I was a quince-bush growing on a rock

The Song of the Homesick Armenian Girl
no author or translator issued, traditional in Armenian culture

I was a quince-bush growing on a rock.
A rocky cliff that rose above the dell.
They have uprooted and transplanted me
Unto a stranger’s orchard, there to dwell
And in this orchard they have watered me
With sugar water, that full sweetly flows
O brothers, fear me back to my soil.
And water me with water of the snows!


Dear dainty delicious darling

Gertrude Stein—how we’ve been told you are obtuse, impossible, all but meaningless, when in fact you are loving, inventive, playful, sexual, flirtatious, silly. Why has it been easier for the world to imagine Gertrude as a stern remote genius than as a woman of brilliant mind and wit passionately in love with another woman?

Wonder why indeed.

There is a wonderful (though out of print) collection of Stein’s love notes to Alice, edited by Kay Turner: Baby Precious Always Shines, You can find used copies easily enough. The notes are handwritten, so some words aren’t entirely clear and are marked with brackets and best guesses. Here’s one from the collection:

Dear dainty delicious darling, dear
sweet selected [enemifier?] of my soul
dear beloved baby dear everything
to me when this you see you will
have slept long and will be warm
and completely [loudly?] loved by
me dear wifey, [your?] baby

ecstasy remains as much a birthright

from Larry Levis The Gazer Within:

Gazing within, and trying to assess what all this represents, I find I’ve been speaking, all along, about nature, about the attempt of the imagination to inhabit nature and by that act preserve itself for as long as it possibly can against “the pressure of reality.” And by “nature” I mean any wilderness, inner or outer. The moment of writing is not an escape, however: it is only an insistence, through the imagination, upon human ecstasy, and a reminder that such ecstasy remains as much a birthright in this world as misery remains a condition of it.

from “On a New Year’s Eve” by June Jordan

from Jordan’s Things I Do in the Dark, 1977

and even the stars and even the snow and even
the rain
do not amount to much
unless these things submit to some disturbance
some derangement such
as when I yield myself/belonging
to your unmistaken

Back at Drew, June 2010

I’m back at Drew for my 4th residency. Well, I’ve been back since last Monday, but have been having the experience more and blogging about it less. It’s so deep but also so familiar, now, to be here, to know where everything is, to know the faculty (mainly, always someone new, in this case Jane Mead), to know how to match the poem I want to discuss to the poet leading the workshop, and to know what to NEVER touch in the dining hall.

Information is coming fast and furious, as always, and I’ll post more of it after I get home and the intensity fades a bit. Today, a Sunday, we had a lecture/panel scheduled from 3:30 to 4:30 about language, art, and politics in the life and work of June Jordan. 4:30 passed. 5pm passed, and we were creeping up on 5:30 when the conversation had to end because one of the three panelists had to go. I was with a group of people who chose to stay an extra hour because talking about Jordan’s work was too good to give up. I am SO in paradise here.

I’m heading into my 4th semester, which means I have to produce a manuscript of at least 48 pages of well-crafted, fully alive, breathing fighting kicking screaming singing loving wanting speaking crying poetry. No explication, remediation, hesitation or too-easy-affirmation allowed. Wow. Luckily, my mentor is Anne Marie Macari, who gives astounding support and won’t let anything slide past. The semester pretty much starts when I head home on Friday, so look out world. For something. I’ll be in my office writing, so don’t be looking out for me.

from Not God After All by Gerald Stern

Not God After All [Autumn House, 2004, with pencil illustrations by Sheba Sharrow] is a small book of very small poems. Or aphorisms, or petite narratives, as Stern calls them in his introduction, all written over a period of two weeks in the Spring of 2002. This is a very unusual poetry collection, but also so very Gerald Stern, a written record of little bits of conversations and arguments a sharp, passionate, political, poetic mind was having with itself. I’m copying some of my favorites here, thinking that they’ll become writing prompts or first lines, as Dickinson’s opening lines were for me earlier this spring.

For my immortality
I wear only purple socks

A beaver eating loosestrife,
none of us could believe it.

I’ll never forget Saul Bellow’s
camel-hair coat

A fire I understand,
but how do you make a flood?

The reckless affection of
her unconditional love.

The poem about me is the
best poem you ever wrote

The Shit Out of Luck Blues,
Weary Blues, Potato Skin Blues.

A palm tree has finally
wrapped itself around my heart.

What a life with women, I’m
just now thinking it over.

The happiness of the dogs
running into the waters.

Her T-shirt gets tangled
when she turns over in the grass.

Always the goyische kopf
doesn’t get it—the Joosh joke.

Dream is I went from city
to city speaking Yiddish.

Charity is the right foot of
justice—sometimes the knee.

I had a way of letting the fire
rage under the dross.

The smiling face of
industrial consolidation.

Her height, her passion, her courage,
her humor, her cunning.

To be managed, that is the
most threatening thing of all.

Now obsess on the wet kiss,
now obsess on the red knife.

Bartok at the Bronx zoo
on his way to the polar bears.

Except he lacked love, he was
almost a Jew, Ulysses.

Burning bituminous and
loving the stink of blue gas.

