(this started as a transliteration of Osip Mandelstam’s Epigram on Stalin, and I got a bit carried away. I also ran out of rhymes and anapests by the 3rd stanza…)
Epigram: On Trump
He wishes we’d live so quietly, so cowed,
our words would melt to silence in our awe.
But as this ass wrapped in a lion’s skin
brays hatred from his jowls, confusion
comes as we all shout at once.
Like an ape amused by his own shit
he flings his mad words from his pulpit
spatters the crowds with stink and hate
and the thin-necked half-men celebrate
his coming rain of gold.
His wriggling wormy fingers stab the air
as leaden words thunk from his lips
this penthouse roach who dies his pelt
the tarnished hard orange of an old commode,
and wishes he were Stalin, but falls short.
1. I woke up to sunlight but my body was deep in the ruts of the heavy blankets and I could hear the wake up noises in the kitchen where they would see me and be happy to me and make me wake up too so I slipped to the floor and kneeled over the register slat and pointed my wiener down and the pee shot out hot, and it punched the metal wall inside like the rain storm on mama hazel’s rusty porch roof but stinky and it felt good getting empty so I sighed and slid back into the warm where I dozed then I got up anyway.
2. Mom’s at the kitchen table sitting down smiling with her hair all wet and Dad is getting a towel and singing the Good Morning song with the doowackadoo ending and I hop up in her lap where she is in front of a big white bowl of cream and I swipe my finger through the top of the cream and stick a big gob in my mouth but it’s sour and what goes down my throat is burning
3. I’m napping but I can hear Mom outside rustling with plants and things so I slip quiet out of my creaky room. The kitchen is empty at last, but how to get there? If I open the cabinet door I can use the shelves like a ladder to the counter. I sit there a minute my chest brightening with how high I am and if I can open the high cabinet door without knocking myself to the ground. Carefully I swing it open, and the little brown bottle is there. The top is hard and it won’t turn but it snaps off then I can dig out the floofy cotton and there are the little orange pills with the line down the middle. I shake one into my hand. Delicious orange but gritty. I eat another. And another. And another. I am getting sleepy and sleepier but when I hear the kitchen door swing open the outside I see you and I shake the rest into my mouth and you can’t dig them out not even with your finger
Grandparents house, in the open room between the bedroom, dining area and parlor. A dark lacquered wooden bookcase is against the wall, holding a number of small trinkets that, because of their scarcity and decorative oddness, have taken on mythic qualities to us boys. The most mysterious object is a long thin blade housed in a round enameled wooden sheath – what I recognize now is a common letter opener, but what we imagined as an object of Arthurian mystery. We believe it is kept by my grandmother as a totem of her dead son, who owned it. I have it cradled in my hands.
I am five.
I: (to myself) when we die, we go to heaven where Jesus is and sunlight. But if we are sinners we go to hell and it’s all pain and burning. You can wash away your sins if you get baptized, but I’m still too young to have any sins so I can’t get baptized. Even if I do I can sin again and have to go forward while the whole church sings and cries or else go to hell anyway. Why not skip all that and go to heaven now while I know I can make it?
(metaphysically scratches head)
Yep, better die.
(takes magical blade to Art)
I: Art, will you help me go to heaven by stabbing me in the heart with Kenneth’s knife?
Art: Of course. (pauses)
But I don’t think I can do it. Why don’t I hold it while you fall on it?
(I hesitate, ashamed, discovering the limits of reason)
But there were pits and ruts hidden under the rough grasses; their fuzzy heads scraped my thighs and stuck under the turned cuffs of my short pants. Her hand around mine lifted me over the stumbling. The cows were not there now silently munching or quietly shifting their weight with soft moo sounds, but there were green piles with crusty black edges that turned out to be in part buzzing families of flies. We didn’t have a word for those things, so they didn’t exist.
That house with its sticky heat upstairs and the cool cement floors in the basement. Open grates in the upstairs floors to spy through: you could watch someone sitting in the recliner playing checkers and then see the look of surprise in their upturned moon face when you yelled out “hey!” That worked every time. There were plenty of candy bars in glass jars everywhere in the kitchen – it smelled of vinegar and white soap and sweat – but I still squirreled them away in the gaps between the door frames and the wall. Piles of red and black wrappers, Clark bars, O. Henry, a crinkled horde out of sight of everyone unless you knew where to reach into the darkness.
