
and trust your soul, when it is stretched by gas, to burp.


10. “more merciless to herself than history”

If time is male, as Rich accuses, place is female.
The patriarch who trims his heirloom bonsai,
The matriarch who pushes the big doors open,
both must be bidden farewell and left behind,
though the tree wilts and the house calls for me.

My sister is moving to India, with my nieces,
a country I will visit for its mausoleums,
perhaps stay with her but I will not live there.
My brother, whom I have been looking for all my life,
is still faceless and mercilessly fictional.

I have now been with my love for six months.
Last night, for the first time, I could not get it up
and I wanted to apologize but stopped my mouth.
Reading “Snapshots” again this morning, I found
further incitement to train you to be beautiful.


11.

Beneath the noise of factions, beneath the silent music,
I hear the bass note of a will to overcome,
denied, half acknowledged, strong or staccato,
the light that deepens photographs with shadows.
This I say to you as you finally enter my room

at the end of a long season of untimely departures
to kiss me goodbye before leaving for the future.
I want to detain you by pulling you down to the bed,
unwrap your smooth body of its furry coverings,
but I refrain. Instead, I close your hand over this token:

In this late age, it is still possible to be noble.
Nothing but what you fight others for is yours.
As you struggle against the hollow of the thigh,
he will change in his face to monster, god and you.
Nothing but what you fight yourself for is yours.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1-10"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

One of the tallest boys of Class 1A,
you posed against the older scouts, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
professional postures you studied in Flex
while stroking your little flared dick.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

Your heart was still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, a colleague, a pair of shopping cousins,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady rough with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
to shut up your complaining boss. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were taught to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you did because you wanted to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns, stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.


5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”

Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a flowering plant.

But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the black off the imagined blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.

Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.


6. “love, for you the only natural action”

The way the body bops to the jukebox’s be,
the louche sunlight, the martini’s torch,
late night cab fare, lunch specials for a week,
the roof gutter rapidly filling up with leaves,
paperclip hearts, leather harnesses, windup birds.

The truth that will never be told to the judge,
protest marches, marches to protest the protest,
fairground fingerpainting, airport fingerprinting,
the lab that speaks with the voice of the church,
secrets leaking, Koran burning, stem cells research.

The life pulsing along quick invisible lines,
habit’s resistance, the generated poems,
men making love to men, men making love to women,
men making love to machines, as do women,
the hearing aid, the heart pacer, something made.


7. “who fought with what she partly understood”

The Czech do not hope… they have been through too much,
said the pale Irish-looking girl back home for Christmas.
They eat their cabbage and down their homemade brandy.
They don’t understand why Americans reject healthcare.
Groups are suspicious. They remind them of Communism.

Her voice to your ears was soft, unassertive, careful,
much older than her years, unAmerican, European.
Differently from the important announcement on C-Span
that the Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,
she talked about the textbook she is helping to design

to teach Indian children their grandparents’ language
before the last surviving speakers disappear and leave
behind tape recordings, dictionaries and textbooks.
What does it mean for me to be doing this? she mused.
She asked your question. Silence, enormous and eloquent.


8. “like the memory of refused adultery”

What does it mean for you to be doing this, to write
poems that take for their departure women poets,
as if waving goodbye to your Ma at the airport gate,
she crying with familiar tears, you impatient to go
but obliged to stay, guilt at your feet like your bags?

Or is it an effort to understand women’s rage,
its different temperature, women’s happiness,
its predilections and dilations, women’s grief,
its consequences, and who better to approach
than your colleagues—counterparts—the poets?

When your teen sister complained of a tummy ache,
you were terrified that your semen had swum into her,
the seed in the bathing tub spilled with such delirium.
Not sex but you take the words of the woman poets in,
delirious words that stir up a disturbance, me.


9. “Our blight has been our sinecure”

An American reviewer once praised your poetry
for using English far better than native speakers.
A straight man walked up to you after a reading
to say how human were the poems on anal sex,
his girlfriend adding, how perceptive. For a man,

she meant but didn’t say. For an Asian. For a gay.
You could live on these poisoned scraps, toss off
the soda and let the gas expand to fill your hunger.
Or you could return these allowances, saying to one,
I am a native speaker, to the other two, Fuck off.

