Sunday, December 21, 2014

Poem: "Look Now" ("Alas we live in the Age of Cupcakes.")

Lot's wife, courtesy of Evidence Ministries.
Scythe, an online journal which published many wonderful poets, is no more.  "Look Now" was included in issue IV in 2011. Thanks to Joe Milford, editor.

Look Now

The past is behind us, dear, down the block,
slumped beneath yon greeny elm, bereft as

Peter Pan’s shadow stuck amongst children’s
knickers and feeling separated-at-birth-ish.

No no, don’t look back.  (The that-was-then is
over with its hot-asphalt August allure

ever rankly receding as if its mother’d
never remonstrated Skulkings unbecoming.)

Not everyone is well-raised as we, my love, and
don’t say you haven’t noticed.

I hear good Lot’s wife to whom was said
Eyes forward became all salt, all the time,

salty of tongue as a pirate yet pillar of
the salt community until to legend licked.

What’s the past to say we haven’t surmised
from our shadows at 5 o’clock fore & aft?

Sure we’d like that recipe for Old Witch Cake
with canned pumpkin our sister baked.

Alas we live in the Age of Cupcakes.
Those who know the past are likely as those

who don’t to forget to bake at 350o ‘til springy
to touch.  I’d wager Madame Lot,

like Orpheus, figured So few in authority
ever speak truth, what’re the odds this time.

Sarah Sarai, first published Scythe, Issue IV, 2011

Monday, June 2, 2014

Yet More on Compiling Poems into a Collection: Ask for Help

Last November I wrote how I went about ordering the poems in my new, and second, collection. I thought I accomplished the deed, finally, submitted the ms. to a few contests, was a runner-up at one, but, in fact, my collection wasn't accepted. Okay, three rejections is nothing. A sense that someone besides my solitary self could help--that's something.

This Winter I had a chance to work with some poets in a Sunday workshop. They are all wonderful. The workshop facilitator is amazingly adept at interpretation and a specific style of sophisticated insight. I understand why she's had the good success she's had.

Another poet in the workshop also wrote really smart comments on my poems. I've known her for a few years, feel comfortable that she understands or senses my underdogness and some of the beyond the pale events of my life. And if she doesn't, she does. I asked her to read my collection, for a probably too small fee, and give whatever feedback she felt it warranted.

Result? She civilized the book. Without making any specific comments, she divided the poems into three sections. Suggested three or four titles for each of the sections. Reorganized the poems (hard copy) with their new page number in the lower right corner. She tossed a few poems. I mainly agree with the toss. I fully agree with the new order.

6/4/2014:  THIS PARAGRAPH IS A LIE. That poem wasn't excluded. I simply misplaced it in my reordering of the pages.  It's back in, and my "wise" understanding of why it "should" have been excluded is b.s.  Makes Me Rethink Everything All Over Again. I am a sheep, no?  Ahem: One of the poems cut, and there weren't many, is "This Way and That," originally published in lovely Lavender Review (Mary Meriam, editor). At first I was surprised with that suggestion as the poem is a crowd pleaser at readings. Other of my poems aren't as accessible, easy, all neatly packed and ready to be heard. I like this poem but the door clanked shut on it. It will find another home.

My title had been But Then Again. The new suggested title is Unlucky Thumper.

I'm thinking.

Last November's posting on this:

Assembling my Poetry Collection So Each Poem's Comfortable with its Neighbors: take 3 with more to come 


Friday, April 25, 2014

Ada Limón's poem "Drift"

 Thrush Poetry Journal has just published an anthology of the poets of its first two years. "Drift" by Ada Limón was in the inaugural issue of Thrush in 2011.


Some blur of a bird makes
a kid-like laugh out of sea air
and we, heart-hardy, kick
a crack-up back at it like
the opposite of throwing stones.
Like releasing tiny hot air
balloons up, moon-bound
and hell-bent on defying
the usual gravity of this spin.
Sky, here, we toss a bone
into your open endlessness,
the sound of crackle, a timber
of animal-warmth. Oh let us be
a bird flying wholly for the sake
of flying, to be that breath-
machine that even the anchored
earth-bound wavers want
to root for, want to look up
and say, rally, rally, win.
Ada Limón, Thrush Poetry Journal, 2011
 For information on Ada Limón, visit her website:
 The anthology?  Thrush Poetry Journal: an anthology of the first two years, here (on Amazon) 
 The painting is Roberto Matta's 'La revolte des contraires' (The Revolt of Opposites); 
    Matta is Chilean

Monday, March 31, 2014

Eve on Her Deathbed (by Linda Pastan) + Judithe Hernandez (L.A. artist)

 "Mascara #2" by Judithe Hernandez
It is part of a 1983 triptych called "Mascaras" (Masks).

