I do not write a lot of poetry. In fact, I had a strong dislike of poetry throughout high school and college. I had this idea that poetry required a person to spend hours hunting for the meaning of the thing, as if the poet's purpose was to create a scavenger hunt and only someone gifted in the reading of poetry could decipher the clues that would lead to the correct meaning. As a result of this perception, I kept poetry at an arm's distance. I remember writing a few poems here and there - often totally meaningless in their attention to obscure allusions and vague, metaphorical descriptions (remember, I thought good poetry should be totally confounding) - and with each I marveled at my own genius, but when I finished a single draft of a poem it felt "done," as though the magic of poetry was in writing a single draft as bestowed by God himself.
This, of course, is nonsense.
Only through making the reading of poetry in class a regular part of my instruction have I developed an appreciation of the form, and as a result have written a few poems that expressed ideas that felt genuine without being intentionally obtuse. I've included here some of these poems. Some will be in a form that I would consider complete; this is especially true about poetry about specific moments or experiences, where revisions after the fact would rob the poem of the accuracy of feeling I was trying to present. Some will be rough, unkempt, or even abject failures. I'll let you decide which is which, but please don't come to class telling me which you think are unfinished failures. Teachers have feelings too.
A Good Dog
February 20, 2017
Tail-wagging and leash-pulling as
we lead her into her new home, let loose
she runs from the front door, runs fast
not about the house, wild, but out
into the back. Excitement paused for manners,
she uses the little dog's room that first sweet day, because
She is a Good Dog.
Tail-wagging, window-fogging as
we bring Santa's snow for wishing children,
she's in my lap inside the truck,
eager to breath the frozen air.
But the window is up, repelling the cold,
so she just follows passing lights that cut the pitch, because
She is a Good Dog.
Tail-wagging and gums-bleeding as
we survey: the crumpled garage door seams,
bent from climbing paws, anxious teeth;
the house door, licked soft and dug through;
the door knob, dimpled from teeth that turned, opened.
Even bloody, stump-toothed, she's smiling-glad we're home, because
She is a Good Dog.
Tail-wagging and mouth-agape as
she tries and fails to catch a soft- tossed treat,
always trying, always missing.
Sniffing out the lost treat, crunching,
lapping up the pieces with her great pink tongue.
I clap the thick, bassy drum of her sturdy ribs because
She is a Good Dog
Tail-wagging and fur-kneaded as
the baby, clambering, pulls ears, rolls down
her haunch. Grayed white tuffs are loosed, thrown.
Baby stumbles over her brown-
freckled face, poking at her patient, kind eyes;
she groans, rolls to expose her belly for scratching, because
She is a Good Dog.
I clap her hollow ribs,
Feel the bones, the spine. Her slow steps
are less steady. We coax
her to eat, and she does,
mostly. She hears less or is more in-
different. But she still comes when I call because
She is a Good Dog.
She sees waiting dogs and
leash-pulls, strong again one moment.
But her tail remains limp.
Lying, calm, the cruel-kind
pink syringe drains and she breaths deep, rests
her head, heavy, on my lap. I knead her because
She was my Good Dog.
Untitled Sonnet (work in progress)
What is it - becoming earth, becoming sea,
becoming wind winding, carrying pieces,
fragments of pieces of what once was me,
churning with pieces to release this
husk into its base components, proteins,
acidic in circulation, respirational absence,
enzymatic perfumes arousing graceful routines
of corpse fauna made kings in recompense
for rolled magazines, traps, zappers, swatters,
dancing in capacious softness turning liquid
that, in the decay of man’s orders, stirs
the natural orders: of all things that begin
each and without exception all things end, even I,
not especially any different - I wonder, to die?
Woke up one morning
and it was the next day
before a quarter to noon.
The rest of the day
made about the same amount of sense,
or least the remaining seventy-five.
By breakfast I was mixed up,
scrambled, pancakes, on my eggs
with a side of plate.
The paper's normal,
but the print is looking cloudy
like it's going to rain.
My Boss, a loose-jaw fool,
"Jibbidy Jab, do that thing,"
really boggled my brain.
But not all that strange
until he talked to himself
and gave my stapler his name.
My car is damp,
the steering wheel's sticky,
I'm waiting for the highway to move.
A horn is speaking
and the radio squeaking,
a man telling me just what to do.
before the tv.
Gettin in bed.
Lay down my head.
I lay and wait
for tomorrow yesterday.
How Will I Know When I Die?
How will I know when I die?
Will I know by the suddenness of my last breath,
if it comes like a guest on an unannounced visit
or a daughter’s last night under my roof?
Will the taste of that breath
be rich as fondant-wrapped wedding cake
or undiluted condensed chicken noodle?
