An Inspiring Day in Kalamazoo: Poems

Happy Sunday, friends! I hope you each had a wonderful weekend and are looking forward to Monday.

Believe it or not, I actually am excited about Monday, because I’ll be spending time with my kiddos and (gasp!) writing.

This weekend was of the whirlwind variety, taking me through Chicago, down to Indiana, up into Michigan, and back again. I’m home now, comfortable in my own space after so much catching up, via inspiring, intellectual, and fun conversations with family, former colleagues, and writers alike.

I was invited to a New Issues event today, entitled, “Celebrating New Issues: Honoring Bill Olsen’s 10 Years of Editorship.” When I found out Bill was retiring this year from teaching and editing (at least in a formal capacity), I knew I had to find a way to make it to Michigan. Fortunately, we were able to make it work by making a weekend out of it, spending time with family and then heading to Michigan for the reading.

It was wonderful to reconnect with so many writers from around Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, and also to see those integral to New Issues Poetry and Prose, and the English / Creative Writing Department at Western.

Though I’ll inevitably be writing tonight and tomorrow, I wanted to share for now two poems, not written by me, that were read at the New Issues celebration, as well as two poems from New Issues’ latest publications… I’ll be sharing more of Bill’s work later in the week, once I’ve had a chance to properly revisit his work; I hope you’ll stay tuned for that, because his work is amazing.

First, poems by New Issues’ latest: “Distillation Poem” from Eman Hassan’s Raghead and “Mistress of the House” from Chet’la Sebree’s Mistress.

DISTILLATION POEM
Kuwait, Active-Present

Everything is different and yet the same.

The same moon arcs across skies less
and less blue, while vanity mirrors

still reflect an ever-constant me me me, still
deflect backgrounds of sponsored Asians in bondage.

Fingers of moonlight grow long across dressing tables,
wrap eyes in gossamer bandages…

… if you’re looking for a sonnet, this isn’t it.

Come, take your pill and remember
those petrified lessons of war’s carnage, come

smell the putrid outpouring of sewage, still let
into the sea, in the dim-lit dead of night,

raw as the dead who now see
standing behind each shoulder like worried angels

longing for fingers to touch, to unfasten the knots
at the backs of our skulls…


MISTRESS OF THE HOUSE

I want to learn to sit cross-ankled
and set an Emily Post table,

want to invite my colleagues to dinner
and play hostess supreme—

serving beef bourguignon and baked Alaska,
all gluten-free—to retire

to a bed bearing a partner
in satisfied exhaustion.

I want a deep-lunged beast
to stir me from my sleep,

want to be good at something
other than this writing exhibitionism,

even though I lost the first baby I loved
and prefer eating pork rinds alone.

*

Next, a poem by Bill, from his latest collection, TechnoRage:

AND THE CREATURES LAY DOWN

The woods running out of breath
were paradise, you and I
rocking in sex like kids on swings,
trying out open tunings
or whatever we wished that seemed pure
and apart from our parents
and all humankind, and now
the ice caps are on the verge
of a nervous breakdown,
it’s time our generation said
goodbye. That bowling ball
in my hands was my head,
before even midnight died
there was lots of wind to listen lost to
but when it lightninged
one beautiful sight was you.

And the world was just like
a reality and mostly ours to
kite alongside our loved ones
hurled like birds by the wind
beak first into the mortuary.
We stopped crying at the sad parts
to cry at the joyous parts,
then turn to one another.

*

Finally, a poem by Robert Hass, from his collection, The Apple Trees at Olema, to wrap things up.

JULY NOTEBOOK: THE BIRDS

Late afternoon in June the fog rides in
across the ridge of pines, ghosting them,
and settling on the bay to give a muted gray
luster to the last hours of light and take back
what we didn’t know at midday we’d experience
as lack: the blue summer and the dry spiced scent
of the summer woods. It’s as if some cold salt god
had wandered inland for a nap. You still see
herons fishing in the shallows, a kingfisher or an osprey
emerges for a moment out of the high, drifting mist,
then vanishes again. And the soft, light green leaves
of the thimbleberry and the ridged coffeeberry leaves
and the needles of the redwoods and pines look more sprightly
in the cool gray air with the long dusk coming on,
since fog is their natural element. I had it in mind
that this description of the weather would be a way
to say things come and go, a way of subsuming
the rhythms of arrival and departure to a sense
of how brief the time is on a summer afternoon
when the sun is warm on your neck and the world
might as well be a dog sleeping on a porch, or a child
for whom an afternoon is endless, endless. Time:
thick honey, and no one saying good-bye.

*

Have a wonderful evening, all.

Share