Poem of the Week, by Catalina Ferro

Everyone in my creative writing workshop memorized a poem and recited it last week in class. The only rule was that the poem had to be a minimum of three lines long (think haiku). “Anxiety Group” was one of the many poems, and even though she was nervous and worried that she’d forget some of the lines, the writer who performed it did a great job. The power of the poem, there in the classroom, was such that I went and looked it up to see the original slam poet perform it. Give it a look (link at bottom). “Here we are, all in the lifeboat together.”

Anxiety Group
– Catalina Ferro

There is a German satellite falling to Earth.

She says,
‘What if it hits me?’

Welcome to Anxiety Group.

The kingdom of the sweaty palm and the jiggling leg,
Where the women wrap themselves up tight.
Where the men bite nails till blood.

We are the magnifiers of molehills.
We are the princes of panic,
The ambassadors of anguish.
There is no pride here.

We lack the discipline of the eating disorder group
Lack the self-riotousness of bereavement group
And we’re not as fun as procrastinators anonymous.

Nobody wants to be here.
Me? I don’t sleep.
Can’t sleep.
I make insomnia look professional,
Make your tossing and turning look like afternoon hiccups.
The longest I’ve gone is nine days,
Went literally insane.
Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, you know,
And I do this to myself.

Melatonin makes me sad,
Benadryl is for amateurs,
Hypnotics turn off the lights too quickly,
And weed makes me crazy.

Diazepam, Lorazepam, Bromazepram, Alprazolam,
Klonopin is the only thing that works.
And they’re weaning me off it,
So, like a baby forced to remove breast from mouth, take bottle instead,
I got sent to anxiety group.
And apparently, we’re all going to die,
Because while the girl to my left worries that the satellite will hit her,
The woman to my right worries that it will hit a nuclear power plant,
And then,
We’re all fucked.

My father says only rich people go to therapy,
Poor people got shit to do.
And yet, here I am,
In this lifeboat
Surrounded by eight of the most beautiful, crazy ass motherfuckers the word has ever seen.

‘What if it’s not just a mole?’
‘What if it’s a flesh-eating virus?’
‘What if I fail at life?’
‘But what if it really is the rapture this time?’
‘What if they hit us again?
‘What if I wake one morning to see planes scraping skies again?’
‘What if it’s me this time?’

And I think ‘Wow.
It must be exhausting to want to live this much.’
Fuck the depressives,
Fuck the body-image meditation group,
Fuck sex addicts anonymous.

Give me your tired,
Your poor,
Your anxious,
Your huddles masses yearning to breathe deeply and count to ten.
Give me this collection of blurted confessions,
Of psychosomatic itch,
Of twitch and tick,
Of stutter and sweat,
Give me these weak kneed,
Jumpy-ass, too much saliva, break out in hives, awkward stomach, hair falling out,
Chewing lips, restless leg, pounding heart bastards
Any day of the week

These people who fight through every day
Like fucking gladiators,
Who fight demons worse than you and I could dream of,
Just because they want so badly to live
To hold on
To love
Because you can’t be this afraid of losing everything
If you don’t love everything first
Because you have to have
a soul-crushing hope
That things will get better
To be this afraid of missing it.


To watch Catalina Ferro perform “Anxiety Group,” please click here.


My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

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Poem of the Week, by Lianne Spidel

The workshops I teach, at my non-traditional, designed-for-working-adults university, are filled with all kinds of characters, with characters meaning people: tattoo artists, auto mechanics, journalists, pearl-wearing grandmothers, cops, military vets, hairdressers, graphic designers and you name it, you get the picture. Within the first class, friendships and alliances are formed. I can’t even call them unlikely alliances, because they aren’t. People are people, first and always. “A gentle affinity.”
Summer School
           – Liann Spidel
Because I needed to know for a poem,
I asked the science teacher sitting
next to me (the one they teased
about his massive chest) to explain
to me the composition of a cloud.
He had already told me he was there
only for the credit, a step up
on the salary scale. His wife
wanted a bigger house, the kids
were growing, he was overwhelmed

with bills and coaching.
I said, “When you’re my age
it will empty out.
There’s too much, then all
at once there’s almost nothing.”

When he answered me about the cloud,
his voice went soft:
“Moisture on dust,” and when
I asked him “in” or “on,”
he said it didn’t matter

either way. We never shared
a coffee and spoke only
of casual things, a still viable
jock and a graying grandmother
pretending to concentrate on the course

content, side by side through indolent
hours, easy in the peaceful co
existence a couple of prepositions
had provided–a gentle affinity,
pleasure like moisture on dust.

