Last Post in Poetry Month–Antonio Machado, I Kiss The Page

Antonio Machado, I Kiss The Page

Antonio Machado, I kiss the page,
put my lips
to your words
as if they were warm

I was alone in a cell
made for a monk
thick adobe walls
kept it cool all afternoon

up the Chama River gorge
by the red rock colossi
I carried your book
in Spanish and English

and overcome
by my love for your poem
I pressed my lips
to a piece of paper

I was embarrassed
although no one saw
as if I’d kissed a baby
I didn’t know in a restaurant

as if I’d kissed
another woman’s husband
or the photograph
of a handsome dead man

Antonio Machado, my love is pure
maybe a bit possessive, maybe a bit jealous
for in that moment when I kissed you
I was your only reader in the entire universe

End Words: A Sestina by Jeanne Simonoff

End Words

Father sits in his rocking chair,
pushes the floor with a force
drawn in my mother’s wail.
When he leaves, each year his yahrzeit
what was a duet is now silent-
Father and Mother gone, they become my benchmark.

When the cup is near empty, the last sip is their benchmark.
A father and now fatherless.
Our duet runs out of notes,
the silence in our conversation without force,
the electric candle burns a year later at his yahrzeit.
A litany of uterless signs, sounds puncturing silence, a wail.

After some time, a day, a year, how many, the wail
carries us forward, a benchmark.
Each year in May, his yahrzeit,
and my father, his words wander.
They force themselves into conversation:
a pun, a joke, one voice, to me a duet.

How many times can we both play a duet,
sounds replacing wails, a parabola
at the speed of light, that force
a benchmark, pervading my days.
A father. Two mothers.
Their yahrzeit candle often comes in to play.

They sit in my mind a yahrzeit torn from this life to play
no longer, their voice as symphony. The duet
buried with my father, but never a total quiet.
His wail followed by a corny joke.
His benchmark out in air.
A force to be reckoned with and

a force trailing my sleep in dream and
in May, his yortzeit lit in his honor.
My benchmark, the man, a joy
and with him a duet, my
mother’s wail hiding in her throat,
joined together in death, my father

My forceful mother, my gentle father,
Their wails in darkness, their flames in a yahrzeit
candle, on their anniversary, a duet, my benchmark.

I Am A Character In Natalie Goldberg’s New Book: The True Secret Of Writing

I love Natalie Goldberg’s new book for many reasons. First, it is
a true inspiration. Second, I am in it.
As a writer, I have often written about friends and family–often to their irritation. I’ve tried to be pristine, getting permission, double checking facts, but it isn’t a foolproof system. Plus, I’m a writer. I like to tell my reader everything I’ve discovered about the human condition. Even if it is about other people.
So here I am in Natalie’s book–immortalized. I’m in a classic stance, standing at the board in front of my Santa Fe Community College poetry class. Teaching. It’s what I do.
I won’t give the chapter away–let me just say that Natalie makes me look a little bit more heroic, a little bit more obsessed with writing, than I really am. It is true I was shocked to hear that a weather emergency was causing school to close–and just as I was saying something important! But Nat makes it sound better. And maybe a few of the tiny details aren’t accurate, or the way I remember…hey, I’m starting to sound like my own subjects.
So am I more sympathetic, say, to my husband Rich who found his exploits in Sunday’s Sage Magazine discussed by his co-workers on Monday morning.? Not really. After all, I made him look good too. Maybe the details were off–but that just means he should write his own version.
It may be odd to a character. But I’m enjoying it.
PS. If you buy one new book on writing–make it this one!

Niagara Falls: 10,000 Buddhas

A bad border crossing back, very slow,
And the SUV in front of us held up
As an obviously Muslim family was evicted
Until finally being allowed through.
We were grilled–
Why are you so far from home?
Are you just declaring TWO SCONES?!
And you, usually the most honest of men,
Were bent on smuggling several pounds of slightly sour cherries
Back into the U.S.A.

To read the whole poem in Awaken Consciousness Magazine: http://readacm.com/2013/04/20/niagara-falls-10000-buddhas/

Whatever faults my mother has, my whining exhaustion should not be her elegy by Devon Miller-Duggan

Last week’s assignment in my Intro Poetry Writing class was an elaborately phrased prompt for an elegy (I cannot recommend the prompts in Challenges for the Delusional from Jane St. Press highly enough. I only use a couple of them in the course of the semester because the real reason I have my students buy the book is so that they can take the marvelous thing away from the class with them…). I don’t normally write with my students, which is kind of dumb. Or it’s a reality-based function of the kind of energies involved in teaching. Or, or, or… But I decided that the elegy was timely, at the very least, given that last week my mother came home from the rehab following her back-to-back life-threatening infections (septic pneumonia and c-dif). I’ve been doing a LOT of processing, emotionally since she was ambulanced into the hospital with the pneumonia 6 weeks ago.

