Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sprezzatura \ Solstice Tutti Frutti

Nancy:  Not a wind that would toss the spruce, just a breeze – but it made all the difference to the hackmatack.


A poem about hackmatack
devolves into a list of names
(Latin, or regional), a definition
of evergreen (it's not), of conifer
(barely), of its uses: oddly
maritime, certain trees having
a growth pattern lending itself
to use as the "knee" of a ship
(boat) and none of this is poetry
making it all the more surprising
this morning to look up and see
the hackmatack suddenly graceful
lifting in the wind, a wind
that leaves the spruce
stolid as ever; the hackmatack,
still in that delicate green
of new needles.
Suddenly, nothing to do
with definitions, the hackmatack
in the grace of its movements
dives deep into my consciousness:
sprezzatura!  Yes! Having
no one to share this
thought, I say it to myself:
sprezzatura.  Hackmatack.

Alan:  My song track for 1956 includes Elvis’ version of “Tutti Frutti,” which came out that year, and a couple of saccharine ditties sung by Dale Evans and, it seems, every girl in my class: the one that starts “Have faith, hope, and charity...” and the one that goes “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Simpler times.

Solstice Tutti Frutti

Blather and banter of TV weatherguy
Steve and newsanchor Chris –
two neckties under lollipop faces,
Steve’s snub-nosed, flat,
Chris pointy-chinned with eyes
professionally crinkled.

Chris: “I hope you’re enjoying these
long days, Steve.”  Steve: “Sure am, Chris.
So great to have sun
so early and late.”  Chris: “Yup, almost
the equinox.” Equinox!  Where
were you when they handed out brains,
I think, forgetting that

they are just TV guys filling time and
the purpose of all this is to lull us into
the next commercial break, so on
they judder.  “Well, Steve,
a lop bop a loo bop a lop!”
and I’m off on my high horse

of recall.  My father, my father
was a meteorologist a real one
and was even on TV once it was 1956 
the TV was small in a cabinet black&white
our first and we watched as he, looking

nervous and pale, explained something
about weather which I didn’t understand
or forget now but often
he would tell us (not on TV)
that a weatherman was someone
who could look into a girl’s eyes
and tell “whether” and a long-
range forecaster could do the same
and tell “when”

and I didn’t get the joke
at that age, nine years, but thought it
was funny because of how he said it,

also he said that his mother, Granny,
never forgave him for predicting rain
for her garden party
and it rained.  It rained!  Prediction
being a kind of unsympathetic
magic I guess but she was the one
who asked

and that was the year
we lived in a big old
house on a corner in Newtonville
and I learned that cleaners were cleansers
and Indian burns didn’t hurt
they smahted and people drank
tonic not soda and spoke in double
negatives as in ain’t got no
said my mother who had
wanted to be a teacher

and I walked to Carr School
which was old and had tall windows
and smelled of wool in the winter
which I know is a stereotypical
memory but still true there was
a cloakroom, even then that was weird

and I had a best friend, Arthur
Brostrup, whose house I went to once
it was small and run-down
and cluttered at the end of a short dirt road
his father cut and sold firewood for a living
which at least meant he did something
I could understand we read
comicbooks all afternoon he had so many
covering the floor

it was very unlike the rest of Newtonville
as I knew it big frame houses, tall trees
on big square blocks also I took my
accordion (it was that era) on the bus
by myself, lugging all 25 pounds of it
to Belmont and along a couple of
city blocks the case banging
against my leg so I had to switch
sides every so often to a house with a turret
with curved glass windows
for lessons

also there was a girl
at a birthday party who was so pretty
in her party dress which was the first time I noticed
anything like that and so she was
my first love even if we never
spoke and that was our only time

also I would ride my bike
into Newton Center to the hobby shop
and buy model planes with my allowance
and the glue that made you woozy
also there was a crossing guard
also the leaves along the way were big
and when it rained they sheltered you
until suddenly they didn’t
also we were taught duck for the oyster
dig for the clam that’s all I remember
of the fourth grade curriculum

also ten years later or so
I came back with my mother
on a whim to find that the house
was gone the corner lot turned
into a 5-story apartment building
the whole neighborhood
apartment buildings

where my father had hidden the
Christmas tree around back so we could
“discover” it and bring it inside
for Christmas also where we got the phone call
having supper in the side room with all the glass
that had been a studio the owner we were
renting was something of an artist
it had northern exposure we got the phone
call that Granny was dead it was
sudden a brain leak I didn’t cry

but later I hid in my bed at the back
off the second floor where the narrow
back stairs came up from the kitchen
and where I’d been stung by a wasp
that clung to me as I ran for it

and looked at the coconut-head face
carved by the artist the whole place
was filled with paintings and lumpy
sculptures once I squirted my
squirt gun on an oil painting and the
paint got soft and smeared in one place

so tiny no one would notice, would they?
and wondered why I couldn’t cry
but death was still abstract except
for baby birds that the cat brought in
and the kitten my father stepped on in the
dark in the closet he forgot the mama
cat was in there with her litter
but that was another place

and when we came back it was all
gone bam boom!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sandwich Poem For John And Sarah \ We Compare Equipment

Nancy: Every day the bay fills, empties, fills again, rises 18-20 feet, falls; the world is in constant motion, eagles, seabirds, sky.  Our appetites are astounding.

