Category Archives: General musings

Hunger

Is there anyone left to remember Don Bryant? He must have had a mother who loved him, once. Two children so young they couldn’t possibly remember him, unless it was through stories they heard. But did anyone bother to tell stories about Don Bryant, once the news of his death grew old? An 18-year-old wife, Ginny, that he’d married two years before—maybe she’s still alive somewhere, maybe she still remembers his life. It falls to me to tell his death, if for no other reason than because it haunts me.  (read this post)

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Harlem summer

—for James Baldwin

on the twenty-ninth of July, 1943
         —your father died.
         —his last child was born.

his funeral
         was your nineteenth birthday
         Harlem exploded, a wilderness
         of splintered plate glass

the journey to the graveyard
         was a black-hearse silence
         in the unquiet
         the ruined streets

see him even now: a dark deep face
         in the window
         betrayed by children
         reaching toward the world

the streets swelled like a boil
         people moving in every direction
         against you, every face white
         gleaming in the night

a big-bellied man grabbed you
         began to beat you
         you kicked him and he went down
         your friend in your ear: “Run!”

it would have been better
         to have left the glass
         in the windows
         it would have been
         intolerable

Harlem needed
         something
         to smash

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Influences. . . ?

It’s a common question, “who are your influences?” A question I’ve always resisted, felt mystified by. “But my poetry is my own,” I say, “I don’t imitate others. . .” Yet I can say that of all the poets I have read over the years, few have moved me as profoundly as Robert Hass. “Meditation at Lagunitas,” may have been the first poem of his that I read, and it was an astonishing discovery. And that one line within the poem: “a word is elegy to what it signifies” — that line alone has perhaps influenced my thinking about words and my use of them as much as any single line in all of poetry. So here is a poem for Robert Hass.
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Possibilities

—for Robert Hass

You wrote: “A man leaves a woman for another and wakes up
in a room with morning light and a vase he doesn’t recognize
full of hydrangeas, mauve petals of hydrangeas.”

You might have written: A man leaves a woman for another
he’s never met and wakes up in a room drenched in moonlight
and sweat. Through the open window, the whine of mosquitoes,
the rumble of distant bullfrogs.

I wrote: A woman leaves a man for the woman he’ll never be
or the man she’ll never be. She leaves him (or her) for the tall
dark prince of her childhood, who still lurches through the rooms
of her night-dreams. She leaves behind smoke, and the confusion
of broken mirrors.

I might have written: A family looks suddenly out their window
at a great heron, gray in the rain. A vase they have never seen,
that was not on the shelf until they looked away, is encircled
with poses of human delight that have been buried in 2500 years
of rubble. The heron’s beak slips into the grass to impale a frog.
A child’s broken skull is healed.

Hydrangeas nod and turn to rust in the paling sunlight.
the room shrinks and cracks. The man will not leave her again.
She is always leaving. She has always been left. These things are.

Through the open window, a whippoorwill calls.

For a moment, the moonlight flashes 
out of the damp curls
out of her parted thighs.


(The quoted lines are from Robert Hass’s “Notes on ‘Layover’,” in Sun Under Wood (New York: Ecco Press, 1996) p. 29.)

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