Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Poem A Day, Week Four Plus Two Days

Welcome to the end of National Poetry Month! I wound up reading hundreds of poems, I'd say at least three hundred, in this project of reading "one a day." Made me kind of miss being an English major, sitting in a classroom discussing them.

Living In The Body
- Joyce Sutpen (Tuesday)
Maybe because I'm almost almost forty or because of dance and working out at the gym - which was a direct result of the car wreck - I'm much more attached to my body than I ever used to be.

The Iceberg Theory - Gerald Locklin (Wednesday)
Truth be told, iceberg is the only lettuce I really like. I've only met one other adult who will admit to liking it; a lot of people I know profess to hate it. Water, fiber, crunch: What's not to like?

The Walloping Window-Blind - Charles Edward Carryl (Thursday)
I've never seen this poem before. It sounds like Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, including the made-up words. What fun!

The Jabberwocky - Lewis Carroll (Friday)
When I was in eighth grade I played the Mock Turtle in a version of Alice In Wonderland that traveled from school to school. We might do two performances a day, sometimes on a stage and sometimes at one end of a classroom (one time we performed in a space that was eight feet long and six feet wide). At the end we performed this poem, reciting in unison and acting it out. In my Mock Turtle costume, I was part of the beast.

Sweater Weather: A Love Song to Language - Sharon Bryan (Saturday)
Another silly word poem.

Romeo And Juliet
, Act II, Scene iii -William Shakespeare (Sunday)
Specifically the speech in which Juliet dreams about having sex with her new husband just before learning Romeo has been banished for murdering Tybalt. My favorite lines are

O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possess'd it, and, though I am sold,
Not yet enjoy'd. . .


Filling Station - Elizabeth Bishop (Monday)
While there are never any people around, this poem makes me think somehow of the gas pumps in front of the general store in Twin Lakes, Colorado.

The Snow Man - Wallace Stevens (Tuesday)
My Norton's calls Wallace "a third great imaginative force" since the deaths of Yeats and Eliot. I think I need more education, or at least more immersion, before I will be able to understand his poetry.

Tulip Field, MacLean Road, Skagit Valley - Sam Green (Wednesday)
Bink suggested I check out Washington State's Poet Laureate, who lives on an island neighboring her island. This is the only poem of his I could find online, and it makes me wish that I had had an interest is looking at flowers when I lived in the state.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Village, In My Life

There is a story in today's SF Chronicle Magazine about a man whose wife died last year. She was also the mother of two little boys six and four years old. Despite the lame (and misleading) title, the story is actually about how his wife had created a community and how this man is able to lean on those folks for help with raising his kids and keeping his life together.

My brother and I were those two little kids in 1974 when our father died. People stepped in to help with us, too. We didn't know that they were helping Mom; they were just there.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

More Mystery Plants

A couple months ago Zirpu planted a yam that was starting to grow in the produce basket. We do not know which one of these, if any, are from the yam.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Poem A Day, Week Three

Prayer for A Marriage - Steve Scafidi (Tuesday)
A friend of mine is getting married Friday and another friend is getting married Saturday. Each couple has a different story and a different set of circumstances, but they both deserve the same wish.

Happiness - Raymond Carver (Wednesday)
I got home around 5:30 this morning. The sun had not breached the hill to the east of the house. The air smelled damp, and the birds' chirps sounded exactly like the alarm my brother had when we were in high school. Those recognitions were the "early morning stuff/that passes for thought" today.

Alphabet - Seamus Heaney (Thursday)
The more the child learns, the more complex the poem becomes. I especially like the way Heaney describes the way to make a letter in the first part.

The Possessive Case - Lisel Mueller (Friday)
When I was growing up, there was a clipping from the New Yorker on the bulletin board at our house. Mom had hung it up. I studied it and studied it, following the long line of the poem, which I did not realize was a poem at the time (I'm not sure I see it as a poem now, though it is clever). I thought it was just something silly that caught Mom's eye - then I found it in Good Poems.

