Monday, August 31, 2020

Sealey Challenge, Day 31

What a month, what a challenge, and what a joy: to read a book of poems a day in August. Here they are! A big thank you to poet Nicole Sealey, who dreamed up this challenge to make sure people made time to read poetry! I'm glad to have made the time, and it was fascinating to see the connections I felt to the poems and poets, and the connections between the poems in the books. 

Today I met again fire, tornado, television, and elegy in Fimbul-Winter, by Debra Allbery (Four Way Books, 2020). Holy moly, do I know how to pick them or what? I put this one on the pile back in the super-hot days, thinking winter images might give me a little relief from the heat. But the weather changed, and it's gorgeous. And now I realized I've ended with Fimbul-Winter, aka Fimbulvetr of Norse mythology, "the harsh winter that precedes the end of the world and puts an end to all life on Earth." Just what we need.*

This was a cold book. It wasn't always winter in the book, but it always felt cold--and mysterious and haunted. "Chronic Town" describes "that icebound city" where:

     In the library, the homeless slept upright
     at long tables, gripping their open books."

Of course, I watched some short training videos at work today on the homeless in the library. I worry about them this winter, if libraries have to close again, or have severely limited hours due to Covid. A Fimbulvetr, indeed.

The post office is under siege but there are still letters in Allbery's poems! Letters to a lost love. "This morning / I drove twelve miles just to mail a letter." And "Sometimes I still address / envelopes to you, I even stamp them, / stand them empty, weightless on my desk." Well, that's a lonely image. It's in the poem "Constellation" (which is a letter, opening, "Dear C--"), where I learned more about Orion:

     I know that Orion means foot-turning wanderer.
     That Rigel, the brilliant star marking his left foot,
     is actually two stars revolving around each other.

I'm going to stand looking up at the sky tonight, for sure.

In "Firelands," I learned again about the mine fire, still burning, that wrecked an Ohio town and met up with two random coincidii: 1) I also have Ohio family connections and 2) I also propped up my window today with a stick of wood, similar to this:

                                                       In summer,
     propping up my bedroom window with a scrap
     of plywood, the heft and heavy rattle of warped glass.

My window is still propped open now, with crickets calling me out to see Rigel

In "After Vermeer," the husband is up on the roof clearing out the gutters in the rain, in a dream, just like my husband, in waking life. And while I read this afternoon, the neighbor girl came out again, wildly singing in the breeze. It's September tomorrow and September in the poem "The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling," but it's still cold.

     The sun could never find its way
     to our windows; the walls were thick
     as a bunker's, stolid, stone and stone
     and stone.

A bunker is a good place to wait out the end of the world, right? This is the September of 9/11, and she's home in their stone cottage with a sick baby:

     That September morning's iris of sky just as fierce,
     stripped and raw, too close; I shielded the baby
     with my shadow. Then the quiet was tipped
     by the ratchet of a kingfisher plummeting
     from the power lines into the dark mirror
     of our pond.

This baby brings some welcome joy into her life and this book. "Where is our laugh?" he asks. "Where does it live inside us?" And so do "[t]umbleweeds...wild as untethered joy..." But this Fimbul-Winter feels cold throughout, even the fire moments, even the feverish moments, cleaving to its title and theme. I was astonished by the clarity, and a circling back, of this set of lines in Part 4, Death in the Woods, of "In the Pines":

                                          The point

     of the story is to keep her cold mystery,
     keep that circle drawn around her

     higher and higher, a glass wall, keep everyone
     from getting any closer.

*Also, I should maybe now watch Thor: Ragnorok, which is also about this, and to make it a Thor's Day on a Blue Monday, and, of course, a Poetry Someday and the recurring Random Coinciday in the blog. (Wait, does that movie poster say November 3?!** Aauughh!) Tomorrow I resume a previous project: chalkboard poems! The plan is a short poem a day on the green easel chalkboard beside my front stoop, poems posted at Facebook and Instagram, and I'll probably tell you about them sometimes here, too!

**This movie is already out--came out in 2017, like several of the books I read!--but November 3 is looming as the end of the world, alas. Please, please vote, America, and save us all.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Turn Left Before Morning

Whether on purpose or by accident, I keep reading the right book on the right day, adding to the pile up of random coincidii... Yesterday, I mentioned resting after gardening, with poetry, and today, in Zoom Church, the theme was rest, which I did not do. Instead, I brought up more boxes from the basement, recycled and rearranged, and took (much less) back downstairs in a (much more) waterproof way with (a little bit) more organization. Then I read Turn Left Before Morning, by April Salzano (Rattle, 2016), and wrote in my (new, as in, found in one of the boxes) little notebook, "OMG, this woman can never rest!"

She's the mother of two sons, and her poems show her valiant efforts to be a good mom to both, in a life overtaken by the challenges of her son who has autism. She must be exhausted. She drops us into her life right away, with "Maybe God," the first poem, which begins, "Maybe God is in the broom closet / at my autistic son's elementary school..." We see him in various grades, in diapers, naked running down the hall, with various frustrations and quiet joys. And her joy is there, too, in rare and brief glowing moments. There is so much straight talk in this, grief and annoyance, ambivalence, and love, love, love. 

"I used to love dogs," she says in the poem "Clarabel." "Before kids and autism and bankruptcy and marriage and remarriage," and these troubles go on, until, "I lost something, some fraction of the capacity to love." To love dogs, that is, "to love just one more thing that needed loving." I get it, and it's OK. She's got her hands full, and there are plenty of dog lovers out there, and love to go around.

This poem hit the spot for its title, "Late Summer Sun," and opening reference, I think, to Stevie Smith's "Not Waving but Drowning." Salzano begins:

     I watch the trees outside the special school,
     not waving but standing
     still as any August. I am waiting
     for the wide doors to slide open,
     wheelchairs to be ushered forth
     like carnival rides. I hold tight
     to this latest pearl in a string 
     of promises, little hopes so easy to lose.

