Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Toy Soldiers

(from the Soup of Something Missing)

The Toy Soldiers

When he returned home he found
the toy soldiers had left,
one hundred plastic men
carrying their belongings
in sacks thrown over the shoulder
like a retreating army carries
the essentials of running away:
extra socks, blanket, stale bread,
wallets taken from the dead
to be returned as a consolation prize.
Hadn’t he nailed the windows shut?
Tied the mean dog to the door?
He began to notice other things were missing.
Laces from the black shoe under the chair,
its eyes empty, agape,
a dead man’s toothless mouth.
There was no conversation,
there was just the sound of a woman
brushing her long black hair,
a car coming to a stop,
crows flying off the telephone wires,
dust lifting from their wings.
Later, he’ll tell a friend that’s what it felt like,
dust lifting from the wings.
This was how he invented forgetting.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Heroine In Repose

(First published in the New Ohio Review, University of Ohio)

Heroine in Repose

I wasn’t sure if she kissed me
or simply used her lips
to push my face away. Yes,
the moist warmth was enjoyable,
but when my head was forced
back over the top of the sofa
the intention grayed.

Earlier that day I planned
to quit my job and pursue
a career writing romantic novels
that would be confused as memoirs.
But if I couldn’t distinguish
between a kiss and a push
what chance do I have
of writing romantic novels
that would be confused as memoirs?

After the kiss, and I prefer
to think it was a kiss,
she sank back into the pillows
and watched me
out of the corner of her eye.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Techniques of Immortality

What’s the life expectancy of a poem? Twenty-seven minutes. Yes, the life expectancy of a poem is only twenty-seven minutes. Most poems, according to the International Poetry Registry and Administration in Geneva, Switzerland, are not written by poets. Lines of poetry are unknowingly scribbled by all sorts of people on all sorts of things, and immediately thrown away. Of course, poets would say that a poem is immortal. Twenty-seven minutes is an average*. Considering that this average takes into account Horace, Sappho and Shakespeare you could probably guess that millions of poems race from birth to trash in seconds. Most go to their fates never knowing they were poems. For the vast majority, that’s as should be. For the minority, sadness. Think of all the great lines of poetry you and I will never read! It’s upsetting to think that there are people who don’t know that they’ve created something beautiful.

Darker poems live longer. A suspicion on my part. Poems first composed in notebooks live longer still. Fact. Manual typewriters have the same effect. I hope their scarcity doesn’t bode badly for poetry. Wondering about the life expectancy of a poem while writing is similar to having sex and wondering about the life expectancy of the possible progeny. Since poems live longer than ideas it’s best to write without them.

So, exactly how many poems are you expected to write in a lifetime? How long will you live? Keep each pair of shoes you’ve ever worn and you’ll live forever. Each night before sleep, take five deep breaths, hold the last breath for seventeen seconds and you’ll live to 102**. On a small Greek island they believe the color blue is essential to longevity.

If someone neatly tears your poem from a magazine and carries it in their pocket for two days you’ll live an extra week. If someone memorizes your poem you gain an extra month. If the memorization is the result of a school assignment you gain nothing.

A few years ago an article in the New York Times discussed the life expectancy of various types of artists. It was a slow news day. Poets have the shortest life expectancy. No surprise. At least half a dozen people sent me the article.

* Remove all the poems in the Norton Anthology from the equation, what then would the average life expectancy be? I called the International Poetry Registry and Administration in Geneva, Switzerland, and left a message with a secretary. After not hearing back for three weeks I wrote to them, included an SASE, still no reply. Some of my poems are twenty-five years old. Though none of my good, or what I think of as good, have hit this ripe old age.
** You must start this by your twenty-ninth birthday for it to work.