Lecture Notes from a Poetry Workshop
Be prepared to ask stupid questions. The kind of questions that invite ridicule. Surrender to the imps and golden threads. After all, everything William Stafford said is true. Dream in earnest, especially when awake. You cannot live without dreams. Make a partnership with silence. Even when the stillness is loud. Seek a language that improves the silence until you have fashioned a poem that looks like Kansas. Become the pilgrim of the poem. A Buddha lost in the territory of myth. A land where you find a plastic strawberry and a marble on the path before you. A memory of every haiku about spiders. Do you recognize your grandfather’s pocket watch? The one with the photograph of a burlesque dancer inside its cover? It holds the lifeline of the last surviving ash tree. Our baseball cards were never thrown away by our mothers. Find a poem in Breakfast of Champions. Make a fool of yourself as frequently as you can.
The Dream Tree
The sky is dark with fear.
with the moon a yellow parachute
making shadows long.
Salena is with her two children in the bathroom
before bedtime. Badriya and Amin wash their face,
then the car bomb goes off.
Salena runs, squeezing their hands.
Her shoes stick in the mud
then she abandons them.
Reaching a border post, they are refused entry
since they lack paperwork.
Salena gives the guard an unspoken favour.
She tells Badriya and Amin about the dream tree.
It sways its branches when you sing to it
and it makes your dreams come true.
The moon shines over the campsite,
a forest of yellow plastic sheets.
Badriya and Amin touch the sheets rippling in the wind.
he said again and again,
finger pointed at the dingy hospital wall.
His body trembled
as if he lay on a “magic fingers” bed
on high—on the derangement setting.
Yet, later, he sang
softly, and so sanely,
we hoped he was coming around
“And I was feathered—
And I flew”
They found him walking on the railroad tracks
twelve days ago.
He was clutching what was left
of his Gibson twelve string.
He said his name was Icarus.
God knows what he had dropped.
The docs didn’t.
They waited two weeks,
then warehoused him for the long term.
His parents had means—
so it wasn’t a bad place.
For a while, we’d go to visit.
But, he would just stare at the sky
as if it held an invitation—
a summons to the day
he had flown so high
he had almost touched the sun.
I rode through the desert swearing
an oath to the sacred spring.
All night I scraped heat from my hands,
my chest. Slowly my eyes returned.
I could feel tears, and pain receded
to the back of my throat.
Here’s what I brought:
the face of a lizard burned
into my skull; a deck of cards
with fifty-two queens; a bucket of sand
that turned red in the moonlight.
I offer you these:
hang them from a maple
branch beneath a squad of squabbling crows.
Grown wild, unclaimed and loose in lanes,
he peed higher, spat further, swore louder
than any other latchkey street weed.
Green acolytes, summoned with strangled
banshee howls, drawn to worship as he spoke
to us in bloodied tongues for a dare.
Envied for knowledge of hidden pathways
by the railway, and his dead bat in a matchbox,
which some could see for tuppence.
Pursuing the lost, always the first over fences,
through unknown undergrowth, into rank canals,
all consequences ignored in a rush for wheels.
Admired as risk taker, hands free on old bikes,
the world upsidedown in the canopies of trees,
a body confident in the friction of bare skin.
Solemnly, we’d gift him our bruised fruit,
liberated from the floor of the Saturday market,
consumed when the rhythms of real life paused.
No quarter sought or given, games played for keeps,
committed to blood and rain and wind and sun.
And though at twelve, his spark burned fierce,
it burned short from dying embers; snuffed out
in a consumptive breeze, warranting five perfunctory
lines of local news and a cheap cremation urn.
The Waun in June
Horses and cattle gone.
The grass grows long.
Old mine-shafts plugged,
bramble and fences surrounding.
Drift mines are suggestions,
tracks of shifted stones.
I miss the horse-riders,
tent mushrooms, disappearing lovers;
even dog-walkers rare,
bounding hounds lost in reeds.
Now’s the time of year
for looking downwards :
Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lady’s Smock,
Llysiau Taliesin underfoot ;
fallen daylight stars,
small delicate stories
pressed inside a book.
Draw curtains, turn the pages.
Waun – moor in Welsh
sits in her cabinet of treasures
by thimble recounting the days
is the sound of her unfulfilled wishes
in the face she sinks to her knees
with keys and boxes of boxes
as rabbits the dragonflies flee
is forgiving but always backwards
is the measure Margot doesn’t need
Tombs of Yuma
Margaritas salted lightly on the rim
I-8 West for 170 miles, toward San Diego
Nothing but beige sand dunes and tumble weeds
I see the wall- Black
Stopping you from entering.
I am just driving, speeding at 80
Wondering what you see through those slim slits.
I hear you wade through the waters of the Colorado
Your little boy drowned,
The border patrol isn’t allowed to save him
For fear of losing one of their own.
Fighting for a chance
I want you to have it
Why don’t we give it to you?
Why can’t we let you have it?
Jennifer Fytelson O’Brien