"For My Parents: On Journeys" - Emily Katherine

 

"For My Parents: On Journeys" - Emily Katherine


I put off writing this poem
I kept waiting for the perfect words to arrive
words I could gather in my cupped hands like minnows, hold them out to you,
splashing and sparkling and say “look!”
And then I would gently lower them back into the stream
and we would watch them swim off into the sunset
our ankles getting wet, water lapping the sides of the river bed.
We’d say nothing,
just watch the waves part, as they swam toward them.


Mom and Dad: you sent me off with a blessing, three springs ago
you watched my sister and I pack her Subaru until it literally sagged
the car literally almost touched the ground
you must have thought “wow
they sure have a lot of baggage”
We thought we needed every piece of it, every article of clothing, every pillow,
every notebook and chair, every memory, every fear.
We thought it was so good to get out of town, point the car toward the sun
and just start driving south
but we only got three miles down the road before I had to pee
And we couldn’t turn back
our goodbyes were too fresh in our throats
so my sister pulled the car over and I crouched between two doors and accidentally peed on my sandal
It was the first time on our journey that we both laughed until we cried
“I feel funny”, my sister said
“I feel floaty” I said
Then we turned the radio up, hit the gas and kept on driving.


We stopped half way, in Virginia, at a shitty motel
but there was a pool and hot sunshine and I sat outside at a warped picnic table as the sun set down around me
insects buzzed a patchwork in the dark, my body hummed with a kind of electricity
It was then I realized I didn’t need everything I had brought with me.
We went swimming that night in our clothes
the warm chlorine leached the dust from our eyelids, washed away the imprint of all the mistakes we had to make, in order to get to this point
and when we got back in the car the next day,
we were each two pounds lighter
My sister asked me “will we float away if we keep going like this?”
“No”, I said, “we can learn to curve our arms like anchors
and we’ll take turns flying and holding it down”.


We hit the border of Georgia that day, around 3pm
we were both wearing sundresses, in some kind of salute to the south
when we picked up the keys from our new landlord he asked us if we were both students
when we said no, he asked us if we were both single
when we said yes
he said “southern gentlemen are real and a lot of women mover here to find husbands”
we both thought he was hitting on us.
The key turned the lock to a pre-fabricated duplex, that looked just like the every other one on the block
but to us, it looked like a kept promise
and at first the air conditioning didn’t work and we thought surely we would die in the July heat and I put the ice cream in the bathtub in a sublime effort to save our sweets
and when the AC finally kicked on,
we realized how the rooms echoed
how bare the walls were
how accommodating the emptiness was
and we began splashing laughter across the floor and cooking up new traditions in the tiny kitchen.


My sister left after one year
she said returning home was the most necessary mistake she needed to make
and now she points her face south again
says she’s ready to pack up the car again.
Me, I’ve held down the spot we decided to make our mark on for three years
But now, I have a decision in my pocket and kite string in my wallet
I’m going to pull it out any minute now, attach all my dreams to it
and then run like hell
I haven’t figured out in which direction yet
but I know the wind will lead me


I put off writing this poem for weeks, kept waiting for the perfect one to arrive
one I could hold out to you as proof that you did everything right
as evidence that you raised us with the right convictions, that you put a compass in my heart and a map in my hands
I know we both remember the times you asked me to unlock the door to my cage from the inside
so that you could crawl in with me
I know we both have blasting caps in our pockets and shotgun shells in our shoes, yes, we kept souvenirs
or maybe they kept us
yes, we know how good oxygen feels in our chests
because we still remember learning how to hold our breath.
I put off writing this poem, waiting for it to come to me like an angel
but nothing can deliver me from the work I know I need to do.
And I have stood by the river for hours now, fingers stretched out wide in the water
shin deep in memory, squinting my eyes at the sunset, trying to catch glimpses of my future


Mom and dad, tonight you saw me get on stage for the first time
you are hearing me say the words to the people and I am not saying them all perfectly
but I am saying all of them
I am patting my pockets, checking for the notes you wrote me,
I am putting gas in the car and making lists of all the goodbyes I need to say
I am burning with the memory of the sun through the car windows,
as my sister and I set off on new adventures
I am hammering my heartbeat across the mountain peaks
I am echoing with reverberations of love
I am holding my palms out to you
holding these words like broken arrows, like feathers, like water that still sparkles, even as it slips through my fingers and I am ready now, river current in my blood stream,
I am headed toward the ocean, I am learning how to hold my breath under water
I am pointing in the direction of the current, I am saying “look!”



Emily Katherine was the featured reader in January. This poem originally appeared on her site Gut Punch Poetry.

"The birthday of the world" - Marge Piercy





"The birthday of the world" - Marge Piercy



On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding

of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.

No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?

How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where

have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke

the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling

my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.
 
