Monday, April 06, 2015

What She Carried With Her To The Library On April 4th, 2015


One blue plastic checkbook, the next check #1024.

One empty packet of Orbit wintermint chewing gum.

A Thanksgiving grocery list written on a Sheraton notepad.

One tampon liberated of its wrapper.

One black comb she never uses, just in case.

One Stash mint tea bag.

A packet of Kleenex that belongs to her mother.

Three eyeglass cases. One vintage, two from the optometrist. All empty.

One pair of cat-eye reader glasses with rhinestones.

One mint from a fancy restaurant in Philadelphia.

One hand mirror with the New York School of Burlesque logo on the front.

A wallet full of receipts, one photo of her daughter. one photo of a friend’s daughter.

Two pens, one with ink.

One list:
    clothesline
    waist cincher
    1/2 & 1/2
    mint tea
    spraypaint

A receipt from Mabel’s Smokehouse in Brooklyn, where she ate alone.

A copy of liability insurance for circus performances.

Several half sheets of paper filled with open ended questions like:

“What motivates you?”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Self-Portrait as a Gyroscope

for Dan

First the thread of birth and desire,
and the slow winding toward reason
at a series of smooth-topped desks.
A lust to move.

Waiting a long time for poise,
for someone to love me enough
to help with balance, then lured
by the line that leads to the center,
pulls, and lets me go.

My dance dressed up as hunger,
spinning like a moon in a dream of gold
and red flowers, a flame in the center
of the one word that is your axis.

Finally, the freedom to defy gravity,
at least for a little while, then the tilt,
the lilt toward forever.

Let me be your vision of circles,
possessive and faithful,
the heart of your wheel,
a singing bowl that fills
all negative space
with a resonant
tilt-a-whirl
razzmatazz
jazz.



Monday, February 23, 2015

I Made This Heart For You Out of Sweater Fuzz

I assembled this poem from thank you notes written to me by third graders in 2003. I spent several weeks as a poet-in-residence in an elementary school in Scranton, PA, and at the time I won an award for a poem through Poets & Writers Magazine. I told the classes about the award, which was a trip to New York City to read my poem among some pretty esteemed company (Joan Murray, Molly Peacock, Sapphire, Timothy Liu, Regie Cabico). I told the kids I was nervous. They gave me some of the best advice ever: New York has big stages, but no reason to not go on them!" And the hilarious send-off: "I want to wish you good luck for going up against fancy poets."

On the Bus from Wilkes-Barre to New York City

To Miss Jennapher:
You have brighten up my day
and I will give you a poem.
Thank you for making me smarter.
Have a happy poem life!
Poetry is like planting
a seedling in your mouth.
Good luck in New York.
You shouldn't be afraid.
I wish you all the luck in the world.
It must be hard to talk
to hundreds of people.
Hopefully you won't mess up.
Just look at Jack.
I want to wish you good luck
for going up against fancy poets.
Be courageous.
It's probley going to be a blast.
Pretend you are talking to us.
You are a great pome teacher.
Remember to read on the bus.
New York has big stages,
but no reason to not go on them.
Flowers, flowers, everywhere!
Do you want to go?
I would want to.
What is your favorite poem?
Please mail it to me.
I'll mise you.
Come bake soon.
Just become famous, ok?
Poetry flies away
like a butterfly.
You run and run
but it goes higher and higher.
Will you try these mazes?
Try not to studder.
Miss Hill is like a rainbow
over a pot of gold.
Proly at this time
there is a tear
running down your cheek
because you won't see us.
Don't panic.
I made this heart for you
out of sweater fuzz.
It was all that I had.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Self Portrait As An Insecure Know-It-All Exposed For The Fraud She Is

Your opening credits are about to start
and you don't have a BFA, an MFA,
or how dare you, a PhD. You are
stubbornly unanagrammable
between academia and the rest of the world
where all the talent hangs out backstage
to toss a frisbee and chug champagne.

Monkey in the middle.

It is not enough to make a list.
You need to check the goals off
as successes, thrones where you dust
off your trophies. Been there, did that.
Done. Done. Done.

The way those two trees on the horizon
are forever apart, well, you imagined
them as parted lovers. It could have been a
story, a play, or a poem if you wrote it down,
even a dance if you stopped the car
and took off your shoes to fling
them into the snow.

You didn’t, and you forgot.

It’s ok to just make the list.
It’s a start, you darling of laze,
spectacle with eyes everywhere,
a weirdo for the exact moment
the light transforms you
from Ramona Quimby into Judi Dench.

Cue up your soundtrack, hurling and riotous,
inappropriate and alarming. Why didn’t you follow up
on that memo? You trashed the email about it.
The digital logo for this film is an armature you decided
wasn’t worth finishing.

Cut to the scene where you begged the universe
to shake out its purse full of ballerinas and hardball
and it did, and God or whoever answered all your prayers
with darts of laughter.

Yes, you can! Yes, you can!
You’re not good enough.

Oh, here, this part!
Watch, this part is the best.
Close on to when you learned to be happy
mid-life as he carried you piggyback
over the crumbling sidewalk.

What a klutz you still are
over your know-it-all confidence
as you leap onto any stage
that will have you.

You’ll always be alone in the force field
of a spotlight, your Eden of anxiety,
finally. Right there where you belong,
where you hear your father laughing.
Don’t move. Freeze. Happy, at last.

Let’s leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The UnGoogleable World

How your grandmother sashayed into the room when all the family was together.

One pink mitten, greyed from boots and tires, at the intersection of Cherry and Grant streets.

The layer cake of your childhood, in particular how you felt when Heather rolled her eyes at having to include you in her group for the science project on erosion.

