From 1986 to 1991 I wrote poetry, beginning with a class assignment in high school and ending after moving to Houston.
In 1992 I compiled them into a book and in 1999, utilizing layout design, I wrote the exposition and formatted it as seen below. The grid below shows the layout of the book – and the actual text of the book is posted below.
PART ONE: WRITING MY FIRST FEW POEMS
As a teenager I could be found stranded at an airport waiting for connecting flights to take me back home from boarding school. In those temporary, jet-lagged, virtual hours I would pass the time by writing down the places I went to, places I was supposed to go, the names of my friends, the names of people I met. And I wrote lists of phone numbers, things I had to buy, what to wear, my itinerary, my schedule. And in those days I wanted to be a movie director. I tried to write a script. Often I wrote chapter titles, bits of dialog, and small scenes. I wrote names of my characters. Fictional characters that had my attributes, attributes of my friends, my brothers, and my cousins. During my boarding school years I was read from the hefty Norton Anthology of American Literature, and persued class assignments with notable works such as A Separate Peace by John Knowles and George Orwell’s 1984. And although I never read what my summer reading list recommended (such as Homer’s The Odyssey), I did spend a number of late nights, reading books that I found surprisingly entertaining: Fahrenheit 451, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, and Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea, nearly all of Jack London’s short stories, most of Arthur C. Clarke’s body of work.
A fellow writer once told me, “Everyone writes at least one poem — usually only one serious attempt at a poem in their life. And they do it when they’re seventeen.” And I agree with him. That’s when I started writing poems, during my senior year at boarding school. Composition IV was an extremely hard class. I made an “F” in that class. But for a few weeks we concentrated on Poetry. I wrote my first poem, Trench, as a class assignment. It followed one lesson, in which we had to read Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est.
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Now that year I read Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. This story was heavy in my mind while I attending classes. Trench began as a rewrite of Dulce et Decorum Est as if it were told by one of the characters in Catcher in the Rye. Early in that novel, Holden Caufield visits his sick history professor, Mr. Spencer, and I imagined my poem as if it were the professor’s old war story. Trench began with just a single word. I was puzzled with the title of the film Apocalypse Now. I was even more surprised that it was an adaptation of Heart of Darkness, a book on our reading list that I neglected in favor of Catcher in the Rye. But the word “apocalypse” intrigued me. Looking it up in the dictionary yielded another word: apocalyptic. I sounded like war itself. I wanted to write something that surrounded that word and the poem just grew around that word.
I could feel that several poems were inside me and I wanted to create a work of art, a finished, well-done work of art. Painting proved to be too difficult and writing a novel was too intensive — even a short story was difficult. However, a poem seemed quite attainable. And I thought that in writing a poem, using just a pen, a single sheet a paper and an hour, I could have something I could call my own.
I can see that Wilfred Owen’s poem had an influence on the structure of my poem. But curious details are quite my own – the consonance of “b”s and “d”s in the fourth line remains one of my favorite: “burgundy, brown, red and raspberry”. And I tortured myself for months over the rhythm of the poem. So much for finishing a poem in an hour. A year later and perhaps after thirty rewrites I finally arrived at breaking up the sentences at: “…the Fall leaves he told me about so often. I hear Autumn. Winter is near.”
I had reservations about writing Trench because I had no experience with war or death. I felt like I didn’t deserve composing such a poem. But I justified writing it — as a work of art. It was an exercise in art. Around that time I used to read and re-read an essay from Esquire titled Why Men Love War. The same teacher that taught Shakespeare also suggested to the class that we read that essay. I think it was precisely what I needed at that stage in life, a literary dose of testosterone. But it instilled in me a cautiousness about the future. Regardless how safe the world seemed then, I might be sent away to fight for my country.
He also gave us a lesson in Latin. The passage he read sounded like water dripping and babbling along. For quite a long time I tried to duplicate that effect. From then on Latin seemed to possess a specific, yet sweeter melody:
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
Mors et fugacem persequitur virum,
—Horace (Book III Ode II)
I was surprised at how one poet could carry a thought, a reply of sorts, across the centuries. I was in awe of a sudden bond all poets seemed to share. And assuming a monologue for Mr. Spencer, it felt as if I was entering a brotherhood of sorts, one of distinguished respect for each other.
In that fourth line in Trench, “Burgundy, brown, red and raspberry”, it had struck me as unique. This style of describing something using consonance seemed almost easy. I was just listing colors really. Is raspberry a color? Sure it is! There seemed something too simple about it. I thought this could be my trademark – my signature style. But it was too easy. It wasn’t hard enough–I had to delve deeper into it. I realized that the “b” in “raspberry” also echoed the “b” in “burgundy” and “brown”. Closer inspection revealed the
“d” in “burgundy” echoing in “red”. In my mind the line looked like this:
“B–––––dy, b––n, r–d –n– r––pb––––”.
And sounded like:
“Boom dy, boon, rude n rupry”
I tried to come up with other words, specifically those with similar consonants in the middle of the word. I figured that alliteration in the middle of the words was more effective, and less obnoxious. Puddle. Huddle. Fiddle.
Alliteration at the beginning of a series of words seemed juvenile. Pack. Puddle. Pin. This sort of listing turned into:
The blue light of the setting sun huddled, trembled, around the carpet, the walls, and the curtain.
Here I realized how carpet and curtain contains a repeating “c” and “r”. I remember that it took me days of sifting through words–trying to find words that contained both “c” and “r” and that were meaningful to the poem. After a while I realized I was looking for the hard “c” sound and that I could look for “k”s. And so I was able to find the words dark and secret, which fit nicely into my criteria.
Although the first stanza took about twenty rewrites, the last stanza remained largely unaltered once its was committed to paper. Further attempts to stylize it seemed awkward. I like how the first stanza stretches a moment to a infinite stillness, which is then compressed to an impending revelation.
The first time I typed out this poem as a finished work, I immediately re-typed it with a flush-right margin. It was here I decided that the poem would have to be presented this way. I wondered, does the author have a right to dictate the margins of the work? The spaces between the words and letters? I found a poem that justified my theory:
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
—e. e. cummings
I decided, yes, a poet does have control of the spaces between words, even letters. If the a poet can determine where the stanzas occur, then a poet can determine the space between the words as well.
PART TWO: BEING INSPIRED BY MUSIC
During Spring Break on my senior year I was flying back to boarding school and I remember not being able to sleep on the airplane. My parents were going through a divorce and I spent a week in Saudi Arabia without accomplishing anything meaningful. That final week in the Kingdom had been incongruent with the rest of my experience there. It was mild, cloudy, and quiet. I faced my last few weeks at high school and I had a foreboding sense of finality. I turned on the overhead lamp, called the flight attendant for a soda, and listened to my Walkman – loaded with a Marrillion cassette and wrote in my journal:
Darkness wallows in the light
In my childhood room, Marrillion blasts
poetry through my heart and mind.
Dazzle ghosts slide across paper walls
So slow. I see every pockmark, every niche.
Scream, no noise. Yell, no sound.
Twist and flip and toss and rage.
Clash, gap, clap and sing
Remember Red Rum? Remember?
Sweat and cold and sweat
Then wake up.
refrigerator light, yellow lemons
Ask yourself what to swallow –
cereal in a china bowl.
eat fruit, red orange
eggs leak their souls onto the
One particular song I was listening to had a inspirational line of consoanance and assonance:
I was walking in the park
dreaming of a spark
When I heard the sprinklers whisper
Shimmer in the haze of summer lawns
I really like how “sprinklers whisper, shimmer in the haze of summer lawns” sounded. Over and over I would repeat it to myself – it sounded like what it described. The line transcended alliteration to be onomatopoetic.
Refrigerator came about with the desire to describe a lonely, sickly feeling – the feeling I got from waking up in the middle of the night – not knowing if I was getting sick or if it was a subconscious depression. There wasn’t as many rewrites for Refrigerator as most of my poems are subjected to – only a rearrangement of lines and a rhyme scheme to finish the poem. Although the last line is nearly a nonsense list of colors, it suggests an old orange upon the table where I had a dark breakfast one late night.
Music always had a tremendous impact on me. And several of my poems started with a recurring lyric that played over and over in my mind.
Slowly fading blue the eastern hollows
catch the dying sun – night time follows
–The Cure, Fire In Cairo
There was a strange moment when I was walking with a friend down a street in Kona, Hawaii. He was asking me if I had heard the song Fire In Cairo. In the song, the singer spells out the title: f, i, r, e, i, n, c, a, i, r, o. While I repeated this to myself we both became acutely aware of a cacophony of birds that occupied the banyan tree across the street. A few moments later, as we kept walking, a disheveled young man with wild eyes and matted, dirty hair approached us. As he passed, he quickly, and quietly blurted out “Buds!” and turned and glared at us askance several steps later. Weird. Sometime afterwards I wrote Song of the Screaming Birds:
Song of the Screaming Birds
uncertain evil looms
among the banyan tree
the screaming birds slice
along the dark razor leaves
silhouette palms reach
for a dying sun sky
slowly fade and blue
ocean screaming birds cry
octopus roots solemn vines hang
a silent procession funeral
for a black star sky
along banyan leaves slivers
under this I lie.
Now at the same time I was trying to write another poem, Passage from Innocence to Fear. I was concerned with how similar the opening stanza is:
uncertain evil looms
among the banyan tree
the screaming birds slice
along the dark razor leaves
and mayfly size swallows fly
among the bermuda green
along eucalyptus leaves
african violets, purple trees.
Sigh. Even the line “along dark razor leaves from a tree” is repeated later in Passage from Innocence to Fear. Although I liked how “along” and “along” rhyme at the beginning of the line, I was plagarising myself. In Song of the Screaming Birds there is a line that that originated in Blue Light. It isn’t apparent that in Blue Light the setting is within a closet. The closet door is open and during this twilight everything has a bluish hue. The closet door is open and the suits inside are lined up like “a silent funeral procession.” And, banyan trees aren’t sinister. The poem is more about a weird moment one evening, but the poem attributed it to the tree. What results is a poem that isn’t truthful the experience and doesn’t even have a message. I was just trying to compose another poem and was caught up in the mechanics of poetry. The ending, “under this I lie”, is just a lazy solution to rhyme with “black star sky”.
