WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

 

The world has been coming apart from the start.

From Abel and Cain; those 40 Days of Rain–

From the start, the world has come apart.

The Hebrews knew and told the tale,

And Epimetheus’ wife–what was her name?

And Midas turned all to inedible gold.

To make it bearable, Coyote made death.

Valhalla all went up in flame.

I’m sitting on my porch, listening

to catbird in the ilex, singing.

HOT FLASHES–an “old” poem

~response to a young poet 
who thought the subject “too pedestrian” for poetry

“Hotflashes” are not pedestrian–not
dull colorless drab humdrum lackluster stodgy uninspired
“lacking in liveliness, charm, or surprise”
but rather pointed, chromatic, vivid, symphonic, flavorful, fresh, animating.
What better way to describe the quality of heat flaring out from core to face
like the melted innards of Earth vented from volcano,
like wildfire scorching shabby unkempt forest,
like blowtorch, blastfurnace, bunsen burner under ore-filled crucible,
melting out iron, silver–who knows?–even gold,
like hot air roaring, filling the bright bag of a balloon drifting slow
above orchards, over fields of ripened corn.

Certainly they are not lacking in liveliness?
Isn’t it fun to watch us frantically fanning,
opening our collars, rolling up sleeves,
peeling off sweaters like aged strippers gone mad?
Our bedmates awake amazed as we flap the sheets,
throw quilts on the floor, frighten the cats.
We leap up to open windows, let in the blowing snow.
And surely no cosmetic can equal the charming girlish flush
a hotflash paints across a tired face?

Or is there anything but birth or love or death
that can surprise us more?
What is happening? we cry.
We’re barely accustomed to fertility,
and now it’s gone with the scirocco.
It took us so long to grow up, and now, in a flash (or two),
behind our mirrors we see not our mothers’ but our grandmothers’ faces
gaping in wonder at the astonished old women staring back
with eyes that are strangely, still, our very own.

Dec. 11, 2000

CONSCIOUS, Translation Party Version

(When I was working on this poem I ran it through Translation Party and tweaked it.  Sometimes I think I like this version best.)

. . .there is something that it is like to be a bat.

~Thomas Nagel

I find the clean air –this is
the starting point..
Here are the types of sound
floating insects make.
I have one in my mouth.
Take it.

Or a chipmunk, rustic warmth of a hole
filled with nuts and seeds,
the smell of wet leaves and the world.
Or a wasp chewing the old railing,
carrying the pulp home and spitting it out,
building the layers
of my smothering and exquisite nest.

Or a wolf, in a whisper,
I have heard every turn of the deer. 
I return to myself and wake up
in the scent.  Or a porcupine,
shuffling in the forest without scruple.
Partridge–I am a great whirring,
wings open.  A salamander
trying to comprehend the road.

I want to know what it is like
for a bat to be a bat,
a weasel itself, a whale,
the mind of a swarm of bees.
Oh, my little heart has limits!

Can you remember
what was it like to be a newborn–
a differentiation in the world
of its own sort of brain?
Do you even know what is it like to be yourself,
unconscious of nearly everything?

TELLING

 

When I consider the chronology
of this planet English speakers call “The Earth,”
I find that I am filled with hopeless mirth
and laugh and laugh, without apology.
First, there is the question of ontology:
What does it mean to be?   Then, what of worth?
Evolution of love, death, thinking, birth. . .
I need an expert in cryptology.
Or maybe just an old storyteller,
someone to recall the ancient tales,
a weaver of myth, a mystery speller
holding our long history in her brain.
Beside the fire at night, she’d sing of rain
and lovers, trees in winter, crows and whales.

 

A sonnet exercise I wrote a year or so ago, just for fun.

MOTHERLESS CHILD

It was one of those parties
in that library with archaic shelves
ascending to the trees.
Bertrand Russell came late,

carrying a baby
who spoke like William Blake:
There is a marriage of Heaven and Hell, 
another way to see.

Scholars whispered of the child’s maternity.
Bertie found me where I stood.
This baby needs a mother;  
you, I hope, will be.

I respectfully refused,
but introduced him to
Tante Wanda,
who died at ninety-three

singing “How Great Thou Art.”
She sat him in a kitchen chair
and fed him plum kuchen and coffee,
showed him blue ribbons

from the Arkansas fair,
the dolls she crocheted
to cover toilet paper rolls,
the JESUS signs she made,

a recipe for perfection salad.
Russell kissed her hand.
She took the baby right away–
it spoke again:  O, what a pleasant land. 

CONSCIOUS

. . .there is something that it is like to be a bat.
~Thomas Nagel

What is it like to be a swallow on a wire?
I gaze into the air, let go and float where insects hang.
I open my mouth to take one in.

What is it like in the earthy warmth
of a chipmunk hole, among nuts and seeds,
dirt and mold-smell clinging to my fur?

I am a wasp chewing an old fence post,
spitting out pulp to build the smothering nest
around my pampered and bloated queen,

a deer, my ears turned toward every whisper,
a porcupine shuffling through the forest, unconcerned.
Partridge–I am a great whirring, with open wings.

Horse eating wild apples and rolling in the dust.
Salamander trying to comprehend the road.
I am a bat.  I am a bat.  I think I am a bat.

No, Mary–imagination doesn’t count.
What is it like for a bat to be a bat,
a weasel to be itself, a whale,
the center of a swarm of bees.

Can you understand the limit of your mind?
Can you remember what it was like
to be a newborn human,
the undifferentiated world
sorting itself in your plastic brain?

Or do you even know what is it like to be you,
unconscious of nearly everything?