Before the Poem Arrives by Désirée Jung
Waiting for a Poem
They say the weather will be fine.
Roads are clear so there should be
nothing to delay a poem’s arrival.
I wait at the kitchen table, sit
so I can see the door, leave windows
open to listen for its approach.
I’ve been waiting ever since those editors
criticized my poem about wabi sabi.
Since I am not myself Japanese
how can I know what the Japanese think?
While not totally sure about my identity,
they really disliked my certainty in saying
“the Japanese are intentional,” by which
I meant wabi sabi—leaving a small error,
on purpose. Imperfection being the way
of the world. So I remove references
to Japanese intentionality. Wabi sabi, too.
Now, the poet sits, alert for a tap
on the shoulder from her muse saying,
it’s OK. You took a risk.
No one is perfect, you know.
Night is a poem
and I’m no editor;
just a poet
I can take it
or leave it—I read a few lines
as I wait…
These are the nights
for my lovers—That time
will come later
for writing poems
about love and wanting. For now,
I’m just a poet
with a few lines.
A half-empty blank night
who has stood me up.
Dejected, I travel home
in an 11 PM rickshaw.
They are faster at night
gaining velocity from the moon
and the driver—
is an earthy hero.
I lean in
as he recites his poem
I add a few refrains.
He’s no editor;
and my night is just
half a poem.
–> Feby Joseph
For Therapy, I Mix Metaphors
From a frozen wedge of machine-split pine,
tossed on this settling fire, one frayed, martyred
fiber curls back and away like a wire, then
flares, a flame racing the length of a fuse.
Imagine this my innermost strand, a barely-dirt
two-track off Frost’s road less traveled, a thin,
trembling thread of desire, the uncharted blue vein
of a tundral highway. Or in some dread cloister
it dreams, and a sillier spirit suddenly moves—
like four fresh fingers over flamenco frets,
like dumb elegance speaking Old Florentine,
never meaning one of its singing words.
It might dance—Tejano, Zydeco, any twenty
Liebeslieder Waltzes, any juking jumble
of a barrel-house blues—wherever arose
an arousing tune, the thrum of a Kenyan’s
drumming, the merest notion of Motown soul.
I do know: there must be this lost but lively cord,
an original nerve, perhaps abandoned, or jammed
as if into an airless cavity of my old house.
It waits, to spark, to catch, its insulated nest
punctured by the stray tip of a driven nail,
craving some risky remodeling, that annoying
era of air compressor, plaster grit, dumpster,
and the exuberant exhalation of ancient dust.
–> D.R. James
We’ve read about mindfulness,
learning to be only in the here
and now, quiet the usual chaotic
stream crashing through the head.
But isn’t it true that
poets are always mindful,
capturing images, sensing,
then saying how it feels,
noting this day how
water skims the skin
as I swim, stroking, strong;
the too-soon red of a maple
suffering drought now
after so much rain;
the curl of a politician’s lip,
unwilling or unable
to quiet his mind, ever
Cow Crashes Through Roof, Kills Sleeping Man
after Mathew Olzmann
“I didn’t bring my son up to be killed by a falling cow,”
his grieving mother tells the press. No one brings children
into the world to be crushed by plummeting bovines.
Neither does anyone cultivate livestock on purpose
to drop them on civilians unconscious in their beds.
But perhaps we need to be reassured on this point.
Brown-eyed Elsie as agent of the State? Clarabelle weaponized?
It strains credulity. As the poem unfurls, all it knows of this
depends on screens mirrored in screens, arrays of flickered
pixel-dust. That cow could simply be a scare-quote “cow,”
just to briefly advocate on the Devil’s behalf. Rationally,
a corpse could be a “corpse.” A mother, “mother.” Crisis actors.
Three thousand pounds of staged animal. Now the poem is skeptical.
It also wonders about its reader, whatever that claims to be.
“Reader?” More likely a simulacrum of alleged empathy
for proposed mother, man, cow, coffin, others’ say-so.
