Poem of the Week, by Bob Hicok

I’ve been stuck on long poems the past few weeks, poems that tell stories from beginning to end. This one makes me wince and laugh and wince and laugh. Why does it take so long for parents and children to see each other as people, unstuck from the If only you’d done this or that. I have taught for a long time now at an under-the-radar state university created for working adults. Many of my students, when asked to write about a workplace they know intimately, scratch out intense, short, powerful pieces set in restaurants or loading docks or auto body shops or telephone call centers or daycares. I can’t imagine my dad ever, by choice, sitting down to read or write a poem, but he could tell you anything you want to know about any Yankees player from the last sixty years. Or how to get a chainsaw unstuck from a tree trunk. Or that a splash of Clorox will do as a disinfectant for a cut in a pinch. He could also tell you what it’s like to watch one of his children in pain, and not know how to help, or what to say. He might not put that feeling in words like “we’d turned into a door full of sun,” but I am picturing him right now, easing himself into the car, ready to drive us both up to the diner, and reaching over to turn on the passenger seat warmer because he knows I’m always cold.
O my pa-pa
- Bob Hicok
Our fathers have formed a poetry workshop.
They sit in a circle of disappointment over our fastballs
and wives. We thought they didn’t read our stuff,
whole anthologies of poems that begin, My father never,
or those that end, and he was silent as a carp,
or those with middles which, if you think
of the right side as a sketch, look like a paunch
of beer and worry, but secretly, with flashlights
in the woods, they’ve read every word and noticed
that our nine happy poems have balloons and sex
and giraffes inside, but not one dad waving hello
from the top of a hill at dusk. Theirs
is the revenge school of poetry, with titles like
“My Yellow Sheet Lad” and “Given Your Mother’s Taste
for Vodka, I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Mine.”
They’re not trying to make the poems better
so much as sharper or louder, more like a fishhook
or electrocution, as a group
they overcome their individual senilities,
their complete distaste for language, how cloying
it is, how like tears it can be, and remember
every mention of their long hours at the office
or how tired they were when they came home,
when they were dragged through the door
by their shadows. I don’t know why it’s so hard
to write a simple and kind poem to my father, who worked,
not like a dog, dogs sleep most of the day in a ball
of wanting to chase something, but like a man, a man
with seven kids and a house to feed, whose absence
was his presence, his present, the Cheerios,
the PF Flyers, who taught me things about trees,
that they’re the most intricate version of standing up,
who built a grandfather clock with me so I would know
that time is a constructed thing, a passing, ticking fancy.
A bomb. A bomb that’ll go off soon for him, for me,
and I notice in our fathers’ poems a reciprocal dwelling
on absence, that they wonder why we disappeared
as soon as we got our licenses, why we wanted
the rocket cars, as if running away from them
to kiss girls who looked like mirrors of our mothers
wasn’t fast enough, and it turns out they did
start to say something, to form the words hey
or stay, but we’d turned into a door full of sun,
into the burning leave, and were gone
before it came to them that it was all right
to shout, that they should have knocked us down
with a hand on our shoulders, that they too are mystified
by the distance men need in their love.

​For more information on Bob Hicok, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/bob-hicok​


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Poem of the Week, by B.H. Fairchild

In the past couple of weeks I keep coming back to this poem. I’ve read it through a few times, slowly, each time thinking the same thoughts, along the lines of This is a story, not a poem, and I wish there were more plumber/electrician/miner/farmer poets, and Why does this poem make me want to cry, and Geeze, these lines “our fathers fall in love with their own stories” and “And they did not because they were men, and this was a boy” are beautiful, and Honest to God, the stories we make up out of our lives are what get us through, and then I think about some of the quick and fierce and goodlooking boys I grew up with, almost none of whom I’ve seen since high school graduation, and I can see them out on the twilight ballfield of this poem.

 

Body and Soul
- B.H. Fairchild

Half-numb, guzzling bourbon and Coke from coffee mugs,
our fathers fall in love with their own stories, nuzzling
the facts but mauling the truth, and my friend’s father begins
to lay out with the slow ease of a blues ballad a story
about sandlot baseball in Commerce, Oklahoma decades ago.
These were men’s teams, grown men, some in their thirties
and forties who worked together in zinc mines or on oil rigs,
sweat and khaki and long beers after work, steel guitar music
whanging in their ears, little white rent houses to return to
where their wives complained about money and broken Kenmores
and then said the hell with it and sang Body and Soul
in the bathtub and later that evening with the kids asleep
lay in bed stroking their husband’s wrist tattoo and smoking
Chesterfields from a fresh pack until everything was O.K.
Well, you get the idea. Life goes on, the next day is Sunday,
another ball game, and the other team shows up one man short.

