Saturday, June 27, 2009

*The Card Trick

Here's another one about my father. With fatherhood so imminent for me, I guess the topic is no surprise.

The Card Trick

I never understood how it did it.
The day was cold and rain spattered down
occasionally onto the windows of the kitchen.
The sound was metallic though the windows were glass.

We were sitting in the living room.
I was twelve, he was in his forties I guess; what
did his age matter to me then.
It was midday but darker than normal
because of the overcast sky.

He had the deck of cards in his hand,
all but the one card I held in mine.
It was a queen of clubs, and it was mine.
I possessed it. I had chosen it randomly
but it had become mine and I loved it like a
long-absent child. My queen of clubs.

He couldn't have known. There was no way.
I was careful to pick it at a random spot from the deck.
He never saw what was in my hand.
But, on command, when I walked into
that kitchen and looked where he told me
(in the freezer next to the ice cube tray)
the small square paper clearly said,
"Hi Joe. You have a queen of clubs.

Somehow, he had added one plus one and
proved it to be three. I accused him of cheating,
though I didn't know how. I checked the deck,
but it was the same we had used to play rummy
just days before.
I demanded to be told how he did it.
He refused, saying something about
magicians and secrets. It was only the second magic trick
I ever saw him do, and he has done no others
in the twenty years since.

And he will still not reveal it to me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

*Three Flopping Fish

Sometime during the forth month of this insanely difficult pregnancy, my wife described the feeling of begin pregnant with triplets as "fish flopping around in a bag." I thought that was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. So came this:

Three Flopping Fish

that's what it feels like.
three fish flopping in a bag.

How am I supposed to understand
what creation feels like, really?

She grows,
every day.
She's bigger and more radiant.

I've put on weight too, but I am neither
glowing nor radiant.

Is that creation?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As Yet Untitled Work in Progress

Since I haven't posted in ten months, I expect exactly nobody to read this. But that's okay. I've been going through some pretty serious family issues lately and been coming home at night and falling to poetry for some comfort. So I thought I would post something that I've been working on. I don't have a title yet.

"You'll have to sacrifice your wife," he said.
My wife?
"Throw her right into the fire."
But why? I said.
"Then you have to get drunk," he said.
"Very, very drunk.
Maybe even stoned for a while, but
that's not as important.

What? I said.
"...If you really want to be taken seriously," he said.
I do.
"Good. Now, go try to get your father to kill you."
My father?
"...Or your mother. But father's work better. Either one though."
Either one?
"Unless one of them ever hit you...?"
"Or is dying...?"
No, I said.
"Oh," he said. "either one then."

Slight pause.
Okay, I said.
Let me go get my pen.

I've realized how unrealistically lucky I've been in life. I have two parents who love me and were (and still are) great role models for me and my brother; I have a wife who is everything to me; I have a good job that I love (most days); and I have three babies on the way. I've never struggled with alcoholism, drugs, gambling, wars, poverty, incest, cancer or any other common trait among successful writers-- which is part of the reason why I'm convinced I'll never win a Pulitzer.

And from the above comes this poem. I wonder to myself quite often if I have the necessary life experiences to be a successful poet. Have I hurt enough? Have I suffered enough? Honestly, I don't think I have. And I certinly don't want to start now.

I guess I'll just take my chances and stick with living a good, happy life. If that's not enough to make my writing better, well... I'll deal with it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dear Landlord

There are few poems that make me what to laugh out loud, that fully place me in the world of the speaker; this is one of those poems.

by Hattie Gossett

it is raining in my apartment! yes, thats right. raining.

the water is falling freely in the living room, in the hallway, and
in the bathroom.

i have had many promises from you and the super that the holes
in my ceilings would be fixed. but somehow the promises have not
been kept, and so now it is raining in my apartment. (perhaps its
your empty promises and not raindrops that are falling?)

i would like to pay my rent. especially since i owe so much. i have
even purchased money orders and made them out to your corpo-
ration. but to tell you the honest truth, there is something inside
me that just wont let me mail these money orders to you as long
as it continues raining in my apartment.

so i am sending you these xerox copies of the money orders instead.
(see enclosed documents marked exhibit a, exhibit b, etc.) as soon
as the holes have been repaired and it stops raining in my apart-
ment, i will be more than happy to mail the original money orders
to you.

as ever,

tenant 777#6k

Everything about this poem works. From the ironic humor to the lack of punctuation to the formatting of the letter, everything is perfect. Hattie Gossett has a series of poems along this vein, and each one is better than the next.