The poem now thinks it hears sounds of hooves overhead,
iron tearing, screams. Sudden moonlight pools the floor.
But the poem scrolls past all that. There’s no verifiable proof.
When the Stories Stop Being Fiction
There weren’t supposed to be times like this,
when fiction blooms into life, reality takes a break,
and we’re left flipping pages, asking,
What the fuck?
but finding no answers, no matter
how far back we turn.
We were supposed to be the writers,
the crafters of false stories
that titillated us, while reassuring us
these things didn’t happen to real people.
We like our stories on the page,
powerful, sure, but safe. Not spilling over.
Chase your characters up a tree, they told us,
then throw stones at them.
Then set the tree on fire.
Raise those stakes some more. Even more. Ever more.
Yeah, that’s what makes a story feel so real, they said.
While you’re at it, circle the tree with wolves.
But now we find ourselves the protagonists—
always the heroes of our own story, you know
what they say about villains—and who
the hell is throwing stones at us in our creaking tree?
And where did that struck match come from?
That howling can’t be good. It’s coming from us.
Real life—so obvious all along—hurts
a great deal more than our characters on the page
led us to believe. We threw slings and arrows
at them, thinking they were resilient and wouldn’t lie.
This shit was never in the outline
and there is no delete key anymore.
From “wind.” Aeolian? Favonian?
A growing presence. A beast on your
hands. You divert your eyes to
the ceiling as if avoiding the gaze
of a dog you let in and now must either
fully adopt or find a way to be rid of.
Incomplete, it presses against you,
haunches twitching, tail (is it?)
in shadow. You know better than
toss it a morsel, establish that pattern.
It would dart for the tidbit, quickly
return to sit and stare, ever after
misbehave, become untrainable.
Fitfully, the thing shifts, lifting
one, then the other front paw. It wants
all of your attention, your palm
stroking its flank, and at the same time
your fingers to gnaw. It has such
a need, that young trembling jaw,
that your own aches. What is it trying
to say with that faint growl
at the back of its throat? You will not
trivialize by cooing “Pet.” And “Canine”
is generic. This beast cannot be that. How,
then, to grow it, and into what? Not
poodle, not beagle or collie. Yours, though,
your sole responsibility in its thickening
coat, its accumulating parts.
–> Jim Murdoch
I crafted several birds, sent them off
to one house, then another and another. They were
flown straight back. Rarely marked, although
occasionally missing feathers. Not meadow larks,
but I had taught them a meadow lark’s song.
The recipients, apparently, were not charmed.
I modeled a single gerbil, plump, round-cheeked, showed
it around. Being cuter, and soft, it drew some attention,
even encouragement. I put together a few more. Pretty soon,
one was taken. The others fought, though,
jealous and edgy. They nipped and clawed, complained
the one newly placed was the runt, gawky, a kiss-up. Not
my favorite either. I clipped their nails, muzzled them,
did my best to train them to keep their heads low, behave like
the brother who’d found a good home. They sniped
and moaned and sulked.
I made lizards for a while, aware they needed
training, being prone to dart, then freeze. I persuaded
a number of them to stand on hind legs while I taught them
the two-step, ta-dum ta-dum. They grew belligerent,
flattened their bodies to the wall, bared their sharp little teeth.
Costuming them was futile. They carped about being smothered,
tore at their clothes until they were naked once more. Finally, I
let them go sun themselves on rocks, catch
insects with their agile tongues.
Drained of enthusiasm, I put together half a dozen
scarab beetles. They escaped out windows. One, though,
laid a tiny egg before it left. A surprisingly fragile
gift, if that’s what it was. Light and mottled, possibly
a dud, yet I’m giving it room—its own room. I’m calling it
Bud, nudging it (can’t stop myself), but not pressing
or squeezing it into any particular form. I’m waiting,
in no great hurry, to see what it might become.
Riddled with Arrows 5.4:
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