Poem a day #20 Before I got my eyes put out

I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson, and have been astounded by the power of her first lines. She has a way of kicking open a door and bursting into the room guns blazing. Wow. (And if that doesn’t jive with the myth of Emily The Lonely Scribbler you’ve been fed, go and read right now!) I’m working on using some of those lines as writing prompts. This one is far from finished, just a fragment, really, but I’m out of time and must move on for now.


Before I got my eyes put out

Before I got my eyes put out
wars blazed in raging glory,
hi-def videos of surgical strikes,
dead insurgents and cluster bombs.
And now? I’ve learned to fine-tune
focus just behind the screen.

Before I got my tongue cut off
words spilled out like candy went in,
sweet or bitter—a matter of choice.
I don’t miss speaking, for I can write,
but how I crave the smooth and sweet
of ice cream and my lover’s cunt.

Tomorrow, without hands, what I’ll
miss most is scratching an itch, or so
I’ve read in the testimony of men,
women, and children mutilated.
I think I’ll miss writing most, mute
without hands or tongue or eyes.

I expect my imagination to press on,
gasping like a severed head,
for a startling amount of time. Even
silenced it could change the world—
except it shrivels, unshared, grinding
down to single sounds and then

Poem a day #19 “What do you want, Elliott?” she asks

“What do you want, Elliott?” she asks

bigger greater longer beyond

alive-with legion lavish vast
teeming myriad unbounded

as-well-as exceeding in-excess-of
furthermore likewise moreover withal

gobs heaps oodles scads
passel peck slew sky-high
lousy-with wads galore umpteen
jam-packed mucho jillion zillion

immoderate inordinate rife
overboard overkill enhanced undue

commodious copious profuse
exorbitant plenteous profligate
astronomically incalculably more

Dickinson, #330 He put the Belt around my life

from 1862, when she was writing a poem or more a day.

He put the Belt around my life—
I heard the Buckle snap—
And turned away, imperial,
My Lifetime folding up—
Deliberate, as Duke would do
A Kingdom’s Title Deed—
Henceforth—a Dedicated sort—
A Member of the Cloud—

Yet not too far to come at call—
And do the little Toils
That make the Circuit of the Rest—
And deal occasional smiles
To lives that stoop to notice mine—
and kindly ask it in—
Whose invitation, know you not
For Whom I must decline?

Poem a day #18 With Practice, Drowning Gets Easier

With Practice, Drowning Gets Easier

With practice, drowning gets easier.
At first you welcome the unconsciousness
that protects you from the moment when
the water expulses the breath from your lungs.

With practice, you can stay awake
to know what happens next, how your
body, heavy now with two hydrogens
for every oxygen, begins to sink.

How your mind is aware, how you could
describe how this felt, as guillotined heads
could talk for up to twenty seconds,
if only you were not alone.

With practice, you ride the wave
of air as it leaves your mouth, rest
on a rock, observe how your arms
keep reaching for the closing surface,

how your legs, straight-jacketed by
your skirt and slips, despise you now
for being born a woman, how the beat
of your heart sends circles of ripples

that hours too late will lead him to
the body now floppy as the doll never made
for the child who will never be born.
Your little one! You reach back to yourself

knowing she could yet breathe, so float
and be found, if you could get her out,
but the only rocks are too dull to cut,
and the faint bruise you leave on your belly

will be dismissed as evidence of nothing.
Knowing she may only now
be gasping her first surprised gasp,
you flee downstream on a trout. The sea

when you arrive is deeper than death,
and pulls you apart, thought by thought,
until each bit of sorrow is
smaller than salt in the finest spray.

You learn to condense and direct the drops,
follow him and fall as warm rain.
All he plants will thrive even as
he goes on shriveling in the drought of your loss.

Poem a day #17 What I Know about Loving at 47

What I Know About Loving at 47

No pop song or novel or poem
or prose or lecture or prayer,
no advice ever given
has prepared you for falling
in love.