They say, we’re one man short, but can we use this boy,
he’s only fifteen years old, and at least he’ll make a game.
They take a look at the kid, muscular and kind of knowing
the way he holds his glove, with the shoulders loose,
the thick neck, but then with that boy’s face under
a clump of angelic blonde hair, and say, oh, hell, sure,
let’s play ball. So it all begins, the men loosening up,
joking about the fat catcher’s sex life, it’s so bad
last night he had to hump his wife, that sort of thing,
pairing off into little games of catch that heat up into
throwing matches, the smack of the fungo bat, lazy jogging
into right field, big smiles and arcs of tobacco juice,
and the talk that gives a cool, easy feeling to the air,
talk among men normally silent, normally brittle and a little
angry with the empty promise of their lives. But they chatter
and say rock and fire, babe, easy out, and go right ahead
and pitch to the boy, but nothing fancy, just hard fastballs
right around the belt, and the kid takes the first two
but on the third pops the bat around so quick and sure
that they pause a moment before turning around to watch
the ball still rising and finally dropping far beyond
the abandoned tractor that marks left field. Holy shit.
They’re pretty quiet watching him round the bases,
but then, what the hell, the kid knows how to hit a ball,
so what, let’s play some goddamned baseball here.
And so it goes. The next time up, the boy gets a look
at a very nifty low curve, then a slider, and the next one
is the curve again, and he sends it over the Allis Chalmers,
high and big and sweet. The left field just stands there, frozen.
As if this isn’t enough, the next time up he bats left-handed.
They can’t believe it, and the pitcher, a tall, mean-faced
man from Okarche who just doesn’t give a shit anyway
because his wife ran off two years ago leaving him with
three little ones and a rusted-out Dodge with a cracked block,
leans in hard, looking at the fat catcher like he was the sonofabitch
who ran off with his wife, leans in and throws something
out of the dark, green hell of forbidden fastballs, something
that comes in at the knees and then leaps viciously towards
the kid’s elbow. He swings exactly the way he did right-handed
and they all turn like a chorus line toward deep right field
where the ball loses itself in sagebrush and the sad burnt
dust of dustbowl Oklahoma. It is something to see.

But why make a long story long: runs pile up on both sides,
the boy comes around five times, and five times the pitcher
is cursing both God and His mother as his chew of tobacco sours
into something resembling horse piss, and a ragged and bruised
Spalding baseball disappears into the far horizon. Goodnight,
Irene. They have lost the game and some painful side bets
and they have been suckered. And it means nothing to them
though it should to you when they are told the boy’s name is
Mickey Mantle. And that’s the story, and those are the facts.
But the facts are not the truth. I think, though, as I scan
the faces of these old men now lost in the innings of their youth,
it lying there in the weeds behind that Allis Chalmers
just waiting for the obvious question to be asked: why, oh
why in hell didn’t they just throw around the kid, walk him,
after he hit the third homer? Anybody would have,
especially nine men with disappointed wives and dirty socks
and diminishing expectations for whom winning at anything
meant everything. Men who knew how to play the game,
who had talent when the other team had nothing except this ringer
who without a pitch to hit was meaningless, and they could go home
with their little two-dollar side bets and stride into the house
singing If You’ve Got the Money, Honey, I’ve Got the Time
with a bottle of Southern Comfort under their arms and grab
Dixie or May Ella up and dance across the gray linoleum
as if it were V-Day all over again. But they did not
And they did not because they were men, and this was a boy.
And they did not because sometimes after making love,
after smoking their Chesterfields in the cool silence and
listening to the big bands on the radio that sounded so glamorous,
so distant, they glanced over at their wives and noticed the lines
growing heavier around the eyes and mouth, felt what their wives
felt: that Les Brown and Glenn Miller and all those dancing couples
and in fact all possibility of human gaiety and light-heartedness
were as far away and unreachable as Times Square or the Avalon
ballroom. They did not because of the gray linoleum lying there
in the half-dark, the free calendar from the local mortuary
that said one day was pretty much like another, the work gloves
looped over the doorknob like dead squirrels. And they did not
because they had gone through a depression and a war that had left
them with the idea that being a man in the eyes of their fathers
and everyone else had cost them just too goddamn much to lay it
at the feet of a fifteen year-old-boy. And so they did not walk him,
and lost, but at least had some ragged remnant of themselves
to take back home. But there is one thing more, though it is not
a fact. When I see my friend’s father staring hard into the bottomless
well of home plate as Mantle’s fifth homer heads toward Arkansas,
I know that this man with the half-orphaned children and
worthless Dodge has also encountered for the first and possibly
only time the vast gap between talent and genius, has seen
as few have in the harsh light of an Oklahoma Sunday, the blonde
and blue-eyed bringer of truth, who will not easily be forgiven.