How big the sky seemed as you lay on your back in the grass with your friend. Limitless. There was no time.

The wild, and not-so-wild, sexual exploits of your early adulthood. You hope.

The peachy beer scent of the shag rug in your first apartment.

The night you waited for a boyfriend and saw that there was a man watching you from the bushes, his eyes like fire darts.

Any evidence that you ever had a bad haircut. Not really. Sorry. That’s out there.

The menu from your engagement dinner.

Stories the dying shared with you from their beds at home, or in the nursing home with the pastel artwork of empty chairs.

All live performances, seen live, and the way you rolled up the playbill, and kept it for awhile in your desk drawer with all the other programs.

Rows of typewriters at the shop on Main Street in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where two older men repair and sell, and know everything there is to know about platen rollers.

Every cootie catcher you folded with your daughter, laughing at the chance silliness inside them, every origami boat.

The callus you developed on your middle finger from holding the pen like a vice. It is a vice.

Indigo inhale of a newly mimeographed sheet of paper.

Cut to the scene where your husband helps your mother step up to the casket of her favorite uncle so she can place the carnation and say one last goodbye.

The center of the dream you had where you reached the top of the ladder made of pipe, and the wind you felt as you shifted all of your weight to reach the door.

All those backyard circuses with your sister and the neighbors.

The old neighbors you can’t name, you only recall their striped shirts or arrows of blonde hair.

That five year diary with the gold stamped cover you wrote in for three days, and then lost the flimsy key.

The snowflake hiccups of your daughter in utero.

The unfolding expanse of the lake bottom you walked around in as a kid, uprooted trees like Dostoevsky's gnarled fists.

Rat scuttle sounds from the curtains of the movie theatre.

The lost submarine feeling of all that vodka that one time.

Apologies whispered to the love of your life.

Your father’s laughter. The way he would put his hand on his chest when it was a really good laugh, and his eyes would water.

The blackened thumb of the snowman mitten you sucked on your way to Kindergarten.

That feeling you get when you know you’re leaving something out, all that matters, but you stop anyway because nothing goes on forever.

Dostoyevsky’s hands. Not available in closeup after an image search. Lucky him.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Creativity, the Internet, and the Lost Art of Being Wrong in the Right Way

Can I be honest here?  I’m horrible at everything. According to the internet, I’m doing absolutely everything wrong. Yesterday I read an article about how I have been cutting fruit incorrectly all my life. My method of cutting an apple in half, then slicing the core out, is not only wasteful, it’s bordering on Neanderthal. I’ve also been drinking from a straw with inefficient technique, and spending too much time on slicing cherry tomatoes one by one.

Life hacks let me know about all sorts of things I’ve been failing at during my lifetime. Helpful internet articles seem to fill a basic human need for their authors: To be right. Sticky sweet self-righteousness.

One of the things I’m trying to work on this year is to be ok with being wrong. Because I am wrong a lot.

When I was a kid, I did everything wrong and it was delightful! I tried to glue ice together once. That didn't work, but it wasn't a failure of learning. I was allowed to be wrong. As an adult, I should know better.

Scrolling through newsfeeds just makes me feel like a huge disappointment to the world. I am once again in my seventh grade classroom where we were discussing the spread of Christianity, hand proudly raised at the question: “Who here isn’t Christian?” I said I was Protestant. I wasn’t even Protestant. I don’t know why I said it. Maybe I wanted to be the only hand raised in the room? Was I just winging it to see what would happen? The teacher sighed and put his head in his hands when I answered, and it is an indelible memory.

Oh the tyranny of finding yourself in a place where you are so afraid of saying the wrong thing you say nothing at all! I am right there when I spend too much time on the internet, on Facebook specifically. I try to make it a more creative conversation by asking thoughtful questions, or creating projects, sharing memories, bits of poetry.

My art suffers for reading online because I silence myself. I question as I create. I wonder if every pose, each turn, each word, even if my own voice is genuine or borrowed. I wonder if the message I am sending is ok to express. Am I the only hand raised in the classroom again? Is this right in its wrongness, or is it just offensive? Worse, is it just bad art?

In improv, I can say or do anything and it becomes an accepted reality. What's wrong suddenly becomes right, and not only right, but everyone on the team plays along and adds to the world. There are rules, sure, but it's a playground of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. Sometimes it turns into bad art, but it’s fun art because there’s freedom in it.

And I guess that's what I am getting at by writing this. I see too much exclusivity online (and off), too much of a desire to prove that being a introvert is the best way to be, or that you must be constantly moving in order to call yourself a dancer, or if you screw up even once with your possessives in an essay you’re not a real writer. That’s not freedom. It’s restriction. It’s a desire to be right all the time.

It's exhausting. It's a tiresome, uncreative space. It's a place where I feel trapped and unable to spark, like I'm trying to light a match in a swimming pool. It makes me want to shut it all off, get a landline, and start using my typewriter again.

I'm just going to keep making mistakes in 2015 and beyond, and try to quiet the Greek Chorus that is telling me everything I do is horrible. A complete relief. Now pardon me while I go peel an apple with a butter knife.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Night Script for the Gifted Dead

The gifted dead send up a hot air balloon from the graveyard,
long since erased from education’s sparse picnic of projects
for the curious, grateful for the tests to finally be over, no more
prickly graphs of progress. Free to experiment with choice, to just
rock back and forth in a damp tire swing, no longer pinned to a board
as an exotic, the geisha of the classroom, the magnolia. Not special.
Normal, but dead. That’s ok, progress even, in its oddness, to join
the rank and file of root and earth in a voiceless thunder, to be surprised
by the leisure of the soul. So eager to haunt, so hospitable.