I don’t like the way it ends.
When I moved to Fort Lauderdale, I would get restless at night. I wanted to be out prowling beaches walking by noisy bars, not a part of the scene, but privy to it. I left poems and objects, chalked writings along sidewalks. In 2011, a friend linked my post about hanging the micropoems in the Himmarshee district, and the feedback he got from his friends was pretty negative. Well, one comment was. It’s lost under the avalanche of new content, but the remark left this impression, this distillation in my mind, whether or not that was the actual gist of the comment: that people thought I was only doing things like that “for attention,” and that art shouldn’t be done “for attention.” That people thought I was trying to be “edgy” and “original.”
Now I’m in Tallahassee, having lived through one of the hardest years of my life in terms of depression and the loss of family and friends. It’s been hard to “stay positive,” whatever that means. It’s been hard to enjoy things the way I used to. One of the things I’d lost is my poetry. I had not written a poem in over a year, outside a smattering of micropoems. Even my blog here tapered off. I stopped dancing. And gradually I found it more and more onerous to work on my weird little art projects or to write fiction. Even practical projects began to drag.
My spouse-creature is away on business. Here in this town, I am a recluse. I don’t talk to many people. I sleep through much of my day. The thought of existing in this huge empty house alone for two weeks is terrifying. Not in the sense of fear for my safety, but in the sense of I have no one to talk to. It was strange, then, to wake up needing paper last night. Strange to see the words trailing out of the meeting between graphite and paper. It was even stranger that I was revisiting an old notion, Pandora in poem, wanting to sneak past the gates in parks and leave these texts scrawled on odd objects for other people. Because people don’t do this unless they want attention.
I was about to censor myself, crumple up the page and make myself go back to bed. That’s when I started crying. I watched the tears plop onto the notebook paper, and thought about the texture of a wet page that’s dried, how it rumples, and if I could use that, make the ink of a poem run like eyeliner…
I finished the poem. And I started prepping the surface of a box that will wear it. I intend to leave it behind somewhere. This morning, after waking up for a second time, I actually started reading The Art Abandonment Project by Micheal and Andrea Matus deMeng. I’d marked on Goodreads I’d already started it, but I have this habit of not picking a book up until I’ve told someone I have already… it’s like a butler lie for my bookshelf. I expected it to be… pretentious. Michael deMeng talks about his motives in abandoning his art in various places, even writes about posting his experience of it on his Facebook page. He talks of the exhilaration of not knowing what became of it, seeking to relive the feeling of his art abandonments in Oaxaca, or during his college days. There was an angry part of me who thought, “Who would leave art somewhere and write about it unless they wanted the attention? To self-aggrandize?”
But as I read I realized something. Any creation of art is about attention. Not so much the attention of “look at me, look at how great this is,” but the attention of a conversation. The attention of sharing something. With art and writing treated as commodities, people look at these objects in terms of money, utility. Art is instead a kind of ritual magic, a way of stringing sentences together with objects or paint or juxtaposition. There is something human about the kind of connection that it brings. It stirs the imagination. It makes us feel as though we’re part of a larger community when much of our every day experience is geared toward separating and isolating us. At the same time, it acknowledges how large that community really is: one is surrendering something they worked on to strangers in a place large enough that there are a significant number of such strangers.
We’re human. We do everything for attention. For interaction. For moments of connection. We are social creatures. When I posted in 2011 about hanging the poems from a tree on Himmarshee Street, I wanted to delight someone. I wanted to claim ownership of the act to a group of people likely different from the people who would find it. I wanted maybe to dare someone else to take the idea and bend it differently, to do something else with it. I didn’t think I was being “original.” There’s no such thing, and it was such a simple act, I was certain someone else had done it before, even if I hadn’t myself encountered it. But most of all, in doing it I delighted myself, and relived that delight in documenting it. It was fun.
Now, more than ever, these are the kinds of connections that make me feel like a human being. So I will grab the junk I come across. I will scribble poems on them. I will juxtapose word and object, and leave it for someone to find. Because I enjoy it. Because someone else might enjoy it. Because it’s a love letter to art. And I’ve written precious few of those lately.
The universe doesn’t let up, and it doesn’t play favorites. Entropy just continues: a snowball rolling downhill. One death followed by another.
Someone said to me, in an effort to provide some comfort, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” But I’ve seen no evidence that this is the case, whether or not there is a god. I see evidence that we just keep on going until we don’t. And we all hit the point that we don’t.
Until we get there, we have little rituals to ease us from one moment to the next. Rituals of goodbye. We are always saying goodbye.
So here is a goodbye:
I wake to winter and the world is new.
A clean slate, a new page,
and immortal, we are unencumbered
by our bones and the bread that sustains them—
we are dying every day.