In the summer after I graduated I moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State University in the Fall. I wrote some essays for my English Composition 101 class that were pretty good. That professor urged me to continue writing and suggested at one point to aspire to be a professional writer. He gave me quite a bit of leeway in the assignments and I tackled them with relish. Unfortunately I don’t remember his name. But I spend a considerable amount of time adjusting to my new surroundings and in October I was finally settling down into my collegiate routine. There is one particular night, when Daylight Savings Time ends and you gain an extra hour, that I decided that I would write a poem in that virtual time. Habitually nocturnal, around 1:00 a.m. I wandered over to the English Building, then the Architecture Building, then settled on a block of concrete in the stadium’s parking lot and wrote Little Boy Wants to Know. I’m not as creative as I believe. Often I compose something and I realize that the original thought isn’t mine. At some point after writing Little Boy Wants to Know. I realize that I was inspired by something I had already heard or read. This is especially true with songs. A line or lyric or riff would subconsciously play in my mind:
A soul in tension that’s learning to fly
Condition grounded but determined to try
—Pink Floyd, Learning To Fly
Little Boy Wants to Know
beautiful and shy, large round
little boy asks mom why
about people when they die.
mom doesn’t know
little boy wants to learn
about the birds in the sky,
how do the little birds fly?
mom doesn’t know,
little boy wants to know,
rocky crag cliffs and a ball moon
little boy leaps into the sky.
While composing this poem, I was interested in separating the rhyme from the sentences. The “whys” are redundant but they have different punctuation – giving them an interesting inflection. The rhythm “breaks” at line 14 which I really like – and even more so is that that is where the title is repeated.
PART THREE: WRITING NARRATIVES
One assignment we had at Oklahoma State University was to write an essay on someone we admired. My classmates generally chose historical figures and celebrities. I chose my friend from boarding school. Instead of spending effort on establishing time and place I just notated it. I strung several memories together, each one taking place in a different location – on a different islands. This made the story seem to span more time and distance than it really did:
Kona, Hawaii (Fall 1985)
The blue waves broke, rumbled like thunder. The sun set a thin red sky and laced orange clouds. I almost smiled. I noticed the sun went down in the land of the rising sun. Shin and I sat on a pier at land’s edge. We watched the boats sway in the swell. “I want to go back home. To Japan.” he said. I look at him. “But when I am there. I don’t think I will feel better.” He paused. “I think I will…just…want to come back here. The moon gave everything an angelic glow. The pacific water lapped the volcanic rocks and the palm trees shuddered and whispered.
Kobe, Kyushu (March 1986)I met Shin at the airport in Osaka, Japan. I had fallen asleep waiting for him in a soft, black, leather chair in the airport lounge. I had been staring at the flightboard that fluttered like a score of robotic, mechanical eyelashes. That night he treated me to dinner at a sushi bar. They knew Shin there and I, being his American guest, was treated to every item on the menu. “Hey,” I nudged Shin, “how much is all this gonna cost?” I didn’t bring much money with me on my trip. “Don’t worry.” he said with the wave of his hand. “Shin,” I kept at him, “how much?” “Eat, eat…” he said, “…don’t worry. Over one hundred dollars, okay? But don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”
Waikiki, Oahu (May 1987)
Shin pulls me from our graduation party and we walk to the beach. Once there he urges me to sit down. We stay there awhile. A moment passes.
“Many people come to Hawaii” he says. I agreed with him.
“This is your last night here.”
Another moment passes. And I watch hundreds of people – on the beach, on the street, in cars. I imagine them inside the hotels that surround us. And those that are continually imported in, on the airplanes flying overhead.
“You’ve been a good friend.” And I notice how pleasant the night air is, that there is a slight fragrance to it, that there is a gentle breeze. “Pretty soon we have to be men.”
We only have a few moments left. And after another one passes Shin stands up. “Let’s go back to the party.”
I was interested in expanding my account of my last night in Hawaii. I tried to make a short story out of it, but, like most real-life memoirs, it lacks a definite conclusion. It also serves as a stylish, if not glamorous, account of a mundane event. I believe this is important – committing fantasy or at least a stylized version of yourself to the page. Or in my case I believe it’s important. It gave me a way to envision myself as I was and, more importantly, what I could become.
And even earlier I used to list names for my characters – characters that were alternate personalities of myself, places where I lived, placed where I would live, diagrams for my future houses, sketches of what I would wear. Writing in this manner serves as a reference point. And from there I could gauge what I have accomplished, and what kind a person I can make of myself:
Waikiki, Oahu (May 1987)
Two islands and two hours ago I left school. A tremendous crush of time, duty, and responsibility heaved me into a new freedom. Dizzy from the rush, flabbergasted with the attention, I finally declared my farewells, goodbyes and relief. However, standing there at the front facade of the Ala Moana Hotel, I had the surreal feeling that my high school years had been a dream. The past three years suddenly seemed encased in the fuzzy reality of slumber. Friends appeared imaginary and the landscape seemed to exist in fantasy. It was as if a great dream had ended and I was struggling not to awake. Above, heavy pacific winds carried a colossal, summer thundercloud across the waning afternoon sky.
Underneath, as I stood motionless for a single long moment, a strange urge emerged from behind my thoughts. And quite abruptly, without preamble, I decided to start smoking. I felt I needed to do something, and fondling a cigarette seemed appropriate. I still wore the remnants of my graduation attire. My blazer lay collapsed on the hotel bed upstairs, my tie still hung loose and my hair was in dapper disarray.
I dismounted from the steps and let my intuition lead me to a convenience store several blocks away. As I deliberately strolled within the labyrinth of ramps and stairs and terraces I pondered my future, not knowing what it will bring. My vague itinerary to travel back to the mainland was like a fog in the ocean – my future pictured as a featureless sea. Across the street, the weekend had propelled young men and women laughing and whirling around each other. I felt a longing for them. I wanted to meet them, laugh with them – not walking in the shadows. I realized that the sun was already setting. The urge to smoke became stronger.
I turned into a store and wavered at the counter, unsure of what to buy. Clumsily, bought my first pack of cigarettes. They were in a green package. Menthol. The matches were free. Stepping outside I put the pack in my pocket – and found the rumpled address that Shin had given me earlier. I slowly comprehended the address and looked up at the street signs. I had friends to meet. I had forgotten. I took a deep breath, started to head east on Kalakekua Avenue, then stopped. I pulled out a cigarette, fumbled with the matches, and lit it – hypnotized by the flame. I walked a mile or two, watching the neon spotted streets turn into night while I learned to smoke my first cigarettes.
I approached the locked entrance doors and checked the address. I punched an intercom and Ryo’s cool, casual voice answered. “It’s me…Edward…is that you Ryo?” “Come on up.” said Ryo, his timid suaveness apparent though the intercom. The heavy glass doors opened easily and I boarded the elevator. In the ascending, oscillating gravity I watched the elongating ash cylinder of my cigarette precariously burn. At the fourteenth floor the cylinder disintegrated. I knocked on the indicated door. Ryo open it. He was well dressed, a silk tie and a glossy white suit. He greeted me formally and gratefully. He ushered me into the impeccably clean, white carpeted apartment. Music, laughter and friends filled the room. Tina sat on the white leather loveseat at the far end of the room. She wore a sheer, elegantly simple silk dress. I watched her chat with Sofie. Shin had landed next to Ryo, grinned a hello, and welcomed me heartily and happily. Shin strode me over to Tina. There was a hint of a smile, then it was gone.
“Hi, Tina.” I said. Her head bowed down slightly and she tried to articulate a hello. Her eyes remained steady.
“Eddie, you’ve arrived!” Sophie was all smiles. “We didn’t know if you would come, we were hoping you’d stop by.” I smiled at both of them and they motioned for me to take a seat.
“How long are you staying in Honolulu? You’re not leaving right away are you? Sophie asked, fitting a genuine concern in her smile.
“I’m leaving at noon tomorrow.” I said.
“Can’t you change it,” Sophie continued, “can you change it to a later date? Can’t you stay here for a while? We can find someone you can stay with…a couple of weeks…?” She shrugged, gesturing around the room.
I thought this over a moment. It hadn’t occurred to me before. Shin came back and called me to the kitchen. I didn’t even have a chance to say anything to him before Bell came bearing down on the whole company, shaking his hand with mine.
“Congratulations on your graduation!” Bell boomed. Unlike those of us who were still formally dressed, Bell was enveloped in a large, loose rugby shirt. His tall loping frame swung towards the kitchen. “You want something to drink? Shin? Ed-die?” He called over his shoulder.
“Come on, let’s go outside” Shin quietly said to me, steering me away from the party, towards the balcony, “I want to talk to you.”
“Hey! Where you guys going?” shouted Bell, “Hey! I’m mixing drinks for you!” I saw Ryo go to the kitchen to either help him out or join him in his enthusiasm. Shin led me out on the balcony. It was quieter and warm. Below us, on the streets of Waikiki, a thousand people floated past.
This account of my last night in Hawaii never really turned into a short story. As it is, it ends either with Shin and I on the balcony looking down on “a thousand people” walking past, or Shin and I on the beach a few minutes later, telling me ““Pretty soon we have to be men.” Nevertheless, writing the story served a reference point between my life and the novel I was writing. Of course I never got close to finishing that novel. Perhaps I have a dozen pages completed. I have notebooks filled with synopsis, scenes, chapter titles, character histories, scenes, and bit of dialogue. The poem Pacific Water just happens to be one of those bits of writing:
The ocean reaches outward
with every overwhelming wave.
Foaming fingers fumble
salt water wraps around
rumble, sound like thunder.
Sun sets, red sky, lacing orange clouds.
Volcanic rock sand laps
pacific water, palms
Sun rises, soothes, the swaying sea.
