Saturday Micro-Fiction #11

Marta - Eyes as Big as Plates

Marta, from the Eyes as Big as Plates series. Riita Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth, Norway 2011.

“Autumn”

Demeter is lost in thought and the fallen leaves have formed an autumnal crown around her divine head. She is contemplating the fate of her daughter Persephone and the time that must now pass before Persephone returns from the underworld. A single tear slips down her cheek remembering that unhappy memory. They hadn’t been on speaking terms in awhile, not since the last fight they had. Both are too proud to admit they need the other. Demeter doesn’t want to think about it anymore and lets out an anguished sigh before silently continuing her journey through the orchards surrounding the temple at Eleusis. Leaves crunch underfoot as she stops to gather a bouquet of late-blooming orange poppies, and sets them near the temple entrance. They are for the women who are about to start the Thesmorphoria

Simon Armitage

Image result for poems by simon armitage

While I’ve never heard of him, Simon Armitage has apparently been making quite the splash in the UK over the last 20 years. I find his educational background interesting as he originally got his first degree in Geography and second in Social Work, where as the biography on the Poetry Foundation tells us:

“He studied the impact of televised violence on young offenders. He went on to work as a probation officer for six years before focusing on poetry. Of course, his crowning achievement was becoming the Oxford Professor of Poetry in 2015, and currently works at the University of Leeds. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature. The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Armitage was named the Millennium Poet in 1999 and a Commander of the British Empire in 2010.”

He is famous for his new translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Odyssey. For more information on his work, check out the poet’s personal website. I’m curious to read his book Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way, where he literally depended on the strangers of others to support himself as he hiked, and read poetry for his supper, the 256 mile route through England and Scotland. 

I chose “To His Lost Lover” from The Book of Matches, 1993 and “I Kicked a Mushroom” from his latest collection, The Unaccompanied, 2017. 

“To His Lost Lover”

Now they are no longer
any trouble to each other

he can turn things over, get down to that list
of things that never happened, all of the lost

unfinishable business.
For instance… for instance,

how he never clipped and kept her hair, or drew a hairbrush
through that style of hers, and never knew how not to blush

at the fall of her name in close company.
How they never slept like buried cutlery –

two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together,
or made the most of some heavy weather –

walked out into hard rain under sheet lightning,
or did the gears while the other was driving.

How he never raised his fingertips
to stop the segments of her lips

from breaking the news,
or tasted the fruit

or picked for himself the pear of her heart,
or lifted her hand to where his own heart

was a small, dark, terrified bird
in her grip. Where it hurt.

Or said the right thing,
or put it in writing.

And never fled the black mile back to his house
before midnight, or coaxed another button of her blouse,

then another,
or knew her

favourite colour,
her taste, her flavour,

and never ran a bath or held a towel for her,
or soft-soaped her, or whipped her hair

into an ice-cream cornet or a beehive
of lather, or acted out of turn, or misbehaved

when he might have, or worked a comb
where no comb had been, or walked back home

through a black mile hugging a punctured heart,
where it hurt, where it hurt, or helped her hand

to his butterfly heart
in its two blue halves.

And never almost cried,
and never once described

an attack of the heart,
or under a silk shirt

nursed in his hand her breast,
her left, like a tear of flesh

wept by the heart,
where it hurts,

or brushed with his thumb the nut of her nipple,
or drank intoxicating liquors from her navel.

Or christened the Pole Star in her name,
or shielded the mask of her face like a flame,

a pilot light,
or stayed the night,

or steered her back to that house of his,
or said “Don’t ask me how it is

I like you.
I just might do.”

How he never figured out a fireproof plan,
or unravelled her hand, as if her hand

were a solid ball
of silver foil

and discovered a lifeline hiding inside it,
and measured the trace of his own alongside it.

But said some things and never meant them –
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.

And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.

 

IKickedAMushroom

Sharon Olds

Image result for sharon olds

I discovered her poetry in one of my poem-a-day emails, but had never heard of her before. According to biography on the Poetry Foundation, she has won “the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events.” The first poem, Pine Tree Ode, “a photo shoot becomes the occasion for a deeper encounter with the natural world.”

“Pine Tree Ode”

by Sharon Olds, 2016

I was sitting on the top stones of a wall—can you
get even closer to the tree, he said, so I went
inches from the trunk of the tallest of the ones
we’d been standing among like small children
among the legs of the grown-ups.
Now, the side of my face was almost
against the bark, intimate,
I could see where its growing had pulled its surface
open, into wooden lozenges, like
stretch marks, I could not feel it breathe
but I felt it alive beside me, a huge
ant running down, and stopping, and turning
its feelers, in the air, between us, and then
walking so fast it seemed to be pouring back
up. Then I looked, up, along
the branchless stem, into the canopy,
to the needles fanning out in bunches
eating the sun. And the length of it seemed like
bravery, like strong will,
a single, whole, note, like a tenor’s
cry, sustained, as if a tree were
a spurt from the earth, a heart’s gush.
And the ants flowed from ground to sky,
sky to ground. I don’t know where the ants
had been, or their ancestors had been, the noon
the tornado came through, wall of water
a hundred and thirty miles an hour,
solid ferocious grey static.
The tree stood. And now I sat up straight
beside it, feeling my way back
through species, and species, toward the pine, and toward
the ones we both descended from, the
fern, the green cell—the sun,
the star-stuff we are made of.

