initiations

what is the half-life of memory? they never told us these things about little paper rhombuses skating across other rhombuses flaps rising string winches; the nine-inch head of one serious fiery red t-rex lunges out to bare its complicated incisors. the wow factor mice see potatoes lemon lime she wrote while dreaming carol ann duffy: yeah. i mean, i think poets should be private and invisible and listeners, really. so, it is a different way of being a poet, to be a laureate. philip levine: you know, we have our private lives, and that is where — the poetry comes out of that. and it is a very solitary act, have to get in and out quickly, flip a grin (it misses…) walk into the tangerine grotto gutted put yourself back together with vinegar and brown paper – won’t bore you with details of my day; secrets of the bulk barn and the carwash will die with me, as will those of the veggie aisles at freshco par/ts of s/peech. remember if anybody ask xiaotu the library robot can i touch you xiaotu say sure – cost you 20 yuan: paraphasia paragram a writing beside, a parachute a parallellogram

What isJulie Salverson, Issue 40, 2011, and little paper rhombusesJon Mooallem, Issue 17, 2005, Maisonneuve Magazine, Ten Best Sentences, Drew Nelles to Ben Kaplan, Spring issue.
http://arts.nationalpost.com/2012/04/30/happy-birthday-maisonneuve-to-celebrate-editor-drew-nelles-gives-us-the-magazines-ten-best-sentences-ever/
Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Levine, a conversation in www.dailymail.co.uk

I was reading John Steffler’s poem, Beating the Bounds, about an initiation into a certain kind of life, and which follows a section of my own poem below. It made me think of initiations in my family, not quite so dramatic. They didn’t even happen at home, but at school. Elementary school, but later High School. D’Arcy McGee High School, on Pine Avenue, to be more specific, across from the Hotel Dieu church and hospital.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The boys and girls were strictly separated. Hall doors on every floor divided the two sides; brown paper blanked out the window in each door. The girls were on the east side; we only got to use this grand front door when we were late. It was almost worth the detention. The Congregation of Notre Dame nuns ruled our side and the Christian brothers ( I think) ruled the boys. My initiation happened on the first day, in several ways; this is one of them: (photo: fotoproze)

advice and consolation

Dad said Don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire
Whoever told you
we’re supposed to be happy.

First religion class in high school and I sit at my desk
upon which lies a blue hard-covered book, no dustcover.
This book is yours, says Mother St. Hugh Maureen, the tall peak

of her white headdress shaking with palsy,
and you may keep it. Each year you will be given
another volume to keep. They are your life in Christ.

She continues, What do people want most in life?
and our answers shoot back: money, love, a good job, talent
nice clothes. Cream Puff, as we come to call her, is exasperated but dogged.

Something that each of us wants, she prompts, a word that encapsulates
what everybody wants. Encapulates? That throws us. Maybe a big house
or a convertible? That could be what encapsulates means.

We are eleven-year old Catholic babies purposely kept
from thinking during our first seven years of school. Smart though.
We quickly deduce that we are in for another four years

of guessing what the teacher wants us to say, but this time it’s nuns.
We don’t know much about nuns. Look at your books! She quavers
with a little display of impatience and frustration

(She will confess this on Saturday evening
when Father Griffin comes to hear confession;
she will worry about it until then)

So we look and there’s the answer staring at us in gold
on the front cover of our new books: The Quest for Happiness –
Happiness, we shout together, pleased to have the answer at last.

It’s been a problem ever since, the golden quest shadowing decisions
sticking like burrs to every project, every relationship, every situation.
What do you do when you’re not happy then? You flounder.

Pray, said the nuns.
Pray, said the priest.
Pray, said page one of the Quest, but you may not like what you get.

Sleep with your boss, said my mother. He’s been eyeing you for years.
(But we’re both married!) Things are different now, she said.
He’ll make you happy for a while. Go for it…  