Playful palms and supple pineapples,
coconuts and china blue clouds,
a gentle surf rounds along a rolling shell.
Suspended fish float in
a cascade of underwater sunlight.
There were some elements to my story that I echoed in other poems. But more adeptly, I played with alliteration: “foaming fingers fumble,” and “palms shudder, whisper.”
At the end of my first semester at Oklahoma State University I learned that I could no longer attend because of financial difficulties. In January I took some courses at Tulsa Junior College. Oftentimes, the subjects I was learning in one class served as inspirations for my writing. The poem Children was about a lesson in my History of Philosophy class where we discussed Plato’s allegory of the cave:
when any of them is liberated and compelled
suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round
and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer
sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he
will be unable to see the realities…
– Plato, Republic 29 (514a)
After class I would go to the library and entertain myself with books. I researched more on e.e. cummings and his anyone lived in a pretty how town was a favorite. I had admired how each word was packed with meaning. Each word was used to its maximum potential in that it transcended its colloquialism and truly symbolized its definition.
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did
—e. e. cummings
So in reading this stanza the words themselves take a symbolic representation of something much bigger – more general:
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did
This also made me cognizant of the use of words outside their grammatical syntax. Nouns could be used as verbs, verbs as nouns. So that the line “eat watch laugh drink” connotes the humdrum moments that are repeated every day, over the years (everyday we come home, fix some dinner, watch television and occasionally socialize with some friends). I wrote Children and immediately threw away most of the words. I ended up with only a list. Then I maneuvered the list into a “chronological” order. Then I looked for rhyme scheme to replace those words.
c h i l d r e n
c r i e d
h o m e s
a t e
l i v e d
w o n d e r e d
n o w
f a t e
I thought this would be agonizingly difficult, but, as it turned out, quite easy. This is different from other poems where I searched for days looking for a rhymes. A line would yield no solution, forcing me to rewrite it so that another rhyme scheme could be applied. For whatever reason, the rhymes in Children were readily matched. I thought this was because most of the words in this poem apply to such a broad spectrum of ideas: “ate” rhymes with practically every sound, rather than something definite and specific to a situation, such as “trigger” in Blue Light. I kept my attention to the line “occur wise old became, because be”. The “be” was a crucial point for me, conveying a zen existence to this process, this struggle of living.
During my travels between the Kingdom and Hawaii, I always tried to bring back small gifts for my friends and family. And since there were always considerable time between connecting flights I would wander into airport lounges and empty terminals seeking a comfortable place to rest, relax, listen to music, re-organize my things and entertain myself by writing.
I was trying to write a novel about a college student named Daniel. Two twin brothers named Casey and Stan were disrupting his life by taking him on trips abroad. Of course it was reflective on my life at that time. During a layover in New York I parked myself at a restaurant I wrote a short piece about Daniel:
It is cold in December but I went to Times Square anyway because I always go there before I leave New York. And I was looking at two lumps of snotty snow, wanting to leave New York. And now, with the airplane tickets in my pocket, not wanting to. I start feeling sad as I always do when I leave someplace where I have friends and a deep sigh shudders from me, a goodbye. In this personal moment I’m oblivious to the world around me and I snap back when an wrinkled man with a permanent look of rejection offers to sell me a rose. His hair is long and white and sparse and his trenchcoat, like mine, is long , black and heavy. His eyes are not bewildered, as I was expecting, but own a kind suffering. With a voice like a construction truck he asks, “Exactly two dollars for a rose?” Serendipity. I had just been wondering how to dispose of a two-dollar bill in my wallet. I pull out my wallet and consider the price. A moment goes by and patience strains and then hastily I give the wrinkled man a five-dollar bill instead. There is a look of indecision on his face but I smile, and he smiles back, placing a full blooming rose in my hand. I guess Rachel wouldn’t accept a rose if I gave her one but it was no bid deal. Just a flower. And perhaps Rachel would take it as a sign of forgiveness.
I hail a cab and reach for a phone to call her and then I decide not to, thinking to just leave it at her door. So I stand there, between the west coast and a taxi cab and decide that Julie, the one picking me up at LAX, will get the rose. I wave the taxi away. And instead I jump down a cave of stairs, to head to L.A. via plane via subway. At JFK travelers are wet from the snow and sleet, grouchy from the crowds, and aggravated by the inefficiency of the airport. I maneuver the precious rose between the crushing masses and walk circles around the terminal, stopping into duty-free shops that no longer accept my expired international boarding passes. My flight delayed, I visit magazine shops and coffee stands. Already the rose is wilting. A petal falls away. And I eventually lunge into a chair at the gate and fall into a nap.
Somewhere in a blank, darkened dream a voice repeats “elle aye ex”. I wake up to a flight attendant asking me if this is my flight. “Los Angeles?” I say. “Yes, 808, Los Angeles Honolulu.” she says crisply. I grab my backpack and run down the concourse and into the plane as the air-lock is shut behind me. Damn. I had left the rose in the chair.
On the plane I’m still tired and I get bored because we sit out on the taxi lane for twenty minutes, so I read the emergency landing procedures. A flight attendant comes around to offer magazines. Life doesn’t seem to interesting and neither does Self, which she is encouraging me to examine. I ask her if this is a nonstop flight. It is. The wind roars through the engines outside and as we take off the city falls away beneath me while the sky tilts at a uncommon angle and I close my eyes and fall asleep again, thirsty. I wake up. Actually I realize I’m not asleep anymore and I call for an attendant. I ask her for a soda and she ends up bringing me three drinks before I finally feel better. I dig out my journal and write a poem:
the cross of christ would have knew and the pyramid blocks of cheops as the wooden horse that destroyed Troy knew this too Then I was stuck and I didn’t know what else to write. And I sat there with an open journal and listened to the hum of the plane itself. I look at my watch, perpetually lagging behind time zones, and deduce that we have an hour before we land.
A year and a half later, I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma and found myself at the airport with a rose, very early in the morning, waiting to fly to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to visit a friend. I figured it was easier to stay up late and hang out at the airport instead of stressing over waking up early in the morning and possibly missing my flight. I was mending a broken heart at the time and had intended to give the rose to my ex-girlfriend before I left, a sort of closure thing, but I didn’t have a chance.
So I was carrying this rose around a deserted Tulsa International Airport at three in the morning and it struck me as ironic that I ended up as one of my own characters. I had planned to give it away at a passerby, but there was absolutely no one there at that hour. I grew tired of babysitting the flower so I ventured into the parking lot and speared it into a large planter. Perhaps someone would find it and it may brighten their day.
A couple of hours later I was napping in the chairs in front of the check-in desk as the early morning passengers shuffled in. Two young girls sat across from me. One was named Michelle, the other Olivia. Olivia was strikingly beautiful. I regretted then that I had left the rose. Michelle was thirteen years old and was on my flight. Olivia was seventeen and had given her a ride to the airport to see her off. I talked to Olivia for a little while but our flight was ready to depart so we went our separate ways. Although Michelle was on my flight, I didn’t see her again until we landed in St. Louis. I guided Michelle to her gate and as we walked a scrap of paper had fell from her notebook. I retrieved it but Michelle told me to go ahead and keep it – that it was Olivia’s number and that Olivia had told her to give it to me if I asked about her.
And so I did. After I returned to Tulsa I called Olivia. We spent the evening talking. I took her to the Pedestrian Bridge, we ran around a hotel at the Galleria, and drove around in my pick-up aimlessly. We drove until we left the city, all the way to a boat ramp at Lake Keystone, talking all the while. She had told me how she had wanted to run away from home, that she wanted to leave Oklahoma, and by far she talked about becoming a writer. And we talked about how we would become successful writers and that we would give each other our books when they were published and I told her the story about the rose and how I wished I had given her that rose. And I promised I’d write about her and she promised that she would write about me. And we stayed up all night talking as the night became cold and we kept on talking until we were too tired to talk and not wanting to go back home – fell asleep in the truck.
If you listen closely
you can hear the hurdling waters rush
beneath your feet
And feel the cold breeze huddle
around your neck
and play with your hair
In the night black sky
the shining moon plays
a silent melody of bells
And the moon so slowly falls
its light skates the passing water
And if you turn around
the blazing bright lights of downtown
shine in your eyes
the cross that held Christ
would have understood
the horse that destroyed Troy
probably knew too
the pyramid blocks of Cheops
and the Excaliber Stone
and behold the paper I write this on
the wood and the rocks
and the air we share
the weight of the world
that the elements bear
PART FOUR: INSPIRATIONS FROM FRIENDS
I had dropped out of college by summer and even though I was trying hard to write poetry there wasn’t anything good coming out of me. I was busy trying to eke out a living working minimum wage and living with several roommates. I talked to my friends quite a bit, each one of us had dreams of being artists – writers, musicians, painters… We would all meet after work from our fast food and retail jobs at my apartment which became increasingly full of club kids, girlfriends, runaways, mallrats, and punks. By two a.m. we would hit the after hours clubs and it was there that I was introduced to a new way to experience music. Yes we were all artists but it didn’t really help my poetry. I ended up trying to emulate the lyrics I would hear. I had gained an appreciation for music. Bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, and The Smiths became my favorites but during this entire summer my output in poetry – despite my aspirations – were lackluster. Being inspired by Depeche Mode’s World Full of Nothing and I Want You Now. Drumbeat was the sort of poem that I thought would be subliminally suggestive – and although it was initially popular among my peers – the sexual innuendo ended up being blatant. It is here that design starts to play a part in poetry. Not writing poetry but rather designing poetry. And so a poem like Drumbeat came off more like an advertisement. Indeed, I had been studying magazines: GQ, Taxi, Spin, Interview, Cosmopolitan were part of our reading – as well as the local newspapers that promoted clubs, bands, and other urban entertainment.
the foaming sea waves
looking up, looking down
your heart beats as the swell moves in and out
the water roaring
your heartbeat drumming loudly
in your ears, your throat, in your mind
against the silky sand shore
feel your chest
to the beat of your breath
Little Jeff. LJ and I were roommates and as an aspiring musician he wrote lyrics. As an aspiring writer I wrote poems, And so we would run around Tulsa, staying up late and talking about writing. He explained to me how to “build music” – separating each instrument, each sound apart from each other. We would talk over and over about music and writing and art and life. One afternoon while LJ and I were walking around a shopping center waiting for a movie to start, we had a light-hearted conversation about “it”. “It, it, ya know… IT.” he said. The concept of “that-particular-thing-that-we-allknow- but-don’t-know-what-to-call”. You know what I mean. LJ even went on to elaborate that once you grasp the concept of “it”, it immediately disappears, as if the act of realization consciously dissipates its true meaning. In mock exasperation he wished that there was a shelf he could place his thoughts on so that he could examine it when he was in the right state of mind.
