Poetry: The Inchworm’s Marathon

29389301_10155177235596960_1475582911288705024_nSo many poems have been falling out of the sky lately and landing on my head/page/lap/grocery list/tire repair receipt– everywhere. I love this gift of life and learning, the hard work that goes into it, but also the inevitability. The roll of it. Honoring this means stopping to get against a solid service to get the line down, and it also means granting permission to do so rather than denigrating my talent with bullshit like “Oh, that’s stupid” or “Who even reads poems anyway?” or “I can’t do this.”

Answers: “No it’s not.” “Everyone, whether they realize it or not.” “Yes you can.” Good, glad that’s clear now.

Lately I am in a fever dream of production, and it feels honest and raw: an earthquake rumbling my consciousness. Some sadness has come of it too– confronting loss, disappointment, heartbreak. This is often where the goods are, but all must be carefully handled lest the kryptonite dissolve into all my high school angst (which I still secretly love and honor despite myself). For this reason alone it can be wonderful to teach and to be a high school English teacher, so lurkingly close to the source.

The artist M. Lamar recently posted the following note on Facebook that stopped me cold: “I have always seen my art making as constantly being introduced to myself by myself and that introduction being a surprisingly unexpected encounter with a stranger.” Beautifully stated.

This can also be intensely scary. Ergo, for an additional vitamin boost of empathy, insight, generous spirit, and absolute courage, I recommend this post by composer Nico Muhly on mental health and getting out of your own way. Aaaaah.

My own pen churns my soul’s soil to offer up a funny little bounty. Sometimes I plant for big fruit and come away only with a miserly strawberry, sunburnt and shriveled. Other times I toss a few seeds and walk away, hands in empty pockets, only to return to glorious rows of opalescent growth in the form of lines, words, whole compositions, images spreading across the page. It’s spring now, and my first chapbook is underway.

Other iotas of upcomingness: Three new poems forthcoming in the summer edition of the lit journal Kestrel, short stories in The Watershed Review and Little Patuxent Review, and a guest poet situation at Poets House. Gratitude and daffodils to it all…. now where’s my trowel?

At the Summer Palace, May 2000

Beijing_summer-palaceSeventeen years ago I published this poem in the British magazine TANK. I still recognize the lost and wandering soldier who wrote it, who poked around Beijing’s Summer Palace at the height of the season. Today I feel compelled to give China a leave of absence of indeterminate length, repelled as I am by its murder of human rights giants like Liu Xiaobo (say his name). But still in my head I hear the lowing of Beijing Wanbao! and I recall my friends and students, my landlord Yang, my neighbors. They remain and work, I believe, to make the country better even as I disappeared into an aisle seat on a long-ago United flight. Here’s to those twin poles: courage and cowardice.

Owl Lamp

lampIf you take stock and notice– really breathe deep and notice— the world offers up a million poems a second. It is extraordinary to realize we are traveling at such a light speed and you will stop and say no! Slow down! I can’t capture it all when you move that quick! But the world will throw its head back and laugh and speed up again. That is the moment in which you come into direct contact with your own mortality. You cannot catch it all. Your time is finite. You will only reel in a handful of poems at best. Here is one.

Work, Poem

busWe’re mere inches and millimeters away from the start of the public school year here in NYC, and the District 7 high school where I work is abuzz, I mean abuzz, with go-get-it-ness and get-it-done-ness and other forms of generalized optimism before the students arrive and deflate these many tires. Ohhh man, what it is to teach. What it is.

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