Category Archives: for class

elegy for a lost DVD

Next prompt for class was to write a poem about a movie. I choose The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson, a movie that I can always just turn on and drift away in. One week in the fall when I was going through some rough stuff, I watched it once every day. ILOVEIT. But I lost my DVD copy, though. It’s kinda upsetting. Luckily I can almost replay the whole thing in my mind’s eye…

Seeking Moksha
After The Darjeeling Limited

Wake up, brother. Where would I have seen you
last? Was it the funeral, after the taxi spewed
Dad’s change across 57th and Mom released,
an absent saint? Since then you’ve technically
died and I’ll follow, unbodied by these opiates,
half-smoked cigs and scotch. Brother,

I should’ve known you’d try to break open, throw
yourself from your cycle and rise in a crown
of gauze. All the nights spent at Hotel Chevalier
in a stolen bathrobe, transmuting your sadness
to prose—you live alone there, a casual thing—
you retch the hot musk-swell of Voltaire No. 6,

Parisian wine, curled clove-stars from Rajasthan—
probably one of the most spiritual places
in the world!” You sweat burnt sienna: turmeric,
the bindi thumbed to your brow now bleeding
as you limp after the street-swilled shoeshine
stealing your loafers. We are long-faced gamboling

this love-gutted dramedy, prowling the frost-glass
carriage doors of a locomotive lost on a one-way
track—we can’t know where to go. We haul
heavy luggage, haunt rails like angry Hindu djinns
bhangra-ing to 70s British blues-pop—what can we do
but cling to the vacuous continent of grief? Brother,

in your peacock-feather tantric tadasana, you know
the thoracic lurch that punched his gut when the fender
fractured his femur, hip and heart. You fear healing
won’t come, the bandages won’t give way to holy
pink scars and memories of hurt. There was
a plan for this pilgrimage, but fuck the itinerary

fuck the itinerary, fucking fuck the itinerary. We’ll
just drift with everything Ganges running-running,
drunk in the sallow veil of this land so sugar-bitter
like under-ripe lime over ice, or the cherry scowl
of a lover, lips red like Dad’s Jaguar never-resurrected—
not even after we jumped it, shoved it up the block.

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lists

MORE BLUES POETRY. this is an earlier, unedited version.

How the Blues Die

Bessie Smith flew from her car like an angel
and broke open at the ribs and wrists, died
neglected on the white hospital stretcher.

Blind Lemon Jefferson froze to death on the streets
of Chicago, lost in the snow—a thing
he feared in the blank of his eternal whiteout.

Memphis Minnie stroked out, so they shoved
her into a nursing home til her expiration date,
aphasic save for the livid spittle laced to her lip.

Charley Patton became a sizzling collapse
of the heart’s infarction—an entropy of passion
as plaque bloomed like a lily in his ventricles.

Peg Leg Howell burned, corroded by the syrupy
sweet of diabetes that claimed his legs first—
bad sugar crystallizing slow along his thighs, crippling.

Pine Top Smith caught a stray bullet to the chest when
his boogie-woogie spun out of control—he lurched forward
over the bloodied ivories skewed by reckless shots.

Leadbelly escaped every prison except the one
as big as his body: the iron maiden of Lou Gherig’s
shackled his limbs from within and snuffed him out.

Robert Johnson played too far out of hand in Greenwood—
gutted by the barman’s jealous slip of arsenic over his
fifth whiskey, a milky swill of revenge in amber depths.

Big Bill Broonzy felt the cancer coagulate in his throat,
cutting off his vocal flow as he punched riffs into his guitar
and onto the pale, sunwashed porch after morning chemo.

Leroy Carr drowned in the depressive cloy of canned heat—
the crush of drinking to death, while Willie Johnson
suffocated on the icy ash of his burned-out home. Pneumonia

lying heavy in his chest, he hummed “Dark was the Night,
Cold was the Ground” to forgotten streets, careful to still
the chalk-grind of his bones as he sighed off mid-moan.

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isn’t it pretty to think so?

the prof told us to write a poem about a relative meeting someone famous.
uncertain of any true stories regarding such a situation in my family, i made up a story where my 20-year-old father met bruce springsteen on the coast of north jersey while dating my mom.
my dad and mom did live in north jersey near asbury park, did have a first date on the beach, and my dad did own a chevy nova. but my mom was the one who got in a bad accident in her 20s. and it was a a brown volkswagon. and. my dad never met bruce springsteen.
but i cobbled some true details together, embellished others, and completely made up the rest to create a (hopefully!!) believable narrative. isn’t it pretty to imagine? i think poetry is liberating in its ability to allow the writer a space to act out a fantastic premise/cerebral exercise/meditation on some flight of ideas and watch the details unfold.
if i hadn’t prefaced this whole bit, would you have liked it any more or less? do you even like it NOW?