I ripped the thought from my brain, thinking
myself and other people think I’m insane.
struggle to put it–
on memory shelf,
losing, fumble, minds and eyes roll, tumble.
A great insight
A divine light
to change myself or someone else.
If I could just find It
and put It on my memory’s shelf!
When you’re a poet everything turns into a poem. I would spend an inordinate amounts of time trying to write. And being on my own, with an apartment full of broke friends and working a dead end job I tried to spend my time be ing stylish. And every spare hour was capable producing another work of art:
sitting here waiting I anticipate creation.
there is something i yearn-go searching for
someone brings anyman’s woes to my doors
the weeping go sleeping
delusion for an illusion
illustrate, participate, hallucinate to create
subconscious watching, mindless minding
madness is a passion, the higher had forgotten.
Almost always they are written in worn notebooks with heavy ballpoint pen. And this kind of writing is more of an outlet, a communication that exist in another time frame that only writing exists in. Like a found photograph that has too many heavy memories associated with it, the words are laden with meaning that only the author defines:
Odi et Amo
he was a very good little boy with bad thoughts
but controlled them well and grew up noble and
would give his life to his friends,
his only good friends (he didn’t have many)
and gave the rest to everyone else
until one day and night they turned against him
and killed him
but he knew it would happen
and he accepted it with
an open tear and his heart
A chance reading only makes sense to a sympathetic reader who asks, “What does this mean?” Writing in this manner then is more like a note, not addressed to anyone in particular, but to anyone who is willing to read it. These poems were written pretty quickly – one shot poems that were written in poetic circumstances. Poeming was written in my bare living room, atop my solitary piece of furniture: a box that served as a chair, table, and footstool. Odi et Amo was written in a doughnut shop in the pre-dawn hours as I looked for solace after a night of clubbing.
Premonition was a poem I wrote while I was at work (at the fast food chinese restaurant). With a stolen pen and a napkin I wrote it out during a lull in the afternoon:
I cracked open a chinese cookie today
and the fortune within read;
(but I’d rather not say because
it is so sad). Anyway,
I did open this fortune today
and this is what it said;
(Well, I’m an old man
with a boring life led).
This is what the fortune said:
“The most exciting part of your life soon
But what could that be,
for an old man like me?
One night L.J. and I were up late spending our last dollar bills at the Metro Diner. That particular night he decided to try some poetry – lyrics really – but anything to be creative. I was explaining to him my poetry – I hadn’t verbalized it until then.
I told to not to focus so much on finding the right words but to find the right sound that a word has. And that the whole meaning of the poem will emerge from that. There would be more of a mish-mash of concepts but in the finished poem the feeling – or the mood of the poem will be apparent but difficult to put into words – which is exactly what a poem is, isn’t it?
Parade in my head, red.
Surrounded, bloodshot eyes of hope
Marching of the dead
even a slight reminding thought
and soon to be to mourned to move
A man’s soul an amber pulse in
deepest cave of man’s heart surface
Beacons do not burn
forever rising slow as if to hold
and soon to be to mourned to move
a man’s heart
and soon to be to mourned to move
further, far, afraid, then falling
–Jeff “L.J.” Smith
That night at the diner I said that I decided I was going to write a book of my poems called A Passage from Innocence to Fear. And that the poem I was rewriting was Passage from Innocence to Fear. I liked the idea that when a band releases an album and there is a song that refers back to the title. And L.J. liked the title too. And so it was set. I was going to write my poetry book. I remember occasionally gazing out the diner’s windows at one o’clock in the morning – both of us furiously scrawling out our poems.
I remembered a lesson from my junior year at Hawaii Preparatory. “Here the author merely lists several items, and in doing so, he manages to create an extraordinarily poetic piece.” my English teacher once said. He had walked around the classroom reading from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine
–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream</blockquote>
I had a chance to use this lesson my senior year for my Creative Writing class. Our assignment was to compose a descriptive essay about a particular gully just outside the school campus. I listed some names to describe the scene: bermuda grass, eucalyptus trees, african violets, dragonflies, butterflies. And I composed a conversation between two characters: Casey and Daniel. The assignment was eventually turned in and I filed it away:
For Danny, this was his favorite time of the day. And for a while he forgot his annoyance for Casey being late. He enjoyed the moment in the twilight and watched the innocent glow of fireflies glide up from the buckshot-sized caves which pockmarked the armored walls. Casey saw that things were getting ugly and opened his mouth to apologize but coughed up nothing to say. He sat as the clouds haunted past.
So when I found myself attending Tulsa Junior College, I decided to enter a writing contest. In order to quickly write a poem I pulled apart my descriptive essay assignment from Creative Writing class and assembled all the intensely descriptive phrases into a poem. I ended up with a very sunny sort of prose that lacked any focus. The poem needed an ending. I searched throughout my memories and carefully wrote the latter half of the poem, with a darker, more sinister theme.
And once again, a year later at that diner, I re-wrote the poem until I finally decided it was finished. I had always wanted to convey the child-like wonder and fear that I found so delightful in Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. In Passage from Innocence to Fear, I labored over every word, rewriting each line over an over.
want to go home and lie
say goodbye, lay my head to sleep
too shy and sometimes i want to weep,
help me close my eyes.
would like to cry
and lay down to sleep
help me feel a little more
of something i’d like to be
i dream in me
would like to cry to sleep
feel the tears of my heart beat
maybe then you’ll see
something about me for you to know
One Thing I Never Said
I could be your one friend, philosopher or saint
show you what I think of things,
steer you through confusion
happiness and pain
Could I be your Lancelot
wearing a shining veil of stars
kiss you as i tenderly can
and hold you in my arms
One thing I have never said
I want to say to you
I want you here, here and now, but i’m afraid
Who, Would You
who, would you remember to forget me
somehow i think you will too soon
i think i will too, i wish you well
you think i’ll forget to love you
the way i really want to
you see, i hate it when
i see me in all of you, so i go
Who, would you remember to forget me
somehow i think i will of you too
yet i’ll be alone with a memory of you
in my most private thoughts,
i’ll remember you
There She Sleeps
“Are the monsters gone,
you won’t leave me alone,
will you?” she says.
No, I won’t go
even though I’ve things to do.
“I love you.”
She hugs my neck, her eyes
are filled with watery smiles
and the nightlight holds us
in an orange haze.
Her blanket is warm
and I sing her a sleep song.
I fall into her childhood
and lift my cold legs
from the monsters under the bed.
PART FIVE: WHIMSY
One of my favorite poems is Richard Wilbur’s Boy at the Window. I was inspired to write There She Sleeps to convey that innocent, tender feeling. But in the end it sounds like a hokey attempt to be paternal. The last line shows that the “father” also has fears. This was more interesting to me and I put it in my head that I wanted to write something about the scary things – the scary things that tormented me as a kid. I tried to write a kid’s book on the subject:
Out in the outside in a home like your own
lives a kid like you whose name is Niko
and at night likes to sit and watch TV
and mom says “time for bed now, time for sleep”
“i don’t want to go to bed, i want to watch TV
play with toys and eat some ice cream
i don’t want to go to bed, its lonely and dark
things make sounds, dogs that bark
trees scratch my window at night
the wind whistles, the house creaks
and the room seems filled with horrible freaks”
“don’t be silly young one – don’t say such things
you have school tomorrow so brush your teeth
get ready for bed and go to sleep.”
So Niko lay in bed covered completely in covers
and the wind made a sound
like when you blow over a bottle
and something mottled
lurked in the corner
with four legs,
and it rattled!
“MOM! MOM! a monster in here!
It’s staring at me! It’s right here!
MOM! MOM! It’s looking at me!”
and mom ran in and said “What wrong dear?”
I believe any English speaking child in the late twentieth century has been delighted to the silly rhymes of Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Suess. When I was twenty, I re-read a number of his books: Horton Hears a Who!, Fox in Socks, The Sneeches, The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat. I found it amazing that he had been able to address such adult themes such as nuclear war, the environment, and racism – and that I knew he had done so – even when I was first learning to read.
loops and rhymes and alphabet soup
i read my old doctor Suess books
a cat in the hat, a Yertle named turtle
a twister tongue book
for my tonsted twig to hurdle
a water paddle battle
a poodle eating noodle
a Horton, a Who
and a fish that’s blue.
I sit like a kid on the floor
thinking words as a door or something more.
winter snug dry cold
drinking from a hot cocoa mug
eating laughing coyly staring
silently yearning mercury dropping
pizza pretzels cocoa
popcorn soda pop and pool
purple jean sweats
and a dull pencil
her protractor gone
the night is windy and long
i wish i were where it is warmer
like honolulu or hong kong
a slice of grass
bends because of the weight
of the most enormous
red, round, spotted, black ladybird bug
i have ever seen in my childhood days
i told the neighborhood and they said
i squashed it with my sneaker
much to my regret today
I had gotten tired of my dark, depressing sort of writing. During the past year it had consumed my thoughts. But Spring had arrived and the warm weather encouraged me to just have fun writing – on things that were light-hearted and a bit more spontaneous. By this time I thought of myself as a poet and I thought that I needed to be able create poetry on the spot. This meant that I constantly had to keep a repository of words in mind if by chance I would be struck by a poetic moment.
