- Short Song for the Long Train Home
- Only What I Mean Is
- Make of My Body a Tree
- A Poem for Sandy Hook
- That Too Damn Early Blue
- After Skipping Stones at Lake Superior
- Cup of Stars
- Ensemble Song
I don’t know much yet about Book of Hours. I have written poetry for years, and in my early 20s, I wrote as much poetry as plays, little of it much good. As time went on, my focus shifted entirely to plays, and my relationship to poetry was one of fervent admirer. I kept reading it by the bucketful, but rarely felt the need to pour any out myself.
That all changed last year, inspired, in part, by a subscription I was given to Poetry. Reading it with some regularity seemed to inspire irregular effusions of the stuff, as if the magazine had raised my antenna to the universe and I had poetic reception once more.
The title, Book of Hours, has been with me for years. At times, I thought it was going to be a blogging project, connected perhaps to the “Hyperlink Bible” that is another project I’ve set myself for 2014 (more on that anon). But as 2013 drew to a close, the title felt like a magnet drawing the jagged little metal of my scattered poems to a center.
Another thing that happened in 2013: I reread Leaves of Grass and a biography of Walt Whitman. Beyond my general love for the poems and the man, I found the idea of a single book of poems, added to over the years, with each of the poems revised in relation to their new siblings and to the changing circumstances of the world, appealing. It felt like a call (as so much of Whitman does), a way of fashioning a handle to the ephemeral. And so, this page of poems.
I have set myself the goal of writing 26 poems this year, or one every other week. The number is not so important, but obligation has always been my surest way to inspiration. I am now obliged to make the time to hoist my antenna to the world and set down what is in the air as best I can. I have no other goals for Book of Hours this year; if all goes well enough, I think 2015 may be the year where I ask the poems if they share a particular direction or not, as Walt’s Leaves most certainly do. It is too early for me to ask that question now.
So this is the book where I’ll collect my hours. –Saturday, January 18, 2014, Day 13,772.
Love is a foreign city
And we don’t know the words
So we make sounds like babies
And sing like little birds
Sometimes I like to think
that I am a small pot of water
and all my passing days
are the heat beneath
and I am beginning to simmer
I am turning into steam
and one day soon I will become
the air: still myself, only everywhere.
Only what I mean
by water is my body and
by steam, I mean words, and
by everywhere, I mean
It is quite a trick
To make the great destroyer dance
Upon a stick
Held slender between finger tips:
Lap the air
This is the hunger to be everywhere
Make of my body a tree
So my soul may rustle when life passes through
And fall with the colors it catches
After the upturned desks, the hiding in closets, the running and
The no time to run; after the lines of red-eyes and open mouths,
The microphones pressed in the faces of children but
Not all of them; after crying in the far office bathroom
For kids I’ll never know in a place I’ve never been, again;
After the petitions and tweets and posts
And speeches and hearts going out out out again,
After the never-again, again;
Again it will happen, in Damascus and Panjwai,
In Columbine and Oakland and other places
Named for trees and flowers; again the promises and laws
Will blossom and fall like trees and flowers, and the kids,
Like trees, like flowers, will be too beautiful to bear but
They will be, borne to places under ordinary grass.
After the grass and the stones on stones, after the name
Of the man with the gun is spoken for the last time,
After there are no words must come the words,
Because there are words and you know you know them,
I do, even if I don’t know how to say them.
They are the words welling up in my eyes as I
Picture the backpacks and crayons; words like cool rain
On scalded minds, words like rivers over dusty laws,
Words that shake my body when I hold you close,
(And I am, right now, holding you close), words
We bury under ordinary grass, because we are busy
And afraid and polite and the jerk in the checkout line
And the asshole in the traffic and the inconvenience
Of all the what were we talking about again? and then,
Tomorrow, another after.
After another after,
I must say rain and river,
After never-again again,
I must sing of backpacks and crayons;
After there are no words,
We must make new ones,
Words fashioned from the sounds
Children make when
They collide in bright-eyes and bruised-knees
Words that don’t wait
To make the world
What we say it is
When we say
This is what the world is
Because the sky is that too damn early blue
I can’t help but see them differently,
Those shoes, floating among the crossing wires,
Electrified effigy to the things kids do.
Somewhere, some kid is walking on the too damn hard,
Shorn of rubber soles that stutter-stepped and up-faked,
Walking on the jagged sticky smoldering street
Barefoot; on feet made for a barer world.
And maybe that’s where they’re going, maybe this
Is what you do; toss your kicks in the high strung air
And don’t look back until the ground is too damn green
For anything but bare bodies, and the things kids do.
Or maybe this is the night work of urban fairies,
Citified sylvan tricksters bringing babies to Bowies,
Leaving only shoes dangling so their parents know:
Now your children on the wild air go.
Or maybe I should I Google it, but it’s too damn easy
(These days) to know the facts: I’d like to toss them up
To roast on crossing wires until they burn into some bare
Unknowable thing; like the truth about what kids do.
The words will be simple, I hope,
Sea-smooth like rocks for skipping,
Skipping. Something for your pocket,
A trinket for your hands to worry on;
Or wait, maybe not words at all
But a touch that fits in your mouth
Like wine, like why; like when you came
To make all this time mean something.
Something like that. Or wait, maybe dying,
Maybe Death is the one going on and on and
We are the words, we are the touch, we
Are the thing it will never have time to say.
This is the ugliness of the world
A man beaten down on the streets of his home
Because of how he looked, or how he loved,
The ugliness of the world is a single face,
A mask anyone can wear
And if you feel weak, it will give you force
(but not strength)
And if you feel confused, it will give you clarity
(but not understanding)
And if you feel lost, it will find you enemies,
It will arm you with weapons and reasons,
(but not peace)
The ugliness of the world is very old
The mask is worn smooth, it slips on easy
And you are not alone when you wear a single face
And maybe this is the face of your fathers–
So pure, unbroken, clean, simple and familiar–
You can mistake that mask for how you really look,
How you truly love
You find yourself on the streets of someone’s home
and take your force and your clarity,
your weapons and your reasons
and with your ancient face break them against his cup of stars.
His cup of stars
(more synapses in the mind than stars in the galaxy)
cracks but does not shatter,
does not spill all the plays, all the places
his words and travels brought to us to say,
This is the beauty of the world.
This is the beauty of the world
to break against the single mask and not be broken,
to pass your cup of stars around to the thirsty,
to all who have forgotten how to look, how to love,
to help them drink strength, understanding, peace.
The beauty of the world is all these faces
gathered in vigil on the streets of someone’s home,
all these candles lit, as if the night in sympathy
had lent us its stars;
all these voices, lifted in a hushed wish,
get well soon;
it is messy, mixed, difficult, complex and unexpected,
it is what you wrote about and will write about,
the beauty of all these faces
and our prayer that one day soon
each of us and all of us
will take off that ancient mask
and look at all this love.
Only this play, only these songs,
With just these players, for just these people,
In this very here, right this very now,
And no other world.