Tag Archives: biography

pop culture seance

i have 2 poems here that are calling upon the ghosts of two major pop culture figures: james dean and bob dylan. i kind of think they represented a certain archetype of their time and age with which i am infatuated, so the tone and content of these 2 pieces is very similar.

For James

You glower ghostly from the projector shroud.
My planchette hands backlit black reach to you
in a cinema divination drawing me down Grapevine Road
at 70 mph, hurtling towards the specter spot at Cholame—
to hell with tickets and portends, angels and charms,
to hell with the red warnings blazing on that fateful day:
the sheen of the Porsche’s engine-hot hood, the collar
of your rebel coat, the label of your last Coke—you
ripped across that ribbon of concrete as the bloody
sunset stabbed your eyelids at skull-crushing speeds
and the Ford Sedan glared through the windshield—
better give me something, give me something fast—
I see you swiveling the steering wheel as you flick
the last cherry spark of your cigarette and battle
the demons twisted into the transmission, your eyes
fixed on the rangeline of dusk and day—a softness
like the final fade-out on the milk-wash screen.

Leaving Hibbing

You found the guitar arthritic in the attic, by
the mahogany Detrolla with an upside-down atlas
glowing on the face as Hank Williams quavered
airwaves and Odetta howled on the up-down strums:
50,000 watts voodooing through the atmosphere.

A country record in the cradle made you different,
deviated topography snagged on the compass rose.

There’s no room to rebel in this weather: a pastoral
purgatory of milk and lilies, snow-stiff flags
on the white-wash porches—what happens to these
nine square blocks when the iron mines shut down,
the fields dessicate and the red canvas awnings clap down
slow in the final autumn? Change your name
to anything, walk anyplace—Supertramp Napoleon,

get in our heads, pin us down. Seek the crossroads to séance
the folkster canon. With a dirt-thumbed copy of Bound for Glory,
you called upon the gospel according to Guthrie before
he boarded the crazy train. Stolen vinyl, shorn hair and hunger
as hard and hollow as your instrument—will you fill us,
make notes tone holy and speak something slanted radical?

Cinderella or Romeo, you can go everywhere
when you’re someone else, and you’re always
bygone and becoming, halloping to the horizon bevel
on the throstle and rise of rock-n-roll, the poetry
of the lemon crate in the gutter, the hum of a green
grain shoot stirred by Minnesota dew.

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Filed under New Writing, Summer work, Uncategorized, Unedited, Unpublished

the last one for today.

no prompt, just me on a lonely winter walk.
i have a lot of poems like that.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I crunch the wind-shocked snowpack, cast out
into Saturn, the last eponym of the season’s storming.
This is me cooling off in the rip of a come-back winter
jet stream, furious with the battle I make against this
relentless and offensive weather—boots angry
on the stairwell at spring so far away, so unhappy,
unwilling to work against unhappiness anymore.
I am no one’s favorite tonight, even my blood seethes
against me, withdrawing from fingers seeking stumbling
words. It’s just me and this Marlboro—God damn,
there aren’t enough poems about girls
with cigarettes in the snow, breath and smoke
indistinct below the wind-hull, hands cold. I want
to go home and lay low—maybe I’ll dig
into this drift here—emerge on the other side
to a parking lot apocalypse, sparrows falling
like ice-heavy limbs to the street, chased down
by a prowling hawk. Then wanders a misplaced
carol: Do you hear what I hear? No, if only
the scrape of shovels against cement echoing
in the reverb of a blizzard-tide. If snow falls
silent against the steel and glass, persistent,
then the trunk coming down in forgotten woods
must make the most desperate and lonesome sound.

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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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I AM SO PROUD OF THIS.