Short background: my mother was diagnosed with MS and epilepsy 3 months after the birth of my (developmentally disabled) sister when I was 15. She’s 80 now and in remarkable shape (she was still driving more or less safely until a year ago). I have no other siblings. Except for the year she ran off to California with a couple of grifters (I swear.) in an interesting attempt to “not be a burden” to me, there hasn’t really be a year in which I didn’t spend some time taking care of my mother, even though she has been largely independent for most of it. She’s lived with us full time for the past 11 years.

There aren’t a lot of 80-year old MS patients out there, and the ones there are are in much worse shape than my mother. Which does not mean she’s in terrific shape. She’s frail, has really lousy balance, truly terrifying toenails, no appetite, and a pretty bad attitude. Her speech is impaired, but mostly functional. Her brain’s been sliding away really noticeably for a year now. Hearing’s iffy and interestingly selective. But she’s on no meds and her heart’s strong.

Here’s the thing. I am the core and focus of my mother’s life. Always have been. According to her, every major decision she’s ever made has been made in the context of me. Every. She stayed with my (toxic to/with/around her) father for me. She divorced my father for me. She took up with her long-time incompetent alcoholic boyfriend for me. She stayed with him for me. She moved with him to Cape Cod for me. She had my (sister against all medical logic because she believed she’d have another me. She moved into my house because I wanted her to (nothing to do with the fact that the aforementioned boyfriend drained her finances to the point where she couldn’t keep her house on the Cape…). I am her greatest accomplishment. Otherwise, according to her, her life is a long list of disappointments. She never got her novel published. Or her diet book. She never wrote her second novel. She never got to take enough classes. She never got to travel enough (several trips to Europe and various National Parks notwithstanding). She never got to marry the Great Love of her life (wouldn’t leave his wife). She never got to have a Ph. D. and teach teachers.

She has never understood that I don’t particularly want to be the focus and core of her life. Not fully. She understands, on some important, but subconscious level, that I can’t be an actual grown-up without some sort of separateness from her. But she doesn’t like it. I’ve spent decades having a semi-comic conversation with her about the definitions of passive-aggression and guilt-mongering. Makes me feel better. Rolls off her like water off a charmingly twinkly duck’s back. I love her to pieces, but not quite the way she loves me.

And it’s been a largely highly functional relationship. She’s, of course, generous to a fault, and funny and smart and tolerant of my occasional bouts of bitchery and bluntness. We have a kind of system that has worked pretty well for a long time.

But the past 6 weeks have just about broken me. The hospital was a nightmare—I stayed the first 4 nights to keep her from getting up and falling on her face repeatedly (the nurses couldn’t get there fast enough, even with a bed alarm—she’s weirdly fast for a wobbly 80-year old—as it was she did rip out her lines once…). The rehab was worse. Good rehab, great care, still the most depressing place I’ve ever been. Now she’s home and I’m functioning as her caregiver until we get all the home-health stuff settled and in place. I’m also teaching and caring several morning a week for our 3-year old grandson (a more joyous human never walked the planet) and trying to spend enough time with my brand new granddaughter (oh, yeah, my daughter was in labor for a week in the midst of all this—but she won and got her VBAC and a gorgeous 9.6 lb. baby). I’m tired in ways I have never been before, and angry with my mother (like she timed this on purpose…) for still being alive, for believing that she needs to stay alive because her love is so magical that it somehow sustains me and all the air around me (that’s not actually a very exaggerated version of things she has said), and for needing me so very, very, very much.

So I’m having a little trouble with the elegy. I’d like it to be about the absolute animal joy of my mother bodysurfing with her granddaughters on a beach on Cape Cod Bay one perfect summer day when the normally mild waves were just energized enough to be perfect for it. I’d like it to be about how, even now, when she looks at trees, she’s trying to figure out whether they’d be good to climb (she was a great tomboy as a kid). I’d like it to be about the ferociousness and generosity of her love for her family. About her playing Rummy with my husband most days and the two of them squabbling like siblings. About how, at Yosemite and Bryce and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Acadia and Zion, she thanked us over and over and kept saying “I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life!”

