Poem of the Week, by Tiana Clark

IMG_1558We went to a museum the other day with no specific purpose in mind and found ourselves in the Chinese art galleries. Jade. Porcelain. Bronze. Ornate vessels for cooking, for ceremonies, for burial. An arched gateway which used to lead to a family’s compound. A room with a low table, ink, brushes, where someone used to practice calligraphy. We peered in through the interwoven black wooden squares of traditional Chinese architecture. At one point a tiny capering man entranced me and I wanted to reach through the glass, and the thousands of years between us, and take him home. 

Everything about the two hours in that museum, and the rainy day itself, was slow. We kept wondering how long each vessel, plate, vase, jade carving must have taken the artist to make. A long time, was all we came up with, a long, slow time. A lifetime, maybe. 

I’m losing track of what life was like before the existence of this tiny computer that lives in the back pocket of my jeans and feeds me a constant stream of news and images and information and updates. When I take a break –in a yoga class, in a museum, by putting the tiny computer in another room while I lie on the couch and read–everything inside me slows down. This poem below, by Tiana Clark, resonates in my very bones.

 

My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work, by Tiana Clark

I hustle
upstream.
I grasp.
I grind.
I control & panic. Poke
balloons in my chest,
always popping there,
always my thoughts thump,
thump. I snooze — wake & go
boom. All day, like this I short
my breath. I scroll & scroll.
I see what you wrote — I like.
I heart. My thumb, so tired.
My head bent down, but not
in prayer, heavy from the looking.
I see your face, your phone-lit
faces. I tap your food, two times
for more hearts. I retweet.
I email: yes & yes & yes.
Then I cry & need to say: no-no-no.
Why does it take so long to reply?
I FOMO & shout. I read. I never
enough. New book. New post.
New ping. A new tab, then another.
Papers on the floor, scattered & stacked.
So many journals, unbroken white spines,
waiting. Did you hear that new new?
I start to text back. Ellipsis, then I forget.
I balk. I lazy the bed. I wallow when I write.
I truth when I lie. I throw a book
when a poem undoes me. I underline
Clifton: today we are possible. I start
from image. I begin with Phillis Wheatley.
I begin with Phillis Wheatley. I begin
with Phillis Wheatley reaching for coal.
I start with a napkin, receipt, or my hand.
I muscle memory. I stutter the page. I fail.
Hit delete — scratch out one more line. I sonnet,
then break form. I make tea, use two bags.
Rooibos again. I bathe now. Epsom salt.
No books or phone. Just water & the sound
of water filling, glory — be my buoyant body,
bowl of me. Yes, lavender, more bubbles
& bath bomb, of course some candles too.
All alone with Coltrane. My favorite, “Naima,”
for his wife, now for me, inside my own womb.
Again, I child back. I float. I sing. I simple
& humble. Eyes close. I low my voice,
was it a psalm? Don’t know. But I stopped.

For more information about Tiana Clark, please check out her website.​

Website

Blog

Facebook page

@alisonmcghee

Poem of the Week, by Jennifer Moxley

28056283_10156130850921407_3444412315520744499_nWhen my dog Petey was still alive I used to bring him to the Blessing of the Animals at the Basilica. One year, a woman with a small clear plastic box sat at the end of the pew next to Petey and me. She was anxious, agitated, and when the priests began walking up and down the aisle swinging incense and shaking holy water on the animals, she held the box up in the air.

“Please, more,” she said to the priest, weeping, and he shook more holy water on the plastic box. She turned to me.

“They’re my hermit crabs,” she said. “See?” 

She opened the lid of the box and showed them to me – two tiny crabs, patiently perched on small colored rocks, a plastic castle next to them. It was clear how much the sobbing woman loved her hermit crabs. It was clear also that life had not been easy for her. Had she been lonely forever? Had she walked the Darwinian halls of middle school hugging the lockers, head down? Had a human being ever loved her with the same kind of love she now, in middle age, lavished on her two silent, tiny creatures? Much love to her, and much kindness to everyone, in these troubled times.

 

The Bittersweet Echo

The junkyard kitten has the need
For the love-starved boy to bring it feed
On his way back home from school—
To correspond, to break the cool.

And rhymes are lullabies to mourning
And pretty the pain of human longing.

 

For more information on Jennifer Moxley, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Tony Hoagland

IMG_0325A couple of months ago I hurt a friend when I pushed a semi-joke too far. The friend didn’t say anything or change expression, but I went to bed uneasy. Despite the Painter’s assurances that he had noticed nothing and all was well, my gut said otherwise. I woke up and sent an apology, the gracious acceptance of which proved that my gut was right.  In the weeks since, shame and sadness keep bubbling up in their familiar way. How many times a day do you feel like a failure? I once asked the Painter. All day every day, he answered, to which I nodded.

Four years ago, on a whim, I sat down at my dining table and hand-wrote myself a letter titled “Letter to Self.” Dear Alison, it began, here are some things you did in 2015. The letter is a simple bulleted list, but each entry, such as loved your children and stayed in good shape despite plantar fasciitis, holds within it an arc of emotion and effort and accomplishment. I hadn’t looked at the letter since I wrote it, nor the subsequent letters I wrote to myself in 2016 and 2017, but I read it again just now. Everything I tried to do that year came rushing back over me, along with a deep sense of being just one of a long line of humans who are all just trying. Which brings me to this beautiful farewell poem by Tony Hoagland. Its ending lines, which I had to read twice to understand were not an admonition but a gentle acknowledgment to himself that he had been a good man who should have been kinder to himself, brought me to tears.