 
"The Birthday of the World" is from Marge Piercy's collection The Crooked Inheritance [2006]. Illustration: Ben Gulyas
 

"Group Therapy" - Emily Katherine


 
 
 
"Group Therapy" - Emily Katherine


On Monday, in group, Brandon says
“I just don’t think I can go my entire life without drinking”
he says “some days I’m thinking obliteration is a rational choice
that when the world is this fucked up, why is it so bad
to drown our sorrows every so often, every Friday, every Thursday, every – Day
in  tequila, why’s it so wicked to warm what’s left of our bodies
with wine and the familiar feel of a stranger”
I remind him that in group, we don’t use the F word
I tell him that today we’re talking about powerlessness
that maybe he could contribute to the conversation
since clearly his power is a reflection of his reaction to apathy
Brandon shrugs
says group is bullshit, but he’s mandated to treatment, so he’ll stay


On Wednesday in group, Brandon says.
“sometimes? I think maybe heroin is the only way in, the only entrance to my head that doesn’t hurt
this is the price I pay for comfort
and that seems fair.”
I ask him can we
take it one day at a time
stay in the moment
do the next right thing.
he says “last night I thought about how hard it is to live
how awareness brings responsibility bring weight that I am not strong enough to carry, brings social interaction and it is not a sign of health to be well adjusted to a fucked up world.”
I remind him again that swearing is not allowed in group, ask him
can you express one real emotion without quoting someone else
He says quotes make sense
that he can’t articulate or understand this world
so this is the oppressor’s language but he needs it to speak to me
I say, I know that quote too
I say what are you actually feeling right now
He says sometimes I want to explode,
like I’m disappearing,
a black hole
sometimes I want to die
I say sometimes we all do
welcome to early sobriety
he says fuck group
and leaves


On Friday in group, Brandon doesn’t say anything
group is quiet, soothing
and it’s not until he doesn’t come back after break that I realize to us
silence is how we begin to die
silence is the first gasp of the last act
so I call his PO after group, I try to get someone to talk to me
I leave a message on his voicemail that starts out
with I’m not mad
and ends with please come back
and in the middle somewhere I remind him that we all have those days
I promise him that I’ll carry his thirst in my throat
that if he hangs on, some day he will be asked to hold someone else’s wrists closed
that his thumbs will count heart beats, that he will understand the rhythm then
that he just needs to believe that I believe


On Monday, in group, I say the first person who can scream the loudest wins
and they look back at me with puzzle piece faces
I say today? maybe fuck those self help therapy enthusiasts that teach us acceptance and
maybe fuck me for being one of them
maybe you should accept nothing
because nothing is what we are promised
I say first one to disagree with me out loud wins
and they say nothing
I say tell me one true thing even if it doesn’t belong to you
and they say nothing
I say prove to me that that you’re here
they say Ms. Emily, you’re acting weird today
I say then tell me
anything
can’t you see how easy it is to disappear
and they say
Ms. Emily speak up, we can’t even hear



"Group Therapy" appears online at Emily Katherine's blog Gut Punch Poetry. She is the next featured reader at Athens Word of Mouth open mic event, Wednesday, January 4 at The Globe. Sign-up is at 7 pm and readings begin at 8 pm. [Illustration: Fred Tomaselli, "Airborne Event."]

"A merry little Christmas sonnet" - T. Eulenspiegel





"A merry little Christmas sonnet" - T. Eulenspiegel

Maybe it would be better if Christmas came
Earlier in the year. June would be a pleasant month -- adults
Relaxing in the hammock while the schoolkids,
Released from their labors, fly away like spinning tops
Yelling about summer vacation and Santa in the same breath. Or
Cheers! in August, that hellish month when nothing
Happens. A month with no holiday is un-American, 
Really, and one with no shopping to call its own.
Is it too much to wish that sometime between July and
September we might enjoy a merry little Christmas,
Take our holiday without storm and snow, with no
Mad dashes to the store for eggnog. Drink our rum mojitos instead!
... Ah, what's the use -- the kids will be bored in December, and
Someone will still bring fruitcake with the weight of lead.


Till Eulenspiegel is a trickster figure in Germany, Denmark, Bohemia, Poland, and Italy who plays practical jokes on his contemporaries, exposing vices at every turn: greed and folly, hypocrisy and foolishness. The literal translation of the High German name "Eulenspiegel" is "owl mirror," two symbols that have been used to identify him since the 16th century.

"Xmas Words" - Roy Blount Jr.



Xmas Words
By Roy Blount Jr.

 
It is at this special time of the year, and especially of this extra-special year in particular, that we realize how urgent is our need to foster love and faith and brotherhood and —at any rate faith, and by that I mean consumer confidence. When Americans, of all people, are afflicted with what the singer-songwriter Roger Miller called “shellout falter”—a reluctance to spend—then the whole world is liable, as Mr. Miller put it so well in his song “Dang Me,” to “lack fourteen dollars having twenty-seven cents.”