I’ve always wanted to try to teach my students about the joy of the “found” poem, but I’m always afraid that they will laugh it off and say that it’s just nonsense. As I’m typing now, I’m thinking that this might be the perfect way to introduce that concept.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Yeah, I don’t have much to say for this poem. It sort of speaks for itself.

by Timothy Murphy
Had I known, only known
when I lived so near,
I'd have gone, gladly gone
foregoing my fear
of the wholly grown
and the nearly great.
But I learned alone,
so I learned too late.

I don’t have time to post any comments. I have to go call my grandparents. I’ve been so lax.

But I do have to point out that this is one of the rarest of poems, one that rhymes but is still more dire in tone.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Did I Miss Anything?

I’m pretty sure that ever teacher out there has read this poem already, but still, with the first day of school finally upon us I feel compelled to post it anyway.

by Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
but it was one place

And you weren’t here

I know that when I was a student, both in grade school and in college, I must have asked this question to every teacher and professor I ever had. It was innocent enough, I’m sure, and I never meant to offend. But now that I’m a teacher, there is no more annoying and disrespectful question out there (except maybe “can I go to the bathroom” when I’m in the middle of what I thought was an insightful and interesting lesson). Many times have I responded in a sarcastic manner, saying something like, “no, we sat around and discussed our varying degrees of sadness over your absence.” This poem is a much better response.

There are some days when it feels like class has gone so well and the kids are so interested that I really have opened up the secrets of the universe to them. And on those days (which are few and far between, of course) this poem rings so true. The next day is never as effective, despite how much I may try to emulate what worked so well the day before. So when, on that next day, a student asks this question, it is doubly hurtful. What am I supposed to say? “Yeah, you missed a good class, but I know that you’re really just asking if anything is due or any new assignments were given, and since the answer to that is ‘no,’ you’re going to think you didn’t miss anything.” And if I just give in and say “no, you didn’t miss anything,” I’m just giving in and accepting the mindset that every day isn’t important.

So the moral of the story? Rephrase the question! Don’t ask if you missed anything; ask what you missed and what needs to be made up. To all those teachers and professors that I wronged over the years, I truly am sorry. I feel your pain.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

What Do Women Want?

I just finished going through The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, and I didn’t hate it. I’ve been leafing through it for most of the summer trying to find ideas for and poems to share with my upcoming Creative Writing class, and I’ve found a whole gaggle of potential lessons. So, in honor of the book, I thought I’d post one of Addonizio’s poems that I really like.


by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.

I want it flimsy and cheap,

I want it too tight, I want to wear it

until someone tears it off me.

I want it sleeveless and backless,

this dress, so no one has to guess

what's underneath. I want to walk down

the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store

with all those keys glittering in the window,

past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old

donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers

slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,

hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.

I want to walk like I'm the only

woman on earth and I can have my pick.

I want that red dress bad.

I want it to confirm

your worst fears about me,

to show you how little I care about you

or anything except what

I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment

from its hanger like I'm choosing a body

to carry me into this world, through

the birth-cries and the love-cries too,

and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,

it'll be the goddamned

dress they bury me in.

I guess what I find so appealing about this poem (and all that I’ve read from Addonizio so far) is the clear, specific voice of the narrator. Despite the utter lack of physical description, I can totally see the speaker as she searches for this dress, tears it off the hanger, and wears it proudly through the dusty streets. The imagery is very nice, as depicted by the “slinging pigs” and “slick snouts” at the midway point.

All of this, of course, leads to the obvious question of what women want. Having been happily married for five+ years, having a good relationship with my mother and my mother-in-law, and working in a profession where the male-female ratio is something like 20-1, I feel I am as qualified to answer this question as much as any man alive. The simple answer is: she wants whatever the opposite is of what she wanted yesterday. It’s that easy. I’m guessing the speaker of this poem wanted black jeans yesterday, or maybe a nice fancy pair of boots; whatever it was, it was NOT a red dress.