Thursday, October 25, 2012

Poem 22 - To a Sad Daughter

To me, this poem is all about one line: “If you break[,] break going out not in.” I love advice poems, especially advice poems for one’s children. But this line is the best parent-to-child advice I’ve come across. If you break, break while you’ve giving. If you break, break while you’re in the world, not in yourself.

Michael Ondaatje is the author of The English Patient and other works of fiction.

To a Sad Daughter
Michael Ondaatje

All night long the hockey pictures
gaze down at you
sleeping in your tracksuit.
Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
Threats of being traded
cuts and wounds
—all this pleases you.
O my god! you say at breakfast
reading the sports page over the Alpen
as another player breaks his ankle
or assaults the coach.
When I thought of daughters
I wasn’t expecting this
but I like this more.
I like all your faults
even your purple moods
when you retreat from everyone
to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say ‘like’
I mean of course ‘love’
but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies
(coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
though you were moved
by Creature from the Black Lagoon.
One day I’ll come swimming
beside your ship or someone will
and if you hear the siren
listen to it. For if you close your ears
only nothing happens. You will never change.
I don’t care if you risk
your life to angry goalies
creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles
their glass laboratories. Just
don’t be fooled by anyone but yourself.
This is the first lecture I’ve given you.
You’re ‘sweet sixteen’ you said.
I’d rather be your closest friend
than your father. I’m not good at advice
you know that, but ride
the ceremonies
until they grow dark.
Sometimes you are so busy
discovering your friends
I ache with a loss
—but that is greed.
And sometimes I’ve gone
into my purple world
and lost you.
One afternoon I stepped
into your room. You were sitting
at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window
and sun spilled over you
like a thick yellow miracle
as if another planet
was coaxing you out of the house
—all those possible worlds!—
and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.
I cannot look at forsythia now
without loss, or joy of you.
You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don’t care
but I’ll sell my arm for you,
hold your secrets for ever.
If I speak of death
which you fear now, greatly,
it is without answers
except that each
one we know is
in our blood.
Don’t recall graves.
Memory is permanent.
Remember the afternoon’s
yellow suburban annunciation.
Your goalie
in his frightening mask
dreams perhaps
of gentleness.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Poem 21 - In a U-Haul North of Damascus

Here’s a poem about pain and the possibility of redemption. On the road to Damascus, of course, is where the persecutor of Christians, Saul, was blinded, given a faith in Christ, and rose redeemed as Paul, the pillar of the first church. Damascus, here, refers to Damascus, Georgia, population 254, the place where our poet (or his character) ponders the chance of a new beginning.

In a U-Haul North of Damascus
David Bottoms


Lord, what are the sins
I have tried to leave behind me? The bad checks,
the workless days, the scotch bottles thrown across the
and into the woods, the cruelty of silence,
the cruelty of lies, the jealousy,
the indifference?

What are those on the scale of sin
or failure
that they should follow me through the streets of
the moon-streaked fields between Benevolence
and Cuthbert where dwarfed cotton sparkles like pearls
on the shoulders of the road. What are these
that they should find me half-lost,
sick and sleepless
behind the wheel of this U-Haul truck parked in a field
                on Georgia 45
a few miles north of Damascus,
some makeshift rest stop for eighteen wheelers
where the long white arms of oaks slap across the trailers
and headlights glare all night through a wall of pines?

What was I thinking, Lord?
That for once I’d be in the driver’s seat, a firm grip on

So the jon boat muscled up the ramp,
the Johnson outboard, the bent frame of the wrecked
chained for so long to the back fence,
the scarred desk, the bookcases and books,
the mattress and box springs,
a broken turntable, a Pioneer amp, a pair
of three-way speakers, everything mine
I intended to keep. Everything else abandon.
But on the road from one state
to another, what is left behind nags back through
a last word rising to a scream, a salad bowl
shattering against a kitchen cabinet, china barbs
spiking my heal, blood trailed across the cream linoleum
like the bedsheet that morning long ago
just before I watched the future miscarried.

Jesus, could the irony be
that suffering forms a stronger bond than love?

Now the sun
streaks the windshield with yellow and orange, heavy
of light drawing highways in the dew-cover.
I roll down the window and breathe the pine-air,
the after-scent of rain, and the far-off smell
of asphalt and diesel fumes.

But mostly pine and rain
as though the world really could be clean again.

Somewhere behind me,
miles behind me on a two-lane that streaks across
west Georgia, light is falling
through the windows of my half-empty house.
Lord, why am I thinking about this? And why should I
so long after everything has fallen
to pain that the woman sleeping there should be sleeping
Could I be just another sinner who needs to be blinded
before I can see? Lord, is it possible to fall
toward grace? Could I be moved
to believe in new beginnings? Could I be moved?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Poem 20 - Do Not Expect...

Here’s a pessimistic little autumn poem about the way we do and don’t get our answers in life. If you’re having a bad day, shuffling through ankle-deep leaves in your backyard, feeling winter settle into you bones, trying to let go of summer gracefully, trying to be truthful and thankful, and trying to feel whole until you are whole, then this is your poem.

Do Not Expect...
Dana Gioia

Do not expect that if your book falls open
to a certain page, that any phrase
you read will make a difference today,
or that the voices you might overhear
when the wind moves through the yellow-green
and golden tent of autumn, speak to you.

Things ripen or go dry. Light plays on the
dark surface of the lake. Each afternoon
your shadow walks beside you on the wall,
and the days stay long and heavy underneath
the distant rumor of the harvest. One
more summer gone,
and one way or another you survive,
dull or regretful, never learning that
nothing is hidden in the obvious
changes of the world, that even the dim
reflection of the sun on tall, dry grass
is more than you will ever understand.

And only briefly then
you touch, you see, you press against
the surface of impenetrable things.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Poem 19 - Eating Alone

This is a nice transition-to-fall poem by one of the best poets of the day. It’s the perfect poem for this time of year, the cooler days, the crisp fallen leaves, the hunkering-down feelings as we turn the bend toward winter. I love how this poem celebrates the careful loneliness of eating the last of the summer’s bounty alone.

Eating Alone
Li-Young Lee

I’ve pulled the last of the year’s young onions.
The garden is bare now. The ground is cold,
brown and old. What is left of the day flames
in the maples at the corner of my
eye. I turn, a cardinal vanishes.
By the cellar door, I wash the onions,
then drink from the icy metal spigot.

Once, years back, I walked beside my father
among the windfall pears. I can’t recall
our words. We may have strolled in silence. But
I still see him bend that way—left hand braced
on knee, creaky—to lift and hold to my
eye a rotten pear. In it, a hornet
spun crazily, glazed in slow, glistening juice.

It was my father I saw this morning
waving to me from the trees. I almost
called to him, until I came close enough
to see the shovel, leaning where I had
left it, in the flickering, deep green shade.

White rice steaming, almost done. Sweet green peas
fried in onions. Shrimp braised in sesame
oil and garlic. And my own loneliness.
What more could I, a young man, want.