Beating the Bounds

John Steffler

When I was six years old, my parents,
along with other adults who’d never spoken
to me, came laughing and acting silly,
picking me up, giggling, “Now we’ll show
you a house you didn’t know about.”
“A big house.”
“A secret house you knew about all the time.”
So I was frightened, seeing how serious
it was that they were so strange,
although I was probably smiling,
and they carried me and other children my age
to the river and said, “Here is the marble
floor,” and put my bare legs in the fast
place between stones and it was colder
than I remembered it and the tugging of dark
cold water became my legs, the Fox Island
River became my legs – afterwards when I
was falling asleep or sometimes just walking
along, the bottom of me would be moving away
like that – and they carried me, tickling me,
singing ridiculous songs among rough
brown stones up a valley past caribou
where it was cold and held me up on top
of their palms so I faced the sky and someone
with fat fingers that smelled of sheep held
my eyes open until the cold air and white
sky burned and were too bright and my eyes
brimmed like two cuts and I felt those cuts
go right into my name and they said,
“This is the roof up here, you can’t go
higher than this,” and that wind and sky
were my eyes then, they were in my name,
and the people pushed me through a patch
of alders and a patch of spruce the wind
had bent, saying, “Here’s a young cub
we’ll take home and raise,” and “Push him in front
so we won’t get scratched,” and my skin
was crisscrossed with cuts, so I felt
those branches, smelled the alder musk,
the sharp edge of spruce like a coast,
a burning fringe, a noise around me holding
me in and they said, “This is the west
wall of the house you live in, remember
it,” and the day went on like that, they
pushed me against a cliff to the north
so I felt its jaggedness in my spine,
they sat me in black soupy peat and said,
“Here is your bed, it is nighttime,” they
took me down to the sea and made me
drink it and told me that was the south
and the kitchen, “the garden,” someone
laughed and give me a capelin to eat, rubbed
scales on my face, the backs of my hands
and “Over there,” they said, meaning
over the hills across the gulf, “that is not
your house and the people who live there
are strangers to you, not enemies if
you deal with them properly.” “They
speak a language of farts,” someone said,
“they gobble like turkeys when they fuck,”
and although my body was made of all
it had touched that day and my ears were full
of my parents’ voices and the voices
of their friends, in my heart I was still
frightened and felt like a stranger among them.
From Lookout, by John Steffler
Copyright © 2010 by John Steffler

Granada Sings Whitman
by Nathalie Handal

By the river Genil
lovers sing what belongs to the water,
a shoemaker sings the dream he had,
his helper the dream he didn’t,
a man sings to the woman
on the broken mattress,
death at midday sings,
on the banks of the Darro
a blind thief
collecting golden poplars sings,
and so does the crevice of quivers,
the saints flaming in la Sierra
and the men rehearsing a country.
They know nothing stays,
but when Whitman sings—
they allow his voice
to take them apart.

Handal‘s poem is from the Poem-a-day, Academy of American Poets website

This next Poem By Sherman Alexie is quite different. Don’t give up on it  though; it’s a surprising piece. Just as you start to think, What is this?, it takes you into it.

