Chris (conjurdude) wrote,

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poems from my past

Here's a poetry dump of works written between 1998 and 2001. The include a sestina, and a gawddamned Shakespearean sonnet I wrote to try to impress a girl (didn't work. Or at least, it didn't make her want to date me. She's still one of my closest friends, and no, it wasn't written for renface).

I realized I didn't have these up here, just a link to an old Geocities page that hasn't been touched in 7 years, so I figured I'd better get them up here, just in time for the eighth anniversary of my LJ.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, "Pallid Parakeet" was written as a loving lampoon "translation" of "Pacaypalla" by Pablo Neruda. Since there's no good place on the net to read it, I've reprinted the text and the actual translation next to the line in question in the body of the poem (though I couldn't find a full translation on the web, and some of what was out there seemed clunky, so I had to get creative on a few lines of the translation).

A Letter Unsent

In the interest of openness, I need to say this, and I mean no offense.
Fuck openness.
I’ve got to say I liked things better when I was blissfully unaware
And didn’t know or care what people thought of me or how I acted.
Now every look I intercept seems to be telling me to “cool it”.
I’ve never understood why I should need to cool it, nor do I know how to.
I can only act the only way I know how to be.

I’ve tried to be less clingy and annoying, and I will continue to try to be less so,
But at heart, I have only one reliable model for behavior.
I’m sorry if it makes for awkwardness,
And I can understand how it would be awkward and weird,
But that’s what I am.
Awkward and weird and utterly without guile.
You of all people should know this, because you know the personal history that Constrains me.
In some ways, you know me better than I know myself, because you have the luxury of Looking at me objectively. I don’t want to have to act when I’m not on the stage.
We’ve already established I can’t and won’t play the “cool game”,
I won’t hide feelings and emotions because society seems to find them repugnant and
Instead adopt a game face, a mask of ennui. I’m stuck being an expressive, somewhat
Needy person, and at times, a parasite. An emotional remora, if you will.
I’ve tried to precipitate changes for the better in my personality, both for you and for others, but it’s a reaction that is going to take some time, and may ultimately destroy “Me."

I wish I could instantly change into a person that people would be at ease with,
Because that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.
The goal of my life is to be a good person, a good friend.
The fact that the world tends not to accept people like that should dissuade me from this,
But it doesn’t.
And so, oblivious to all discomfort on the part of those I seek to put at ease,
I continue to wear my heart on my sleeve, and,
Fairly consistently it seems,
Drive them away.

I’ve been told the greatest gift you can give someone is your vulnerability.
Well, being the generous person I am, I offer it to everybody
(Or nearly everybody, a guy’s gotta have some standards).
But my motivations are really selfish,
Because I’m always hoping to get their vulnerabilities in exchange.
Not as ransomable material, not to wave in a threatening manner if I fear you want
To back out of our friendship, but as a mutual exchange of weaknesses, a gesture
Of good faith and trust. Quid pro quo, if you will.

I’m sure I’m making this a bigger issue than it needs to be, but what you said hurt.
It also made sense.
I’ll continue to try to “cool it”,
But I just want to let you know what a challenge it’s going to be for me.
But then again, it’s something I need to learn to do sooner or later.

A Portrait of the Artist as an Unsatisfied Pygmalion

Dipping a brush into the paint,
I paint a broad stroke on the canvas,
Followed by another streak of color.
Line and curve flows from the brush.
I stipple down shadow and light
And soon from off the canvas glances a face.

How one can form a face
Out of stretched fabric and paint
Is amazing. In this dim light,
The eyes glisten, free of the canvas
Texture, wet and clear, no brush
Strokes visible, irises deep with rich color.

I am pulled into these limpid color
Pools of my own creation, set deep in this face
That my hands translated from brain to brush
And set down in paint,
Spreading it thin and thick over the canvas.
Working feverishly in the light,

I cast my strokes down in the light,
Covering brush, canvas, shirt and hands all with color
Flecks here, blotches there, moving this pigment around the canvas,
With brush, hands, stylus, to make a face.
All my tools save my hands are abandoned to commune with paint,
Not trusting this distance imposed by a brush.

And so, off to one side sits the brush,
Sitting, laden with raw sienna beneath the light
Tuned to mimic the sun, revealing the true tones of the paint,
Rather than adding its own layer of color,
An artificial green or yellow, turning the face
Sallow, bilious, sullying the image now on the canvas.

I stare fixedly at the canvas.
I reach past the brush
And instead grab the turpentine, to clean off the brush, to scrape off the face
Pigments, which mix and muddy under the distanced light.
The subtle, limpid tones of the iris becoming one opaque color
Before being hosed and wiped off, a shower of paint.

