too early for Happy Lamb

[July 14]

Something I like about travel is that it kicks my “everything can become a subject line or poem seed” mindset into a higher gear. I’d thought about stopping by Happy Lamb Hot Pot on my way to South Station, but it doesn’t open on Sundays until noon, and I’d already used up my cutting-things-close quotient yesterday, when I capped my 79-hour work week by setting off alarms at the Southwest kiosk by checking my luggage in late. One failed geocaching attempt and beer request later (Tavern in the Square being out of Lord Hobo Brewing Boom [sic] Sauce, I’m chilling out with tortilla soup, a pint of Devil’s Purse Pollock IPA, and the ideal pair of screens (Federer-Djokovic next to the departing train list) in front of me:

tennis at South Station

[July 21]

… and I was not so chill as Federer came oh-so-close to winning the championship. It was fun, though, to watch and listen to the other occupants of the bar cheer and moan in response to the rallies, the aces, and the misses, and as the set stretched on, the clusters of onlookers on three sides of the bar thickened:

tennis at South Station

The night before, I’d ended up walking past St. James the Greater twice on my way from the Silver Line stop to the hostel. [It was past midnight by the time I reached the hostel, I had a 1 p.m. train to catch, and (as feared) I was running on fumes with work still in tow, so I didn’t try to meet up with any friends this round.] That said, if I hadn’t been hauling two weeks’ worth of clothes and music/dance paraphernalia with me, I still might have been tempted to wander around until 2 a.m., to see more and take notes. (One trickle of people included several Asian women holding armfuls of flowers, reminding me of the pageant contestants I spotted two Mays ago in San Francisco, during another walk that ended up being less straightforward than planned.)

Instead, I scribbled a few lines to myself in Bunk #4 before sacking out and, over two bagels and a bowl of coffee, wrestle-teased them into the start of something more:

the start of a poem

the start of a poem

the start of a poem

I’ll return to it in August, perhaps. Right now I’m at the Amherst Early Music Festival, and it’s wrenching enough having to choose among things I can enjoy only while here (practicing on lutes and harpsichords in particular), pursuits that would arguably provide larger returns were I to devote myself more fully to them (e.g., building vocal and keyboard chops), time with people, time with trees, time in/on water, time on postcards (to voters, decision-makers, and others),
and so on. And, like on Friday, sometimes the right move is to nap instead of practice, even when one feels woefully underprepared for, say, playing quartets. Or to seek out a keyboard in a nearly empty building long after nightfall instead of attending a party. Sometimes I feel pangs about the many details that will evaporate from my memory sooner than later because I’m not journaling like I used to — but, even back then, there were poems I started and then lost momentum on. There’s a sliver of me that hasn’t let go of finishing the one about the Christian Science Center pool, keeping company with the Past Mes who put her feet wrong every which where — including just yesterday. (The good thing is that as I get older I have gotten a smidge faster at getting over myself.)

Surrounding all this, of course, is delight and wonder. I’m mopping my face and neck and cleavage every three minutes, and the little breezes that do make it through my open window feel all the more divine. Someone down the hall is playing their violin. Most of the faculty members and many of the students are accomplished musicians. There are heart-tugging phrases in the Rameau pieces I’ve been inflicting on the harpsichords, and there are encounters with, say, bass recorders that look like contemporary public art:

faculty concert

I hadn’t planned on drafting any new poetry during this trip, what with the intensity/immersive pace I knew to expect, so to have a poem insist on getting started — those three pages above — that too is a gift.


Last hearth standing . . .

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.

Last hearth standing . . .

Aubade (first draft)

Sun on my arm

I wear the sun on my arm to say
Nothing can be true or total all the time:
Ink blurs and bleeds, features fade,
and I have been called a thousand names
that weren’t my own, sometimes with malice
and often within a miasmatic memory’s
failure to ever-fix my mark among its grooves.
I shall not be greedy. Two hundred years hence
we all shall be writ in water and fire —
dead light lacing the streaks of diamonds
plummeting into planets no plutocrats can plunder.
What is a treasure no tyrant can touch
or tax — what shall we call currency
that cannot be spent or shared? Under my pillow,
I press my palm to a coin from Taiwan,
tracing not the actual engravings —
a dictator’s face, a palace-museum
I played within but have no precious
recollections to cherish, precise
or otherwise — I finger the metal,
trying to melt into sleep, the better
to stay alive and sane, the better
to be not constant nor correct for all time
but often enough — just often enough,
just enough, often just, often adjusting —
you see how it is? Let me not
to the marriage of minds
deny the truth of impediments:
I am no compass, but I am the moss
that glows jewel-green on even mundane days
and coats the trees on trails,
a mute map through midnights.