Suburbia was written this way. I composed it in my head in one attempt, while I rode in a friend’s car out to suburban Tulsa. But even with a deliberate attempt to concentrate on childhood subjects the result slips into morbidity. I couldn’t just write about an innocent situation, I had to to inject a sort of drama into poem, as if I was making a statement.
Too Scared To Stop
an adolescent puppy not knowing the certainty
but feels it
straggles alongside the rim of the expressway
watching for the sixtymileanhourcars
not to hit it or
to save the wide eyed pet
doomed to die. drivers
too scared to stop
or not witty enough to understand
what the dog feels
I remember in elementary school reading poems and looking at the pictures in my schoolbooks – bits of literature designed to teach children. I don’t remember them specifically but there were ones that compared construction cranes to dinosaurs, beetles to tanks, and cells of the body to towns.
Water Making Machine has a definite environmental slant that I had concerns about. And I meant it for children to read but it just didn’t end up with a “fun” focal point. It relies too much on the last line, like a riddle, that the “rain” connotes the rainforest/monsoon symbiosm.
The Water Making Machine
seeing the huge water making machine
floating effortlessly above me
slowly swirling and relentlessly churning
and years after I see
a giant oxygen machine
I was scared to find
things shooting at me
things touching and buzzing
and landing on me
crawling and screaming
and fiercely breathing
inside the oxygen machine
cloudy colossal hot and towering
giant gray bulging thundering
water pelting, sweatily trickling
a thousand miles long
and a hundred wide
up in the sky I see
the floating water machine
rain down on me
PART SIX: AFRAID TO MERGE
While in college I wrote the standard essays for my classes. The bulk of these were lost, along with other poems but I had a copy of this “compare and contrast” paper. The essay was written right after I read Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. “People are afraid to merge on freeway in Los Angeles.” is the first line in that novel. Thus my own poem Afraid to Merge , like Letter and the Ganges alludes to to that foreboding introduction:
I try to hide from the things outside. Inside the passenger car I can hear the train grind to a stop. It sounds like a malicious melody of steel, mixing in with the Bengalis yelling, arguing, and bartering. My father calls me over to the window and I try to ignore him. He calls again and so I go over to him and he asks me if I want a banana. I tell him I guess so. He gives me a few bills of money and tells me to give it to the girl outside. I don’t want to but I lean out the window and lower my hands down as far as I can to give her the money. She is about my age, ten or eleven years old I guess, and she is dark and has huge round eyes that stare at me as she clutches her bananas to her, as if her life depended on it. She takes the money and picks two bananas away from her. I give one to my father. And as I stand up again I look at the throng of people surrounding the train. And I realize that her life probably does depend on it.
My father finishes his share and casually tosses the skin out the window. I am shocked. He tells me to do the same. I ask him why and he says that they need it. I don’t understand and he urges me to go ahead and throw it outside. I lean out again and gingerly drop the peel down. A group of young boys are collecting any trash that the passengers are discarding. My father says they use the skins to feed their goats, or cows, maybe themselves.
We leave the railstation and after a while we stop again. My father tells me we get off here. When I step down from the car, I’m surrounded by hundreds of beggars. Most don’t beg though, they just stare at me. Thirty men bargain with my father to carry our luggage. Some reach out for the bags and carry them off anyway. My father backs them off with an angry voice and picks four of them to carry our suitcases. One of them had no ears, lips, or nose. Where his nose was is just a triangular hole and I cannot help but to stare. My father tells me he had leprosy and told me not to stare and to not worry, that I wouldn’t catch it. The leper turns around and I see that his back is corroding also.
Later I am reading Nikki’s letter. She is telling me how fun it is in California. Her mom was mad though because she came home that past night drunk and stoned. She was complaining how they never have food in the house and every time she has ice cream she breaks out in acne. She ends the letter, you better write back or I won’t be your friend anymore. After I finished reading it I stare at all the balloons, heart, and smiles she’s drawn all over it.
As I walk to the market I see a bony old woman in a mud colored sari holding a baby. The baby isn’t wearing anything but a string, strung around its waist as if it were a belt. The sun drops heat like rain in a storm. I can see heat waves as shadows on the concrete. The old woman’s skin is so thick and tan that it looks like leather. She stares at me like she’s mad and I can’t return her stare. Then I feel bad because I’m thirsty.
A girl runs past me with a tiny pewter nose-ring and a dark red dot on her forehead.She has a happy smile and talks to the merchants quickly and lightly. I think I think that maybe she’s getting married because my father told me that girls marry when they’re around thirteen in this country. For some reason I don’t think so. Her clothes are rags but she is still happy. I see the merchants who listen produce faint smiles on their tired faces. I look down to the ground where I see a reflection of black thunderheads in a puddle.
It is very humid and hot and I can feel the sweat around my eyes. I watch another, younger girl looking at me and she ignores the flies on her face, crawling, roaming flies. There are so many flies on her face, crawling, roaming flies. There are so many flies. She doesn’t care. I count them. Two. Three. Four. Eight. Ten. Eleven. She is still staring at me. A drop of sweat stings my eyes.
Nikki’s letter says that they never play decent movies at the theater, and that the skaters are silly, and that she wants to dye her hair. Damien has good pot and Kim lost her class ring. I remember when Nikki and I would laugh and talk about going to Vegas to get married, and we would sit under a certain willow tree whenever it rained.
The servant has some free time so we talk and he tells me in his textbook English that he would love to visit America. It is a dream, he said, to own a house made of brick, to drive a car, to buy fresh fruit…. I smile at him and ask him to change the subject.
I look out over the flooded plain of the Ganges. It seems so peaceful and content. Dark people scour the fields, working hard in the heat. I sleep but in the distance I hear a mosquito buzz. It will find me, I know. In the dark I can’t see it, it’ll come closer and louder, a sound that will gnaw at my bones. I’ll cover myself with the sheets and huddle inside, trying to hide from the things outside.
Afraid to Merge
not at my pretty date
across the restaurant table
but at the
festive fucia lipstick stained
mingle with the otherwise
dreary gray ashes
and the remnants of smoke
slowly cascading upwards.
And this is all I remember
of our conversation.
Although I had little interest in algebra, geometry intrigued me quite a bit. and the geometric proof, to me, was fascinating. So of course I tried to make a poem out of it but I had a hard time trying to accomplish that. There must have been scores of doodles and scribblings before I finished a poem like Circle:
1. Given that man=x and woman=y.
@ (-6) + (+6) y(+) x(-)
xy = ∞
y dives, π
x dreams Δ
y staring @ -6
x staring @ +6
This is the kind of work I would do during my math classes. This “mathematical” sort of representation was appealing to me. The weight and pause of each line had purpose. As in Little Boy Wants To Know, it uses the separation of lines to double the meanings. See how “Alone” stands alone which is reflected in its complement, the “One” in the following stanza.
C I R C L E
a + s u n π i s e a n ∂ ∂ u s k s h e a w a k e n s h e s l e e p s
b o + h π e a l i ≠ e + h e f a c e o f + h e ∂ e e p
s h e ∂ i √ e s i n + o w a + e π s , a w o π l ∂
u n k n o w n
b e l i e √ i n g j u s + + h e n s h e i s A l l
a l o n e
h e ∂ π e a m s h i m s e l f a l i √ e , ∂ π e a m s
+ o s o m e
+ h i n k i n g + h a + E √ e r y + h i n g E √ e r y w h e n h i m s e l f
o n e
s h e s a + + h e π e s + a π i n g a + + h e s i n g a p o π e s k y
c o π π u g a t e d π o l l i n g c l o u d s s l o w l y + π a n s f o π m i n g
h e s a + + h e π e s + a π i n g a + + h e s a s k a + c h e w a n s k y
c o n s + e l l a + i o n b l i n k i n g s + a π s s i l e n + l y π e √ o l √ i n g
I spent a lot of time in Tulsa haunting the streets, driving around, being bored, and trying to be stylish about it. And while I wandered around, every moment had that possible literary slant. And when a moment did occur, time seemed to slow down, the colors seemed to saturate, and this evoked a strange serenity that every moment seemed to encapsulate.
At the stop sign raining, the radio singing
BLAM! a windshield explodes
And two girls are on the road
One is yelling crying shrieking, the other
Just lies there dead or sleeping
With a broken skull; her friend is shivering
In the arms of an unconsoling tall fat man
And we look while the medics work
For a lost diamond among the starry asphalt
This is a completely true event. The one that was “dead or sleeping” eventually woke up. By the look in her eyes and the clarity of her talking I could tell she was going to be okay. I told her not to move but the back of her head took the brunt of the fall. But she became extremely concerned about her diamond ring. But now the paramedics had arrived but they let her keep talking to me. I assured her the ring was fine but she reiterated, pointing at her ring, and yes, she was right, the collet that held the diamond in place was empty. How was she so perceptive? She pleaded with us to find it, that it must be on the ground close by, but as I stood up the futility of the situation became apparent. Surrounded all around us were the miniscule cubes of the atomized windshield and to compound the problem, the black asphalt was shimmering with the light rain that had fallen that night.
Around this time I was making a deliberate attempt to move to Houston, Texas. And although this stopped my writing for a short while, it didn’t last long and I was eager to pen more verse whenever I found myself with
some free time.
Regardless of the meaning of any of my poems might have, I was always trying to come up with unusual combinations of sounds and letters. I tried to marry words like “we would” and “wed” into “we’d”. Or “window sill” and “pain still” into “window pain sill”. Still, I kept writing. I liked the effortlessness that came in writing lines like “corrugated rolling clouds” and “festive fucia lipstick stained cigarette ends”. So I deliberately tried to write an alliteration filled poem. As with “the dark flickers” in Passage from Innocence to Fear I purposefully switched “tired” with the word “tiered”. Although it isn’t specifically about rush hour traffic, the change from “tired” to “tiered” makes it a different poem–leaving it to the reader to contemplate this color of hunger.
Those Who Are Hungry
The citric yellow orange glow coincides
a late summer russet dusk
entertains the twenty thousand tiered lights
rushing ten thousand life long stories home
for dinner or leaving to find some:
Those who are actually hungry.
