the voices in my head: love and other intimacies

At first we loved because / we startled one another. — Rae Armantrout

I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the hunger of my heart, I am trying to bribe you with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat. ― Jorge Luis Borges

it is love that draws me again / and again from the word emptiness — Stephan Torre

Fish! Fish! White sun! Tell me we are one / and that it’s the others who scaree me, / not you. — Linda Gregg

sex is for god because it’s a furious / violent brightness so I make a straw fetish / with a red tonguelike clitoris to protect me / from literature and from my dear friends — Alice Notley

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. / It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. — Mary Oliver

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud / and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows / higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) / and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart / i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) — E. E. Cummings

We stand / looking at the ruin of our garden / in early November. — Jack Gilbert

but there was only the rain on the tin roof, / and the steady swish-swish of milk into the bright bucket / as I walked past you, so close we could have touched. — J.T. Ledbetter

Each moment / builds a new universe / and I need to find / you there. — James Bertolino

american life in poetry: city lights

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004–2006

It seems we’re born with a need for stories, for hearing them and telling them. Here’s an account of just one story, made remarkable in part by the teller’s aversion to telling it. Poet Mary Avidano lives in Nebraska.


City Lights

My father, rather a quiet man,
told a story only the one time,
if even then—he had so little
need, it seemed, of being understood.
Intervals of years, his silences!
Late in his life he recalled for us
that when he was sixteen, his papa
entrusted to him a wagonload
of hogs, which he was to deliver
to the train depot, a half-day’s ride
from home, over a hilly dirt road.
Lightly he held the reins, light his heart,
the old horses, as ever, willing.
In town at noon he heard the station-
master say the train had been delayed,
would not arrive until that evening.
The boy could only wait. At home they’d
wait for him and worry and would place
the kerosene lamp in the window.
Thus the day had turned to dusk before
he turned about the empty wagon,
took his weary horses through the cloud
of fireflies that was the little town.
In all his years he’d never seen those
lights—he thought of this, he said, until
he and his milk-white horses came down
the last moonlit hill to home, drawn as
from a distance toward a single flame.

 


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by The Backwaters Press. Mary Avidano’s most recent book of poems is The Zebra’s Friend and Other Poems, 2008. Poem reprinted from The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets, The Backwaters Press, 2013, by permission of Mary Avidano and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004–2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

published work: getting spanked by donny osmond

This poem first appeared in Canopic Jar back in 2008. It’s no longer available on their site, and I decided to share it here. Most people don’t know that I have a whole series of poems about Donny Osmond. I have quite the preoccupation with the man, the myth, the music.


Getting Spanked by Donny Osmond

I never understood Sonny and Cher
her skinny arms twisted around his torso
like trash bag ties
him curled up on her like a mink stole.
How could they get all the essentials
lined up for sex—
physicists still haven’t figured it out.
Quantum mechanics makes more sense
than those two.
But they were sure better
than Donny and Marie.
Marie’s thick ankles made her walk
as if three or four bones in each foot
had gone missing
behind the racks of petite costumes
lining her dressing room walls
and someone had splinted her up
just long enough to clop rigidly
across the stage
with that phony Pearl Drops smile.
And Donny, pretending to be
a little bit rock ‘n roll
in his three-piece powder-blue suit
his starched wide-lapel polyester shirt
tucked neatly inside.
From time to time I imagined
the two of us making it.
Who wants to admit to such tastes?
He had Marie’s side-swept bangs after all
and dressed like tacky furniture
in a psychiatrist’s waiting room.
What really made those fantasies
problematic were his slim, girlish
waistline and platform shoes.
To this day, I can’t shake
the image of him spanking me
with one of his wide silver-lamé belts.

 


“Getting Spanked by Donny Osmond” first appeared in Canopic Jar. All original work on my site is protected by copyright. If you would like to use or adapt a piece, please contact me for permission.

the writing life: new work in kansas city voices

kansas city voices
:: One New Poem in Kansas City Voices

I have one poem in Volume 11 of Kansas City Voices. It’s inspired by a statue made of butter that was at the 2006 Iowa State Fair. The statue was of Superman, and someone went a little overboard with filling out his, shall I say, butter stick. This issue actually came out in September 2013. I am still catching up on my “new work” announcements.

