Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Swallowtail Summer

I captured the most elusive trace of summer
when it came fluttering on black and yellow wings
through the tangled underbrush of sleep. Before
the sweating, waking to the all-night hum
of window fans, before the ripening blackberries
and scorched dead grass, there were swallowtails

whose arabesques of flight wrought tales
of heat, tilting springtime dreams toward summer.
You texted me “It’s spring” on your BlackBerry
but I was done with migration, wings
folded for the season. Unlike a hummingbird
who flies backward as fast as forward,

I would not go back to spring, forward
again. Two shakes of a puppy dog’s tail
and it’ll be fall, rain singing and humming
in the gutters all night. No drop of summer
to waste with my head under my wing:
sleep can wait until this season is buried.

And under the tangled canes, the berries
stayed hard and evil green. Terrible forage,
fit food only for fools and wingnuts.
Unripe proceeding directly to stale—
spring leapfrogging to fall over summer—
clocks running backward with a hum

as menacing as snake-rattles. Inhuman
to watch, this fast season’s self-burial:
dear departed or never-come summer!
I should have waited for you, waited for
spring’s more measured pace, retailing
its delights under slow-spread wings.

I watched the rocking of an empty swing
as everyone left the park. I hummed
sad songs and told lost-hope tales,
searched withered shrubs for the last berries.
The sun’s banners had gone on before
me. Six stanzas outlasted summer.

Buried in Time’s tailbacks
I swing, miss, at curve-ball summer
for all the world like a mere human.

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Summer Comes on Wings

striped black and yellow, fluttering through brush
crooked, prowling the skies over water
bent blue-black and gleaming, shooting under a bridge
glass-clear, shielding round green bodies

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Sestinas up

I have three sestinas in the current issue of Festival Writer. One of them is a syllable sestina that appeared previously in Wag's Revue.

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Friday, July 04, 2014

Tell it to the Swift

Blackbird, blackbird, I’ll tell you the news
at Waterfront Park they’re playing the blues.
Bluebird, bluebird, oh hear my moan
what good is a song when you sing it alone?

Tell it to the swift
Tell it to the swallow
My heart’s full of music but my guts are hollow.
Tell it to the sparrow
Tell it to the swan
The band still be here when the sun is gone.

Meadowlark with your throat of gold
I had me a trumpet but it got sold.
Swan didn’t sing til the day she died
A bluesman lives when he plays the slide.

Tell to the starling
Tell it to the crow
There’s a secret every blues player knows
Tell it to the pigeon
Tell it to the gulls
Easy to be happy when your stomach is full.

When birds are starving they can scratch for crumbs
a hungry child got to suck his thumb.
When a bluebird sings it’s a happy sound
When a bluesman sings it’s a low-down dirty burning heartache that’ll put you in the ground.

Oh, tell it to the swift
Tell it to the swallow
My heart is broke and my gut is hollow.
Tell it to the sparrow
Tell it to the swan
The band’s still here but the sun’s long gone, long gone.


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Monday, June 23, 2014

Mackerel Sky

Morning mackerel sky
threatens change of weather. Clouds,
why speak so softly?

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

After the Confetti Storm

Every day the chi-chi news vendor
unlocked the padlock, rolled up the sheet-metal door,
open for business. The grey-haired man in the executive power suit
leaned on the front of the newsstand:
clink of coins, a magazine in a uni-colored wrapper
was handed past the pyramid of colorful paperbacks.

I asked the vendor once. He shook his head,
“Not for kids. Not for little kids,”
in a sing-song voice. That was before
the boys from down the street pried the back
off the shed one night. Next day
the street was full of bright confetti. The vendor wailed,
gesticulated, then hung his head in shame,
wouldn’t speak to the cops.

I picked up a scrap. One word—two words—
JUICY-JUICY.” You can fill in the pictures.

We never saw the vendor again.

--word salad

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dramatic reading of "Pickman's Supermodel"

A very talented lady from Britain has posted a dramatic reading of "Pickman's Supermodel" to YouTube.

Thank you, MorganScorpion!

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Transport

The tollbooth attendant at the Golden Gate
straightens her CalDot uniform tunic, checks her name badge. She keeps hoping
for Prince Charming in a Ford Cutlass
to drive up and sweep her away—
they’ll drive past Chinatown, past the street where the red lanterns hang
just like outside the house
where she was born. She turns on the radio.
Rachmaninov. “Variations on a Theme by Paganini,”
out of Russia by Italy, not the route
this woman’s mother walked on bleeding freezing feet.

She works by the highway and waits for a ride.
When she gets tired of waiting
she’ll get her own: a horse, a bow,
a lance, a sword. Down through the fan district
on scarlet hooves:
conquering.

--word salad

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Salt

Only a fool would cling to the sweet and curse the salt
embracing Aphrodite, forgetting her birth from salt.

Ocean water will burn your eyes and throat, they say,
but trust me, bitter regrets sting far worse than salt.

Give me storm and afterward rainbow, I accept
tears as a fitting price for the mirth of salt.

What do I care for any caravan of treasure?
Give me one piece of meat, bread and a purse of salt.