I was stuck in a poem rut, writing shitty things about nightmares and vague inner turmoil, which is fine, I think everyone kinda deals with that from time to time, but after a while that internal world was exhausted of any creative function. I felt like the poem I turned in for first workshop this semester was a cheap cobbling together of the stuff I was least ashamed of from that time; thus, it left much to be desired.
So, the next prompt–write an ode of sorts to a fictional public figure–got me so excited because it forced me to exit the weepy amorphous hole I was in and dig around for something fun and imaginative.
I EFFING LOVE SUPERHEROES, so I was drawn to the Batman mythology. Like, he’s complex as shit. He is a character that constantly negotiates the ambiguities of justice and vengeance, of moral enlightenment and blindness, of fear and courage, internal turmoil and straightforward conflict, etc. all through physical prowess, indomitable will and powerful deduction. DC stands for Detective Comics, after this wildly successful superhero, and there’s no doubt as to why. We can all be Batman, given enough of a motivation, ingenuity and passion (and money, sure). We can all battle the bad guys both externally and within. We can all understand the importance of heroism beyond a single man, and also admire the humanity of sacrificing everything for a deeper cause.
Anyways, here. I tried really hard. I’ve been researching for about a half a week, and the piece was constructed kinda surgically as lines flashed to me and I sanded them down and smoothed them together. Maybe the ending fizzles a little? JUST TELL ME HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER SO I CAN DO BATMAN SOME JUSTICE (get it?).

DARK

It starts in the tricolor acetate lithography
of a panel-blocked Gotham noir. You seek
to reverse the collapse of that night in that alley:
the closeness of the walls, the scream, two shots
then a bloom-splash of blood, pearls bursting
like meteors on the pavement— you seek to stop
the bullets that started it all. In shadows, you are
a spiked cowl and scalloped wings, spurred gauntlets
and a utility belt toothed with throwing knives sliced
into that kitschy animal shape. A crusade swept
under your cape, a cloak of night, a shadow cast, you keep
your heart under onyx rubber and hooked-star emblems.
The black cut of a graphite mask beveled to your cheek—
you despised your fear so you slipped inside its pitch
depths, hoping to turn out the terrors within.
Art deco, bizarre science, lunatics, mobsters and ninjas—
on your rooftop runs under umber skies, the city
looks dirty from the eaves of daguerreotyped skyscrapers.
Nocturne of anarchy, with a slick snap you draw your mantle
around you with one impassioned fist, the crushing
clench of revenge— memory is so treacherous, so flighty—
guilt drops into ink-pools of anger, and you feel so blind.
You fear your power, your fury, your drive to do
great or terrible things. Your growl to the night
leaves huge echoes in the sable caves of your mind.
Justice, a white beacon hisses to you in the sky. You burn,
an effigy of order. You seek to be a symbol, a monster,
a hooded reaper to all this simple filth, drawn in straight lines
across the page, but you know the achromatic tones
of compassion, the real ambiguous humanity of being good.

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dat old school sheeyit

if anything, i’ll be a firm believer in the mutually inspirational exchange between music and poetry at the end of this semester, as i am constantly forced to use music as a means of creative expression and artistic embellishment. rap music–but music in general, really–converses nicely with the poetic form,especially because of the importance of sonic harmony explicit in music and implicit in poetry.
anyways, here’s an ode to dj kool herc, the father of hip hop.
at this point, i’m also going to have a large collection of hip-hop poetry. weird.

Herc

You were a demigod in the dancehalls
and on the gym floors. Like the hero they saw,
you ruled the ashy blacktop growing weeds
and aluminum posts, surveyed the cliffs and valleys
of Sedgwick Avenue where projects rose and fell.
You were a pack runner with the graffiti renegades
that earned you your ice-cold name—KOOL, with a K.
The sound cuts harder and sharper than that soft C
nonsense other DJs kissed. First it was you and the gray-black
shoe-scuff of two turntables, a dual channel amp
and PA speakers at your sister’s party, your fingers
frightened by the fresh touch of soaked vinyl—
you rinsed each body like a lover’s, peeling the labels
from black-shined faces so no monster could find your flow.
You scratched smoother, soared higher and lower,
owned all over and under the midrange: treble screams
and bass beats, the drowning moment when the vocals
broke and you dropped in like a swimmer, submerged
in the blue-red pulse-flash of rec-room aquariums.
B-boys and B-girls turn and twist together and apart,
like warped chain-links you scale in flight, the fuzz
from choked speakers roaring in your ears. Soon,
landlords will light the fires to clear out the Bronx,
but you already had the heat in you, a flame furled
in your ribs like the new notes of rap that would find
their way inside—you felt the trudge of that melody
bound beneath funk tones and disco, you
needed to turn it up, help some people listen.