The second one, After Making Love in Winter, from May 1987,  is about the emotional changes a mature woman goes through after a sexual encounter. To see more on the analysis, check out this article

 

Joseph O. Legaspi and January Gill O’Neil

I was looking up poems on divorce when I found this one. I just like visual imagery of it. Legaspi was born in the Philippines and moved to the US at age twelve. He currently lives in NYC, and works at Columbia University.  In 2004 he cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit organization serving Asian American poetry.

Joseph O. Legaspi

My Mother’s Suitors
Joseph O. Legaspi, 2017
The moment my mother tells me she’d fallen out of love
with my father, the Santa Ana winds still
for a wingbeat second and the lemon trees
shudder in the backyard, their fruits falling
in a singular hushed thud.
It is a quiet shaking. I sit across
from her at the kitchen table, a man
now, new to shaving. The knowledge
is no revelation to me, not a throbbing secret
made flesh, not a downy egg sac of spiders,
rather, for years, this lovelessness skulks
in our household like mice with bellies full of rice.
How did I earn this disclosure, and why
after a slippery-fingered dinner of sweet pork sausages
and sliced tomatoes swimming in fish sauce?
The Santa Ana resumes its torturous blasting.
My mother then speaks of past suitors:
those who brought her gifts of rose water,
sugar cane, and summer melons; the jetsetters
who promised her the lavish gems of Kona
and Hong Kong; lovers who mastered the rhumba’s
oceanic waves, the tempter’s hipsway of the tango.
It is astonishing what sustains a person,
what we live on, how my mother has blossomed
with age, as she savors her secret history.
I can’t help but envision her by a window,
leaning into the night as her serenading suitors
gather below her, surrounded by sampaguitas,
luminous children in moonlight.

I discovered the next one by looking up poems on eating, and one of the ones it came up with was this gem about one of my favorite Southern foods, okra. It is awesome fried with some cornmeal but is also great in curry. The author was born in Norfolk, Virginia though she now lives in Massachusetts. She is, according to this bio, “the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, O’Neil also serves on the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ board of directors and teaches at Salem State University.”

January Gill O'Neil

In Praise of Okra
January Gill O’Neil, 2009
No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits,
crab cakes & hush puppies,
black-eyed peas & succotash
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.

Your stringy, slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens.

But I tell my friends if they don’t like you
they are cheating themselves;
you were brought from Africa
as seeds, hidden in the ears and hair
of slaves.

Nothing was wasted in our kitchens.
We took the unused & the throwaways
& made feasts;
we taught our children
how to survive,
adapt.

So I write this poem
in praise of okra
& the cooks who understood
how to make something out of nothing.
Your fibrous skin
melts in my mouth—
green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised,
part of the fabric of earth.
Soul food.

Catherine Barnett

I found this poem under Aging, which is interesting as I’m not sure it’s even about that, but rather the pursuit of knowledge. The author is a modern American poet, who according to the American Academy of Poets, “works as an independent editor and as Writer-in-Residence at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan where she teaches writing to mothers in the shelter system. Barnett has been the Visiting Poet at Barnard College and teaches at the New School and New York University.” The title refers to the branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, 

and limits of human knowledge and justified belief.

Epistemology

Catherine Barnett, 2017

Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more.
Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know.
Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord 
to keep it from fraying?
Not the man who called my life a debacle, 
a word whose sound I love.
In a debacle things are unleashed.
Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary.
I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate, 
the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing. 
They don’t use words, but they can be said to love. 
They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree.
And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing
stops them, it’s called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect 
or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare
to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth.
Sometimes when I’m alone I go outside with my big little mouth
and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches.

Belated Saturday Micro-Fiction #9

Faroe Islands, Niels – Eyes as Big as Plates series – Riita Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth, 2015

“Barnacles” 

Niels had been there on the beach so long he cannot remember a time when he had been anywhere else. He had become as much a part of the landscape as the weather-beaten and lichen-covered rocks that lined the island’s coastline. His family had left him on the beach during Operation Valentine, and they had never remembered to pick him up again. Or maybe they didn’t want to take him home, Niels was never sure. Over the years, he gradually became covered in barnacles, seaweed and other oceanic detritus, which made him seem less human and more merman or selkie. The only time he moved was during the high tide when small tide pools formed near his sheltering rocks. Then he would use his bare hands to pry open the shells of the sea urchins and crabs unfortunate enough to wander close enough to him.

Belated Saturday Micro-Fiction #8

Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen -Tuija Finland 2012

Tuija – Eyes as Big as Plates series – Riita Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth, Finland 2012

“The Nymph” 

“Immerse yourself in the local waters…Become one with nature,” the local tour guides said.

I came here to get away from my hectic life in the city and relax, and next thing I know I am camped out in the Finnish wilderness in the springtime with the a group of strangers. Everyone is sitting around the campfire bundled up in sleeping bags because even though it is May, it’s still a frigid outside. Then one of our hosts grabs a bottle of Lakka, aka Cloudberry Liqueur, and suddenly we’re all dancing around the fire like a couple of Finnish nature shamans. The next thing I know am naked, breast high in the water with lily pads on my head like a headdress of one of the nymphs of Ahti, god of sea and lakes, grinning coyly up at my hosts.