Category Archives: Poetry journal

The Sea-Lion Literary Awards

There once was a trope so wrongheaded, I’ve never forgotten
how fetid: “a woman’s period,” (the very young man said)
“the falling ash at the end of a lit cigar.”
The women in the class (of course it was a class)
said together like a chorus, “no,
no, no, it’s nothing like that, not at all.”
And now we’re grown up and now we’re grown old
and where is he now, that redhead?
In the bar where the mermaids wait tables, an old man
leaves a tip on a napkin: “You would be so much prettier
if you smiled more.” He looks less at her face than her ass
and at home he writes poems about “how her titties are
shooting out her shirt like two cannon balls.”
No one needs to read it to think “not at all.”

____

Just killing time before a movie–there was a Twitter exchange about dirty old man poems & I was inspired. (The title relates to the Twitter exchange.)

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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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This Specific Grief So Far

The braille of my hives reads “nettles,” which
I’ve tackled just in time this spring, instead
of waiting until they’re taller than my head.
I should cook them up but won’t. There is so much
I am not doing with this gift of time
that was stolen just today from a woman younger
than me with children younger than mine. Also, her
good words reached farther and did more work than mine.
In this specific grief so far, what have I learned?
The God we prayed to didn’t grant our prayers.
Some plants protect themselves–beware. Beware–
female stinging nettles produce more stinging hairs.
I see pain and possibility everywhere.
“O death where is thy sting?” Right fucking here.

_____

Rachel Held Evans, a writer I admired and learned from so much, has died. She was one of my favorite thinkers on Twitter and I appreciated her blog posts and books. I never met her. I never said “I think you’re great,” not even in a tweet. So there’s this sadness, in proportion to how much she occupied my brain and engaged my heart, and there are so many others hurting so much more.

What else can I say except–read her if you haven’t already. And we all need to understand what she said in her last blog post:

“It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on. Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called ‘none’ (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.’

Death is a part of life.

My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

_____

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darkness and light and pain and pleasure

_____
(At some point, I will be more in the mood to celebrate her life. Right now, I am grieved and angry, and I feel confident she would support my feeling of my feelings.)

Half-Vast

Half-vast is way too close to half-assed,
both in how it sounds and how I do it,
aim for one and miss. Too slow. Too fast,

the one I want goes hurtling past.
Like ice melting and turning itself into fluid.
Half-assed is way too close to half-vast,

which is a measurement so imprecise
it’s no surprise I so consistently lose what
I aim for. Consistently miss. I’m slow. How fast

and clever and organized do I need to be?
I can’t begin to explain or even intuit
how perpetually close half-vast is to half-assed.

I still very much want my teachers to be pleased.
I want, I want. All my grinding duties
aim for safety and miss, too slow or maybe too fast

for anyone I want to impress to be impressed.
I had elaborate plans. They are somewhat ruined.
Half-vast is way too close to half-assed.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so depressed.

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Imperiled

The snow’s off-white, the house is white, the sky
is pewter-gray, the buggy’s black, and also black:
the horses and most of the laundry on the line
except for a little rose and green and one kind
of blue so patently Amish it should be called that.
Oh, and the underwear, the private flying
proudly in the open, nothing white,
just various degrees of beige that look like linen
sails billowing, contrasting very slightly
with the piles of dirty snow they’ve shoved aside,
the temporary patio furniture of winter
the children might jump off of when there’s time,
when they’re not hard at work or cutting a slice
down the shoulder of the road: when it’s ice
I’ve heard they skate there but I
have only ever seen them standing by
their parents or in a circle outside
what I think is a school where they were either
playing or getting ready to fight,
which I know they aren’t supposed to do. So why
did it look so menacing, the four or five
boys I saw, closing in on another child
as I drove by, that’s what I do, I drive on by,
that’s what we do out here, the road signs
with the graphic horse and buggy trying
to tell us slow down, watch out, use your eyes,
because the next hill you’ll go over is blind
and you won’t see them until you’re right
on top of them, a whole family on your right
with bright specks of color but mostly wearing night.

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This month I’m trying to hunt for green as I drive–I’m considering it mindful driving. One of the shades of green I see on Mondays when I’m driving to Kickapoo High School, as I drive through Amish Country, is the occasional green shirt on the clotheslines of Amish families–close to the shade above. The laundry on the line is mostly black and beige. But some blue and green and a shade of kind of rosy-plum.

Poem Too Gross to Read

I woke up once to the sight of vomit
pouring like an upside down fountain
from a camper on the top bunk
down to the floor where it blossomed
into a stunning mess, ten feet across,
almost perfectly round.

Nothing about it was beautiful.

I was the counselor so I had to clean it up.
I half-heaved a thousand times at least.

Imagine waking up to vomit every day.

Imagine the thing that makes you gag the fastest.
Someone else’s vomit? Someone saying vomit?

One time when I was swimming laps I saw
a giant loogie floating below me, sinking
slowly toward the filter. It had tentacles
of slime coming off of it. It was green.

You know how we say “I just threw up
a little in my mouth” to joke that something
strikes us as horrifying or just bad news?

My son says that every day. It’s not a joke for him.

He just now choked on what he’d regurgitated.

The disease that causes his nuclear reflux
is hard to pronounce and not commonly known.

Because the pain’s inside of him some people think
it’s mostly inside his head or that he’s lying
or exaggerating or maybe just an unpleasant child.

What he has is invisible and what they can’t see
they can’t believe, apparently, but I wonder
if they could see this: maggots sliding and oozing
inside a jack-o-lantern. More maggots

inside a pus-filled cut in the arm of a woman
whose plane crashed and she wandered in the jungle
for weeks and her feet blistered and bled and cracked.

That one time in honors math class when the weird guy
popped a big stinky zit and it sprayed onto
all the really smart students next to him.

When the sad girl threw up on the bus
and it ran down the runnels of the rubber mat
and the bus driver poured the pink sawdust on it
which was supposed to soak it up but just made it worse.

I would do anything for my child.
I would write something I can barely stand to read.
I would ask people to read it and if they said no,
I would ask them if they know how lucky they are—
they can choose to avoid the thing my son can’t avoid.

Asking for a Friend

Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?
How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?
Thanks for your help. Just asking for a friend.

Wow. One matchbook collection more and you’d be in
a clutter monkey reality show of your own.
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?

And if there is a demarcated line, can
you live inside the shape you’ve bent it in?
Thanks in advance. Just asking for a friend.

When your life falls apart, what does that mean?
Will your house ever be clean, ever again?
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?

What if you remember one scary time when
one of your cousins seemed way too interested in
your secret parts. Asking for a friend.

You don’t recall his touching you like that back then.
So why his interest? You were so scared. So why?
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?
(I know you know it’s me) asking for a friend.

—–

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(This is actually an organized spot in my house, where we store paper to recycle and reuse. But it LOOKS messy.