…in which I discuss my poem “Yard Sale” from The Cardinal Turns the Corner.
…in which I discuss my poem “Yard Sale” from The Cardinal Turns the Corner.
Here is my discussion of “School Poems” from The Cardinal Turns the Corner.
The air in study hall was thick with the smoke of pencils,
Scribbling to find fire on the page, ten teenagers
Looking for love in the smile their words might make.
Over in the library, some have rolled their sleeves,
Bent over a row of screens,
Their hurried breaths gyrating the pinwheels of their poems
As their fingertips clicked like cleats on the pavement of their laptops,
Letters dripping on documents,
A thousand rain drops on an old tin roof.
I walked past the boy on the steps with a halo of reverb
Plugged in from ear to ear, connected to a phone synced to his heart,
Drumming his palms against his knees like his life
Had been lived only for this moment, the wild abandon
Of one who’d learned to walk the plank
As the pirates of passion loomed behind him with their thick beards
And blades sharpened
As if to say, “Rock this one out or you’ll sleep in the ocean.”
The girl in the courtyard crooked one leg behind the other,
Curling her fingers around her phone in the cold
Like she knew the next message he sent would make her warm.
So she bubbled her poetry in blue, mailed it on the airwaves, and waited for his ellipses,
Three dots in Morse before three words she longed to read.
Down the hall, the kindergarteners knelt outside their classroom,
Upturning waxy bags of crayon and a dozen safety scissors,
Peeling the ghosts of Elmer’s glue from their palms
As they told their parents they loved them
With a red construction heart and a firm crease in the center,
A greater declaration of devotion than any sonnet could ever sing.
So I kept walking briskly in the air of this century
Where people still write poetry, breaking pieces of their body
Like bread for summer swans
And pressing them deep into a dozen syllables,
The friction of pounding feet and chattering teeth
As they toss their own words into the rushing waters of time.
Two more poems: “Space” and “Two Boys.” The full text for each poem is included below the audio player. Enjoy!
I read the other day
That the human body can briefly survive
The hard vacuum of space unprotected,
And I’ve never been more afraid than I was then,
Sitting quietly at a table, drinking coffee.
I dreamed you and I were astronauts,
Breathing into screens, fingers in padded gloves,
Drifting in the black, until suddenly,
You peeled your suit straight off your arms
And pushed into the dark.
I wanted to reach you on the radio,
Try every channel, all my digital rhetoric,
Just to have you back,
But you slowly grew smaller,
A white star fading from the frame
Until you disappeared.
I wanted more time to hold you in orbit,
To see the constellations
Reflecting in your eyes,
To prove I could protect you
From the cold of this wide universe.
But I was left there, suspended,
Playing over and over in my mind
The singular curve of your hand
As your fingers unwound themselves from mine
And you said you needed space.
Every man is twice a boy –
once, through the swinging years of wildness,
two barrels of bone and breath
in his fiery chest,
hands on the hot road,
toothless summers of
grapes and tall grass,
the braille of bumps on the high dive –
and again, in the final minute,
when his breath stays in his mouth,
and his fingers itch
for his mother
This week’s Poem Audio features two poems on childhood: “Little Icarus” and a new poem “Braces”. The full text for each poem can be found below the audio player. Enjoy!
Little Icarus stood by the wood chips.
He was twelve when both his wings broke, tangled up,
Trying to tear through the fabric of his polo,
Caught beneath the floorboards of his shoulder blades
As his cheeks flushed with shame.
He wore a slipshod buzz cut and chubby jowls that
Framed his braces and the crooked grin they fenced in,
Standing alone as yesterday’s rain lay simmering on the blacktop.
A blur of children sprinted past him, laughing,
And he buried his dry tongue beneath the dirt in his throat,
The stiffness of death in the mouth of a boy
Who never knew what to say.
