Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Apocalyptic Talking #2

Odd Things About Smiling

I am in my bathroom at home, the one I share with my brother. Before me, spread out like an altar, lies my sink and counter space. The surfaces are white, and I think Formica, the type, which makes it so you can never quite clean off all the little beard hairs, which drives your latent OCD nuts. Beneath the sink and beside the drawers is a small cabinet, one used to keeping things we no longer use. In it, lie scattered, impractical cups from my childhood. They have holes on the side and the bottom and a spout, and they all have faces.

I am in the bath, and I am six years old. I do my best to palpate the shampoo into my improbable hair, and my father brings the cup to the side of the tub. As soon as he fills the yellow cup with slightly-too-hot water, it descends in streams through the bottom holes of the cup. They continue to descend, in rivulets down my face, carrying away the lovingly applied shampoo from my head and hair. The commercials tell you that it is ok to laugh and giggle and open your eyes wide to the miracle of cranial laundering. But they lie. Even when the “safe” shampoo gets in your eyes, it stings. My father brings the green cup to the side of the tub, the one with a hole where his mouth should be. As soon as it fills with water, the clear liquid flows in a constant, giving stream. My eyes sting and tear, but I persist in smiling nonetheless, marveling at its pure gift.

Above the sink and counters and beside my memories is the mirror. Its galvanized surface is pockmarked with age, like an unlucky teenager, but it still reflects well enough, especially when my brother and I remember to wash the enormous thing before Shabbat. To me, in this house, the bathroom mirror is not merely a tool for hygiene and general upkeep; it is a co-conspirator, an ally, a confidante. All throughout my life, it has silently supported all my poor decisions. It has been nine years since my flirtation with hair gel in the seventh grade, but the mirror has never brought up my attempt to wish my unimaginable hair into an attractive force of follicle might. I would be cool when I left the room, and the mirror let me believe most things.

I think that when we were younger, more things had faces. Girls and boys are swaddled in blankets, cocooned by their stuffed animals and dolls. I had a collection of many, many action figures. We could also see faces - partners in conversation, playmates - amidst most things we found surrounding us. Trees were always old men or young dryads; the gnarls of branches or smoothness of bark or roughness of bark could so easily be reorganized by any number of senses. (Are all children synaesthetic and then later forget?) Seeing faces everywhere, it’s no wonder kids are always smiling or crying or both.

Mirrors are a stage, a nexus with the other world. I, like most young men eagerly exploring my power before myself, frantically wailed about to songs I loved, made muscles, critiqued my self. I performed before myself, bereft of childhood’s ubiquitous audience. Often, I would simply stand and smile, my eyes shifting like sand in the hourglass. Sometimes, they would join in, but at other times my face felt like dusk, slowly fading, painfully beautiful. Tentative at best. Sometimes, I have been hit by the strange urge to have a cold sore at all times, to be forced to smile so it hurts a little. I rejoiced before myself in my childhood home, and the mirror tried to give me my face as a gift. I smiled, but I had nowhere to put it.

~jss, 1/30/08

(ps: see this column in its natural habitat at the commentariat, spec's new opinion blog)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Homework Assignment #1

Write a poem according to the following specifications:

10 lines long
the following 8 words must appear in the poem (noun, verb, whatever, however--just put them there):


Only one of the above 8 words can appear in a given line, and then only once.
That means: at least EIGHT of the lines will have exactly ONE of the words (either of the other two may have up to 1 each).


Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Mission

Part I: Why I Write
a. Young lust

True poetry can be found on this earth.
I lusted for her once.
She . . .
had eyes, deep and dark,
as the space between stars,
as the eternity ‘tween thoughts.

She . . .
was wild and of the earth.
Feral and magical, she hummed with the ground.
Poetry beaded off her skin, tellurian:
like the dusky dawn chanting of Shamans.

A pure tincture of poetry and passion charged
through her veins,
illuminating her skin.

She saw visions
and through her
I did as well . . .

This is not why I write.

b. Then and Now

Meaning was wrung from life
and left to dry on the rack.
The juice of poetry dribbled
chins and only the pit remained.
I did not stop to enjoy the fruit.
So heady was the Quest for Truth and Beauty
that I took to interrogating her with harsh light and demanding tones.
Her wondering moans of pity and fear still haunt me in the darker
tender times of night.

I am of a softer disposition.
Beauty must be encountered like a deer in the field,
taken for the wonder it is
and stalked delicately for every additional moment
one has in its company.
Truth must be recognized in the crowd,
like a long lost friend one has not met before.

c. Command

Poetry must not be written
not be created.
Breathe poetry. Drink poetry.
love poetry. FUCK poetry.
Worship poetry, then whisper sublime wonders in her ear.
Smoke a cigarette with poetry in bed.
Warm yourself with hot chocolate and poetry.
Run to poetry’s house in the rain.
Scream and don’t stop screaming til she comes out.
Kiss poetry with the kisses of your mouth.
Promise poetry you’ll never leave her.
Love poetry.

Part II: Why I Fight
a. Preamble

I’ve been writing ever since I could remember.
In fact
my life can only be proven through creation.
By all accounts
my life began when I put words on paper
into the souls of the world.

To live well,
what one creates must be beauty.

I stand here
knowing my life is no longer mine alone.


b. Reminisces

Once she kissed me and her lips felt like the shed scales of a snake.
I wanted to draw back in fear
in revulsion
but I dove deeper hoping to make soft whatever appeared rough.
To find beauty hidden among the discarded skins and lies.
Her eyes were like the soft mud of the earth
as was her hair, and her beauty was something I created.
I did not want her for her body.

c. Present Time

One day I will look back on my time here,
and I will see only words,
echoing in the hearts
of friends and former lovers.
Each one chosen carefully to
elevate the potential inherent in mundanity.
Poetry is raising the sparks.

d. Reminisces II.

Once -
Her back up against the glass of a bus stop -
I -
her nose with a single blemish and our bodies pressed together
at awkward positions -
told -
even while in embrace, my mouth moved against hers
with its own purposes
her -
all my eyes could see were her, her face, her lips, her eyes,
the poetry beneath the vision of her skin, the faint hum of her breath
that –
every inch of her was beautiful.

For a while
we both believed it.
We used to listen for each others’ heartbeats, gasping like fish out of their bowls.

I did not want her for her heart.

e. The Mission

I walk with my neck at odd angles.
I listen for the poetry of the world.
It is found in disparate places:

the squawking of geese
the insistence of car horns
the percolating pot of coffee
the bird calls of early morning
or late afternoon
the last school bell
the music of Spanish Harlem
the beat box on the street
the lilting dialogue of Black women.

I search frantically, wildly, desperate for beauty.
Smells are beautiful. Touch is beautiful.
She tasted beautiful; the poetry I found in her was of lilacs and vanilla,
brown sugar and cinnamon, jasmine and chamomile.

I did not come here for pleasant faces and witty exchange,
for the haughty aloofness of youth in art.
I do not care for your hearts or your minds,
your opinions, your politics, your affectations!
(“The opposite of love isn’t hate; it is indifference”)
But I did not come for your love,
I came for your souls!

I came for your soul.