Errata Literary Magazine
Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Poetry Page
edited by Kurt Krumpholz
This is the first installment of what I hope will be a regular feature in Errata. A small corner dedicated to celebrating the poet inside us all.
It has long seemed odd to me that poets aren't accorded the same mainstream recognition that fiction writers are. While no one can deny the audience for poetry, in modern America, is comparatively small, it can be argued, that poetry, in the company of baseball and jazz, is one this country's greatest legacies. Yet, despite its apparent second-class status in our culture today, America is rich with poetic tradition. To whit, the words of Whitman, Frost, Eliot, Pound, Moore, cummings, Bishop, Lowell, Roethke, Kunitz, Levertov, Plath, and Sexton (to scratch but the surface) are forever lodged and preserved in our national consciousness.
But the heritage of American poetry does not remain entombed in the libraries of our universities. It is a diverse and abundant art form that continues to punctuate our lives. Contemporary American poetry is as varied and alive as it ever was. And for a great many, poets remain our heroes. Why? Because poetry seems to have a lyric identity that is more direct, confessional, authentic, innovative, challenging and transcendental than any other form of writing. There is an inner urgency that best finds its voice in poetry. It remains a place where boundaries don't exist, where the self can express itself honestly, and, in so doing, hint at the ghost of experience. As Emerson said, writing of Whitman, "Poets are thus liberating gods--They are free and they make us free."
Perhaps, this, the Internet, is the next great horizon for (a rebirth in) American poetry. Judging by the quality and variety of poetry available, today, it could be argued that contemporary American poetry is even more vital than contemporary American fiction. The variety and intensity of the American poetry scene is, in fact, astounding. The examples below, are testimony to this fact. They are drawn from samples submitted by members of our workshop as well as a new voice from the larger community.
While poetry has always sought to help us make sense of the past, the poet's challenge is to accurately convey the significance of memories without allowing emotional ties to draw her into the spotlight instead.
Mary Jane Aklonis
You've caught the old farmhouse
in a play of grays you've deftly etched into memory.
Bands of inked lines trace shuttered windows
behind which old aunts sat on needlepoint chairs
whispering Hail Marys on beads of dark wood.
On holidays scents of basil and sage permeated
the kitchen's green walls suffusing the room
in an aura of country. Plates stamped with pink
village scenes were stacked high in the porcelain
sink after dozens of cousins had gathered
for funerals, for birthdays, for the coming
of old age. You ask what I miss the most-
not the mounds of meringue dyed green
for Christmas, nor the draft of cold air
you always felt around your feet. I think
of Aunt Peg who'd cup my face in her hands
as I walked through the back door, kiss me
with a smack and a cigarette wheeze so loud
I'd bow my child's head in the wake
of so much smoke and affection.
Each of our lives is filled with epiphanies that allow us a privileged glimpse into the hidden, or more essential, reality of the human experience.
The Difference Between Us
It was summer
the night we sat up in Berndt's room
when I was seventeen
and he was sixteen
and we smoked German cigarettes
beneath the open skylight
on the third floor with the garret walls
watching in silence as the smoke trailed up
and out into the blackness.
The stars blinked between clouds
that raced across that patch of sky
above us in the ceiling
and Berndt switched on the radio
and we listened to Casey Kasem
counting down the hits
on American Forces Network
his voice fading in and out of static
and it felt like we were getting away with something,
like staying up late for the first time felt.
And I remember the way he looked shadowed
in that harsh yellow light of his bedside lamp
like something that wasn't meant to be,
and how calm I felt in that room
so high up and far from home
smoking cigarettes and listening to music
that made me think of things so strange,
a blow torch cutting through steel
or a siren bleeding the late night air
or the rain-streaked glass of a hotel room
in some city far away.
We talked about girls
and Berndt rolled another cigarette
and I looked at the posters of big-breasted women
draped across Harleys tacked to the sloping walls
and he asked me for a light and I stumbled
and dropped it on the floor and he punched my arm
and we started wrestling on his bed
and if his mother hadn't come up and knocked on the door
I wonder how different our lives
might have turned out to be.
When I left and walked home beneath the street lights
a dog barked and the fetid smell of the chicken farms
rolled in on the shifting breeze from the edge of town
and I knew that it would rain the next day
and that handball practice would be called
and I wouldn't see Berndt for a couple of days.
Then lying in bed I remembered
how at a tournament earlier that summer
I'd needed a player passport,
because they wouldn't let you play without one
and that since all the pictures were taken
when the players were just little kids
they gave me Berndt's to use
because at eight
you couldn't tell
the difference between us.
