Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quasimodo Go-Go


The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Walks among these words
A parabola of despair
Languishes in Euclid, warm
And tense like a truth
Or bar of soap. And here I am
Humming a song of thread
To get it out of my head
I like to hang from a limb
Like an apple and rub
The dribble of juice
From my chin. Properties
Of meaning are tangible
To the mind that hatches
Out of an egg of thought
Think of it, think of an egg
And feel it as I do, round
And white and smooth
In the hand. Detail
Your life in the greenhouse
Tell me what your eyes see
On the inside of your head
Life is often sticky that way
This is why I smell like an erection
Of syntax, a fistful of consonants
And vowels walking in the bones
Of a hunchback. Swinging
Back and forth on a giant bell
Howling my love to the angels

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Moody Vapor


Vagueness becomes a motion
And fulfills my show as an artist
Beneath a river. Spirits in a bottle
A nude woman squeezing a sponge
Like the careful thread of a wobbly
     personality
Is easily exasperated by color and
Dreams tossed at punches sympathetically
In burlesque. The magician is troubled
The impersonal coils into introversion
The Chowder River brings sorrow
To walk with giants. The oysters
Live on a farm. My face emerges in a
Correspondence with Henry Miller
Dear Henry I admire your tenacity
Now look at my face and tell me
About French fries. We whirl
Through exhibitions of metamorphism
Don’t we? And then the spoons chatter
With ghosts. The unfolding of ourselves
Is intriguing. Maturity crumbles like lingcod
Deep-fried in beer batter. The denizens
     of Deadwood
In a milieu of explosive dialogue. Please
Somebody help me. What is this life
The first thing that comes to mind 
Is the sun shining down on a lake
There may be some use in having a picnic
But because it is cool in the Abalone Lounge
We might also consider Kurt Cobain
Playing his guitar in a kitchen cupboard
We all like to jump into the light
When the smell of the lumber is fresh
Pain is sometimes sexual, but is that why
The English Romantics were so fond
Of frilly cuffs and collars? When the skin
Breaks blood appears. That is all I know
And silt at the bottom of a pond

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Teeming with Earrings


The afternoon lifted itself into my eyes
As the cannon thundered frogs and whales
Perception is a process involving prepositions
I’m invisible except when I twinkle
At a joke. The big blue bottle
Is excused and the crackle is flipped
Skulk the scribbles O my pretzel
A warrior yells in battle. Unless
Transacted by cantilever. There is a
Brain that enhances hope. Sometimes
A plant and a cloud will percolate
In the Louvre during an attempt
To understand life, mobility, will  
Alchemy triggers the unconscious 
There is a riddle for this and a stove
For making things boil. Attend to the clutch
Crawl through your secrets angling
     for redemption
When the painter’s canvas mouths its picture
Consciousness becomes a construction
Lightning insinuates itself into the head
While I break from the chrysalis and flap
Out of this sentence to get a better view of things
Here comes a pair of experiences
One of which is imaginary and the other
Is stored under pressure in a portable tank
Imagine it’s snowing In Belgium and sitting
     down to a bowl of string
Beans. The cutlery is consummate. The paragraph
     is hugged
By its own words. The stepladder is heavy
Because it, too, is made of words, and each word
Rides a phoneme into a set of dumbbells
This is how some of us wander through our lives
Dragging the past behind us. Tears
Fit the eager sorrow and a dream of earth
Rolls wide-eyed into Bohemia teeming with earrings

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Jingled Percolation


My desk flirts with description
It expresses itself as a desk
Doesn’t vary in any way from being
A desk. It’s a desk, simple and plain
But I sense something going on
In my perception of the desk
Something imperfect in my expectation
Of the desk. I need the desk
To write on, to store things, old letters
Legal documents, tape, paper clips, ribbon
If the desk were a horse the desk
Would be a horse. How is it that I slip
So easily into the subjunctive? Can’t I
Accept the desk as a desk? Must I create
Metaphors for the desk to make it
A better desk? A metaphor doesn’t improve
A thing or change a thing it gives it potential
The power to break against the rocks
Of the imagination and personify prayer
Awakened syllables feel alive and blaze
Into idea with shapes and insistence
Consider this afternoon, its apples and
     apparitions
Falling out of your head. Here I am
Painting a window and attracting a crowd
The potato is behaving badly
And I’m humming a song of thread
To go with the things in my head
Meaning seeps through the words
And it’s irritating when all I get
Is whipped cream and spit. Pronouns
Hang like kelp from my brain
Fondling the heart and sparkling
Give the rags a chance. Add
Consonants and stir. The world
Is a ball of rock and aberration
Baked in jingled percolation

