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In the Leaving

Mood: Exhausted
Drinking: Water

I’m in the mood today for this lovely thing:

it is in the leaving
by Nicole Blackman
(from Blood Sugar)

it is in the leaving that the agony begins
— hope and skin stretched too far

time enough for words
borrowed and weighty

eyes that glisten in the knowing of what comes
always comes

train stations
bus stops
take us apart

but we keep knitting together
strangely inevitably
even we don’t question it anymore

it is not in the reuniting that we are together

no kind of kiss binds us
each greeting
each meeting
is new is full of searching
of notsureifitwillbethesame

it is not in the continuing

not in the birthdays anniversaries new years
(although they’re very grand)
nor in the letters calls poems

the miss you’s are careless because they are common

it is not in the waiting

the day-counting
the trip-planning
the bag-packing
no kind of agony that shreds days makes us together
(calendars are cruel)

it is in the leaving

in the last look
last touch
last kiss
one more
will i ever see you again
that makes me sure
that makes him sure
that this is a great love

it is in the leaving

Lo, taking her leave.

The Writing Muscle

Mood: Procrastinating
Drinking: Tooth-rottingly sweet tea

Soon and very soon, I’m off to a conference for poets and writers.

I’m not sure what to expect. Writers often tend to be quite competitive, myself included. You always want to be the best in the room. Trouble is, “The Best” is so very subjective.

I tend to think that poets like Nicole Blackman are far better than your average stuffed poet laureate. But that’s me.

I went to a poetry reading the other night and watched a woman in green bob her head emphatically up and down like some sort of epileptic chicken at nearly everything the featured reader said. Clearly, she thought his overwrought, pedantic, self-important stanzas were the cat’s meow.

I, on the other hand, thought he was in rather desperate need of an editor. And an enema. (Rawr!)

So you see, different strokes…

Perhaps I’ll meet fellow writers who are lovely and kind, fellow poets who turn fine phrases without rancor. (I know they exist — I met one named Gary just the other night.)

But really, I’ll just be happy to exercise my own writing muscles, to learn new things about words and craft and self. There’s always room to learn and grow. No matter who you think you are.

And as added impetus for the wordy weekend ahead, a friend sent me this poem in an email titled, “Why I love and worship Auden.” It’s an amazing piece of work, not only for its beauty but also for its resounding truth…

Musee des Beaux Arts
by W.H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
the Old Masters; how well, they understood
its human position; how it takes place
while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
for the miraculous birth, there always must be
children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
on a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
that even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
but for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
as it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

-Lo, once more into the breach.

Pink Strip

Mood: Over it
Drinking: Diet Coke with a dash of that magical vanilla

Pink Strip

Blame it on the genes.
They’ve betrayed you.

Curvaceous Helix Traitors.
Deoxyribonucleic Renegades.

And if you think proteins and
sugar phosphates
can’t have an
ulterior motive, a
sinister agenda, the
last laugh, you
have not done your homework.

It’s a biochemical mutiny,
and you’re walking the plank.

Blame it on the boy, if you want.
He double-crossed you, too.

Malefic Civilian Informer.
Treacherous Morrissey Fanboy.

You should know by now
that you can’t trust a man
with magnets for eyes. He
carves your initials
into his arm
just to infiltrate the psych ward
to find you. It’s so bloody, it’s almost
romantic. But then he doesn’t just
push your buttons, he
threads a needle and sews them
right into your skin. He’s a card
carrying member of Nicole’s
Black Cotton Mafia and you
are his heroin moll.

It’s a Dark Boy conspiracy
and you need witness protection.

Blame it on Jesus. Everyone does.
Isn’t silence a breach of good faith?

Deficient Deity.
Inadequate Savior.

Just when you’re ready to seek
and to find, that’s when
he goes into hiding.
He goes into stealth mode,
radio silent.
He goes incognito.
He goes away.
(It’s almost like he wants you
to beg for it.)

So you do.
You get down on your knees
in the bedraggled back bathroom
of Andy’s Chinese.
You assume the position
and you say “Our Father,
pretty please.”

Then you wait for heaven
to crack wide open
and spit out an angel
but you’d settle for something
smaller and less brilliant.
You’d settle for an answer.
But all you see is the ceiling
the white paint falling in flakes
to reveal a yellow sheen
circa 1973
hidden underneath.