Here, in this back-to-school time for many, Salzano has already tried many schools. And I see in her blog, that "the new normal" of Covid is a way of life--the isolation, missing the (old) normal, expected things--that she is already used to.

I was struck by the turn that happens in "And on the Other Hand," the turn toward joy, and how this also matches what Lucia Perillo says about how a poem takes a turn. To quote Perillo again for a moment:

                                                    ...a poem, the tradition of which
     pretty much demands that the reader be told off the bat
     what a muckheap the world is. But then comes the swerve
     where the poet flipflops or digresses
     to come up with something that the muckheap
     will surprise you with.

And, as Salzano turns it, 

     Random fits of so much
     joy your heart tears
     and becomes two.

And then she turns it again, in the nightmarish, "Last Night I Ran Over My Autistic Son," so real I didn't know it was a nightmare. (Also because I know of a poet to whom this happened.) But this is where she "turned left before / morning," thank God. 

And the struggles and heartbreaks and goofy moments and giggling and love were able to go on.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Oldest Map with the Name America

Today I rose early, before dawn. Once it was light, I gardened--watering, weeding, clipping, collecting cosmos seeds in an envelope--because it was finally cool enough, breezy enough. Then I rested, and read The Oldest Map with the Name America; New and Selected Poems by Lucia Perillo (Random House, 1999). I first started reading her poems in the 1990s, when she lived part of the year in Washington state and part in Southern Illinois, where she taught. This book culls poems from Dangerous Life (1989) and The Body Mutinies (1996), giving many, many new poems in Part 3. The oldest map of the world that names America is a woodcut wall map in 12 panels by Martin Waldseemuller from 1507, where, as Perillo puts it, "the world approximates that shape we call a heart."

I've been surprised by the coincidences in what I've read this month--a few being the recurrence of mosh pits, kimonos, television shows, among them, Star Trek, fire--and how I've been choosing books with America in the title or in the cover image. It's as if I want America to be better, to be saved. "Sometimes I feel history slipping from my body / like a guilty bone," says Perillo, and sometimes I feel that, too.

But let me give you fragments again, the random coincidii, and the glorious search for beauty in "The Revelation" and other poems: "you will find that beauty, a cataclysmic / beauty rising off the face of the burning landscape..." Fire haunts me again as a reader here, and in "La Vie en Rose," with Edith Piaf singing in the background in the car as her family flees a fire on the Jersey Turnpike. And in the beautiful "Ghost Shirt," Perillo juxtaposes a visit to the Museum of Natural History in New York City with the LA Riots in reaction to the acquittal of the officers who beat up Rodney King, and New York's response. Alas, history is still slipping from the body of America like a guilty bone. The "ghost shirt" hangs there as a warning in the museum, and, in history, for Indian warriors who need to take up the fight:

     A quote on the wall from the Paiute messiah
     said Indians who don't believe in the ghost dance

     will grow little, just about a foot high,
     and stay that way. Then some of those
     will be turned into wood and burned in fire

But at the end of the poem, after a fearful subway ride, she makes it safely home. "And the only fires were the tiny flames / of people holding candles, outside the public library." Thanks for that vigil, and that location! But I'm ahead of myself.

Perillo was a park ranger as well as a poet. She'd go up into the mountains to be alone and to listen:

     One reason I went up there was because at sundown
     when the wind climbed the back of the mountains
     along with the spreading violet light,
     you could hear the distinct murmuring that the Indians said
     were the collective voices of the dead.

I've heard that, too, in the wind of my own back yard. And speaking of mountains, another connection--to the purple mountains of the song but also to yesterday's Breathing Between the Lines, though, as Perillo notes, "when you get there, the mountains are never purple."

And in "Palimpsest" (a word I have to look up every single time*), I find again "those seven thousand plastic ducks / shucked loose when their cargo ship broke up at sea," that I'd read about in the news, but forgotten for a while. And "This I commit to memory forever: the command / I closed my eyes and forced myself to swallow like a hook" so she wouldn't forget certain wonderful things. I've done that! But I kept my eyes open that beautiful, breezy summer day--a day like today!--in the yard of my family home with my dog, and I have never forgotten that moment, that day, that dog, Dulcie!

*a piece of writing or art where the original has been erased or obscured by what came after; layers, as of history or nature working in this same way to cover but also possibly reveal what came before....

I love that she likes Edward Hopper paintings, and has a poem about them (so do I!), specifically "the women in Hopper's paintings," and how they are in natural poses, not poses at all like odalisques looking back over their shoulders, just natural women, really "all share the body of his wife, Jo, whom he drew / often with a crumbly rust-colored crayon / called sanguine, I've learned: French for blood."

Oh, I could go on and on with what I love, but I'll stop here, quoting a little bit from "The Sportsmen's Guide," a poem in honor of the birth of her nephew:

     you could even write a poem, the tradition of which
     pretty much demands that the reader be told off the bat
     what a muckheap the world is. But then comes the swerve
     where the poet flipflops or digresses
     to come up with something that the muckheap
     will surprise you with.

I hope so. We need some good surprises. Soon. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Breathing Between the Lines

It's almost September, and I've almost filled up the little notebook I'm using to take notes on these 31+ books I'm reading in August for the Sealey Challenge. Today it was Breathing Between the Lines, by Demetria Martinez (University of Arizona Press, 1997). This was a fascinating book of love poems, political poems, bilingual poems, poems immersed in language itself, with an essay at the end (linking it to the Poetry East: Origins anthology of poems with essays, and making it another Random Coinciday in the blog!) The essay is about process, yes, but also about the U.S. government taking her to court for her poem, "Nativity, for Two Salvadoran Women," and for smuggling two pregnant women across the border with a Lutheran minister as part of a Sanctuary movement. She and the minister were acquitted, but it was a lengthy and grueling process. It stopped her writing, before it led to a novel, and poetry came back later still.

