Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Poem: Redwood Spines

You ask me, dear student, why I'm making you read aloud
why just writing isn't enough.
You tell me you're tired angry frustrated narcoleptic
downright pissy with a middle-finger sized chip on your
shoulder so why can't I leave you the hell alone.

Listen up, because this is bigger than the now

Look at the paper on the desk in front of you
look at the stack of papers on my desk
A tree had to die for them to exist
and you know where that tree went?
your spine, you've got a mighty redwood tall and glorious
for a backbone you just don't know it quite yet
My job is to help you find it.

It's okay if it hurts for a while. New spines usually do.

Secret #1: You're gonna need that spine for what I'm
about to ask of you.

That tree we killed left a column of air unsupported,
and that column's job is to hold up the stratosphere
keep it from sinking in
We've already got a hole in the ozone layer
don't need the atmosphere to drop down
and smother us anymore than it already has

You gotta be strong enough to keep the stratosphere up
It's the only way your ideas can take flight

Secret #2: There's an atom bomb in your voice-box
and the timer's ticking it's been ticking since the day
I met you, dear student.

Let it explode.

You've got your redwood spine it'll keep you upright
now let that voice box explode I'm talkin' about volume
I'm talkin' mushroom clouds so thick they block out the sun
I'm talkin' 9.7 on the Richter scale measured halfway around the world
I'm talkin' tsunamis as tall as the redwoods
but you're taller your roots run deep your spine is strong

You are an earth-shaker mountain-maker so powerful
that when you destroy something you make it more beautiful

And when I photocopy every page you've written a thousand million times
and build a life-sized paper-mache working replica of the universe
I want you to open your mouth and
smash it into a million pieces light so bright
I go blind 'cause looking at the crater you leave
is like looking at the face of god,

and then you shove a stick of dynamite in each of my ears
and push the plunger, telling me "In case you didn't hear,
this is what it's supposed to sound like."

It's okay if I go deaf. I already know sign language.

Secret #3: Your words are powerful, like redwood spine powerful
like mountain-moving powerful

I want each page to be like a bottle-rocket library
all fired at my eardrums as soon as you whisper
'cause we don't write five-paragraph essays here
we write 5-part controlled demolitions

And after you've whispered, I want you to stand up
tall and straight with your redwood spine, and from your
atom-bomb voicebox I want you to dare me, just dare me
to knock that middle-finger sized chip off your shoulder

and when I do, dear student,
I want your words to grab me by the throat
and sucker punch me in the kidneys
again and again and again and again
until you've shared with me your ideas in full
and I understand: glorious, violent comprehension

Finding your redwood spines and atom-bomb voice-boxes is worth it.

It's okay if I piss blood for a week - this is bigger than the now.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Poem: Come in From the Rain

I'm at the coffee shop grading papers
when you sit down next to me
"just for a minute while you wait for someone", you say
with a smile and I can see by your clothes that it's raining outside
raining cats and dogs
and as you brush a strand of hair out of your eyes
I get lost in them, eyes black like outer space
and I can see the stars so many stars infinite stars in infinite space
and other worlds and the sun
and I can see all the possibilities
and I can see you and I become "us"
and all I want is to be a satellite
orbiting the moons of your irises
watchin' the comets of the raindrops
down your cheek go by
and I want you to leave with me now
and it's then that I realize that I'm staring
and its creepy
and I need to stop

but my dream engine is running,
a-put-a-put-a-pitta-pitta and those dreams
come out in little puffs of technicolour exhaust
and tonight, baby, I'm dreaming in colour

And every time I look at you
wet cuffs and hair that keeps
dripping down into your eyes
I feel electric, girl-who-walks-through-the-rain
and my dream engine is revving
and my dreams are comin' out
in big technicolour clouds so thick
we could just hop on and let them carry us

to somewhere where it rains every goddamn glorious day
and we'd walk without umbrellas through
the rain without caring about lightning
'cause darling, things couldn't get any more electric
Hell, we could go to the moon on clouds this thick

And you're outta this world
I'm sorry for the shitty metaphors, but I hear
they're a part of falling in love, babe,
and I'll never stop makin' 'em for you
I'll be a fountain of metaphors for you

I don't know you yet, girl-who-walks-through-the-rain
but I will, darlin', I will, and when I do,
my metaphors will be florid and sanguine

sanguine becase 'cause I feel that electricity
deep in my blood
arcing from blood cell to blood cell and
turning my heart into a great big tesla coil
shooting bolts of pure electricity
straight outta my chest and into
each and every single one of you
because today, I love each and every single one of you

The problem though, girl-who-walks-through-the-rain,
is that you're getting up and leaving
with the gentleman at the door
who greets you with a wet hug and an even wetter kiss
and you're skipping back out into the rain
and out of my life
stars receding and I'm standing here punch drunk star-struck

And now it's just me and that wet spot
on the chair next to me and my dream engine
is still running, a-put-a-put-a-pitta-pitta
and darlin', all that electricity left with you

But my dream engine is still going
and I'm gonna ride it to the top of the
highest mountain I can find.
Where the sky is huge and black
and stars are infinite and I can see the satellites going by
even if that satellite isn't me

And if you ever decide to come back in out of the rain
you'll find me up there.
I'm not a mountaintop guru. I don't have any wisdom
All I have to offer is me and my dream engine.
I'll be the one waving a metal pole around
every dry and stormy afternoon
tryin' to recapture just a bit of that electricity
Tryin' to feel you again.