Or you could do what I usually do, banquet
off the table groaning with dishes in the wilderness,
and trust your body to extract strength from trash,
discarding the rest through the alimentary method,
and trust your soul, when it is stretched by gas, to burp.


10. "more merciless to herself than history"

If time is male, as Rich accuses, place is female.
The patriarch who trims his heirloom bonsai,
The matriarch who pushes the big doors open,
both must be bidden farewell and left behind,
though the tree wilts and the house calls for you.

Your sister is moving to India, with your nieces,
a country you will visit for its mausoleums,
perhaps stay with her but you will not live there.
Your brother, whom you have been looking for all your life,
is still mysterious and mercilessly fictional.

You have now been with your love for six months.
Last night, for the first time, you could not get it up
and you wanted to apologize but stopped yourself.
Reading Rich's poem again this morning, you found
a place to stand without having to penetrate.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1-9"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

One of the tallest boys of Class 1A,
you posed against the older scouts, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared dick.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

Your heart was still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady rough with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
and demand a view of the cubbies. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were taught to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you did because you wanted to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns, stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.


5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”

Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a flowering plant.

But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the black off the imagined blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.

Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.


6. “love, for you the only natural action”

The way the body bops to the jukebox’s be,
the louche sunlight, the martini’s torch,
late night cab fare, lunch specials for a week,
the roof gutter rapidly filling up with leaves,
paperclip hearts, leather harnesses, windup birds.

The truth that will never be told to the judge,
protest marches, marches to protest the protest,
fairground fingerpainting, airport fingerprinting,
the lab that speaks with the voice of the church,
secrets leaking, Koran burning, stem cells research.

The life pulsing along quick invisible lines,
habit’s resistance, the generated poems,
men making love to men, men making love to women,
men making love to machines, as do women,
the hearing aid, the heart pacer, something made.


7. “who fought with what she partly understood”

The Czech do not hope… they have been through too much,
said the pale Irish-looking girl back home for Christmas.
They eat their cabbage and down their homemade brandy.
They don’t understand why Americans reject healthcare.
Groups are suspicious. They remind them of Communism.

Her voice to your ears was soft, unassertive, careful,
much older than her years, unAmerican, European.
Differently from the important announcement on C-Span
that the Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,
she talked about the textbook she is helping to design

to teach Indian children their grandparents’ language
before the last surviving speakers disappear and leave
behind tape recordings, dictionaries and textbooks.
What does it mean for me to be doing this? she mused.
She asked your question. Silence, enormous and eloquent.


8. “like the memory of refused adultery”

What does it mean for you to be doing this, to write
poems that take for their departure women poets,
as if waving goodbye to your Ma at the airport gate,
she crying with familiar tears, you impatient to go
but obliged to stay, guilt at your feet like your bags?

Or is it an effort to understand women’s rage,
its different temperature, women’s happiness,
its predilections and dilations, women’s grief,
its consequences, and who better to approach
than your colleagues—counterparts—the poets?

When your teen sister complained of a tummy ache,
you were terrified that your semen had swum into her,
the seed in the bathing tub spilled with such delirium.
Not sex but you take the words of the woman poets in,
delirious words that stir up a disturbance, me.


9. “Our blight has been our sinecure”

An American reviewer once praised your poetry
for using English far better than native speakers.
A straight man walked up to you after a reading
to say how human were the poems on anal sex,
his girlfriend adding, how perceptive. For a man,

she meant but didn’t say. For an Asian. For a gay.
You could live on these poisoned scraps, toss off
the soda and let the gas expand to fill your hunger.
Or you could return these allowances, saying to one,
I am a native speaker, to the other two, Fuck off.

Or you could do what I usually do, eat and drink
off the table groaning with dishes in the wilderness,
and trust your body to extract strength from trash,
discarding the rest through the alimentary method,
and trust your soul, when it is stretched by gas, to burp.

