My sister asks me where my ideas come from; I say it’s easier to show you than to say. We pull the ladder from the garage and my sister steadies it as I climb one of our trees. I find a branch to perch, call down for my sister to climb up.
When she’s at my level I point to the nest. “What’s so special about that?” she asks.
“Look inside,” I say. Just leaves, bits of paper, “oh,” she says, pulling carefully a long ribbon of text. Maybe the start of a novel, maybe your autobiography. She starts reading and reading, it’s a moving tale, she looks teary-eyed at me.
“Did you write this?” She reads me a paragraph: it’s about a woman who is struggling with loss. It’s moving, I might use it in something.
We sit there awhile, gazing at all the trees, all the forkings with their hidden nests. “How much of what you write is taken from birds in your yard? Don’t the birds have a problem with you damaging their nests?”
We climb down and sit. Why make excuses? “No,” I say. “We have an arrangement.” The birds arrive, hundreds, each with little tiny scraps of paper in their beaks or claws.
Roosting on Telephone Wires
All the words in poems are hollow-boned, light,
with feathers, like pigeons on telephone wires
jumping over one another changing places, feet
humming with vibrations of thousands of words.
Pigeons with iridescent feathers roost on telephone wires
filled with thousands of words absorbed through their talons.
Hollow-boned lines in poems are light, tumbling over
one another with their feet changing places.
Soaking up iridescent words, pigeons coo and chirp
connecting sounds that echo through hollow bones,
a holy, spirited conversation that makes their feet jump
as they crowd next to each other on wires, thousands of them
dancing like dervishes or shaking with the voices they hear
through wires attached to telephones, conversations fly
across the country carrying pointless, hollow words
or with a sacred meaning few understand.
Feathers soften the hum of secret incantations passing
between doves roosting on the heads of prophets,
their tongues purified, hot coals melting words in their mouths.
Birds stand in small fonts waiting to fly in unison.
Of one voice they sing in hymnody praises and secrets
passed through their feet swelling with greens and purples,
iridescent feathers shivering a reverberating sibilance,
all the words of poems are hollow-boned and light.
Scriba et Labora
What is left, said the old woman
but to write and to work.
Has not scribbling been my labor
and my prayer
as if words could feed
I toss my bread
onto the frozen grass
and what comes to feed.
A few disreputable birds.
I pretend one
is that old World War I carrier pigeon
who lost his father to a storm
and his mother to a hawk.
I want something
and my crumbs, a tiny tube
that wings messages
from place to place.
See how I am writing lines
two by two, you could curl them
around a match stick
and send them off
with news of every Verdun
that continual victory
that continual defeat.
The Superfluous Hen
How my heart pricks with green tender envy
of SFO airport. Her unseeing monitors gaze
on the dear cheeks and chins of my chicks,
the absent treasures my eyes seek hungrily,
haggard on camera-caught smiles, fading in
the hall. She has the real sunshine, flooding
the chambers of her lifeless heart, an empty
incubation. Once I gathered my darlings
under my wings, snug among these words,
a naughty bunny, a kind collie-dog, a clever
fox. Jemima Puddle-duck, who could not sit
her own eggs to hatching, complained of she
who could, the superfluous hen. Each vowel
careful, warble the syllables, twist of tongue,
kissed into ears – su̇-ˈpər-flü-əs. Melodious
grain, nibbled. You will fly one day, all golden
feathers, buoyed on my adoring, I thought. But
the distances increased, my pinions cannot reach
Philly, to rowboats on sparkling east coast lakes,
nor Chicago Orchestra Hall, hushed to hear their
soaring song. Now they line up, eager, stretching
under metallic wings at SFO, and I, chickless,
absurd as Jemima, lament the superfluous hen.