Stagger with me into the new calendar.
We’ll wake and the world will be new.
We wake, and there are bombs in Gaza.
head bashed against the sidewalk.
I wander neighborhoods, white, and a man is shot
for his blackness on the BART in Oakland.
Perhaps it was me,
but did the year feel newer
after Rosh Hashanah–
two weeks out, well after
It felt newer after Samhain,
seven days or so later,
when Hades claimed with
we were dying then, too.
I entered the Temple of Sound through the Gate of Words, which is not so grand as the entrance the musicians use, but I am a poet and we are not very grand creatures. My gate is a tiny back-alley wrought iron affair with creaky hinges, and the password is “dactylic trimeter” but if you don’t know it, they’ll ask you what a spondee is, and if you don’t know that, there’s a place to hop the fence next to the rose trellis up against the south wall where it’s not too noticeable, and the gravel crunches nicely when you land on the other side.
Once in the hall, I drove the critics and scansioneers mad marking stresses in half notes and quarters, setting vowels on staves. There is more music in it than most poets would like, but let’s admit it: sound is important, and you just can’t mark a bare touch of emphasis with only an ictus and a breve. So I unlearned them. Instead, I learned to mark time by syllable with the swish of my denim on the stone floor, my feet gone all trochaic; to bow assonance into vowels so long I could drape them from the towers; to play with staccato bursts of consonance like a curt volley of cannon fire. It was through words I learned to dance.
With the addition of the poem “Undiscussed” a few weeks ago, the series is complete. I haven’t written any more since then. They are weird little beasts, love poems. Thorny creatures. They’re a way of saying what we’ve all felt a thousand times over, again and again and again. Sometimes even in a new way. That seems to be the role of many arts. We can’t say these things often enough. We say them again. Novelty isn’t truly new: it’s the same thing yet again, with one surprising change.
Each of these poems I wrote with a specific person in mind over the course of my life. Some know them, and have read them. Some have been repurposed and performed. Some were written with clarity and detachment, and some came out white hot. I hate most of them. I hate them because they make me feel vulnerable. I hate them because there are lines in them which really aren’t good. I hate them because I feel an obligation as a poet not to write love poems.
I don’t write love poems. I hate love poems, trite and tried. My love poems are a reaction to love poems. Maybe. Maybe they’re just love poems. And maybe I don’t really hate them.
I love the stars
not because they are bright,
possibly because they are far
(farther than I can comprehend the measure),
but mostly because they make me feel small
and small things are unimportant and free
I love you
not because you are beautiful,
possibly because you are sharp
(with words and thoughts sharper than I can hold with soft skin),
but mostly because you are separate from me
and separate things maintain their identities
Some nights I wake up and think
oh gods, could I love you more than I love the stars?
How could I know that?
Could I love you more than Betelgeuse or Kastra?
I’ve never studied them like I’ve studied your face
I’ve never been to them like I’ve been to the hollows
your clavicles make
Some nights I wake up and reach
over to the hollow where you usually sleep
and find it empty.
I drink you in
my parched skin
is thirsty for a touch.
Your glance is rain.
my sand-paper tongue
across your flesh
for a trace of water;
for your moist kiss
on my lips of dry
I long for thunderheads,
but there will be no flood
I turned 32 four days ago. One year ago, I was on Fort Lauderdale Beach, feeling and the sky crackle with sparks, weighed down with lead. I don’t know that girl now. She died that day. I won’t mourn her.
I tried, that 4th of July,
the fireworks suicide bright,
the concussive flash
and the smell of burnt:
burnt sky, burnt aluminum & magnesium,
burnt gunpowder, burnt rubber.
I tried to add one more:
hoped to push through the grille
of that Ford F-250
to cook on its diesel engine
as I rounded the corner.
out on the barge, but the
mortar never hit air,
ground-bound, but not aborted,
and it lit the water low,
just like the sparks that flew
as the truck’s tow chains dragged tar
and the brakes squealed
before my bicycle.
But I drew another breath,
and stood under
a sky blooming with
calcium chloride chrysanthemums,
lithium carbonate dahlias.
I couldn’t hear the shouts
over the reports and crackle,
mouths flapping silent
as I dismounted
the bike, walked numb
to the curb.
And when it was over,
smoke rising away,
it left something
But I tried.
My jacket is thin against
it’s a kind of magic:
heavy in autumn after a summer
of naked sunburnt arms,
and then so light in spring
once we’ve put away
the down coats,
the scarves and ski jackets.
A late snow killed all
the crocus. The forsythias
are confused. I want to
ask you to dig out the
heavy coats and wool–
it seems we cleaned for
spring too soon.
But I have faith
Please have faith in me.