Nothing in the universe
entire has prepared you
for falling
out of love.

“Falling” is a wildly inadequate word
for how love colonizes your mind
and your body, floods your brain
with chemicals, presses your lungs
into service as bellows
for its own fires.

Biologically speaking, love may be
no different from a parasitic
wasp yet how I’ve begged
to be stung, shocked into
that mysterious moment
when every emotion is fed through
a meat grinder and comes out
as love sausage—
that moment, each time, when
the Big Bang echoes in our minds
disguised as an original idea.

Desire and lust may be the swing
on the front porch of love’s
country house, or the brambled path
to its outhouse, the only difference being
whether your ass is covered or bare
when you sit down to do
what needs to be done.

Having loved means being able to hurt
in ways you won’t want to survive
because surviving means you are done
with the loving.

The more vast your love the more you
will hurt your love the more you will
be unable to say you are sorry though
you are, you are—a three-sided vortex
that is the origin of the myth
of the Bermuda Triangle.

Never ever ever ever ever ever ever love
somebody more than you love
Good luck on that.

Do not let experience or knowledge
or lesbian feminist anti-colonialist
anti-parasite anti-sausage cynicism
stop the sway or get in the way of the need
for love’s gravitational tug.
Carry a tow chain in one hand, a tide chart
in the other, leave the life vest
on the shore, dive in. With practice
drowning gets easier, and I practice now
every day.

I Said to the Wanting Creature Inside Me

I Said to the Wanting Creature Inside Me

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or nesting?

There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no tow rope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the
soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of
imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.

Poem a day #16 This Great Upheaval of During

This Great Upheaval of During*

during the season of my discontent
during the spring of blue rain
during the summer between corn and husk
during the gale force affair

during the winter spent whetting knives
during the borderline prime
during the fortnight I could do no wrong
during the parable of mine

during the tunnel between dusk and dawn
during the strangling want
during the recoil to a New England mill
during the urge to declaim

during remorse like a slap to the head
during rue like a prayer
during regret, lesion and balm
during resolve like a sieve

during the pain
during the game
during the maim
during the bane
during the feign
during the dame


*Title is a line from the article “The Estrogen Dilemma”
by Cynthia Gorney

Poem a day #15 Found Poem in Explanation of Events Beginning October 2007

if there is a lyric poem inside every narrative poem, isn’t there also a lyric poem inside of an essay? At least inside of a well-written essay, the pleasure of which is the combination of the well-researched opinion and the exceptionally good writing? It’s a theory, as is the Timing Hypothesis Cynthia Gorney explores in her wonderful article in the New York Times Magazine

Found Poem In Explanation of Events
Beginning Approx. October 2007
From the article “The Estrogen Dilemma”
by Cynthia Gorney

“Dr. A., do you remember me?”
“I’m so sorry. Should I?”

warring, gesticulating, fluorescent,
reverent, sputtering, fading
Alzheimer’s brains

the timing hypothesis layer of complication
to the current conventional probing,
interrogating, poking—
permitted, distracted,
hallucinatory clashing data
suppositions, mysteries, arbitrarily
coming and going in waves

personal interior chorus of quarreling voices
ferocious hormones
vicious recurring hormonal hiccup

wondrously bland phrasing, explanatory graph,
overlapping lines that peaked and plunged
Climara-surge of industrious scrambling—
some menopausal malady is genuinely making you miserable

daunting influence of a drug industry,
concentrated soup of a pill, conjugated
equine estrogens, vigorous
and sexually satisfactory cardiac events
crank up frantically, crash
and then crank up again
ovaries start atrophying into retirement

this great Upheaval of During

density of dendritic spines,
barbs that stick along the long tails of brain cells
like thorns on a blackberry stem,
chemical solvent sloshed onto rusting metal:
the personal calculus of risk
is an exhausting exercise
phases of life
can unhinge us

Poem a day #14 Getting Dressed for Work

here’s a little lesson in what first drafts can look like. This not-yet-a-poem wanders all around, taking forever to tell a story which will probably be reduced to a few descriptive details when I’m done blithering and ready to really write. Inside every narrative is a lyric waiting to happen, but sometimes digging it out is not so easy. If I can’t remember the name of the woman I went out with, why is she even here in a poem about something else? And be forewarned that this piece doesn’t end but only gives up, out of time and out of words.