​For more information on Lianne Spidel, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lianne-spidel​


My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

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Poem of the Week, by Bob Hicok

I’ve been stuck on long poems the past few weeks, poems that tell stories from beginning to end. This one makes me wince and laugh and wince and laugh. Why does it take so long for parents and children to see each other as people, unstuck from the If only you’d done this or that. I have taught for a long time now at an under-the-radar state university created for working adults. Many of my students, when asked to write about a workplace they know intimately, scratch out intense, short, powerful pieces set in restaurants or loading docks or auto body shops or telephone call centers or daycares. I can’t imagine my dad ever, by choice, sitting down to read or write a poem, but he could tell you anything you want to know about any Yankees player from the last sixty years. Or how to get a chainsaw unstuck from a tree trunk. Or that a splash of Clorox will do as a disinfectant for a cut in a pinch. He could also tell you what it’s like to watch one of his children in pain, and not know how to help, or what to say. He might not put that feeling in words like “we’d turned into a door full of sun,” but I am picturing him right now, easing himself into the car, ready to drive us both up to the diner, and reaching over to turn on the passenger seat warmer because he knows I’m always cold.
O my pa-pa
– Bob Hicok
Our fathers have formed a poetry workshop.
They sit in a circle of disappointment over our fastballs
and wives. We thought they didn’t read our stuff,
whole anthologies of poems that begin, My father never,
or those that end, and he was silent as a carp,
or those with middles which, if you think
of the right side as a sketch, look like a paunch
of beer and worry, but secretly, with flashlights
in the woods, they’ve read every word and noticed
that our nine happy poems have balloons and sex
and giraffes inside, but not one dad waving hello
from the top of a hill at dusk. Theirs
is the revenge school of poetry, with titles like
“My Yellow Sheet Lad” and “Given Your Mother’s Taste
for Vodka, I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Mine.”
They’re not trying to make the poems better
so much as sharper or louder, more like a fishhook
or electrocution, as a group
they overcome their individual senilities,
their complete distaste for language, how cloying
it is, how like tears it can be, and remember
every mention of their long hours at the office
or how tired they were when they came home,
when they were dragged through the door
by their shadows. I don’t know why it’s so hard
to write a simple and kind poem to my father, who worked,
not like a dog, dogs sleep most of the day in a ball
of wanting to chase something, but like a man, a man
with seven kids and a house to feed, whose absence
was his presence, his present, the Cheerios,
the PF Flyers, who taught me things about trees,
that they’re the most intricate version of standing up,
who built a grandfather clock with me so I would know
that time is a constructed thing, a passing, ticking fancy.
A bomb. A bomb that’ll go off soon for him, for me,
and I notice in our fathers’ poems a reciprocal dwelling
on absence, that they wonder why we disappeared
as soon as we got our licenses, why we wanted
the rocket cars, as if running away from them
to kiss girls who looked like mirrors of our mothers
wasn’t fast enough, and it turns out they did
start to say something, to form the words hey
or stay, but we’d turned into a door full of sun,
into the burning leave, and were gone
before it came to them that it was all right
to shout, that they should have knocked us down
with a hand on our shoulders, that they too are mystified
by the distance men need in their love.

​For more information on Bob Hicok, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/bob-hicok​


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Poem of the Week, by B.H. Fairchild

In the past couple of weeks I keep coming back to this poem. I’ve read it through a few times, slowly, each time thinking the same thoughts, along the lines of This is a story, not a poem, and I wish there were more plumber/electrician/miner/farmer poets, and Why does this poem make me want to cry, and Geeze, these lines “our fathers fall in love with their own stories” and “And they did not because they were men, and this was a boy” are beautiful, and Honest to God, the stories we make up out of our lives are what get us through, and then I think about some of the quick and fierce and goodlooking boys I grew up with, almost none of whom I’ve seen since high school graduation, and I can see them out on the twilight ballfield of this poem.

 

Body and Soul
– B.H. Fairchild

Half-numb, guzzling bourbon and Coke from coffee mugs,
our fathers fall in love with their own stories, nuzzling
the facts but mauling the truth, and my friend’s father begins
to lay out with the slow ease of a blues ballad a story
about sandlot baseball in Commerce, Oklahoma decades ago.
These were men’s teams, grown men, some in their thirties
and forties who worked together in zinc mines or on oil rigs,
sweat and khaki and long beers after work, steel guitar music
whanging in their ears, little white rent houses to return to
where their wives complained about money and broken Kenmores
and then said the hell with it and sang Body and Soul
in the bathtub and later that evening with the kids asleep
lay in bed stroking their husband’s wrist tattoo and smoking
Chesterfields from a fresh pack until everything was O.K.
Well, you get the idea. Life goes on, the next day is Sunday,
another ball game, and the other team shows up one man short.