As one of her poems is called "Fragmentos/Fragments," I will also give you some fragments that stuck out for me for various reasons.

From "Milagros": "the time has come to storm heaven." This meant what it meant in its own context ("after a painting by Francisco LeFebre") and time, but it seems so timely now!

I love how the title, "Before You," sets up the first line of this poem: "My poems had no you."

In "Everywoman," probably because of the food and because I was once in a play called The Clean House," these lines stuck out: "All I want / is a clean house // Salsa on Muenster cheese / Pan dulce."

Today, we need rain, it's hot, the air is heavy, so I reinterpret "History" for its present resonance: "We prayed for rain / and the rain came." I hope it does, overnight!

In "We Talk About Spanish," a poem about language and love: "I crossed over to him / Fearless as a spider," so I have to tell you I found a spider on this book, and it crossed over to me!

In "Translation from the Vietnamese," she "hold[s] a poem up to the light

     until it can be heard
     above the detonations

     in the crumpled silk of the jungle
     a six-toned wood flute
     the sound of one hand writing
     down the worlds that survived

In the fragments poem, she examines the difficulties of language, how it changes us:

     In moments of grace,
     poetry or prayer,
     English uses me.

     But most of the time, I use it.
     I do not always like what I
     have become in this tongue.

Oh, I have to note the irony of these lines right now, from "Wanted": "American your face is on wanted posters in post offices." Or should be. "Remember remember who you are America / Purple mountain majesty above fruited plains / worked by mejicanos."

And as the summer cicadas sing in my own back yard, I love this unique image: "cicadas hum like / gourds on ankles of pueblo dancers." What a month I'm having, learning so much through poetry!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Dear Future

For the #SealeyChallenge today, Day 27, I read Dear Future, by Nina Corwin (Glass Lyre Press, 2017). What a great cover, right? It's by Bliksem Steen. I know Nina from my Chicago days, and we've worked together on readings at Woman Made Gallery. I've enjoyed her company and her poems for many years. What a fun and strikingly pertinent book this is, full of delightful titles, matching their provocative content, which pursues the promised theme of the future. Nina is also a psychotherapist, so you can bet these poems are wise, philosophical, and insightful.

Examples of the delightful titles: "Poem in Which I Go to the Movies* and See My Future in the Previews," "Poem With a Line From an Ad for Capital One," "What to Pack for the Apocalypse."

*And today two local movie theatres, maybe more, are talking about re-opening! Alas, as our Covid-19 rate is rising, and I expect mitigation measures soon....

I loved looking through "Darwin's Telescope" at lines like these:

     Pretty soon, belief becomes suspension bridge.

     Not long after, I take Underdog,with his little white U and blue cartoon cape, to be my psychic savior.


     I, too, have my hungers. The hunter-gatherer in me. The need to name on the table of my tongue. The need the need the need

From "What to Pack..." this scary couplet:

     When heads of state play chicken
     on a cliff, the speed of the hotrod is everybody's business.

From "In Due Time," a set of letters addressed, "Dear Future":

     Our steps are bedeviled
     with questions: What
     will we be

     when we grow up? Will we walk
     through a door or fall
     off the edge?

And this terribly pertinent couple of lines, standing out in my Covid reading: "...Spare no expense // on the latest vaccine."

I love those swinging light bulbs, Nina's big ideas, but the sepia gloom of our possible future scares me, moths coming for the light.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

In America


OK, now I am a little in love with Diana Goetsch, after reading In America (Rattle, 2017). I’m also a little in love with Victoria in the poem “Starbucks Name.” “Victoria is 61 and a grandfather,” but she loves her name at Starbuck’s, written on her coffee cup daily and called out in the shop. Victoria takes pictures of her name on these cups, even though  

     Her wife hates her breasts, hates her
     risking her career and pension to be doing this,
     which is also what I’m doing, though I don’t
     have a wife or family. 

I love how the speaker of these poems is sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes the child who wanted a “Lock on my door,” and put it at the top of his Christmas list every year, “above dirt bike, New / England Patriots jersey, Xbox 360.”  

I loved learning about the Fabric Factory, “the only safe tranny bar in New York City," a bar in the Garment District, full of fabulous people, 

     Also me, dressed like a secretary in a Talbot’s blouse
     and pencil skirt, black pumps, clip-on earrings that ached
     by midnight, nude pantyhose, arm hair shaved back
     for rolled-up sleeves, chest hair cleared for the top two buttons
     to be undone, silk scarf knotted over Adam’s apple,
     blue tint of subcutaneous beard visible in a camera flash,
     but otherwise fabulous.

Definitely fabulous. 

The poems are funny, sharp, powerful, clear, and poignant. The poet loses lovers and friends but feels a “Whole Lotta Love” for many, and wishes that arguments could end by “saying, ‘I need to check on the cornbread.’” Goetsche had me at hello, as they say, in the title poem, also the opening poem, about an incident with airport security agents. 

     I’m still waiting to hear about
     the complaint I filed, the one that,

     along with the viral video of them
     repeatedly calling me “it,” shut down
     the TSA website for three days

     while they rewrote the rules about me.
     “You could be charged for this,”
     friends warn me, but in America

     it can’t be libel if it’s true.

I hope that’s still true in America. These are weird times. I do know that NBA players can shut down NBA playoff games to protest racial injustice and police brutality. Resist, persist.

Update: Plus WNBA + MLB!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Check & Balance + haori

Today I read two lovely chapbooks by Luisa A. Igloria, the new Poet Laureate ofVirginia and also someone who has been writing a poem a day for years, years! You can find them at Dave Bonta’s Via Negativa and learn here about how she used his short musings at his Morning Porch as prompts for poems! 