The canvas sits empty under the light,
The brush cleaned of residual color,
And face now again only paint.

A Sonnet

Would that I could be to thine eye endeared,
T’would bring such jubilation to my heart;
And yet, God help me, in my mind tis feared
These hasty words our friendly ways might part.
For I do love thee, yea, with all my being,
And nightly pray that thou might feel the same.
But from my love it seems that thou are fleeing,
And so I do condemn my ob’vious shame.
For I have heard much muffled laughter ringing
From out of catty mouths at my expense;
But should I hear from your mouth my name singing
To Heav’n it would seem angels brought me hence.
And so, sweet friend, thou know’st that I love thee.
In this, though unreturned, still blessed I be.

An Imperative of Life

At ten of three in the morning, I close my book, and lean back on the couch.

I stand, then, and cross the room, and place it back on the shelf, and remain there, in thought.

I stare there at my books, my friends, standing in vertical rank and file in the small space my apartment furnishings allow for them. They do not complain, and I respect them for it, as it is a rather crowded shelf. This book, though I’ve read it before, is still a mere acquaintance, and as it is not yet a true friend, it has made a demand of me. It has asked me to think.

I appreciate this demand in books I read, because it is a test of our camaraderie. I ask my books to stop me in my tracks, and direct my to take stock of my life. This book has asked me, among other things, who I love most in my life.

If I had to appear in public with my foremost love, this book inquires, announcing him or her to the entire world, who would it be? Who indeed? This is not an erotic love, in my understanding. It’s not about sex, or who I would want to “get with” to use a reasonable inoffensive euphemism. This is love as in who is the most important, influential and understanding person in my life? Who do I tell things to? Who do I confide in? Who do I listen to, and believe, and have faith in? Who do I seek out when my day goes sour, or when I’ve had an argument with someone, or when I just want a friendly ear?

Who are you walking around with today? Is it your mother? Your father? Your sweet grandmother that died when you were eleven? Your best friend from high school? Your roommate, your girlfriend, your pastor? Is it yourself? Is it anyone?

Who would you never want to upset? Who would you never, ever alienate? Who would you take a bullet for? Who would you never need to look up twenty years from now, because you’ll still be in touch with them? Who listens, who talks, who discusses and argues and agrees and disagrees? Who do you feel the most comfortable with? Who will you follow to the ends of the earth because you complement each other so well? Who will you turn old and grey with? Who do you love, and who loves you that much? Do you have that person in your life?

My books remain on their shelf, silent, standing stock straight. They watch over my living room in the early hours of the morning. They will still be there when I go to bed, and when I awaken hours later. They are one of my loves, but not the only one. I have living loves, too. They are far away in body, but not in mind, not in soul, not in spirit. They are with me every waking moment, because I love them, and I know they love me. We complement each other so well.

Black River Falls

Skating past dairy farms on the black asphalt ice of the highway
I travel toward the retreat of my youth.
The safe place.
Past the giant roadside animals offering us great deals
At the Mars Cheese Chalet,
Over the bridge that marks the point at which my mother and I would
Alternate words, “We’re!” “Half!” “Way!” “There!”
And laugh at our little tradition.
Over roads that oscillate from flat to hilly,
With dips that look like the drop of a roller coaster,
On which my grandmother would pretend that the highway had
Ended and we would momentarily fly over the abyss formed by shadow.
We sail past the airport (a beacon, a runway and a small tower), past the road
To Perry Crick, where the river has worn through the sandstone to create
A green scenic glen, and where the flood of 1994 washed out the swinging bridge
That hung twenty feet above the quiet rill.
Turning down Scantleton Road, winding through still forest,
To that house with the whitewashed wagon wheels
Imbedded in the earth on either side of the driveway.
To the small country house at the top of the hill
That I have spent so many weekends of my childhood in,
And that, since my grandmother died in it, I’ve visited
No more than five times since. Even that memory, however,
Does not displace the happy times, the mosquito bites,
The fires in the fireplace and in the brushpiles,
And the wildlife in the backyard, lured from down over the bank
With leftover macaroni and cheese, that I’ve known in this
Little brown house in Black River Falls,
Fifty miles northeast of La Crosse.

Dear Mr. Self-Centered,

I pray that selfishness doesn’t run in the family, or else I’m screwed, and so is my future wife, so are my kids, and everyone I know and care about.

Just thinking about you makes me feel unclean, like I’ve rolled around in permeating filth and lust, and I feel that because of my filial proximity to you, I’ll never be able to get the stench of greed out of my skin. It’s threatening to leach into my marrow, into my hair, my teeth, my brain, my soul. And of course, I have you and your little fuck-wench to thank for that.

