poet life

Some Quickly Jotted Poems at a Few Brooklyn Coffee Shops

I’m only accepting anti-laurels now. Hardly.

 

Parade Coffee on Caton Ave, 9-30-17

 

A poet                  saying goodbye            to poetry
has to write           a poem                    and then there’s
the paperwork           Tomorrow                  thirty years
from now                when I’m gulping          the air
and the names           the simple things         floating around me
it won’t be            the neglect               reserved
for genius              My poems                  will be the chore
of the super            Parsed                    by the furnace
turned smoke           Is it defiance            To keep on
making them             say No                   Do I fail
because I want          to succeed                I should write
the smallest           Poem I can                Something
too small               to say No to              and revise it
with sharp              knife                     the oblivion
a shiny flake           of your lava              I’ve kept
all these years        a souvenir                in my sock drawer
spat up                 by the fire goddess       from Earth’s seam
syllable edge           shaved by half            and folded in two

submitted in triplicate

stamped Approved with the waxen seal of the Drunk Ambassador of Poetry

-they played the song from Portlandia.

 

 

Uptown Coffee, Seventh Ave, 10-12-17

 

Sweating in fancy clothes
from walking my kid to school
the hot coffee isn’t helping.
Tempted to pat myself dry
with the napkins. Don’t
look I’m repulsive and have
been for at least a decade.
It doesn’t matter. I’m
the only one that has to
endure this body. It looms
over no one. Nobody
has to pretend anything
to keep my feelings from
being hurt. Except for
myself in the mirror
when I shave. Squinting.
Maybe it was better at
the old place where there
wasn’t an outlet and
I felt my face until it
was smooth.

 

 

Steeplechase, Fort Hamilton Parkway 10-15

 

This is the closest
one and I’d write
here more often
but there are small
wooden signs
forbidding laptops
on all the best
tables. The other
notable feature
is that napkins
are distributed
from a roll and
cut to the exact
size you need.
I got a pecan
sticky bun and
had to go back
three times.
I started going
to coffee shops
in college.
Back then, I loved
the shop more than
the brew.
The attraction
was wasting time
with a book
in a place where
my friends might
by chance distract
me from myself.
I thought myself
a writer then
but all I did
was read.
Now I need
the coffee as much
as the shop.

– they played The Old Crow Medicine Show

 

Return to Uptown Coffee, 10-27

 

The chorus of the song
is Guilty as Charged.
Music like a dangly
ear ring, heavy
and shining.
I don’t hear enough
to know what she did.
Claimed love, squandered
love, rebuked love.
It’s just an edgy pop
song. No real cowardice
revealed. Nothing
unsettling, just that
the night is long
and everyone surrenders.

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Make It Out to Cash, M’am

The glory to be had in poetry is small. The last month has been pretty typical. First the winner of the Tennessee Williams Festival poetry competition was announced on their website. I wasn’t the winner or even in the top ten finalists. My mother made me enter this one. Two years ago she sent a clipping for the 2012 contest in the mail. There are two things in that sentence that will go away in the next decade or so: clippings from a newspaper and old-fashioned mail. For the 2013 contest she sent a clipping and a check for the entry fee. I allowed myself to feel almost fated to win. After all, how could the great God of poetry frown upon a mother’s love? In Louisiana, we have the greatest story of mother’s love pushing a writer to glory.  After John Kennedy O’Toole’s suicide, his mother prevailed upon Walker Percy to read A Confederacy of Dunces and now the world has a masterpiece. Of course, he didn’t get to enjoy it. This time the world was spared the acceptance speech that I was daydreaming and the dubious pleasure of me reading in public for the first time since graduate school. It also was part of a string of rejections, the fancy pendant hanging off a necklace made of small but stinging bummers. The last poem taken was in November. None of this matters much. I only complain when I’m not working, when there isn’t a poem or a short story to finish. Any kind of vacation always throws me off. It took a week and a half after the Christmas vacation before I could get back to work. Of course, the things that I worked on were a direct result of me being in Louisiana and seeing old friends.   The month has brought two pretty good poems but the rejections continue. The high from finishing the last one hasn’t quite worn off. It did soften the blow from two more rejections this week. Another nice thing happened on Friday night. The end of work Friday was a little strange and led to an unscheduled trip to the Emerald Pub. We seem to suffer from an endless series of Fire Drills. The voice comes on the intercom and warns us that the lights are about to flash and the sirens whir. We then go to the elevator banks and listen to someone who used to work for the Fire Department give us instructions on what to do if we should happen to be on fire. One thing that they don’t want you to do is to take the elevators but I’m afraid after twelve years of fire drills, I have been trained to go straight for the elevator banks. This day the intercom came on and there was nothing but white noise before it went off. Then it went on for another few seconds and switched off. Finally, a man came on and in a very panicked voice said or almost yelled something like, “We have a water situation in the lobby. Do not use the elevators” before the intercom system went off again. In that moment of uncertainty when we didn’t know if the building was on fire or not, it was decided to go to the pub. This actually turned out to be the most effective fire drill that I ever had. I finally know where Staircase C is. Without eating dinner, we got to silly pretty quick. Among my co-workers, there is a playwright. We don’t share work but we commiserate on our very similar plights. So after a strange moment of not quite danger, a trip down an unfamiliar stairwell, a bit of good-natured general buffoonery, and some consideration of the plight of being a poet and a dramatist, I said my goodbyes and maybe felt a little extra weary.  In the harsh fluorescence of McDonald’s, my mouth already half-way through a McAngus, I see an email requesting an interview about a poem that I published in the Fall of last year. It seems that the great God of poetry knows just when to give back enough to keep you going. And this morning, I finally get Saturday’s mail and there is a check. For the first time ever, someone has paid me for poems. I have lost my amateur status.

Fragments

If you have any poet friends, you are used to hearing them complain about the poems not coming. If you didn’t know what a poem was, it sounds a little like we all have little bird feeders and we are sitting in our kitchens waiting and wondering what they really want to eat. Is it birdseed or heartbreak? Booze or childhood memories? Sunflower seeds or bits of lyrical sex? Still it swings empty. Complaining about this is part of the process. It is usually a few days after I have been most eloquent in filling the ear of some poor prose writer who has heard it all before that a new poem will come. The longer the time, the odder the plumage. You should know right now that I am dog star cold.

One of the things I do in this state is look at the bits that didn’t turn out. The few lines I can’t leave but can’t figure out how to continue…

They were
a species without regret
a literature of reassembled bones

the tall tales grow like kudzu
up the walls of the bar

You will never know the next words

It was your ghost I courted
With open window and glass of whiskey

I’ve had enough philosophy
to be godless on ordinary days

the wind blowing the unread magazines
and picking up my wife’s lingerie
finally letting it dance.

the thigh bones wrapped in fat and the smoke that calls the gods

fingers open the complicated
thumbs force the stubborn

There is a song I left
in the tuba by the pool
love,