November 14, 2014
Today is the birthday of the amazing cellist, Natalia Gutman. She was taught by Mstislav Rostropovich and married to the wonderful violinist, Oleg Kagan. In celebration of her birthday, here is the poem “Passages” from The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost.
The cellist next door practices at night.
His fingers summon Bach suites
in a series of movements.
These remind me of a theory
that matter is composed of strings
jittering at various speeds.
So I know the difference between wood,
plastic and metal for the same reason
I can distinguish Bach from Mozart.
Not music but motion – and no rest
in a universe that moves me to tears,
where sleepers dream, and I wake
to find my head on the keyboard,
the letter I was writing to you
trailing a scroll of P’s down the page.
September 25, 2014
Today in 1906 the great composer Dmitri Shostakovich was born in Saint Petersburg. He was brilliant, composing some of the greats symphonies, concertos and quartets of the 20th century. Among my personal favorites is his 1st violin concerto. It is my favorite violin concerto of any composer. This poem from The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost was written in response to the Passacaglia (the 3rd movement) of the concerto.
Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor,
Opus 77 (III Passacaglia - Adante)
This river slows and trembles, a violin string
vibrating between the banks of a wartime town.
It dashes its high notes against a few rocks,
and further on, tosses an alluvial fan of sand and dirt,
artifacts and relics flung ashore,
a spindrift lifted into an orchestra of singed elms.
How it loses itself in its losses,
the evaporation of its passing, its current
throwing faint light back into the smoldering.
But nothing is forgotten, only attenuated
in the drifting dilutions of history, small drops
that wet the branches and remaining leaves.
There, in the green reticulations, the bark’s crevices,
it is a thought, it is all that’s remembered
and is enough for a hawk to feed on,
for men leaving their ruins to emerge on shore
and see it take to flight above the smoking tree line.
(first published at nycBigCityLit.com)
September 23, 2014
Today in 1926, the great jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane was born. Though I mention piano rather than saxophone in this poem, “Keeping Time,” I was listening to Coltrane’s beautiful A Love Supreme.
Fired into existence in dark furnaces
far from the light and air it now bridges,
an origin of molten metal, distillates of wood —
coal and peat — flexed into these arcs and curves,
the Pulaski Skyway defines space and time as a trajectory
that I now follow along Route 1&9, my car
spanning rivers and factories, pipes
and smokestacks jazzed by the piano keys
rising and falling from the radio.
The sweep of the bridge, a brace of girders
bolted and tarred against the wind,
the diffused morning light, a pink haze,
each element part of a chord
harmonizing New York City
into a distant silhouette, a variation
improvised from ages of light cooking the mud,
a theme that cannot be paused or replayed,
while I keep time as long as I can,
listening, watching, waiting for my exit.
August 29, 2014
Today in 2005, hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, devastating a number of coastal cities including New Orleans. I had visited New Orleans for the first time that April for Jazz Fest. It became one of my favorite cities. In honor of New Orleans, its vitality and beauty, here is a poem inspired by it on a subsequent visit there. This poem ends section I of The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost.
Where Dragonflies Sleep
Our last day in the French Quarter,
a brass band off Jackson Square
played “When the Saints Go Marching In”
just as the waste of sunlight beaded and burned up
across rooftops and in the spire of St. Louis Cathedral.
Bells tolled and the day sank into earth.
Night came first as dark clots in the oaks.
While the last blue still held the upper air,
in fissures of each cracked wall tile or in the slate
flagstones that buckled like colliding icebergs,
a flash of iridescent power settled
as if all the dragonflies in the city
had come to rest in these imperfections.
The force and buoyancy of their wings
fanned subterranean fires and stoked the air
till currents banged a wind chime
made of a brass doorknob, the gas lights
budded and blossomed into fire
and electric ticker signs buzzed and beckoned
toward the center of the thundering weathers inside us
where, however small, those powers sleep.
August 25, 2014
It’s already in the air: the end of summer. People are noticing leaves change color or the light diminish. This poem, “Ransom Note,” takes that moment and reaches through the fears of nonexistence to find a trace of hope.