Deep-rooted trees reach up and breathe in the air.
God gives what I need: stone, water, earth and salt.

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Nine-Thirteen Landays

A falcon’s wing is the sweetest curve
except for the clean shape of a woman’s scimitar.

The wind from the heights smells of cedar,
the marketplace smells of broken hearts and rusted chain.

You draw the princess out from her fort.
She comes forth surrounded by hawks, hounds, and wild horses.

Young girls run through pomegranate groves
while the manticore gnaws his chains and lashes his tail.

My chariot has wheels of hot stone.
Touch that medlar and I will ride you down in dirt.

Break stones in the desert to find love:
go home fulfilled only by the scorpion’s burning kiss.

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Here/There

I am hereI was there
The bus is late. I wait
in the cloudy drizzle with no umbrellain the baking sunshine with the smell of hot dust
The bus is full
I have to standPeople hang out the doors
There’s a
man with a trash bag full of bottles. He stands in the rear doorwaywoman with a basket of chickens that the driver straps to the roof
We start up with
the electric purr of a hybrid enginea low-octane blue-smoke cough
roll away through
wet streets lined with giant horse chestnut treesdry savannas edged with the boughs of Madagascar flamboyants
green, green foliage and blossoms like
whitescarlet
candles blazing
Someone reads a newspaper, findingSomeone has a transistor radio, hearing
news of war. Everyone holds their breath. The
man with the bottleswoman with the chickens
says, “My son…”


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Saturday, May 03, 2014

If You See Something

Say Something, says the sign.
If you see something suspicious
speak up, alert the proper authorities
if you see something.

Like what I see
every morning in my mirror?
A brown-skinned woman in a headscarf,
a woman of no easily identifiable race? Well, I see her.

And I must tell you that she is suspicious—
deeply suspicious.

You see she does not really believe you when you say that her life will be better if she buys your products,
your skin-care products that promise to lighten away the warm tones she inherits from her parents
or your hair-care products for the hair she keeps covered to show pride in her religion.
She doubts you when you say this is a land of equal opportunity
because she does not think you will say that when she interviews for your job.
She is not sure the proper authorities have her best interests at heart
and she does not trust you when you say the innocent have nothing to fear.

If she is afraid, does that make her guilty?
If she is suspicious, do you blame her?
If you see her, what will you say?

*******

This poem combines elements of an earlier "If you See Something" and also "Nothing to Fear." I think it's matured nicely.

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Wall Stones

North wall of the Armory Building, NW 11th, Portland, Oregon

They stripped the white paint off this building,
bared brick and black basalt. Revealed a wonder:
this wall, each block a different size and shape
cut and placed by master masons. This crazy-quilt wall
could stand forever.

That a life assembled out of random-seeming scraps
could piece together so. That order, strength
could so arise from chaos.
That we could stand upright with not a square corner among us—
could it be so?
Could it be so?

What hand would lay the courses, shape the blocks, spread the mortar
to what world-shaping purpose? Old stones don’t answer
but they listen to your questions patiently.

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Biblioholics Anonymous: update for 2014

Hi, I’m Tiel, and… I’m a biblioholic.

I was raised by biblioholics. Both my parents were avid readers, and they created an enabling environment.

There were books all over the house when I was growing up, so I could get a fix any time I wanted. In fact, my own brother turned me on to books by teaching me to read, at the age of four.

My habit is out of control, I admit that my habit is out of control. I recognize that my habit is out of control, because:

I have spent money on books that should have been saved for food and rent
I read myself to sleep several times a week
I sometimes read as a way of avoiding dealing with social or personal problems
I often read when I’m alone, and
I almost always read until the book is finished.

When we ran out of room for bookcases in our house, I thought I’d gone as low as I could go.

But now there’s Kindle.

And so I’m giving myself into the hands of a higher power, because I recognize that my will power alone is not sufficient. I believe this higher power has a plan for me, and that the plan is:

READ MORE BOOKS

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Monday, April 28, 2014

At Crooked River

Three hundred feet straight down, there’s a bicycle
smashed flat on the rocks. Tires crushed
into white ovals. A girl’s bike,
too far from the bridge to have been dropped or thrown.
Maybe the spring floods brought it down.

Picture water rising, whistling like wind
through spare grass. No lawns behind the house
in this soilless country where hawks rise,
three white ladies float on the horizon
and the Deschutes bluffs hold up the sky. A mother
grabs her child and runs for high ground
leaving the river, cheated and hungry
only a bicycle to devour.

A small sacrifice. An acceptable loss.
A skeleton of bent rubber and twisted metal.
What wouldn’t you give up to save your daughter’s bones
from flood, fire
or a rising tide of war?

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Odds and ends, several poems

For one reason and another, I've fallen behind on posting, and am now catching up with one big post, or maybe two...

From the March meeting of my prompt writing group:

Philadelphia to New York by Night

We departed in the dark
left brick houses behind
white lines unrolling through taillight red.

Dawn broke over domes
with cold chemical names
snorting strange stinks to wake backseat sleepers.