Edna O'Brien's "Haunted"

Watched this Brits off Broadway offering with TH at 59E59 Theater last Thursday. Strong acting by Brenda Blethyn and Niall Buggy as possessive, domineering wife, and straying husband. Beth Cooke as Hazel, an elocution teacher, was good too; her lack of beauty and personality made clear how much of Mr Berry's desire was generated from within. I am not sure however what the play, directed by Braham Murray, was going for, besides a gritty picture of marital unhappiness. The picture was a relatively familiar one. The dialogue was laden with literary references. O'Brien rewrote the play from a TV drama she had written decades ago, when she met Blethyn. So the play was, at least in part, a star vehicle, though a playwright would hate to have her work called this. If the vehicle went somewhere, it would have seemed less so.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1-8"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

One of the tallest boys of Class 1A,
you posed against the older scouts, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared dick.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

You were still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady rough with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
and demand a view of the cubbies. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were taught to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you did because you wanted to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns, stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.


5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”

Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a flowering plant.

But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the black off the imagined blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.

Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.


6. “love, for you the only natural action”

The way the body bops to the jukebox’s be,
the louche sunlight, the martini’s torch,
late night cab fare, lunch specials for a week,
the roof gutter rapidly filling up with leaves,
paperclip hearts, leather harnesses, windup birds.

The truth that will never be told to the judge,
protest marches, marches to protest the protest,
fairground fingerpainting, airport fingerprinting,
the lab that speaks with the voice of the church,
secrets leaking, Koran burning, stem cells research.

The life pulsing along quick invisible lines,
habit’s resistance, the generated poems,
men making love to men, men making love to women,
men making love to machines, as do women,
the hearing aid, the heart pacer, something made.


7. “who fought with what she partly understood”

The Czech do not hope… they have been through too much,
said the pale Irish-looking girl back home for Christmas.
They eat their cabbage and down their homemade brandy.
They don’t understand why Americans reject healthcare.
Groups are suspicious. They remind them of Communism.

Her voice to your ears was soft, unassertive, careful,
much older than her years, unAmerican, European.
Differently from the important announcement on C-Span
that the Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,
she talked about the textbook she is helping to design

to teach Indian children their grandparents’ language
before the last surviving speakers disappear and leave
behind tape recordings, dictionaries and textbooks.
What does it mean for me to be doing this? she mused.
She asked your question. Silence, enormous and eloquent.


8. “like the memory of refused adultery”

What does it mean for you to be doing this, to write
poems that take for their departure women poets,
as if waving goodbye to your Ma at the airport gate,
she crying with familiar tears, you impatient to go
but obliged to stay, guilt at your feet like your bags?

Or is it an effort to understand women’s rage,
its different temperature, women’s happiness,
its predilections and dilations, women’s grief,
its consequences, and who better to approach
than your colleagues—counterparts—the poets?

When your teen sister complained of a tummy ache,
you were terrified that your semen had swum into her,
the seed in the bathing tub spilled with such delirium.
Not sex but you take the words of the women poets in,
delirious words that stir up a disturbance, me.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1-7"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

One of the tallest boys of Class 1A,
you posed against the older scouts, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared dick.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

You were still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady rough with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
and demand a view of the cubbies. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were taught to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you did because you wanted to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns, stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.


5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”

Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a rare flowering plant.

But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the black off the imagined blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.

Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.


6. “love, for you the only natural action”

The way the body bops to the jukebox’s be,
the louche sunlight, the martini’s torch,
late night cab fare, lunch specials for a week,
the roof gutter rapidly filling up with leaves,
paperclip hearts, leather harnesses, windup birds.

The truth that will never be told to the judge,
protest marches, marches to protest the protest,
fairground fingerpainting, airport fingerprinting,
the lab that speaks with the voice of the church,
secrets leaking, books burning, stem cells research.

The life pulsing along quick invisible lines,
habit’s resistance, the generated poems,
men making love to men, men making love to women,
men making love to machines, as do women,
the hearing aid, the heart pacer, something made.


7. “who fought with what she partly understood”

The Czech do not hope… they have been through too much,
said the pale Irish-looking girl back home for Christmas.
They eat their cabbage and down their homemade brandy.
They don’t understand why Americans reject healthcare.
Groups are suspicious. They remind them of Communism.