We Real Cool - Gwendolyn Brooks (Saturday)
This is as clear as a photo, in 24 words. It could be a rap - that's how clear it is.

That Colorado Still Means Colored Stuns
- Al Young (Sunday)
I learned more Colorado history reading this poem than I have in all my trips out there.

Soybeans - Thomas Alan Orr (Monday)
I've been thinking so much recently about food availability, about the intersection of grain as food and grain as fuel source, about the price of rice in the Philippines and the price of bread in the US. I've been thinking about the farmers, the bakers, the ranchers, the butchers.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Saturday I picked up my very own copy of the previously mentioned Good Poems. On Sunday, there was an interview with California State Poet Laureate Al Young in the newspaper. I wasn't familiar with his work, so I Googled him. There was also a terrible review of a book about Allen Ginsberg in India, in which the reviewer can only praise the parts that quote Ginsberg. Furthermore, Seamus Heaney is discussed in the novel I'm currently reading, so I looked him up in my Norton's. When I went to look up some information about "Dayenu" on Prairie Home Companion yesterday, there were tons of poems right on the home page. I turned on the radio last night and Alice Walker was reading from Absolute Trust In The Goodness of the Earth on To The Best of Our Knowledge.

Bink sent me an email warning me that there was a piece on This American Life on "This Is Just To Say" in which they parodied my favorite poem. She said some of the parodies were quite dark. It has never occurred to me to parody it, which is probably why I got such a kick out of Erica-Lynn Gambino's version, though now that I've heard a few, it does seem to lend itself. I almost didn't listen to it ("act two" starts about 50 minutes in) because I thought it might ruin the original for me, but I couldn't resist. The one I like the best is the one least like the original, in which the narrator forgives her mother for everything.... including leaving.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Definition: It is enough for us. . .

It is Passover, the springtime feast of thanks at which the story of God bringing the Jews out of slavery in Egypt is told. Because telling myself stories is how I make sense of the world, how, I think, a lot of people - and peoples - make sense of the world, this ritual connects me to others regardless of my personal beliefs, because I allow it to do so.

I did not organize attending a Seder this year. I was a little sad about this, though to be honest, this last week was so busy that I was very happy to not have to go anywhere this weekend (other than work, which was bad enough). This afternoon, I turned on the radio just as the intermission for A Prairie Home Companion was ending, and after reading the audience's greetings, Garrison Keillor had his musical guests go into a couple of Passover songs. The first one was a devotional song listing God's attributes alphabetically (much shorter than I expected, though the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters). The second one was Dayenu, a clap-along rendition led by the twelve-piece swing band Kustbandet. Hearing that song made me so happy that it is enough Passover for me this year.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In For A Penny, In For A Pound

I celebrated my April Unbirthday at the Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge this week. Tuesday is my "late day" and it's close to work, and several folks showed up. When I got there, a couple people had already ordered me the traditional birthday drink, the Forbidden Island Mai Tai. As you can see, it came with a flaming sugar cube on top. This was good since I forgot my "4" and "0" candles. It also came with a Forbidden Island Tiki Mug, which I'm considering using at the food bank as a coffee cup.

Three-quarters of the way through the drink I realized I shouldn't drive home. Zirpu couldn't come to the party because he is at a conference this week, so some strategizing followed about how to get back to Alameda in the morning if I left my car there. Once I knew one drink was too much to drive home on, I kept drinking. In for penny, in for a pound. With BART and cabs I knew that I would only be incoveniencing myself, though everyone was very kind about offering to drive me from BART in the morning or a place to sleep over that night. One of the things I was aware of was that some of the people at the party are volunteers at the food bank, so I felt like since I'm their "manager" I had to be extra careful to show good judgment, to not reflect poorly on myself.

I went to a 21st birthday party on Saturday, which I think is the first one I've attended since I was in my mid-twenties. I was joking with a friend about "showing these young'uns how it's done" but somehow I was on the BART and on my way home before 11pm that night. It must be said that we had dinner at 6pm, so the party had started early, but still. . .

