Pig’s Ears

 [Essays], [Poetry], Introductions, The Falcon Waiting  Comments Off on Pig’s Ears
Aug 112011

The gift of speech

Sentiment is the key. If the reader can be thrown strongly enough in a certain direction, or into a certain mood, then that feeling can create a connective web or atmosphere that holds the whole poem together: the web transformed into a nexus of human-centered meanings.

As with Wordsworth or Coleridge’s conversation poems, the reader is hip-checked by direct statements of strong feeling in the direction of the mood in which the poem will actually function as a poem and not merely a collection of statements. It is a wrestler’s work and no mistake. It is not the aesthetician’s golden ladder of words, nor imagination’s grand view, nor the jeweler’s precise chiseling of a potential diamond. It is a gross and direct appeal to the self-pitying piggy heart of common humanity that gives such poetry the emotive energy to soar. It’s the last weeks of an intense political campaign where rhetoric and competition have roiled winner and loser in a single vat. It is five seconds to go on the fifty yard line. Desperation, excitement, and commitment are all called up from the slop bucket of survivor’s guilt of evolution which has hazarded us this far.

But how to achieve this peanut-cracking rhetorical gore and gong-show ga-ga excitement in the current age, when rhetoric, speechifying, and fine sentiments have been frowned from the field of human communication? Only in television ads, charity appeals, and the Sunday sub-culture of evangelical shtick are such techniques still commonly employed.

Unless I was going to print my poetry on the side of a collection tin underneath the photo of an abused puppy, I was S.O.L. I thought to myself, How would Gomer Pyle propose to his lady-love and manage to be heard as more chivalrous than cartoonish? A proposal of marriage is a domestic moment of high drama in our reproductive lives, with a long shadow of consequences that hang from the act, casting back from the future a certain darkness or atmosphere upon the proposal’s moment. So, in imagination, I put myself into Gomer’s size twelve army boots and bent down on one knee. And shazzam! I saw Polly Pureheart a-blinkin’ down at me–so unbearably lovely in the moonlight near the babbling cr’k. And as much as I wanted to marry that Pureheart, and cherish and care for her, and hold her in my clumsy arms under the sighing weeping willow tree . . . . I, I, well, I just couldn’t say anything at all. I had been struck dumb by the immensity of the moment, and the intensity of my own feelings. The fear of rejection and the vulnerability of showing my truest soul were there as well, like a lump of flour in my throat. Yet, for all that, my intentions were clear to her, and Polly in her pity looked down with love in her eyes, and a simple, life-altering “Yes” on her lips. I was blessed.

What I took from this hillbilly vision was that clear intention–or direct statement of strong feeling– followed by silence, or a break from the intensity of that intention or feeling, can moisten the wry eye of the reticent reader, and cattle-prod a passive Polly into action. I wondered, with my personal penchant for potent possibilities and alternative scenarios, if a rhetorical question, sincere in the motivating gears of its feelings, could work as well as a bald blurt of hurt or happiness to create this space of silence in a poem– and which would then invite the reader to lean in and leer– not as a vampire umpire calling strikes– but as one of the dusty boys in pin-stripes ready to get dirty and knock some mud off of his cleats. I’ve tried this approach in the following poems too. (How’d I do?)

A question, such as

How can we talk about love when everything’s wrong?

creates a silence of need and self-doubt projecting from the speaker. If the reader has ever felt a similar doubt or moment of confused longing, then, I figured, a space of receptive silence and co-creation will occur. The poem just may succeed its way into meaning.

A direct statement of strong feeling, like

It’s going to take a very great person
To just stand there and love me.

creates a similar silent space. The adjoining observations about a menacing sky, an aggressive squirrel, and some quietly patient horses all give that sentiment its fertile dung in which to blossom. Exacerbating or contradicting–both–can call that statement into greater relief. The squirrel and horses have nothing directly to do with the feeling the speaker is bludgeoned by– and yet, in the explosive silence of embarrassed eavesdropping the criminal reader has been plunged into– these props take onto themselves all the concomitant feelings that the words of the poem refuse to provide. They are the willow tree and moonlight to Gomer’s gulping proposal, his brown eyes swimming with unsayable sentiments that must still–somehow–be understood if he, and, downstream, the species is to survive.

Will you take my hand?

Feb. 14th, 2009

Miles to Go

 [Poetry], The Falcon Waiting  Comments Off on Miles to Go
Aug 112011
This poem has no details
If you won't carry water
100 miles in your hands.

Break through the skim of ice 
In December, right behind that silent glass factory
All one tall shadow on the Raritan.

Watch your hands shiver.
Feel your wet cuffs the first 20 miles
Until the sky is a shard in your palms,

And you fret about cutting your wrists

Lighting Rockets in the Back Yard, July the Fourth, 1969

 [Poetry], The Falcon Waiting  Comments Off on Lighting Rockets in the Back Yard, July the Fourth, 1969
Aug 112011
Kneel down in darkness
Beside my dark.
Flow your free hand
Into the rolling stack.

