Monday, March 22, 2010

Memoriam to AI by Jerry Williams

March 21, 2010

In Memoriam to Ai (1947 - 2010) by Jerry Wiliams

When I was in high school and college I started seeing work in literary magazines by a woman with this exotic name who wrote what every other poet seemed too afraid to write—disturbing poems, violent, sexy, unspeakably moving, grief-stricken, harrowing, cutting, beautiful, and yet the verse seemed skillfully controlled and peaceable. For me, most other poets sat in the back seat and Ai drove (which is ironic because she never in her life, from what I understand, possessed a driver’s license). I sort of mythologized her, and I knew I wanted to be her kind of poet—if the world would let me be one—fearless. I know it might sound extreme, but why waste time on flowers when you have knives? As I learned more about Ai, I read her many books, felt her influence growing in me. Years and years later, I ended up at Oklahoma State University where Ai taught creative writing. She blurbed my first collection of poems, served on my dissertation committee. I have taught her books in many classes, and I included three of her poems in the recent breakup and divorce anthology I edited—a great honor for me. Last July, we spoke on the telephone, and I sent her photos from my wedding. We e-mailed occasionally. I always wanted to stay on her good side. This past Saturday afternoon, when I was sitting on a bench in front of my apartment building in Co-op City, I got a call from a friend on the faculty at Oklahoma State. Sometime on Wednesday, March 17th, the poet Ai checked into the Stillwater Medical Center with pneumonia. As it turned out, she had reached a very advanced stage of breast cancer and passed away comfortably in the company of her family early Saturday morning, March 20th. Upon hearing this news, I completely broke down, and I didn’t understand why. I’m supposed to be tough (knives not flowers), but I could not stop crying. I feel that Ai was something of a poetic mother to me. Later that afternoon, one of her closest friends asked me my age and told me that my kundalini had dropped or opened up or uncoiled and released some new emotion in me. I cried a little watching the movie Step Brothers this morning. What is wrong with me? I assume that the chaos will now ensue. Oklahoma State will get bombarded with telephone calls on Monday. Ditto W.W. Norton & Co. Services will be arranged. All that human stuff. But the poems, Ai’s poems, will remain as immortal as ever. Here’s exquisite proof:

Conversation by Ai

We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don't tell me, I say. I don't want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of silk dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that's where I'm floating,
and that's what it's like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It Is A Spring Afternoon by Anne Sexton

Everything here is yellow and green.
Listen to its throat, its earthskin,
the bone dry voices of the peepers
as they throb like advertisements.
The small animals of the woods
are carrying their deathmasks
into a narrow winter cave.
The scarecrow has plucked out
his two eyes like diamonds
and walked into the village.
The general and the postman
have taken off their packs.
This has all happened before
but nothing here is obsolete.
Everything here is possible.

Because of this
perhaps a young girl has laid down
her winter clothes and has casually
placed herself upon a tree limb
that hangs over a pool in the river.
She has been poured out onto the limb,
low above the houses of the fishes
as they swim in and out of her reflection
and up and down the stairs of her legs.
Her body carries clouds all the way home.
She is overlooking her watery face
in the river where blind men
come to bathe at midday.

Because of this
the ground, that winter nightmare,
has cured its sores and burst
with green birds and vitamins.
Because of this
the trees turn in their trenches
and hold up little rain cups
by their slender fingers.
Because of this
a woman stands by her stove
singing and cooking flowers.
Everything here is yellow and green.

