September 10: Shamelessly offering more older poems

September 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Tonight I am being creative in the laziest possible way — reading through some old poems and choosing which ones to post. Here are two (I was feeling nostalgic for Eastern Europe and my high school days):

Do the Dead Know what Time It Is?
(On reading Contemporary Poetry in America, edited by Miller Williams, published 1973)

O’Hara, though dead, was his usual glamorous self,
promising everyone success in poetry who gossiped well and read newspaper headlines.
That beach buggy was still mourning him,
a  car was grieving Jarrell,
Rich was looking timid and Oates wore large earrings and was only moderately prolific.
Men were handsome with windblown hair, looking away from the camera,
except for K. Patchen who always looked sad.
On page 20, next to his picture a poem I once copied on a lined piece of paper and folded three times,
Nemerov’s “Style” was on the other side, I could still quote it for you,
both found in the Golden Book of American Poetry (Croatian translation, leather-bound)
borrowed from the school library, where most books were kept close to the ceiling,
urgently read in the back row of the classroom.
I was confusing a country with its poets.
In 1973 The Bell Jar had just been a bestseller,
Sexton was still alive, teaching poetry at BU. It must have been glorious to be in the world with her.
I walked down stairs,
brushed teeth, not thinking about the importance of better dental hygiene,
didn’t flush the toilet, thinking about droughts
and looked in the mirror. I looked better than last time.

(If you don’t know this particular Kenneth Patchen poem, here is a link to it. And here is “Style” by Nemerov.)


Eastern Europe

Some people on the train held out their hands,
offering wine from bottles whose lips smelled of their insides:
a thin crust of dried saliva, familiarity and trust,
bread and dry cakes,
forgetting to sweep off crumbs from tacky thick wool sweaters until arrival,
powdered sugar,
all eventually sitting down in the hallway even with the spill from the toilet spreading onto their pants,
telling stories of their hometowns,
insisting theirs was the prettiest,
insisting their suffering had been greater,
giving ample examples of cold winters and pawned heirlooms,
guttural laughter,
all wanting to be elsewhere,
so much so that the landscape is wasted, not observed, not taken in
Upon disembarking they run off without a moment of thought
In the air, for a few minutes, lingers the smell of human beings sharing food, drink, and lamented pasts,
and before it vanishes completely, at least one bystander inexplicably smiles.


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