Old poems are the bomb

I’ve got nothing much new to say, so I’ll share an old poem instead. This is one of several atomic bomb poems I wrote many years ago after my father-in-law told me stories about them (he did three tours in Korea, and before he was shipped overseas to fight he was dropped off in Nevada where the US government was testing atomic bombs by dropping them on soldiers to measure the effects on humans, among other things). His stories got me interested in all these atomic bomb tests carried out in the 1950’s and early 60’s; this particular poem was based on an eyewitness account I found online of the very first bomb drop ever conducted on American soil. It was written by one of the two men who’d been stationed out in an old shack in the middle of the desert, and it described them sitting outside at night watching the plane inch closer that would drop the bomb right on top of them – no one knew what was going to happen, and they didn’t know what to do except sit there and wait. 

Frenchman Flats, 1951

The desert floor is crumpled as an old photograph,
sand as cold as fisheyes. Joshua trees surrender

like enemies in the distance. The coyotes
are crying on cue, howling their presence to the moon,

the moon a zygote in the sky, an untreated wound.
They insist this moment matters, not the one

for which you wait, when the bomber banks right
and the world goes white. There’s a pulse

in the eastern sky – humming high over the horizon,
a heavy underbelly flashing red. Remember this.

The moment you embrace your nothingness.

 

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Poetry break.

I feel like yesterday’s post was so lame, that I need to write something tonight to move it off the main page, so to speak – but, I am preoccupied by things I’d rather not write about, because they’re not terribly important and are totally fixable if I’d just yank myself up out of this unhealthy rut I’ve been in for a few years now (I currently weigh more than I ever have in my life, and it’s pissing me off, yet it’s totally my fault for eating like crap and not exercising, so I’m not going to sit here and bitch about it. Except that I just did).

So, I’ll share a poem instead. I have over 400 poems collected from back in the days when I used to write, and the best ones I feel I’ve already shared here. But I have loads of them that aren’t what I’d consider my best work, yet still aren’t bad, so on occasion I throw them up here and see what happens.

I wrote this one after viewing a documentary of the Holocaust, the title of which I cannot remember. One of the camps it focused on was Treblinka, in Poland. A survivor was discussing how birds would land inside the camp, and guards would shoot them, because they were concerned the birds might pick up human remains and carry them outside the camp, essentially providing evidence to the outside world of what was really taking place inside. This witness made a statement to the effect that not even birds survived Treblinka (I’m paraphrasing, I saw this documentary well over 10 years ago). The idea stuck with me, and eventually I wrote about it, so here it is.

THE BIRDS CARRY BONES

At first, there were birds.
Black ravens with wings
we envied. They unearthed
scraps of skin and bone
from the ash until guards
in their towers
gunned them down
so they could not
bear witness. At Treblinka,
the master’s eye
was even on the birds,
while prisoners
dug trenches, pipes
funneled fumes
into chambers, and smoke,
heavy with bodies,
colored a creatureless sky.

We could not save them.
We could only endure
each new arrival
until the shower of bird
and bone from above
exhausted our concern.
It was only the fate
of ravens, after all, and ours
was not to worry
with the destiny of birds.

But now they have returned,
black-winged and chatterless.
The ravens are building
nests above our heads –
bone-nests, nests of teeth
and infant hair. Later,
we will call them down,
let them flutter among us
with the gaveling of wings,
allow them to unburden
their testimony of bones.

8/3/2013: Revised poem

I didn’t have much to say today, so thank God I have about 400 poems stashed on my hard drive to fill in when current words fail me. Many of them I’ve already posted here, but in looking for something that isn’t uploaded yet I came across this one, which has been shared before, but always bugged me as the ending felt not-quite-right. In looking it over it suddenly hit me how to improve it by moving the stanzas around. Yay. And I wrote this back in my 20’s, too. Funny how (ugh) 20 years later you can finally discover the solution to an old poem-problem. Anyway, here it is:

Waiting For Bolivar Ferry

We wait our turn
on a weekend
when tourists and teens
converge
on the peninsula
to stretch their skin
in the sun: engines off,
windows down,
radios up,
as if the beat
proclaims
some inner rhythm
of parched hearts.
We are waiting
for Bolivar Ferry.

When it docks
we’ll all pull forward
in tight metal rows
onto the boat
that will slick us
like plastic
six-pack scrap
across the sea.

A sheen of boys
begins to volley
for attention, girls
in open truckbeds
cake makeup,
spray hair
already starched
with heat.

The shoreline
brings the sleaze
out of everyone,
the steam
that shimmies up
from the concrete,
the stick, the sweat,
the hidden grit
that slicks
to the surface.

