Even working half-time,
at 76 he stays busy.
He brags about a slew of jobs
through the VA.
“Once you get one…”
he laughs, shakes his head.
Memorials for different wars
he missed through age or luck.
Contractors provide the marble slabs
with their graven lists.
He builds the brick frame,
a hollow, windowless house
He tallies the sites,
in tick infested parks,
in don’t-blink-or-miss-‘em towns.
He recognizes some of the names.
Others draw the same
with which I imagine
he reads my poems.
My father leans in to tell me a secret.
Before he lowers and seals
the cap of each memorial,
he tosses in a scrap of 2 x 4,
with his name and the date
penciled on one side.
He grins at me absorbing
this strange autograph,
this Baptist deacon’s brag.
I cannot tell if he wants
them to be found and read
Written for the Atlanta reading: "Don't Stop Kissing." The images come from the biographies published in the Orlando Sentinel.
--for those killed at Pulse in Orlando
A basketball, a top hat, an envelope of money to send home.
Perfume samples, makeup samples, a housewarming gift.
A pharmacy textbook. A 2-month old.
Business cards. Donor cards. A mambo mix.
A wallet card that says, “I am Catholic.
In case of an emergency, call a priest.”
Photographs of families of lovers of friends.
For baby sister, the ability to walk in heels.
Selfie with a wax figure of Selena Gomez.
#foreveryoung. Low on his boyfriend’s neck,
the red dots of a hickey.
So many eyebrow pencils.
Button-up shirts, all black.
Too many jars of peanut butter.
Keys to the gym. Keys to the new house.
New collars for the Chihuahuas (three).
More dancing in heaven.
Too much quiet. A fist bump.
A bible and a book of poems for a personal renaissance.
Postcards from Niagara Falls.
(“Wish you were here!”)
Invitations to a wedding. Invitation to a christening.
A return ticket to NY on the hotel dresser.
A drawing. A bowtie. Ferrari keychain.
Halloween decorations. Graduation cap and gown.
Brochures for “Drag Stars at Sea.”
Photos from the Bear Den (marked personal).
Name unreleased, name unreleased, name unreleased.
Leftover tomato and cheese dip still in the frig.
Multiple boxes of hair dye, various colors.
An open space, a portal half-a-hundred souls wide.
A rending, a reverse mass birth in the sky.
They left us a charge in this open space,
the size of a dance floor, or a parking lot
where we can kiss, then turn up our eyes
to where we’d see stars, if it weren’t for the neon.
So the seer Balaam had this weird gig from the king of Moab to go curse the Israelites but God was all like, “Oh no you don’t, Israel’s my girlfriend.” Balaam turned them down until they started talking money, then God was like, “Fine, go ahead, man. Go with them…but
only do what I tell you.”
Balaam sincerely regretted not going into culinary school as he’d wanted at that point. The next morning, he packed his cursing stick and saddled up. God was pissed but being all passive-aggressive about it.
Balaam didn’t want to hear when God started talking out of his ass. Not capital H His, Balaam’s, meaning the donkey, who never gets named in the story. Let’s call him Hinnie. Anyway, seems the whole ruckus could have been avoided simply by having a more visible angel.
Angel was going, “Rawr! I’m an angel of the LORD here to smite thee! STOP!”
Meanwhile, poor Hinnie goes left, right, left, right. You know, like the awkward dance you do when two people are trying to go through a doorway. Anyway, no go. Hinnie finally just sat down to avoid the smitey sword-holding angel as Balaam steadily beats the ass’s ass.
Hinnie started talking. Out loud. Like people, “Dude! Why are you beating me like this? Have I ever acted like this before?” Balaam quits with the beating, all shocked but goes, “Hinnie, you’re making me look stupid. Man, if I just had a sword, I’d—“
Drama-queen angel makes an off-broadway entrance with another sword-flashing RAWR and becomes visible to Balaam. They angel tells him, “Oooh, you’re in trouble…I was going to smite the hell out of you!”
Teachable moment for Balaam, etc, etc.
Hinnie retired from Balaam-carrying, started a radio station near the Jordan. Plays his favorite music that falls like mist over the sands. His voice is smooth like old saddle leather as he signs off. “Remember, listen to me, or else.”
I'll try to write some short reactions to the works later. Note: I'm not a critic, but I like to share what I enjoy.
Georgia poet David Bottoms wrote "Under the Vulture Tree" during a time of calm in his life while living in East Cobb County. The house and pond there and the life and around them, informed his work during that time.
....said William Carlos Williams, he of the wheelbarrow and chickens and plums and gulls. Objects and images of them can be incredibly evocative as writing prompts. Neruda wrote a whole collection of odes to common things. My favorites tend to be the ones written to ordinary, overlooked, or even hard to love things.
Photographs are also good sources of inspiration. I don't have a smartphone, more for frugality than any other reason. I do, though, understand the appeal of Instagram and documenting one's world visually, making a diary of the eye.
So here are some prompts around objects. After that, some images from my collection, my Slowgrams.
