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Journal, Day Five
Sometimes just after two writers meet and sometimes just before they separate the question, “What are you reading?” enters the conversation. In my imaginary city all people greet and depart in this way.
Trying to make you fall in love in 5-6 lines . . .
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
You best know this one, but if you’re just learning to read: Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays.”
I love this body, this
solo & ragtime jubilee
behind the left nipple,
because I know I was born
to wear out at least
one hundred angels.
From Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Anodyne.” Let it burn a trail across your scalp.
Love is a word, another kind of open—
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am black because I come from the earth’s inside
now take my word for jewel in the open light.
From Audre Lorde’s “Coal.” Four lines, but what more do you need?
Sometimes I like to think about the people I hate.
I take my room at the Hate Hotel, and I sit and flip
through the heavy pages of the photographs,
the rogue’s gallery of the faces I loathe.
My lamp of resentment sputters twice, then comes on strong,
From Tony Hoagland’s “Hate Hotel.” Had there been time we might have talk about Hoagland’s PERSONA poem “The Change.”
I want the water to go on without its bed.
And the wind to go on without its mountain passes.
I want the night to go on without its eyes
and my heart without its golden petals;
if the oxen could only talk with the big leaves
From Lorca’s “Ghazal of the Terrifying Presence.” Its lesson: Mystery is not ambiguity.
The beekeeper’s daughter. With a sack full of bees.
She’ll come in, quiet, from the orchards, figs in her shawl
and gather the bees from their white boxes.
And Professor Garcia, the music instructor. With bare hands.
In his empty house, he’ll play his piano and each note
will be one of my fingers in a jar.
from Joshua Poteat’s “People Who’d Kill Me (Spain, 1939)” (from Ornithologies). We love some of the same people, Joshua.
God is the bony man leading the goat-cart
full of garden vegetables, giving them away
to the villagers—cauliflower to the widows,
pole beans to the mischievous boys, cucumbers
to the balding attorneys, potatoes to the gamblers,
turnips to the housewives, middlings to the chickens.
From Maurice Manning’s “Dramatis Personae” in Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions. One of the best books in Yale Younger Poet series in the last decade. I’m almost afraid to tell you how good it is . . . Poems that cannot be read only re-read.
I sleep. I dream my feudal fruitless wars.
I dream of peace the dovewhite dawn explodes.
Man is a weapon of mass destruction.
I know this now. Man’s the best rhyme for war.
From Todd Hearon’s “What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful of Him.” Who is this dude? You can find the whole poem in the Slate poetry archive: http://www.slate.com/id/2137014/?nav=navoa
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
From “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. Everything begins with a Yes, said Clarice Lispector.
Five non poetry books:
—Oreo by Fran Ross (she was one of Richard Pryor’s writers)
—So Long, See you Tomorrow by William Maxwell
—In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition by Fred Moten
—Condition Of The Spirit: The Life And Work Of Larry Levis edited by Christopher Buckley and Alexander Long
—The Grand Hotels (Of Joseph Cornell) by Robert Coover. A slim imaginary book you should read once a week for at least a year. If I were to try excerpting it I might quote from the Grand Hotel Nymphlight: “Although Childhood is the source and model of all architecture, grand hotels included, the Grand Hotel Nymphlight is the only one known to be specifically devoted to ‘the child within,’ as the hotel brochure puts it.”
A last thing about craft and voice. In Night A. Alvarez says maybe all aesthetic judgments boil down to “not the rightness of form, since forms change . . . but the rightness of feeling.”