Poem – Poem with Crow

Poem with Crow

for my daughter

I give you
in morning a man splitting wood
in March a man’s cut breath sudden
and the perilous beauty of steel arcing
around him

see how the
plaids of his coat are busy they
gather and flex for the keen wedge,
gather him to the greens and browns of
the pasture

I say the
greens and browns of sleeping horses
greens and browns of wet wood
this man stables for the splitting edge
in this March

I tell you
I am this man in morning
I am the wood and horse stabler
and it is my work unharnessed
in the axe

O the axe!
its bright weight a word for wood,
its quick insistent
talk in the ear, in the struck and
plied fibers

and how the
fresh hewn logs yield a fragrant hue,
yield such filaments of flesh I
cannot taste, cannot yet embrace
nor ignite

into this
(now the sharp waking of wood and axe
beneath the early mottled trees
beside the pasture-mantled mares)
March scene walks

jet, one crow
jet he is charcoal, he is his shadow
he is nearly not, an inked and
unblinking pupil at the center of
my fancy:

think of me
busting limbs by the waking sires
bursting steam in the unbuttoning sun
by the bark-strewn stump and the axe
as I say

this black stroke
this impudence of sheen, this concentrate
of crow crutching across the roots
grotesque as a straight-jacketed
lunatic

was for me
a figment of a child I’ve not conceived,
a girl bearing what resemblance? to
this masked crow, eyeing me, turning
now its back;

such magic
in the burning March mid-morning
in the soft piles of flushing wood
in the right dominion of the horseshoe
and the axe

I saw my
black-bound daughter unmanacled as flame
in the pomp of every feather, mighty
in the muscling of flight, galloping, split-
ting the air

-Published in Wild Plum, winner of the Wild Plum Poetry Award.

Letter – to poet Mark Halliday

Here’s a poem by Mark Halliday. It’s one of many of his that compelled me to send him an email.

GRAY CHECKED SCARF
Mark Halliday

David Porter has said that for Dickinson
death is the summoner of style.
And I think of you placing your gray checked scarf
around your neck on a day in December.
Your hair, like hair that Yeats might have ached to touch,
falls across the scarf and upon the shoulders of
your black coat; we move toward the door;

the street opens upon my gaze like a new feature film
with sober intentions and I stand for a second
awed by the task of appreciation—
your hands—your eyes. There is the banquet
of what we do have while knowing it can vanish
and there is the cold banquet of what we once had
or conceivably could have had—
at both tables we gaze into the lamplit wine
and want to say something true but
not only true, something also lovely
in a respectful and charismatic sadness.
Here is the car, my dear, your gray Mazda,
and here we are in he middle of something,

unreligious, distracted, but lightly touching
each other’s knees from time to time during the ride
for the sake of what has been luminous and is not gone.

-from Tasker Street, The University of Massachusetts Press, © 1992. Winner of the Juniper Prize.

 

I wish I could write like that. Here’s the email I sent him.

Dear Mr. Halliday,

This morning I’m wading through closing documents for a house sale we’ll (Lord help) accomplish at noon, after three years of prep and pain.

I paused just now to read Writer’s Almanac. Which has forced me to look up your email and send you this sort of plaudit and thanks.

I’m almost done. Left to say is that in 1989, late summer, I arrived at a reading sponsored by the Boston University graduate creative writing program that I had, somehow, been accepted into. Only one seat remained in the room; it was in the front row, beside, I later learned, Lloyd Schwartz.

Then you read things that never depart, like “Gimme those worms, Jody.” And “back to his or her perfect desk.” (Forgive any misquoting.)

Your poems have been with me all these years—new poems, too. I never don’t read “Ketchup and Heaven” to my students. Never don’t I read aloud to them “just like this loaded world.”

We all repaired, after that singular reading (at which Mr. Schwartz and I kept looking at each other with amazement), to some restaurant nearby, and sat outside. Robert Pinsky was with us. Every three years or so I drive by that restaurant with my wife and say something feeble and charismatic about that dinner with Halliday. But, I repeat, I read your poems aloud.

Now I’ll click send and return to HUD statements and be glad, in an hour, to be free of a debt and burden. And glad to have said thanks to you meanwhile—and that you and George Saunders are the only writers I’d commit crimes to host at the tiny liberal arts college just north of Boston where I teach. If you’re ever nearby for this or that, and have an inclination to pop in for an evening, we’d gather a keen group to hear, and find some meager funds to fork over.

I’m saying that I love your poems.

Here is the car, my dear,

Mark Wacome Stevick

 

Astonishingly (to me), and sweetly, Mark Halliday emailed me back within the hour, to say thanks—and to request my address, to which he posted his two newest books of poetry. Character will out.
Let us be heartened by this story.

Toast for Norm & Jean

I first met Norm Jones in 1985 when I was two years old.
Could I have the PowerPoint, please?—thanks.

As you can see, he was heavily bearded with a thick—oh, no PowerPoint? Well, here he is, use him as a visual aid—he was heavily bearded, with a thick black beard.

At that time he was directing a Gordon production of “Mornings at Seven Old People Played by Kids in Heavy Makeup”—for which he single-handedly built a set that was the home of Marvin Wilson during the entire run.
Exaggerating.
He used two hands—duh.

“Marv” is an “OT” “prof” who thought the theatre was a “lecture hall”—and who enjoyed sweeping up Norm’s sawdust before class. “He Ne Ma Tov…”

Anyway, what really counts is that Norm had a full beard in 2nd grade, and a full moustache in 3rd —as saints of old and Norm himself have often told.
Not bragging exactly…

In the first play we worked on together, a three-hander, he played a drunk criminal but who hugged boys. What a stretch.
At the end of the play, Norm’s character staggered in and died onstage. [pause]
So, here’s to you, Norm+Jean!…

Kidding. It was a daunting death scene to rehearse. During one run-thru, when we got to that scene, it was just too much… So as he said his lines, Norm began taking masking tape—and putting it on his face.