I can think of no greater tribute than one that pays homage to the estate of poetry.
Poetry's house has rooms for everyone.
Full fathoms five go down its foundations,
Down, down through basement, and sub-basement,
And sub-sub basement,
And on and on as far as you care to count.
And its roof? Half as high as the moon, at least.
Who knows for sure?
Up higher than the birds, of course,
Up beyond eyesight,
Intersecting the angels' Earth Bypass Highway,
Way past blue, way, way into black,
High enough to make Babel Tower itself
Look like a doll thimble some little girl forgot.
The solar winds rattle its windows.
And how wide?
The palace of Catharine the Great,
And Versailles, and The Pyramids (both Egyptian and messo-American),
And the Forbidden City, And the Crystal Cathedral, and the Astrodome,
And the Sambadrome, and every building in Mexico City
Welded all together,
Are a cottage, a shack, an outhouse, a dog house
Compared to Poetry's House.
If you don't believe me,
Come see for yourself.
Walk along any hallway
(The way inside is always open),
And try some of the doors.
There are tiny, bitsy rooms
For tiny, bitsy minds;
And rooms so great and glorious
Only saints and children are allowed.
Slimy, slithery, slinky rooms,
Oily and serpenty,
With green whispers and
Flickering amber eyes
And sweet yellow poisons
You want and don't want all at the same time.
Bright and resolute rooms,
Where you keep on, keep on marching along,
With head held high and singing a song;
We'll carry on, folks,
Fifty miles a day,
Through wind and rain and snow, folks,
And dynamite and pirates and quicksand,
And hurricanes and plate tectonics and exploding asteroids,
For God and Country and The Cause,
And The Flag, of course, The Flag.
There are doorways purple-misted
That fairly reek with sin.
Blue-fumed opium and languorous lilies,
Sweet-covered whispers, their bitterness practically undetectable,
The head down with eyes raised to look at you,
The hair a river on one side.
There are doors that will not let you in.
There are doors that will not let you out,
Inside, the mirrors and voices somehow familiar and somehow strange
And music and sparkling darkness
Send you treading mazy ways,
The walls change and rearrange,
And you find you are not
Where you are.
And, oh, here's a room full of laces and ribbons,
Of roses and violets and hollyhocks and bluebells,
And butterflies, robins and peacocks and cherubs,
More laces and ribbons,
And roses and violets and periwinkles, sweet periwinkles,
And doves carrying laces and ribbons, and bluebirds with lilacs,
And sweet elfin dancers, more ribbons and roses,
And doilies and dewdrops, and snowdrops, and pansies
And sweet lovely maidens in laces who dance
Round the maypoles with ribbons and flowers,
And if you don't stop it, it goes on for hours
And hours and hours.
Then there's the low-down, dirty-dog, rainy Monday
Memphis Carolina New Orleens got it bad room.
Yella dog, railroad shack, hooie a hooie don't wanna go back,
Gotta go back, never, forever, bar room, rickety porch,
Dry-eyed, evil ways, red-kimono, cigarette, whiskey-smelling,
Big-city, pianna-playin, sleepless night, back again,
Small-waisted big shouldered man, evil woman, long fingernails,
Back street, evenin sun, slide guitar, Stetson Hat, lonesome whistle blow blues.
If you open some doors, you will come upon rhyme.
In some, its ingenious, in others, a crime.
And then there are rooms of odd shapes and sizes.The layout
Know it's bEcAuSE
other. If you know what it is,
Verses that refuse to rhyme
May jump at you at any old place.
When you open such a door,
You'll find two or three or five.
And then there's nothing you can do
But persevere and see it in a different light.
Some rooms are old, so old,
Their floors are rocks made when Earth's skin was just cooled,
Their walls of wood extinct before there were any eyes to see it.
Before Gilgamesh they were built,
Before Adam wrote his first love song to Eve.
Old as the morning stars singing together;
Old as the wind in the reeds.
Some rooms are so new they lack ceilings or walls,
Just skeleton framework and plenty of noise and dust.
And there are rooms devoted to love.
Love lurks everywhere, in all varieties.
High as an angel's aspirations. Low as a cockroach belly.
Pure as the driven snow used to be.
Poison as a chemical company. BR> Silly.
Ah, speak to me in verse Spenserian,Rough strife or joy sublime,
Or, at the very least, Shakesperian.
The greatest love for you I'm carryin'
Although the burden's gettin' wearyin.'