 

 

​For more information on B.H. Fairchild, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/b-h-fairchild

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Poem of the Week, by David Hernandez

Kathmandu, upstate New York and New Hampshire. That is where the three youthful companions are heading, separately, this weekend. The fact that the youngest is moving into her freshman dorm right at this very minute means that one part of my life is over and another is beginning. Hello, sky. Nice to see you.

 

Sincerely, the Sky

- David Hernandez

Yes, I see you down there
looking up into my vastness.

What are you hoping
to find on my vacant face,

there between the crisscross
of telephone wires?

You should know I am only
bright blue now because of physics:

molecules break and scatter
my light from the sun

more than any other color.
You know my variations

azure at noon, navy by midnight.
How often I find you

then on your patio, pajamaed
and distressed, head thrown

back so your eyes can pick apart
not the darker version of myself

but the carousel of stars.
To you I am merely background.

You barely hear my voice.
Remember I am most vibrant

when air breaks my light.
Do something with your brokenness.

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Poem of the Week, by Barbara Crooker

Next week my oldest heads to Nepal and Australia for a year, one of his sisters heads back to college for her senior year, and the other to college for her freshman year. All of them far, far away. I spent many hours this week going through giant saggy cardboard boxes filled with mementos from their childhoods, artwork and papers and ribbons and letters, focusing on how funny and sweet and sometimes startling they were. And giant waves of sadness and disbelief that they are no longer little keep washing through me. “What isn’t given to love, is so much wasted.” You just have to throw yourself into it all and keep right on throwing yourself into it, I guess.

 

How the Trees on Summer Nights Turn into a Dark River 
- by Barbara Crooker
how you can never reach it, no matter how hard you try,
walking as fast as you can, but getting nowhere,
arms and legs pumping, sweat drizzling in rivulets;
each year, a little slower, more creaks and aches, less breath.
Ah, but these soft nights, air like a warm bath, the dusky wings
of bats careening crazily overhead, and you’d think the road
goes on forever. Apollinaire wrote, “What isn’t given to love
is so much wasted,” and I wonder what I haven’t given yet.
A thin comma moon rises orange, a skinny slice of melon,
so delicious I could drown in its sweetness. Or eat the whole
thing, down to the rind. Always, this hunger for more.



​For more information on Barbara Crooker, please click here: http://www.barbaracrooker.com/



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Poem of the Week, by Alfred Noyes

This poem has been singing itself inside my head for the past few weeks. I’ve been playing a lot of cards and listening to a lot of music and typing out a lot of words, and all those things have a rhythm to them –the shuffling of the cards, the beat of the music, the way the right word against another right word can turn a sentence into a song– and this poem is all rhythm, so maybe that’s why. But every time this poem comes into my head, my grandfather also comes into my head. He was a farmer who didn’t finish high school (maybe he didn’t even go to  high school, I’m not sure), but he knew a bunch of poetry by heart, and sometimes he would pull us onto his lap and recite it to us. This is the exact kind of poem, old-school and with that gallop behind the lines, that he would have recited. My grandfather wore blue coveralls in the barn, and a sharp suit and hat when he went out, and he was tall and lean and goodlooking, and I still miss him.

 

The Highwayman

by Alfred Noyes

PART ONE

 

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
         Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

 

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
         His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

 

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

 

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
         The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

 

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
         Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

 

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
         (O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.



​For more information on Alfred Noyes, please click here: ​



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Poem of the Week, by Jessica Greenbaum

For a Traveler
- Jessica Greenbaum

I only have a moment so let me tell you the shortest story,
about arriving at a long loved place, the house of friends in Maine,
their lawn of wildflowers, their grandfather clock and candid
portraits, their gabled attic rooms, and woodstove in the kitchen,
all accessories of the genuine summer years before, when I was
their son’s girlfriend and tied an apron behind my neck, beneath
my braids, and took from their garden the harvest for a dinner
I would make alone and serve at their big table with the gladness
of the found, and loved. The eggplant shone like polished wood,
the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini
lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their
minions, and I even remember the garlic, each clove from its airmail
envelope brought to the cutting board, ready for my instruction.
And in this very slight story, a decade later, I came by myself,
having been dropped by the airport cab, and waited for the family
to arrive home from work. I walked into the lawn, waist-high
in the swaying, purple lupines, the subject of June’s afternoon light
as I had never been addressed — a displaced young woman with
cropped hair, no place to which I wished to return, and no one
to gather me in his arms. That day the lupines received me,
and I was in love with them, because they were all I had left,
and in that same manner I have loved much of the world since then,
and who is to say there is more of a reason, or more to love?




​For more information on Jessica Greenbaum, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/jessica-greenbaum



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Poem of the Week, by Julie Marie Wade

When I Was Straight
- Julie Marie Wade

I did not love women as I do now.
I loved them with my eyes closed, my back turned.
I loved them silent, & startled, & shy.