Check & Balance (Locofo Chaps, an imprint of Moria Books, 2017) gave me the news of the day, which is all too pertinent still—hatred and expulsion of immigrants in “Color Theme” and in “Restriction,” about how the US denied visas to the “first / all-female soccer team from Tibet,” alas! “The sign once said ‘guest,’ / but I read ghost,” begins one such poem. 

There was a poem about the “Thrilla in Manila” fight of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, with an internal refrain of “anything can happen.” Indeed! 

And there is the beautiful anchor of the title poem, where people come forward to help a man in the station who has fallen on the escalator. Everyone, with whatever is at hand, comes to help! 

                                              All this
     happened swiftly, with very few words
     exchanged—only the movement of hands
     and bodies wanting to save: strangers
     lifting the stricken one….

I sighed in astonishment and relief! 

The Check & Balance cover image above is ©2017, Nash Tysmans, a photograph taken in Kalinga, Philippines. The cover art for haori (Tea & Tattered Pages #2, 2017) is by Jennifer Patricia A. Cariño, for this hand-stitched chapbook. A haori is a kimono-like Japanese jacket. I so love learning things in poems. 

Let me give you some beautiful lines from the poems in haori!  They come from a sectioned poem called "Arguments with Destiny":  "The commercial said Love does not comfort. Perhaps not by itself / is what they mean; perhaps the top of the piano must come up.I have not seen this commercial. Maybe there is a piano in it! But I took it metaphorically, and also Emily Dickinson-ly, feeling the lines take the top of my head off, as in all real poetry! Like this:

     The day we looked for my mother
     was the day she refused to be found.

Oh, how grief begins! But let me end with this excerpt from “Arguments with Destiny,” since it is another terribly hot day in terribly hard times: 

     The fig and the plum burst

     out of their skins because heat
     has unstitched them, not

     because their hearts constrict
     from a sadness they cannot bear.

Monday, August 24, 2020

What Keeps Us Here

Today, in the cool comfort of my home office, because it was too hot outside, I read What Keeps Us Here, by Allison Joseph (Ampersand Press, 1992). This must be a re-read, as all the sweetness, particular candies, and images of "Penny Candy" came rushing back to me, but I probably didn't read it back in 1992, when I had a two-year-old and was in graduate school. I remembered vividly. too, the innocent thrill of "[f]our brown skinned young girls" discovering their naked bodies in a basement in the poem "Accomplices." And the sorrow of losing her mother to cancer. 

Probably different things took hold of me this time. This time, I was struck, in "Endurance," by these two lines: "I should say this plainly: / a woman, dying, seeks God." Yes, so plain, so strong. And the terrible, beautiful, true moment, in "At That Moment," of learning of her mother's death by telephone while away at school. This one connects with a story told yesterday, on Zoom, of when our family friend learned of her father's death by phone while staying with my parents. She wailed all night long, and my mother sat up with her. And, in Joseph's poem, "They put me to rest / in the narrow dorm bed, / my room now strange, unfamiliar..." The disorientation of trauma, of grief.

Later, some comfort from "The Idiot Box." I was glad to see again "Lucy bawling after Ricky, The Odd Couple / clashing, Spock and Captain Kirk / on the flimsy set of the Enterprise" via reruns on late-night tv. Then the poems "Falling Out of History," its content and its epigraph by James Baldwin, and "Broadside: from Decade's End" connect to my side-by-side nonfiction reading this week: We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I have just finished his essay on Malcolm X, and here in Joseph's book I read:

     First day freshman year,
     I saw two other black faces,
     was dumbfounded later when
     a roommate asked, What's lynching?
     her eyes lifted from Malcolm X's story.

But back to life in the tender and fleeting moment. I love this imagery in "Rationale," a poem about visiting "the fire-singed tenement" of an old lover:

     Now we're nervous memorabilia:
     letters, cards, one pressed flower,
     colorless. Wanting you, I'm skittish,
     quick as a hand of three card monte.

And my heart is breaking at the beautiful lovemaking "keeping us here just one moment / longer" (love that line break!) in "Preservation" and risky nights of "In Fear of Sleep": "I may seem frail, but it's / you who fights, who could / blink away before I could // do anything." The fragility of life so present:

     you might not wake--your breath
     stopping dozens of times
     throughout the night, heart
     thudding to keep you alive.

In "What Keeps Us Here" are lines that remind us that we slip away:

                        Soon you'll sleep,
     close your eyes to drift
     through its uneasy thoroughfares,

     its way stations and islands
     of dream, terrain where your footing
     slips, balance sliding out

     from under you.

I wish Allison well in her ongoing grief, and thank her for these poems.

Sunday, August 23, 2020


Vasectomania by Matthew Guenette (University of Akron Press, 2017) is simultaneously hilarious and melancholy, confessional and philosophical, tender and irreverent, so I loved it! I read my copy outside (like the cover image) in the cool, partly cloudy morning. It's an inscribed copy (!) from when I brought Matt Guenette back to Normal, where I had first met him, to read with Matthew Murrey in the Poetry is Normal Presents reading series at the Normal Public Library. It was the day of two Matthews, which, as the poem "Mountain Goats" reveals, has happened before: "My roommates / were all named Matt.....Matts and more Matts / like a clown car of roommates..." (I wrote about the other Matthew here.)

The poems are about the glories and horrors of marriage, parenting, and adulthood--hence, the humor, plus a lot of diapers. Random coincidii abound. For example, from the poem "Bastille Day," the lines "For the way we refrain / from eating our young" connected to a review I just read in a recycled (to me) New Yorker, about the movie Mr. Jones and the book Red Famine by Anne Applebaum, who wrote about Stalin's starvation policy in the Ukraine. Reviewer Anthony Lane says, "Some parents consumed their offspring, survived, and, having woken to the realization of what they had done, went mad." Guenette only does this metaphorically, with Cheerios and a (broken) vacuum cleaner, sometimes screaming at a clogged toilet.

