Short-haired dogs don’t like the cold;
twiggy legs shake and shiver.
Put a fleece coat on that fellow.
He won’t ask for it; you should
just know he needs it.
Short-haired dogs don’t like the cold;
Determined to scrub the film
from my skin, remove the unclean
stick of it, I impose detergent and might
against this shield that in fact keeps me clean.
Its very nature, viscous and stubborn, presupposes
that I’ll attempt to undo it.
I inhabit a wise design
that in the end always outsmarts me.
Bare-skinned and squeaky clean for
mere moments before the film slides
back over, like a mother’s infinite reach,
though I continually refuse the anointing.
Vintner, physician of the ferment,
undertaker of the vine, perverts
nature in reviving the grape gone
widdershins of ordinary decay.
A fruit zombie, raised up
from the oaken grave
to toast life.
Writers know the best tool for objective critique of work they are attached to is time. A few weeks, months, sometimes even years have to go by before I can look at a piece and say, “this passage doesn’t work,” so I cut away, and it’s painless.
There are poems I’ve loved and thought would always stand up to that scrutiny, but when finally seen though a matured, seasoned eye, make me cringe. Some pieces transform easily into well-crafted, sophisticated poems with a little pruning and tweaking.
And others, I just don’t want to touch.
I’m inclined to lump all my older stuff together as “bad, immature, pretentious,” but I come across poems I feel are strong, for the time in which they were written. I may be encountering works I’m not able to improve simply because I’m just not that skilled a poet. A writer with a keener eye may see where to delete a redundant word or improve a clunky phrase, and may deftly execute those revisions. I’m just not there.
I wonder though, if it is the destiny of some poems, or certain artistic creations of any medium, to remain forever imperfect, and not just slightly off the mark, but really outright bad. I wonder now if I just have to let a bad poem be a bad poem, because that is its purpose.
I, in fact am the personification, the human embodiment of this idea.
Try as I might, and I do make meager attempts at perfection and excellence, I’m thwarted in these endeavors repeatedly. Some people shine, excel, triumph. I’m just happy if I don’t tip over.
I’m flawed, imperfect, a practiced underachiever. But there is some relief in accepting this. I feel peace in surrendering to this very low bar.
So when I come across a poem that doesn’t measure up, but I have no idea how to fix it, I bless the work with the understanding that it’s fulfilled its mission as bad poem, making a mental note to put it in the burn pile before I die.
And sometimes, all I have to do is change the title.
Here Kitty, Kitty
you pray, clanging
spoon against tin.
She pads to you, a silent gallop.
You adore her, this velvet killer
because you’ve no idea what it is
to be in her sights, a pulsing
target caught in her
yellow demon glower.
She’ll out stare you, and unnerve
you, dropping some vanquished
rodent at your feet. Not a gift, dear.
But like God to Cain, it’s a reminder
of her preference, so you don’t
forget what she is.
The name you gave her:
It’s the bell around your neck
Thank you to Rob and Michelle at The Poet’s Billow for the good news. Now I’m on to the next goal!
Mom and Dad preserved the writings in an envelope, the paper now softened
nearly to cloth over some 40 years: my first poems. I touched them, admired the early
attention to penmanship, embellished with childish drawings at the bottom.
I pressed them close to my face, smelled my home and that year of being eight and nine.
I resurrected my parents’ pride and held the paper close to my face whispering into its fibers,
“I’ve been nominated.”
Thanks to Cubby, I’ve been inspired to try new things with poetry. Well, not exactly new things, but I’m moved to
revisit the metered poem, and to try structured pieces, like villanelles, sestinas and their friends.
I’m not a big fan of form (as it relates to poetry), but I respect the creativity and care required to execute a well-written piece that regards form. You probably won’t see any pantoums or sonnets here anytime soon, but I’m enjoying working with blank verse again (metered & unrhymed).
The specimen below is something between an exercise and a real poem. Sometimes posting these things here lights a fire under my ass and my editing eye sharpens drastically. It might improve, or it may never change. But even as it is, you could almost dance to it.
A poem is a spell, sorcery
a musical incantation,
trills and grace notes and metaphors
a conjuring of the god songs.
A selfish thing and a giving thing
depending on the receiver,
a common rhyme or arcanum
for the open mind to savor.
Octaves, tercets, and algebra,
the heart it drums in eights and fours,
waltzing words and arias soaring,
diving signs and wonders.