Category Archives: Poetry

Remarkable

 

Something remarkable happened today—
I looked in the mirror and I liked how I looked.
(I was wearing a swimming suit, by the way.)

There’s something you should know—how very much I weigh,
and the fact that my back is fused and strange and crooked.
Something remarkable happened today

in the locker room mirror. I thought, “Hey–
nice hip.” (The right one sticks out and I had it stuck.)
I was wearing my bright blue one-piece, by the way,

the one that inspired a very fit man last month to say
“New suit, looks good.” I mostly just said thanks,
which means another remarkable thing happened that day.

I didn’t make excuses. I didn’t say
I’m sorry I’m not leaner. I didn’t choke
for wearing a swimming suit. By the way,

I thought my entire body looked okay.
For me to think that—it’s like lightning struck.
Something remarkable happened today.
I was wearing a swimming suit, by the way.

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Thinking About Camille Paglia in the Pool

I think she’d have a serious suit.
I think she’d wear a swim cap, no matter
how short her hair was currently.
I think she’d have a lane preference
and I think she’d express it to anyone
already there. I think she’d get her way.

Would she be a swamper? A splasher? A drifter? No,
I think she’d move through the water cleanly,
like an angry little otter. An opinionated knife.
She might critique my stroke. She might admire my
persistence. She might have a theory about how I float.

What would it be like to care so much
about everything? My husband’s like that.
I am not.

______
She’s got a new book coming out, apparently–will probably buy it. Still think about Sexual Personae now and then. This article brought her to mind.

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The answer is, the question is

So when it all comes down,
what it all comes down to, what
the answer is, the question is
how I did, how did I
spend them,
those bits of time,
my moments, my allotment of them,
what did I do with them
where did I leave them
did I wring them dry
did I use them well
then clean and oil them,
put them away to use again–
impossible–not something
I would be likely to do
and not something
anyone can do with a moment

I gorged on some
and let the shiny wrappers pile right up
and this one–this one
I’m holding like an injured dove
but there are more, so many,
so many, they scuttled away
like roaches or I stomped them
like roaches
and anyway they’re gone

______

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I wrote this poem whilst on retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisco (a truly special place)

Oh children let me tell you of the 80s

Oh children let me tell you of the 80s when
we learned about gay because so many of
the men we loved got sick, they died, so
now when people try to calm themselves
about political mayhem they sigh and say, “Well,
we survived Reagan, we’ll survive ________.”
We say no, we didn’t, we didn’t all survive,
we didn’t, some pretty ones died,
they got skinny and sick with awful red blotches.
People wouldn’t touch them. Doctors wouldn’t
treat them. People wouldn’t say the word.
Reagan wouldn’t say the word.
I will say the word Reagan wouldn’t say,
AIDS, I’ll say it and I’ll also say
I blame him. I blame him. I blame him.

The ones who didn’t die, we worried they would,
the pretty ones, the ones who did their eyes better
than I ever could, and some of them loved women,
too, but we knew they loved men or
maybe they did or they just didn’t care what we knew
or what we thought we knew and we loved them so much
it turned out we didn’t care either and
they’re part of why we have non-binary rainbows now,
but children they’re dying now, too, too
soon, some of the prettiest ones this year, and
your middle-aged people are crying because
we were young and pretty once and
all the prettiest ones are dying.

_____

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Red wine in a blue glass #sad

_____
Update 12/26

One of my students last week was saying “Freeze frame!” and other students knew the song, and I said, “Wait–are you talking about the J. Geils band?” Yes, they were, they love it. This was in a class where they were practicing teaching a p.e. unit to elementary students (I volunteered to be a naughty student so they could practice how to handle that). One of the lessons involved teaching us the words & motions to “Y.M.C.A.” I asked one of our staffers (who was also volunteering) if he thought students knew what a big part that song played in gay culture, and he didn’t seem to know it, so I’m guessing students don’t, either.

So the 80s are back, but as far as I can see, in a pretty shallow way. Which is fine, except there are things that are important to know about the 80s, including AIDS. One of the reasons I give away condoms on campus is that I heard on the radio a couple of years that the only demographic group where AIDS cases were going up were college-age people in rural, white areas (my students, in other words). I suppose I could look up the stats to be more precise, but the point is, as with so many things, there’s so much they don’t know.

Some caveats: I remember spending so much time early on when we talked about AIDS saying over and over again “it’s not just a gay disease,” and it wasn’t, and isn’t, but we nearly lost a generation of gay men, so many of them creative and amazing–what would the world be like if we could’ve slowed it sooner?