They say, we’re one man short, but can we use this boy,
he’s only fifteen years old, and at least he’ll make a game.
They take a look at the kid, muscular and kind of knowing
the way he holds his glove, with the shoulders loose,
the thick neck, but then with that boy’s face under
a clump of angelic blonde hair, and say, oh, hell, sure,
let’s play ball. So it all begins, the men loosening up,
joking about the fat catcher’s sex life, it’s so bad
last night he had to hump his wife, that sort of thing,
pairing off into little games of catch that heat up into
throwing matches, the smack of the fungo bat, lazy jogging
into right field, big smiles and arcs of tobacco juice,
and the talk that gives a cool, easy feeling to the air,
talk among men normally silent, normally brittle and a little
angry with the empty promise of their lives. But they chatter
and say rock and fire, babe, easy out, and go right ahead
and pitch to the boy, but nothing fancy, just hard fastballs
right around the belt, and the kid takes the first two
but on the third pops the bat around so quick and sure
that they pause a moment before turning around to watch
the ball still rising and finally dropping far beyond
the abandoned tractor that marks left field. Holy shit.
They’re pretty quiet watching him round the bases,
but then, what the hell, the kid knows how to hit a ball,
so what, let’s play some goddamned baseball here.
And so it goes. The next time up, the boy gets a look
at a very nifty low curve, then a slider, and the next one
is the curve again, and he sends it over the Allis Chalmers,
high and big and sweet. The left field just stands there, frozen.
As if this isn’t enough, the next time up he bats left-handed.
They can’t believe it, and the pitcher, a tall, mean-faced
man from Okarche who just doesn’t give a shit anyway
because his wife ran off two years ago leaving him with
three little ones and a rusted-out Dodge with a cracked block,
leans in hard, looking at the fat catcher like he was the sonofabitch
who ran off with his wife, leans in and throws something
out of the dark, green hell of forbidden fastballs, something
that comes in at the knees and then leaps viciously towards
the kid’s elbow. He swings exactly the way he did right-handed
and they all turn like a chorus line toward deep right field
where the ball loses itself in sagebrush and the sad burnt
dust of dustbowl Oklahoma. It is something to see.

But why make a long story long: runs pile up on both sides,
the boy comes around five times, and five times the pitcher
is cursing both God and His mother as his chew of tobacco sours
into something resembling horse piss, and a ragged and bruised
Spalding baseball disappears into the far horizon. Goodnight,
Irene. They have lost the game and some painful side bets
and they have been suckered. And it means nothing to them
though it should to you when they are told the boy’s name is
Mickey Mantle. And that’s the story, and those are the facts.
But the facts are not the truth. I think, though, as I scan
the faces of these old men now lost in the innings of their youth,
it lying there in the weeds behind that Allis Chalmers
just waiting for the obvious question to be asked: why, oh
why in hell didn’t they just throw around the kid, walk him,
after he hit the third homer? Anybody would have,
especially nine men with disappointed wives and dirty socks
and diminishing expectations for whom winning at anything
meant everything. Men who knew how to play the game,
who had talent when the other team had nothing except this ringer
who without a pitch to hit was meaningless, and they could go home
with their little two-dollar side bets and stride into the house
singing If You’ve Got the Money, Honey, I’ve Got the Time
with a bottle of Southern Comfort under their arms and grab
Dixie or May Ella up and dance across the gray linoleum
as if it were V-Day all over again. But they did not
And they did not because they were men, and this was a boy.
And they did not because sometimes after making love,
after smoking their Chesterfields in the cool silence and
listening to the big bands on the radio that sounded so glamorous,
so distant, they glanced over at their wives and noticed the lines
growing heavier around the eyes and mouth, felt what their wives
felt: that Les Brown and Glenn Miller and all those dancing couples
and in fact all possibility of human gaiety and light-heartedness
were as far away and unreachable as Times Square or the Avalon
ballroom. They did not because of the gray linoleum lying there
in the half-dark, the free calendar from the local mortuary
that said one day was pretty much like another, the work gloves
looped over the doorknob like dead squirrels. And they did not
because they had gone through a depression and a war that had left
them with the idea that being a man in the eyes of their fathers
and everyone else had cost them just too goddamn much to lay it
at the feet of a fifteen year-old-boy. And so they did not walk him,
and lost, but at least had some ragged remnant of themselves
to take back home. But there is one thing more, though it is not
a fact. When I see my friend’s father staring hard into the bottomless
well of home plate as Mantle’s fifth homer heads toward Arkansas,
I know that this man with the half-orphaned children and
worthless Dodge has also encountered for the first and possibly
only time the vast gap between talent and genius, has seen
as few have in the harsh light of an Oklahoma Sunday, the blonde
and blue-eyed bringer of truth, who will not easily be forgiven.

 

 

​For more information on B.H. Fairchild, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/b-h-fairchild

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