Saturday poetry pick: House of Water

book cover

It’s been a while since I posted a Saturday poetry pick, but Matthew Nienow’s collection House of Water sings in a way I want to share.

Immediately I was struck and stunned by the music, as in “Ode to the Belt Sander & This Cocobolo Sapwood”:

“The belt kicks on with a whir & the whir
licks the end grain of the offcut with a hint

of ?hesitation.”

and the poem later continues

“A single knot blinks
out of the small block and becomes

the eye of a hummingbird, its beak
bending around the edge of the wood,”

Or in “Ode to the Gain”:

“There’s the paring chisel’s purpose
in the steamed cedar strake, its long warp

laid strong against the bench,
whose pocked surface is the book

of what has already been made,
or marred in learning’s wake —”

There are the kicks and licks, hint and hesitation, blinks and block and beak bending, and steamed cedar strake, long warp laid strong. The sounds fill my mouth, the stresses slow me down, and yet there is a lot of movement happening—the steady methodical movement of work.

If the odes have some of the most lyrical moments, their reflection appears in other poems, especially “From the Middle of It”—a long meditation that reckons with the small moments, their gifts we’re losing all the time.

This is a book of wood and water and family and hammers. And because my husband is also a woodworker, it gave me more glimpses into his world–not just the stories of it, but the experience, as in “End Grain”:

“the most

vulnerable door
of what makes

the holiest of
things.”

An American E.R.

That was the first title that I wrote for this poem, submitted yesterday to Rattle’s Poet’s Respond.

In this NPR story, Zeke Emanuel, one architect of the ACA, talks about Donald Trump reconciling his pre-election promises to provide health coverage to all Americans and his post-election agenda. When Emanuel said “threading that needle,” I thought about how the way we care for others represents the essence of our compassion and equality—our humanity. In that moment, the current threat to health care served as a symbol for all the other risks.

Threading the Needle

After sewing up the election,
the seven thousand cuts begin.
A stitch in time saves nine,
but new wounds appear on the hour,
sharp knives in the cabinet
whetting their appetites.
In the body’s lobby, scarlet
fountains burble and spew, spray
the stains we can’t scrub out—
no spatters for Park Avenue suits,
just the holes growing wider,
just enough tiny sutures
to keep the patient coming back.
The needle makes a blunt instrument.
The eye sees what it wants to see,
not owning what the hands know.

Juxtapositions

It’s been a week of contrasts–Wednesday a luminous, inspiring poetry reading by Ada Limón at Seattle Arts and Lectures, and Friday’s news of Donald Trump’s remarks about women. This morning, my daughter and I were talking about his comments and rape culture (and many other things), and later I was left with this:

For Our Daughters

It is not an accident
days after the poetry reading,
when I hear that man brag
of unrequested grabs and kisses,
that Ada Limón’s poem
about fillies and triumph
still rings my head like a starting bell,
and my ears are up,
but pounding down the backstretch
today I don’t want the horse’s heart,
not even the lion’s. No, give me
the heart of the spotted hyena
or the wolverine’s, all teeth and fury,
where the Past can’t hide in tall grass,
and my jaws are dripping with it.

 

(The poem referenced is the amazing How to Triumph Like a Girl, from her book Bright Dead Things.)

 

Sketch in Blue with Darker Water

I’m grateful that today my poem Sketch in Blue with Darker Water appeared online at Glass: A Poetry Journal.

It began as a color study, and became something else. It began as a way to thread color through a manuscript, and I ended up (so far) with five colors—red and yellow forthcoming; green and purple still seeking homes.

It went through many drafts in April 2015, when I decided to work on an exercise a day.

The lesson for me? Keep working. Keep exploring.

and Paris, and Paris, and Nice

Here is another poets respond poem. The past week, months, year have been heartbreaking on the streets of my country and everywhere. Still reeling from the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile and the five officers shot, I hear the news of Nice, and the next day, the news from Turkey.

Allons enfants

My body became ache and fossil
creaking as the creek runs low in summer
and I thought the world’s body
its planet—earth skin, river veins,
wide bodies of water, its salt and iron—
but tonight the world is our bodies,
the street again red–Brussels, Beirut,
Boston, Istanbul, San Bernardino,
and the count stays at more than
but the number keeps rising,
Dhaka, Baghdad, Orlando, and Paris,
and Paris, and Nice, a throng of bodies
to watch the fireworks bursting
in their air, the truck speeding
into bodies, laws of velocity
against the physics of flesh
and breath torn through,
people leaping from the promenade,
people draped in table cloths
and blood, a child’s stroller crushed
and every body a name,
a favorite color, favorite food,
a hand to hold, how badly
the world needs its day of glory,
how all we people need the world whole.