Cortney Davis, “Old Men Name the Planets”

I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time amongst nurses and CNAs these days, so I was pleased to see, on her website, Cortney Davis‘s words: “I write to honor my patients and the moments we share, and also to keep harm away—not with medicine but with memory. In my writing, nursing becomes a metaphor for how we care or fail to care for one another—our families, our neighbors, our lovers. For me nursing, like writing, is that human place in which nurturing and mystery meet.”

Here is a poem from her 1997 book, Details of Flesh, published by CALYX Books:

OLD MEN NAME THE PLANETS

Old men name the planets and their moons;
seeing birds at the feeder
they watch the empty seed pods fall
like shooting stars.

My father writes copy in his mind at night.
Sleepless, he edits, sets the type,
goes to press. By morning
his words are ghosts in the sky.

I’ve begun to read the weather.
Today named rain before the thunder,
called the time and duration,
knew which way to turn my back

against the wind. Already,
I feel it going. Soon I too
will search for words:
nimbus   stratus   cumulus —

summers from remembered summers,
the smell in the air before snow.
Snowballs in my children’s hands
will be white and distant as the moon.

Joseph Millar, “Family Therapy”

“Poetry is often regarded as a mystery, and in some respects it is one. No one is quite sure where poetry comes from, no one is quite sure exactly what it is, and no one knows, really, how anyone is able to write it.”
–Kenneth Koch

Here is a poem from Joseph Millar, who I was fortunate to take a workshop with — on depicting physical work in poetry — at LitFuse two years ago. He introduced me to (or reminded me of) Ideas I have been crunching up against ever since. “Family Therapy” is from his 2001 book, Overtime. 

FAMILY THERAPY

My brother’s brown eyes narrow
when I tell him about the money
I stole to pay Christmas bills,
the lies I told the IRS and the bursts
of cruelty to my son,
how close I came last week
to picking up a drink.

He slides the five-eighths boxwrench from its case
and leans under the hood,
tells me to pry up against the alternator.
The belt’s too loose, he says.

An evening breeze rustles down the pavement
as my niece comes out of the house,
long hair draped beside her face,
and leans against the fender.
Go back inside, he tells her.
Bring us a Coke. Then he turns
on me. Fuck
the government, he says.
Do you want to starve? He swipes
at the grease on his forehead
and the big knuckle on his right hand
bleeds down onto the wheel well.
Back off some on that pry bar
or we’ll break this goddamn thing.

The pale fists of the hydrangea bump
against the fence and a light
comes on in the kitchen, its glow
sifting onto the driveway
as his wife opens the screen.
Everybody yells at their kids,
he says quietly,
tightening the bottom bolt.
Get in and start it up.
We need to go for a ride.

Reading at Edmonds Bookshop, tonight!

This evening at Edmonds Bookshop, at 6:30, I will be reading with four other northwest poets (click here to see the list), including my friend, Bellingham poet Jennifer Bullis.

This morning, sitting in bright sunlight under a row of (I think) Acacia trees, I reread Jennifer’s book Impossible Lessons (see a review, here), and tried to choose just one to share. It is a rich book — mythology, horses, babies, birds — and I happily recommend the whole of it to you. But here, just in case you have any questions, her poem, “The Answer.”

THE ANSWER

After the windstorm, a pileated woodpecker
works the dead trunk of a newly leaning maple.

He pulls his scarlet-crested head back
the full length of his black and white body

with each pounding stroke of his beak,
scattering moss, bark, bits of rotted wood

on the forest floor. I want to know
why his head is shaped like an anvil

and why he is fated to hammer
for his food. I want to know why

this particular maple snag has lost its footing
among so many of its neighbors.

I crave a sound rationale as to how
this one, of all of them, was singled out

by the beetles and fungi that killed it
in the first place. But I learn nothing

except by the woodpecker’s breaking off
his analysis of the tree and flashing past

all my questioning, the red crest of his head
a sweet and vivid and impossible lesson.

Ted Kooser, The Wheeling Year

Ted Kooser’s The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book has been a favorite on my reading list this year. He doesn’t claim “poetry” for these prose pieces, but they sound like poetry to me. I mean to give the book to a friend, to make a gift of it in all its luscious detail. Instead, I keep carrying it around and not giving it, rereading and writing out these meditative pieces in my own notebook.

Here is one from “February”:

Maybe we carry too much through the door from the past, propped open with a broom that has swept up so much sentiment it has bent to the shape of its sweeping — like a stiff old floor-length skirt still waltzing — then across the wide porch where those we love, living and dead, sit rocking and talking, all drinking longnecks and laughing together, none of them offering help.

Then over the grass, box after box, to the rented U-Haul that is our life, already stuffed with all we haven’t been able to part with, stale with dead dreams and packed so hastily we will never be able to get to the wisdom we lugged out early and loaded on first.

Twenty-nine dollars a day is the going rate, about what a person could live on if he had to, and the past is right there in the rearview mirror, following close, painted with slogans, its springs bent down from all we ever were. (8)