Are we going to let it be said that all we had this Christmas to cheer was cheer itself? No! Let’s put the holly back in shopaholic, let’s get jingle-bullish. We owe it to ourselves, to the world, and to future generations. The more presents we spring for now, the lighter the tax burden is going to be down the line.
 
You notice how much more merrily that last sentence bounced along because I chose spring to express spending, instead of, say, plunge; and lighter instead of, say, less staggering. Words are important. So let’s say “bah, humbug” to b-words like bailout and bankrupt. Let’s digress from anything ending in -ession. Let’s entertain some new, upbeat holiday words.
Why not wake up tomorrow morning feeling consumptious? Rhymes with scrumptious, and approaches sumptuous. When we’re consumptious we’ve got that fire in the belly that’s burning a hole in our pocket. We’re going to be pumping bucks today, we’re going to open our hearts to goods and services, we’re going to take it upon ourselves to help America, and consequently the world, reconomize. In so doing, we can personalize what is just about the only appealing phrase regarding the economy that has emerged this year: each of us can be his or her own stimulus package.
 
The season of giving is upon us. Need that sound like such a threat? Let’s see if we can spruce up that venerable old word generous, which can be so cringe-inducing when we hear it spoken over the phone by a stranger calling in the interest of a charity. “I hope you will be as generous this year as last” puts us on the spot, so let’s spread generous out.

I don’t think we want to go to heterogenerous, because people might think we’re talking about sex, and there will be plenty of time for that after we get our mercantile heat back on. (For this reason, even businesses whose appeal is essentially spicy should resist, for now, the temptation to send their customers illicitations.) But autogenerous, as in autobiographical, might remind us that giving unto others is also giving unto ourselves, especially if others give back unto us and therefore unto themselves, and we buy our presents at their store and vice-versa. Does auto- strike an ominous note? Let me just say that if each of us becomes a cargiver this Christmas, there will be a lot more shining faces this New Year’s in Detroit. And Japan.
 
Let us not shrink from taking a look at the word Christmas. It’s a fine old word and I for one would be loath to suggest that it has lost its edge entirely. But it doesn’t exactly sing. The only thing it rhymes with is isthmus, and that but loosely. How do you like the sound of Jingle Day? Says bells and sunshine, says catchy marketing, says plenty of change.

MingletingleKringlePringlesbling’ll,and heysleighpraypayhooray. We might even go a little more on-the-nose: Ka-chingleday.
 
And incidentally, when you take your tree down and put your ornaments away for next year (yes, of course there will be a next year, don’t even ask such a question), do you know the best way to protect those ornaments? By wrapping them in newspaper. Several sheets per ornament. Maybe a whole newspaper section per ornament. And magazines and books are good to put between wrapped ornaments for further protection. Not to knock the tissue-paper industry, but what has it ever done for, say, people who support themselves and their families (not to mention the Jingle Day puppies their families have been promised) by thinking up words?


From The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays by Michele Clark and Taylor Plimpton (Abrams Image, 2009).

"We'll Leave a Light On"







"We'll Leave a Light On" - Tom Clark

Without it, what savage unsocial nights
Our ancestors must have spent! All those deadly
Winter nocturnes in caves and unillumined icy
Fastnesses: they must have laid around and
Grumbled at one another in the dark like the blind,
Fumbling each other's features for the wrinkle of a smile.
What tedious repartee must have passed! Perhaps
This accounts for the dullness of much archaic
Poetry, whose somber cast is notorious and must
Have derived from the traditions of those
Long unlanterned nights. Jokes came in with candles.
How did they see to pick up a pin, if they
Had any? How did they get dinner down? Think of
The mélange of chance carving that must have
Ensanguined dining after dusk! Lights out,
Not even love's what it's cracked up to be.
The senses absolutely give and take
Reciprocally. One wants to know whether that's
An elbow, a knee, or the night table
Before one returns the favor of a friendly nudge.
Wasn't it by the midnight taper all writers once digested
Their meditations? By that same light we ought
To approach them, if we ever expect to catch
The tiger-moth of inspiration that dances
In the word incandescent.



Light is necessary to the human battle against fear and uncertainty. It can supply security and light-hearted relief: "jokes came with candles." At solstice the northern hemisphere begins its slow turn back to the light, at year's end the illumination of fireworks extinguishes all dashed hopes and ignites new ones in their place. New Year's Eve is the most social night of the year to balance the ledger against those dark, "savage unsocial nights / Our ancestors must have spent." Make plans, and on the longest night imagine that all can happen with the right amount of luck, pluck, and light enough to see them through. "We'll Leave a Light On" by Tom Clark appears online at his blog Beyond the Pale.