Poetry

One of the things writers do is write poems and I am no exception. I have never identified myself as a poet, but I am a poet in the theatre as well as in words. (I am a musician in the theatre too, and perhaps a painter.) I met Robert Frost when I was in prep school and studied poetry with a wonderful teacher, Charles Garside, from Donne and Milton to T. S. Eliot, missing out on the Romantics when I skipped a year.

My own first poems were pastiche and imitation. It was only after I met Frank O’Hara and Diane di Prima that I began coming into the present. Gerard Malanga was unexpectedly encouraging, and Al Carmines set one of my poems to song. I wrote a long narrative poem, “American Baby,” when my wife Michele was pregnant with our first son, Julian. I wrote short poems when I was working in Paris for two months without time for anything longer. I love writing poems and I am surprised how many of them have come out over the years. Sometimes it is the best and only way to say what I want to capture and convey.

Since about 2000 I have also been working on a prose style that partakes of poetry, the language drastically pared down, each word activated, grammar thrown to the winds. This is the style I bring to “michaelwrites,” the daily weblog I began in 2005; some entries are poems.

I am past seventy, and it is not too early to be working on a “collected poems,” which I hope to publish one of these days.

“American Baby”

1974-75; Fast Books, 1983

Being pregnant with Julian connected me with the world in a whole new way; being married was a new kind of completion. I tried to capture the wonder of it by writing this long poem—ultimately 37 pages—as Michele and I set up housekeeping in Santa Barbara, drove across the country, and then started a new life in Stonington, Connecticut, where I went to work making harpsichords and Julian came home in a snowstorm in January 1975. The varied line lengths and free stanzas [not accurately represented here] gave me room for everything and the poem moves right along. I had found my voice, and a great subject.

from “American Baby”

3.

 

Our bodies

under pink blankets

in a nameless highwayside motel ourselves

satisfied by love in Colorado

Wolf Creek Pass behind us its yellow aspens

singing in the wilderness

our cat a seasoned traveler needs no drug now

California

behind us all these memories

no time driving east into the sunrise the moon

waning in Navajo morning

Miche and Dee playing ball

Indian children retarded emotionally disturbed

September moon we swam Pacifico

Arthur and we

ran three abreast in the full night moonlight

into the water the baby

punching Miche in the bladder Daddy in the nose

the baby

growing the belly the breasts

getting ready the place changing

play my guitar and sing the California songs

Peter and we-can’t-remember in our little house

in the trees

painting white

ivory and picture-branded walls

bringing our happiness along

with everything else in a U-Haul trailer

slowly ripping off the bumper

 

I love you

I love to fuck you

I just felt eagles flapping away

and everything else I remember

now going

onward across the flowing river

more than perfect satisfaction of a plan of long ago

how we fucked in the bedroom mirror

for the first time see ourselves

my penis

not just mine but our connection now

the tongue our bodies slide on as they kiss

and all our arms and legs entwine

exciting

Cat discreetly doesn’t interrupt

and the baby seems to love it

 

Beautiful Missouri rain we are

here sleeping

sweetly on the floor of Browning

house of life light lightning

fills the night

weather pleasure and sisters brothers mother

happy to see us happy

after the long long drive across poetic Kansas

starlings swoop in a flock thick like locusts

turning wings all at once dark

searching fields for a decision

landing finally on wires along the railroad

bird-heavy

wires while we drive east

saw the sun

behind a cloud shaped like a thunderbird

driving tired always tired

onto Navajo

land see Dee

see Steve eat turkey feast

colonial doctor compound among the poor Indians

in their place

I only know keep steering east

the road driving me and car

hauling wedding gifts and Miche’s childhood

drawings books sewing machine drawing

board bored

with the road the land forever

changing forever touching hearts

hands bellies

while baby grows and we drive east

 

Beautiful wife

round belly round heavy breasts

worrying about her changing body

don’t worry Miche about your body you’re more

beautiful now than ever I love you

and afterwards

the baby born

everything will return your waist

lithe and sexy

your beautiful breasts that nourish baby me

you’re sexier now than ever anyway it’s

God using your body to make baby

don’t worry now

you love it

 

Small but lavish at Ann’s

on the eve

of Grammie’s 90th it’s all too perfect

cocktails we

the last to arrive my sweet

grandmother

bride eighteen

went calling on relatives by horse and buggy

singing through Missouri

like this October she still

misses him

Ann’s dinner thanks fat James Beard

Vivaldi faintly eight-track

Viv and Fos Ann the children

Chris Matthew

briefly exposed but not at table Matthew

perfect behaving servitor

Chris won scholarship today so smart

he scares us

afterwards Mother’s knees gave out on the walk

on the way to the rented car

across the street

from the house we lived from ‘43

till I went east to college they to California

‘Dad spent a fortune to save the great oak

now gone a circular drive a

modern pine

Al coughing at the refinished

table Fos

recalling Fosters come from Ireland 1860s

Bud the last

three daughters all he’ll have

Chicago Belgium

wine more wine more lavish

player piano nightmare in the artificial

never this

you must come to the basement

let’s do it and go home

where we play charming pool me Dad Matthew

Fos misses a few

 