Surely spring will allow
a girl without a stitch on
to turn softly in her sunlight
and not be afraid of her bed.
She has already counted seven
blossoms in her green green mirror.
Two rivers combine beneath her.
The face of the child wrinkles.
in the water and is gone forever.
The woman is all that can be seen
in her animal loveliness.
Her cherished and obstinate skin
lies deeply under the watery tree.
Everything is altogether possible
and the blind men can also see.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Match Dot Com by Ted Chiles

He stroked her hair as she lay next to him. The sheets pulled from the north and south, gathered about them like a large loincloth. The air smelled of secretions and effort. Unconsciously, they both had the same self-congratulatory smile of the novice distance runner who had finished the race. Neither spoke. Each thought they were catching their breath; but truly, it was the apprehension of being the one to shatter the mood, to ground the flight into the reality of its aftermath. And this reluctance became uncomfortable in these passing moments, much like the delay when asked if the dress flattered the wearer.
He spoke first, with a simple question managing to avoid all expected clich├ęs.
“What can I do for you?”
She smiled because he had not finished with “now” and almost ruined it by saying “again.” Instead, she asked for some water.
He came back to the bed with a single bottle. No glasses. This assumed intimacy pleased her. Passing the bottle back and forth, they drank. She, then he, used the bathroom, both brushing their teeth: he with his toothbrush, she with her finger. The limits of intimacy established and acknowledged by her actions. They held each other, slowly drifting into sleep.
He woke before her. During the night they had separated, creating a space between them. She slept in the middle, face down, with her left arm reaching toward his shoulder. He on his side, facing her, with a pillow trapped between his knees. But these positions were just the randomness of the hour since both had been elsewhere fifteen minutes earlier. Kicking the pillow to the floor, he leaned over and kissed her hair where the part disassembled. Standing nude, he marveled at how right the morning felt and set out to make coffee.
The movement of the mattress started her process of awakening. Her eyes opened to see his receding buttock, gracefully shifting on its way to the kitchen. Momentarily, she considered feigning sleep until she could safely dress. But she didn’t because last night had not brought the anxieties of her failed choices into the morning. He was what she had been hoping for during the last year of reading profiles of boys’ inflated dreams – of who they were and what they hoped to be. She always suspected the computer program possessed an inherently male design. You only need to see the inventor shilling away on TV. Witness her queue of potential partners. She should have known.
He came back into the bedroom, carrying a tray of coffee and all its additions, mismatched pottery and a plate of toast with a small jar of jam. They were both still nude. The fact that he had not dressed, not unbalanced them, and that he was not perfect, sagging and bulging in all the expected places, lent her the courage to drop the sheet. They drank their coffee and ate toast, not caring about the crumbs. If only they could have kept quiet. Not become nervous, not searched for some verbal marker: she for the endearing comment, and he for the clever phrase. The one, years from now, they would recount at anniversary dinners.
“I wish you had been on,” he said.
The pause was evident.
“I was,” she said.
And there, out in the open, it stood: they began to wonder what hidden incompatibility, detected by the algorithm, separated them. And when would this flaw become evident? Slowly, in centimeters, they began to create a space between themselves: he shifted the sheet, as did she.

Ted Chiles's short stories have appeared in Lynx Eye, Nilas, Prism Review, and The Binnacle. In September 2007, The New Short Fiction Series of Los Angeles selected four of his stories for a performance entitled Love During Economic Times. He is an avid doodler.

Published: Pitkin Review, Fall 2007

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"That time of year thou mayst in me behold ..." By Maureen Duffy

Poets don't grow old gracefully:
recall old lusts with Hardy
or clamour like Yeats for new.

"How are you?" people ask them, meaning
"Goodness, you're still alive."
"Are you still writing?" signals
"If so, you're quite forgotten.
I haven't seen any reviews,"
and "Aren't you going gently yet
into your good night?"

Gower, his loins frozen by Venus,
piped of a king and his bounty of wine.
Did he who'd sung of every turn and twist
of love regret the arrow's sting he'd begged
Love's priest to tear from his heart
as he lay apart from his chaste wife?
Merlin the magus, besotted in old age
entombed in the rock by Nimue for his lust
must have been a poet too.
How else could he have cast such spells?

When David was old they brought him a virgin
hoping for a new Song of Solomon.
Help us all then Lady, Sappho's own goddess,
to sing your song until the last bittersweet note.

Born in 1933, Duffy, a poet, playwright and novelist, has published dozens of books, including five volumes of poetry.