My life long dream is to stay alive
morals have staggered me down
my have-to’s I must keep
my dreams are dying
I have to keep lying
my words stray me on track
niceness brings no security
charm is ill received
sweetness is noticed by an adoring fan
not enough to feed me
I’m struggling still to stay
my life long dream to stay alive
society wants me to die
Words like “have-to’s” are extremely clunky to be used in a poem, but other than that this particular poem has some really good lines–lines that I would quote to myself: “My words stray me on track” and “Sweetness is noticed by an adoring fan, not enough to feed me.”
After a couple of years, I took several trips to Houston, Texas. Once I tried to drive there and ended up hitchhiking. On several occasions I drove my mother’s car there. Eventually I was able to moved there, but before I did I
had many days like this:
August 30th 1989:
I wake up with a headache just behind my left eye. I was glad I was there at Mark’s dorm in College Station even if I did have that stupid headache.It had been so long since I talked to anyone I called my friend. Except for Brian. I had just seen Brian two days ago in Houston, when we had beer and pizza. Mark gives me some cereal. He eats his without milk. I leave as Mark heads out for classes. I drive to a store by the highway to get gas and aspirin. No one was at the counter when I went in to pay and after 15 minutes I just went ahead and left, swiping a packet of aspirin on the way out. Half an hour on the road and my headache is gone. When I reach Dallas I call Amer but there’s no answer. I call again. And finally I just drive to his house and knock on the door. I do that twice and so I finally go back to the car and write him a note. When I go back to the door I see that the mail is gone. So I pound on the door and Amer finally answers. We drive around and stop at a bookstore and eat lunch at a tiny chinese stand. Then we go back to his house and I use his kitchen phone to call Yukio. After hanging with Amer for the afternoon I leave at 6:00 pm, hoping to get to Oklahoma State University by 10:00 pm. I drive out and hurry to Oklahoma City and I start smoking a lot of clove cigarettes and I get to OSU at 11:04 pm. Yukio is at the Architecture building and I meet him at his old desk and Yukio takes me to his apartment where we wake up his exgirlfriend at we eat cold curry and rice. Then we go back to the Architecture building. I have a box of Legos that I brought with me and I build several spaceship-looking things with them as Yukio works on his project. Working until sunrise.
August 31st 1989:
I wake up at Yukio’s apartment and drove straight to Tulsa. I told my landlord I was moving out and I clean and pack all my stuff. I called Christie and we went over to Steve’s. Steve wasn’t home but his wife was there and she is glad to see me and asks me to baby-sit Amy, forcing some money on me. I take Amy to a chinese fast food place and JR was getting off of work so he wanted to help me move so JR drove his car to my apartment and they helped me throw my stuff into plastic trash bags which they then threw out the window while I caught it. JR took off and I took Amy home and Amy and I sat around playing with the Legos. I called Sandi but she wasn’t home and I called Jean and Jean wanted me to go to the water park with her the next day and I said sure. Steve came home and he ordered pizza for Amy and I and after we ate and after Amy had to go to bed Steve and I stayed up late playing with the Legos®. By midnight I has constructed an amazing, complex ship. I finally got a phone call through to Sandi and told her I would be back in Houston in a couple of days.
September 1st 1989:
Today I paid my bounced check with the money mom had sent me. Then I moved everything else out of the apartment, except I left my blue bike in the hallway. I called Jean from a pay phone and left a message. Then I unloaded everything at my mom’s apartment. Jean called back and I took a shower and she came by and picked me up in her car and we drove to pick up Heather and then we went to the water park, and this entire day there was a growing dark storm cloud. We left the park at 7:00 p.m. and when I got to my mom’s apartment I took another shower and then went out to pick up Jean to go to Heather’s party but we stopped at Sonic first. At the party we all played stupid beer games. Jean, Heather, Heather’s boyfriend Kyle and I went to the midnight movies and saw Weekend at Bernie’s and Jean pretty much slept throughout the movie. After the movie I dropped off Kyle and we went to BeatClub and while I was there I saw two of Erika’s friends. I saw Becky and Yvette there too. I fell asleep at the BeatClub then Jean and I drove Heather home and Jean went with me to get the blue bike. No one had stolen it, it was still in the hallway. Jean said something a little grouchy about driving around but we were both so tired. I had hoped to leave for Houston at six or seven in the morning, but the sun was coming up.
September 2nd 1989:
I woke up very late. About 1:40 in the afternoon. I got everything ready for my trip back to Houston. I called Mark. He basically said that he was busy. I was getting mad because I couldn’t find the box I keep my soap and toothbrush in. I decided that I had left it on Steve’s porch when I was moving a couple of days before.So I went over there but I couldn’t find it. Steve wasn’t there and neither was anyone else. I decided to call up Erika but she wasn’t at work but the elderly lady that worked there gave me her home phone number. So I called her and introduced myself and she talked a lot, in a good way, and she was really friendly. She invited me over and we talked for hours and then she had to go to a bridal shower and she told me to just stay there at her place and take a nap and eat something, and so I ate some cereal and fell asleep. Erika woke me up a few hours later when she got back. We talked for a few more hours and then I had to leave because I wanted to be in Houston by tomorrow afternoon. So after we said good-bye and all that, the car battery was completely dead because I had left the lights on. So I went back up to Erika’s and I convinced her to to help me jump start it with her car. It didn’t work at first, but while we waited around in the cold after a few minutes my car was charged up and started it without any problems. And so I thanked her again and I left for Houston.
September 3rd 1989:
I drove to a convenience store and get a soft drink and some junk food and a diet pill to keep me awake and I felt good because it was getting slightly warmer and I could feel the humidity in the air and I sped down Route 75 and I had music pumping out of the car stereo. I’m going fast but not too fast, maybe 65 miles per hour down Route 75 and my lights had to be on low beam because people kept flashing me and in the road–?-cow-TURN!- eyes-dog-SPIN-green-grass-green-green… and the car stops.
I thought the dog I hit was now scattered over the road. I wait a moment and I get out of the car. The dog is not far away. It’s still in one piece lying on it side on the shoulder of the road. It stands up and walks two, three steps and it falls over. A black 18-wheeler drive past. I carefully approach the dog and it’s a golden labrador retriever like the one I used to have and I gently pet it, stroking it all over, looking for any wounds and the labrador isn’t bleeding all over but he has trouble breathing and I used my arms to pick him up and I placed him into the car and drove him to the animal hospital.
A Million Billion Trillion Stars
fate unexpectedly reveals.
night asphalt smoothly unreels
grumpy earlyworkpersons relentlessly flash
my bright lights, my eyes
forcing to reduce my sights
to two seconds ahead
don’t have time to realize
what looks like deer’s eyes
an old dog walking tiredly across the night
looks up into my lights
i tear the wheel left and right
hurtling into green grass
spinning the labrador over the road
searching for perhaps
the scattered remains of a life
i find in one body
shaken to staggering, striving,
falling. softly scared, howling,
crying. a dog.
was to face inside this creature
never thought such grace
encased in compassion and worry and content,
i gathered the labrador in my arms
and carry it stark with terror through
a million billion trillion stars
The poems I wrote for children were meant to be read out loud and that changed my entire process of creating poetry. It was here that I became acutely aware of the differences of between the spoken word and poems that were “concrete”. By now it was 1991 and I had volunteered at a local newspaper called Public News. The editor of that paper sent me on an assignment to cover a function called a Poetry Slam. I wrote the article and on a subsequent night I attended a reading.
Once there I was chosen as one of the judges because of my stature as a writer for Public News. We judged the event “gong show style” complete with number cards to hold up to gauge each performance. Towards the end of the night a resident homeless person who was obviously a sort of mascot for the bar was granted a few minutes at the microphone. His poem went something like “Mahlive z fugked cz im drungk ‘n drunk cz malav z fuked.” He delivered it drunk, dirty, with a honest appeal to his weakness. The other judges gave him a “1” and a “0”. I gave him a “10” and defended my point to the emcee and the audience. I guess I swayed the other judges because they retracted their scores and awarded him “10”s too. This ignited a shouting match between the emcee and some of the audience members and maybe the first judge as well. I had a mind to grab the poem itself – it had been scrawled on the back of a torn, leftover piece of cardboard, and had been trodden upon during the scuffle. The bum was pushed out of the bar because the prize, which I think was free beer for the rest of the night, was in dispute.
But the point being a poem being told in front of an audience, whether they are alcohol driven bohemians or a kindergarten class, depends on the speaker. And the speaker’s vocal inflections. My poems, for the most part, were meant to be read – to be gazed at with the eye.
PART SEVEN: FOR KIDS
The rhino has 2 horns
and 3 corns on his feet
and in the african heat
it sweats like a sherman tank
and looks like 1 2
with 2 tulip ears atop its head
and eyes like the flies around its rear
and 4 birds on his back
seeing a rhino is a majestic sight
a sturdy formidable creature
but if you come 2 close
i say, do so with care
not because of its disposition,
it’s the smell that is hard 2 bear.
metropolis mound makes no sound
teeming thousands pass peas around
hurrying down highways as wide as your hand
down to downtown ant-mound dug in the sand
trekking up trees, quest across the park
working everyday even after dark
carry away yams, haul home some ham
rushing in a twenty-four traffic jam
ant’s life is by their marching
their life is to live doing
never think about anything
as they are always non-stop moving
Insects comes from a quote from the book, The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald describing a scene of upper class characters as “busily being bored.” In my mind the phrase “busily being bored” perfectly describes the life that bugs live. And in writing this poem I tried to keep kids in mind.
bugs beetles and gnats
and flying prickly squashy insects
roaming searching looking feeling smelling for,
toward unhopeless scrabbly solitary not knowingness
buzzing biting sucking things busily being bored
I had the idea to write a poem using numbers and punctuation, but the result was always clumsy: “–ce” would be “hyphence” or “high fence” “()” would be “parenthesis” or “parents to sees” So a sentence like: “Colin wanted his parents to see this high fence he built.” is represented like so: “: wanted his ( ) this –ce he built.” I tried to do the same with numbers in Rhino, but the subject of the poem sort of took over. I tried to work the number “up” during the course of the poem but I stopped at “four”.