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ekphrasis–my faaaave.

here are a couple of ekphrastic pieces for class. one is an ekphrastic piece based on henry ossawa tanner’s the banjo lesson, which is BEAUTIFUL.
the second is based on the life and work of david foster wallace. his 2006 commencement speech has been mentioned elsewhere as the inspiration for some of my recent work…i thought delving into his life a little would be interesting as well. i was not disappointed, but i hope my poem does him a little justice.

The Banjo
Inspired by the painting The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner

In this body there is so much pain,
can you hear it? Carried over from far-off
sea-coasts, its name dreaming of a lost lingual
land, the banjo leans into your lap, remembering
its polyrhythmic history. Your fingers find
the long paths of gut and copper, learning
to clawhammer and dropthumb, to strum
the arpeggio notes of knock-down rag ditties,
to pluck tones of the cooleset blues.
What are words to you, what is this song
you stumble to pump through your young lungs?
Against me, you are so small—a warm, beating
body as alive as the too-big organ in your arms.
Steadying the neck like a tiller, my hands
are scuffed leather and weathered wood,
resolute granite nobly crumbling back
into the land that bore me. I will guide you
over heaving seas and rolling drones,
deliver you to the truest tunes. My baby,
open your ears to the yowl yawning
through the stretched-hide drum face,
an echo resonating beyond our circling
of elbows, wrists and thighs—
to that trembling note singing deeper
than the dull twang of age and land,
bowed faces and broken hearts.

Hibernation
For David Foster Wallace

A boy from Ithaca, you knew the white walls
of snow ridges and ranges, heavy quilts
of frozen water weighing you down
as you scissored angels into the drift sides.
You were the best of them, hurling hunks
of ice from rusted car bumpers in the farthest
arcs to the point of exhaustion—burning
deltoids, numb fingers, collapsed lungs.

You followed your father to his alma mater
and aced modal logic, philosophy, mathematics—
they worshipped you. Summa cum laude,
postmodern novelist, they diagnosed you
‘a brilliant ironist,’ ‘the voice of a generation,’
earnest, intelligent, clinically depressed.

Your brain enslaves you while drugs fight
to free you: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil,
in combination with unilateral ECT
(during a two-week voluntary in-patient course),
Parnate both with and without lithium salts,
Nardil both with and without Xanax. What

goes on inside is too fast and huge
and all interconnected for words to do more
than sketch the outlines. You want to stop
moving through your rounds: booking tours
and deadlines, bills and banking—your default
setting of solitude in a sea of humans.

From your window in Claremont, severed
from the manic pull of verbal calisthenics
and the avant-garde—of topping your keystone
with another crown—you have a vision
of a blue hole in a northeastern snowbank
where your body can rest; sleep off the hardest part,
dream, awaken later to tackle reality.

In the sling of your homemade noose, you slipped off
every fear of failure like icepacks pressing
into your skull, hard, cold, too heavy to bear.
It was easier to drift into deeper sleep than
stay awake in the winter of a writer in demand.
In your chest, the language was so barren, so tired.
You saw so little left. You had to conserve.

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enJAMbment

Class assignment: 20 enjambed lines.
This is inspired by the stuff I have to read for my Quranic studies class…based on the miracle of the cleansing of the heart of the Prophet, in combo with my favorite surah…just a real quick blurb, nothing super fancy.
I think that religion and mythology provide the best fodder for poetic inspiration. The stories told are always sincere and a little crazy…the metaphors, narrative and allusion are all built in–I don’t have to do much work. Heh.

Sura 94

From the trachea and through the sternum
they cut, slow and deliberate, and reached
into the soft, red cavern where the heavy
curves of your organs slept. In the light
of the Most Holy, they saw the black
cysts, the twisted puckers of your faults and
plumbed you out: liver, stomach, heart
unwound, washed and replaced
with belief. They flooded your veins
with the icy stab of faith and sent you
back, weightless. Are you not free
from your sins? And yet by the dawn
you feel yourself starving, wondering
about the clots they took from you—how
something so small could have caused so much
pain. You relay their voices in synonyms
and metaphors, every word an opening
door, a new prayer. Your people breathe
the name of those saviors and you sing with them
despite your missing lungs. But in silences,
the wound still suffocates, a different burden to bear.

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