Here’s how it went:
Norm: “What happened?” *puts tape on face* “I hear women crying.” *tape* “Everyone’s tiptoeing around.” *tape*

And so my buddy Philip and I grabbed rolls (the set was built completely of masking tape) —and we began:

One of Us: “Pop, Sonny’s dead.” *tape*

Norm: [exhale] “Wh*en?”

One of Us: “This morning.” *tape* “Tataglia got him at the toll booth.”*tape*

All through the heartrending scene we were *donning* masking tape masks.

Norm: *tape* “I want you to use all your power, and all your skill…”*tape*

And by the time Norm died he had a fantastically grotesque Death Mask, so complete that he could barely talk.

Norm (with real difficulty): “I know a dead-end kid*tape* …when I see one.” *ta…* [dead]

One of Us: “Now cracks a noble heart.” *tape* —ostensibly weeping, but only just, JUST managing not to shriek into laughter.

Which turned a run-of-the-mill-thru into a gem, to carry for as long as we have pockets, with a luminescence to navigate by.

And that’s a thing we love about Norm, his savoring of things and meals and moments—and not them only, but also the qualities of people, and their quirks, and their little excellences.

Here I speak for many of Norm’s students and friends who have found their love of songs or words or play bolstered by his own, and who found his relishing of their strengths winsome and irresistible. Many of us have taken courage from his example and his encouraging us, and have dared into careers in the poorly-paying arts.

“Savoring” is another word for “loving”—and today we all savor the fact that he’s met a love to answer and equal his own. Jean, we needn’t have traveled with you to London and Edinburgh to know that you, too, are one who pauses to appreciate a shawl on a shoulder, or a certain light on a spoon or castle spire: your paintings show us, for one.

Norm loves that about you; you are his heart’s delight, his pearl of infinite price, with a luminescence to navigate by.

-Here’s to Norm and Jean, nine years wed this month (January, 2016).

Tribute Poem – for ADF

Poem for Ann Ferguson

-upon her 50th year of teaching-

One score and a sesqui-score of years ago,
after battening books and folders into cartons,
she hitched the bumper up and made the slow
remove from Fenway northward into Arden.

Princemere was defunct: the railman had pitched
his monolithic ruin to the new U.N.—
little knowing that his ponds, his pine and birch
would be much better kept by Ferguson.

But nary an easel, nary a student center
in that lean hour—a barn door for a table;
but many the grace, and many the young apprentice
remarked what Ann could fashion in a stable.

E.g. should Oedipus Rex want staging there,
then she’ll direct it, and not some musical;
and should she count some wars worth waging there,
she’ll opt for beards, and champion The Crucible.

When fire sacked those vaguely equine quarters,
and all her files, and Grady’s, in one white swoop,
she was unbowed: her actors without borders
rekindled as a traveling theatre troupe.

Look how when want or prospect called for action
over the years, she hastened to that place,
so that now the works of our Fine Arts Division
engender from her steadfast willingness.

Kudos to Ann—for teaching oil painting
without a decent studio or gallery,
for summoning students and going gallivanting
through all the museums of France and Italy.

Kudos, I say, for gaggling them into Boston
for plays, then breaking curfew on return;
for standing up to such old-fashioned custom
as frames a room but leaves it unadorned.

Oh, a hundred-hundred tables she has laid
and set each hundred feasts before her guests,
and of all the finals her scholars have assayed,
it was the one at Ann’s they relished best.

Ever the vines that effloresce about her
are chastened into fruit beneath her steel,
and perennial from the riotous soil around her
are cuttings that bloom with her own daffodils.

See how when need or crisis called for tending,
over the years she harkened to that place:
to younger writers anxious for befriending,
or ailing kin—she modeled sacrifice.

Now at this jubilee it is most fitting
we further the remembrance of these things;
we toast you, Ann, your modesty permitting,
and wish you joy—we wish you, Ah! bright wings.

 

-with thanks to Ann for teaching, mentoring, and promoting me.

Poem – Burnt Bus

Burnt Bus

Left in a lot, one where a building stood
or one widely fenced and piled with odd iron,
one where the scrap man spits from his tin shed,
left in these unruly lots is the bus,
burnt, or half–demolished, propped up on blocks
but looking still in all this wilderness
like a bus. No matter its vacancies,
glass burst into random, unmelted hail
in the ribbed rubber aisle and fraying seats,
all the engine innards ransacked and loose;
no matter its vacancy at the wheel,
the great, flat wheel which so many times I
would have swung into wide, flat revolvings,
turning round and through the narrow canyons
precisely, with precious inches to spare––
this is not a vague, derelict metal:
the rust is bus–like, and can still compel
pedestrians with pockets of nickels
to run. The placard spells 11th STREET;
someone must have driven it here, of course,
and it looks as though he will be right back––
the door is open. I imagine how
he parked here with that particular skill
of bus drivers, using the wide mirrors
and the various signaling lights; then,
taking the keys, how he pulled the handle
and descended as he would step slowly
from a train to the platform at Cripple
Creek or Canyon Gulch, and walk, uniformed
and solitary, listening for wheels
on the rails as the sun–filled coach pulls out.

-Published in SWINK, and winner of the SWINK Literary Award in Poetry, chosen by Tony Hoagland.