The world was a dreamless slumber party,
sleeping bags like straitjackets spread out on
the living room floor, my face pressed into a

slender pillow.

All night I woke to rain on the strangers’ windows.
No one remembered to leave a light on in the hall.
Someone’s father seemed always to be shaving.

When I stood up, I tried to tiptoe
around the sleeping bodies, their long hair
speckled with confetti, their faces blanched by the

porch-light moon.

I never knew exactly where the bathroom was.
I tried to wake the host girl to ask her, but she was
only one adrift in that sea of bodies. I was ashamed

to say they all looked the same to me, beautiful &
untouchable as stars. It would be years before
I learned to find anyone in the sumptuous,

terrifying dark.

​For more information on Julie Marie Wade, please click here: http://www.juliemariewade.com/profile​


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Poem of the Week, by Davis McCombs

Freshwater Drum
- Davis McCombs

In certain parts of Kentucky’s cave country it is possible to drop a buoyant object in a sinkhole and then retrieve it, often hours later, when it floats up in a bluehole spring. A watermelon, for instance, after having traveled the length some underground stream, emerges chilled to a cool 54 degrees.

Once there was a boy; and once, the sun a tarnished silver plate
between the polebean vines, he led her under barbed wire
and down a ditch to a tar-black smear that gave back nothing
but their own hearts pumping. This is a song of gravel dust
and fescue, of balance won, and a metal culvert’s stagnant slubs.
This is a music of the heart’s solidity. He showed her how
to thump the rind, their faces shadowed on its lightning stripes.
He showed her how a shirt, untucked, can make a basket
for lugging a burden down a red clay wash. Sixty years, the sun
still askew above the hill, and now she carries only the song,
but the boy is inside it, and the melon, too, and when she follows
its sequence of familiar notes along that weedless rut
she finds two bicycles propped at the head of a path angling
down mud and hoof prints to a knob of water blossoming
and blossoming, she finds the white perch drumming its tendons
by the undercut silt bank, finds the stream’s clear discharge,
how it nudged the river’s muddle, and they waited, the cold interior
of that music she would not yet hum nor carry, coming numbly
among facets. She follows the song where it leads: past
the striped and oblate orb that wavered into focus there
below the ledge, over the black seeds in a half-moon on the sand,
and to the grave in which, come that winter, the boy would lie.

​For more information on​
​ Davis McCombs, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/davis-mccombs​


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Poem of the Week, by Suzanne Cleary

Anyways
- Suzanne Cleary (for David)

Anyone born anywhere near
my home town says it this way,
with an s on the end:
“The lake is cold but I swim in it anyways,”
“Kielbasa gives me heartburn but I eat it anyways,”
“(She/he) treats me bad, but I love (her/him) anyways.”
Even after we have left that place
and long settled elsewhere, this
is how we say it, plural.
I never once, not once, thought twice about it
until my husband, a man from far away,
leaned toward me, one day during our courtship,
his grey-green eyes, which always sparkle,
doubly sparkling over our candle-lit meal.
“Anyway,” he said. And when he saw
that I didn’t understand, he repeated the word:
“Anyway. Way, not ways.”
Corner of napkin to corner of lip, he waited.
I kept him waiting. I knew he was right,
but I kept him waiting anyways,
in league, still, with me and mine:
Slovaks homesick for the Old Country their whole lives
who dug gardens anyways,
and deep, hard-water wells.
I looked into his eyes, their smoky constellations,
and then I told him. It is anyways, plural,
because the word must be large enough
to hold all of our reasons. Anyways is our way
of saying there is more than one reason,
and there is that which is beyond reason,
that which cannot be said.
A man dies and his widow keeps his shirts.
They are big but she wears them anyways.
The shoemaker loses his life savings in the Great Depression
but gets out of bed, every day, anyways.
We are shy, my people, not given to storytelling.
We end our stories too soon, trailing off “Anyways….”
The carpenter sighs, “I didn’t need that finger anyways.”
The beauty school student sighs, “It’ll grow back anyways.”
Our faith is weak, but we go to church anyways.
The priest at St. Cyril’s says God loves us. We hear what isn’t said.
This is what he must know about me, this man, my love.
My people live in the third rainiest city in the country,
but we pack our picnic baskets as the sky darkens.
We fall in love knowing it may not last, but we fall.
This is how we know home:
someone who will look into our eyes
and say what could ruin everything, but say it,
regardless.

 

For more information on Suzanne Cleary, please click here: http://www.suzanneclearypoet.com/

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Poem of the Week, by William Stafford

When I Met My Muse, by William Stafford
I glanced at her and took my glasses
off–they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

​For more information on William Stafford, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-e-stafford​


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