Monday, July 27, 2009

BETTING CHERYL

Perhaps it might be better if I stopped reading these selections of C.S. Lewis writing from the point of view of a devil. They're entirely too good. Good like cake! (I only wish these margins were wider.)


BETTING CHERYL
“Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.” C.S. Lewis

He said he’d see my fatted calf and raise me one vase filled with coconut oil.
I knew which vase he referred to. He hadn’t used it since the first magician died.
You giggled the words: I swear, I’m a virgin! and I told you to shut it, Cheryl,
this no longer concerned you, though everyone at the table knew very well it did.
He wasn’t bluffing. His wife, at least I think she’s his wife, smiled at him
and he cut thoughtfully into his salmon filet. If he’d been bluffing
he would’ve ordered steak like that time he told me no one ever dies.
This wife of his had her larynx removed when she was just a girl. I heard it was voluntary.
She smiles a lot and it freaks me out. Oh, honey, you said, I love coconut oil!
I wanted to throw you in the river with your wrists tied to your ankles,
but you’d never have your larynx removed on purpose which means your vanity is intact.
It only prolongs your loss to bet higher, he said, swallowing.
He ate the parsley too. What’s sick is how he grinned at you the whole time,
like he was trying to imagine what was in your purse, like he already knew.
But I do know, he said, laughing. He laughs like a mule and gambles like one too.
I didn’t even see a waitress but I yelled for more water. This was getting old.
I raised him again, this time betting all the blue in your eyes. You gaped at his wife
and said, isn’t that sweet! but I ignored you, offered to blow it gently from your head
right then and there, like dust off a fishbowl.


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Thursday, July 23, 2009

QUEEN

Here, have another poem that's still kinda rough around the edges, particularly in the title department. And would you please comment?


QUEEN


I was reading comfortably until the queen in my book
asked me plainly if I could hear her well enough.
She had just lost a child. It was Rome before Caesar
and she lived in a thick stone palace built up
behind the scabby hillsides rising out of the Mediterranean.
Death snuck in like an ivy tendril and took her baby boy
the way a flower takes water—that’s how she described it.

I didn’t answer her question, but I paused briefly
before going on reading. She went back to tending her fire,
a task meant for servants but she took great pleasure in it,
jabbing the black logs with an ugly bronze sword
whose tip scraped raw white lines in the soot.
She stopped once more and asked how I came to understand her,
did I speak Latin? Her voice was heating up

and I couldn’t tell if she would weep or fling a cinder at me.
I clenched the piece of yarn I used to mark my place.
My little grey cat looked down from the study window, anxious.
But the queen seemed to lose her concentration again
and started a lovely meditation on laurel groves.
I shut the book gently and put my feet down in the shallow river
swirling through my house—a choice I’d made over traditional carpet.

It’s only knee deep from the study to my bedroom.
My cat jumps easily from sill to sill to nightstand,
and we curl up in bed like pearls on the oyster’s tongue.
The cat falls asleep quickly, it’s as good as waking for her,
but I watch flying fish jump over my dresser for hours.
The doves outside my window are relentless with their cooing,
always asking to be let in, always wanting to drink.


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Thursday, July 16, 2009

WHAT'S SPECIAL ABOUT MILK

First of all, I'd like to make a wee clarification. I recently discovered that my husband was discussing with the wonderful Peter Sears, bless their little hearts, all of my faults as a poet. Apparently they agree that I am too careless when it comes to letting others see my work; I don't let things simmer long enough.

Well, while it was heartening to hear that Tom discussed these things at all, I automatically became defensive. (This story has no moral. I'm still defensive.) No, I don't keep work to myself often. I obey basic copyright limitations when I'm published, but other than that, I'm usually more than happy to hand poems out and wait for a quickie critique. Not that I need to know. Not that I need assurance. But I do truly enjoy hearing other people react to my work. (Don't we all? Most writers--yes, only most--write to be read.) It keeps me thinking. And it makes my engine run. My poems aren't really few and far between, so I guess I'm not as protective as Tom and Peter think I ought to be.