* * * *
Title and notes/bullet points from a presentation at a conference of mythical creatures.
An important speech. The speaker stubs their toe intensely right before.
Combine an untimely ailment or bodily function with a momentous occasion.
The architectural firm that designs snowflakes has closed.
You wake up in a painting.
Do you have a landscape/place that can be summoned with a sound or scent? Write us there.
Write about your most worn pair of shoes.
At the end of Naomi Shabib Nye’s “The Only Word a Tree Knows” she says “I was born to answer a tree?” What about you? Answer it.
Take the books by your bed or where you read. Pick, at random, a line from each. Use these to jump-start a poem.
A lock of hair. Is it a trophy? A curse? A love spell? Whose?
Job interview, something embarrassing falls out of your purse/bag/pocket.
Your loved one leaves you something to remember them by but it is not at all charming, or sweet, or sentimental.
The possession you'd protect from a house fire that would be hard for others to value.
* * *
So Bowie's left Earth. Briefly put, he was an artist who was a constant part of my growing up. I think I saw him first as an actor. He was playing the Elephant Man and it must have been shown on PBS. I have never been able to find it since, unfortunately. He was riveting. For much of the play he wore a diaper-like thing and twisted himself into Merrick's character. That's it. No makeup or prosthetics, just his contorted almost-naked body and a voice that sounded like it was pushed through a great deal of flesh.
As an oldest child with little access to college radio or record stores, it was probably not until the "Young Americans" album came out that I heard him again. Once we got the satellite dish and MTV, everything changes. I found Bowie and Grace Jones and the Eurythmics and Kate Bush...all the wondrous, freaky sounds and images I craved. There are so many of his songs and videos to love, but I have a special feeling about "Heroes," specifically his performance during Live Aid. The powder blue suit, the GIRL saxophonist, the mass of people screaming in joy!! (I also remember Mama talking about what pretty hair he had.)
I was 16 on that day and earlier in the summer I had traveled to France, at (unappreciated at the time) expense to my family. For almost two weeks, I saw castles and Parisian streets. I stood in front of Van Gogh paintings trying not to cry. I came back home and worked in the same tomato fields as always, dizzy from heat and culture shock. My teenage brain veered between grandiosity and self-loathing, hope and fear. The world was so big and so beautiful and so troubled. Was this the beginning of the world or the end? Bowie always chose the wise path - not choosing an answer, kissing under gunfire, looking death in the eye, living til the end and then....somehow, impossibly, beyond. Matt posted the Lazarus video the day Bowie died with the statement: "today's lesson: Do your thing. Every day. Until you die." I can think of no better tribute.
The Main Event
I wanted to start writing some reviews of my favorite books from 2014. Here's the first installment.
Render – Collin Kelley
Sibling Rivalry Press, Alexander, Arkansas
Did you ever, early in a friendship or romance, take out a shoebox of old photographs, dump them on the floor, then commence to narrating your life using snapshots and the stories behind, or between them? That is akin to the experience of reading Collin Kelley’s book of poems Render. From the first poem, with its glimpse at an ancestor’s face blacked out, perhaps “the ruin of the family”, the reader is invited into the poet’s life story. In this case the deletions tell as much as the details.
The images that follow will be familiar to any child of the ‘70s; the Bicentennial, Wonder Woman, feathered hair, the Magic 8 Ball. Each pop culture artifact pointing, with archeological specificity, to a particular where and when. But a child of any time will recognize the themes of adolescent longing and loss, the caste system of high school, a family in decline, and the hunger for love.
Kelley artfully builds tension both within the individual poems and throughout the arc of the collection. In “After Adultery” the Mother in the poems “marches down the long driveway, / kicks up dust like the Tasmanian Devil” but instead of cartoon havoc, leaves a “crazed shadow.” While the mother succumbs to paranoia and illness, female nurturance and inspiration are found in Farrah’s hair and Pam Grier’s strength.
The objects of affection or lust, the “you” or “he” of many of the poems receive some of the most poignant lines in the book.
“I become device and vessel….
…would lie to your face
if I ever saw it….
Like those long, sleepover conversations, the stories come. The secrets, the heartbreaks, all of it surrounding each brightly colored or washed out paper image. Render is a raw and beautiful delineation of one poet’s growing up.
Render has received the following acclaim:
*Selected for American Library Association's 2014 Over the Rainbow List
*2013 Best Book of the Year selection by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Split This Rock, The Scrapper Poet and Rattle Readers' Favorites.
This was the homecoming reading at Athens Word of Mouth. My third feature at what I think of as my home church. My heart.
Oh, my accent is something else on this. I hope it's not too chewy to hear around properly. Thanks for putting in the effort if you do. Hope you enjoy it. There's drought sex, Big Bird, Popeye, a talking skull, traded cigarettes, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Eve talking to Cain, a Neverplace, vinyl, a S'Ain't, and a good night from a 3-year-old.
Athens Word of Mouth - Sept. 3, 2014