Poem Audio #1 – “Falling in Love” / “Paper Plates”

black-and-white-image-of-headphonesTo 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.

 

“Paper Plates”

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.

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.

 

Math

We started with addition, placing our hands side by side

To complete the whole.

But soon, your kisses divided into half a dozen words,

Then fractioned into thoughts,

 

Now, absolute zero.

 

And I couldn’t bear the burden of this one-sided subtraction,

So I multiplied my work

To find an answer that could fit.

 

But as you slowly put your pencil down,

Scrubbed to its last lead,

And walked out the door,

I closed my eyes and longed for the impossible solution to this problem,

The moment when our equation could finally be balanced and

One and one are one.

Fangs

I could feel the skeleton in my skin

When you left me, every dry bone,

Like I had swallowed two balloons

Bumping inside the gaps of my ribcage.

 

When we were together, I had learned to grow arrows

From my fingertips, I had become an archer

Straining to earn your glances.

 

I threw those darts at your heart long before my back became your cutting board.

 

Your eyes were happy, and you played the piano like the tide

Passing over the shells of the shore beneath the moonlight.

And we would walk along the sea, our toes touching the glass

Of its little waves, the seagulls soaring above our heads.

 

But soon you led me along the blade

As the hives in your mouth traded their sweetness for stings,

Your laughter becoming fangs,

Filling the air between us with distance.

 

You touched my hand one last time, a single spark

Before you went away,

And now, this cold adrenaline’s a poison, convincing my body

It is more alive than it could ever be again.

School Poems

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.

Driving

We sped along the highway,

Headlights slicing through the dark.

You placed your hand at your side,

I held the wheel in silence,

Patterns of ice spreading at the edges of the windshield,

The defrost sighing on the dash.

I wanted to look over to you

And love you all over again,

Pull you close on the bridge

And kiss above the water

Far from this hanging night

Hovering over you and I

In our separate cars, driving to different houses.

Delineation

I wrote this poem across the length of California,

Scrawling these ink strokes through the vineyards and the shoreline,

Even on the edges of the “H” in Hollywood.

 

I waltzed through the City of Angels

Tuned to an imaginary score,

Pulling up pieces of the highway and blowing them in the air.

Then I hopped on the eastbound train in an old and rusted boxcar,

Writing another line on the face of wooden crates,

Even on the metal sheets stacked against the corner.

 

The next night I high-fived the vampires in Denver

And dashed off another verse on a creaky traffic light

As I swung from its taut cable, my shoelaces

Reaching toward the windows of the passing cabs below.

 

In Dallas they saw me dance on all the tablecloths,

Kicking over glasses, scribbling on the centerpieces.

 

I wandered round in Nashville,

Dizzied by the neon lights,

And etched a lovely metaphor on the back of a guitar,

One where I compared love to a waning moon.

 

Then the wind ran wild beneath my arms in Atlanta,

The universe of skyscrapers, planets of burning light,

Offices and windows humming with breath

And watching close as I straddled the top of a limousine,

Pockets inside out, my words on every exit

Down the infinite interstate.

 

Well, I should tell you,

I wrote this poem all the way to your house

Where I finally lay down in the middle of the road,

Anchored the tip of my pen to your cold street,

And waited for the world to turn,

Drawing a new equator.

 

Two hemispheres,

One for each of us.

Play

We folded our arms around each other

As the pages of our scripts flurried like glitter

To the floor, making eights in the air,

Surrounding our slow dance between the walls of an elevator, descending

From our room to the lobby.

 

We couldn’t care, neither of us,

To catch a line, or even a single cue.

You just watched my eyes as I lit up all the buttons,

Resetting the clock,

Pulling you in closer as the doors begin to close.

 

Only now the air was softer, small enough

To hear the snare drums in my coat,

The train of bells along my sleeves,

And the electric guitar in every fingertip

As I sent my love to you.

 

For our laughter, yours and mine together,

Carries spectral lines, neon

And warm, as we play in this metal box that

Rises and falls like chests along this building.

Even the fog from our hurried talking

Brushes the inside of the cold window, reminding me

To engrave our initials, if for a moment,

Into the cloud that we created

Before it fades away to time

And frost.

 

I know our evening’s slipping

Farther down the wishing water,

But still we crowd our fingers,

Intertwine them for a moment.

And in that still frame

Before the kites of our words and our laughter have risen,

I send my love to you,

And you, me,

Pulling you in closer as the doors begin to close.

Students

A poem to my students…


I wonder if it’s a sonnet,

The poem of your life,

As I hear your shoes squeak their stanzas across the floor to your desk

And you click your blue mechanical pencil

Twice to take a quiz.

 

For I happened to notice two index cards,

Like a light pink couplet,

Tucked beneath the tidy layers of your notebook

As you closed your eyes, breathed, reassured yourself

Of what you knew and filled your name at the top.

 

Or do you live and breathe in music,

All elbows and gym bags, your fingers

Twitching steadily the edges of your sweatshirt?

Perhaps your life is a lyric, a rhythm

Kept in meter by the beat of basketballs,

Or the wild and fearless drummings of your

Feet along the track?

 

Or you, there in the far row,

Do you see the world in free verse?

Eyes bright from gazing through kaleidoscopes,

Bending the sky around your ballpoint pen?

From here I see your frenzied scribbling in that beat-up journal,

The back of your homework, the length of your arm,

Scrambling to seize your swelling thoughts,

Your echoing afterthoughts,

Your madcap fever of creativity.

 

And I bet hers is a ballad, a song,

Her eyes telling the fear in the horizons,

Dreaming of afternoon, of evening,

Of the time she’ll spend with her father

Before his illness takes a turn.

 

Whatever they are,

These poems in your mouths, your hands, your smiles,

They somehow fit each one of you, like shadows

Filled with beauty and, ironically,

With light.

 

And when I am old,

Beyond the reach of my podium,

My pen, my worn and dog-eared Hamlet,

I will see you all,

Again and again and again,

As young as autumn leaves

Reddening, then leaping

Into the constant winds of change.