 

Distant Regard, by Tony Hoagland

If I knew I would be dead by this time next year
I believe I would spend the months from now till then
writing thank-you notes to strangers and acquaintances,
telling them, “You really were a great travel agent,”
or “I never got the taste of your kisses out of my mouth.”
or “Watching you walk across the room was part of my destination.”
It would be the equivalent, I think,
of leaving a chocolate wrapped in shiny foil
on the pillow of a guest in a hotel–
“Hotel of earth, where we resided for some years together,”
I start to say, before I realize it is a terrible cliche, and stop,
and then go on, forgiving myself in a mere split second
because now that I’m dying, I just go
forward like water, flowing around obstacles
and second thoughts, not getting snagged, just continuing
with my long list of thank-yous,
which seems to naturally expand to include sunlight and wind,
and the aspen trees which gleam and shimmer in the yard
as if grateful for being soaked last night
by the irrigation system invented by an individual
to whom I am quietly grateful.
Outside it is autumn, the philosophical season,
when cold air sharpens the intellect; 
the hills are red and copper in their shaggy majesty.
The clouds blow overhead like governments and years.
It took me a long time to understand the phrase “distant regard,”
but I am grateful for it now,
and I am grateful for my heart,
that turned out to be good, after all;
and grateful for my mind,
to which, in retrospect, I can see
I have never been sufficiently kind.

For more information about Tony Hoagland, please read his obituary.

Website

Blog

Facebook page

@alisonmcghee

Poem of the Week, by Suji Kwock Kim

Photos 851When an idea for a new book comes to me, it feels obsessive and overwhelming and makes me almost panicky. I cope by breaking the writing down into small daily tasks. Becoming a mother felt, and still feels, the same way. The fact that my babies depended on me for their very lives was almost paralyzing. There were times when I had to force myself not to think about the immensity of the responsibility or I would have lost my mind.

Now I look back on those days, and they still feel overwhelming. I remember rocking and rocking my son, singing the Circle Game over and over, as he struggled to find peace and sleep. I remember how my daughter couldn’t fall asleep unless she was touching me, my hand on her arm or leg. I remember slowing my breathing down because her breathing would slow and deepen too, and finally she would drift off. Later, when I flew across the world and met my youngest, she first stared at me in suspicion, her dark eyes fixed on mine, and then kicked her legs, started laughing and just kept on laughing. 

One thing that helped me in a strange way, back then, was the sense that before any of my children were born, they already were. That my presence in their lives was part of a continuum that began before any of us were born. There’s nothing rational about that feeling, but there’s nothing rational about having a child. The poem below stuns me. 

 

 

Fugue, by Suji Kwock Kim

Out of albumen and blood, out of amniotic brine,
placental sea-swell, trough, salt-spume and foam,

you came to us infinitely far, little traveler, from the other world—
skull-keel and heel-hull socketed to pelvic cradle,

rib-rigging, bowsprit-spine, driftwood-bone,
the ship of you scudding wave after wave of what-might-never-
have-been.

Memory, stay faithful to this moment, which will never return:
may I never forget when we first saw you, there on the other side,

still fish-gilled, water-lunged,
your eelgrass-hair and seahorse-skeleton floating in the sonogram
screen

like a ghost from tomorrow,
moth-breath quicksilver in snowy pixels, fists in sleep-twitch,

not yet alive but not not,
you who were and were not,

a thunder of bloodbeats sutured in green jags on the ultrasound
machine

like hooves galloping from eternity to time,

feet kicking bone-creel and womb-wall,
while we waited, never to waken in that world again,

the world without the shadow of your death,
with no you or not-you, no is or was or might-have-been or never-
were
.

May I never forget when we first saw you in your afterlife
which was life,

soaked otter-pelt and swan-down crowning,
face cauled in blood and mucus-mud, eyes soldered shut,

wet birth-cord rooting you from one world to the next,
you who might not have lived, might never have been born, like
all the others,

as we looked at every pock and crook of your skull,
every clotted hair, seal-slick on your blue-black scalp,

every lash, every nail, every pore, every breath,
with so much wonder that wonder is not the word—

 

For more information about Suji Kwock Kim, please click here.

 

Website

Blog

Facebook page

@alisonmcghee

 

 

Poem of the Week, by Marie Howe

IMG_4207
The summer after college graduation, my sister and I headed to a Colorado ski town for the summer. We lived and worked in a hotel with a bunch of other temporary people, among them a guy named Jerry and his buddies. They were gay men, bright and blunt and full of hilarious advice. In my memory Jerry is always in a bathrobe, smoking and ironing shirt after shirt at the permanently set up ironing board in his room. The hotel felt like a giant dorm, doors ajar, constant conversation. We laughed all the time.

Six months later, I had moved far away to Boston. A strange disease was just beginning to take hold, a killer disease that seemed to affect only gay men. Rumors were that it was transmitted by sex. I remember unfunny jokes by unfunny straight people. I remember vast uneasiness among my gay friends. I remember feeling terrified for them.

Flash forward many years to now, when there is good treatment but still no cure for the strange disease. Some of my friends have lived with the virus for close to forty years. Others have died. Sometimes Jerry flashes into my mind, and I wonder about him and the others who lived in our long-ago hotel. The first time I read this poem by Marie Howe, whose brother died of AIDS, I memorized it. I don’t know why I think of Jerry when I recite it to myself, but I do. Jerry, are you out there, still ironing your shirts, still making everyone around you laugh? 

 

My Dead Friends, by Marie Howe

​I have begun,
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling—whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s ashes were —
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I’ll do.

 

 

​Click for more information on​ Marie Howe.

 

Website

Blog

Facebook page

@alisonmcghee