Each breath anticipates the next.

Excited, we lean
Nearer than the night.
Nearer than the spur
Of sparks about to start.

Hold my hand.  Hold this match with me.

Climbing Mt. Tabor

 [Poetry], The Falcon Waiting  Comments Off on Climbing Mt. Tabor
Aug 112011
I don't belong here, in this creation.
The clear air flies around me,
One frenzied blue wing escaping.

The path up is all grey wrecked stones
Made naked where the runoff comes bursting in Spring.
They hint at the uppermost, topless spot
All bald flat bold long rocks
Veined with autumn-leaved vines and dry ivies.
Now I can see what 
I have been pushing for until
My head and shoulders are slick with afterbirth.

Over the cliff, the landscape patches itself together.

A bare, thin
Cigarette smoke of veiled haze
Puts a varnish finish to the valley.
The Delaware lays like a wet, crooked stick
Abandoned in a ditch.

From up here,
At the brownish prow of lookout rock,
I can almost see my whole stupid life.
Clouds assemble, whispering frigid things against me.
I have no idea why nobody's here with me,
Why I have no lovers at my age,
Or why I'm tearing my loafers out on a mountainside,
Scoring water off of strangers
And trying to forget my face
With my back 
Against this cliff.


 [Poetry], The Falcon Waiting  Comments Off on Deliberately
Aug 112011
I drove until
The only thing I was
Was lost.  Scrub pines hunched
Like dwarf men under the lowering roof
Of eggshell heaven, each man bent into his own
Posture of Dantescan agony.  I kicked uncomfortably
Against the sterile pinecones large as a fist
Or dud handgrenade until they rolled into the shadows
Full of needles, with a sound like crumpled paper.
The patient preoccupation that had bade me lose my way
Loosened like pneumonia phlegm with every cracking kick.
Now, at last, quite lost, I laughed!
Not even my own troubles could find me here,
Shadow-mottled as a forgotten fawn.
Under a wing of vines, beside some swirl of wet,
I sat contemplative in my self-forget.
The vine-leaves' yellow eyes, all rimmed with red,
Offered inedible tears of berries cheerily,
Which, if I ate as offered, would let the sick inside
Slide up slick as a roar.  I smiled aside
My wry temptation to see
Just what it was was in me,
And pulled my fingers from the vines like a half-plucked harp.
I put away my need to know
Just what had gotten lost when I had gotten so,
To see it sized and sorted on some obscene plate
Curiously served up
For I and eyes to eat.

Low above, on a white dry pine bough overhead,
The sinuous weight of a great black snake
Waits in its hisses.

If Anything

 [Poetry], The Falcon Waiting  Comments Off on If Anything
Aug 112011
There's something crappy in the sand along Belmar's shore.
The grains are too big, or there's too much weird junk
To run it
Smoothly between your palms.
Tar from the pier pilings sticks
In your dungarees.
And the Shark River inlet, no longer busy
With chaotic traffic or crab traps
Keeps spitting at you.
Even the dying flounder
From some old drunkard's afternoon haul
Stares up at you to go.

But you stay,
Stuck on your perch and your thoughts--
A little helplessly.

And when the oil rig lights twinkle on like an evening dress
All along the bottom of the sky's deepening scythe of green,
It's hard to know what to call it.
If anything.

Combing the Long Branch Beach, I Lose My life in the Debris

 [Poetry], The Falcon Waiting  Comments Off on Combing the Long Branch Beach, I Lose My life in the Debris
Aug 112011
I feel trapped in my old life
Like a hermit crab that won't abandon its shell
It is so intensely curled
Into its stiffened whorl of habits.

The seashore wails and wails
Its single, filial demand--
Repetitious as a herd of commodities brokers
Shouting in their calico patchwork of blazers
Until the final bell.

How can I change if the sea won't?
My yearning stands straight out like a flag, same as ever.

Seaweed everywhere,
Beaten brown and soft as a drenched felt hat,
Fits itself alluringly
To the suavities of the rocks,
Adapting crash by crash by crash.

Whispers on the Cot

 [Poetry], The Falcon Waiting  Comments Off on Whispers on the Cot
Aug 112011
Nervous and warm as mice
The skinny cot at Camp O
Squeals with our comingling.

Wet nose to nose, past midnight
We whisper the dawn awake.

How can we talk about love when everything's wrong?

We touch through frayed fingerless gloves
It is so cold.

It is so cold,
Our breath wets the cinderblocks
And almost freezes.

Our shoulders get sore,
Facing each other in the dark.

Light comes into the room
Like a page turning out of its shadow.

Before I could see your eyes,
--Before I met you even,--

I would cry remembering them.