Great Pose Poems


It was a long bus ride in India today, so I had a chance to dig into “Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present”, Edited by David Lehman.  Here are some great ones and some great lines from others:

Richard Deming - Reqiuem - 2000

Rocky Marciano leans into a lucky one.  Takes a fall.  But it’s early in his career.  He staggers back after the punch, shakes his head left, then right.  This is years before million dollar purses and ESPN.  But Marciano isn’t Jake LaMotta either: bloated, eyes dulled, Scorcese filmed-in-balck-and-white.  Let’s make this an allegory.  LaMotta will be capitalsim-slowing, slowed, unable to speak through a shattered mouthguard and broken teeth.  No, that’s not right either.

Let’s go to the videotape.

There, Marciano leans into it -he wanted that punch, maybe to make himself angry enough to win: angrier than a million dollars, angrier than the nightly news.

Cut to commercial.

[Are your breath, armpits, eyebrows fetid?  Febrile?  Feral?  Do you hanker after lo-cal, low sodium, low maintenance?  Is your hunger the insatiable need to fill the unfillable?  What defines you?  Localize.  Itemize.  Narcotize.  Intensify, intensify.]

The universe expands, except for a black hole, which swallows-not even light escapes.  I once knew someone who swallowed light.  Could make each noontime as bleak and cold as a Russian bunker, where friends and loved ones would be trapped for years, etching out their names with hardened, uncut fingernails.  For two years after the war ended, six

soldiers were trapped in a Soviet bunker.  No light, no way to move the corpses as the men died off one by one.  Only two made it out, one falling dead as the light glinted off his ashen flesh when he stepped out into the sun after that long, long stay.  Rocky Marciano hits the canvas, blinks as the ref makes the count.  Rocky Marciano leans into a

lucky one.  Or is it lucky?  Maybe Marciano staggers back a bit; maybe he sees stars, or hallucinates, sees himself as a thirteen year old boy watching police boats drag the Hudson River.  It’s nighttime and Marciano flattens against the barroom wall.  He isn’t drunk, but maybe he should be.  Two decades as a prize fighter and anger gets boring-

become too familiar, rage a priori - a buzzing that he doesn’t quite hear anymore.  Like people who live near the trainyard and can sleep through the night.  You know those people when you meet them, their voices carrying over everything else, voices raw and thin from yelling all day.  A Camaro in the passing lane shakes with bass, with Led

Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” looped and a hiphop vocal track added.  What’s that anger?  It’s a kind of violence you hear, a violence that fills everything you see.  Inside the ear.  What’s more intimate that that?  Rocky Marciano leans into a lucky one and his ear swells up.  He’s stone deaf within the year.  No buzz, no bell to end the round - just the vast echo of finitude reaching out past the ropes at the edge of the ring.

Harryette Mullen - from Sleeping with the Dictionary - 2002

A versatile partner, conversant and well-versed in the verbal art, the dictionary is not averse to the solitary habits of the curiously wide-awake reader.

Thylias Moss - from An Anointing - 1992

    Me and Molly don’t double date.  We don’t multiply anything.  We don’t know our multiplication tables from a coffee table.  We’ll never be decent waitresses, indecent ones maybe.

