Poems to read

The CDC Poetry Project isn’t affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control. It is the (evidence-based) brainchild of Sarah Freligh and Amy Lemmon, who launched the project shortly (very shortly), after the CDC’s list of banned, um, discouraged words became public.

I’m grateful for their efforts and grateful that they chose my poem among the many fine poems they have been posting since January 1.

Check out their site! Write a poem and send it.

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Yes, I realize that it’s already Epiphany, and I’m just now getting around to posting my well wishes here. My apologies–and I hope your year is off to a great start!

I’ve already received my first 2018 rejection for a little something I wrote on December 31 and sent to Rattle Poets Respond.

For the fun of it, or the heck of it, here it is:


Baby, What Will We Do with This Baby?


The man at the side of the street stuffs
balloons into the van, bunches of white, black,
silver helium-filled, buoyancy bubbling
into the van’s gullet packed to the gills
for some celebration, the year’s end,
the nascent next, how America used
to worship the new and now embraces
one past or another, the years we barely
remember sticking like gum to our shoes,
and driving by these bobbling clusters, I blot out
thoughts of them popping into the ocean,
rubbery rags snagged in tern, turtle, tuna.
Instead, picture them a constellation of suns
brightening the later night, lifting lighter
than the air we’re breathing, and might this year
we all rise to each of our own occasions.

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I confess that while I’m spending a lot less time playing computer solitaire, I’m spending a lot more time (too much) reading news headlines. And I’ve been writing a poem a day (or a draft of a poem), starting on January 20. I’m still at it, and yesterday was day 50. What? Only halfway through? It wasn’t my best effort–but driving out of the parking lot after work I got the line “Billy Collins says it’s like / The Yellow Rose of Texas” and I went with it.

Earlier in the week, this poem was gifted to me–yes, at 2:30 in the morning.

Waking at 2:30 a.m. I Think of Her

Say what you want, pat platitudes
about a better business climate,
fat cats padding pockets.
Tick. Tick. Feel
the pendulum swing,
tick, take it back
to trust lost at Love Canal,
back to the Cuyahoga burning,
moth wings mutating,
matching soot-darkened bark.
Tick. Steamroller in reverse.
The plants are factories—
what will grow from that?

The catch of the day floats,
silver bellies slack on the surface,
dead eyes skyward.
Tock. I wake in this night
and think of Erin Brokovich,
the movie and the real one
sleuthing stacks of evidence,
the real water a poison then
long before a spark struck in Flint.
Tick. Tock. Tell us
to punch a clock. Say what you want
about the state of the state,
but don’t drink the water,
don’t drink the rain.


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Last week I said that I wasn’t going to feature a book each week, but over at Better View of the Moon, Karen Craigo is writing thoughtfully about a book every day, so I figure I ought to be able to share one brief poetry pick.

I have been haunted by and wanting to read Jay Deshpande’s Love the Stranger ever since I encountered his gorgeous and devastating poem “Bewilderment” on Poetry Daily. No spoiler alerts here; you’ll have to read the poem.

What stays with me from the book as a whole are the images and the way that push against the expected without pushing me away, the way they thread through the poems and through the book.

For example, in “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” we first encounter “At evening, chin back and the neck / like a skyscraper, we give up smoke–a colony / of ghost-howl.” Then we come to “with desire / propped like a water tower in the corner” and “It seems I am always running ahead of my needing, / looking out from a higher window of the body”, the poem having already moved from a rooftop with a lover into a field with a brother (“I am beginning to see how I am that field”) and moving from “I am resting my head against the part of myself / I am willing to put down” to “Tonight I will sleep like a just man, / a good man, a man who has hurt others / in order to lay his head down.”

“Prairie Song with Jack Palance” begins “Enough times now I’ve dropped the blade of love” and pulls that energy through the “thumb scrambling moon”, “the holstered butt of midnight. / Little rivulets through red clay forming / a continent of blood” and “this cliff of squint.”

And the other image that most persistently stuck in my head comes from “Reports of the Dream You’re Not Likely to Recover From”: “the braided violets only seen in sleep.”

The book’s repeated references to knives and villages give it a prophetic, ritual, out-of-time feeling, as does the sequence of Chet Baker poems in the middle, while Deshpande’s poems about his brother open into a tender intimacy.

I leave you with the last four lines of “Amor Fati”:

I know what song brings every one of us
here, it goes: refrain, refrain, refrain.
But we will never have enough
of being wrong about the other, not once.

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coat hanger with red circle and slashAnd not in a good way.

When I was younger, I had a pin, a coat hanger with a red slash through it.

The possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act is bad enough, but Speaker Paul Ryan’s strategy to defund Planned Parenthood took me back to those not-good-old days.

And then I thought about the women in Aristophanes’ play—not a ploy I would usually recommend, but I it made me think again about power and how we use it. Being a poet, I wrote.

Consider All the Consequences

Dear Rep Ryan, when you speak
from your arctic heart you do not
talk for me, your plan to ice pick apart
our care, start your war on women,
war on the poor, defund and leave
undone the work begun, skate back
to the past’s shadow alleys, option
often a dead end. I love kids, but keep
your laws off their bodies or we could go
all Lysistrata on you, seize
the day and freeze you out, not
an empty threat, it’s sensible—
sex makes babies and abstinence
will not grow the heart fonder
(ponder men of America marching
to your door) and if you slash
the right to choose before or after,
I can send you my wire hangers.

It gets more complicated—in a good way—because two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, as of Thursday had not committed to supporting the bill if it included that provision, which could be great news for people who don’t want a repeal (or who don’t want a repeal without a replacement already in place).

I’m taking no chances, though, and I’m going to send my wire hangers to Speaker Ryan and cabinet nominee Price. Are you in?

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