Eve on Her Deathbed

In the end we are no more than our own stories:
mine a few brief passages in the Book,
no further trace of plot or dialogue.
But I once had a lover no one noticed
as he slipped through the pages, through
the lists of those begotten and begetting.
Does he remember our faltering younger selves,
the pleasures we took while Adam,
a good bureaucrat, busied himself
with naming things, even after Eden?
What scraps will our children remember of us
to whom our story is simple
and they themselves the heroes of it?

I woke that first day with Adam for company,
and the tangled path I would soon follow
I’ve tried to forget: the animals, stunned
at first in the forest; the terrible, beating wings
of the angel; the livid curse of childbirth to come.
And then the children themselves,
loving at times, at times unmerciful.
Because of me there is just one narrative
for everyone, one indelible line from birth to death,
with pain or lust, with even love or murder
only brief diversions, subplots.

But what I think of now,
in the final bitterness of age,
is the way the garden groomed itself
in the succulent air of summer—each flower
the essence of its own color; the way even
the serpent knew it had a part it had to play, if
there were to be a story at all.
by Linda Pastan, published in Paris Review, #192, Spring 2010

*Judithe Hernandez,

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Amiri Baraka's "Getting Less & Less Safe Out Here" (The Baffler Pulled It, Last Minute)

Getting Less & Less Safe Out Here
(Tin Tin Deo, Diz)
                               by Amiri Baraka
The world is less safe
without Hugo Chávez, imagine not, reality
Is ill enough. The world
Is less safe
Without the poets Jayne Cortez, or Louis Reyes Rivera,
Or Sekou Sundiata
much less safe without Arafat or Rabin,
A much more dangerous place
We in, with mouths closed by death, assassination. With
We wonder is it the planet’s imperialist police
That killed him, like Arafat, some secret ugly
Shit, like you know they got
With Malcolm and Dr. King
The crazy white folks was screaming so loud
They shd die, there was even some negro zombie preacher
In Chicago, boy, joined with them at the hip
Who screamed and hollered and wallowed
On the sidewalks, they wanted to run Dr. King’s street
In front of his dope dispensing south side joint.
But Chávez, I swear I think
They killed him. Some kind of death ray white
poison like they slipped Arafat. With Cabral and Biko
The animal sounds of the racists
Allowed them to shoot straight out,
They cd take off Touré with the “gone to Europe
For medical treatment” tip
but Chávez I know they killed, Ditto
Arafat. Imagine
Rabin being stalked by a right-wing Israeli nut
A Patriot, Lieberman or Netanyahu might say, imagine that
The cries from money and a new edition
Of white supremacy canceled out opposition.
They tried to get Fidel for so many years
But Fidel being Fidel walked through the flail
with the wail of an organized people, and they failed
But Chávez, we gotta know
Imperialist death science is my feeling
They always either killin or stealin
Amiri Baraka, 2013/2014.  (Amiri Baraka, 1934 to 2014)

I have the proof page / pdf of this poem as it was to be published in The Baffler. Really classy layout. The Baffler pulled the poem at the last minute. Thomas Sayers Ellis, Poetry Editor of The Baffler (then, maybe now), offered to email the pdf to any who requested it. And so.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When at a Loss, Pessoa: "A broken gateway to the Impossible"


But at least, from my bitterness over what I'll never be,
There remains the hasty writing of these verses,
A broken gateway to the Impossible.
But at least I confer on myself a contempt without tears,
Noble at least in the sweeping gesture by which I fling
The dirty laundry that's me -- with no list -- into the stream of things,
And I stay at home, shirtless.

Fernando Pessoa, from Poems of Fernando Pessoa 

***image from Art and My Life

A bit about Pessoa

Friday, March 7, 2014

Life is Without Meaning and so Is Advertising

This posting may be of limited interest. A friend who is in advertising strongly suggested I read "Absolute Advertising: Ground-Zero Advertising," a chapter from Simulacra and Simulation, a small and intense collection (1981) of essays by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. As is demanded of the French, Baudrillard is cynical. I'm not sure there is are counter arguments to his contention that the meaning we may find in life is scorned and ignored by advertising, although he did, as they say, paint with a broad brush, offering few specifics. Except for the majesty of Las Vegas, rising from the desert every day, sinking into its darkness at night. I offer the image, not his, dare I write, nostalgia.

