Check out the latest issue of Aberration Labyrinth for my poem “The Telling.” Then take a look at another new online journal from Canada called Caesura. I like them both, as well as like a lot of other online journals such as Carcinogenic Poetry and The Bacon Review. But not everyone’s so sure online journals are a good thing. What say you?
On the Poetry Editors and Poets list on LinkedIn, there is an ongoing discussion on what exactly is stream of consciousness and how is it used in poetry. One poster has called for members to post examples of stream of consciousness poetry. Here is my contribution. It is a poem I wrote when I was in graduate school and entered in a competition for graduate student poetry. It won honorable mention.
The Partridge, Parts I & II A Riddle and Proposed Solution By Joseph Saling
Poetry has become incestuous. Conversation with a friend, May 18, 1981
Donald E. Carr points out that the sense impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain. “This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it is”. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Icarus fell because he believed one could soar too high. In my yard, flowers restore a sense of order to chaotic days. In my house, the books scream at me from many rooms. I’ve lost all power to see or know or dream of Michelangelo, of works that aren’t and never could be. In my yard foremost resides a sense of order. You know who I am. Look down. You’ll find me trampled under foot.
The quail exploded from the weeds and pheasants stretched their necks and lifted their bodies in flight. We made fires in the cleared fields.
Mowers cut the air with noise. In the yard I come and go, dreaming of Michelangelo. My hand smells of gas, sweats on the vibrating chrome, lifts to take a beer.
There’s never silence, even when the work is done; freeways never cease.
They grumble like gods’ stomachs taking Modern Communion.
In a theater, as in Plato’s cave, shadows flicker on the wall. Here there are no truck sounds, no incessant pounding, no backing machines with warning whistles; only frozen iotas from the past that pass into our future. Celluloid sound walls that block the roar from Boeings crying as the sky, molecule by molecule, is swiftly subdued. That was 43, and none of us was eager to go.
One crazy one night shot off his own toe while we waited for the boats. We all envied him being the only sane one.
Television light, pulsating energy, strokes the blades of a fan, causes it to slow, even reverse direction.
Now there is no noise; the sound’s erased them all, even the memory of crickets, only an electric whine and voices almost human on mid summer nights.
You weren’t there to see. My Lai’s only a match flame. We built other fires.
You could pass your fingers through the fan, it moves so slowly.
You know who I am. The one on the bus with the misshapen head. The one who embarrassed you with too loud talk. It’s my eyes that you refuse to look into, so mine teach you nothing. You see me talk to myself, and sigh to get off. In all this world there’s only idiots who see what is.
Visions are easy. I saw the lighted tree once in October blaze. I saw a boy fall reaching to pick an apple.
No one buried him. He fell and was drowned. I heard his parent warn him that that would happen, and he believed it. No quail were left in the field. We’d created yard.
Mowers cut the air. In my yard I come and go. I trample flowers,
and in them find a dead bird my cat has brought home to share.
Yesterday with the tree planted in its stand,
the tinsel being all that was left to do,
and the Celtic music filling the room
with the richness of its Irish brogue,
we danced, father and daughter, a jig.
And as I reached up to drape the branches
in their silver shimmer and felt the pain
make its way across my arm and chest,
I knew the last thing I would say would be
I’m glad we danced.
Over the next few weeks, if it doesn’t destroy itself and the sun doesn’t burn it up, Comet ISON just may put on one hell of a show. Enthusiasts have already called it a “comet of the century” and dubbed it a “Great Comet.” Within just a few days, this very small space rock — only about three miles across — will slingshot around the sun, traveling at .2 the speed of light and passing within 730,000 miles of the sun’s surface. Using only gravity as a propellant, it will dance across our sky with a show that, if the predictions are even remotely accurate, will dazzle, amaze, and stay with you for a very long time.
Perhaps you’re already watching. Some people who rise early enough — at least an hour before dawn — and have a clear view of the lower eastern sky and have been tracking the comet with the aid of binoculars or a telescope have already formed a bond with this visitor from the outer reaches of our solar system. I know I’ve seen several comets in my life. But the one I most clearly remember and feel connected to is Hale-Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997 that followed me half way around the world.
We saw the comet Hale-Bopp stand still
Above the ocean at Ka’anapali Beach,
Just like the crow we saw one morning rise
In Boston, a black knight errant, holding still
Against the wind, and flapping its wings to stay
In place while others watched then rode the wind
Up through the sky — first one, then three, while the first
Held still, then dipped, then rose along their arc.
Again in Atlanta, we saw Hale-Bopp
And watched its tail that arced above Stone Mountain,
As stony as the frieze on the mountain’s face,
The infamous past held lifeless there until
A laser called it back and thundering hooves
Like in a page from Faulkner roared inside
The head of a thousand Hightowers then died
When floodlights splashed against the granite wall.
I once saw black Ogunquit sea birds skate
Across the water’s surface with their wings
Outstretched and necks pushed forward like a horse
Gaining speed to rise up from the waves,
A white spray arcing from their tails beneath
The granite cliffs and slate New England sky.
respect when I place
myself at the keyboard, face
bathed in blue light.
I do alright.
Not like Mary.
Fell in love with a fairy
used to come in all the time.
His name was Harry.
He’d sit here at the piano making eyes
at all the guys.
Mary never got wise.
one thing I know
can’t kiss away the blues.
Not the real blues.
Not the hollow note
deep in your throat
kind of blues
that wake you in the middle of the night
because the silence gets so loud
you can hear starlight
It’s a job.
Last week some slob
laid fifty bucks beside me.
Forget what you see,
he said. I’m not here.
My wife wouldn’t understand.
All I did was hold her hand,
not like I planned
it or anything. So I fanned
his fantasy for a while,
played My Funny Valentine and with style
closed my eyes tight.