I loved lines like, "Even a cat will eat Bugles," found in the poem "Communion." (My communion this morning, during Zoom Church, was, as usual, gummy vitamins and water, this time with lemon slices floating in it.) Followed by, "Even smoke flies into clarity," which made my eyes water, and relates to my ongoing fire worries, though I am happy to report that, during a Zoom 67th Anniversary Celebration for my parents yesterday, my California brother, whose neighbor had reassured him, was able to report, "Our house is still there." Followed by Guenette's understanding that he will

                                                          still eat a Twinkie
           with that god-knows-what holding it together,
     its shelf life like a communion wafer
     near to the promise of forever.

I loved "Nostalgia" with its tough mother and possibility of vacuum repair. I loved "3 a.m." with its "hamster wheel" insomnia and worries about "our gun lust // and privilege." I loved its "anthropomorphized animals" (you've seen pictures of my back yard) and shared fears: "Then I go home & wait / for the end of the world." I loved "Adjustable Beds," a mother dream with "swirling galaxies" in it. And I loved "Holland" for his sexy, farting wife and how tulips (their bulbs) can "[c]ook up like onions," which my mother did once, accidentally.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Let's All Die Happy

California is burning, Covid-19 proceeds unchecked, and twin hurricanes are headed to the Gulf of Mexico to hit land next week, so I chose this book for today, for the strange cheer and dark comedy of its title: Let's All Die Happy, by Erin Adair-Hodges (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017). I gasped when I opened the book and read its epigraph by Bruno Schulz, because I had just encountered him that morning while reading An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine! Alignments and coincidences keep happening. I'm sure I'll tell you about more.

Well, here's one: hurricanes. In her poem "Pilgrimage," full of beauty I'll let you discover when you get this book for yourself, I find "goodbyes distinctive / and precious as hurricanes." Speaking of goodbyes, oh, "Seeing Ex-Boyfriends" has such an excellent ending, and here's an excellent title for you: "A Murder of Librarians." Plenty of disasters, including asteroids taking out the dinosaurs in "Natural History," but plenty of joy, too, as when her little son is delighted by that! "His fingers turn claws as the film / starts again and we wait for his favorite part, / the hungry meat, in the sky a coming fire." I needn't mention the coincidence of fire. Sigh...but I did. And in "Rough Math," "I...want your grief / to pour from your eyes like smoke...

But, "Let's all die happy." That's the first line of another poem with a wonderful title, "Everybody in the Car / We Are Leaving without You," which sounds like a familiar threat, and a real invitation. Here I particularly love the hooking up of the Mother and Father of American Poetry:

                                ...Let's set Whitman
     & Dickinson up on a date & watch
     as the awkwardness flames.

Aauggh, flames again! Here's a tender coincidence instead. In a scene I read this morning in the novel, a music box is important in a mother-daughter relationship. It's also part of the mother-daughter relationship in the poem "The Robin Tanka," used as an aural image: "Her voice is a music box / grown tired of being turned." My attentiveness to connection, alignment, and coincidence keeps happening, as does my commitment to this reading of a poetry book a day in August. It has felt like work, but work I love, schoolwork (and I loved school), homework, even, in a weird way, holy work. So, of course, in her poem "The Last Judgment," I find the phrase, "His Holy Homework." This work is getting me through, giving me joy, and I hope giving you some joy, too.

Now let me leave you with a few lines from her poem, "Twelve":

     Though I am not strong
     I want to be. I'm getting worn down
     by the weakness I see.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Painting Rain

Speaking of bookmarks, as I was yesterday, the one in Painting Rain, by Paula Meehan (Carcanet, 2009) is a fuchsia-colored Hodges Figgus Loyalty Card, from a Dublin bookshop, with its first number stamped (out of ten). My mother brought it back to me from a trip to Ireland. She had asked the proprietor for a good book by a contemporary Irish poet for her daughter and accepted the Loyalty Card, though this would be her only likely visit. I've been reading this one for years, in my usual, much slower poetry-reading method, except for the Sealey Challenge, which asks of us a poetry book a day in August, so I resumed at the bookmark and backed up to re-read, er, backwardsly.

While I was reading, in the shade, in the lovely breeze, a little neighbor girl came into her back yard, singing wild syllables (perhaps through a toy microphone?) while swinging in her hammock. In the poem "Cora, Auntie," one of several tender elegies, the speaker is remembering her aunt, at twenty, having red sequins sewn into the hem of her white dress as she stood on the kitchen table: "I orbit the table I can barely see over. / I am under it singing." This is the first coincidence, singing, happening in the moment of reading. The second is red sequins, saved in a little tin box. I have to tell you I found red sequins in a margarine tub going through the kids' toys and craft supplies a few days ago. To quote Meehan, "which I open now in memory--/ the coinage, the sudden glamour...."

In the elegy, "In Memory, Joanne Breen" a memory comes from the colors of yarn:

     I am fingering a length of yarn
     from the mill at Stornoway.
     It is green as a summer meadow
     though when I untwine it widdershins
     I see, spun into the yarn, fibres of blue
     & yellow & purple, occasionally orange.

     I am undoing the magic of the spindle,

The poem "Shoes," also a death poem, connects to yesterday's "Widow in Red Shoes," by Tess Gallagher, but here it is the earth that is red. It's winter, but

     I put on your summer shoes.
     They smelt of the red red earth

     Where lemons grow, where olives grow.

All kinds of life enters these poems, even the elegies--family life, community life. Some are commissions for public events. "Quitting the Bars" suggests some trouble with addiction, as does the strangely delightful "Note from the Puzzle Factory," about maxing out a credit card to buy cell phones for all her friends "so they could keep in touch / day or night. With me." 