I wrote a rough draft of Rock and Stone – a story about a rock that, after seeing a shooting star, decides that he too wants to fly. So he proceeds to roll himself down the side of the hill to a river where he meets several other characters as he travels in the current. Eventually he is flung over a waterfall, thus achieving flight. He is crushed at the bottom but the resultant pebbles, his offspring, go happily scampering toward the ocean.
I wrote the entire rough draft in my notebook while I sat outside my car in the mall parking lot. However when I returned home I remembered that I had left my notebook on the roof of the car. I went back to search for it but, of course, it was gone.
Rock and Stone
There was a rock named Rock
and a stone named Stone
and there they lay
on a hill alone.
Together with each other
as you may or may not know
rocks and stones
talk to one another.
So after a short talk
a hundred or eighty or so
and after a silly rock and stone song,
the moon was up
and it was dark
and high in the sky
they saw a shooting star.
And Rock said, “Stone!
did you see what I saw?
A star that streaked
like a spark in the sky,
how can that be,
how come and why?”
“That,” said Stone
as solemn as a tree,
“is a rock in the sky
just like you and me.
Up in the unknowns
of heavenly peace
and Listen! just listen!
you’d not believe
the rock flies through the air
with such speed,
then it burns, it Burns!
and that’s what you see,
like a moth into flame;
and settles as ashes
to become a rock one day again.”
I had the idea of writing a poem that was so full of consonance and assonance that it would be onomatopoetic – to the point that a foreigner would be able to discern the sound of the poem as its subject. I had an aversion to using “onomatopoetic” words. “Blam!” for example just didn’t really sound like the noise it describes.
Water has that “bwop bwop bwop” and “twunga-unga-unga” kind of sound that words like “drop” and “puddles” have. So a line like “running along the tin roof, drumming raindrops” actually mimic the sound of rain on a roof.
Raindrop has a certain degree of nonsense in it that recalls the whimsical fantasy of childhood. And I enjoyed playing around with the words without much thought to logistical or factual reality–attributing that absence to the half-sleep that the poem describes.
Hearing the potato man
feeling the thunderclap
the coming of the sandman
falling into a nap.
dogs bark, a cat meows
an imaginary wolf howls
running along the tin roof
drumming raindrops soak the cat
slip in mud, rip pants
a plodding row of marching ants
worms sputter, wash down gutter
mom’s “no” and dad’s “can’t”
thumping beat of little feet
pitter-patter, muddy shoes clutter
dirty shirt doesn’t matter
film of soap elope with mud
down the drain with the rain
train of water-drops plip-plop
creating rings in little puddles
behind the soggy window sill
and fill a coffee pot with drops
children play, rainy day
boys romp, dinosaurs stomp
old man hit his head
jumping girls chanting said
rain rain go away
come again another day
tears of god, thunder rumbles
chicken noodle sky crumbles
lips kiss and light switches flip
And mom tucks you back to sleep.
Popularly attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien, “cellar door” is rumored to be the most beautiful phrase in the English language. To me, “cellar door” sounds like spanish. “Celador”. ‘Toredor”. I wondered if I could write a poem that was in english but when read aloud it would sound foreign. I spent a year ready to catch an awkward phrase. Once, while cooking, someone said to me: “crack an egg in it”. What? Kracken hagen et? What is that? Swedish? Norse? Another is: “Do you wanna buy a Honda?” Say it over and over again. It sounds like Indonesian, or Thai.
The Underwater Monster
the unsung parents are gone
prose noises were flung
the macabre night is long
something wonderful is wrong
the smirk lock is unrung
and down below
where no souls want to go
below the stair
under the floor
the soulful monster
is drinking basement water
underneath the cellar door
PART EIGHT: DECONSTRUCTION
Titles. To title a poem almost defeats a poem. Almost. To condense the exact particular placement of words of a poem into a title could render the poem unnecessary. Or vice versa. As with Epilogue – the poem itself wasn’t very good, and it was better to say I wrote a poem called Epilogue.
Titles should refer to the poem. I spent too much time composing titles. Like in my other writings, I spent too much time naming my characters. This is what I mean when I say “I wrote lists and lists of things.” Although it is unimaginative and confusing to name poems by dates or in any other kind of chronological or alphabetical order, titles shouldn’t strive to be molecular masterpieces of literature.
But for the most part, poems needed to be labeled, if just for the mundane purpose of convenience. IWISHIWASM is better suited as just a made-up word – like a name of a movie, or a game, or a performance piece, or an inside joke.
Look on me again,
on my first gaze to say
you’re the fairest I’ve seen today
yet your gaze is stronger
your sophisticated face is a facade
underneath I wonder
I can stand no longer
anything you say
I’ll blindly obey
you capture me ,
enrapture me .
Diving Into the Night
I who have . . .
. . . came rambling through
the striped black sky
to find you here
for whom I do not seek I see
your face, shining in the crowd .
I saw you dancing
and I saw you smile
so for a while I stay
forgive if I stare
such creatures are rare
creates a yearning
enticing delighting and deft
and, regrettably, I left.
and within in me you stir a soul so deep
to steal away my perchance to sleep
in sight she sings in orchestral symphonies
and delights my ears with throated eyes
an in haste i try to taste touch feel
something something something real
Symphony In Your Smile
memories of you haunt my sleep
of this love i deeply keep
the enduring in your words
a voice i haven’t heard
the yearning in your eyes
the symphony in your smile
undone romance i gave is
enough to survive in
letters give what i cannot
this spell i sleep under
i savor and i wonder
and i wait a little longer
Acciaccatura was to be the title of my novel. I planned to write three novels and I had already picked out the titles: Acciaccatura, then Archipelago and Armageddon. When I was writing these poems I grouped them into three chapters: Edifice, Ecdysis, and Enigma. Quite often I would jot down a sort synopsis, or table of contents. For example I would glamorize the timeline of my childhood by giving them titles:
Chapter One: Ridgebrook Road
Chapter Two: Cambridge Drive
Chapter Three: Rocky Mountains
Chapter Four: Suburban
Chapter Five: Bengal
Chapter Six: The Woods
Chapter Seven: The Kingdom
The plotline for Acciaccatura was complex. Acciaccatura concerned a story about Daniel, a college student, who is befriended by Casey and his brother Stan. The second book, Archipelago, was the same story told from Casey’s perspective. The story was very subtle with very stylish scenes. Here, Daniel reminisces about meeting Casey for the first time:
He looked like a smoker. He looked as if any moment now he would pull out a cigarette like drawing a pistol, light it, and hang his eyes like Humphrey Bogart would and puff away like James Dean. But he hated the smoking. Funny thing was though, he really didn’t mind the smoke itself, He would say how nice the smoke looked suspended over the pool tables and he’d comment on how the light bulbs glowed. Then he would look at nothing and focus on nothing and I guess he was remembering something long ago.
When I first met Casey he seemed aloof. I was sitting in the cafe with a coffee late at night. It was crowded with weekenders and Casey was dangling conversations with acquaintances. He walked over to me and asked if he could sit there. I welcomed him. He ordered a cup of hot tea, Darjeeling, and while fiddling with his napkin, we exchanged a rather extensive series of pleasantries. Then quite abruptly he said he had to leave and politely left, leaving behind his napkin, folded into an origami dragonfly.
In the beginning, I was concerned on how to introduce Daniel in the novel. I thought that to describe him outright was too blatant. I decided to start off the book with a highly alliterate opening line, and proceed to describe Daniel as he looks into the mirror during his morning shower.
So I was sleeping, a light sleep listening to rain running along the roof before I collapsed into a deeper unconsciousness. I was remembering something. Something that happened when I was four, maybe five years old. My parents and I were at a truck stop, yes, a truck stop a day away from the Grand Canyon. There was an orange-red sun melting on the horizon and I was in the car and my mother, smiling, her hair ruffled by the warm desert winds, had been given a small box. Inside was a Mexican jumping bean. I had never heard of anything like it. It was weird, magical, and so mysterious. It would twitch, turn, then jump, bounce off the sides of that new little box. Yes, that little box.
One winter night when we were back in New York, I looked into my magic box and the magical bean wasn’t there. I shook it but there was no sound. Scared, I had opened it, and a moth fluttered out. I was startled. I fell backwards. I couldn’t understand what had happened. I had sat by the kitchen window for a long time after that, watching the untouched moonlit snow and crystal stars. I woke up and the silent knell of tinkling bells faded as I open my eyes. I lay there for a while watching the moon, framed by the window, cast its silver rays onto the cold wood floor. And then obscured again by the evolving clouds, I drifted back into sleep and lost hold of my childhood memory, letting it flow back into the sea of history.
When I awake again I look out the window and see the sun, weighted by the rain and clouds, crawl over the horizon. Its rays, however, are strong enough to slice through the blinds and burn orange lines onto the wall. The yellow light seems to scream out the bathroom door, loudly, aggressively. I grope the nightstand and find my sunglasses and put them on. I close my eyes anyway and wait for the sluggish clouds to clear my head. When they do, I take off my clothes, and feel my way into the bathroom.
Inside the shower the water is hot enough to turn my hands red but I just stand there, feeling the water condense on my face, eyebrows and forehead. I can feel sweat trace down the angle of my jaw and cluster around my eyes. I feel the heat press through me, into my stomach, around my chest, down my arms. The water beats my back, massaging my neck. And after about an hour I take a deep breath and I realize my eyes are still closed, and my sunglasses are still on. Looking into the mirror, I take them off. I hardly recognize my reflection. My dark hair needs its monthly haircut and my brown eyes are clear. Although caucasian, it seems like I have a permanent tan. Despite being in my second year of college I still look sixteen.
Still hot from the shower, I walk back into the cold bedroom and listen to the quietness. The rain has stopped. And looking out the window I search for the sun and see that the rain has turned to snow.
