Friday, December 16, 2011


This was the first poem I wrote that made me feel like a Real Poet, something like 10 or 12 years ago:

It was long since morning
but the city was quiet, whited,
and I was starting to think 
in words again. Long
lines got longer. I chased you
to the park, tread worn  
off my shoes. I tripped
behind you, bounding,
my heart skipping,  
clenching like a fist
to hold you in. And I gasped
through the freezing  
air, How can it be so
bright and so cold?  
Remember where
you kissed me on the shin, we sat
and waited on the bleeding,  
our jackets getting wet,
and stared into the trees.
That wasn’t a blackbird,  
just a black bird.
But I couldn’t tell you no.
And you were covered in  
crystals, the smallest snow.

I recognize some of this as sentimental or cliched now (hearts are always fists, aren't they?) -- and the line breaks somewhat inscrutable -- but I do still like that linguistic flourish of the blackbird versus the black bird. That's very me. I also still remember that one of the girls in my college workshop said it "breathes," and she "loves poems that breathe."

I had to dig through my MFA thesis to find that. I also found this one that I still like, though again, the sentimentality alert is at orange.

I was crossing the Harvard bridge, sun low and beaming,
when I remembered my dream—not the plot,
but a still frame from it: standing on a kind of plank
about two stories up, with the explosion behind me,
blooming out white and expansive like a nuclear rose.
I know I have to jump to the concrete below
but I hesitate, imagining the sound of my knees breaking,
though the scorching air shoves at my back. 
I stopped halfway across the bridge, and wondered
what I’m dreading. One end of a long, slender ribbon
from an audio tape someone had torn apart
was caught on the railing. It waved out shimmering
over the river, like a streamer thrown off the deck
of a departing ship, trying to kiss the shore goodbye.


  1. I really like "On The Bridge." And if you don't risk sentimentality, you're not doing it.

  2. I mean, not doing it as well as you might be willing to do it well.

  3. I like both of these a fair bit; I think the bridge one is interesting b'se it only "loses the plot" when you try to tie things up. The linebreaks are not -- to my ear -- noticeably crazy except for "freezing // air."

  4. Being an amateur teenage semi-poet, I am still very preoccupied with sentimentality and cliche, but I almost prefer it.

  5. Jeff, thanks! I don't usually spend so long on an image, but I feel like I got the tape part right. I remember originally wanting to use the phrase "Chernobyl rose," something I heard a guy say in high school about a lousy drawing, but quickly realized that wouldn't work.

    Sarang, yes, the "wondered what I'm dreading" bit is explainy. There was a lot of that in my graduated thesis, I think party because workshops push you to over-explain.

    Kathy, that was at Rice, and I can't remember her name, though I do remember what she looked like. She was one of those people who brought in a wildly different-looking poem every week.

    Robby, I love that "I almost prefer it"! It seems like most poems we remember years after they were written have a sentimental angle.

  6. Yes, both among poems I like and poems I've written that other people like are many that do the don'ts, but either do them really well or just manage to get away with them because they're not hard don'ts. In addition to sentimentality, not ending with a "punchline" is another one I see a lot.