Purchase issues of Kansas City Voices here, including Volume 11 and the new issue.

the voices in my head: humans relating to humans

I tell myself in my more curmudgeonly moods that relationships with animals are preferable to those with people. I keep forgetting that people are in fact animals: complicated, conflicted, gloriously noble and hilarious animals. — Chris Clarke

How I would like to believe in tenderness— / The face of the effigy, gentled by candles, / Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes. — Sylvia Plath

I crave winter. I want a blizzard / that blinds me to my fellow man. / These are my dark times. — Adrian C. Louis

as the dark withdrew / and gave slow light to the swallows, / to the words we’d given / each other, which were few and kind and true. — Linda McCarriston

While in a conversation, stop listening / and then begin to listen again. / Fill in the parts in between / with whatever you wish. / A llama, perhaps. — Brett Elizabeth Jenkins

‎I am increasingly in love with the idea of love flowing from each of us according to our abilities, and to each of us according to our needs. — Colleen Wainwright

It was never feasible: no skin no light / no prayers save us for we have, / all of us, swallowed / ourselves, and contain / only one another. — Kristen McHenry

published work: operant conditioning: a training manual

I am sharing this poem, which I wrote in 2009, because it feels relevant in light of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s release of a report disclosing new details about the CIA’s torture practices.

Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which antecedents and consequences modify a person’s behavior. Forms of operant conditioning include antecedent stimuli, positive and negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment, removal of expected positive reinforcement, satiation and deprivation, and other techniques that can rise to the level of brutality. The poem steps through several forms of operant conditioning.


Operant Conditioning: A Training Manual

I
Wear a bag over your head long enough
and you will forget who you are.

II
Recount your last wishes.
Dig your grave.
Watch videotaped snuff.
Fire blanks past your own head.
It’s only over when we unload rounds
near your feet, when you dance.
This is your final warning.
(Consider yourself lucky.)

III
Sing. Sing for us. That’s right. Louder.

IV
Eventually, the pressure on your fingers
will be too great. Arms stretched high
on the wall, legs several feet back and spread.
(These small bones weren’t meant to bear your load.)

V
Stand. Sit. Run in circles. Stand. Sit.
The whole room hisses. The hissing
moves through you like snakes,
like rough-woven rope.

VI
(Nobody will believe you.)

VII
What can’t be pushed back and stitched in.
What will not be reabsorbed or reattached.
On the table, you almost go slack.
You are wet with topical antiseptics.
The last of your heat wafts from your body.
Parts of you are sucked out through tubes.

VIII
We half expect you to move.

 


“Operant Conditioning: A Training Manual” was first published in The Spare Room (Blood Pudding Press, 2009). All original work on my site is protected by copyright. If you would like to use or adapt a piece, please contact me for permission.

american life in poetry: truant

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004–2006

For every one of those faces pictured on the obituary page, thousands of memories have been swept out of the world, never to be recovered. I encourage everyone to write down their memories before it’s too late. Here’s a fine example of that by Margaret Hasse, who lives in Minnesota.


Truant

Our high school principal wagged his finger
over two manila folders
lying on his desk, labeled with our names—
my boyfriend and me—
called to his office for skipping school.

The day before, we ditched Latin and world history
to chase shadows of clouds on a motorcycle.
We roared down rolling asphalt roads
through the Missouri River bottoms
beyond town, our heads emptied
of review tests and future plans.

We stopped on a dirt lane to hear
a meadowlark’s liquid song, smell
heart-break blossom of wild plum.
Beyond leaning fence posts and barbwire,
a tractor drew straight lines across the field
unfurling its cape of blackbirds.

Now forty years after that geography lesson
in spring, I remember the principal’s words.
How right he was in saying:
This will be part of
your permanent record.

 


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Margaret Hasse, from her most recent book of poems, Earth’s Appetite, Nodin Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Margaret Hasse and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004–2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.