I guess Wednesday night, when I wound up sleeping for a few hours at MA's place and getting home at 5:30, I did show 'em how it's done. Of course, no one was watching.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Poem A Day, Week Two

The Old Gumbie Cat - T.S. Eliot (Tuesday)
I memorized this poem in sixth grade when I found it in a book of Eliot's collected works, just because I liked it. This stood me in good stead when a couple months later one of my teachers assigned everyone to memorize and recite a poem I was already prepared. I would like to note that I memorized this poem years before it was set to music, while a couple of my classmates just recited songs.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - T.S. Eliot (Wednesday)
The same person who wrote cat poems for children also wrote this and Murder in the Cathedral! I read this poem over and over in college, and used a few lines as an epigraph for a short story I wrote for a class, and I'm still sympathetic to Prufrock's paralysis, wanting to urge him to break out of it.

Funeral Blues - W.H. Auden (Thursday)
Gareth reads this poem at the funeral of the title in Four Weddings and a Funeral. After I saw this film, I went to the library to check out an Auden poetry collection because this poem wasn't in my Norton Anthology. They were all gone, and the library whom I spoke with said it was because of the movie. I found it in an anthology of modern English poets, and copied it onto a piece of paper which I keep tucked into the appropriate place in my Norton's.

Foxtrot Fridays - Rita Dove (Friday)
No matter what else is going on, dancing makes me happy.

The Waking - Theodore Roethke (Saturday)
My favorite part of the day is the first few minutes after getting in bed, feeling the mattress absorb the energy of my body. I also enjoy the first few minutes of waking, when I'm just conscious enough to realize I'm awake but not conscious enough to move and start waking in earnest.

O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie - Philip Appleman (Sunday)
When I worked at the drug treatment program, I participated in a discussion with my coworkers about what it would be like if all the jerks were suddenly nice one day, and all the nice people acted like jerks, sort of giving them a taste of what it was like to deal with them. This is the sort of thing you think about when you're surrounded by people going through withdrawal. When I was withdrawing from Vicodin after the car wreck, I was probably a jerk. I know that when I was awake, I felt irritable.

The Green Street Mortuary Marching Band - Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Monday)
I always think it's fun to recognize locations in cities I read about or see in movies. I wonder if anyone has jazz funerals in San Francisco anymore.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Words And Ideas

I checked out a book titled Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor as part of my Read A Poem A Day plan for April. Because Keillor is so funny about being an English major and a reader of literature, I thought I would read the introduction. This, despite always being reminded of the scene in Dead Poets' Society in which Robin Williams' character tells the students to rip the introduction out of the poetry textbooks because it's "excrement."

But you know, I read the intro and I really like what Garrison has to say. He says that this book consists of "poems that somehow stuck with me and with some ofthe listeners. Stickiness, memorability, is one sign of a good poem. You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan." I find that poems I read years ago are still in my head; some of them sound familiar to the point of being half-memorized.

In this book I found two poems with the same title. One of them is my favorite poem, and one of them was totally unfamiliar to me. They are so similar in meter but so different in subject, and I got a big chuckle out of Erica-Lynn Gambino's, which has an epigraph of "for William Carlos Williams."

This Is Just To Say

I have just
asked you to
get out of my

even though
you never
I would

Forgive me
you were
me insane

Friday, April 11, 2008

Forty and Flirty

Flirting is like Potter Stewart's definition of pornography: I know it when I see it, but I can't describe it. It's the intention behind the actions more than anything else.

Some friends and I were discussing whether a guy at the Barnes & Noble was flirting with one of the people in the group. She said that she couldn't tell whether the guy at the counter was trying to let her know he liked her and not just the movies she'd selected. Was it flirting or just really friendly customer service? Since none of us had been there, of course, we advised another few rounds of movie purchases with perhaps some book and music discussions thrown in. With more data, we think we'll be able to figure it out.