Mark Bibbins, Editor, The Poetry Section| May 3, 2012

Pachyderm
1.
Sheldon decided he was an elephant.
2.
Everywhere he went, he wore a gray t-shirt, gray sweat pants, and gray basketball shoes.
3.
He also carried a brass trumpet that he’d painted white.
4.
Sometimes he used that trumpet as a tusk.
5.
Then he’d use it as the other tusk.
6.
Sometimes he played that brass trumpet and pretended it was an elephant trumpet.
7.
Every other day, Sheldon charged around the reservation like he was a bull elephant in musth.
8.
Musth being a state of epic sexual arousal.
9.
Sheldon would stand in the middle of intersections and charge at cars.
10.
Once, Sheldon head-butted a Toyota Camry so hard that he knocked himself out.
11.
Sheldon’s mother, Agnes, was driving that Camry.
12.
Agnes did not believe she was an elephant nor did she believe she was the mother of an elephant.
13.
And Agnes didn’t believe that Sheldon fully believed he was an elephant until he knocked himself out on the hood of the Camry.
14.
In Africa, poachers kill elephants, saw off the tusks, and leave the rest of the elephant to rot.
15.
Ivory is coveted.
16.
Nobody covets Sheldon’s trumpet, not as a trumpet or tusk.
17.
On those days when Sheldon was not a bull elephant, he was a cow elephant.
18.
A cow elephant mourning the death of her baby.
19.
In Africa, elephants will return again and again to the dead body of a beloved elephant.
20.
Then, for years afterward, the mournful elephants will return to the dead elephant’s cairn of bones.
21.
They will lift and caress the dead elephant’s ribs.
22.
By touch, they remember.
23.
Sheldon’s twin brother died in the first Iraq War.
24.
1991.
25.
His name was Pete.
26.
Sheldon and Pete’s parents were not the kind to give their twins names that rhymed.
27.
In Iraq, an Improvised Explosive Device had pulverized Pete’s legs, genitals, ribcage, and spine.
28.
Sheldon could not serve in the military because he was blind in his right eye.
29.
In 1980, when they were eight, and sword fighting with tree branches, Pete had accidentally stabbed Sheldon in the eye.
30.
When they were children, Sheldon and Pete often played war.
31.
They never once pretended to be killed by an Improvised Explosive Device.
32.
Only now, in this new era, do children pretend to be killed by Improvised Explosive Devices.
33.
Pete was buried in a white coffin.
34.
It wasn’t made of ivory.
35.
At the gravesite, Sheldon scooped up a handful of dirt.
36.
He was supposed to toss the dirt onto his brother’s coffin, as the other mourners had done.
37.
But Sheldon kept the dirt in his hand.
38.
He made a fist around the dirt and would not let it go.
39.
He believed that his brother’s soul was contained within that dirt.
40.
And if he let go of that dirt, his brother’s soul would be lost forever.
41.
You cannot carry a handful of dirt for any significant amount of time.
42.
And dirt, being clever, will escape through your fingers.
43.
So Sheldon taped his right hand shut.
44.
For months, he did everything with his left hand.
45.
Then, one night, his right hand began to itch.
46.
It burned.
47.
Sheldon didn’t want to take off the tape.
48.
He didn’t want to lose the dirt.
49.
His brother’s soul.
50.
But the itch and burn were too powerful.
51.
Sheldon scissored the tape off his right hand.
52.
His fingers were locked in place from disuse.
53.
So he used the fingers of his left hand to pry open the fingers of his right hand.
54.
The dirt was gone.
55.
Except for a few grains that had embedded themselves into his palm.
56.
Using those grains of dirt, Sheldon wanted to build a time machine that would take him and his brother back into the egg cell they once shared.
57.
Until he became an elephant, Sheldon referred to his left hand as “my hand” and to his right hand as “my brother’s hand.”
58.
Sheldon’s father, Arnold, was paraplegic.
59.
His wheelchair was alive with eagle feathers and beads and otter pelts.
60.
In Vietnam, in 1971, Arnold’s lower spine was shattered by a sniper’s bullet.
61.
Above the wound, he was a fancy dancer.
62.
Below the wound, he was not.
63.
His wife became pregnant with Sheldon and Pete while Arnold was away at war.
64.
Biologically speaking, the twins were not Arnold’s.
65.
Biologically speaking, Arnold was a different Arnold than he’d been before.
66.
But, without ever acknowledging the truth, Arnold raised the boys as if they shared his biology.
67.
Above the wound, Arnold is a good man.
68.
Below the wound, he is also a good man.
69.
Sometimes, out of love for Sheldon and Sheldon’s grief, Arnold pretended that his wheelchair was an elephant.
70.
And that he was a clown riding the elephant.
71.
A circus can be an elephant, another elephant, and a clown.
72.
The question should be, “How many circuses can fit inside one clown?”
73.
There is no such thing as the Elephant Graveyard.
74.
That mythical place where all elephants go to die.
75.
That place doesn’t exist.
76.
But the ghosts of elephants do wear clown makeup.
77.
And they all gather in the same place.
78.
Inside Sheldon’s ribcage.
79.
Sheldon’s heart is a clown car filled with circus elephants.
80.
When elephants mourn, they will walk circles around a dead elephant’s body.
81.
Elephants weep.
82.
Jesus wept.
83.
Sheldon’s mother, Agnes, wonders if Jesus has something to do with her son’s elephant delusions.
84.
Maybe God is an elephant.
85.
Sheldon’s father, Arnold, believes that God is a blue whale.
86.
Some scientists believe that elephants used to be whales.
87.
Sheldon, in his elephant brain, believes that God is an Improvised Explosive Device.
88.
Pete, the dead twin, was not made of ivory.
89.
But he is coveted.
90.
If Jesus can come back to life then why can’t all of us come back to life?
91.
Aristotle believed that elephants surpassed all other animals in wit and mind.
92.
Nobody ever said that Jesus was funny.
93.
Then, one day, Sheldon remembered he was not an elephant.
94.
Instead he decided that Pete was an elephant who had gone to war.
95.
An elephant who died saving his clan and herd.
96.
An elephant killed by poachers.
97.
Sheldon decided that God was a poacher.
98.
Sheldon decided his prayers would become threats.
99.
Fuck you, God, fuck you.
100.
Sheldon wept.
101.
Then he picked up his trumpet and blew an endless, harrowing note.

From The Awl  http://www.theawl.com/about
The Awl intends to encourage a daily discussion of the issues of the day—news, politics, culture (and TV!)—during sensible hours of the working week.

Sherman Alexie’s collection, Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, will be published by Grove Press this October. He lives with his family in Seattle.
http://www.theawl.com/2012/05/a-poem-by-sherman-alexie

From Poem-A day website:

The Practice
by Aaron Shurin
They mistook me for illumination — a revenant in walking shoes — so I gathered significance and spread text… stood beneath the seven cardinal points with arms upraised — practical telepathy — in a white paper suit like a flag of surrender, thunder at my back… I was an open man of the open streets — a burnished sieve of common purpose — scrawled on walls, thrashed cans and blasted caps for equivalence. I wasn’t alone — the boulevards teemed with wiggly kids and mooing parents slow as boulders. In the Plaza Palabra on a green iron bench a grand senora suffered the odes of schoolboys and thugs — smiled behind an opal fan while they searched for words to match their tumultuous nights — and all words fit… In July — volubility — I hoarded cherries, catalogued their juices — were they Rainier, Blood Nut, Royal Ann, Squirrel Heart, Rosebud or Bing? —then swallowed them one by one like detonations…initiations…In a fever of taxonomy I followed a squadron of dragonflies right to the vanishing point…Incarnation is a provisional state, but stretches outward like noon. For practice, I wallowed and stretched…

Send comments by clicking at the end of the post, or on the ‘conversation cloud’ at the top of the post. It feels strange not to be posting every day, and though I loved posting like that, it feels good to rest from doing it.

my mother’s birthday/ pruning the locust tree/buds in a jar 

Claudia

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