Her voice to your ears was soft, unassertive, careful,
much older than her years, unAmerican, European.
Differently from the important announcement on C-Span
that the Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,
she talked about the textbook she is helping to design

to teach Indian children their grandparents’ language
before the last surviving speakers disappear and leave
behind tape recordings, dictionaries and textbooks.
What does it mean for me to be doing this? she mused.
She asked your question. Silence, enormous and eloquent.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weekend in Washington DC

Just returned from a good weekend in DC. Walked down the Mall to Capitol Hill, where we saw three senators enter the building where they would vote to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Ate a delicious lunch of Spanish tapas at Bodega in Georgetown before doing a spot of shopping and taking the bus to Dupoint Circle. Watched the Senate vote on C-Span at, appropriately, the Human Rights Campaign shop. Browsed at Kramerbooks where GH showed me Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space. Had drinks at 30 Degrees, above Cobalt, and then at JR Grill and Bar, where I embarrassed GH by singing to The Sound of Music.

Back in R and SW's house, we ate a delicious lobster dinner, and admired her fiber art. I especially liked the "Blue Bamboo" series. "Permission to fly," the expressionistic quilt in the dining room, was also very beautiful. During dinner GH and SW argued over their father's art. GH had shown me "Granny," a wooden bust. He described another piece, an Indian squaw holding the hand of a little white boy in shorts, with a face like his father's. It was a pure fantasy, not copied from any pictures.

Back from the Czech Republic for the holidays, EW talked about living and teaching there. The diet of cabbage and apple strudel. The homemade brandy to keep warm in minus 30 degree Celsius. The well-supported public schools. The Communist-era pay of doctors. She will soon be able to apply for EU citizenship, and live in Germany or France, if she wishes. She is also designing a series of textbooks for a dying Indian language.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1-6"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

The tallest of your secondary one class,
you posed against the older boys, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared cock.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

You were still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady rough with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
and demand a view of the cubbies. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were taught to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you did because you wanted to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns, stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.


5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”

Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a rare flowering plant.

But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the black off the imagined blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.

Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.


6. “love, for you the only natural action”

The way the body bops to the jukebox’s be,
the louche sunlight, the martini’s torch,
late night cab fare, lunch specials for a week,
the roof gutter rapidly filling up with leaves,
paperclip hearts, leather harnesses, windup birds.

The truth that will never be told to the judge,
protest marches, marches to protest the protest,
fairground fingerpainting, airport fingerprinting,
the lab that speaks with the voice of the church,
secrets leaking, books burning, stem cells research.

The life pulsing along quick invisible lines,
habit’s resistance, the generated poems,
men making love to men, men making love to women,
men making love to machines, as do women,
the hearing aid, the heart pacer, something made.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nikolaj Znaider plays Elgar's Violin Concerto

Last Saturday GH and I heard Nikolaj Znaider play Elgar's Violin Concerto in B minor. The Copenhagen native was tall and square-shouldered, and walked on with an easy grace. From where we sat, in the middle of the orchestra, I could see his strong jaw. Without trying to, he commanded the stage.

His performance of Elgar was dignified, passionate and dynamic. The orchestra was so responsive to him that he almost seemed to be co-conducting it with Sir Colin Davis. I also enjoyed Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings (Quartet and Orchestra) and Mozart's Symphony No. 36 in C major, Linz, but Znaider was a revelation.

Yesterday morning, during my commute to school, I listened to his recording of the same violin concerto, with Sir Colin Davis and the Dresden Staatskapelle. The third movement was so grand that I had to halt in wintry Carl Schurz Park to hear it to the end. Hearing the music and watching the sunrise at the same time was an incredible feeling. I felt I could write the world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1-5"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

The tallest of your secondary one class,
you posed against the older boys, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared cock.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

You were still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady long with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
and demand a view of the cubbies. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were taught to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you did because you wanted to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns, stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.


5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”

Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a rare flowering plant.

But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the black off the imagined blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.

Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1-4"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

The tallest of your secondary one class,
you posed against the older boys, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared cock.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

You were still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady long with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
and demand a view of the cubbies. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.