At Bay

bay leaves and book

The leaves my sister
told me to throw out
reminded me of books
I hadn’t read in years

but then I saw
that only the veins
matched the antique pages.
So much for spinning

some spiel about stories,
spices and sauces —
how almost everything fades,
dries out, flickers

into dirt and dustbins. Yet
to greet this morning
with such abundance —
how immense, how marvelous

to sit for a while
with obsolete leaves
and then to cast them
upon last year’s wreaths

amid the scraps
of ordinary meals. What
a luxury, this space

to not need what’s at hand
and time to study it anyway —
a few final minutes
of not yet moving on.

old and new bay

NaPoWriMo Day 11* (Brianna)

Just playing around, really just playing, with a word from the N+7s and in a style I don’t consider my own.  To my surprise, I like where the last 2 lines went.

metronome metronome metronome metronome
tick tick
tick tock
tock tick
tock tock
metre nom
no more

* I’m skipping/already skipped days 9 & 12 for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  And I realized somehow my numberings have been off by a day, so maybe I accidentally skipped another day, too?

NaPoWriMo Day 5 (Brianna)

(What I’m up to.)

Thanks, everyone, for the encouraging comments! They’re very motivating.

Mary, I put Kamloops and Osoyoos in there specifically for you!

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, II

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, II

Walking the lip of the jump, I notice a tree
a ways off the path, a scraggly, wind-wracked,
haphazard excuse for a tree, still leafless
for the most part, and cold-looking.
Bits of bundled fabric—frayed, sun-faded, more like rags
than ribbons—hang in its branches. They seem somehow eerie,
like abandoned toys, or Christmas lights no one bothered
to take down. It sticks in the back of my mind.
As I leave I mention it to the Blackfoot girl at the desk.
The asking makes me shy, like an intruder. She glances away
and says the tree is sacred. It holds offerings and prayers
to the ancestors, so that they can use this place. Does that tree
cover for me? Or could I, in all fairness, trip and fall
over the jump, that wind that frays the fabric
fanning out my hair, before my skull splits
on the kill ground, brains white as cloud, falcon food.

NaPoWriMo, Day 4 (Brianna)

(What I’m up to.)

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, I

A peregrine and his mate nest in the face of the jump,
now, in the quiet season, before tourists herd themselves up
and down its slope, craning their necks, snapping
photographs.  Now it’s just us and the biting wind
he glides on, and his shriek.  He lands on a signpost
he doesn’t know is a signpost, flares his feathers, eyes us
with ancient ferocity.  Guarding his nest
from our invasion of two, our binoculars
and peanut butter crumbs.   Poor guy,
I tell my husband. He has no idea
what’s gonna come.

NaPoWriMo, Day 3

I forgot: writing poetry is hard.

I don’t think I’m going to title my daily bits of poem, because they won’t all be individual poems, and may in fat all be pieces of a single long poem.

Pack the tent like pick-up-sticks, shake ice
from its nylon guts, jump  in the car,
crank the heat, repeat—
three mornings in a row marked by the mad dash
to Tim Horton’s red signs, two double doubles each,
the CBC to keep us company
and Canadian.  My hands crack, red
from snowmelt wash and gas station bathroom soap.
Night number four—all campgrounds closed,
we camp in a farmer’s field and wake
to geese shitting up a storm beside
a frozen pond—white ice, white shit,
white snow—and me to my period, red gush of blood
on top of all that white.

NaPoWriMo plans, and first instalment

I was sick for 2 days, so I’m cheating a bit and backdating my first 2 NaPoWriMo entries.  I’ve written next to nothing poetry-wise since September, and I’m going to get over that by writing every day for the next month.  And I’m going to post it all, in its terrifyingly rough and unedited nakedness, here.  To give myself some guidance, I’m going to write about the trip I took across Canada and back through the southern US last summer.  I camped the whole way, there was much chaos and bad weather, and there should be plenty to keep me going.  The writing itself will probably be terrible–I’m an obsessive reviser and will usually go over a poem for weeks or months, or at least days, before showing it to anyone–but I’m interested to see what it will feel like to post first drafts publicly.  It means I’ll also have a record of what I first wrote, which I can compare the final version to much later down the road.  They’ll probably be insanely different, since I try not to self-edit too much during my first drafts.  If I do any revising during this time, I’ll hold it back at least until NaPoWriMo is over.

I feel like I need to post a whole slew of disclaimers about how this isn’t what my poetry looks like by the time I edit and publish it, alongside a bunch of pleas for patience and mercy, but what the heck.  Here’s day 1.

Heading Out

Out of the rain forest that holds you like green fog,

through the the alkaline lakes by Kamloops,

the pocket desert in Osoyoos where owls burrow down

in the roots of cacti, the running joke of Spuzzum—one house,

one gas pump, and somehow still a town—

over the mountain border, a half hours’ stop

in Banff, espresso and eight-dollar Internet, the irony of elk

hoofing it down the sidewalk, past Starbucks and the GAP

and tourists who want photos with wild bears—what is it

with them, a death wish? But who wouldn’t

want to die here, under bright snow, next to the lake

so clear and deep there aren’t words for all the colours

glowing in it.