Poem: In the Mother Teresa Hallway

In the Mother Teresa Hall
I see 2nd hour Mathilda bumps into 6th hour Paul
She is not looking where she is going
she is texting surreptitiously
doesn't she know that this hallway
is practically a church and
therefore not the place
for this type of thing
doesn't she know
that she should watch
where she is going
doesn't she know that
even though we're in a public school this
is the Mother Teresa Hallways
and therefore an almost-sacred place?

I know that Paul has a pass he's on his way
to the library but he gets distracted
by Mother Teresa every time
stands in veneration
feels like he should say his rosaries
or a Hail Mary
or the Apostle's Creed
but right now he's standing in
adoration adulation veneration
of Mathilda and feels like he should say something

Hail Mary full of grace hi I'm paul
we have math together with Mrs. White
and would you like to grab some dinner tonight
with me or maybe lunch tomorrow or we could even
sneak into the teachers' lounge right now while Ms. Roberts
takes her nap
Hail Mary Full of Life please say yes
please smile please know that I'm alive
please know that I exist

please don't walk away.

But when it comes out, Paul sounds like "Oops. Sorry."

And Mathilda doesn't know that she's supposed to stop
supposed to say hi
supposed to put the phone away
until Paul gives her his number
she keeps walking
she doesn't know that she should join him
in adoration veneration

and I can see Paul's words sitting
right behind his apology lurking waiting hoping to be freed

I'm a teacher, see, and I've got eyes on the front of my head
and the back of my head and on my left and right cheeks
but all the hindsight in the world ain't gonna help
with what's right in front of me

I know english and literature
I can deconstruct anything
I can high-five with the best of 'em and
I can grammarize like a fiend

but nothing I can do will help 6th-hour Paul
Who is right in front of me
while 3rd hour Mathilda just walks away
I could take her phone, she's not supposed to have it in school
but that won't solve anything

I can teach Paul stories about love, and about the heart's longing
I can give him Cyrano de Bergerac and Shakespeare and Austen
and Hemingway
but they're not advice manuals, they're equipment for living
and I'm the idiot manning the story-rental-shack.

Paul will probably eat lunch in my room today
like he does most days.
and when he talks, I'm going to see if I can listen to what
he's trying to say, not just what he says out loud
And Hail Mary full of hope, I hope it helps.

Poem: Gravity (2)

I'm at the family reunion, it's the middle of the afternoon
And five year old cousin Harley-Named-For-A-Motorcycle
is in the sandbox again, digging a hole to China, according to my great-aunt.

My uncle wipes the sweat off his forehead.
“She hasn't been the same since her brother got run over,”
Midwestern understatement dripping off his words
My great-aunt nods, that nod reserved only for funerals of children
and birthday parties of people you don't know

and I leave before she can ask me how I've been doing since my mother died.
In the midwest, people only talk about things they know,
and the only things these relatives have in common are death and the weather
We covered June through August during lunch time
before the apologetic July sun got too high
beating down sayin' I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry
but you need me to live please forgive me I'm sorry

I crouch down next to Harley so that we're almost the same height
and I can pretend that we're equals for just a moment,
but she's waist-deep in the middle of the sandy pit she's been working on since lunch-time.
tiny grains all around cascading back in,
almost but not quite filling in the space around her

“What are you digging for?” I ask her.
“Gravity,” she says, “I'm digging for gravity."

And cousin-Harley-Named-For-A-Motorcycle doesn't stop
She keeps going until she hits the dark rich hard clay
that makes her plastic shovel bend but not break
and she doesn't press any further
'cause the shovel's the only path she has to finding
the force that keeps us down
the force that keeps the earth and the moon and us
from getting flung out into the vast nothingness
the force that kept her brother pinned beneath that station wagon
so that he couldn't ever float away
and now becomes the same dirt
that she digs through

But see, the whole world is a cemetery
and we're walking on the graves
and it's beautiful because
every tree, every blade of grass is a tombstone that reads
“Here lives something that lived” and every time we walk barefoot
we walk on top of that dark rich history, the kind that gets underneath your
fingernails and coats the soles of your feet, except I stopped believing in souls
about the same time I realized I never really believed in God

But if God exists he's down there in the white hot core
where all the history melts and blends together until you can't tell it apart
sad and angry and so dense that we can't escape its pull without rockets
and he forces his way up in volcanic divine intervention
full of Sulfur and iron and life and love
and every eruption is like a little piece of the sun
I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry but I can't bear to not see you I'm sorry
Please don't run away I'm not trying to hurt you I just want to see you
please don't leave me alone

And I find myself in the only hardware store in Spearfish, South Dakota
in the checkout line with a shovel in hand
'cause it isn't right for Harley to have to dig by herself
I'd buy her a backhoe but this is something we have to do by hand

and I plunge my shovel into the dark rich hard clay
and I break the firmament
and I have blisters on my hand blisters hot like the sun is hot
but I'm not sorry not sorry in the least and I won't apologize
for me or for Cousin Harley for not being able to resist the pull

they say that no one survives looking at the face of god
but I intend to find god, if he's there, and I'll find gravity, too
it apologizing I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry please don't leave me
all I want to do is forgive it and teach it what I'm learning
every day it's okay to be you it's okay to be me
it's just the way we are and I want it to say
I want to see you and I'm not sorry anymore can we talk for a bit
and we float up and I talk with the sun and it flings me off and out
into the vast infinite nothingness smiling the whole way
and I don't need a shovel anymore
because I've found gravity and so has Harley and it doesn't hide anymore
smiling and apologizing, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I never meant to hurt you

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