4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”

Be nice was the rule you were taught to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you did because you wanted to be liked.

Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown and to rise.

In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns, stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.

Not for the Faint-hearted

Been watching a slew of gay movies from Netflix or Blockbuster lately. For the record:

"Denied" (2004) has hunky jock fall in love with loser best friend who denies he is gay by sleeping around with women. Lee Rumohr was a dishy Troy.

In "Defying Gravity" (1997), frat boy Griff (Daniel Chilson) keeps his brothers in the dark about his relationship with Pete, but a gay bashing forces him out of his closet.

Gay robbers, armed and dangerous, in "Burnt Money" (2000). Eduardo Noriega and Leonardo Sbaraglia burn up the screen, but the action tails off, and I nearly fell asleep.

"Sebastiane" (1976), directed by Derek Jarman, tries to be decadent, but turns out to be dull, dull, dull.

There is somewhat more psychological subtlety in "Mulligans" (2008). At the family's summer house, Dad falls for straight son's best bud. Dan Payne as the father was watchable. Pity Charlie David was a cipher as a gay college boy.

"Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green" (2006): cute and silly.

In "The Bubble" (2006), aka progressive Tel Aviv, Jewish serviceman falls in love with Palestinian who is radicalized by the killing of his sister. The bubble pops, with devastating result. Worth watching. Directed by Eytan Fox.

"Longtime Companion" (1989), supposedly the first film to have AIDS as its main subject, looks at how gay men coped with the crisis. It won the Sundance Audience Award, and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Bruce Davison.

Not about gay men, but for gay men (and others), "Sex and the City 2" (2010) brings product placement to a new place.

Why do I watch so many bad gay movies, I hear you ask. Because I am hungry, hungry still, for images of men loving men.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1, 2 and 3"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

The tallest of your secondary one class,
you posed against the older boys, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared cock.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

You were still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.


3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”

The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady long with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.

Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
and demand a view of the cubbies. You dreamed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.

Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law" 1 and 2"

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

The tallest of your secondary one class,
you posed against the older boys, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared cock.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

You were still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with strawberry lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman!
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.


2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"

The angels fell silent after you left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.

Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, your colleague, your boss, the world,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.

From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two-for-one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Poem: "After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law""

After Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"

1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"

The tallest of your secondary one class,
you posed against the older boys, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in magazines
while stroking your little flared cock.

You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.

You were still flushed the next morning
when an older boy, the one with big lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Muscleman! 
Your arm jerked back before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Poem: "That's What Comes From Being"

That’s What Comes From Being

Whenever I write you it blends & morphs into so many others. That’s what comes from being informal, I guess. Or not cool. Or erotic.
—Emily Critchley, “When I say I believe women…”


Or historical. Or wayward. Or a river.
Or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Or an all-boys school. Or not possible.

Or lucky to be taken up by women
without children. Or with children.
Or stricken by the chicken pox at 17.

Or a big fan of Hainanese chicken rice,
tender white meat or roasted drumstick,
dipped in a hot chilli sauce with garlic.

Or fanatic. Or unable to speak in tongues.
Or a coward who reads Nietzsche for fun.
Or a gay teacher at an all-girls school.

Or listening to Bach on the bus this week.
Or a demilitarized zone. Or a poet.
Fill in the blank. Or circle. Or formal.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Boy's Magic Horn

With LW, I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the New York Philharmonic on Tuesday. The performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in D major was suave. I found it boring. Much more interesting were Mahler's Twelve Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy's Magic Horn). Compiled and published by Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim, the book pretended to be a collection of authentic folk poems, but comprised free renderings of texts and original compositions of the authors.

Mahler put to music "The Sentinel's Nightsong," the tongue-in-cheek "St. Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fishes," the pathetic "The Earthly Life," "Solace in Misfortune," the heroic and sweet "Song of the Persecuted in the Tower," the spring-like "Who Thought Up This Little Song?" the tragic "Reveille," the charming "Little Rhine Legend," the satirical "Praise from an Advanced Intellect," the insulting "Labor Lost," the elegaic "The Drummer Boy" and the brave "Where the Fair Trumpets Sound." In other words, a wide range of emotions.