Will it exhale in the puff of air
forced from a cushion
under the weight of a body finally at rest?
or the sigh of a father
whose children never stop rising from bed? Or
Will it be the rattle of a motorcycle engine
at idle before the ignition is killed?
Will I recognize my life’s end
by what I have accomplished? Can I
if there is so much left to do?
Will I know it despite failing to
make a move on my should-have-been first kiss?
get the grades my parents deserved?
receive the promotion I know I earned?
be the man that does more that says?
Will the untravelled miles of road lay
in accusation in my wake?
If the day never comes that
someone says “thanks to Mr. Lydon...”,
If I never find my name
printed on a copyright page,
Can I know when I die,
despite the very real possibility
that I may not have lived?
How should I know if I lived?
Will I know by those that gather
around the bed to witness that final breath
or the bed where finally I am laid to rest?
Will I know that I have lived by
the stories my daughters tell to their daughters,
or their daughters to their daughters?
Will I have died when last my title is invoked
in the reminiscence of students past?
How long can my name be remembered in the
recollections of young people grown
miles beyond my instruction?
Is my name important? Am I my name?
Do I live in a name or
in the causes I celebrate and
culture I propel and
individuals I witness and
walls I push against?
Can I live in the books I recommend and
the turned pages I inspire?
Can I live in the opportunities and choices of my daughters
and the opportunities and choices of their daughters?
Can I live in the learning and hope my students carry
and can my life,
in even infinitesimal ways,
reach the lives of their children?
If I can live
without a name
in the breaths put into the sails of so many voyagers
on so many voyages,
Can I die?
On My Daughter's Twentieth Minute Putting on a Sock Before School
The red-blocked digits on the microwave
have paused until, at twenty past, I have
made a sandwich, sliced diagonally,
and carrots, with ranch, each cut carefully
to exactly neither-too-big-nor-small,
and a fruit… cup, I suppose, for the ease
it offers, an iced water, and a treat
to show I’d ever thought of her at all.
I am sure we could be the poetry,
portrait, idyllic domesticity
in relief of smiling, loving mother,
of fathers, grandparents, other further
relations hand in hand with small children
beneath maudlinisms in quirky type
proclaiming a great Hallmarkian-like
love,thankful-like love, that kids are stilled in.
Instead, I am cautiously balancing
on a tightrope noosed around urgency
at one end and pulled taught at the other
by the need to instruct, model for her
composure and steadfastness and unflapp-
ability and poise and temperance
and a real cool-as-a-cucumberness
that ensures that we bend but never snap.
Meanwhile, in the enforced periphery,
apoplectically flailing flurry
of pantomime and nasal, shotgun grunts
that is my daughter, she aligns and mis-
aligns the toe-seam atop her toe-tips,
pulls it on, up, down, up, under, over,
in essentialness: life, death if it fits.
Remember that you love her. You love her.
For her hugs in the early morning blur,
for stick drawings and rock, leaf, and bug gifts,
for “goodnight mom” and “huggy please” and this
feeling - she's struggling, too, with all of it.
Remember that when she is gone to school
you don’t feel in love or warmth half as full
as when she holds your hand and kisses it.
My Mother's Rose
Mother says the pedals fall
under the heavy sun’s rays
after sickness eats at their roots,
until the weight of the light is great
and they give up their hold on the stem.
Mother doesn’t like when I cry
for the pedals falling from the roses
while they sit at the window,
that sinks through the clouds
to perch on the flowers I watch slowly wither.
Mother helps me to tape our roses
to the sill of the doorway,
upside down from their toes,
leaving them to dry,
waiting for the pedal tips to twist and darken
but not fall, to remain eternal and brittle.
Mother guides my hand to the vase
with a dried rose between my fingertips,
to sit it near the window pane
immune from light,
but allowing it to pass in slight opacity
where once it drank from its pedals.
Mother holds my shoulders and whispers,
her breath feathers on my earlobe,
to give me a secret
that makes me smile;
our fathers' fathers and mothers’ mothers
came to dry our rose, to keep our company.
Mother always tells me this secret
when we hang our roses.
That our heavenly loved ones visit
to dry each one,
and then linger as long as we keep it
to be with and love us.
Mother says that one day
she too will come to dry a rose,
to linger as long as I should keep it,
and love me too,
but she would come a special way:
her rose would dry in vase, in the sun, in full life.
Mother says to keep two vases,
so my relatives can be together
and she may come to visit,
to dry a rose,
with it’s toes still in the vase-water,
as light stomps downward from the clouds.
Mother has told me to smile
when a rose from the new vase
dries in perfect bloom,
even as it seems
to sip of life from its stem,
as Mother today sips as she guides my hand.