Mary Ruefle - Monument - 2001

    A small was had ended.  Like all wars, it was terrible.  Things which had stood in existence were now vanished.  I had come back because I had survived and survivors come back, there is nothing else left for them to do.  I had been on long travels connected to the war, and I had been to the centerpiece of the war, that acre of conflagration.  And now I was sitting on a park bench, watching ducks land and take off from a pond.  They too had survived, thought I had no way of knowing if they were the same ducks from before the war or if they were the offspring of ducks who had died in the war.  It was a warm day in the capital and people were walking without coats, dazed by the warmth, which was not the heat of war, which had engulfed them, but the warmth of expansion, in which would grow the idea of a memorial to the war, which had ended, and of which I was a veteran architect.  I knew I would be called upon for my ideas in regards to this memorial and I had entered the park aimlessly, trying to escape my ideas, as I had been to the centerpiece, that acre of conflagration, and from there the only skill that returned was escapement, any others died with those who possessed them.  I was dining with friends that evening, for the restaurants and theaters and shops had reopened, the capital was like a great tablecloth being shaken in midair so that life could be smoothed and reset and go on, and I had in my mind a longing to eat, and to afterwards order my favorite dessert, cherries jubilee, which would be made to flame and set in the center of the table, and I had in my mind the idea of submitting to the committee a drawing of an enormous plate of cherries, perpetually burning, to be set in the center of the park, as a memorial to the war, that acre of conflagration.  And perhaps also in my mind was the hope that such a ridiculous idea would of course be ignored and as a result I would be left in peace, the one thing I desired, even beyond cherries.  And I could see the committee, after abandoning my idea, remaining in their seats fighting over the designs of others, far into the after-hours of the work day, their struggles never seeming to end, and then I wanted to submit an idea of themselves as a memorial for the war, the conference table on an island in the middle of the pond, though at least some of them would have to be willing to die in the enactment.  And then I saw on the ground an unnamed insect in its solitary existence, making its laborious way through tough blades of grass that threatened its route, and using a stick that lay nearby I drew a circle around the animal-if you can call him that - and at once what had been but a moment of middling drama became a theatre of conflict, for as the insect continued to fumble lopsided in circles it seemed to me that his efforts had increased, not only by my interest in them, but by the addition of a perimeter which he now seemed intent on escaping.  I looked up then, and what happened next I cannot describe without a considerable loss of words: I saw a drinking fountain.  It had not suddenly appeared, it must have always been there, it must have been there as I walked past it and sat down on the bench, it must have been there yesterday, and during the war, and in the afternoons before the war.  It was a plain gunmetal drinking fountain, of the old sort, a basin on a pedestal, and it stood there, an ordinary object that had become an unspeakable gift, a wonder of civilization, and I had an overwhelming desire to see if it worked, I stood up then and approached it timidly, as I would a woman, I bent low and put my hands on its handle and my mouth hovered over its spigot - I wanted to kiss it, I was going to kiss it - and I remembered with a horrible shock that in rising from the bench I had stepped on and killed the insect, I could hear again its death under my left foot, though this did not deter me from finishing my kiss, and as the water came forth with a low bubbling at first and finally an arch that reached my mouth, I began to devise a secret routed out of the park that would keep me occupied for some time, when I looked up, holding the miraculous water in my mouth, and saw the ducks in mid-flight, their wings shedding water drops which returned to the pond, and remembered in amazement that I could swallow, and I did, then a bit of arcane knowledge returned to me from an idle moment of reading spent years ago, before the war: that a speculum is not only an instrument regarded by most with horror, as well as an ancient mirror, and a medieval compendium of all knowledge, but a patch of color on the lower wing segments of most ducks and some other birds.  Thus I was able, in serenest peace, to make my way back to my garret and design the memorial which was not elected and never built, but remained for me an end to the war that had ended.

Maxine Chernoff - Vanity, Wisconsin - 1979

Firemen wax their mustaches at an alarm; walls with mirrors are habitually saved.  At the grocery women in line polish their shopping carts.  Children too will learn that one buys meat the color of one’s hair, vegetables to complement the eyes.  There is no crime in Vanity, Wisconsin.  Shoplifters are too proud to admit a need.  Punishment, the dismemberment of a favorite snapshot, has never been practiced in modern times.  The old are of no use, and once a year at their “debut,” they’re asked t join their reflections in Lake Lablanc.  Cheerfully they dive in, vanity teaching them not to float.  A visitor is not embarrassed to sparkle here or stand on his hotel balcony, taking pictures of his pictures.