     Nobody rang. Nobody rang.
     Imagine. Not a soul. Not a sinner.
     I sat in my room thinking on this.
     Then I up and signed myself in.

And the students in her Coleridge class at the Recovery through Art, Drama, and Education Project are deeply interested not so much in his Kubla Khan poem, as in Coleridge's own health complaint, constipation, as they recognize it from their own opiate addiction.

Many beauties, delights, and surprises in this book. I remember "conkers" from my year in England, a toy made from two chestnuts, for whirling and conking together, but in "Common Sense," all the young chestnut trees are dying, as kids have stripped away their bark while collecting their conkers. "We don't deserve this earth I sometimes think / and yet the children acted from ignorance." They had not yet acquired common sense. This poem begins with

    A murmuration of starlings in a rowan tree
    mid-August berry feast
    and berries raining down upon my head.

Here in America, the rowan tree is called the Mountain Ash. Mid-August now, school begun in its halting way, but the poem reminded me of grade school, a girl who died over the summer, and how we planted a Mountain Ash on the school lawn for her. And as I worry about family and friends in the midst of the California wildfires, I encounter "the scouring power of fire / in this the fire season..."

So I'll turn back to brave "Cora, Auntie,"

     always a girl in her glance
     teasing Death--humour a lance

     she tilted at Death.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Portable Kisses

Gorgeous day, and I needed comfort, so I read Portable Kisses, by Tess Gallagher (Capra Press). Actually I read Portable Kisses Expanded, a later edition. I must have picked up my copy at the library book sale. It has a yellow sales slip in it from its original owner that I used as a bookmark. The slip is dated Sept. 29, 1996. My son was six. An earlier edition came out in 1994, when he was four, and I had my daughter that year. I had no idea Tess Gallagher was writing kiss poems, because I was too busy with the results of my own kissing! From reading the poems, I know children were desired but did not come in her own life. From reading the introduction, I now know there was a smaller, limited edition of Portable Kisses back in 1978, when I was still in college, and she had not yet met her great love, Raymond Carver.

The random coincidii: 

Tess Gallagher is also in Poetry East: Origins, the one I wrote about yesterday. Her poem "I Stop Writing the Poem" always moves me so much, as well as her brief essay. It's about folding clothes, one of her husband's shirts. She was widowed by then, and still liked to wear his shirt. I saw the folding as a kind of embrace. It's a short poem, so if I quote the end, it's almost half the poem, but you see how it's also about women's lives and how they help each other through them:

          I'll get back to being
     a woman. But for now
     there's a shirt, a giant shirt
     in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
     standing next to her mother
     watching to see how it's done.

As in Poetry East, she provides an essay; this one tells how she got Portable Kisses Expanded. She wanted to make it a small, truly portable book like a small edition of Merwin's translations of Neruda's love poems that she used to read while waiting in line at the bank or the post office. The first edition was not really a slip-in-your-pocket kind of book, but this one, even though it had more poems, was!  "I conceived of the book in mottled tones--the whimsical alongside the passionate, the panoramic with the close-up, and always the intimacy of the vignette, often simply of a man and a woman speaking quietly to each other in a room."

And that's exactly what it is, with wonderfully erotic moments, lusty moments, humor, passion, and kisses personified, as in "The Kiss Gets a New Bonnet" and "The Kiss Joins the CIA." And grief as a golden thread throughout.

"Widow in Red Shoes" shows us "[a] quiet gathering of a few old friends, / my first time with some of them / since his death." Getting ready, she finds some favorite red shoes of the 60's. "Already they have the look / of something misunderstood." But she wears them:

          He always loved 
     me in these red shoes. Defiant, sexy
     and with him.

The yellow sales slip shows this book belonged to someone who also bought beads and rings. I bet she liked the red shoes, too.

There's another Poetry East: Originskisses connection, as Ross Gay's poem is about "a goldfinch kissing / a sunflower." It's as sexy as Tess Gallagher's poem "Sugarcane"--sugar cane is also one of the recent coincidences here in the blog. It reminded me that you have to bite the cane first, to get at the juice, and then suck hard.

While I was reading, a squirrel was eating nuts out of my hand.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020


Today, to calm myself, I read the new issue of Poetry East, edited by Richard Jones, a compilation of three previous Origins issues, plus a fourth new one, so it's like four wonderful chapbooks, a fine anthology of poems and brief essays on how they came to be. Two of the previous issues are sold out, so this resurrects them in a way! I keep Poetry East #43, the first Origins issue, at my writing desk, on a shelf above my computer, along with other inspiring books. You can order Poetry East here

I read outside in the beautiful, breezy sunshine on a comforter on the wooden glider in my own back yard, my phone at hand. It was like a perfect northern California day, except that California is having 100-degree temperatures and wildfires, and that's what I'm worried about, as I have family there. My son woke to ash on his car and a weather app that said today's weather was "Smoke." My brother's family has evacuated but is safe tonight. Hoping for the best in these terribly scary times.

So I will just give you some beautiful covers, lines, and sentences. And, of course, some random coincidii

To start with the random: this time the pineapple is a coconut. That is, in my other readings this month, we've had various exotic fruits: pineapple more than once, pomelo, sugar cane (I think this is a grass). In Paul Hostovsky's poem "Coconut," a coconut means happiness to his little son.

Dave Nielsen, "In a Poem About My Father": "It is perhaps better done in a painting / or in the language that a fire speaks."

Ross Gay, in "Wedding Song," his essay for "Wedding Poem": "It is the case that so many of our delights we must be alerted to, and I think it is the case that, if we can, we ought to alert others of them as well. It's called sharing what you love, and we're good at it, but it also requires practice." I sure hope I am practicing that here, sharing what I love. What Gay loved was a goldfinch kissing a sunflower, another form of happiness.