Afternoon in late August. You see it on everyone’s face:
in the park they’re all thinking of summer’s end,
the warm flesh and greens that follow its tunnels
down into the cozy murk, how the fountain spray
pushes back at the sky, sunlight inches southward,
and even finches thread the air as if to catch something,
to cage it, like me, knowing that for all the mystical courage
of remaining silent, I have no nerve for it. Even now,
where I sit on the bench, shade slips over me like a hood,
and I’m whisked off, abducted by the day’s closing minions,
the cool, the unwinding, and then a rising in the gorge
to shout my existence back against the burning gyrations,
repetitions I struggle to evade by sitting here in the park
puzzling over this stooped woman and young girl
ferreting through the garbage for discarded cans and bottles,
evidence, even when damaged, that something got away.
© The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost 2014
First published in the journal Jellyroll.
July 21, 2014
Twenty-four years ago, on July 15, 1990, I moved to New York. I had saved some money and with a sense of nearly infinite possibility, I hopped on a bus to move to the East Village with 2 friends: one a novelist and the other a musician and filmmaker. To commemorate that time, here is a poem from The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost that recalls it, that recalls that need for risk, for letting go and embracing the pure potential of what might be:
The Butterfly in the Gutter
My infant son grasps his pacifier,
brings it to his mouth, pulls it away.
Impulsively he repeats the motion,
because he hasn’t learned to let go,
to put the pacifier in his mouth
and leave it there.
Do we ever get good at this, the letting go?
Think of the many nostalgic hauntings,
past lovers shaking their purses
full of perfect imaginary coins of what
it used to be like, let’s say, with Tina,
my first kiss in the alley behind my aunt’s house
or moving to New York without a job
or a place to live, just hopping on a bus
on a July morning in 1990,
trusting everything I believed in then
to make a way and actually finding it,
so now it’s recalled as a cherished golden age,
which, at the time, promised nothing more
than the light that falls here in the park
among the flowers, grass and dirt
where a monarch butterfly takes off
to settle instead in the gutter
and run its feelers over something,
studying to discover its worth.
July 13, 2014
Today in 1793 in the village of Helpston, poet John Clare was born. A major poet who was relegated to the minor listings until recently. He was born to a farm laborer just when the industrial revolution was destroying English farmland through enclosure. It is one of the major subjects of his poetry, among other important questions of alienation and identity. He suffered from severe depressions under constant pressures of support his ever-growing family. In his honor, I’d like to share “The Closing” from The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost. Clare figures in it briefly.
On my desk is a coil of fossilized ammonite,
an ancient mollusk curled into itself like a brown wave.
I rub its smooth, dead intimacies with my finger
and think of the sea, the splashing and posturing
tucked under each crashing breaker.
Outside the window, squirrels leap from utility pole
to hanging branch and their mid-flight poise
brings to mind a whale tunneling up through dark currents
to pierce the surface then plunge
shattering the towers of sunlit water.
Everything reminds me of the sea, of lakes,
of waves and the indifferent aqueous graces,
even the gravelly floorboards creaking under foot
radiate with grains that ripple and burn
like those in a pond pulsing from a tossed stone.
Then I read the poems of John Clare,
who saw the sea only once in his life,
and I imagine that moment, his thoughts saturated
and sinking until he believed he was Lord Byron,
crippled and swimming the Hellespont.
So I go outside where, in my riverside city,
gulls tilt over the rooftops and I stoop to the ground,
take a handful of dirt and close my fist over it,
to remind me of the shore and all those viscous fingers,
to remind me how they grope and claw the sand,
to remember everything they endlessly reach for.
© The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost 2014
First published in the journal The Same.
June 26, 2014
30 years ago my best friend died in a car crash. I’ve written a number of poems for him or which bring his memory and the loss into context. Here is a poem from the new book that also recalls him. This poem may address that loss more fully since it is in the light of all the years that have followed.
The sound of crickets is the distance
between our childhoods: even one
of those saws in the dark keeps you awake,
while it sings me to sleep, and even more
pushes me up through the summer leaves
into the green dreams of youth and clarity,
when my belief in vision was harder
and stronger than the rocks in the field.
Days in the summer of 1984, I entered that field
to sit by the lake where dragonflies
strafed the reeds, mosquitoes punctured
flashes of sunlight and mallards overhead
dragged their shadows through the water.
I thought, this is how a mind works,
even in the dark, when bats come out,
feeding on what floats to the surface of a day,
because that is what night is:
the thin line at the top that bends light
and changes everything. For that summer
my best friend died and became
another rock buried in a field, another spot
where crickets, all night, hack, and saw,
and cut away the differences between us.
(First published in The Same, Vol. 8, No. 1)