Getting Dressed for Work

Buttoning my Arrow shirt,
centering my thick leather belt
over the fly of my chinos,
sliding on my Doc Martens,
my mind bounced back
to Orange County, California
in 1986, on my first date
with a woman,
whose name I can’t recall,
in my first lesbian bar
whose name I don’t remember,

where I can still clearly see
the butch women—
the old school butches,
the men’s pants butches,
the starched collar butches,
the gentle hands that could
take you out butches,
the hold the door hold your chair
hold your hand but never let you
win at pool butches—
the butches, who all wore
tiny gold earrings.
Girly earrings, not Harlem studs

I stared at the butches,
discretely, for I’d read all about them
in my coming-out frenzy,
and also at their earrings,
mentioned in none
of my reading. My date,
as flighty as those earrings were
seemed not to notice.

Monday in coming out group
I asked my mentor Laurie,
who smiled at my description
with only half her face.

The dress code, she said. Don’t you know
about the dress code? When the bars
were raided, any woman wearing
less than three items
of women’s clothing
could be arrested
as a pervert.

Standing in Philadelphia
in 2010, I examine myself.
Men’s shirt.
Men’s style-pants.
Men’s shoes.
Men’s undershirt.
Men’s belt.
No jewelry.
Today, women’s underwear.
Black socks – do cotton socks have gender?
Carefully chosen gender-neutral
burnt orange urban messenger bag.

I’d be in the paddy wagon,
my picture spread on the paper,
my job lost probably
my apartment lost
maybe and even if I ran
out the back I could still
have been beaten openly
on any street.

How do you get dressed—
oh that most ordinary
of daily experiences—
trapped between the radical need
to be only who you are
and constant fear
of arrest? How did you find
masculine-looking shirts
that still button on the left?
Shoes just female enough
to keep you out of jail?

How did you invent a world
in a world not ready for you,
oh Butches with gold earrings?
I know you fondled the silky panties
of the femmes with teased up hair,
but did you, secretly, fondle
your own, those bits of nylon tricot,
swathes of practical cotton?

Or was it the women police officers
fondling your panties
when you were stripped in search
of women’s clothes?

Poem a day #13 Prelude to a Poem

Prelude to a Poem

I’m stuck I said.

Write about dustbunnies she said.

I jot dustbunnies are domesticated tumbleweeds
and then read it to her.

Good start, great image,
already some music building.

She claims she could not be
a poet, but who else
says such a thing?

Now I’ll have to go research tumbleweeds.

Oh, I know about tumbleweeds. Roll
everywhere. Stick to everything.

Wikipedia says there are many
different species. They live in steppes
and deserts. They are diaspores,
existing only to disperse

Use diaspore in the poem.
It has an interesting sound.

It can be an entire plant
broken off of the root
or just a flower cluster.
And this—tumbleweeds
aren’t native to North America.
They came from Russia
in shipments of flax seeds.

Flax seeds—that sounds good, too

They’re described as noxious weeds

Don’t you think that rhyme here
would be too easy?

I pause while my brain once again
puts two and two together and finds
they equal oppression.

Do you know what that means? It means
the whole iconic Western movie scene
is a complete lie. White cowboys
aren’t indigenous to North America.
Their horses aren’t native. Those range-
destroying cows aren’t native. Even
the damn tumbleweeds always blowing
across the shot aren’t native. The whole
fucking thing is a lie!

You’ve lost the music she sighs. And why
do you have to make everything
about politics?