The original version of the poem is here

Boardwalk 1

I don’t have any photos of Bolivar Ferry, but I do have some photos of the general area where the ferry is located; these were taken the summer of 2012 when we went down there for my birthday.

sunset

chairs

As a side note for camera geeks, these were taken with a Canon PowerShot G12, which is a nice compact, single-lens camera (although it’s pretty big for a compact and probably barely fits in that category) that can shoot RAW and is a nice substitute for when you want to take good photos without lugging your DSLR around. However, once I figured out how to use my iPhone I’ve rather abandoned the thing; this was one of the few times I actually used it. I have probably forgotten how to use it at this point, but it might benefit me to pull this sucker out again. It can take damn good pics, and I think it can shoot in burst mode too, which might make for some cool motion shots. Hmm. I may need to use it in a future studio shoot. Anyway, final photo:

Balloon cars

Not bad at all for a $400 camera.

Poetry Break

I am tired tonight for no particular reason. Got up early to go in and do some work, so maybe that’s why I’m dragging (and by early I mean 7:30. It is summer after all). So allow me to post a poem and shuffle off to bed, if you will.

This poem was inspired by the title phrase, which I overheard someone saying on her cell phone in a Nordstrom’s restroom. I love it when people talk on their cell phones while they are in the stall (Oooh that reminds me of this awesomely disgusting behavior my friend and I witnessed in a movie theater restroom one time…I’ll wait to share that story though).

At Least She Got the House

She cleans the backyard pond,
scummed over
from the broken pump
he didn’t notice,

the umbrella palm
he planted grown so high
the tips
of each stalk dip

down into the sticky water.
Every broken doorknob,
rot of wood, defective fixture

bore his name, and she blamed
him each spring
while hacking
the ginger plants
running wild

against the crumbling slats
of their fence. He had loved
to build but not care for things,

and she still thinks of him
each time
she hears the steady
drum-drop
of a bathroom faucet,

or a fence slat
loosens, tipping
over in the yard,
like another little death.

Happy Fifth of July!

I post this poem every year. And by the way, I hate fireworks. They’re stupid and they upset my dogs, and where I live it’s legal to stand around in the cul-de-sac like a moron and shoot these idiotic explosives into the sky while simultaneously downing copious amounts of Natural Light and keeping the kids up way past their bedtime. God bless America. OK, I’m not actually this surly. I’m only partially serious. 

Fifth of July

The streets are sharded with bits
of confetti, petty patriotic explosions.

The neighbors are still asleep, tucked beneath
what’s left of the gray haze hovered over
their driveways, their skin singed with sweat
and sulphur. Backyard dogs react

to a distant siren, their howl like rust
on a chain-link gate, like sparks
from a blacksmith’s hammer.
When they are done, the dawn
is heavy with calm. Neatly numbered curbs

prop amber toppled bottles. Trash bags,
tarry-black, collapse on the grass.

One rubber sandal in the center
of the road, elastic casualty
of a manufactured battle, points
its open toes towards concession.

Dog Years – Poem

Dog Years

When I lie down and press my face
against the bristle of his body, and hear
his dog-heart in my ear, I think
how definite death is, his animal life
so much shorter than my own, so real
I can already feel the loss, dank
and heavy as his breath,
but loving him anyway, loving him more,
perhaps, because of it, the way I love
all things I know won’t last. Once
I was told that they have no sense
of time, that, to my dog, after I leave
it’s as if I never existed, but when I come back
he has no memory of my absence. And this is why
he occupies his time with bathroom trash
and sofa cushions, reducing all I’ve left behind
into a ragged nest of moments. And this is why
I think of death when I lie down at night
by his side: because his life without me
is simple, because the death
I am afraid of is my own, because each time
I come home I am born again.

Winner of the Austin International Poetry Festival, 2011


War Paint – Poem

War Paint

My sister never washed her face at night.
My grandmother smoothed cold cream
over hers in dutiful faith the makeup
would slide off like dirt on a screendoor
during rain. When I was twelve my father
grew a silver beard, unmatched
to his coal gray hair. My sister’s eyes
always rimmed in black, balls of tar
in the corners like that
of the family cat. Grandmother’s face
smeared with Vaseline – she must
have collected particles of dust in the creases
during sleep. Father shaving it off
when he saw himself in the Christmas pictures
that year. My mother never loved
the mirror, expressed disgust at its faces as if
she were opening the door to discover
the visitor, an enemy neighbor.

Trees – Poem

Trees

At a lakehouse in Brownsville owned
by my father’s company. It had a bow-limbed tree
we climbed easily. A gravel driveway
ground like bones beneath our soles.
And bunkbeds where we fought for the top.
Where my sister in the upper bunk stuck
a tape recorder out the window
into the branches during a lightning storm.
Next day she played it back and swore
there were angry voices whispering
in the tinny wind, made us listen
over and again until convinced. Angry
in that way a whisper can be louder
than a shout. The way mothers threaten
with their teeth set
together. We sat on the floor for hours
trying to decipher what they say.

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