Only this night

listening my “Prussian Suite”

in Missouri

Miche under Indian blanket on the floor

I listened her warm belly with a stethoscope

Sandé J.D. another chair Mother

two smoking

the others disapproving what do they

think of it moment by moment

a roaring sound

outside the autumn night inside a

headache bellyache

the chime wakes me up the morning

we leave we leave again for the future East we leave

another Mother

another Singer in the U-Haul

another scene

Catkin eating his last Missouri meal

Charles Jimmy Ondine Georgia in stereo in the room

 

Boonville shopping stop finally

left behind Miche

tearful sad as we pack up to go Cat bit me friendly

black and stocky dog Miche wanted

left behind start

again the road again life in the car she’s reading

“The Pearl” I’m listening Missouri

voices farmers

killed 468 calves threw them in blood pit protest

action theatre

sacrifice like something means

something Ford another criminal

this one smiles

the day sunny blue and autumn smiles the leaves

beginning to come down my wife

back with food

 

Sweet Christ tempted in a beam of blue

glass light in the stone desert

wall cars passing

no bathroom for a pregnant lady breakfast Indiana

no more free refills coffee here

the golden light

fell and hardened into plain provincial business

 

Future unreal

we plunge forward marrying

my near sister

her lover Steve

whirling parents and grandparents

my darling woman

sleeping here beside me feeling

the baby move

 

Future so strong

in the present we still don’t know

flying straight across the continent making all the stops

like a faithful trolleycar what

we are doing

I’m writing a story about us

making baby

what’s happening

here

played music Miche and me

tambourine and tenor fluting for the wedding

poetry in

motion and emotion washing dishes

Bicky and me playing Beethoven Mozart duets

others talked

others ran around hysterically

played Bach Partitas seemed a little solemn can’t

negotiate

the fast dances

without a lot more practice but I play better easier

all the time smoked most of a joint

with Murray in country cellar first since old Santa

Barbara

slowly running

out and I do miss the occasional

smoke

our Mustang powerless in early snow

 

Do I poke you

baby when I fuck your Mommy

like last night full blue Stonington moon

foggy Halloween spooks children

at our door

she made them cookies and the names

Julian Bach joins the family Dorothy Ann

Maxine Mohee

do you hear voices yes

this week fast and last week slow my

Dad with us all week after wedding

Williamstown

my sister Virginia

one day of Charlemont cabin heaven

finally here

Stonington

the long cross country ends at the other ocean

Pleasant View Guest House while I

meet David Way

sit for coffee in the pretty kitchen

walk through the quiet pretty streets of afternoon

meet Katherine and Kathy

and the next day go to work sanding Flemish V

Miche and Dad

look for places to live desperate

crowding in our tiny room with stinko Cat

our baby pressing my baby’s

stomach in the too soft bed two days of this

Dad flies home we’re on our own

here at last

Betsy Bartholet’s perfect bed with perfect

sex mirror

I’m a working man my woman

blossoming she cut her hair she makes me home

and when I need it she fucks me my mommy

woken by a fart

“A Sojourn in Paris”

1985; Fast Books, 1985

That spring, no longer married, I lived in Paris for two months, working days at Marc Ducornet’s harpsichord shop, making piano actions. I wanted to write about everything but had no time for anything but short lyrics, which turned out to be the perfect form for what I had to say. I jotted them down in a little notebook on the metro or in cafés, and by the time I went home there were forty of them, which I bound into a tiny handmade book. All gone now, I’m afraid; but I intend to make some more in the near future.

from “A Sojourn in Paris”

Longing for Spring

 

My mouth turns down. A little line

of shadow droops like my mustache.

Too many years unhappy marked me.

How now am I to change my face?

Never have I longed for spring so long,

as if each leaf could tell me what

to do, to smile again, to love someone

the way I loved a thousand times before.

Count them. Would I exaggerate?

 

Waiting for Pasale

 

What is she saying to Madame?

As much as she can. The lady’s

not too pure to press, though they prefer

another level to the hard clarities

of the real-life tale, so curious.

I was thinking of what was possible

for someone else, another time.

Phoebus lies down in the Luxembourg,

and she has made her getaway,

arrives to correct my simpleness.

 

At the Radio

 

They congratulate themselves so fluently

I have to give them credit:

they know about pianos, and how

to eat and drink. France-Culture

says it all. The one who sees me

orders me a lunch, asparagus

and a fish, looks at me directly

even when I cannot understand.

I feel myself remiss, but my real brain

has limits listening won’t stretch.

Still I tell them what to say—

and then imagine possibly they do.

 

Easter Sunday

 

Everybody’s gone to the country

or the moon. It’s raining. Leaves,

anyway, adorn the tree in the court,

formerly bare, daffodils my room.

I dreamed: odd preparations for sex

to avoid touching—red pepper, jokes

with a fire hose—phone misplaced,

house to be cleaned, darkness come.

I could sit here all day, coffee

cold, or order more, listen to French,

the radio, intermittent pinball noise,

looking at people without a word.