You start to think
the colors in this room
have formed an alliance against you.
White is never as innocent as it
first appears. There’s always a secret
seeping through like a yellow disease.
And this pink in your hand,
so nauseating
so Pepto Bismol
so far from pretty.
You never did like the pastels.

So you’re left with the pink strip
and the absolute absence of
divine intervention.

is busy.
Boy is oblivious.
And your genes, well,
they’re just too dangerous.

So you blame it on yourself, finally.
You make such a good villain.

And villains don’t make good mothers.
(The defects are hereditary.)

-Lo, who knows that not all poems can be taken at face value and not all Morrissey fanboys are treacherous.

Freaks? Yes, please!

Mood: Scheming
Drinking: Coke of the diet vanilla variety

In the course of my recent Internet stalking of a fellow poet, I was elated to read this post on her blog:
“After reading 4 volumes of ‘best american poetry’, i am willing to make the statement that i really hate a lot of poetry. perhaps i am not a poet at all. perhaps, as (friend) suggests, i am actually a text dj. because i don’t wanna have anything to do with what those folks do. and likely? vice versa!”

To which I say a very loud, “Hell, yeah!”

This is probably one of the reasons why I enjoy her poetry…because we are part of the secret poetry-hater sisterhood. If only there were such a thing. (By the way, I’m not going to keep her to myself. Her name is Daphne Gottlieb, and you can check out some of her work here.)

Back in the school daze of sack lunches and dress codes, there was a “Literature” class that scarred me forever. We studied the collected works of long-revered poets and it all merged into a mush that sounded like this:

“From cocoon forth a butterfly
As lady from her door
Emerged–a summer afternoon–
Repairing everywhere,

Without design, that I could trace,
Except to stray abroad
On miscellaneous enterprise
The clovers understood.

Her pretty parasol was seen
Contracting in a field
Where men made hay, yawn yawn etcetera…”

And although her name is the first that comes to mind when I try to root out the source of my poetry hatred, Emily Dickinson is not the only one who bored me into endlessly doodling “Mrs. Luke Skywalker” in intricate curliques all over my unicorn notebook. I never met a poet in textbooks that I actually liked. And the first time someone referred to my writing as “poetry”, I was equal parts horrified and offended.

I didn’t want to be one of “those people”, writing about the wonder of bees and trees and crafting rhyming Hallmark couplets about friendship and daisies. I’m all too aware that there are legions of people who think Miss Dickinson is a genius. And even more who spend their hard-earned quarters on mawkish greeting cards. And far too many more who think that they are a “poet” because they wrote something along the lines of:

“I know you’re watching me from heaven
with gossamer angel wings of love.
But I still miss you, Grandma,
you were a gift sent from above.”

Heartfelt, schmaltzy rhymes do not a poet make.

For years, I thought I was the only one who loved words but hated poetry. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve picked up a volume of poetry and started reading, waded about two lines in, rolled my eyes, and tossed the book back on the shelf. I have always wanted some blood and tears in my poems. Make me feel it. Make me see it. Show me some beautiful pain. Some rawness. Some sacrilege. Some reality.

And then one glorious day I found Sylvia and her poppies. (“If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!”)

She and her suicide were too scandalous for them to teach in the uptight private school I attended, but I found her anyway. I still remember the moment I read “Mad Girl’s Love Song” and swooned…

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,

and arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

Sylvia Plath erased my fear of poetry. And after her there was Charles Bukowski with his women and his whiskey and his affinity for dogs and racehorses. And then came Nicole Blackman and her black cotton mafia. And now I’ve met Daphne and her blooming grenades.

Kindred spirits, all. Misfits and freaks and raging voices in the night. My kind of people. Be they poets, drunks or text DJs, I don’t care. Whatever it is that these pens pull from paper, it is good. It is real. It is true. It frightens away the bees. It separates the daisy people from the bloody poppies. And if it doesn’t, I don’t like it.

If you’re the biggest Dickinson fan in the world and you think I’m an arrogant snob and an awfully naughty poetry hater, that’s just fine. Go ahead and toss your sticks and stones. Me and the freaks will be over here in the corner sharpening our pens.

-Lo, whose favorite Nicole Blackman line at the moment is: “I want matches in case I have to suddenly burn.”