How Not to Write a Poem
Keep busy. Clean the house.
Empty the kitchen cabinets.
Scrub them out. Put it all back.
Organize the junk drawer.
No music. No dancing.
No long walks unless talking
and texting with friends
at the same time.
Read a light novel. Or two.
Or three. Do not read poems.
Watch the news. Get angry.
Go shopping. Drive fast.
Avoid introspection. Do not meditate.
Ignore your dreams. Always do two
or three things at once. Watch
television while on the internet.
Pay no attention to non-human
animals. Stay out of the woods.
Avoid gardens, lakes, strange
neighborhoods, and the sea.
At all costs avoid the sea.
Develop an active social life.
Resist solitude. Party hard.
Don’t wake up.
Calling the Ghost
How long must I sit on your grave
to elicit a visitation? Must I fast?
Must I meditate on the vastness
of the universe of death? Must
I count my own? Must I arrive
at midnight to pull your ashes
back to some semblance of you?
If I wake, if I sleep, will you come
to me, shambling, silent, silhouetted
against the summer moon? Will you
speak? I closed your eyes with my own
hand. I sat at your side and waited.
Now I sit on your grave, and wait.
I wrap myself against the night,
I sit on the cold ground, where you
are not. And wait.
My dead lover's lover
My dead lover’s lover
will visit me today. She
was one of a crowd,
invisible to me, ghosts
flitting through our rooms,
a glimpse, a hairpin
in the bed sheets,
an alien scent in the hollow
of his shoulder.
Our pasts unspool
behind us, already
poorly edited, suffering
from murky narratives,
weak direction, too many
bad actors, too much left
on the cutting room floor.
What does forgiveness
Let us examine the symbolism of dreams
The falling dream. The flying dream.
The dream in which you lose your teeth.
The abandoned kittens, the lost dogs,
the infant floating in its cradle on the lake.
The woman weeping, alone, in the forest.
The beast with an urgent message,
a critical missive you don't understand.
You fall, and someone offers his hand.
You reach out, but your fingers slip
through one another like light, like water.
You walk through the rooms of your life.
They are laid out, one by one, like a rail-
road flat with no corridors, no hallways.
You watch your own life pass as though
in a mirror, somehow reversed, somehow
not quite as it was. You arrive at now.
You wake in the fog of morning, slanted
bars of light on the ceiling. These dreams
wrap the shoulders of your waking hours,
a hooded shawl for your long, flat days.
—"First, all belief is paradise. So pliable a medium.
A time not very long" —Monday by Lisa Robertson
Five days I sat on the ground
in the Carnival Man’s booth. Such
delicacy bloomed from his mouth,
his hands, from fire, from thin
rods of glass. I watched him make
ponies and cats, spotted giraffes,
ballerinas with pink slippers.
He spoke to me in a language
I did not know, but understood:
caballo, gato, jirafa, bailarin.
He sold them. But at the end
of each day, there was one for me.
For my attention. For my desire.
Fragile treasures, too ornate
for beauty, but pleasing to a child’s
eye. Time – dust and dusters, cats
and the curious, covetous hands
of children – made them dangerous.
The pony lost its head, the ballerina
cannot stand. Mended and broken
and mended again, sharp-edged
and enticing, too pretty for boisterous
life, unbalanced, they lean against
the back of the antique china cabinet.
The space between
of a dying friend
Why Not to Write Poems
“I’m a poet” makes for awkward social introductions.
No one reads poetry anymore. It’s old-fashioned,
irrelevant, and adolescent.
You don’t see the universe in the heart of a lily.
It just spits orange pollen all over your black turtleneck
and makes you sneeze.
Grammar is confusing. Poems are unnecessary.
They make nothing happen.* They don’t even
You are insufficiently weird. Only goth teens,
hippies, queers, suicidal women, and old people
Poets have to read poems. You read a poem once.
You hated it. The only famous poets are dead poets.
There are no rich poets.
You have no talent. You’re the wrong ethnicity.
You don’t know enough big words. You’ve got no
rhythm. And WTF are “line breaks”?
You’ve read that it takes years of study and practice
to write even one good poem. The only easy-to-write
poems are list poems. And they’re boring.
Listen. I will tell you everything. The weather is turning.
Soon it will be time to unroll the Persian rugs and lay them
on the polished floors.
I will hold nothing back. I am brittle, like glass; like leaves
of a tree too long without water; a cocoon, untenanted,
exposed to the sun.
This morning I wore a jacket to walk the river path. Two crows,
in their black robes, pecked at the body of a thick green snake.
My mother was a northerner.
She carried me across thin ice. Many times I slipped beneath
the frozen water. I never knew my father. Tomatoes are laid
on the kitchen counter,
red bulbs on the maple wood. I prepare the knife: steel blade,
sharpening stone. I want to slice to the seedy centers without
bruising the skin.
I loved my father. He had perfect, beautiful hands. He kept
them manicured and clean. There are reasons you must not
touch me. My grandmother
lived with God in her garden. She fed me carrots and peas,
she put white lilies by my bed. I am telling you everything.
It is cold here.
Birch trees bend in their white sleeves, leaves hissing in the wind.
A blade of sun slants down, casting serrated shadows on the hard
ground. Are you listening?
Do you understand? The dog waits, and waits, at the door.
Yesterday, I dropped the Murano vase. It cannot be repaired.
I cut myself on sharp, thin air.
The weight of a man on a woman
is like falling into the river without drowning.
—"Two" by Linda Hogan
There are things that can’t be measured or weighed.
The length of a liar’s tongue.
The number of nudges required to push
a specific person off a particular ledge.
The weight of a man on a woman who loves him
compared the weight of the same man
on a woman who does not.
The number of stones a single heart can hold
without drowning. Stars in the universe, feral
cats in the woods, fallen sparrows.
The speed and trajectory of a kind or hurtful word.
The number of molecules in the scent of lust.
The location and direction of a particle
at once. How many moments it takes
to make a life.
How many wounds to take one.
Ode to April
The waxwings have come and gone.
Blue stars open in the garden, a blue
deeper than dusk. Seasonal worries
are still a ways off: flooding rivers,
drought in the fields, fire in dry woods.
Fire leaping across the tops of trees,
toward town. For now, as distant
as World War III, and as close. We
turn off our furnaces, shake out
the rugs, sweep the bare floors.
The ash trees, bereft of berries,
push out buds. Squirrels dig
in the unfrozen flower beds,
searching out remnants of last
year’s treasures. The house cat
watches from the window. What
do seasons mean to her? In an old
woman’s memory, these years blur
together. Once there were young
men, piled like kindling, hard as
seasoned wood. All gone now.
In the late evening
In the late evening, when I go to close
the shutters, I see the cold moon
in the eastern sky. Snow, still,
in shadowed places.
My dog is going deaf. He takes
the stairs with care. The cat,
startled, leaves bloody slashes
along my arm. I scar easily.
I wrap myself in my house, like
an old, favored sweater. Well-
worn, shabby, stained.
Shall I think the best of you and so
be taken for a fool? Or the worst,
and so be safely cynical,