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Price of Success


What is success? Wrinkling and buying
Reading palms and predicting ice
I have to think about emotion
As a form of dilation. I want to know more
About yearning and interpretation
Penetrating anything is sensational
And round. The insects scatter
In a saga of unfocussed rage. Hunger
Burns to inspire a pharmaceutical
That conveys vividness and intestines
On a pretty migration to Siberia
I learn by what the plywood rubs
And crawl wherever there is warmth
To be had and death sparkles
Like a chandelier in Louisiana
Baking has a sexual component
Stitched at midnight. These events
Emerge from the steam of a long
Incubation. The mountains cough
And play becomes increasingly hermetic
But if we don’t rob the bank the bank
Will rob us. We must find other means
To stimulate art. Everything, it seems,
Is a paradigm. I blame the string
For its extraordinary presence
My reactions to Renoir keep changing
Into light and dark and Bob Dylan
On a horse. The word ‘wave’ is so divine
I hesitate to use it, but there it is, wave
Feeding wave after wave in succession
Until it all flops down on the sand
Here I am in a bathing suit
Waving to you, throwing an idea at you
Of sand and sky and malleability
In the spirit of English romanticism
Reacting to a tuft of hair

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Incognito in Tin


I wake to a shiver and sweat and authorize
Getting out of bed. I find wisdom
In feet, intestines and desire and feel
The need to say something about
The innocence of occurrence and how it
Occurs like a piece of soap, a slippery bar
Of blue sky leaning across Nebraska. We
Curve into this life as happy contrarieties 
Today I’m wearing a fabulous unseemliness
That zips up with a single swift motion
Or zips down if I want to get out into the world
Naked as a chopstick. I fill with the forms
Of life and experiment with words, swerving
Them into the slop of a sentence where
The emotions smell of rain and the asphalt
Of the heart arrives beating away in a body
Hanging upside-down in the darkness
At the break of noon shadows the silver
Spoon and I distill the gloom of the room
Whispering words like ginger and chronicle
Writing is always like this. It starts as a walk
In a house of language and ends by exploding
Into 50 bucks and a labor pain. Today I have forged
The conscience of a piano which only yesterday
Was wood and ivory and dripped abstraction
And now it sits a diagnosis of clouds
Which is the kind of music that occurs
In the sky when the wind becomes a glissando
Wiggling its fingers in the human mind
Do you feel it? I feel the percolation
Of lightning and my cuticles love it
I have a heavy fire to pack
I’m churning inside to thank you
For making me your guide
To the end of this sentence which is
Headed toward Omaha on Interstate 80

