Your humble master of ceremonies is introducing some shorter writing forms into the Notebook. Please enjoy a few poetical pieces from present and past.
The last Few Vanishing Inches Between Us
Mother’s Letter opens like a bramble.
All those years wired tight
in her vining cursive.
It’s bad enough that the paper —
thin as grandmother’s skin —
shows the old under the new,
but she squeezes so much
into the last few vanishing inches
that cousin Chris’ latest Hollywood triumphs
dissolve like hieroglyphs
off an ancient stone tablet.
Still, I search with a decoding manual in hand
between the arthritic R’s,
and repeating mounds and flags and loops
down lower and lower on the page,
for that one passage about my life.
Here is the smell of my dad’s furniture stripper —
his own special chemical residue–
under the frosted lace
of paragraph two.
And here, the latest on Margaret’s writing career–
a big commission at thirty — what skill!
And the tumor in Mary Jane’s breast?
Benign. What good luck.
“I’m breaking bread for therapeutic reasons now,”
she writes, “and it’s snowing hard on the Eric
Late winter squall today. Lake effect snow
I imagine the snow, like one of her pressed table
covering her perennial bed
in paragraph three.
Now, the paper feels heavy as summer air.
My eyes squint to read her blue twists.
In the scattering of light, figures disconnect
and I catch briefly on a line
in paragraph five.
Here, like a bucket from a drying well,
are sixteen words for my life
and twenty-nine for her grandchildren:
thirty-eight years of squeezing these stones
for a thimble full of gold.
Tonight, with a pair of slim silver scissors,
I trim these forty-five words
and press them under glass like a captured moth.
Tonight, in a hand so far
from your finely stitched script,
I press out the automatic love I hold
for you and my words slowly vanish
in the last few inches
between our lives.
(mark evans, 1994)
She mistook my words for colored water
like motor oil dazzled by a stick, stirred
in the pooling spring run-off. What mattered
wasn’t the feeling below what she heard,
but the words, like a rising of sparrows,
so often uncontrolled, their suede wings sprayed
across the blue dusk. Here in my marrow,
where red moves slowly to heart and few have stayed,
still fewer hear my own secret pain-song,
born low like spring wind through this hollow bone.
I didn’t want her tears. Their salt in dawn’s
gray light are shared pearls for lovers alone
in their curve of earth, drawn smooth like a cloud,
where strange men like me are never allowed.
The status quo harness pulls back tight, right
across the breast of our lives, like metal,
whose tin-shine protects the heart against fate
as if desire were a flesh organ, dull,
beating like a wind-up drum. But my will
wants to lose the security I guard,
and stroll the hall of your soul just to feel
the things I cannot hold, those bits we hoard
like curious crows. When I shared a ring
of clear green glass I found in the cut grass,
you let the time-worn edge draw blood, cracking
the pride you held like eggs. Still, I will miss
those clear moments – the ones before I broke
your trust— when snow blew ’round us like woodsmoke.
What We learn From Old Lovers
1. My Old Lover
My old lover’s french flourished
like wild rose vines.
When her nasally consonants rained
on those gray, sweeping days,
thorny shoots grew through my veins
like exotic viruses. She promised a cure
with a stick and a carrot:
I envied the stick–
that special way she held it.
Every day, empty wine glasses curved light
behind our half-closed door.
Her Bordeaux was deep like hungry night,
a deep red that shortened the days,
until our bodies undid themselves
on her futon. Later, she’d reassemble
her fractured passion
beneath some other man.
She went abroad.
Postcards from Aix-en-Provence, Athens, and Barcelona
looked swell on my wall. However,
the brief crocus bloom
on swollen Iowa soil
held, like a pealing bell, longer
than her stamped greetings.
And like air, I found the distance good
for me and my new lover.
2. My New Lover
My new lover’s father speaks Norwegian.
Her voice bears soft fruit
and needs no pruning.
Like a window, she is hard to walk away from.
In her garden we grow garlic, scallions, and snow peas,
and after swimming in the heat, children haunt our lovemaking.
She feeds me potatoes and lefse and cold beer,
and I cannot smell the ocean in her hair.
3. What I learned
My old lover married a bureaucrat,
installing her in a Georgetown flat
where happiness will surely cover her
stretched bosom like leather.
Someday, she may buy one of my painted canvases
and wax poetically about our brief romance
and the simplicity of my heart.
In return, I will not send her a Christmas card.
if you love me then roll in these nettles until our skin
blisters like tomatoes over a flame.
if you care for me then pierce your skin with this thorn
sweet, red ruby of your blood seeking the air.
if you need me eat with me arrowroot until our lips
dry like a split corpse in the desert moon.
if you can’t live without me seek me like the mosquito
that is swollen with lust upon my wall.
if you hurt at night, open up and let me heal
the inside of you while I cry.
if you cry for me inside, I’ll gather your tears
in an empty tequila glass.
if you laugh I will collect your quivering breaths
in petals of a pink tulip.
if you have killed I will hide you from the parents
of your spurned lover.
if you kiss me my tongue will tell yours the story
of the son of Christ who died alone.
if you love me, till my soil with your bare hands
and I will wash them in the moonlight.
if you lay with another lover, he will ever taste
like my last, sweet breath.
if you shun me I will open you like a book
and mark you with a golden thread.
if your babies leave your home I will sculpt new ones
out of mud and grass and wine.
if your wine makes you ill I will dab your mouth
with the quills of a baby porcupine.
if you gate your soul with steel bars, I will melt them
in the furnace of my heart.
if everything you touch turns to ash and cinder
I will clot them with sweat and plant seeds there.
if you wish me dead and gone I will offer my heart
soft and ready for the dagger.
if you miss me after I am slain, whisper in the pipe
that is buried in the yard.
if your tongue is tied with grief, let the wren sing
in the mouth of a spring storm.
if you choose to be sad I will return and remind you
of the blissful minute we were together.
if you forget me at last, tie this poem in a shard
of glass for the April crows.