Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bukowski's got your number

My poetry teacher wrote books about Charles Bukowski. My poetry teacher writes good poetry. So I assumed Bukowski would too. And maybe he does. I don’t know. I DO know that I was going to read just a few poems of his the other evening and found myself up til past midnight nearly finishing off his Love is a Dog From Hell tome. Appalled and enthralled, but mostly appalled, yet applauding his honesty – as ugly as it may be. I can’t even begin to explain (though I have tried anyway). Let the poems speak for themselves. But first, you must know that I purposely chose an example that is not X-rated.  

how come you’re not unlisted?

The men phone and ask me that.
are you really Charles Bukowski
the writer? they ask.

I’m a sometimes writer, I say,
most often I don’t do anything.

listen, they ask, I like your
stuff–do you mind if I come
 over and bring a couple of 6

you an bring them, I say
if you don’t come in . . .

when the women phone, I say,
o yes, I write, I’m a writer
only I’m not writing right now.

I feel foolish phoning you,
they say, and I was surprised
to find you listed in the phone book.

I have reasons, I say,
by the way why don’t you come over
for a beer?

you wouldn’t mind?

and they arrive
handsome women
good of mind and body and eye.

often there isn’t sex
but I’m used to that
yet it’s good
very good just to look at them–
and some rare times
I have unexpected good luck

for a man of 55 who didn’t get laid
until he was 23
and not very often until he was 50
I think that I should stay listed
via Pacific Telephone
until I get as much as
the average man has had.

of course, I’ll have to keep
writing immortal poems
but the inspiration is there.


And then he has this oddly gentle side – not present in much of his poetry (at least what I read in Love is a Dog From Hell. I'm really clueless about him.):

we will taste the islands and the sea

I know that some night
in some bedroom
my fingers will
soft clean hair

songs such as no radio

all sadness, grinning
into flow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Squid, Frozen Toes, Tequila and Love

Read this poem in the March 2006 of Poetry magazine.  Every time I read the last lines of the poem, my heart clunks down a few steps into a place deeper than everyday. A place I’m not sure I could live. It would be constant openness. Too raw to be productive.
The poem also speaks to the tension between, yet potential compatibility of, science and emotion. And the poet, Katherine Larson, speaks with authority because she is a molecular biologist and field ecologist. !!! Knowing this somehow makes the poem complete for me.
Oh, and Aurvandil is a giant in Norse mythology who was carried in a basket across an ice river by Thor. The cold waters froze Aurvandil’s toe, so Thor broke it off and placed it in the night sky where it became a star. You might want to know this later. (I’m pulling this from a website called The Metal Archives. I had to look it up, cause I hadn’t a clue. And I have to credit the website, because I'm not yet far enough removed from my thesis.)
“Love at Thirty-two Degrees” by Katherine Larson
Today I dissected a squid,
the late acacia tossing its pollen
across the black of the lab bench.
In a few months the maples
will be bleeding. That was the thing:
there was no blood
only textures of gills creased like satin,
suction cups as planets in rows. Be careful
not to cut your finger, he says. But I’m thinking
of fingertips on my lover’s neck
last June. Amazing, hearts.
This brachial heart. After class,
I stole one from the formaldehyde
And watched it bloom in my bathroom sink
between cubes of ice.

Last night I threw my lab coat in the fire
and drove all night through the Arizona desert
with a thermos full of silver tequila.

It was the last of what we bought
on our way back from Guadalajara
- desert wind in the mouth, your mother’s
beat-up Honda, agaves
twisting up from the soil
like the limbs of cephalopods.

Outside of Tucson, saguaros so lovely
considering the cold, and the fact that you
weren’t there to warm me.
Suddenly drunk I was shouting that I wanted to see the stars
as my ancestors used to see them –
to see the godawful blue as Aurvandil’s frostbitten toe.

Then, there is the astronomer’s wife
ascending stairs to her bed.

The astronomer gazes out,
one eye at a time,

to a sky that expands
even as it falls apart

like a paper boat dissolving in bilge.
Furious, fuming stars.

When his migraine builds and
lodges its dark anchor behind

the eyes, he fastens the wooden buttons
of his jacket, and walks

outside with a flashlight
to keep company with the barn owl

who stares back at him with eyes
that are no greater or less than

a spiral galaxy.
The snow outside

is white and quiet
as a woman’s slip

against cracked floorboards.
So he walks to the house

inflamed by moonlight, and slips
into the bed with his wife

her hair and arms all
in disarray

like a fish confused by waves.

Science –
beyond pheromones, hormones, aesthetics of bone,
every time I make love for love’s sake alone,

I betray you.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Ugly Women and Beauty Unseen

I feel a bit like a rube in that I prefer the language of modern poetry to the classics, but of course there are some “bazinga!” exceptions out there. Tons. I’m just not as interested in them and don’t seek them out for re-reads. Excepting a few–one which I found only because my creative writing professor assigned us to memorize a Shakespeare sonnet. He said it's always good to have at least one Shakespeare sonnet memorized - to show off at literary-type parties I suppose. Almost didn't want to do it just to resist the temptation, but it is a personal satisfaction to be able to hear it whenever I want (though Cummings' "somewhere I have never traveled" is so much more satisfying. And yes, I have obnoxiously shown off w that one.) Back to the bard: I chose sonnet 141 for reasons I hope obvious: the language, the humor, and thank you Shakespeare for having a poem’s speaker interested in an unattractive woman.

"Sonnet 141" by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ‘tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote;
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be.
   Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
   That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

And the following lines from “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray (1716-1771). These lines usually come to mind when I see kids living in circumstances where their chances are limited to nil. Or any time that beauty goes (for the most part) unrecognized:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
         The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
         And waste its sweetness on the desert air.