Lydia Davis - The Thirteenth Woman - 1976

In a town of twelve women there was a thirteenth.  No one admitted she lived there, no mail came for her, no one spoke of her, no one asked after her, no one sold bread to her, no one bought anything from her, no one returned her glance, no one knocked on her door; the raid did not fall on her, the sun never shone on her, the day never dawned on her, the night never fell for her; for her the weeks did not pass, the years did not roll by; her house was unnumbered, her garden untended, her path not trod upon, her bed not slept in, her food not eaten, her clothes not worn; and yet is spite of all this she continued to live in the town without resenting what it did to her.

Ira Sadoff - Seurat - 1975

    It is a Sunday afternoon on the Grand Canal.  We are watching the sailboats trying to sail along without wind.  Small rowboats are making their incisions on the water, only to have the wounds seal up again soon after they pass.  In the background, smoke from the factories and smoke from the steamboats merge into tiny clouds above us, then disappears.  Our mothers and fathers walk arm in arm along the shore clutching tightly their umbrellas and canes.  We are sitting on a blanket in the foreground, but even if someone were to take a photograph, only our closest relatives would recognize us: we seem to be burying our heads between our knees.

    I remember thinking you were one of the most delicate women I had ever seen.  Your bones seemed small and fragile as a rabbit’s.  Even so, beads of perspiration begin to form on your wrist and forehead - if we were to live long enough we’d have been amazed at how many clothes we forced ourselves to wear.  At this time I had never seen you without your petticoats, and if I ever gave thought to such a possibility I’d chastise myself for not offering you sufficient respect.

    The sun is very hot.  Why is it no one complains of the heat in France?  There are women doing their needlework, men reading, a man in a bowlder hat smoking a pipe.  The noise of the children is absorbed by the trees.  The air is full of idleness, there is the faint aroma of lilies coming from somewhere.  We discuss what we want for ourselves, abstractly, it seems only right on a day like this.  I have ambitions to be a painter, and you want a small family and a cottage in the country.  We make everything sound so simple because we believe everything is still possible.  The small tragedies of our parents have not yet made an impression on us.  We should be grateful, but we’re too awkward to think hard about very much.

    I throw a scaling rock into the water; I have strong arms and before the rock sinks it seems to have nearly reached the other side.  When we get up we have a sense of our own importance.  We could not know, taking a step back, looking at the total picture, that we would occupy such a small corner of the canvas, and that even then we are no more than tiny clusters of dots, carefully placed together without touching.

John Godfrey - 2nd paragraph from So Let’s Look at it Another Way - 1984

So let’s look at it another way.  It’s 9 a.m. and I’m walking west from my door.  The only person on the shadowed side of the street, and the shadow is cool, is a thin girl with long wavy hair, hiding her face, which she holds down.  White girl slinking where to the east?  All night long turned to misery crystals by the Hopperesque walls.  I beg your pardon, lady, on behalf of your trade.  I can see on you the marks your monkeys made.

James Tate - Bernie at the Payphone - 2001

I came out of the post office and there was Bernie Stapleton talking on a pay phone.  Bernie had been hiding from me for seven years.  I had loaned him a thousand dollars for an emergency and I never heard from him again.  He wasn’t sure if I had recognized him, so he turned his back to me and hung his head down.  Bernie didn’t know what it was to earn a living.  He just moved from one scam to another, narrowly evading the law.  But I had always had a soft spot in my heart for Bernie.  I waited at a certain distance for him to get off the phone.  I knew he was sweating blood.  “Bernie,” I said, “where have you been?  I’ve missed you.”  He was massively uncomfortable.  “I’ve been away.  I’ve been running an investment firm in the Bahamas.  Yeah, I’ve missed you too.  How’ve you been?”  “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m kind of down on my luck,” I said, which was a lie.  “Maybe I could help you out, Simon.  If you could come up with, say, a couple hundred bucks, I could turn it into something substantial real fast,” he said.  Bernie never changed.  Everything around us was changing so fast I couldn’t keep up, and there was Bernie at the pay phone making nickel and dime deals the way he’s always done.  “I think I could come up with that much,” I said.  “Then meet me here tomorrow at three.  A little favor for an old friend, that’s the least I can do.”  Bernie was standing tall now.  He really believed he was an investment banker in the Bahamas, and not some scuzzy little rate holed up in Shutesbury without a pot to piss in.  I admired that to no end.  “Thanks, Bernie, I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said.