That being said, I wanted to clarify that this blog is a posting of rough drafts on purpose. I put poems up, typically, within 24 hours of writing them. Sometimes they change drastically with time. (Once it's written, people, it's simmering, all right? We all exist in time, so technically everything I do is simmering.) Sometimes only mechanics change. And, sometimes, I abandon them in my computer files once I see that they aren't the effective ideas I thought they were.

This poem was composed last night. And we'll see in a week or so whether I like it!


WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT MILK


Say I meet the woman who runs the chocolate shop
out on the edge of the York countryside.
Say I ask her to tell me the recipe for a certain truffle
and she knows exactly how its liquor center is made
because the man who brought the rum from the belly of the barge
whose name is Patrick used to be her lover.
Say mentioning rum reminds her how she used to fall asleep
in Patrick’s arms down in the cellar while he told her stories
about Jamaican sunsets and suddenly she’s blushing
because her words are red as raspberries and she waves her left hand
like she’s swatting a familiar, beautiful bug away
and tells me certain truffles, like rum delivery men, just come to be.
Say she tells me this old brick building
used to be a hat shop and I can call her Hattie if I want.
Say my right hand is resting on a chilled glass case then
and I rub with my thumb the old bronze latch there,
straighten my spine, and introduce myself as Eliza Doolittle
because I know it doesn’t matter who I am here
and hats make me think it might have been fun to see the horse races
with a big bowl of birds and tulle and ribbon
pinned to the top of my head like Audrey Hepburn.
Say the chocolate shop woman isn’t thinking of hats at all
but of the building, the bricks, the waxy banister that swirls down
the staircase behind the giant silver mixer, down to the cellar
she used to sleep in so often, where the great refrigerator stands
over a cool concrete floor smooth as a bone.
Say it gets her thinking about those terrible French women
who make a big deal about chocolate among other things like sailors and rum
when all a true truffle maker needs to know is well-tempered milk.
Say she starts chanting m-i-l-k, milk, milk, milk, under her breath
right there behind the counter like she’s found an old rhythm
and she’s about to jump rope around it.
Say she nearly forgets I am there but because I ask
what’s so special about milk, she comes down
from her chocolate Jamaican heaven full of raspberries and Patrick
like a woman in a bottle being poured out in a white river,
and say she gets so sad waking up that fast she imagines
I am crying too and tells me, well, Miss Doolittle,
the angrier the cow the spicier the milk and the quicker
the chocolate is lost to an early curdle, and women like us
with our watering eyes couldn’t handle another loss like that.


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Sunday, July 5, 2009

BABY WITH MEXICO

Lish was talking about how Mexico is a hard dame to break up with, how she's so difficult, with her roosters and dogs and loud cars, then she sweeps you off your feet with horseback rides and beauty and good food. So I asked Lish what she thought her baby would look like if Mexico got her pregnant. It got me thinking. I read somewhere, the other day, that the French surrealists used a sense of imagination that was "dizzying" and were therefore allowed to write nearly anything they wanted, that it provided them with a sense of literary freedom that hasn't been seen since. Clearly, they're great role models, but also serve as springboards into the nutty. Obsoive.


LETTERS FROM A FRIEND IN MEXICO


Mexico is the kind of lover who breaks your arm
before crushing you on the bedspread, she writes.
She simplifies: Mexico is a talented woman
in a boring brown dress and strips of old leather
criss-crossed around her ankles. Mexico is a ruler
who knows how to torment, who spits pepper
into the throats of roosters and carries like a ring bearer
their wild barking through window latches and keyholes,
who rolls the tire that propels the car that shuttles the boy
that holds the pistol that shoots a silver lasso around a pack of dogs.
She writes to say that Mexico has gotten the entire group
of women she travels with pregnant. That Mexico wants
to be a good husband but the children have come out
part donkey foal, part dove, part tomato vine, part waterfall.
They don’t live long, she writes.
They eat grass, sing, stretch, and dissolve. Her last letter
says she’s been told the only way to get home with her sanity
is to hop from rooftop to rooftop on the back of a trusted farm horse.
A merchant tells her so. He says he hears women escaping at night,
clattering across shingles, above the roosters and cars and dogs.
He says he’s caught them looking down on Mexico
as she calls up to them, promising things—
rivers, limes, rest—but the women in the sky can see
Mexico telling lies about her pockets full of sand.


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