Sandwich Poem For John And Sarah

Mustards with and without turmeric,
grainy, smooth, gingered,
pale and hot, their
spoons akimbo in the jars,
and the cheeses, wedge, round,
nutty, smoked, smooth, but
none of these so bright as the
ham, the slices of tomato,
brilliant tomato, all piled on
the black iron of the stove
because we were greedy for food
back from the thickets and stones
of Race Point, the low tide
saltmarsh tang, the eagle, the arm
of land thrust into the bay, into the
cold waters spun off from Labrador
.  .  .

Wasn’t it a fine day, to walk lazily
under a sundog sky?

Alan: For a few years in the early ‘90s, a woodworker in our area produced beautiful, five-foot long, Victorian-inspired walking sticks.  I still use mine often.

We Compare Equipment

Unlike Ryokan’s bark-stripped branch,
this staff’s got breeding:
perfectly turned, steel-tipped,
fitting the hand, and balanced.
A joy to stride with,
dotting the path in perfect
four-four time.
Will I feel as he did,
some day, an old man,
seeing it hanging from the nail

“Sandwich Poem For John And Sarah” first appeared as “Sandwich Poem” in Fencing Wildness (Slow Dancer Press, 1999).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Inheritance \ His Indulgence And The Song Of Birds

Nancy:  Do I like snakes?  Yes.  Did I like teaching children about snakes?  Yes.  Am I careful never to injure a snake?  Yes.  Nevertheless...


It was a snake.
Where?  How big?
What color?  It was
the color of...
well, it was a snake-y
color; it was as long
as the grass is wide;
it was there; it probably
is still there.

I am not phobic.  I have
carried our friend the snake
in two hands and shown
him to children.  Gently,
I caution; he is fragile;
his ribs are slender and many;
I carry a picture of the delicate
skeleton; I calmly remove his teeth
from my thumb.

Did you see me leap?
Hear the almost-stifled sound
of a person whose bare foot
has said snake?  At that moment
it was 1,000,000 years into
my future when I would say,
“feel the smooth flow of his scales;
watch him taste the air delicately
with his tongue; see how he enjoys
coiling around my warm body,” sliding
strong and muscular under my shirt.

Alan: The only Chat I’ve ever seen was dead from striking our window.  But twice on June nights I’ve awakened from sleep to listen, astonished.

His Indulgence And The Song Of Birds

That perfect summer night I heard the Chat
pouring from the copse
its extraordinary invisible flow
of music and noise,
I thought of Ryokan stumbling loaded
home from some farmer’s kitchen
pausing every few feet
to extemporize fortissimo
rice-wine poems
to the company of gods.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pavane \ Measuring Up

Alan: This poem, admittedly something of a pastiche, treats the death of Wild Bill Hickok through the conventions of 1950s TV westerns, with echoes of the verse I was exposed to in junior high school: cummings’ “Buffalo Bill’s Defunct,” Noyes’ “The Highwayman,” and the ballad, “Lord Randall.”  The soundtrack: Ravel’s “Pavane Pour Une Enfante Défunte,” a piece no TV western has ever used, I’m pretty sure.


Wild Bill’s, too,
Hear the somber strings’ refrain –
            that sad refrain –
as cellos’ pizzicatos wring unusual rain
on a cottonwood coffin six-man-handled to the browned-off edge of town.
Another blueeyed boy laid down, oh Death,
            laid down.

Terbaccer-chawin’ boy got plugged:
just like some slicked-down tinhorn moon-faced on the old saloon’s
stained, stinking, sawdust-covered boards; the swinging doors still creaking,
Hear that ringing gong-spittoon?
Our man got juiced, my friends,
by Jack in the back: the old poltroon,
            old Jack McCall, poltroon.

But Bill, why weren’t your buds there watching, covering the sneak attack?
Ah yes, I think they were there watching, watching
dealing some different game, some sawed-off, nameless, shameless game,
and then they were watching you writhing,
            writhing – writhing –
a used-up gunman writhing,
a laid-low lawman writhing
your life out on a juice-stained floor.
            (Hear the somber strings’ refrain.)

And now you are bundled away, oh blueeyed son,
            oh handsome young one,
into the tight-lipped clay, oh son,
oh Bill, oh blueeyed Bill,
oh son.  Oh bundled son.  Oh son.
            (That sad refrain.)

Nancy: In elementary school I learned that girls weren’t allowed to play mumbletypeg; in high school girls couldn’t take shop; in college, where I studied archaeology, “we never take girls on the summer digs.”  Ah yes, those good old days.

Measuring Up

As we did
as we all did
measured up
names and dates
on the kitchen door
shoes and boots
carnival rides and
canoe paddles
photos and desks
sometimes at the
head of the line
the middle, sometimes
the end
sometimes the wrong end

we never
take girls
girls don’t
girls never.

Today I look at the bone
they're calling it
and look at the man
lying there, dirty
smiling, measuring
lying there next to the bone, it is longer
than one of the men
really it is longer than two of the men
I would be much
I look at the bone
and see myself see myself
                              walking away
measuring up