Why Things Burn

My fire-eating career came to an end
when I could no longer tell
when to spit and when

to swallow.
Last night in Amsterdam,
1,000 tulips burned to death.

I have an alibi. When I walked by
your garden, your hand
grenades were in bloom.

You caught me playing
loves me, loves me
not, metal pins between my teeth.

I forget the difference
between seduction
and arson,

ignition and cognition. I am a girl
with incendiary
vices and you have a filthy never

mind. If you say no, twice,
it’s a four-letter word.
You are so dirty, people have planted

flowers on you: heliotropes. sun-
flowers. You’ll take
anything. Loves me,

loves me not.
I want to bend you over
and whisper: ‘potting soil, ‘ ‘fresh

cut.’ When you made
the urgent fists of peonies
a proposition, I stole a pair of botanists’

hands. Green. Confident. All thumbs.
I look sharp in garden
shears and it rained spring

all night.1,000 tulips
burned to death
in Amsterdam.

We didn’t hear the sirens.
All night, you held my alibis
so softly, like taboos

already broken.

Daphne Gottlieb

An Almost Made Up Poem

An Almost Made Up Poem

I see you drinking at a fountain with tiny
blue hands, no, your hands are not tiny
they are small, and the fountain is in France
where you wrote me that last letter and
I answered and never heard from you again.
you used to write insane poems about
ANGELS AND GOD, all in upper case, and you
knew famous artists and most of them
were your lovers, and I wrote back, it’ all right,
go ahead, enter their lives, I’ not jealous
because we’ never met. we got close once in
New Orleans, one half block, but never met, never
touched. so you went with the famous and wrote
about the famous, and, of course, what you found out
is that the famous are worried about
their fame –– not the beautiful young girl in bed
with them, who gives them that, and then awakens
in the morning to write upper case poems about
ANGELS AND GOD. we know God is dead, they’ told
us, but listening to you I wasn’ sure. maybe
it was the upper case. you were one of the
best female poets and I told the publishers,
editors, “ her, print her, she’ mad but she’
magic. there’ no lie in her fire.” I loved you
like a man loves a woman he never touches, only
writes to, keeps little photographs of. I would have
loved you more if I had sat in a small room rolling a
cigarette and listened to you piss in the bathroom,
but that didn’ happen. your letters got sadder.
your lovers betrayed you. kid, I wrote back, all
lovers betray. it didn’ help. you said
you had a crying bench and it was by a bridge and
the bridge was over a river and you sat on the crying
bench every night and wept for the lovers who had
hurt and forgotten you. I wrote back but never
heard again. a friend wrote me of your suicide
3 or 4 months after it happened. if I had met you
I would probably have been unfair to you or you
to me. it was best like this.

Charles Bukowski

 

You have always been the place. You are born to build.

The Type
by Sarah Kay

If you grow up the type of woman men want to look at,
You can let them look at you.
But do not mistake eyes for hands,
Or windows for mirrors.
Let them see what a woman looks like.
They may not have ever seen one before.

If you grow up the type of woman men want to touch,
You can let them touch you.
Sometimes it is not you they are reaching for.
Sometimes it is a bottle, a door, a sandwich, a Pulitzer, another woman –
But their hands found you first.
Do not mistake yourself for a guardian, or a muse, or a promise, or a victim or a snack.
You are a woman –
Skin and bones, veins and nerves, hair and sweat
You are not made of metaphors,
Not apologies, not excuses.

If you grow up the type of woman men want to hold,
You can let them hold you.
All day they practice keeping their bodies upright.
Even after all this evolving it still feels unnatural,
Still strains the muscles, holds firm the arms and spine.
Only some men will want to learn what it feels like to curl themselves into a question mark around you,
Admit they don’t have the answers they thought they would by now.
Some men will want to hold you like the answer.
You are not the answer.
You are not the problem.
You are not the poem, or the punchline, or the riddle, or the joke.

Woman, if you grow up the type of woman men want to love,
You can let them love you.
Being loved is not the same thing as loving.
When you fall in love,
It is discovering the ocean after years of puddle jumping.
It is realising you have hands.
It is reaching for the tightrope after the crowds have all gone home.
Do not spend time wondering if you are the type of woman men will hurt.
If he leaves you with a car alarm heart.
You learn to sing along.
It is hard to stop loving the ocean,
Even after it’s left you gasping, salty.
So forgive yourself for the decisions you’ve made,
The ones you still call mistakes when you tuck them in at night,
And know this.
Know you are the type of woman who is searching for a place to call yours.
Let the statues crumble.
You have always been the place.
You are a woman who can build it yourself.
You are born to build.

