Archive for April 2010


April 27, 2010

“London” can be read on pp. 126-127 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

a flurry of breaths—“London” is scattered across the page like breaths snatched between words. It’s a sonnet in a series of sonnets (“Joy” and “Syncope” are also in heart speech this) I wrote as I grew into a place I thought would never fit.

Tell me why I stay here—My first year in New York, I broke yet another of my “I’m not going to do that” promises. I had vowed never to live on the East Coast and especially not in a city as thick and dense and over-stimulated as this. I wanted mountains, ocean, desert, and space. Spareness and horizon. And of course I found myself driving from Oregon to Pennsylvania in the space of a week, first south through the Siskiyous and then east across the deserts, the Divide, the sudden clusters of townships and hills, soybean fields and trees.

the frenzy for crumbs shouldering brothers to curbs—I was not prepared for the city despite visits in the ‘80s, despite traveling and living in US and European cities in earlier parts of my life. Six years in forested, rivered Oregon had dulled my agility. I had lost the sense of crowds, the athleticism required for hip checks, blocking, taking a charge.

fringed with vain shadows obscuring the light—There was a moment of horror when I stepped onto the subway car and saw a pool of blood on the seat I’d been ready to grab. Moments of utter confusion when directions and lines and numbers/letters had no pattern or system internally mapped—the constant shifting, running, and straining to hear/see were like bodysurfing in riptides, pulled off my feet and tangled in waves, kelp, sand, and rocks.

surround me with pigeons fluffing their breasts—the first place I’ve lived where strangers start conversations in the middle, speaking to anyone close enough to address, blurting out intimate and unrelated observations and complaints. So much reaching for connection, posturing for attention, and offered simply for the pleasure of being a little larger in the crowd, of making the city of knots on a string more like lace than measurement.

savoring haste over hunger—“You don’t like the city very much, do you?” observed one of my French students when I shared this poem in class. And I was surprised, because I did like the city, in the way one likes family one can’t live with but always feels affection for, the mutual agreement to love the differences one can’t understand but tolerates for deeper connections.

Offer me tastes I’ll refuse to forget—There are people who love the gulping nature of this place, the ravenous energy to get, make, and be more. And I have not escaped. Yet I love those days, those minutes, when there is something truly, truly slow, some ache that develops into emptiness and then desire that rumbles inside and makes embarrassing comments, like the stranger standing next to me as we wait for the train.

to long for this din—and yet “London”, which is about London as well as New York and all these cities of stink and staleness and compressed sights and sounds, tells me I can learn to live anywhere and love the place I’m in, just as Helen, in whose series “London” crowds, learned her cities and shock and elbow room.


Santa Fe: Glory & Relief

April 11, 2010

“Santa Fe,” can be read on p.89 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

It’s those blurry memories of something done more than once, something done by others we knew as children, that come back and reform into nostalgia. And there are these rituals we create that have only the sacredness we find in them, not the awe given by holy speech or writing, not the sense of Otherness in a space dedicated to surrendering self to community and community to what makes us feel part of something more. These rituals we make as children, chanting about not stepping on cracks, linking pinky fingers to establish a pact, spitting in our palms and mixing saliva as if sharing what helps us speak and swallow made our intentions more powerful.

My brother and his friends loved the danger of small town risks—setting up skateboard slaloms on scarcely driven roads, designing hang gliders and sailing off hillsides into iceplant and tumbleweeds…one of their favorites was to hang out by the train tracks that bordered the city’s only park, looking for dropped metal, tempting the trains to transform pennies into thin shimmers of copper, oblong and smooth where once they had been round, thick, and raised.

They did this every time they were near the tracks, scrounging for pennies, yelping when they found a “wheatback”, comparing dates and designs. Later, when I was with my friends, feeling less exposed but still timid, I would try the same trick with less success.

The trains, many from the Santa Fe line, were freight rather than passenger. I didn’t actually know there were still passenger trains until I was older. My friends and I counted cars and guessed how many more would pass before we saw the caboose. Some cars were closed and gave no hint of their insides. Others had open doors, still others no roofs. The company’s logos were painted on the walls and doors.

To really flatten a penny, you had to place the penny where it would feel the most pressure from the train’s wheels. This meant standing on the track and finding the most worn parts of the rails, already shiny and scratched, and then balancing the coins as centrally as possible. The rails themselves were not always flat enough to palm the pennies, and vibrations from the trains could throw them off onto the ground.

Then you had to wait for the train to pass. 10 minutes, 20, sometimes nearly an hour—you could get distracted or have to go home before the train was gone. And the pennies, if they were still on the rails, were as hot as they were glossy. Picking up a hot, melted, polished cent—what a thrill, as if no one had ever done this before.

So I remembered my brother and this shiny, one cent moment he spent again and again. The collection of copper slivers on his dresser. And the moments that are so ordinary and so sacred because we are so fully present and full of risks and joy.