 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Life in the Qi Lane


A Day Like Today, poetry by Barbara Henning
Negative Capability Press, 2015 

I felt completely at home in this book. Not all books are like that. Not all books provide a haven for the mind, a quiet place of reflection that at once feels warm and candid while maintaining a large, wide-ranging perspective of life. I don’t want to feel hugged by a book, but I do like to feel unguarded and easy, free to wander at will and allow myself the luxury of divagation, aided by the pulse of words in a fluent meander.
The poems in this collection are short, none longer than a single page, presented in neat columns whose line breaks have a pleasantly arbitrary looseness, as if they could be swept up and put into prose. But they’re not. Their construction has a subtle importance: they focus the attention lightly, gracefully, so that non-sequiturs emerge almost imperceptibly. One will be reading about an African man practicing postures preparatory to yoga meditation and then suddenly find oneself reading about “the famous feathered /  dinosaur archaeopteryx” which “seems to have had a penchant /  for fossilizing in painful / positions.” This may not be a good example of the kind of abrupt non-sequiturs lying in wait throughout this collection, but it does serve to illustrate how wide-ranging Henning’s musings can be. First the image of a man with dreadlocks flexing and opening his body to supple exercise followed by the scientific image of an ancient bird in angular disaster. The contrast is sharp yet innocent of contrivance. It seems natural, and invites the mind to further delights of contrast and comparison.
Henning describes her process in a poem titled “Family Economics.” She refers to the poet Edward Dahlberg whose “philo-analytic” mind segues easily into “the mind of his mother, / Lizzy, a lady barber / in Kansas City.” She compares Dahlberg’s fluidity of mind to a “jazz jam session, whatever / here and there, wherever / the mind goes the mind / goes, a lettuce factory / in California where robots / pack boxes beside human / workers.” The latter image seems to be the very opposite of what Henning is talking about, which largely seems to be the point of its surprise. The supple drift of a mind in reverie focused, abruptly, on a line of workers, human and robot, the horrific counterpart of reverie, is deftly apropos. Of course, were I one of those unhappy workers, you can be sure I’d be deep in daydreaming.
Henning’s poems are richly detailed, particularly with domestic items and circumstances, which make a wonderful contrast to the newspaper headlines, computers and iPads and modern technology, and whatever else phenomena happens to be out there in the cosmos which she laces in and out, intertwines, as it were, with the events in her immediate vicinity, however seemingly mundane. Nothing is left out. Nothing even seems to be favored over another but coolly, fluently, flowing through the poem-as-gestalt-mediumistic-cosmic-yoga-machine.
A resident of New York City, the imagery of Henning’s neighborhood is largely urban, traffic whooshing by her window or riding on the subway while nursing a bad cough. It is within her musings and walks within the city that we discover whatever else may be occurring in the world, be it the skin of a fresh pea, rain drops hitting the pavement, arthritic hands of an aging friend and poet, trillions of snowflakes swirling with the wind, or the tentacles of a solar-powered cell-phone charger charging up. Here, for example, is “The Way of Qi:”
Sitting on a bench behind
the Krishna tree, we talk
about how trees know how
to grow in particular directions
so to maintain balance. Three
young men and a woman play
their guitars and a trumpet.
One of them starts singing:
I keep hanging on. We search
on our cells for the songwriter.
Simply Red  -  once a young man
and ten albums later a middle-
aged guy. Under the Krishna
tree my cell rings. A friend has
cirrhosis and hepatitis and
didn’t know it. Follow your
spine with your breath, from
your tailbone to the occipital
ridge of your scull. A spacecraft
is currently speeding toward
a close encounter with Pluto,
and Dr. Stern warns, Get used to
planets unlike Earth ruling.
While writing this poem, I’m
under a cotton sheet with tiny
blue flowers and green polka dots
and the guys upstairs are softly
opening their bed. The cars rev up
mid block and then rush past us. 

It wasn’t until I typed this poem up that I noticed ‘skull’ was spelled ‘scull.’ Is that intentional, a pun on ‘skull’  (the skull as a scull, a small light racing boat) or a typo. Either way, I like it.

I had to look up the word ‘qi’ on Wikipedia. Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

In traditional Chinese culture, qi (more precisely , also chi, ch’i, or ki) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as “natural energy,” “life force,” or “energy flow.” Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. The literal translation of “qi” is “breath,” “air,” or “gas.” Concepts similar to qi can be found in many cultures, for example, prana in the Hindu religion, pneuma in ancient Greece, mana in Hawaiian culture, lüng in Tibetan Buddhism, ruah in Hebrew culture, and vital energy in Western philosophy… Elements of the qi concept can also be found in Western popular culture, for example “The Force” in Star Wars. Notions in the West of energeia, élan vital, or “vitalism” are purported to be similar. The etymological explanation for the form of the qi logogram (or chi) in the traditional form is “steam rising from rice as it cooks.” The earliest way of writing qi consisted of three wavy lines, used to represent one’s breath seen on a cold day.
And who is Dr. Stern? It sounds like somebody from a Bob Dylan song. Dr. Stern, it appears, is S. Alan Stern, an American planetary scientist and principal investigator of the New Horizon mission to Pluto and the Chief Scientist at Moon Express.
Henning is right about Simply Red (actually the name of the popular 80s English band, whose lead singer was red-headed Mick Hucknall). Mick Hucknall is now 54 years old. He’s still got his red hair, which he keeps long and wavy, but his face has all the sags and wrinkles that come with that age. I was pleasantly surprised to discover him on the Amnesty International compilation of Dylan covers on which Hucknall sings “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” which originally appeared on Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.
I also like the way Henning plays “Krishna tree” off the usual seasonal “Christmas Tree.”
A Day Like Today is divided into five sections. All four seasons are represented as Henning travels through the year. Winter has two sections. The collection begins with winter and ends with winter.
In “Up Early Peddling,” the first poem of the book, we find Henning “peddling against / the wind, swerving around / trucks and cars unloading / beer and children.” That image serves metaphorically to register the tenor of the collection, the quick aberrations, the day-to-day struggles, the spontaneity and funny synchronicities of any given day.