Ian Bostridge (tenor) had a sweet and vulnerable voice, very suitable for the soon-to-die or dying or dead soldiers in these songs, but he was overwhelmed by the orchestra in the first couple of songs. Dorothea Röschmann (soprano) was expressive and powerful, a treat to hear at her NYP debut.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Poem: "After Elisabeth Bletsoe’s “Birds from the Sherborne Missal” "

After Elisabeth Bletsoe’s “Birds from the Sherborne Missal”

Pigeon, identified as Rock Pigeon (Columba livia domestica)

In the liturgical city, in the agora, gospel and gregarious. The fleshy cere on the short slender beak protects the nostrils. Deepthroated chuckling. You drew me to the gate of the Marble Cemetery and kissed me. The drag queen, passing by, simpered, “Ooh, boys kissing.” Purple iridescence on the gray neck. Two black bars on the wing. Crop milk. Toasting s’mores over a wood fire in the garden wedged between two apartment buildings. Granivorous and frugivorous. Some eat trash. It was alleged that they have no gall bladder, which accounts for their reputation for sweetness, but they have gall. Aristotle knew that. Don’t forget. The Columba livia is kosher and korban. The parents of Jesus sacrificed a pair after his circumcision. Loss, a sign of the covenant. Domesticated for centuries, they still live in the urban wilds. Homers. Carriers. Release doves.

strong chest muscles
extending powerful wings—
a white book

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Poem: "After Rose Kelleher's "Kink""

After Rose Kelleher's "Kink"

The dead painter is looking for a place to paint: a tree, some water.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Gritty Poetry

Having a boyfriend is not good for blogging. But a blog cannot hug you at night.

Last night, Bob Heman's 12th Big Clwn Wr Event took place in the Community Room of the Westbeth housing for artists, in the far west of the Village. A number of Pink Pony regulars or ex-regulars read, but also a couple of exciting discoveries.

Adriana Scorpino had a strong long poem about the Williamsburg Bridge that spiritualizes it far more convincingly than Hart Crane did with the Brooklyn one. Liza Wolsky read a terrific poem about her father trying to revive a drowned man. George Spencer read sexy poems sauced with learned references. Thomas Fucaloro is getting better and better: he read a very funny poem about a TV nature show that mounted a camera on a lizard. Judy Kamilhor entertained with her short pieces inspired by haiku and senryu. I read two poems from Equal to the Earth, a poem by Bob Hart ("From a Winslow Homer Painting"), and a poem from my next book Seven Studies for a Self Portrait.

The discoveries that night were Phyllis Wat whose poems were witty and poised but also full of feeling, and Carolyn Ota, a mesmerizing singer-songwriter from Hawai'i, now training in NYC to use vibration and music for healing. I really enjoyed Lori Rogers's short film "Crush." Who would have thought that kicking and stepping on bottles, boxes and cans in the city could create such gritty poetry? The camera, pointed down the whole time, was dizzying.

The night was long (the event was supposed to start at 7, and it ended at 11), but, thanks to Bob Heman, it brought together a striking ensemble of artistes, a strong representation of downtown art.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Fascist Art

Most art shows stroke the museum-goer to a climax. Chaos & Classicism, at the Guggenheim, ends differently. Not in an anti-climax, but rather in a depressing one. After displaying beautiful classicizing works by the likes of Dix, Picasso, Balthus and Léger, the show leaves the rotunda and enters a room titled "The Dark Side of Classicism."  It is filled with paintings, murals and sculpture inspired by Fascism, depicting muscular warriors and heroic horsemen. At the end of the room plays the film of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, in which the Discus Thrower comes alive as a German triathlete.

The art is bad, but therein lies my dissatisfaction with an otherwise enlightening show. The equation of bad art and bad idea is too easy. It would have been far more interesting, far more complicating, to show beautiful art done by bona fide Fascists. Do such works exist? Can they?

Also saw two small sculptures by Spanish sculptor Pablo Gargallo, who appears in Marianne Moore's poem "The Pangolin." The human figures are cunningly constructed out of bent and sharp metal scraps.