Love Song

Summer, 1970: my father, changing lanes to exit the turnpike
for Totowa, wheeled into the red fear of streaming taillights,
swerving past almost-death: two Chevy Novas on the same
ramp at the wrong time—man, a good way to die.

Before this flailing over the steering wheel, he’d clapped
the sweaty back of Springsteen, young and unknown,
on his way out of the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
In that grasp, the jetties rose from North Jersey

coasts and swamplands, salt-rusted coasters crusting
the pier. The scent of pine barrens and gas fields bit,
and the magnesium blast of diner signs blinded,
glossing bombed-out cars and tar-choked lots

left behind after the cinemas caved in—all that darkness
the boys lived in beyond the chain links and bleachers,
boiled in the electric buzz of the Boss’s guitar. The sound
tugged on the chest of every girl in Ocean County

who shivered at her back door: fragmented confusion
of the singer on self-destruct before the indifference
of a crowd. Bruce had the legs and lungs to drive
those songs, so my father took a tape back home

to my mother, newly nineteen and just within his reach—
two hearts exploring each other in the white howl
of coastal tides, sharing a towel at Seaside Heights where
he might float a kiss into the nape of her neck—but first

the race-pump rush-throb of a missed collision pulsed
with horn bands and BABY WE WERE BORN TO RUN.

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another blues-inspired piece (to be read aloud)

i’ve been thinking a lot about the page v stage debate of writing poetry. poetry is great for reading, but the performative aspect of poetry has become more important to me as my friends and i continue to do group readings together at a cafe in town. so anymore, i write with the thought in mind that i’ll have to read it aloud to a crowd that isn’t familiar with its construction on the page. so my voice on the page is more concerned with sound, rhythm, significance of content/message, etc.
aaannnyways, here’s something i pretty much spoke as i wrote it.
it’s also about blues again (I HAVE A LOT OF LISTENING HOMEWORK FOR THIS HISTORY OF THE BLUES CLASS). and me feeling aggressive and placeless in the (in)security of travel and late-night wandering in an unfamiliar place.

Chicago for the Weekend
“I just feel dissatisfied baby, / I don’t know what to do.
Have you ever had that same feeling, babe, / to come over you?”

—Leeroy Carr, “Blue Night Blues”

When I was little, I wanted to be a firefighter.
I got bigger but still too small to fringe the flames
of a burning building, so I stuck with the embers
seething in my stomach and ripped wild across cornrows
and factory fields to this new dreamscape, circling
the streets of this blasted city like bomb-shocked shadow.
Cigarettes drown in the rain-wash of sewers clogged
with street trash and stench, skunked booze
and vegetables cooked to death—
no nourishment lurks here, no satisfaction. I love
the labyrinth of this urbania, the dark fall
of skyscrape on walkways where hooded figures
hulk hungry, weaving their looms of history
into brick-blood and aged iron-cast eaves.
The corner blues-prophet exhales exhausted
lines into the smog, his internal purge adding
to the empty choke of air-waste and endless
smolder, and I’ll moan mantras under his divine
apocrypha, the agonizing rot of dying so
alone and undone in the after-hours—all bound
by frayed gut-string. Oh, hold me slow, hold me hard,
hypnotizing rock of underground bench-beat
rattling subterranean railways. I am not
from here, I know no soft place to rest.
Cold winds whip their cadence of crying
into verses of ice, alchemizing energies
of loop traffic and neon-bright tunnel rush—
yes. I need the heat of forgotten jazz scratching
the vinyl and spilling to the backstairs, the quiet
crumble of the fire-escape parting from the high-
rise. You are my surrogate tonight, my lover
arcing back in some orgasm of blown-out
voice and anxious time. Your sirens scream
so red in their flash down alleyways, searching
for the torturous scorch of my slow jam
imploring the ruby truck to stop by, to deliver
relief from the brutal knuckling of this angry kiss.

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i think of the birds i sight as omen work

whenever i see crows, i think trouble.
whenever i see larks, jays, robins, i think joy.
sparrows signify suspension.
so when scott and i drove through the migration site of the sandhill cranes before we won our respective races, i knew we were going to be successful. here’s the series of fragments i developed for class as a result, with edits.