You knew your actions were wrong, that everyone that knows you would condemn them. Except, of course, your mother, because you are never to blame for anything you do. “Maybe if my mother had been a better wife, you wouldn’t have gone looking for someone else”. I still reel at the utter nerve and pretentiousness of your dear ol’ mom to suggest that my mother is to blame for your adulterous actions. You brought all this mess upon yourself, and I now leave you to stew in the vile stew of your behavior. Then again, “I am not to blame, I am a product of society” has become the official American mantra. Eschew all responsibility, absolve yourself of the liability, and never fess up to what you’ve done. Atta boy!

What truly blows my mind is that you seem to feel I’m doing you an injustice by cutting you out of my life. Why does this surprise you? Are you shocked that I feel betrayed by what you’ve done? Don’t forget, I believed you when you said you had dumped the other woman, and imagine my surprise when I learned that my trust had been misplaced. Is it any wonder I don’t want to have anything to do with you? How can I trust you ever again?

Why should I accept your help in anything? It should be obvious that doing so would mean whoring myself. Your money is saturated with the stench of your deeds. Your very presence befouls the air around me.

And yet, you seem to think I should miss having you in my life. I don’t miss you. I miss the man you used to be, because you certainly aren’t that man now. You’ve been caught up in the “me first, and to hell with anyone else” attitude, and whatever goodness there still is in you is completely cancelled out by what you have done.

Dad, I love the man you used to be, but I hate what you’ve become. Whatever bond there was between us when I was growing up has been utterly shattered, and it can never be restored. I’m sorry, but this is the only way I can deal with what you’ve done to me, to the rest of the family. I hope you have a great life with the new woman, because this is a final, terminal goodbye. It’s time for both of us to move on in our own separate directions, and mine, by necessity, is leading me away from you. Or perhaps yours diverged from mine somewhere before this point. At any rate, that tiny figure you see in the distance is me, waving goodbye to the father I knew, as your path separates from mine. You’d best wave goodbye now, before I vanish completely.

First Storm of the Season

It's interesting to watch how the innocuous-looking
cotton ball clouds floating in the warm spring air
seem to shift as they draw near, lowering, darkening
becoming more insidious, the blue sky of the afternoon
scabbing over with ugly, pendulous, bruised clouds.

The light afternoon zephyr picks up, gaining angry force
and blustering around trees, gusts ripping away leaves,
sending them swirling down the streets in cyclonic motion,
eddies of air in under the cobalt skies.

And now the rain starts. Slowly at first, the tiniest of tears
falling, the merest pinheads of water speckling the pavement.
The air, fairly charged with as-yet unspent lightning, quickly fills
with wind-whipped drops, cold splashes on hands and face,
matched above by hot streaks of a pure electric charge arcing
from cloud to cloud with growing frequency.

The sky is black now, the rain tearing through the air with
full gale force now, rain suddenly giving way to hail,
pinball-sized rocks of ice hammering down on cars,
plants, and grass, battering all without caring what it smashes.

The sirens begin to wail, surprising since the hail has ended,
and by the internal flashes of cloud-to-cloud lightning,
I wonder whether it really is necessary to take cover,
or if the warning comes too little too late. Only later
will I learn that two miles away there was a tornado,
touching down near the airport, flipping an SUV,
blowing in the window at the airport Hardee’s.

The storm abates now, as quickly as it amassed,
blowing out over the lake to die over the cooler water.
The clouds still light up, like brains rocked with some brilliant idea,
growing more and more distant until they are little more than
faint flashes at the horizon. Everything about the storm a memory
but the hailstones stored in my freezer.

Pallid Parakeet ... Pacaypalla ... Here, There, Everywhere

Oh desperate dawn ... Oh aurora desprendida ... Oh dawn, breaking out of
Of the sobriety and insanity of the ocean, ... de la sombra y la luna en el oceano ... the shadow and the moon in the sea,
Why always a Volvo for the ambassador? ... siempre vuelvo a tu sal abrasadora ... I always come back to your burning salt
Why always this sunscreen to incite me? ... siempre es tu soledad la que me incite ... Always it is your solitude that urges me on
Letting go of the fez is no easy matter ... y llegado otra vez no se quien soy, ... and, arriving, I am not myself,
In this durable arena, with the cola ... toco la arena dura, miro el cielo, ... I touch hard sand, I look at the sky,
Passed by sinners with red swords. ... paseo sin saber donde camino, ... I walk without knowing where I'm going
So goodbye to the night, night of the ... hasta que de la noche ... until out of the night
Vendors with flowers that are ungodly loud ... suben y bajan flores indecibles: ... indescribable flowers rise and fall:
And that fill the air with the acid smell ... en el acido aroma ... in the salty air
Of literally palpitating umbrellas. ... del litoral palpitan las estrellas. ... of the coast the stars quiver.