Ruth Stone, essay for "Second-Hand Coat": "Those endless closets and halls in the brain where the unknown hides; that open for a moment and then close again. That is where poems come from."

Joseph Stroud, "Grief": "Went to the Wailing Wall of the Jerusalem within me."

Peter Meinke, "The Dead Tree": "nature includes its dead."

Morton Marcus, from the poem "The Mirror":

     It is as though he stares into another room,
     a room where he has never been, and is not known,
     and can observe his mother glancing from his magazine
     to his father seated like a stranger in a railroad car
     and the old man pulling at the pillow threads
     like a furious harpist who cannot sit still.

And from his essay on "The Mirror": "...and he is looking at them but facing forward, away from them, which, since he is a youth and they are members of the previous two generations, suggest that he is looking toward the future. But if he is facing the future, he is simultaneously aware of the past in the form of the three people behind him. Thus a continuum of experience, of one generation following another, is being described..." as it was in my musings yesterday, with toys and Generation Z. Alas! But I do love being aware of how things connect, and so I am sharing what I love.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020


Today, again, I set out the children's toys, now reduced in number, to let them get some sun and fresh air on the glider, while I read Scald, by Denise Duhamel (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017). It is a grand feminist adventure and tribute to three women, Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012), Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005), and Mary Daly (1928-2010). The opening poem, "How Deep It Goes," is both a fabulous romp into feminist history (and hence human history) and a deep philosophical excavation of "how deep it goes," all of it: sexism, social injustice, the inequities of being human when some people think they are more human than others. The book remains hilarious and deep, and Duhamel is way smarter and more imaginative than her smart phone. When it autocorrects her name as Denise Richards, she imagines a whole new life as Charlie Sheen's ex. Anything can happen in a poem by Denise Duhamel.

I loved learning about T. dohrnii in her poem "The Immortal Jellyfish," about many things but also the ability to "go back to childhood" after reaching sexual maturity, "from parent to infant and then back again...When the jellyfish lifts its umbrella body inside out, the past is the future, the future the past." Kind of like what I've been doing, reviewing old papers and lining up the kids' toys. This one is a prose poem, some are free verse, and many are pantoums (as in American Gun) and villanelles. And there's an amazing "braided poem" that indeed braids together three generations of experience through popular culture.

Then there's the poem "Reading," which, of course, I love, and which is also about writing, the reader who gets the writer. It starts out, "Sometimes I read pages of books without retaining anything," which also happens to me--maybe because it's a beautiful breezy day of windchimes and butterflies and a goldfinch, or maybe I'm preoccupied with politics, pandemic, and death. But books are saving me right now, and I'm glad this was one of them.

     Only a few people will come to the dive
     where you once danced, or turn to the page
     where you left some marks, look at the words you wrote.
     Fewer still will read them. Then a mixture 
     of vanity and humility if a stranger understands.

The title Scald comes from "Scalding Cauldron," an abecedarian (plays with the alphabet) prose poem about "Crackpot Crones," among others. "Let's scold and scald. Let's be Skalds--poets who write of heroic deeds. (Her heroes are women!) "The End is Coming" felt awfully close, and also related to Isaac's Storm, about a horrific hurricane, but it's true that some survived! As some of us will survive..., but to go back to the braided poem: "All of us project ourselves onto the perils of Generation Z / and the end of the alphabet..." I did pause, look up, and worry about Generation Z, and ask myself why we had imagined the end of the alphabet for our descendants. And now there's this pandemic, horrific American presidency, derecho, and the inland hurricane that devastated Iowa.

You should see/listen to "Crickets," by Dave Bonta, here.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Our List of Solutions

Well, this was a fun one. Our List of Solutions, by Carrie Oeding (42 Miles Press, 2011). I read it too quickly because it has a lovely rambling, conversational quality, funny, with surprises, and sometimes lonely and sad, too. I have lots of favorites lines--I could make a list of them! But it would be too long, and it wouldn't solve anything, but here's one: "I want to make something beautiful out of the everyday." So do I, Carrie Oeding. I love your titles, too, and your impulse to make lists. "Prelude to How the World Works" starts with this line: "Envy the list, its certainty of what's needed in the To-Do." 

I wrote a to-do list yesterday and did not look at it once. Instead, I looked at old letters and the lost world, and today I'm exhausted. Today I brought the kids' stuffed-animal toys up from the basement to air out and sort, deciding what to save and what to toss. I texted pictures of them, all arrayed on the glider and chairs on the patio, to the kids, and they chose favorites (circling them magically on their phones) and I chose more, and figured out I can actually wash some of them on gentle in little mesh bags. 

Of course, "It is better I included toys," says Carrie Oeding, about what she might plant, in her poem, "Coming in From the Garden While I Think of Going Back." Yep, that makes it a Random Coinciday, as well as a Blue Monday in the blog, and a Poetry Someday, specifically  #SealeyChallenge Day 17.

More favorite lines:

"My friends say I don't mention my friends enough. Give us names!"

"Dancing is one way to have joy."

"Oh boys and men, I'm sorry, / my back turning has nothing to do with you."

"Apology to Meditation," a title, and the long sentence in the center that does exactly what I do while meditating, so, likewise, Sorry, Meditation!

I loved reading the poem "Storm's A'Comin" while realizing I would need to load up the toys soon and take them in, as my phone was giving me a weather warning, and the other book I am reading is Isaac's Storm, by Erik Larson, about the hurricane that devastated Galveston in 1900. I was reading a weather statement about winds unlikely to rotate, but, hey, a funnel was sighted in LaSalle County... Also, there is a pineapple in this poem, as in several I have encountered this month in various random books I am reading. 

The "Prelude to How the World Works" contains a list of questions and a list of answers that don't exactly line up, just like the world! And this delightful answer: "A: While considering leaving, look on page 66." You know I did. And I found the poem "And That is How the World Works." It was lovely to read a winsome book with friends and neighbors in it. (She gives some of them names!) To go "Dancing in Shorty's Bar." To discover "Sandy's List of Solutions."