Migration Land

Useless panorama
punched down deadpack
of February defrost brown

but not brown more gray
cut with divining lines
season cycle luster-fade

harvest chaff and husk
below quieting conversation
retreating cloudshores

reflected in the hot shine
coffee melting
paperboard walls

night-cool
swampland on endless loop
against the glass undulating

sunrise breath steams
detritus tule-rush
whisked hoary ribbons

before the dashboard
a continent opens worried wing
banded white feather bustle

brushing sedged ditches
born there now fleeing
on the exhale crests

arrowed call roofed by red cap
crane-skull nestled easy
the sling of a muscled neck

silvered and hollow resonating
asking and answering minor notes
chasm blush between clean

horizon and the overcast
red tones woven over asphalt-waver
warming rubber treads.

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mermaid trimeter poetry thing uh

another prompt for class deriving from pages 1-12 of the poetry dictionary.
the whole damn thing was on accentual meter. so i decided i was going to do a trimeter piece, which i’ve attempted before, nbd.
however, i was also kicking around the idea of a fugue.
a fugue is not a poetic form. In music, a fugue (FEWG) is a technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition. the voices work to interweave, repeat, turn upside down in pitch and all kinds of stuff.
so, poetically speaking, this fails, since music is about polyphonics. but repetition, stanzaic modulation and sonic play can imitate it a little. the most bombass fugue poem can be read here, where the author spices up the fugue even more with the play of german and english. another good one is this, and the author’s audio explanation for how it was made (william carlos williams + markov text generator) IS SO EFFING COOL. listen!!
anyways.
FINALLY, with the challenge of a trimeter fugue piece, i was kicking around the idea of the little mermaid. like, she’s a siren. she’s supposed to sing men out to sea and kill them, but instead (at least in the original story), she gives up her voice and endures horrible suffering for her man and then dies. talk about subversion of female power. no wonder disney took that shit over (but of course, you don’t have a franchise if you have a dead princess).
then i really wanted some balance with six sestets following my fugue progression (you know, divisible by three).
OK SO THAT’S EVERYTHING GOING ON IN THIS BITCH. took about 6 hours of work? i dunno. again, not completely satisfied due to form constraints. GIMME SOME FEEDBACK.

Siren Fugue

Breach the ambient scatter
of sun in wave-washed
depths, where everything stirs
and stirs. Breach the ambient
scatter of wavering song
like stirring sun in your throat—

Cross the white halo
between sea and surface
wide as a cathedral
windowpane, cross
the white halo, wide,
while pain draws its holy

notes in the back of your throat—
love so strong you go
breathless in the mute void
of sound, chords crashing like
notes in the back of your throat,
love so strong you swallow

shallow heat: the crush
of tide-torn beaches
empty of music, only
the love-crush lasting as long
as a tide-turn tugged
by a piercing Pisces moon.

Your heart curls on quick
rhythms of deep dusk-water,
the whistle of weightless air—
shallow heat curling
your heart small as a conch,
empty of music, only

a gasp of your siren song
swimming back to the topaz,
shading down into dark
quays and blue reefs
gasping your siren song
back, seducing you home.

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villainous villanelles

HOO HOO POETRY JOKES.
this week’s prompt: write any form derived from your scanning of a poetry dictionary.
i like the word villanelle. it’s so pretty. so i decided to write one.
they’re hard. like, mad props to dylan thomas. but i also really enjoy the challenge of pulling off something in a form. or at least attempting it. meh. i don’t like it because it seemed a little stilted and stuff (but doesn’t all rhyming and repetitive stuff seem like that anymore? maybe that’s just me), but we’ll see how it fares in workshop.

A Villanelle

My father called out in the cardinal’s notes,
two chirping whistles: you me, you me.
The cardinal quiets, keeps his voice safe in oak.

Cardinals blot red against white winter snow,
voices wound tight in the shell of their beaks.
My father called out in the cardinal’s notes.

Drifts leaned too heavy for the wind to blow,
too strong and silent for my father to heave.
Watching, the cardinal kept his voice safe in oak.

Collapsed in a snowbank of icy overgrowth,
he read the raucous beat of freezing wings
fleeing his curious call in cardinal notes.

Stigmata slicing the silence of a frost-shocked grove
those scarbright bodiess, crested hearts that pulse and seize—
the cardinal keeps his voice safe in oak.

The treeline bleeds my father’s trilled echoes,
he trudged indoors to teach the cherry lovetone to me —
my father called out in the cardinal’s notes,
but the cardinal kept his voice safe in oak.

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