This entry’s subject line is from Mary Oliver’s “Owl Poem,” which I read at my honorary mama’s memorial service in June. I selected the poem for two reasons: Nancy had collected owl figurines through most of her life (many of them are now at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary; I have one next to my bayonet), and it was a poem I read aloud to her when I visited her in February. The story of that visit is at my personal journal. and I will be forever grateful to Mary Oliver — and Kate and Kathy, for buying Blue Horses — for helping us through that day.
This morning, my subconscious chose to inflict on me an extended dream about work. This is in itself nothing new, but I am nonetheless vexed that my interior film projector can’t come up with better movies. It’s not as if dwelling on the heaps of deliverables will deal with them, so why can’t the reel revel instead in, say, ridiculous Bottega Veneta jackets? Sheesh.
In the meantime, I’m sneaking in some postcard-scribbling between work, working out, and housework. Some with addresses from Postcards to Voters and Americans of Conscience, and some as part of the August postcard poetry fest that doubles as a fundraiser for SPlab (the fest + service fee added up to 11.71 USD for me); registration closes July 19.
Three of the postcards I wrote on today are in the above snapshot; because there isn’t a lot of room on the cards, and I try to write something related to the image and/or stamps I’m putting on them, I am (so far) spinning out springboards rather than dives — that is, prompts rather than full-fledged poems. That’s OK. The ground rules emphasize that these should be first drafts, and each card is a handful of steps toward something more, which is more than I’d come up with left to my own devices when this hemmed-in by must-dos.
May blitzed by me in a blur of bacteria, bureaucracy, and blackspot. But it also brought Amanda Parer’s BIIIIIIIIG bunnies to a botanical garden in my town:
At Hoppy Hour, there was a silent disco that escaped its blue-lit headphones while I was waiting for my food-truck banh mi and Thai iced tea. It was a fine way to start a Friday night, and so was the spoken word Happening yesterday night at the Frist Art Museum, which included Rashad thaPoet slammin’ the four-
dollarcent jury verdict, Debria Love leading a laughter- and snaps-punctuated takeoff on the Lord’s Prayer laden with hip-hop in-jokes after the crowd agreed that Kanye was a Kan-NAY, and S-Wrap (Saran Thompson) pulling the crowd into chants. One refrain:
SW: I speak
Crowd: You speak
All: We speak life!
When both the glitter and gunk have been scoured away —
tapes and ropes into dumpsters, crumbs and the birds that hoovered them up
long decomposed into daffodil feed — what will we say
to one another, about how we looked before we knew
what it meant to be marked for life, with life,
or will we have learned enough to speak more
about what we are looking at now, however riotous
and unruly and rancid its remains?
[Springboard: temp tattoo (originally on me here) that I ended up (mostly) erasing with tape a few minutes after midnight. What the streaks of pigment on tape really remind me of: smears of frosting. Some other night….]
The subject line is from “Stebbin’s Gulch,” a poem in Mary Oliver’s Blue Horses. I read aloud all the poems in the book to my honorary mama last month, and will be reading “Owl Poem” at her memorial service in June.
(She would’ve grinned at the video at the Owl Poem link, too — especially on the day before Easter.)
She was not a simple woman, and she was so much fun. JR Solonche’s elegy for a “simple” woman at Autumn Sky is also providing pleasure to me this morning. Simplicity contains such multitudes.
The word simple for me is inextricably bound to Kentucky, where I was raised, where an arrangement of “Simple Gifts” was part of my first experience of singing in an SATB chorus, where my dad used to take guests to Shaker Village, and where public school teachers are protesting the legislature’s late-Thursday-night pension shenanigans. The system in my home county (where some of my former classmates are themselves now educators) issued a succinct yet eloquent statement about closing schools yesterday. #APensionIsAPromise
In dangerous times, choosing what to save
becomes both chancier and more deliberate,
a ping-pong of panic vs. preservation.
A milk-splotched sketch. A bicycle bell.
What might be needed for getaways
and what would merely weigh us down
instead of attracting help? Glasses, knives,
a bin full of bulbs we meant to plant last fall—
we used to read about Nazis
as though they were fairy-tale villains—
too long ago and so far out of the pale
to fear with any seriousness, much less flee
but, now being too much of this world,
I parcel out the bulbs: half into the yard,
hoping to be alive in the spring, and allowed
to love the pointless, fruitless flowers,
and half into the pantry, next to the case of water
that’s there just in case. I don’t need the future
to laugh at myself already, for whom am I kidding?
This is a different century, with nowhere to hide
unless you’re so damn rich and white
that laws don’t apply, much less stick. But I
have houses and HQs to clean. Oh, abide
with me, O Thou of bitter herbs and floods
and silence amid sociopaths. Pray I shall
but also pack, and sing but also study,
and sift through what might save me if I store it,
but not set too much store in saving it, or myself.
In the basement of my high school—the art teacher’s den—
I learned to carve the shapes of thoughts and prayers
into dark green modeling wax. Shrouded in plaster,
the wax was then burned into a nothingness,
a hollow to be filled with scraps of silver
scrounged from past projects and pawn-shop dregs.
I’ve since lost count of all the schools
shot up, locked down—art slashed out of budgets
too small a thing to miss among so much.
The air is thick with “thoughts and prayers”
empty as those molds I used to fill,
the corridors of power crowded with pawns—
those who have sold their souls for green and silver.
Here’s a farewell to glued-on seashells
and glitter-frosted plastic leaves
and all the instructions on “making things your own” —
We. Own. Nothing. Not even when we pay for them
or when we pet or polish or pray
our longings into titles and possessions,
much less when we press our names or initials
into their layers with ink or fire —
this world is not our home,
our images like water, even as
they freeze for long minutes on our screens.
Here’s to the clutter of bins and warehouses
and here’s to the wind that sweetens the sky
even as it stings our cheeks
on its way to whipping more things away.
I was given a pumpkin last month just before Halloween, and lacked time for taking a proper stab at it, so I grabbed some markers and scrawled Anne Sexton’s “Her Kind” across it (and sketched a semblance of Anne’s face on one side).
A few days later, said pumpkin started leaking while in my kitchen, so we hurried it outside. A day or two later, I spotted squirrels doing their thing…
What I find far, far more obscene than local rodents romping with Miss Sexton O’Lantern is the behavior of various so-called public servants. Which is what led to this coming out of yesterday’s exercising:
(after Anne Sexton)
I have gone out, whom they call bitch,
haunted by headlines, braver when I write
than when I dream, where with the hitch
that plagues my breath when awake I bite
down fire-curled curses, tame my mind
and modulate my voice to just above quiet.
I have been that kind.
I have found within old pockets of mourning
mustards hard as mortar, mayo soft as silk
and masking like poisons—like how milk
need not stink nor supply some other warning
before it brings a houseful to their knees.
I have buried shame amid indifferent trees.
I have been that kind.
I have been Cassandra, my screeching
marking not one slat of prideful walls
that keep no danger out. No beseeching
of gods will save us from the squalls
that care not who’s been good or who meant well:
the storms will scour us all from here to hell.
I have been that kind.