(I also remember that we said to each other that men wearing so much makeup didn’t mean they were gay–or two earrings, or one earring on the right–and of course it didn’t, but we wondered. I remember spending a lot of time wondering. Just barely post-adolescent, I remember how sad I was to find out some singer I loved was gay because that added one more layer of impossibility he’d ever marry me. I felt the same way when I found out Walt Whitman was gay, because not only was he dead, he wouldn’t have loved me like that, anyway. Because, of course, it was all about me.)

And another thing–I revised the wording here a little. The day after the election there were several tweets saying “But we didn’t all survive Reagan/Bush.” I can’t find one that said “The thing is,” but I woke up this morning worried I’d copied the wording too closely. So I changed it. If I find that specific tweet, I’ll link it.

Bellamy

I was pregnant at your funeral so I know
how long it’s been—twelve years without your voice,
North Carolina humming like a soft-spoken ghost
in the house of your sentences. But you could be hard. Oh
my God—you made us practice our phrasing when we sang
medieval rounds. Around a freaking campfire.
I never knew just how much edge you’d bring.
You could really give the higher-ups what for,
and no one does that at our work, not any more.
Such beauty and talent and genius and grace!
And yet I saw you clip your nails in a meeting once.
(I just sat there praying you wouldn’t do your toes.)
My house is almost, not quite, as big a mess
as yours. I haven’t felt the grief you muddled through.
I haven’t done the brave things I saw you do.
You loved good friends so much and good food too.
We always met at Christmas. I miss you.

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Azaleas–a pretty southern sort of plant.

No, I don’t know where your snow pants are.

No, I don’t know where your snow pants are.
Here are your snow boots, but they might not fit.
This same moment happens every year.

I always swear to myself, “next year I’ll remember.”
The spring equivalent is baseball glove and cleats.
No, I don’t know where your snow pants are.

Did you look in your closet? They should be there,
if you had an organized mother, that is. Yours isn’t.
This same moment happens every year.

Your snow boots are tight? Your feet got bigger?
Well, you’ll only have to hobble a little bit.
No, I don’t know where your snow pants are.

The coat rack? The front hall? The back porch?
The oven? Space station? Tardis? I quit.
This same moment happens every year.

It’s faster just to buy new ones, I swear.
I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with spit.
No, I don’t know where your snow pants are.
This same moment happens every year.

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The alarmingly tight snow boots.

If I Loved You Before the Election, I Probably Still Do

If I loved you before the election, I probably still do.
Even more than how you voted, I’m thinking about
what’s good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true.

I’m worried who the bad things are happening to.
Our list of bad things might be different, but
if I loved you before the election, I probably still do.

It isn’t like I thought we lived in a commune,
but Jesus, how can we be so far apart
on what’s good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true?

Do you feel this frightened when my side wins and you lose?
I’m sorry if you do. I didn’t know that.
If I liked you before the election, I probably still do,

unless I can only be your friend if I voted like you.
It makes me anxious when we’re asking what
is good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true

because we can’t even manage to watch the same news.
It looks like a storm cloud to me. What’s it look like to you?
If I loved you before the election, I probably still do.
What’s good? What’s bad? What scares us most? What’s true?

_____

Don’t get me wrong–I have really firm opinions about the election. My side lost in the primary and the general. I’m trying to figure out how to process it, how to understand it, what to do. But one of the things that freaks me out the most is how far apart we are as a country, as a state. It feels to me like we could bust out into our own version of the Troubles any moment. (Some violence is already here.) I honestly don’t know what to do.  I decided to start re-learning Spanish.  And I did buy, but haven’t started reading yet, Katherine Cramer’s book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

And speaking of Scott Walker, here are some thoughts I had on similar matters five years ago. I just read the Cadfael books again and they still seem to have so much to say about disagreeing and either empathizing or not with the people you’re disagreeing with. There are two parts,  Grief for the Uncousinly Chasm. And then Grief for the Uncousinsly Chasm, Part II. There’s a part III I haven’t had the nerve to write yet, on the chasm between what I believed when I was actively Baptist and what I believe now as what I call a Zen Baptist–the chasm between what some of my friends and family believe and what I do.

You can take this line from the villanelle as either taking the Lord’s name in vain or a prayer (or both–I mean it as both):

Jesus, how can we be so far apart?

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It looks like bleak November to me. What’s it look like to you?