Ecstasy or waste of time.
Love religious, love semi-religious.
Love historical, love fearful, love semi-fearful.
Love theatrical, love comical, love tragical, love magical.
Variety endless as the thing itself.
The hallways wander on and on
With branchings and turnings
Elevators and escalators
Spiderwebby spiral stairs, broad marble flights,
Slippery slimed sewer ladders, clanging fire escapes.
Red-carpeted upward ramps, water slides.
All God's plenty and more, my dears. All God's plenty and more.
But if, after trying as many doors as you like,
You still find nothing to suit,
Feel free to take hammer and nails,
Or honey and vinegar,
Or plaster and lathe,
Or spit and string,
Or ivory and ebony,
Or beaten gold,
Or tissue paper,
And build your own.
Who among us has not experienced a grief so profound, it seems to freeze the film of time on one particular frame?
Soliloquy: Vehicular Homicide
If I could quell the darkness in my heart
Overshadowing thoughts of you
Like storm clouds dull the night
And spread across my soul's landscape,
Then I would know you
In the joy of remembrance.
Thorns are for remembrance.
Roses smell of death and dying,
Wired and reinforced
With wood painted green,
In vials of chemicals to make them last
At least as long as the corpse.
No, roses are reminders of the death of you.
The death of a man,
Strong and manly
Like a male takes a bite into a crisp apple,
Unashamed of the sound,
Unabashed by nectar on the cheek
Wiped away with the back of a hand
As strong as sport and gentle as a child.
I loved your hands.
I loved their reach and grasp,
I loved their collusion with your arms
Which embraced me
With the warmth of an August sea.
How I miss your fingers!
I shall never recover
From the loss of those tentacles
That tickled my cheeks
And traced the outline
Of my face and lips, my nose,
The furrows in my brow
When I asked you if you loved me.
"Do you love me, wherever you are?
In that world behind the looking glass,
< which I pray I could see,
Even if only darkly."
No, not, not yet, and maybe never,
I am too taken with the loss of you
For faith and hope,
Only love clings
Like the final grapes upon the arbor.
My latest harvest is love,
Love impounded by the dead.
Where faith has gone and sister hope,
The angels know their hiding place
But have not yet revealed it to me.
When they tell me where you are hid
Like some treasure in a field,
As large as a savanna,
Then I shall welcome them into my spirit.
If they or someone lead me to your lips
Once red with life and passion,
Like the red dawn,
I should have known by the ruby morning
That you were not meant to live.
But I was blind during the last goodbye kiss,
Half asleep, perfunctory but anticipating
The fuller nighttime embrace
When we would enjoy the bliss of marriage,
Of two made one, but which was not to be.
And the common way you died,
Such uncommon grief
Brought on by a death
No more complicated than a conversation,
Hello, good-bye, thank you and you're welcome.
A car and a truck!
Where can I hide from the car, the truck,
Wheels ineluctable as the dawn and dusk?
There is no escape
From the implements of torture.
I must drive the vehicle of regret and live.
I would gladly forgo life
But may not yet until
I find the pearl of great price
Where you are and
When to join you.
Otherwise, I should end it all now,
But like a child fears the thunder,
Lightening and rain
Of a summer storm,
I fear eternity and the thought
That I should enter it wrongly
And lose all hope of seeing you.
I'd rather live in mourning
Like the lotus that only opens at night,
In darkness, in silence.
And if I ever see you again
My lips will clamp
Upon your tender mouth
Like a lathe and there,
Turn, turn and spire and gyre
In a moving eternal greeting
Until my life gives you back -
The foundation of all Buddhist practice is the belief that the one contains the all, and the all contains the one.Veil
Woman was that you I saw curled like a fetus twisted in those ragged sheets,
Yet here you walk with your arms swinging freely?
Woman was that you crouching in the corner retching from disgust,
yet here you stand laughing so brilliantly?
Woman was that you sprawled lifeless upon those bloody stones,
yet here you smile looking so vibrant, so alive?
Yes nonetheless in your womb you bear all the sorrow of her,
the death blows, the bones, the accusations and the silences.
You Muslim Woman whose vagina has been sewn shut to preserve your purity.
You Asian girl sold into prostitution by your father
for the betterment of your family.
And you Afghanistan sister stoned to the ground for that veil
that slipped from your shoulder to reveal your unholy flesh.
A slip of a veil
to end a life.
A slip of a veil
to ignite a fire.
A slip of a veil
to wholly reunite.
Yes that is you woman.