Jack Gilbert, A Few Favorites

What is the bigger tragedy? That Jack Gilbert passed away recently, or that I only discovered his words upon news of his death?

Some of my favorites:

Tear It Down

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within that body.

I Imagine the Gods

I imagine the gods saying, We will
make it up to you. We will give you
three wishes, they say. Let me see
the squirrels again, I tell them.
Let me eat some of the great hog
stuffed and roasted on its giant spit
and put out, steaming, into the winter
of my neighborhood when I was usually
too broke to afford even the hundred grams
I ate so happily walking up the cobbles,
past the Street of the Moon
and the Street of the Birdcage-Makers,
the Street of Silence and the Street
of the Little Pissing. We can give you
wisdom, they say in their rich voices.
Let me go at last to Hugette, I say,
the Algerian student with her huge eyes
who timidly invited me to her room
when I was too young and bewildered
that first year in Paris.
Let me at least fail at my life.
Think, they say patiently, we could
make you famous again. Let me fall
in love one last time, I beg them.
Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present. Help me to find
the heft of these days. That the nights
will be full enough and my heart feral.

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
Get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

For the difficult ones.

“for women who are ‘difficult’ to love” by Warsan Shire

you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
prettier
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.

may my heart always be open

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

 

e.e. cummings

The Time Around Scars

The Time Around Scars
Michael Ondaatje

A girl whom I’ve not spoken to
or shared coffee with for several years
writes of an old scar.
On her wrist it sleeps, smooth and white,
the size of a leech.
I gave it to her
brandishing a new Italian penknife.
Look, I said turning,
and blood spat onto her shirt.

My wife has scars like spread raindrops
on knees and ankles,
she talks of broken greenhouse panes
and yet, apart from imagining red feet,
(a nymph out of Chagall)
I bring little to that scene.
We remember the time around scars,
they freeze irrelevant emotions
and divide us from present friends.
I remember this girl’s face,
the widening rise of surprise.

And would she
moving with lover or husband
conceal or flaunt it,
or keep it at her wrist
a mysterious watch.
And this scar I then remember
is a medallion of no emotion.

I would meet you now
and I would wish this scar
to have been given with
all the love
that never occurred between us.

What can I hold you with?

What can I hold you with?
I offer you lean streets, desperate sunsets, the
moon of the jagged suburbs.
I offer you the bitterness of a man who has looked
long and long at the lonely moon.
I offer you my ancestors, my dead men, the ghosts
that living men have honoured in bronze:
my father’s father killed in the frontier of
Buenos Aires, two bullets through his lungs,
bearded and dead, wrapped by his soldiers in
the hide of a cow; my mother’s grandfather
—just twentyfour— heading a charge of
three hundred men in Peru, now ghosts on
vanished horses.
I offer you whatever insight my books may hold,
whatever manliness or humour my life.
I offer you the loyalty of a man who has never
been loyal.
I offer you that kernel of myself that I have saved,
somehow —the central heart that deals not
in words, traffics not with dreams, and is
untouched by time, by joy, by adversities.
I offer you the memory of a yellow rose seen at
sunset, years before you were born.
I offer you explanations of yourself, theories about
yourself, authentic and surprising news of
yourself.
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

RIP Wislawa Szymborska

I love the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska because her words are direct and earthly—as if she shoots straight into the core of one’s emotions, one’s being. Known as the Mozart of Poetry, the woman had been a genius in understatements, yet saying it as it is—sans the fluff.

She may have passed away at age 88, but her words will live on. Let me share two of my favorite Wislawa Szymborska poems.

 

The Joy of Writing

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

 

True Love

True love. Is it normal

is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions but convinced
it had to happen this way – in reward for what?
For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn’t this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn’t it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple.
Couldn’t they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends’ sake?
Listen to them laughing – its an insult.
The language they use – deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines –
it’s obviously a plot behind the human race’s back!

It’s hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? What renounced?
Who’d want to stay within bounds?

True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life’s highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn’t populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there’s no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.