I tend to argue with my reading, explain lapses in perspective to writers. And then, as I did reading this chapter, I argue with myself to not argue, just read. The essay is eight pages. Elegantly dismissive. And not about to give ground. For my own benefit, I copied a few quotes. Consider this posting a Notes to Self or a reminder to fight for meaning. The culture is dissolving its own importance.

from the essay

Advertising, therefore, like information: destroyer of intensities, accelerator of inertia.

It is not that people no longer believe in it [advertising] or that they have accepted it as routine. It is that if its fascination once lay in its power to simplify all languages, today the power is stolen from it by another type of language that is even more simplified and thus more functional: the language of computer science. has both "entered into our customs" and at the same time escaped the social and moral dramaturgy that it still represented twenty years ago.

It is confused with itself (and the eroticism with which it ridiculously cloaks itself is nothing but the autoerotic index of a system that does nothing but designate itself--whence the absurdity of seeing in it an "alienation" of the female body.

There is no longer a staging of the commodity: there is only its obscene and empty form.

Note: the image is from Metropolis in Barcelona. Also note that Baudrillard is smoking, as is required of French philosophers.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Poem: The Common Ancestor, Chrysanthemum Edition

I find myself reluctant to draw on references from old wells of reading, although the refs sometimes sneak in. Nothing dies and every word I've read or heard is in me. I'm the cloud, not of unknowing but of cyberspace.

But then cyberspace was created by us so the mimicry is not double-edged but rotund, a mirrored carousel. A porous scrim. The wells I'm thinking of are children's lit--universal, beloved, and, plausibly cute, as in use-with-caution. And Sunday School lit, in my case the Bible (King James, old school). Christian Science Sunday School, the loneliest place in the world. In almost every other religion, if you need help, folks assemble, casseroles are offered along with good wishes and company. In C.S. everyone goes home and reads the texts. I'll take the casserole and a hug.

Oh. Another in my few The Common Ancestor poems names Jesus. But you get the idea.

The Common Ancestor,
Chrysanthemum Edition

I was so there where we met up
after I kicked
and you opened or
I kicked you open.

Everyone kicks Mom.
If they don't, a doctor's called
and Mother converts
to keep sharp objects away.

Judy, Tina, Sarah after
my oldest sister so don't worry
on her.

Three sacred rivers are sourced
in the common memory.
Mom rode a rivulet home.
Sarah Sarai. A version of this poem appeared in Boog City Reader, Issue 83, 2013. 
Buck Downs is the poetry editor. David Kirschenbaum is the mastermind. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

With Malice (Maxine Kumin's "Woodchucks")


Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.

The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .22, the bullets' neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck's face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.

Ten minutes later I dropped the mother. She
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next. O one-two-three
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.

There's one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form. I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they'd all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.

From Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief, by Maxine Kumin, published by Penguin Books. Copyright © 1972, 1982 by Maxine Kumin, 1925-2014.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lucille Clifton . . . a heaven . . . "here rests"

*(See below)
There is nothing I need to say about this poem except that it must read.  Every poet is clever, but harnessing the quick impulse so a reader's taken aback with storm speed; moved ahead with compassion.  That's Lucille Clifton's genius.


here rests

my sister Josephine
born july in '29
and dead these 15 years
who carried a book
on every stroll.
when daddy was dying
she left the streets
and moved back home
to tend him.
her pimp came too
her Diamond Dick
and they would take turns
a bible aloud through the house.
when you poem this
and you will   she would say
remember the Book of Job.
happy birthday and hope
to you Josephine
one of the easts
most wanted.
may heaven be filled
with literate men
may they bed you
with respect.
by Lucille Clifton, from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991. BOA Editions, Ltd.,
*image: One of Thawan Duchanee's houses.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Henry Darger ... throwaway boy (a bio)

Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story. Henry Darger.
It was not an easy read but as I am fascinated with the artwork of Henry Darger I just gulped Henry Darger, Throw-Away Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist, a bio by Jim Elledge.

Not sure if "tragic" begins to cover it. A slum life in an old Chicago as bad as or worse than old Five Points New York. Poverty, filth, a mother who died when Henry was four, his father a drinker, Henry abandoned to the streets and various charity institutions, including the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children -- which reminded me of the second season of American Horror Story's asylum. He was preyed on and violently throughout childhood and teens.

Words like "gay" and "queer" seem free and open, defiant at least, compared to what Darger experienced or how he experienced his sexuality, as much as closeted homosexual does, although they are all the case.