Ron Padgett - Album - 2001

The mental pictures I have of my parents and grandparents and my childhood are beginning to break up into small fragments and get blown away from me into empty space, and the same wind is sucking me toward it ever so gently, so gently as not even to raise a hair on my head (though the truth is that there are very few of them to be raised).  I’m starting to take the idea of death as the end of life somewhat harder than before.  I used to wonder why people seemed to think that life is tragic or sad.  Wasn’t it also comic and funny?  And beyond all that, wasn’t it amazing and marvelous?  Yes, but only if you have it.  And I am starting not to have it.  The pictures are disintegrating, as if their molecules were saying, “I’ve had enough,” ready to go somewhere else and from a new configuration.  They betray us, those molecules, we who have loved them.  They treat us like dirt.

Robert Hass - A Story About the Body - 1989

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week.  She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her.  He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions.  One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me.  I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.”  The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity - like music - withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry.  I don’t think I could.”  He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door.  It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl - she must have swept them from the corners of her studio - was full of dead bees.

Harry Matthews - From Three Entries from 20 Lines a Day - 1983

A man and a woman marry.  For their first meal at home she bakes a ham, preparing it as she always does, at the start slicing off both its ends before setting it in the pan.  The ham is delicious, her husband delighted.  “Why do you make it that way,” he later asks her, “slicing the ends off?”  “I don’t know why,” she answers, “except that I learned to do that from my mother.”  Curious, the husband asks his mother-in-law at their next meeting, “Why do you slice both ends off the ham when you make it in the delicious way you taught your daughter?”  “I don’t know why,” she answers.  “I learned how to make it from my mother.”  the husband insists that he and his wife visit her grandmother, whom he again asks: “You bak ham in a wonderful way that had been adopted by your daughter and then by your granddaughter.  Can you tell me why in this recipe one slices off the ends of the am before cooking it?”  “Don’t know why they do it” the old lady replies, “but when I made it, the ham wouldn’t fit in the pan.”

    This fable, illustrating our inevitable ignorance about why things happen the way they do, was told to us on the first day of the More Time Course, which included many other goodies: how to avoid fatigue by sleeping less, how to manage disagreeable emotions by scheduling them, how to replace paying bills by making contribution to institutions one admires (such as Con Ed, restaurants, taxicabs).

(New York, 4/20/83)

Allen Ginsberg - Last paragraph from A Supermarket in California - 1953

Ah, dear father, gray beard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Kenneth Patchen - In Order To - 1954

    Apply for the position (I’ve forgotten now for what) I had to marry the Second Mayor’s daughter by twelve noon.  The order arrived three minutes of.

    I already had a wife; the Second Mayor was childless: but I did it.

    Next they told me to shave off my father’s beard.  All right.  No matter that he’d been a eunuch, and had succumbed in early childhood: I did it, I shaved him.

    Then they told me to burn a village; next, a fair-sized town; then, a city; a bigger city; a small, down-at-heels country; then one of “the great powers”; then another (another, another) - In fact, they went right on until they’d told me to burn up every man-made thing on the face of the earth!  And I did it, I burned away every last trace, I left nothing, nothing of any kind whatever.

    Then they told me to blow it all to held and gone!  And I blew it all to hell and gone (oh, didn’t I!)...

    Now, they said, put it back together again; put it all back the way it was when you started. was my turn then to tell them something!  Shucks, I didn’t want any job that bad.

T.S. Eliot - Hysteria - 1917

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill.  I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles.  An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: ‘If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden...’ I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.

Monday, December 18, 2006

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