Category Archives: Authenticity

Bad Habits (Pandemic Poem #5)

“Do you realize the illicit sensuous delight I get from picking my nose? … Or sometimes there will be blood mingled with the mucous: in dry brown scabs, or bright sudden wet red on the finger that scraped too rudely the nasal membranes. God, what sexual satisfaction!”  Sylvia Plath

 

Eternity’s stopping and starting all the time—
my fingers shake. I count to three.  Apparently
I can’t stop touching my face to save my life.

I cover my mouth, two-handed. I don’t know why.
Afraid of my breath? Of what I’ll say? Beats me.
Eternity’s stopping and starting all the time—

if our fair-haired Sylvia hadn’t died from suicide,
her sexy rhinotillexomania would currently be
why she can’t sit on her hands to save her life—

I picture nails with a Betty Draper shine,
a shade of pink called Cool Eternity.
Depression stops and starts all the time

for some of us, a tide that likes to rise
and fall, constant. Irregular. Seriously,
I can’t stop touching my face to save my life.

Knowing myself the way I do, it won’t be a surprise
if I die from fidgeting. I hope it’s not immediately.
I can’t stop touching my face to save my life.
Eternity’s stopping and starting all the time—

______

Dream Song #5, Pandemic Poem #4

I dreamed I saw a Wooly dog descendant—
wiggle-butted, scruffy, ornery, clearly
one more in a long line of poodle-terrier mutts.
His owner said, “he’s a Rottweiler,” but
no way. Just too much Benji evident.
Black against the giant foxtail. Curly
in every way—tousled coat, bent tail,
wagging walk toward me when I called.
When I was little, we let our dogs run free
all day and shut them up at night. Also, we
got the girl dogs fixed, but not the boys.
Thus all the Wooly dogs in Southern Illinois.
Every single thing was looser then.
I was happy. My dogs were my best friends.

______

Napping with Wooly.

QUARANTINE ABECDARIAN THAT AMAZINGLY DOESN’T USE “QUARANTINE” FOR THE “Q”

Aline is a poet
Bob likes to fish
Chuck likes to throw things
Doug plays in the dirt
Ed likes to teach
Fanny likes to WHAT? WHAT DID YOU THINK I WAS GOING TO SAY?
Gale is a blowhard
Hi says hello
I spend so much time
Just amusing myself. I wonder if I can
Keep it up when we start
Losing people we know to the virus.
Mom and Dad are in lockdown
Now, we can’t hug them
Or even visit except online.
Prayers seem distasteful when the religious
Quacks sound them the loudest.
Really trying to focus, to be there for my
Students, but I feel stunned a lot of the
Time. But I keep trying. Which of
Us will turn out to have the right
Vision for how this all will
Work? Imagining the future takes e-
Xtreme optimism, which I don’t have. Do
You? Let’s talk about it more on
Zoom.

_____

I’m not much of an optimist, but in a few weeks, my azaleas will be blooming.

Pandemic Poem #2: Singing Happy Birthday Alone

Life might get back to normal, but I don’t know when.
I’m trying to work. I’d rather nap. I just wash
my hands and sing happy birthday again and again

and watch my hands dry out. Here’s another concern:
if I don’t strive hard right now, really push,
my life will never, ever be normal again.

Pandemic, panic, politics. Alliteration is not our friend.
While I wait for everything online to crash,
I decide to wash my hands and sing happy birthday again.

I want to be a superspreader. I want people to die. I want
to die. I’m not as shocked as I should be by my awful thoughts.
“Things will get back to normal.” Can you tell me when?

I’m grateful for root vegetables and food in cans.
My hero potatoes: fry, roast, boil, mash.
Will we ever sing happy birthday at a party again?

How soon we have to cook over open fire depends
on how well the grid holds up. Such a specific wish.
Life might get back to normal, but I don’t know when.
I’m singing happy birthday all alone again.

Nothing Much

–for friends whose child died

 

I have nothing to give you, and nothing
on a piece of paper will help except that
having lost everything, you have
less than nothing, so maybe nothing
is something, maybe nothing is enough.

I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sad.
I think of you so often. I send you love.
I send you my prayers and my thoughts.
I, I, I,
I have this compulsion to make it about me.
One time I grieved so hard for a man
I barely knew, it took me years
to write the widow and that letter
was, like this current moment, about me.

Love from a distance and tokens and prayers
and kind thoughts on paper and strong wishes
every time you cross my mind, which is a lot.
As you continue to do the math of all you’ve lost,
the complicated math, the algebra, the calculus
(the problems of death are exponential,
the remainders don’t fit anywhere), just add
this in somewhere, this nothing. It isn’t nothing
exactly, but it’s not enough. It’s nothing much.

Questions of Real Estate

“Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” Elizabeth Bishop

 

When I look at Real Estate in The New York Times,
I am charmed, absorbed by how small the spaces are
how much they cost, how light, how airy, how clever.
And oh!  The things the owners say sometimes:
“It’s a modest little apartment but it’s so well done,”
(Barbara Barrie said) “It has brought me joy every day.”
But the odds for joy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan
are better than even, I’d guess. I really couldn’t say.
I am obsessed with other people’s homes.
I drive by houses and picture myself there.
Would I like it? Are the people inside happier
or sadder? Do they want to stay or go?
I think I could be happy anywhere.