I said, I don’t see nobody tonight.
They go away.
who’s best friends with his old lady May,
asks how’d it go.
Didn’t see a soul I know.
I tell people who come in all the time
you can’t kiss away the blues,
not those lonely in a crowd blues.
Those caged bird
watching from a swinging perch
The kind that weigh
you down even when the door is open
because you get so hungry
not even love
can fill you up.
You know when I saw you two come in
I felt sick
like I was watching someone commit
A no win
like when you begin
an undeniable urge to piss.
Maybe I shouldn’t say this.
After all I see a lot of dirt.
I’ve watched a lot of men chase a skirt.
Jesus, I don’t mean that.
It’s just when you’ve sat
where I’ve sat,
you get tired
of watching friends choose
the place you gotta be to play the blues.
There’s no way.
You can try,
but you’re gonna lose
because there’s no way
you can kiss away
Group portrait of children at their First Communion, Holyrood School, Swindon, 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you know the words, sing along while you listen to the poem.
On Taking First Communion in the Hospital After He Was Struck by a Car
When he heard the angels sing, they sounded more
Like sirens. Strapped to a board, riding through
The red-lighted city, he called out for
His mother to make them stop. He’d lost a shoe.
His stomach hurt, and their song, he knew, was death.
He couldn’t see her, but he heard her speak
To men up front then say to him, It’s best
To let them be. It’s not that far. Just keep
Holding my hand. He asked her was he dying. Of course you’re not. God’s not done with you.
When they arrived, they made her let go her hold. I can’t come, she said, I have to do what I’m told,
And left him by himself in a room, lying
On a table, afraid to think what God might do.
White walls and sheets, white pillow. Pale white light
From fluorescent tubes. Even his gown is white.
The priest wears a black cassock and white surplice,
Takes out a gold case he lays on the white surface
Of the bedside table, and holds up a wafer
Whiter than the prayer book his father placed there.
What did they say he was to say? My Lord,
I am not worthy. But only say the word
And my soul will be as white as this room I’m in.
The body tastes sweet, but not as sweet as the wine
That follows. And when he hears his mother’s voice
It seems an angel speaks and says the choice
To take communion is an early sign
He surely has a place in God’s design.
Days pass, then a month. It seems forever.
Then a nun arranges them two by two.
They march across the street together.
They wait their turn in a wooden pew.
Then a nun arranges them two by two
To go inside the confessional box.
They wait their turn in a wooden pew.
They listen while the sister talks.
To go inside the confessional box,
She says, they’ll need to remember their sins.
They listen while the sister talks.
She tells them how confession begins.
She says they’ll need to remember their sins
To ask the priest to be forgiven.
She tells them how confession begins
With an act of genuine contrition.
To ask the priest to be forgiven
They march across the street together.
With an act of genuine contrition
Days pass, then a month, it seems forever.
Once in the church they stand against the wall
As sister shows them how their hands must point
To heaven and their eyes always look down
As if they were little lambs. Then she calls
Them to the altar railing. When they join
Her there, she makes them kneel. Don’t look around.
First wait, then cross your arms over your chest.
Look up, put out your tongue, and close your eyes.
Remember, remember this. Whatever you do,
Never open your mouth and never chew.
Just bow your head. You’ve the living God inside.
Let the host dissolve and know that for the rest
Of your life God will always be a part
Of you, both in your mind and in your heart.
On Sunday children gather at the school
And walk across the street, like little lambs.
They enter the church where sunlight filters through
The blues and reds of sainted glass. Their hands
Pointing to heaven, they walk down the aisle.
Sister said no first communion a second time,
And so from a place apart he watches while
Each takes the bread and sees none gets the wine.
In the vestibule he stands off to one side.
His father shakes their hands. The nuns delight
In patting heads of carefully combed hair
And call each a vessel where God abides.
He suffocates in all the filtered light
But once outside dissolves in the sun’s white glare.
The following poem was originally published in Birmingham Poetry Review, No. 31, Summer/Fall 2005.
(Try playing the video and audio tracks together; just wait for the music to start before starting the audio.)
From the Choir Loft
Singing is twice praying.
On alternating days we sang the Mass At seven, boys, then girls, then boys again.
Sometimes the only ones who’d show
To sing were me and Hal the organist,
And I could barely hum a note. Refrains
Eluded me, so Hal would sing it solo.
Now Hal had music in his hands and feet; The organ‘s pipes were a part of him.
But when he tried for music from his throat,
Well, Father said it sounded kind of sweet
If sweet meant scratchy, hoarse, and thin
And not unlike the bleating of a goat.
From Kyrie to Agnus Dei, Hal
Sang all the parts, sang treble, alto, bass
And never worried what the music said.
The words were all that mattered. Still somehow
He’d hit the final note then turn his face
And wink at me and proudly raise his head.
Hal quit the church when Kyrie became
The simple English Lord and anyone
Who wanted stood and strummed communal chords
For masses where the singing was the same
As elevator sap, and Hal seemed stunned
To learn that music is in deed the words.
A photo of the inside of Pisa’s Duomo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Experience in Sound 3
Play both tracks together.
The Miracle (from A Matter of Mind)
It’s as if the statue moved — just a hair But moved. With my own eyes I saw it turn, The gold glitter of the crown dance then spurn All sense to leave its place in the sun. The air Was charged with stained light and I knelt down there, Half in fear — yes — but I felt my soul yearn To touch a marble hem and thereby learn A secret of God that would be mine alone to share. There should be, I thought, music, but there was none. Only the wind through the choir loft — and my breath. All was as it had been, and I, the only one To see it, stood alone as at my own death. With dread I stepped forth, and yet I did so believing That no loving god could ever be so deceiving.