Joy in Transgression: Poems on Poetry
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land…
–T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
We poets are often told not to write poems about poetry. But we can’t help it! We love poetry! So, as April, National Poetry Month, moves cruelly toward its close, let’s say a gentle, gradual goodbye with these poems on poetry by several poets. Please click each poet’s name to see her or his solo feature at Escape Into Life. The art you see here is by Susan Yount, who is working on a deck of poetry tarot cards. You’ll find one of her poems below, as well, and more tarot cards at tumblr, complete with captions. A further transgression: I’ve included one of my own poems on poetry! –Kathleen Kirk, Poetry Editor
How to write a poem at ocean’s edge
I mouth unknowns because there are so many.
I push west from Moclips to the Pacific to lug language
outdoors where it rains; where I fill pockets
with stones, not shells.
Stones chant long-winded homilies wrapped in short
conjunctions of seaweed. Once submerged, words
are hung to dry; the briny air offers succinct phrases
needed for starters, rolling along until it delivers,
vertex or breech. I float aimless and unable to swim.
I can’t, but I will, I always do. Grey sky drizzles
as I slog along at low tide, stalking silence.
I feel fruitless as if I’d swallowed an entire grapefruit.
What She Wanted to Put in her Poem
When he decided to end it all, he took his pistol
to the garden and held the muzzle to his ear.
His brains would fertilize the cucumbers,
the heirloom tomatoes, the white flesh
of the onions. His blood would seep from him
into the soil where the beans drifted over their stakes.
Nothing would be wasted.
Through the kitchen window, his wife
and step-daughters watched. The son of a bitch
is nothing but a coward, his wife said. He couldn’t hear
what they said. Perhaps it didn’t matter.
But he lowered the pistol. He sank to his knees.
Divorce followed. Years of apartments.
Jobs not worthy of his genius. His younger stepdaughter
remembers him standing in the garden. She remembers
how black the soil, how green the plants. A mist
of rain, so light, adorning his head like a halo.
How brave he was, is what she thinks as she sits
holding a pen and staring at the white page,
to have stood from there and walked back into his life,
not knowing what it would hold,
whether bounty or lack.
Echolocation and Memory
The bells in the tower of the local church
resonate without clarity. Some desires
hang inside us like bells that want to be
rung, though they’ve never been.
Bats, hanging upside down, furry twittering bells,
use echolocation to know where they are,
ignorant of where they’ve been,
lacking a sense of context—memory,
for a bat, an annoying, untranslatable blur.
Like my body, Sister, in the photo
you’ll take of me leaping out the bell tower
of the cathedral in France. Don’t be
jealous of church bells. They can’t do anything
but complain when they’re struck.
They can’t forgive themselves or climb out of
the rickety towers they hang in. You and I
can dance out of whatever we may need to.
What matters is we keep on dancing.
Poetry Saved My Life
To say that is so cliché but then again, I’m a cliché. Right?
When professors asked why I’d started writing poetry I told them—
because before, my life was shit and now it isn’t.
Now it isn’t.
My words are more powerful than ever before. I’ve a voice.
Poetry is a gift and it did save my life. You see, before, I was burned
alive. I’d no shame. I was in pitchfork hell. I was a beast surviving.
I was a beast machine.
Bone machine. Meat machine. I worked in a label printing factory.
I worked in a lawnmower-switch factory. I cleaned shit off toilet lids.
I cleaned Dr. Bizor’s Vision Centers 6pm to 6am and I still work
so I can write poetry.
I owe my life to poetry and I bow down to it. I want to give it back.
I’m tired too but I cannot say no. I get up every morning because I cannot.
I know exactly what I owe.
The Flavor of Neruda in Pomaire
I have been eating
my lover’s own poetry,
words bitten off in the chill
damp air, bringing on
a bright red blush, like
a single blood orange
being squeezed out
of its tight crimson
jacket. With the flavor
of Neruda sweet
on my tongue, a hint
I fill my earthenware
cup with wheeling stars,
my meal in dusty Pomaire—
a simple corn cake
on this summer’s night—
ending in a toast
to Veinte poemas de amor.
I leave off the cancion,
sing of no despair but
what dark things secret
in love’s deep silk pockets.
His rough hand turns my skin
almond, a stone fills space,
heart’s emptying chamber.
Hunger makes its own poetry.
[Pomaire is a village in Chile known for its pottery.]
Hay poesía cuando
las palabras dicen más que el autor,
y el leer lee más que el lector,
y hay poesía cuando
la contingencia es regla, es medida y verdad
y una mujer es todas las mujeres, y es ninguna,
como yo cuando escribo
para que me lean otros
que tampoco son tú.
translated from the Spanish into English by Jackie K. White
There is poetry
when the words say more than the author,
and reading reads more than the reader,
and there is poetry
when contingency rules, is the standard and truth
and one woman is all women, and none,
as I am when I write
so that of all those who read me
you’re never one.
If you start with the poem
what if you can’t come up with a title?
If you start with the title
what if the poem can’t come up to it?
A mythical snake eating its own tail,
a delicate circle of interlocking scales
tattooed between shoulder blades.
And what if you don’t want to show
the lightning-strike crack in your sternum
even if it lit up the whole sky?
Left you cold forever, afraid of the rain.
And then this astonishing thing happens
Near the end of my life,
a line of Lerner superimposed over a line
of Sze = a line of me.