That led to a discussion about all the times each of us had been someplace, like a grocery store, where we left wondering if the counter person/checker/barista was flirting. A friend asked me last night if the checker was flirting with her when she said, "Have a good night, love" and all I could think was, "Well, what was the tone when she said it? How was she looking at you?" and "Was she from the U.K.?" I got carded one time when I thought the person bagging groceries was flirting with me. I was so discombobulated by the possibility that I was being flirted with that I was totally confused when the checker asked me for my ID. If I had been the checker, I wouldn't have accepted it, I was acting so weird.

These days I don't get flirted with very often in stores of any kind. I think this might be because a lot of people in retail are all still in their 20s and now I'm much older than they are. In fact, I think I do most of my flirting with Zirpu, which doesn't really count, and with JR, which also doesn't really count. I also know that sometimes I say things to people that could be construed as flirting when I'm not flirting: If someone is wearing something that looks really good, I'll smile and say so. Sometimes I realize that they might be wondering what my intention is.

That's what is behind flirting: Intention. And that's what makes flirting so exciting: You don't exactly know who intends what - sometimes, anyway.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Poem A Day, Week One

A Supermarket in California - Allen Ginsberg (Tuesday)
This poem starts, "What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman. . ." In college I wrote a poem honoring Ginsberg that started, "What thoughts I have of you tonight, Allen Ginsberg. . ."

What I Learned Today - Billy Collins (Wednesday)
"no matter what the size the aquarium of one's learning,
another colored pebble can always be dropped in."
I snatched this book on my way out the door, knowing I wouldn't be home again to search more leisurely. I would have titled this blog "Another Colored Pebble" if I'd read this 16 months ago.

Warning - Jenny Joseph (Thursday)
If you know this poem, you probably know it by its first line: "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple." A few months ago I was in a diner with friends and a nearby ten-top was filled with women at least in their late '60s wearing purple pajamas and red hats. How cool is that?)

You Came Too - Nikki Giovanni (Friday)
If there were a poem about how I met Zirpu, this would be it.

Phenomenal Woman - Maya Angelou (Saturday)
I had the opportunity to read this at a party honoring two friends who are marrying different men in a couple weeks. At the end of the party, someone said that she's always loved that poem since she first heard it in middle school. I wish I had heard it - and internalized it - in middle school.

The Gnashlycrumb Tinies - Edward Gorey (Sunday)
Zirpu purchased this at our favorite bookstore today and I read it to him in the car. Written in couplets, I read the first line and most of the second for each letter and he filled in the last word. We laughed as I showed him the illustrations at stop signs.

Limited - Carl Sandburg (Monday)
Where are we going, and how are we getting there? Sandburg tells us, gently.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Wow, literature!

I'm so digging this read-a-poem-day thing!

I'm actually reading much more than just one poem a day, since it's just the natural thing to read a few of the poems around the selected work. I'm also discovering poetry is everywhere: "Warning" posted on the restroom wall at the Pacific Center; a recording of Robert Kennedy reciting from an ancient Greek playwright. Bink has suggested two poets to read, Samuel Green and Theodore Roethke. I'm looking forward to both!

I was at the library yesterday in search of Carl Sandburg and was able to tell two reference librarians about my project. They knew it was National Poetry Month, and they didn't seem to think it was an eggheaded pretension to read a poem every day. Talking to them was like having a conversation with Mrs. P or anyone else who used to hang around a college English department. I did not feel like a nerd.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Saint Stupid's Day Parade

Someday I will participate in this, though I can't imagine when I will ever work in SF again, or when I might have an April Fool's Day off.

Saint Stupid's Day Parade

It warms my little teenage hippie heart to know that people occasionally mock the single-minded pursuit of financial gain.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Good Morning

This is one of my favorite poems. Reading it is nothing like hearing it.

I'll admit I don't totally get this poem. There's whole sections of it I don't really understand, which is why I like to hear the cadence of Maya Angelou's reading. When I read it I distract myself by trying to figure out every word. You'd think after fifteen years I would have made some progress - but I haven't worked on it that much. I love the last verse, though.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.