Everything good was beyond my reach. The older you were the more magic you had, and which gave you both more than me and you could see higher and reach whatever you saw or thought to see, and you were playing together. You might take me across the muddy barnyard and under the hot wire that you said I could only touch if I were wearing sneakers like yours (though you wouldn’t show me), through the dark dry dirt with the hay sticking out (a tower of sweet smelling wood beams stretching up into the dizzying unlit air), out into the blinking sun bright where the crickets were. We climbed through the pasture up farther than we had ever been, spies on a secret mission, watching on our bellies for enemy movement at any moment crouching our way up the hillside. Crows in the far line but cows in the dark circle under the trees or weird shaped insects with their strange itchy noises that came right up to your eyes and then flipped away. The line of trees, and we stood up and turned to dizzy ourselves with the long pasture stretching straight down behind us and the gray barn to the right and the suddenly tiny red brick house with the white porch where sat the tiny man way below. He’s lifting his arm now, waving. Wave back and see if he can hear us shouting, but there’s no way to tell so we plunge at first together into the darkness, then by age cause that’s how you know who is the first. The woods were dense and cool but short; we were as high as the hill could go, and suddenly we were looking down from the rocky gray edge of the torn off cliff down onto sudden light of trucks and cars whistling past. And we were unseen heroes and spies for the good side so we turned back to run through the trees and down stumbling with speed the hillocks and pasture grass sloping sharp fast our legs and heads so each foot had to fly up faster or I would fall into the grass and sky spinning with sick velocity until I tumbled to a stop smelling of bugs and flowers.
Haiku Marathon was a fun project for me. The commitment to post daily for 30 days brought a pleasurable degree of improvisational performance into my writing – pleasurable for me, at least. The risk is that what I posted each day would be terrible or incomprehensible; what I discovered is that this risk is borne mostly by the reader, of which I had very few, thank God.
In reality by the end of 30 days my ability to write a tolerable haiku developed in inverse proportion to my interest in continuing to write any haiku at all. I definitely got that bug out of my system. Better out than in, as they say. Since then I’ve focused on other things while I’ve looked for a different form.
We are not the same is a new project. It is not a memoir. It is drawn from memories – some of which are invented or heavily compressed or presented outside chronological order. The goal is simply my own pleasure and to give me technical practice in my craft while mining myself as an easy accessible source of subject matter. The only reason to post it is to force myself to write daily – and quickly, without editing. Please don’t expect polish or sophistication; everything here is draft.
My apologies to everyone.
As far as I can remember, it went something like this: Dad, in oil stained heavy gray pants and a torn blue pullover sweater, rushes in from the garage, one hand wrapped in bandages, to assist Mom, who up to that moment was standing pregnant and shimmering though a cloud of bacon steam over a cheap Kenmore electric skillet scored by many washings; but now, overcome with my insistent drive to be born in time, reclines smiling in a way that preserves the casual pouts and bangs of her careful hair. On the floor. Knees up.
Dad produces with pinkie-out flair a single Oreo which he places lightly on the floor between her ankles, and Mom, laughing, now pushes me slick and gleaming with such force that I spin slowly in the air and for one quick moment see it all around and before me: my brothers in felt cowboy hats and pleather boots, clicking plastic guns at each other; the mustard-vinyl furniture; the mysterious paintings that my gummy eyes cannot yet resolve into bulls and ball-of-fire sunsets and oddly bald Spanish ladies; the ceramic boot received as a gift from the grumpy aunt and the orangutan coin jar; the dark half-paneled walls and the white daub ceiling. Dad plucks me slickly from the air and holds me close for a whiskery old spice moment before he lets me down gently into the open guitar case where I nestle wordlessly in its cloudy candy fluff tufts of soft yellow faux fur.
The cord is cut.
I am born, and sleep.
Haiku is the poetry of influence. At its best, it offers experience at its most fragmentary and concrete, and then dramatizes the changes experience creates in the inner life of the writer – at it’s best it initiates change in the reader. Not an understanding of change, not a reflection, but the change itself.
The 17 syllable restriction makes haiku the most accessible of all poetic forms – kindergarteners write them – but also enforces an acceptance of ambiguity. You literally cannot overstate your position. You say what you can say in 17 syllables and hope for the best: a tiny kinetic sculpture made of words, that is somehow large enough to power the reader.