I could be happy anywhere but here.

_______

I suppose it’s possible that last line is true, but more likely it’s the poet in me having that line occur to me and going NICE TWIST.  In any case, my house in small-town Wisco is pretty sweet sometimes:

a pic my husband took this morning

Behind. Alive. So Bright.

New snow and hoar frost and every cliché
about crystals and diamonds and stars—
my commute the other morning was bright
while my mood was altogether grim, standard
mid-semester stew of “I am so far behind”
with big chunks of “I live in squalor” and
an extra soupçon of regret. Remonstrance
aplenty as I set out for work and yet
those damn sparkles everywhere,
especially on the red blackberry canes,
and I won’t say the grimness diminished,
but I played like each spot of silver
shining in the morning sun was one more thing
I needed to do that wasn’t yet done
and honestly I’ve never felt more alive.
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The snow, thankfully, is mostly gone. But the bottles in my garden are glowing.

Routine Magic

Attention, please–both from and to the very best
of audiences any company could ever hope
to play to, so we hear–that cellophane
you’re crinkling deci-bells itself far, far beyond
your little ears–and also, when the music starts,
post-intermission but before the actors
reappear, that’s not your cue to talk
a little louder–no, it means shut up.
What’s more–I could go on. I won’t. It’s just–
we’re so lucky that it feels routine.
Each night they crank up the volcano, test
the atom bomb, make love from paper, walk
a cobweb tightrope, grow trees from lowly beans….
We’re privy to it all, all summer, face to face.
There is more than routine magic in this place.

picture of lit path with nearly-full moon

American Players Theatre on a moony night.

_____
This is the last weekend for up-the-hill shows at American Players Theatre and for most of the shows in the Touchstone Theater. A Doll’s House, Part 2 begins later this month and runs through the middle of November–I’m super excited to see it.

It was a fantastic season and I’m so happy it’s not quite done.

The first bit of that very nonce-y sonnet up there–that’s me being crabby. I’m more and more comfortable being crabby. And then the sestet–that’s me being appreciative. Which I’m also more and more comfortable being.

So lucky to live down the road from this routinely magical spot.

Garage Sale Liver Disease–a tiara of sonnets

Day 1
We were running anxiously, ridiculously late in the dream
I had right before I woke up this morning. At first
I was driving and realized I was taking the scenic route—
I go that way a lot when I’m asleep—
and then I was on my bike and completely lost track
of where the sidewalk was and all the sudden
I was inside a hospital. I couldn’t find my way back
at first and by the time I did, it was noon….
In real life, this morning, we started right at 8:00
to a flurry of people looking for cameras and toys,
of which, of which, of which we have a great,
vast really, trove; along with other…joys (?)
just waiting to be yours, all priced to sell,
and so much more we’ll be bringing out as well.

Day 2
There’s so much more to bring out, but it’s just as well
the sale ends tomorrow. Even though
we have enough to hold a goddam sale
every weekend from now until…who knows?
I’m fond of saying we are just one half
a matchbook collection away from being an episode
of Hoarders. This sale has pulled us safely back
from the brink. A house can only hold so much.
A house is like a liver. Everything
goes through and if you have too much of everything,
production slows. Deposits accumulate.
“Fatty liver.” A disease I have. A name I hate.
With virtuous living, it can be reversed.
What happens to an abused liver? Does it burst?

Day 3
What happens to an abused liver? Does it burst?
The sheath around it a shoe that pinches.
My liver gets uncomfortable. It hurts.
My ability to overindulge is diminished.
All those years of “Yes, I’ll have another,”
of thinking, saying, “too much is just enough.”
My body’s damaged. My house is still too full of stuff.
Less and less is the way I’ll recover.

“Well, no, I won’t take $10 for that. $15.
No lower. I’d rather give it to St. Vinny’s for free.”
“I’m sorry, no, we didn’t end up bringing out
any CDs or DVDs. Yes, those are all the tools we’ve got.”

We did the best we could. It wasn’t great.
As always, we were running anxiously, ridiculously late.
_____
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Meditation: Half-Dead Tree in the Wind

By the parking lot of the strip mall
where I buy cat food, next to a very busy street,
these perky little green leaves alternated
between fluttering, trembling, and violent
shaking in what began as a gentle breeze
and then (using on the language
of the Beaufort Scale), became
a moderate breeze, and finally a fresh breeze,
and back again, shifting from 7 knots to 21
and in between, and then all over again.
I didn’t think all that then,
when I was meditating.
I was trying not to think at all.
When I thought, I was thinking of
the portfolios at home longing to be graded,
the groceries on the other side of the annoying detour
all longing to be mine, to come home with me,
where we all are now, the food, the work
still yet to be done, the image of that half-dead tree
in the wind still with me, resisting metaphor,
not really responsible for my wondering what killed half of it
and what the part that isn’t dead has to live for.

_____
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