They towered over tidal flats
with no sea in sight.
Six years old on I-95, I eyed the horizon

for a glimpse of grey towers
first sign of distant city
hovering above water-wastes ringed by refineries.

Tangled spans of concrete spaghetti
cross-tied Connecticut to Cross-Bronx.
Aunts and uncles nestled among asphalt loops

watched and warded by
the giant grey bridge,
grandparent cradling us in strong arms of steel.


From the April meeting: Spell-checker hates this one.

Words for Rain

Astamery: the nostalgia evoked by the smell of wet pavement drying in spring sunshine

Brilliquary: the sudden realization that an apparently harmless cloud conceals thunder and hail as your favorite shoe conceals a scorpion

Quiritache: what you feel when you see the camellia petals heaped and rotting into brown slush

Dromion: sourceless depression frequently blamed on rainy, overcast weather

Limtarrick: the mingled dread and relief that accompanies the first rains of fall

Truinnis: the perverse yearning for rain and clouds that strikes during summer, under blazing blue skies

Cloebarry: the sensation of falling asleep listening to rain

Plasque: a desire to run open-mouthed through the rain until drunk


Bydlo, or, Implied Motion Bydlo is one of the pieces in Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

A sketch
shows a distant ox-cart in silhouette.
Foreground: the road is rutted, muddy
hoof-prints filling with water. No pencil-blur
around slowly turning wheels
or ponderous hooves.
Above the cart, a swallow
hangs.


Dave Harvey taught a light verse workshop at the OPA spring conference:

A limerick: traditionally limericks don't have titles

Van Winkle awoke from his coma
giving off a most frightful aroma.
He washed out his beard,
fifty feet, it appeared
and clogged up the falls at Multnomah.

A dorklette, also untitled:

You can buy eggs by the dozen
but after the sell-date, you muzzen.


A pompouselee: the title is everything

I Reflect on Driving to Bend to Attend the Oregon Poetry Association Conference in Beautiful Spring Weather, While My Husband Stays Behind to Attend the Lovecraft Film Festival in a Dark, Dank, Theater

I’m in the car
not where he are.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vineyards: SpicyNodes

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Vineyard

I followed a pheasant that flew into a vineyard,
they were pressing the first of the wine in the vineyard.

My hands still remember the blackberry thorns
that pricked to draw blood at the edge of the vineyard.

Autumn thunder and rainbows swept along the freeway
while I wandered lost down the rows of the vineyard.

The wine-pressers gave me cheese and bread to eat
and I joined their harvest and labored in the vineyard.

But they only laughed and shook their heads at me
when I asked for directions to get out of the vineyard.

They only laughed and shook their heads at me
when I tried to find out who owned the vineyard.

Bronze feathers scattered from my careless feet.
A coyote killed a pheasant somewhere in the vineyard.

Oak leaves were falling and saffron had bloomed
and I knew there were mountains far beyond the vineyard.

All of this land is in the hand of my Beloved
from the peak of Mt. Hood to the bottom of the vineyard.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lockjaw in the Antilles

Walking on a beach in the Lesser Antilles
I stepped on a plank, a rusty nail,
had to get a tetanus shot. Spent a week
in a chintzy hotel, recovering

just like the economy’s supposedly “recovering”—
more like, undead. Zombie economy. Paid for my shot
without insurance. That plank and nail
sealed the coffin on my faith
in government promises. From now on, it’s non-belief
and life as an Antillean beachcomber. All I can say is
it’s better than lockjaw.

--word salad

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tri-Met Bus Line #72

I get on at 18th and Alberta. Ride east, surrounded by cheerfully quarrelling Black ladies and boys who bump raucous fists.

Cully fills the bus with silent Latino men. I drowse, eyes open, as we make the turn onto 82nd. Toward Madison High School, where softly chattering Vietnamese teens file aboard. Some hold soccer balls.

I wonder why some people talk on the bus and some don’t. In my mind, the bus is a shuttle, working back and forth across a loom. Mechanized looms were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution that built the cities we know, the city where I live. Where Slavic and Somali families bump elbows on the bus.

In my mind’s eye the shuttle plays, drawing multi-colored threads into solid cloth. In my mind’s eye I follow it the other way, west toward PCC. Where, I swear this is true. One day three boys got on: one black, one brown, one white. They gossiped about their friend Bobby, you know Bobby? Bobby Nguyen, that Bobby.

In my mind’s eye, my parents walk down the street together. But it’s New York in the 1950s and it’s not normal, then and there, for teens to date across racial lines. It’s not Portland in the 20-teens, where any Saturday you can find a Black and Chinese couple at the mall or in a coffee shop or on the bus.

In my mind’s eye the threads tie off into a glorious bow. I wake up thinking: Why, this bus is beautiful. This is the most beautiful bus

in the world.

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Friday, March 07, 2014

I dream about driving through a swarm of tornadoes

The first one formed
far off to the right, fizzled out
miles above ground. The next one, nearer,
reached further down. Soon all around
from yellow sky they fell, like twisting trees,
like legs of stomping elephants.
They strike ground BOOM! and shake the road.
I put my seatbelt on.

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