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Category: Stuff I Wrote

Thomas

I wrote this poem about a student of mine and a story he told me one afternoon about the demon in his eye.  I found out a few months after I wrote the poem that Thomas is in fact a “colorist,” or one who creates new colors for a living.

 

Thomas

Father Yu told Thomas’s mother

that a demon was living

behind her son’s left eye.

 

He would perform an exorcism,

he said, for half the usual price

because it was only, after all, one eye.

 

Thomas’s mother thanked the priest

and politely turned him down.

Not all demons are bad

she said.

 

Whether that devil still abides

Between Thomas’s brain and Thomas’s eye

is uncertain,

even on the freshest of

pink spring days.

 

Sometimes he feels

like his retinas are being pulled back

like rubber bands,

only he is still waiting

for the eventual

snap.

 

In that case,

maybe the creature has made his way

down into Thomas’s nose,

monkey arms reaching

to swing on Thomas’s retinas,

hoping to suck on the

vitreous humor within.

 

Some cherry blossom evenings

Thomas does hear music

that may or may not be played by anyone

in particular

and some dying afternoons

his brow furrows and he doesn’t know the world

as his mother home,

but more a vacation abroad

he has taken before.

 

I have been in this place

as long as Daegu City

he says,

long enough to exorcise my mother,

Japan, all of the colors.

 

So tell me why to this day

I cannot stand

the smell

of Holy Water.  

 

On Melancholy

I’m excited to see Lars Van Trier’s Melancholia this week, the title just feels so apt for the moment. The melancholy settling in as we linger in this not-quite-summer-not-quite-autumn-should-be-winter period is odd. Maybe it’s just me. I’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men and feeling a bit Betty Draper as I mope around recovering from stress at work and some personal life oddities. It’s not a bad thing, just interesting. I dyed my hair reddish-brown a few weeks ago. The reddest tones have all but completely faded away, but I’m still using this fancy color enhancing shampoo that looks exactly like blood. Maybe that’s what this poem is about.

Red

Hands befitting the mood of this odd, Indian summer:
sticky warm, skin,
fingers weathering about like wraiths,
stuck clams in sand.

We wait, brace,
listen at the door for her voice
telling us she’s innocent,
she never did it,
bleeding just a little on our behalf.

Winter would clear her,
would it come.
No one would care and we could move on,
tuck in, settle down behind folds of white snow,
her hair flashing in the firelight like a comfort
instead of now, at the end of the driveway,
screaming with dead leaves like a stop sign.

Trespasses

I’ve been working on this poem for years, since my first creative writing class sophomore year of college. I never liked it much, but I felt like the experience was something I absolutely had to put in words. The summer between high school and college, a group of us snuck out onto this river beach in Bivalve where this magical glowing algae covers everything–it lights up when you kick the sand and washes in on the little waves. I remember lying down in the sand at the narrow point where two parts of the river came together and speculating about the somewhat terrifying future ahead. Anyway, reading Rilke this week brought me back to this experience–the almost palpable images of that night–the fear and comfort of the darkness. I think that mood (and a few borrowed images) helped me get the experience down a bit better.

Trespasses

Fixed moments in the space-time continuum,
six black silhouettes define the mirror line
between starred universe and starred beach,
sand laden with phosphorescence written up in Friday’s Daily Times.

Six shapes jump and kick and skitter little green lives.

Ten hands clasp,
six wriggling sea creatures display themselves to
screaming, vibrating heavens,
promising that by this time next year they will not have deviated from this point.

Two sighs, three quick tears,
an inaudible resonance holds,
falters—
breaks.

Four wheels speed past fence, gate,
six trailers where people live.

Goldengrove Unleaving

I spent a really blissful “sick day” last week at the Wheaton Park. It was one of those brilliant autumn afternoons and, I figured, the last day I could show off my new broad-brimmed sun hat I bought on sale in the city. Armed with only my hat, a tissuey scarf, and a collection of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, I treaded through the botanical gardens with the elderly couples and new mothers before escaping to a bench on the little dark pond to read.

Hopkins was the perfect choice for the dying light of fall — he has this view of the world that is both very dark and very lovely. Drawn his whole life to acetic self-denial, his relationship with God seems to bring him more pain than anything else. His verse, written with what he calls “sprung rhythm,” indeed is wound up tight and just waiting to leap off the page. It betrays a rebellious energy he harnesses in meter, as though Hopkins himself is afraid of what his unleashed words can reveal.

My favorite Hopkins poem is “Spring and Fall,” about a little girl who feels sad in autumn. She feels the way I did as a child, drawn to inanimate objects and at times inexplicably and profoundly heartbroken for them: “Leaves, like things of man, you/with your fresh thoughts care for, can you?” He argues that “sorrow’s springs are the same,” namely our own mortality. Not a happy poem, but a pretty one that just begs to be read aloud:

Spring and Fall
 to a young child
MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older         5
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:         10
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Oper Pem

I yelled “Hey Handsome” at Victor out the window
and immediately felt like I was cheating on you.

But it’s only Victor,
whose vague Eastern European accent we find affected
whose charade of wearing pink pumps with his three-piece suit
shut down Human Resources that whole Tuesday morning.

And it’s only you, handsome in your own European way
but not as handsome as your boyfriend
Sicilian
who is not as handsome as mine.

Yelling at Victor from a Honda is not how I thought we’d end up
you and me
but we’ve protested
wet streets
and we’ve sung hymns on hard benches
and I’m running out of ways to love you.

(2011)

Pastoralia: Driving Home, Breathing Easier

After sitting in traffic through Annapolis for what felt like years, I was so happy to finally reach the Eastern Shore this past Friday. It might be my absolute favorite feeling in the world: crossing the Bay Bridge and suddenly finding myself surrounded by green fields and water and sky. Small brick churches dot the landscape, along with white clapboard farmhouses tucked in little oak groves off the highway. I like to imagine a Faulkner or Steinbeck tome springing up from each tiny family graveyard on each plot of land, though thejuxtaposition of my whirring engine and the peace I’m passing by so fast is always somewhat unsettling.

This is my ultimate liminal space, neither here nor there, where I unwind my city thoughts and look forward to the peace of home. It is a limbo of sorts, as familiar as a friend but never a destination. Being home is comfortable, leaving home is hard, but getting home is truly delicious.