Although I liked to start the novel in a morning setting, it seemed to move too slow. I wrote another piece which takes place in an airport, just before Daniel catches a plane. I give clues to an already problematic trip, and this time my device to describe Daniel is still a mirror, but with a reason that doesn’t seem so fabricated:
I felt that I had to leave Frankfurt. The Germans had squinted at me with unapproving eyes and curved their mouths into smug frowns. I made my way into a restroom after several citizens snubbed me and gazing into the mirror I found no evidence of offense. My dark hair was fairly arranged and my brown eyes were clear. My peacoat was clean and made me look like a schoolboy and I decided that wearing headphones was distasteful so I took them off. I was glad when my plane arrived but at the boarding gate an attendant stopped me and asked if I was a minor. I said “no” and plunged headstrong into the aircraft, eager to leave. Two days earlier I had been in Geneva, hot and uncomfortable. I wanted to leave that airport also, the people were friendlier but the unnatural heat that was encased by the airport’s windows was stifling.
It had been hot in Frankfurt and hot in Geneva but it was too hot in Saudi Arabia, where I had been visiting my father. The heat there was intense enough to make my body wilt if I stepped out of the shade. So when I arrived in New York I saw, through the smog stained wall sized windows, still more heat permeating the metropolis. I stood there, one among a million people at a gateway called Emigration America.
It is while Daniel waits in line at “Emigration America” that he is approached by a strange fellow who leads him through customs through a separate room that seems reserved for dignitaries. This strange person, who expedites his arrival to New York, turns out to be Stan, Casey’s brother.
Just a few months prior I was in this very spot, underneath the Frankfurt Airport, watching the subways slide to and fro. Casablanca had met me here, a big grin on his teeth, his one blue and other grey eye filled with little-kid mischievousness. His hair was usually a mess but for this one occasion he had it combed up and back, showing new streaks of bleached hair. I guessed it was cold outside on the account of his huge trenchcoat that, well, seemed to changed color. This is the first thing I told him and he laughed and said it was chameleon hide. He herded me upstairs then outside, where his coat changed from a smoky black to a drizzle green. A small white taxi chartered us through the lush, forested parkway that surrounded the airport. I was very tired and watched the trees bypass us. Shortly we were in the city and arrived at the main train station. Perpetually awake, Casey shoved me out of the taxi and muttered something about Heildlberg.
In the great hall of the Main, everything is sculpted and stone. Hundreds of clocks were embedded into the walls and columns. It reminded me of Stan’s place. Casey urged me onward and within moments had corralled me onto a train. He sang as he spoke.
And what did Casey say? I don’t know. I found it hard to write dialogue, even though it seemed to me that it would have been the easiest aspect of writing. But I would get stuck on all the nuances of each character’s speech. The writing that I did for Acciaccatura usually served as a narrative “locale” for poetic scenes. And as it turns out, it was a way for me to imagine a lifestyle that I could achieve as an adult. There were no references to anything in movies or books that seemed to reflect the life I was living, or more importantly, the life I could be living.
Been Before Again
to be belonging, i come, then
return to places i’ve been
and again back to before
then to places i’d never seen
to landscapes i have dreamed
should i stay, earn my way
or shall i go to find
what new landscapes bring
WHAT YOU YOU BECOME
wonder what more insight sings?
mind the follows, what seems adorned reality:
the warbled growl of a plane is a science
within the realm of sound
the domain of sight shows spectrum light
in spiralling oscillating wakes of water
physical waves moves through, ways like
reverberations in an earthquake,
corresponding to the school of math,
cube number, 3, 9, 27, perfect 81
the unknown ways of smell and taste
it is a citric bitter plastic place;
from a thing that breathes to burns to trees
the complex confusion of trust is lost
until it is sought simply
goodness becomes motional emotion
thence the ferocious mirth
and the roaming of therefore is just that, reason
what then, how then, why then, then then
so then reason
the science of smell/taste sound sight
and touch, of math and trust and emotion
and reason; in the realm of senses,
the empire of known, you are your senses
what you know you become
Educating an Idiot
The intangible atmosphere always near;
hanging in the try to believe.
Erase the conditioning of your mind
leave your unrelating past behind.
Educating an idiot of whats and hows
not understanding the why and reason
follow for fun,
a hollow sort of fun
like a fly batting a screen
operating like machines
like cows chewing cud
or a wheel in the mud
not occurring to realize nearby
just open the eyes
too scared or shy or stupid to realize
the why of why. why and why
and so then, then then, then again
My Dreams Fail But Tenderness Prevails
such a disgusted father-like sadness is
when you don’t understand what i see
you say why and why and i try to say
so you would understand of me
but your eyes are blank and mouth gapes
and your face flusters with rage
your anger is anger, it’s just anger
and so i turn toward a regretful manner
my things are nothing, my living, stale
i forget what’s important to me
my dreams fail but tenderness prevails
a sadness envelopes me
I kept wanting to change the definition of a poem. Couldn’t a poem just be a string of words? Could it be just a list of letters? If I stretched the text and added spaces and took away spaces and threw away punctuation and disregarded grammar, was I not practicing designing rather than writing?
–e. e. cummings
Despite my desire to write, I could never really think of anything to say. A moment would happen in my life and I would try to attach a word to it, constructing a poem out of words that clung to each other–hoping that it would make some sort of sense. A phenomenon would occur whenever I wrote. That by grouping words together, whatever the combination, there would be a sort of message that may or may not be what I wanted to communicate. This didn’t bother me before. I didn’t care what the message was, it wasn’t important. What was important to me was that the writing itself was good–the art of writing. The content, I figured, was just the same story, the same theme that any one of us have already heard. I wrote Rancid by scattering words around, hoping the reader might make sense of it. The only thing it is trying to say is that words don’t make sense anyway, they are just little squiggles, just sounds that are ultimately, utterly inefficient.
the singing of the rain
the y drop in sym phonies
the of the
of things and
what i say
that is what in trying is
y o u c annot
I had reservations about writing Rancid and some other poems that I was working on at that time. I was trying they weren’t really about anything. Rather they were exercises in poetry, like the math homework I abhorred in school. There was no longer any meaning to them–I just wanted to show off a skill–a skill that I had already proven to myself. Poems like Rancid and The Mute Buttonmaker, and Qui and Educating an Idiot were lost in their own structure, an epitome to their own rules, leading a reader to an academic dead end.
The fact that I could simply pick up a pen and scrawl a few words into a poem was appealing. But to communicate an idea, a thought, that was much more difficult. What do I have to say? Did I have anything worth saying? And was there anything I could write that hadn’t already been done, by someone much more talented that I?
life perpetually explodes
people unaware-ably are magical things
severe, vivid and emotional being
such a mirthful ascending sadness
encirculating in forever lifeness
a miracle to unbelievable to bear
but in every eye there is a fear
in every glance is that circumstance
dwells in men as well as dolls
not knowing, what, to know, from now
something binds us, cherishes our is
too simple too subtle to name or hear
not god nor soul or listing religion
fierce and living and smart, full of passion
the mystery that made us is with us
I walked onto the rickety frame of the pier, only now apparent that the wood was brittle and the water below was treacherous. I leapt from that trap, feeling an anxiousness that propelled me to the safer terrain of the beach. I was glad to make it across the road (I had almost been run over a train once) and crossed a grass lawn like a pilgrim. The stars were held above the water and slowly moving boats cast tiny swathes of light. The stars were identical to the lights on the water, and no horizon was between them. At a chance moment the lights had aligned to form a single constellation, unifying the sea and the heavens.
I sat on a bench for a long time, waiting for my insanity to pass. I was like a radio that kept scrolling through stations, each one of my thoughts overlaid against each other, with only snippets of sense, and just a few thankful moments of coherence before they slipped away. I sat on that bench wondering if time was passing slowly, or vice-versa. Thoughts of the past were catching up to me – visiting me as they paraded through. An arresting memory stopped me. I had left someone behind. It was an undone romance that couldn’t have survived with my sparse letters and phone calls. I promised to revive that romance.
I promised to revive that romance and then focused on the task of not being amazed at the trivial and mundane. I found a stick, creating it out of the landscape, and etched a bit of poetry into the sand. Regarding my work I found it miniscule – as attributed by my attention at the time. So I rewrote it onto the width of the beach, carving letters that were undecipherable to earth-bound eyes. At one point a person ran past, the knees disjointed, the hair flung around as if possessed by Medusa and the balance askew. A drunk, and I was relieved it was not something more sinister. The wind had played tricks with my eyes, giving life to objects, animating them. The tracks too, that lay embedded into the sand, seemed to undulate with the ripple of a centipede or a snake – such was the tread that the tires had imprinted. But that too was a trick of the eyes, blamed on the darkness and occasional passing of a pair of headlights illuminating this sanctuary I had discovered.
I moved to an outcropping of granite and after watching several ships pass with the deliberateness of a clock, the waves came up suddenly, a set of three, that threatened to engulf the dike. I laughed at the foolishness of my thoughts. In the waters ahead I could make out a shallow sandbar and with adventure I walked out to it, scared that ankle-deep bay might claim me. And when I finally made it out to that island I was surrounded by that black water, and pointed my attention to the dark sky, waiting to see if that abyss would take me somewhere. Instead it gradually illuminated itself – with faint glows of nebula. It was a thunderstorm and as it grew in strength I watched it send sparks of lighting and show its distant grandeur in its massive displays of light and color.
Then the clouds obscured my view, rolling within themselves. An array of translucent boomerangs, picks, and crystal triangles – bearing resemblance to galloping horses – or curiously, like the flattened bones of a fish. Within moments a mist came down upon me. I saw the moon at its zenith cast its light between the clouds, arcing its rays as if to outline a transparent buttress. And to my amazement it multiplied throughout the crepuscular rays, ultimately describing a great hall that rose as far as the mist could attain, to finally reveal a cathedral – this cathedral that I had been inside of this entire night. It was then that I decided – from this moment on, that this world would be my church.