But right now, all I can think about when I wake in the morning is how, no matter what else the day holds or needs, it will be another day of begging her to eat and cleaning up her messes and having her ask me repeatedly “What do I do next?” and telling me—achingly and repeatedly—how very much she loves me. Another day of one knife in the heart after another. Another day of realizing that my love has limits, that it can be worn down, wrung out, drained off, and then telling myself that caring for her body is, right now, enough of whatever ultimately indefinable thing love is. And kind of loathing myself for whining. Whatever faults my mother has, my whining exhaustion should not be her elegy.
Last week’s assignment in my Intro Poetry Writing class was an elaborately phrased prompt for an elegy (I cannot recommend the prompts in Challenges for the Delusional from Jane St. Press highly enough. I only use a couple of them in the course of the semester because the real reason I have my students buy the book is so that they can take the marvelous thing away from the class with them…). I don’t normally write with my students, which is kind of dumb. Or it’s a reality-based function of the kind of energies involved in teaching. Or, or, or… But I decided that the elegy was timely, at the very least, given that last week my mother came home from the rehab following her back-to-back life-threatening infections (septic pneumonia and c-dif). I’ve been doing a LOT of processing, emotionally since she was ambulanced into the hospital with the pneumonia 6 weeks ago.

Short background: my mother was diagnosed with MS and epilepsy 3 months after the birth of my (developmentally disabled) sister when I was 15. She’s 80 now and in remarkable shape (she was still driving more or less safely until a year ago). I have no other siblings. Except for the year she ran off to California with a couple of grifters (I swear.) in an interesting attempt to “not be a burden” to me, there hasn’t really be a year in which I didn’t spend some time taking care of my mother, even though she has been largely independent for most of it. She’s lived with us full time for the past 11 years.

There aren’t a lot of 80-year old MS patients out there, and the ones there are are in much worse shape than my mother. Which does not mean she’s in terrific shape. She’s frail, has really lousy balance, truly terrifying toenails, no appetite, and a pretty bad attitude. Her speech is impaired, but mostly functional. Her brain’s been sliding away really noticeably for a year now. Hearing’s iffy and interestingly selective. But she’s on no meds and her heart’s strong.

Here’s the thing. I am the core and focus of my mother’s life. Always have been. According to her, every major decision she’s ever made has been made in the context of me. Every. She stayed with my (toxic to/with/around her) father for me. She divorced my father for me. She took up with her long-time incompetent alcoholic boyfriend for me. She stayed with him for me. She moved with him to Cape Cod for me. She had my (sister against all medical logic because she believed she’d have another me. She moved into my house because I wanted her to (nothing to do with the fact that the aforementioned boyfriend drained her finances to the point where she couldn’t keep her house on the Cape…). I am her greatest accomplishment. Otherwise, according to her, her life is a long list of disappointments. She never got her novel published. Or her diet book. She never wrote her second novel. She never got to take enough classes. She never got to travel enough (several trips to Europe and various National Parks notwithstanding). She never got to marry the Great Love of her life (wouldn’t leave his wife). She never got to have a Ph. D. and teach teachers.

She has never understood that I don’t particularly want to be the focus and core of her life. Not fully. She understands, on some important, but subconscious level, that I can’t be an actual grown-up without some sort of separateness from her. But she doesn’t like it. I’ve spent decades having a semi-comic conversation with her about the definitions of passive-aggression and guilt-mongering. Makes me feel better. Rolls off her like water off a charmingly twinkly duck’s back. I love her to pieces, but not quite the way she loves me.

And it’s been a largely highly functional relationship. She’s, of course, generous to a fault, and funny and smart and tolerant of my occasional bouts of bitchery and bluntness. We have a kind of system that has worked pretty well for a long time.

But the past 6 weeks have just about broken me. The hospital was a nightmare—I stayed the first 4 nights to keep her from getting up and falling on her face repeatedly (the nurses couldn’t get there fast enough, even with a bed alarm—she’s weirdly fast for a wobbly 80-year old—as it was she did rip out her lines once…). The rehab was worse. Good rehab, great care, still the most depressing place I’ve ever been. Now she’s home and I’m functioning as her caregiver until we get all the home-health stuff settled and in place. I’m also teaching and caring several morning a week for our 3-year old grandson (a more joyous human never walked the planet) and trying to spend enough time with my brand new granddaughter (oh, yeah, my daughter was in labor for a week in the midst of all this—but she won and got her VBAC and a gorgeous 9.6 lb. baby). I’m tired in ways I have never been before, and angry with my mother (like she timed this on purpose…) for still being alive, for believing that she needs to stay alive because her love is so magical that it somehow sustains me and all the air around me (that’s not actually a very exaggerated version of things she has said), and for needing me so very, very, very much.

