One Hundred Degrees of Plum

Two Poems for My Veins

Infusion

If I had to choose
between snakes’ fangs
and tigers’ claws
to name the needle
piercing my flesh
I select the cat
whose stripes burrow
all the way to skin
because this hunt—
dangerous as an open wound—
leads the seeker
to my blood
and the venom
is already present.

from Mouthbrooders, Homebound Publication, 2019

Generous Bruises

At the bank the teller catches me
counting on my fingers—the same feeling
I had chasing my sister’s bike down
the unpaved road. She would fall before
I could catch her. As the road curved
I was thinking how little I have
to rely on; I should run faster.


Caught in the act of failing, used up again
dwelling in those Hopper paintings
where nothing vacillates, nothing
is weak, and all the women wear black pumps.
Their isolation—so original, it makes them
efficient, but keeps them separate.


But consider this: a crystal’s structure
appears only when cracked. We experience
the same self when the I cracks
and our breath runs out. We earn
the favor of being by breaking
revealing a symmetry so generous it bleeds.
Watching a bruise heal from the inside out
it’s the color that matters:
never black nor blue, but shades of yellow
and one hundred degrees of plum.

from Four Blue Eggs, Homebound Publications, 2017

Hotel Window, 1955 by Edward Hopper, courtesy of http://www.EdwardHopper.net

You Are a Grackle

You are a grackle
I say out loud to the black robed bird
and her iridescent head, purpling in 
a bright May afternoon. You are a grackle
I say to the voice in my head which uttered
without thinking, hello mister starling.
You are a grackle I correct myself,
as she fluttered into a budding tree, lost
behind the rumor of a shallow wind.
I am a grackle, wings repeat settled again
into the departure of flight. I am a grackle.
You are a grackle; I am a grackle we whisper
to each other, shoulders turned, heads aloft into
the cadence of song. I am a grackle
I am a grackle I am a grackle I am a grackle.
Photo by Samuel Sweet on Pexels.com

Mouthbrooders

During six months of vocal cord paralysis, author and professor Amy Nawrocki turned to the written word and fell in love with language again. The result of this exploration is her stunning collection Mouthbrooders, full of sounds and their echoes—ravens screeching, eggs cracking, and acorns falling. As Nawrocki struggles to find her own voice again, she midwives the voices of catastrophe, of memory, and of the small miracles of everyday life.

“Amy Nawrocki’s new collection Mouthbrooders is precise and carefully contained. Each poem is a vessel crafted to express one perfect thing: how saliva works on a burn; the tender terror of bringing a word or a child into life; the pleasure of “rigatoni…heavy/ with artichokes, cream sauce,/peppercorns slowly braised/and crushed under a fork”; the desire to “sample” one’s own flesh; a conversation with a peregrine in which the persona asks, “Tell me about the wind, the kind/that quiets fear and lengthens your cries/ into inaudible whispers.” Mouthbrooders is a collection to savor.”

Laurel S. Peterson, Norwalk Community College, Poet Laureate, Norwalk, CT 2016 – 2019

From the Archives: Pea Soup in October

notebook, c. 1992; image scan 2018

Also from the archives, 1992.

Blue Moon Diner
 
He might have been blind.
In my hourglass
recollection, I don’t believe
he ever looked at me
with his eyes–spacious,
window-like; each blink
the metamorphosis of a streetlight
from red to green
from grey to gray.
 
Aged cacti prickles
crowned his head; roadmapped
baldness charted the constellations
of his travels. To hear
restaurant monologues
in my novice ears was to see
wisdom printed on a napkin.
He said I looked New Englander, like himself.
I heard him say sheltered,
smiling. Professor
of all that is reachable, witness
of revolution, student
of places where clouds paint
shadows on the landscape,
his slight cricket body
carried mountains.
I saw myself journeying
through time tattered windows;
I saw the vast-heavy earth
deflate to a school child’s globe
filled with places I will go to
when I know the color of every star.
 
I sipped coffee, sugarless.
I did not ask his name.
I did not think
to ask his name.

Of Kites and Cohen

Amy Nawrocki reading “A Kite is a Victim” by Leonard Cohen, published in The Spice-Box of Earth, 1961

I recently led a discussion about the poetry and lyrics of Leonard Cohen at the Bethel, CT, Public Library. The program was sponsored by Bethel Poet Laureate Cortney Davis. In the talk, I centered on intimacy and audience in Cohen’s work, how in poetry and song he can draw his readers (and listeners) in through both a literary voice as well as a his “reedy baritone” singing voice. In the case of his poetry, I found intimacy was created through imagery, organization of stanzas and lines, and point of view. Cohen often addresses the reader directly (not an uncommon practice of second person), but doing so seems to grant him authority (“A kite is a victim you can be sure of”) even as the speaker struggles with the surety of this: “A kite is the last poem you’ve written/ so you give it to the wind.” The “you” in the poem is both the speaker and the reader, and thus confirms this “contract of glory / that must be made with the sun” through us, the reader.

We weren’t able to get to all the poems I had selected to talk about. So “A Kite is a Victim” is for everyone who attended yesterday’s discussion who helped me release Leonard Cohen’s kite, finding it among friends in “the fields / the river, and the wind.” Perhaps now I too will be “lyric, and worthy, and pure.”

Words, words, words

Sestina for Words Taken and Left Behind: an experiment in sound

The poem began as a class exercise. My students were experimenting with fixed and traditional form poems. I gave them the option of trying a villanelle or a sestina. Some had trouble getting started, so I offered a few images that they could pool from. We had discussed the form and how repetition functions differently in each of these forms. The sestina incorporates repeated end words–words at the end of the line–in a pattern of six line stanzas. A “map” or chart is helpful, and I gave them handouts and examples to follow. As they worked, I asked each student for one word–my aim was to use their words, fixed in a pattern of the sestina. I also had in mind a debate about whether or not a pattern can overwhelm a poem and another debate about how meaning functions in the realm of pattern. Big questions for a 75 minute class.

In the end, I had about 20 words, which I wrote down in order, then supplemented to create six word lines which I then formed into six line stanzas. The exercise challenged me to see how word choice leads pretty naturally to syntax and a need to find meaning not only in words, but in phrases. Beyond that, the challenge was to vary the lines enough so that the repetition (already expected in the sestina form) wouldn’t overwhelm or underwhelm the poem. As I wrote, the fun was in rearranging in interesting ways for sound, then meaning. As I read and recorded the poem, the fun was in managing my voice, the cadence, the pronunciation and articulation of each word and each line. This made me think more about punctuation choices as well as line breaks (enjambing and endstopping–or not).

Whether the poem has logic or “meaning” is now up to the listener. For me, I enjoyed the practice, but I mostly enjoyed that the words were given by my students, and in a way, it’s their poem.