I kept fighting with the author's depictions, wishing astonishing biographer Deidre Bair was writing this so I could find more light in Darger's life, but given Elledge's extensive historical research into Chicago in the late 1800s, early 1900s, the predatory nature of the streets, and Elledge's researched conversance with secret lives and gay culture, I can't blame him for the realities of Darger's life, and his (Elledge's) imaginal descriptions--reading into Henry's thoughts and actions; not always differentiating speculation from fact. It's a style, one I'm not used to. I could be wrong in my reaction.

Henry Darger's life had few comforts. But he had a friend/lover for years, although I wasn't entirely sure how accurate Elledge was but anyway--thank god! And when he was working as a janitor--his lifelong career--he wrote thousand-paged novels and painted, constructed his spectacular and fantastical art (outsider art --- "...produced by people who for various reasons have not been culturally indoctrinated or socially conditioned" -- a blessing, I suggest).

Not an easy read because of subject matter, but Henry Darger's courage, and his way of working on and out childhood impressed me. Maybe moved me forward.

POSTSCRIPT. Darger's work was discovered posthumously by his landlord Nathan Lerner (an artist) -- who knew him and thus understood he wasn't the predator so many art critics accused him of being--without having met him or known anything but the paintings. Oh the dangers of psychological criticism!  Of trying to figure out the artist rather than the art!  Lerner had Darger's gravestone inscribed: 
Henry Darger, Artist, Protector of Children.  And that's what the work is about.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wallace Stevens: ...of the two dreams, night and day... "Hymn From a Watermelon Pavilion"

Something's wrong lately. I'm in a deprivation mode. I am become especially inept at the balancing act between work and all-I-love. So before I left for work this morning I told myself to read a poem. There are no windows of opportunity in my mornings. There is a half-hour of bathing, brushing, the luxury of coffee and I'm off. My life is "obscured by sleep."

But this morning I stalled and opened my new Wallace Stevens collection which I bought at the Strand on Sunday to replace my old Wallace Stevens collection. It had finally crumpled like a beautiful ghost in an Alfonso Cuarón movie. A Hayao Miyazaki animated film.

Sunday, I'd asked a nimble Strand clerk to climb the stepladder, which he ably did. Well and good. But as he handed me two books he indicated one and said, "Here's a good place to begin." Grrrr. I held my tongue and paged but couldn't hold it in, turned to his perusing self at the other end of the poetry section. "I'm not beginning." He grinned.

What an ego I have! And what a lie. Of course I'm a beginner.

Someone must have come before me to my new collection as it fell open to:

Hymn From a Watermelon Pavilion

You dweller in the dark cabin,
To whom the watermelon is always purple,
Whose garden is wind and moon,

Of the two dreams, night and day,
What lover, what dreamer, would choose
The one obscured by sleep?

Here is the plantain by your door
And the best cock of red feather
That crew before the clocks.

A feme may come, leaf-green,
Whose coming may give revel
Beyond revelries of sleep,

Yes, and the blackbird spread its tail,
So that the sun may speckle,
While it creaks hail.

You dweller in the dark cabin,
Rise, since rising will not waken,
And hail, cry hail, cry hail.
Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (1982)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Uche Nduka's IJELE. 1 poem. 1 suggestion: buy the book, already

I am unable to reproduce the exact margins of the original (I should start off saying). On the page this poem is a) justified; b) with of course specific breaks resulting from either/both justification and choice. So just buy the book, okay?

c) Comment 2. I am swept away by Uche Nduka's Ijele (OVRPS/Overpass Books, 2012). These are deep stirrings detailed observations - the stuff that has to be told to someone but who besides poets find the someone (readers) and time (furious writing regardless of obligation). Nduka has me nodding assent & recognition also baffled by his minute facility to key into the internal and external with unabashed honesty and (abashed or un) wit.  Again. Buy this book. I saw him read last month. Wow. Like that.



    the dawn points at a blistered tree. we are homesick for the key to a canon of delight. someone should arrest the bloodthirsty sidewalk. that river over there should go on trial for bonding with doom. waving at doors we pulse through tightropes. the fight of black fables does not upset a querying duster. (as these hieroglyphs remind us.) yet we are not in support of chewing the curd of desperation. we are not in need of the grip of quotation marks. the dawn points at a barefaced turret. we keep our briny watch day by day. over us tumult exults. over us a compass explodes.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Day 1 of Advent Brings Brodsky & a Great Poem

A Poem for Christmas

Imagine striking a match that night in the cave:
use the cracks in the floor to feel the cold.
Use crockery in order to feel the hunger.
And to feel the desert - but the desert is everywhere.
Imagine striking a match in that midnight cave,
the fire, the farm beasts in outline, the farm tools and stuff;
and imagine, as you towel your face in the towel's folds,
the bundled up Infant. And Mary and Joseph.
Imagine the kings, the caravans' stilted procession
as they make for the cave, or rather three beams closing in
and in on the star; the creaking of loads, the clink of a cowbell;
(but in the cerulean thickening over the Infant
no bell and no echo of bell: He hasn't earned it yet.)
Imagine the Lord, for the first time, from darkness, and stranded
immensely in distance, recognising Himself in the Son,
of Man: homeless, going out to Himself in a homeless one.

From Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002
(I am told this poem was translated by Seamus Heaney. If any wise person can verify, please do so. I know Heaney is one of the collection's translators.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Bits of Gratitude, Wednesday, November 27

Gratitude, according to an article I read yesterday, serves as an antidepressant. Write 5 statements of gratitude every night and give life's beauty a chance to outshout moods. It's not a full remedy, duh, but it sure is a help, an appeasement (I'll take it), and also an acknowledgement of what's at hand, often overlooked. Today's 5, shared.

  • I am grateful for scaffolding. When it's rainy and windy I'm protected, at least one block at a time, by the overhang. So are other pedestrians (hence, and this may be a stretch, there's an increase in community - not only are we in this together, we're under it).
  • I am grateful for my job - enormously unbelievably genuinely deliriously verging on maddeningly so. Work, a paycheck, benefits, the dailiness - yes & yowza.
  • I am grateful for friends who hang in with me, no matter what.
  • I am grateful for fear though I can't come up with a reason why. It alerts me to my psyche? It's real? I get through it?
  • I am grateful when the rain stops enough I can go outside without a coat (the visual: Sarah racing out of the office during lunch) to pick up a sandwich. 
  • Bonus round: Yay for sandwiches.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Wanda Coleman, There and Still Here

One of America's most alive, most caring, and most righteously enraged poets, Wanda Coleman, has passed on. She served as Los Angeles' poetic spirit for years and years. Her passion will be missed. Her poems remain as its testament. 

American Sonnets: 91
the gates of mercy slammed on the right foot.
they would not permit return and bent
a wing. there was no choice but
to learn to boogaloo. those horrid days
were not without their pleasure, learning
to swear and wearing mock leather so tight
eyes bulged, a stolen puff or two
behind crack-broken backs and tickled palms
in hallways dark, flirtations during choir practice
as the body organized itself against the will
(a mystic gone ballistic, not home but blood
on the range) as one descended on this effed-up
breeding hole of greeds—to suffer chronic seeings

was’t hunger or holiness spurred the sighting?
Wanda Coleman, 1946-2013. From Mercurochrome (Black Sparrow Press/Godine) @ 2001.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Amy Lowell Takes on the Moon, and Tenderly So, in "Interlude"


When I have baked white cakes
And grated green almonds to spread on them;
When I have picked the green crowns from the strawberries
And piled them, cone-pointed, in a blue and yellow platter;
When I have smoothed the seam of the linen I have been working;
What then?
To-morrow it will be the same:
Cakes and strawberries,
And needles in and out of cloth
If the sun is beautiful on bricks and pewter,
How much more beautiful is the moon,
Slanting down the gauffered branches of a plum-tree;
The moon
Wavering across a bed of tulips;
The moon,
Upon your face.
You shine, Beloved,
You and the moon.
But which is the reflection?
The clock is striking eleven.
I think, when we have shut and barred the door,
The night will be dark

by Amy Lowell (I don't know which collection (if any) this is from; found it on the archive, Modern American Poetry (

Otherstream Anthology, Shadows of the Future, a free e-book! (soon on our lover's back)

I am thrilled to have my poems "The Quiet Softness," "Today No One Is Your Friend," "The Philadelphia Art Museum," and "Look Now" appear in the new anthology of the Otherstream writing group, Shadows of the Future, edited by Marc Vincenz and published by Jeffrey Side of The Argotist Online.

The anthology is free and online, both of which are exciting to report.  Soon we'll be able to download directly to our palm, our forearm, our lover's back, but for now, an e-book is sufficient innovation.

You are welcome to disseminate, share, and most of all, read!

Other poets include Larissa Shmailo, Susan Lewis, mIEKAL aND, Camille Bacos, Jack Foley, David Chirot (whose artwork is on the cover), Jukka Pekka-Kurvinen, Carol Novack, Jeffrey Side, Mark Vincenz, Dan Raphael, Howie Good, Keith Higgenbotham, Jake Berry, Mary-Marcia Casole . . . and more.

Publication was September, 2013.