So I’m having a little trouble with the elegy. I’d like it to be about the absolute animal joy of my mother bodysurfing with her granddaughters on a beach on Cape Cod Bay one perfect summer day when the normally mild waves were just energized enough to be perfect for it. I’d like it to be about how, even now, when she looks at trees, she’s trying to figure out whether they’d be good to climb (she was a great tomboy as a kid). I’d like it to be about the ferociousness and generosity of her love for her family. About her playing Rummy with my husband most days and the two of them squabbling like siblings. About how, at Yosemite and Bryce and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Acadia and Zion, she thanked us over and over and kept saying “I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life!”

But right now, all I can think about when I wake in the morning is how, no matter what else the day holds or needs, it will be another day of begging her to eat and cleaning up her messes and having her ask me repeatedly “What do I do next?” and telling me—achingly and repeatedly—how very much she loves me. Another day of one knife in the heart after another. Another day of realizing that my love has limits, that it can be worn down, wrung out, drained off, and then telling myself that caring for her body is, right now, enough of whatever ultimately indefinable thing love is. And kind of loathing myself for whining. Whatever faults my mother has, my whining exhaustion should not be her elegy.

Jose Angel Araguz answers the question “When did you start writing?”

In regards to the question “When did you start writing?” I give several answers depending on context.

If it’s a professional context, I say seventeen, that being the year that I first typed up, printed, and sent off poems to a real lit mag. I call it the year I began to take my writing seriously, the act of sending my poems out into the world for consideration an act of considering them worth, uhm, considering. (Two got published on that first try – bless those forgiving editors!)

If it’s more of the “When did you know you were a writer?” kind of question, then I go a little farther back. I talk about how as a kid I used to rewrite lyrics to songs I heard on the radio, how I filled up notebooks with various takes on other people’s melodies.

I look back and realize that putting my words into other people’s songs probably taught me something about form, about structure and rhyme. What exactly I learned, I don’t know. (I’m a terrible rhymer in poems!)

The core of the experience, though, cultivated an obsession with words – sounds, meaning, phrasing – of saying something and saying it concisely, aptly. Inevitably.

I threw away those notebooks sometime in middle school – a friend found me scribbling in one of them and asked what I wrote. I said homework, tucked it away, and later that night tossed them all into the garbage. Not a scrap remains.

What has stayed with me through the years is a distinct respect and fascination with song lyrics.

In this spirit, let me share some of the lyrics of French singer Manu Chao!

I have been listening to his first album “Clandestino” non-stop this week. Manu Chao, after being in a few other bands, took to traveling and picking up different influences from the various street music he encountered to create a hybrid sound that is as much diverse as it is simple. His songs remind me of Garcia Lorca being influenced by the folk culture of Andalusia. His traveling manifests itself in his writing songs in French, Spanish,Italian Galician, Arabic, and Portuguese.

Here’s a line that I keep turning over my head:

El hambre viene, el hombre se va –

(Hunger comes, man leaves)

This is a fine line – more than that, you see in the words themselves how one letter changing (hambre = hombre) evokes so much of the meaning of the line. Now, take the line within its context in the song “El Viento (The Wind)”:

El viento viene
El viento se va
Por la frontera

El viento viene
El viento se va

El hambre viene
El hombre se va
Sin mas razon…

(The wind comes
The wind goes
Across the frontier

The wind comes
The wind goes

Hunger comes
Man leaves
Without a reason…)
***

Suddenly the words take on a whole other meaning. That change from ‘a’ to ‘o’ in the words (hambre/hombre) seem almost a trick of the wind itself, the same wind that is being sung about.

Part of my general fascination with song lyrics is how you can do certain things in a song that you can’t do in a poem. I say this not to discredit one side or the other but to show them both as the formidable modes of expression that they are.

In his lyrics, the wordplay of hambre/hombre play out concisely the theme of vagabond that Manu Chao explores throughout his whole first album. Taken solely as words, the line is simply a proverb. But put to music, put within the larger context of musing on wind and then the even larger context of an album about transiency and the line becomes downright mythic.

***
For the complete essay and more on this writer, click here.