Not a word about the jungles he’d seen in gym,
The knotted rope of humiliation and the sting of the lash
As the rich kid rat-tailed his back in the locker room
And all the cool boys snickered behind their elbows,
The cute girls giggling later over sandwiches.
But don’t you fear, little man,
For I have brought an army of book nerds,
Dreamers and choir singers,
Carrying their lisps and scars in rucksacks,
Glasses, buck teeth, and southern accents,
The boys who cry at movies and the girls who still have nightmares,
Walking our bikes over to invite you to our treehouse
Where white-out is outlawed
And your freckles are the confetti of God
Like He cut up the birthday cake of the sun just for you.
And together there, we’ll patch your feathers
And tell a couple of stories
Before we lean our heads back against the beams of our home,
Look up at the stars through the crack in our creaky roof,
And slowly drift to sleep.
I am thirteen years old,
And I hate the small bike chain glued to my teeth
That keeps me from the perfect kiss
I have planned for six months.
My smile is magnetic, tangled in wire,
My hello smothered in sparks,
My words, nicked and flickering in my mouth,
Fly in a hundred pinprick flashes, embers rising
From the fire in my chest.
Perhaps I can fence my garbled mouth
With the fan of my hand, breathe to you
In smoke signals, or tell you how I feel
Through the notes we write, unhindered
By chain-link and spotted iron.
Or maybe you will read my mind,
Your eyes pressed close against the glass
Of the space between us, peering beyond
My mouthful of radio, torn antenna,
But though I have worn this metal for many months,
Turning over the flavor of tin in my tongue
Behind the hard-wired cable in my mouth,
I was thirteen years old when you let me lean close
And close my eyes –
The first time I have ever been shocked.
To expand on the poetry I have published here over the last year or so, I thought it would be fun to record readings of some of my favorite pieces from The Cardinal Turns the Corner as well as to introduce newer pieces I have written.
In addition to these readings, I’d like to provide some commentary, background, and/or explanatory notes that situate each poem in whatever experience, memory, or mood inspired it. No writer writes in a vacuum; we are always influenced by something (usually a thousand somethings). 🙂 So, here is Poem Audio #1.
The two poems discussed in this recording are “Falling in Love” from TCTTC and a new piece “Paper Plates.” Each poem has been reprinted below the audio file for those who wish to read along. Enjoy!
“Falling in Love”
The other night I stood for half an hour
Between the night sky and the butterfly wings of sleep,
Trying to count how many times I’ve fallen in love with you.
The streetlights filled our window while you slept,
But all I could do was wander around the room, hands folded,
The wind stirring the leaves on the pavement outside.
For years I have looked beneath the rocks in the river,
Inspected the wrists of jazz drummers
And the breath of blue roses for the full moon.
I have unlaced the fog in the morning
And swept the brushstrokes of dew on the ground
To find the words for our love,
And the candles at every step of our memory,
Lighted by the words we’ve spoken,
They are becoming forest fires.
In my hands are a dozen marbles. When I hold them up to you
To show the colors of my love, the sound of their scattering
On the floor tells me to try again.
And I try again every time,
Finding you over and over in the corner of my eye,
Smiling like the day we first met.
So I stayed awake that night, wondering how
I might manage to hold all this love
When all along it lay quietly in the way our fingers touch when we watch movies,
Your knees bent beneath the blanket,
The hours drifting away like snow.
I’m trying to remember how long we’ve eaten on paper plates,
Cheap napkins with printed lilacs,
Both of us bending the tines of plastic forks
As we slowly keep from speaking.
When did we become so still, so suddenly motionless,
Twin marble statues stuck beneath the weight of water,
Staring in the distance past each other’s ocean shadow?
How did the sunlight in our voices
Fade into the night, our fingers numb
As blackened matches, our gazes turned to separate walls?
There must have been a moment when we accidentally said our last words,
When the sugar in our breath slid deep into our memory,
When our kisses somehow grew stale and
Our styrofoam lips first chipped along the edges.