I had an interesting conversation with a coworker this morning. Unfortunately, my boss asked for his promotional postcard for my upcoming chapbook to be sent to the main library. So the impression was that I was being pushy since we received “multiple” postcards (I think really only the two unless she’s referring to the other branches as well).
Ah, sometimes the negativity bugs that crawl around work places–they just show up, no matter how good your intentions. The first question asked was why the library wasn’t getting donated, signed copies. I quipped (half-jokingly) that I didn’t write the book to just give it away. But I eventually assured her that copies were being bought and donated to all the branches and I would happily sign them. I just wanted my coworkers to know about it and share my joy.
Then she said that she didn’t “get today’s poetry.” I confess I was annoyed for a half second, expecting the old “but it doesn’t rhyme!” complaint. But then I thought, well, it’s really a fair, albeit broad statement. I mean, I’m not crazy about some poetry today either.
She and I don’t work together often, only once or twice a week when I am down at the main branch. And it occurred to me, what a great opportunity this was to talk about poetry! So I asked what she liked and she quoted the opening lines from “The Children’s Hour.” In response, I shared a recitation from memory, “Ask Me” by William Stafford, which she was surprised to discover she very much liked. “It’s beautiful, and it flows!”
I told her it was a favorite of mine, that the poet had died a few years back, and that he was one of my heroes. While my writing is not as brilliant as his, he was certainly an influence. I like to play with sound and line endings, to find a rhythm in the language that might not be expected, and often isn’t traditional. Then I pulled up the following poem, originally published in The Blue Hour Magazine. I told her this is a small sample of what’s in this chapbook, though there are some other more surreal pieces as well.
She looked over my shoulder at the screen as I read it aloud to her. She seemed to brighten even more and said she liked it. I’m hoping this was a step toward making a convert.
God, Dad, and Cars
I’m 8 years old, perched
on a headlight under the raised hood
of our white four-door Chevy,
which has somehow stranded us
at Uncle Bob’s farm.
But this isn’t like the time before,
in Canada, when we broke down
along a country road, far from home.
Across the back seat Crystal and I
had played cards with mom while you
paced, and raged how God must hate
you. I wondered, why you thought
He’d bother a little family like ours,
only on vacation. Wouldn’t He
have more important things to do?
No one home at the farm,
but you know where the tools are—
your hands gloved in grease.
You are in control, under sweat
and sun. I hold something in place
while you work. Afterwards,
when the engine cranks,
you thank me, slap me on the back.
“Thank God you were here,” your smile
wide and rare as the words you say:
“I couldn’t have done it without you.
I couldn’t have done it without you.”
I’ve been so busy working with Word Fountain, the fantastic little literary magazine that my employers enable me to edit (along with three super-cool coworkers who are editors and artists for the mag.) that I forgot to post about the excellent lit mag Barely South Review where my poem “Advent” was recently published in their spring issue!
Also, please read an excellent little piece that just embodies the art of saying it between the lines by checking out “Reel Mower” by Timothy DeLizza. I had just moved this poem into the “Yes” folder for Word Fountain’s winter issue when Timothy contacted me to let me know that it was already snatched up by Yellow Chair Review! So now I guess I can’t complain. It’s good to be in great company!
Recently I shared another video in which I was reading a poem. It was well received, but what surprised and delighted me was a comment from a former, and favorite teacher of mine, that the “lady moon poem,” which followed that piece, was “fabulous.” I had forgotten that it was included in the video clip. Having said that, what follows is not the lady moon poem, not yet.
Not only is that poem unpublished, but to be honest, I had never even submitted it anywhere. It’s a good piece, so why have I been holding on to it? I think it’s because of something that happened at the last meeting I had with another major mentor in my life, Mr. George Pfister. You see, he was ill, having been fighting complications of MS for years. I had been watching that tough, Bronx-raised, cranky old poet shrink. Okay, so he wasn’t that old, but his illness and disposition made him older than his years.
I remember asking him who was his favorite modern poet. With conviction, he answered, “Yeats.”
“George,” I said, “Yeats is not exactly modern.” *
“I’m doing the best I can,” he growled.
I don’t know how he managed to prepare snacks for us that day, let alone how he made the climb up those narrow stairs to his apartment, but using his walker, he had set out a plate of crackers and cheese and had neatly put out two glasses and a bottle of wine. He wanted me to bring some of my poems to read to him again. So I brought the lady moon poem. And the tough old bird had me baffled because he was wiping tears from his face, and softly laughing. I wasn’t sure if he was happy or sad. Apparently, he was both.
I asked what was wrong. He shook his head, and said, “That’s very publishable. Just do a little editing and send it out.” He waved his hand, anticipating my questions, “You’ll know what to do. It’s beautiful. Someone will publish it.” The thing is, I think he knew that we wouldn’t have many more meetings like this, and he confessed that he was having a hard time maintaining his focus for long periods of time. He seemed so tired.
Well, the moment was beautiful anyway. I will heed his word and send the poem somewhere. Maybe I’ve kept it mostly to myself because I wanted it to be perfect, to honor him the way he should be honored, or else I just didn’t want it to face rejection by an editor. But it’s been edited, carved, and polished many times since, and now and then, as in the case of the aforementioned video, I’ve felt the need to read it out loud. I’ll share it with you on the blog once it gets printed somewhere.
Meanwhile, the following poem was written before the scene I described above, before the walker had become necessary. But it was only a rough draft, and I never did share it with him. We had bonded over poetry and were really just getting to know each other. I was managing the front of the house at a restaurant and bar near his place, and I just wanted him to get home safely. There is much more to say about George, so I suppose there will be more posts about the scoundrel soon, and probably—hopefully—more poems about him also.
As children in the graveyard
we used to play a game
with flashlight and fear,
our minds scrambled
with a nervous delight,
a desire to be missed—
and then discovered.
Now we do like then,
but headlights pass on,
engines fade. No one waits
behind a tombstone here.
Tonight I help you home—
not far, just down the street
and across, but it takes time.
Weaving the sidewalk, we find
a stoop with three steps,
and rest a while.
No moon. No stars. No ghosts.
The other bars let out hours ago.
You and I discuss wives,
children and exes, our need
for gods, or not, thoughts
on the cross, crusades,
and inspiration, scripture
and verse, muses
and the history of prayer.
Eventually we rise,
walk wavering and slow,
not wanting you to go
as other greats have, downed
by a taxi near the tavern.
Seven more steps to the curb,
under a halo of light, you
bobbing slightly as I bring
you around. I am happy we are
here, aiming for your door,
and more than a little relieved
that the graveyard is outside of town.