Between her thighs the odor
of magnolia, smell it!

Honor your poet, one of
Moses’ shattered commandments.

Rebecca, if there is an
afterworld, you will have it.

I caught someone loving his
enemy and turned to stone.

Hath not a Jew helicopters,
hath he not bazookas?

I possess the truth—have a
Chinese pear in the meantime.

It burns the eyes and the lungs, the
taste of it in the mouth!

Poverty, ignorance, super-
stition, mice—I miss you!

Melancholy, you
prude, I devoted my life to you.

What is more bloodthirsty and
oppressive, God or Country?

Amazon in the land of oranges—Joan Larkin

Some Unsaid Things
Joan Larkin, Amazon Poetry, 1975

I was not going to say
how you lay with me

nor where your hands went
& left their light impressions

nor whose face was white
as a splash of moonlight

nor who spilled the wine
nor whose blood stained the sheet

nor which one of us wept
to set the dark bed rocking

nor what you took me for
nor what I took you for

nor how your fingertips
in me were roots

light roots torn leaves put down—
nor what you tore from me

nor what confusion came
of our twin names

nor will I say whose body
opened, sucked, whispered

like the ocean, unbalancing
what had seemed a safe position

On a June Morning, I Would Head for Your Scent

This is the third themed liturgical weaving I’ve done, taking lines from many different poets and using them to create a new piece designed to be read aloud as part of the morning prayer service in the Feminist, non-Zionist havurah I co-lead. Done right, poetry makes damn fine prayer, and this way of reading with single voices and group response is, honestly, something I learned from the Episcopalians and wow does it work in a group.

On a June Morning, I Would Head for Your Scent

a mosaic with words from Genesis, Basho, Mary Oliver, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Susan Windle, Ben Johnson, Li-Young Lee, Antonio Machado, Joan Larkin, Jane Hirshfield, Carl Sandburg, Sharon Olds, John Ciardi, Anne Marie Macari, Carol Burbank, and inspiration from Robert Bly and Alicia Ostriker
woven by Elliott batTzedek

On a June morning,
any June morning

On a June morning,
any June morning,
moving about in my garden
in a breezy time of day,
I keep watch for You,
I follow silver slug lines,
sniffing for Your trail,
I call out “Where are You?”

And a bee
staggers out
of the peony.

There is a dark hum among the roses,
a murmuring of innumerable bees,
and to the murmur of bees—
a witchcraft—I yield
to my desire for You.

On a June morning,
any June morning

If I were a bee and You
a flower,
I would head for Your scent,
oh my beloved,
I would land on Your petals
held wide apart,
flinging myself down wildly,
tumbling to the bottom of Your cup.
There such sustenance,
You feeding me because only I
can ripen all this fertile exuberance,
food for those not yet born.

Would You let me go, pantaloons heavy
with gold and sunlight?
Or would You close Your petals,
dissolving me slowly
into Your heart?

On a June morning,
any June morning

And if You were the bee,
would You come to me,
fill Your small body
from this place, my source,
and moan in happiness?

We are alike, You and I,
each created as the image of the other.
We fly from blossom to sweet
impossible blossom,
bartering pollen for nectar,
making honey from the roses,
honey from the rosemary, honey from the clover,
honey from the peach blossoms,
honey from the red and willing bee balm.

What honey would You make
from me?

What honey could I make of You?

Can we make honey from our failures?
Honey from our bitterness,
honey from the bare fields
of our hearts?

Rough, this world is,
yet our soft tongues cut it open,
and the sanity of honey pours out between,
where meaning lives,

where honey, that gold soup
made of sex and light,
flows shining proof enough of the need
of each of ten thousand flights.

Every June morning
I pause to listen
for what I live to hear.
I watch the bees go honey-hunting with yellow blur of wings,
and, delirious with desire
I dance directions to my heart.

I know that You will come-
it is Your duty
to find things to love
to bind Yourself to this world.

Amazon in the land of oranges—Eleanor Lerman

Finally I See Your Skin
Eleanor Lerman in Amazon Poetry, 1975

Finally I see your skin so scarred
by my use that I can close my eyes and tell you
where the constant embrace of my fingers is turned to gold
on your stomach, and the press of my legs
has turned your thighs to polished glass
No one else thinks of touching you now
Your body mentions me in all its movements
and has come to fit only my hands

I once told you that I had celestial information
cut on the inside of my mouth and it was years
before you wore it smooth enough to keep from
bleeding your tongue
Mindful of this
you come to kiss me one morning and find
I am old and brittle and pure
my mouth cracks open and planets start to pour out
universes form and begin to show
signs of life

Amazon in the land of oranges—Marcie Hershman

Making Love to Alice
Marcie Hershman
from Amazon Poetry, 1975

I imagine Gertrude making love to Alice
her generous and wise mouth upon her
breast her arms around hers the two
bodies fitting together, strangely
they are different and wonderfully they are
together. Gertrude being warm and full and
with Alice and Alice being warm and full with
Gertrude who is with her and the way
she is with her. Laughing, I imagine
they must know each other, the two, the one.

It is as with you and I. It is
with us as them. She then she and you then i
imagine. And in the act of imagining
make love to love to love to love