Why Poets Need to Travel
At 36,000 feet with will
and purpose cruising along
a preordained path,
brushing against strangers
into flights of fancy toeing
the line between time zones,
knowing that familiar faith
is on board but wondering
where, exactly, I reach up
over my head for what’s mine,
for the reminders of when
I handpicked my own life
and the book falls open
on a page where an unfinished
poem sat abandoned, with
a note beside it that shouted,
“It’s going nowhere because
you don’t mean it,” perhaps
a suggestion by fate or muse
that airborne creatures owe
truth no favors except to try
to aim at the direction where
the noisiest, most turbulence—
savvy metaphors are going.
* * *
Here, gravity and light are but
disposable symbols, moments
are not chronological and
the people back home don’t
miss any of us yet.
The sleep-deprived senses are
all window seats to the breath-
takingly beautiful impossible.
Anything goes. We are free
to store physics and feelings
in Ziploc bags, reject
personal limitations that
exceed three fluid ounces,
and finally get around to
reverse-engineering the sky.
The Master of Time
within “The Matter of Time” by Richard Serra
at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
My awe and wonder of that moment remained. All the raw material that I needed is contained in the reserve of this memory which has become a recurring dream.
—Richard Serra recalling, in his essay “Weight,” the launch of a ship for which his father was a pipefitter.
Was it like this for my own father day after day for years in a swirl of steel
sheets and panels for the warships he welded at the Brooklyn Navy Yard?
Dizzying, he said, the claustrophobic compartments where he breathed
fluxes and from rods the asbestos that would smother him to death decades
after as singularly as the sunken vacuums of these ships suffocated so soon
sailors whose mates drowned above them. No ribbons, no bells, but prayers
from the sons and granddaughters into whom he did breathe life and a fragile
immortality in this poem inspired by the changing light, rippling walls,
wandering colors, and confidence that the slants and curls will stand as surely,
as fearfully, as symmetrically as those blacksmiths who created art and artists.
I like to see what’s on my mind
one thought at a time, a blip
short as a flammable blimp
incinerating over Chicago.
I like the softness of Chicago
sounds as I land at Midway,
step outside for a smoke
and for the swoosh of a train’s
long rush. I like the contrapuntal
nature of the singular conversation;
me, myself, and I along the song
of the metallic steel voices rising.
What will become of the pen
when the young poet of 2317
sees one of those
his great-grandfather spoke about,
somewhere in the Great Appalachian Valley,
and rather than rush to a notebook
for a quick scribble,
he touches a button on his glasses
to make a holographic keyboard
appear before him, and all he can do
is fiddle with his fingers to spawn fake letters
in an augmented reality—
fake words molded into fake stanzas
that will never be printed or held in hand?
He will never know what real letters feel like,
or numbers, or symbols—
the characters will all click the same.
W will sound just like ampersand,
& he will never know the joy
of crossing t’s & dotting i’s,
& all those teens typing away at their essays
during an exam will think Space
feels like a sideways hammer of the thumb.
Space is not a sideways hammer of the thumb.
It’s when your hand pays respect to the words
by moving aside to give elbow room to a period
& a capital S. Space feels like the short smooth
graze of the edge of your palm on fresh paper,
& it sounds like nothing.
Losing gravity, pulled up by Fate
To enigmatic and intricate outer space
Where the y-coordinates of molten-gold stars are
Functioning with letters of the alphabet
An undefined equation that discreetly scintillates—
Chosen words and broadcasts to my secular hands
Within a millisecond, my strange fingers are bewitched
By the scorching rays of the Sun
The nonsense starts to breathe: : :
With feelings — and — heartbeats
Ambling around, slapping the planets into reality
Yet against the explicit logic of my mind
Pitched words of exactness and truth
I am irretrievably lost in outer space
Floating, fearful of the unknown galaxy
An astronaut, my head inside the helmet of poetry
–> Eva Liu
Playing Fetch with My Pen
Their poems are longer. Perhaps my
poems should be longer?
But a poem is like a dog—if I give
the leash more slack, a poem will race
across the park, dragging me behind.
Is that a bad thing?
Perhaps I should learn to run faster,
or discard the leash entirely and get
a tennis ball, throw it in a wide,
high arc in the sky, give the poem
something to run toward.