Here's another favorite line: "I could live next door to disappointment." And another, from "Morning Song for the Porch Light": Still on, you greet the sun with your uselessness...."

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Lost World

Today I read The Lost World, by Randall Jarrell, for Day 16 of the #SealeyChallenge. It was first published in 1965, in March, and Jarrell died in October of 1965, hit by a car, as Mary Jarrell states in her Foreword to the 1985 edition, the one I read, with a Maurice Sendak cover. (Some think Jarrell's death was a suicide, but Mary doesn't.)

It wasn't the book I had intended to read today; it was the perfect one, the one I chose in a nostalgic mood, after a day of recovering a bit of my own lost world, and letting a lot of it go. 

It was a beautiful morning, and the urge came upon me to use the lovely summer day to bring up boxes from the basement, go through musty old papers in the sunshine, and see what should be recycled, and what saved. And so I may tell you more about me than the poems. Perhaps I've been doing that all along. 

I'll start with the random coincidii.

In the boxes were cards, postcards, and letters from my early years in Chicago, not long after graduating from Kenyon College, when I was still corresponding with Kenyon classmates. Randall Jarrell taught at Kenyon, which is mentioned in the book in the Appreciation by Robert Lowell, also reprinted from 1965.

The Lost World contains a couple poems from The Bat-Poet (another book with Sendak illustrations), and I directed a Readers' Theatre production of it, and once performed in it (when the actor playing the bat got sick). I love those poems. In the poem called "The Lost World," Randall Jarrell reconnects with his childhood, his grandparents, as I did today, finding their birthday cards to me, as well as my children's childhood, through their toys and crafts and handmade cards.

In Jarrell's poem "Hope," there's a linden tree. I used to climb a linden tree, and grew up on Linden Street Road, out in the country. In "Next Day," a woman feels sad about getting old. I even discovered a connection to yesterday's reading, where Robin Coste Lewis, in cataloging art objects, finds a clock that is a woman. 

In The Lost World, "a grandfather's

     Clock with the waist and bust of a small
     But unusually well-developed woman
     Is as if invented by Chagall.

In several poems, Jarrell speaks as a woman, with great empathy and insight. "The Lost Children" contains his wife Mary's dream and her memories. But the long poem "Woman" feels old-fashioned, trapped in the 20th century, with Freud.

The last poem, "Thinking of the Lost World," did make me cry. "Or if only I could find...," he says, naming a favorite toy, a remembered car, the plot of the dinosaur movie extended in his imagination. As if he could recreate his world through just a few objects or souvenirs.

     All of them are gone
     Except for me; and for me nothing is gone--

It was a little the same for me, as I handled the letters and notes, lanyards and lace, rick rack, toys, buttons, shells, tiny objects saved to glue together into new things. 

Except for me, a few more things are gone.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Voyage of the Sable Venus

When I first started reading this book--maybe five years ago, when it first came out?--I sensed it might take me years to read, so rich it is in history and mythology, human experience, art, and ideas. Yet today, I also read it straight through in various places in the happiness of my own back yard on a hot August day in 2020, the year of hindsight and horror. Voyage of the Sable Venus, by Robin Coste Lewis (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), is a wonderful and challenging journey, containing other journeys within it, and speakers who contain multitudes, so that time kept folding over itself, and skies kept darkening and clearing my mind as I read it. The center section is the central "Voyage of the Sable Venus," a poem collage of "titles, catalog entries, or exhibit descriptions of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present." See what I mean?

That particular poem, requiring lots of research, is dedicated to "the legacy of black librarianship, and black librarians, worldwide." I love the cover image, the photograph called Window Shopping, taken by Eudora Welty. I have a whole book of her photographs, and this one's in it! 

Voyage of the Sable Venus brings my summer reading projects together: #SealeyChallenge, a poetry book a day in August, and educating myself in racism and anti-racism by reading Black authors. The very first poem, "Plantation," brought me back to Octavia Butler and Kindred, where a woman time travels to a plantation. Then in the poem "Félicité" we learn, "The black side of my family / owned slaves," words she doesn't want to say. Her black ancestor, Marie Panis, a freed woman, became the owner of a plantation as part of the territorial negotiations with Spain, France, and the United States. She gave to her son "her 'favorite' slave: a girl named Félicité."The poem later asks, "How / does one name a slave Happiness?"

This is a book full of wonders: a water buffalo gives birth to a stillborn calf "On the Road to Sri Bhuvaneshwari" in the land created when Shiva dropped the Goddess Parvati, charred and in pieces, from the sky. A woman (in art) is a working clock. A woman holds her child above her "Out of Reach / Of a Serpent // "Climbing Up / Her Dress." So many strong, amazing, compromised, bloody women. In "Art & Craft," the poet as a child figures out how to hide her own intelligence and talent, so not to stand out and draw attention to herself or her family. In the heartbreaking "Lure," she learns how not to be there, dissociated from her body to preserve herself from abuse by an elder. And in "The Body in August," everything comes full circle, "Because when I was a child, God would pull me up into Her lap," and then, "Because when God became a small child, I pulled Her up into my lap."

And here's a wonderful stanza from "Pleasure & Understanding":

     All is suffering is a bad modernist translation.
        What the Buddha really said is: It's all a mixed bag. Shit
     is complicated. Everything's fucked up. Everything's gorgeous. Even
        Death contains pleasure--six feet below understanding.

And, speaking of full circle, and pleasure & understanding, I go back to the first poem, "Plantation," where I encountered a sensory memory from my own childhood--"the fresh, pleasant taste / of juiced cane," though the cane juice I tasted as a child was sucked straight from a chunk of fresh cane.