Errant love, return ... Errante amor, retorno ... Wandering love, I come back
With a heart both fresh and canned, ... con este corazon fresco y cansado ... with this heart both fresh and wearied
With impertinence and swimming pools. ... que pertenece al agua y la arena, ... belonging to both sea and sand,
Let the territories fall on their ears ... al territorio seco de la orilla, ... to the dry spaces of the shore,
To the white battle and his leopard of war. ... a la batalla blanca de al espuma. ... to the white battles of the foam.

Parachronistic Birth

I should’ve been born when swing
dancing was first introduced.
When grand ballrooms and movie palaces
dotted the urban landscape
and Roger’s Park was the neighborhood
for the nouveau riche.

I should’ve been born in time for the
Great Experiment, when hooch
was served in swank back alley
parlors and gangsters ran the city,
though the politicians would tell you

I should have been born for the
glorious days of the city, when
the El was new, Art Deco was
daring, when fedoras were
snatched off and trench coats
flapped crisply in the
November winds of the Loop,
amplified by the concrete canyons
of the “skyscrapers.”

So now, I get twinges of nostalgia
for a time I never knew,
and déjà vu from events long before
my time, before my parents’ time.
I was born too late, a concrete and steel soul
in a silicon world.

I marvel at the beauty of the Aragon, and mourn
the passing of the Granada, the Paradise, like beautiful,
melancholy spirits exorcised to the realm of emulsion, gray
and sepia tones fading into the pit of collective oblivion,
victims of electronic nepenthe.

Tolstaya was right, the best time is always
yesterday, for yesterday is our gauge of remembered
happiness. The Depression recedes in our memory, replaced by
joyful memories of World’s Fairs, homecomings of our soldiers,
fondly remembered Independence Days, New Year’s Eves, and
Midwest Christmases, with warm remembrances nestled in
winter’s snowy bosom.

And despite our efforts to beat back the destructive, ravaging
hand of time, he and progress march on, arm in arm, altering,
demolishing, and building anew fuel for tomorrow’s nostalgia.
What we recall with a fond remembrance has passed, and will
be replaced by what we cherish today, all in due time. And thus
the rapacious whims of fashion’s cycles leave behind a trail of broken
recollections, as glittering and beautiful as the spray of glass
at the moment of a wrecking ball’s impact.

Summer and Winter Evenings I

My friend Ben calls me up
And asks if I want to go bowling.
As my fingers and wrist still hurt
Having bowled the night before,
I ask if he just wants to rent a movie.
That compromise having been hammered out
I tell him I’ll be over at his house in fifteen.
I hop in my “replacement” car,
Which we got for $250 two days after
I got in an accident with my first car,
And head out to Ben’s.
Ben chuckles at my car, as he always does,
And I go in.
Ben has been on a horror movie kick,
And he has procured for our viewing pleasure
The original “Halloween”
I suffer through it, not being a big horror movie fan
But enjoy the special effects, as gory as they are.
We play a little Final Fantasy VII, and I realize it’s going on two AM.
I tell him I need to get going, and he walks me to the door.
I walk out into the night, my chest heavy from the unpleasant effects of
Inhaling both cat dander and the humid air of the summer evening.
The stars twinkle above me and the crickets chirp,
I hop in my $250 car and drive home, the windshield slightly fogged
And my eyes inexplicably burning.

I trudge back from Classical Comedy and Satire,
The works of Horace weaving their thematic threads into my
Poetic subconscious. I ride the elevator up to my apartment,
Fumbling in my pocket for the door key. Upon entering my home
Away from home, I throw my coat over a chair, drop my book bag,
And, like a junkie, make a beeline for the computer to check for email.
Nothing notable. Not much homework for the weekend,
And I have until Monday to get it done, so I cruise the net aimlessly for a few hours
Until it’s time to head over to the theatre for the show.
I slip into makeup, throw on my costume, and perform my part,
With nothing out of the ordinary happening. It’s not routine, mind you,
But part of my mind is elsewhere.
After the performance, I peel the makeup off, throw the costume back on the rack,
Wondering if there’ll be a cast party or not.
There isn’t.
So, I invite my friend Andy over, and we watch a movie. I think some more about
Poetry, and why it’s suddenly dominating my life, and, for fear that my ideas may leak out
And evaporate during the night, I stay up, writing. Thinking;
“Summer or winter, I don’t really accomplish all that much with my life.”
I don’t play an instrument, I’m not much of an artist. I have no permanent record
Of my existence. I act, sure, but two weeks of performances
And the role turns to ephemeral memories and a slight depletion of my makeup kit.
People like my poetry when it’s symbolic and sentimental,
But how will they feel about this self-referencing, introspective stuff?
With these thoughts flinging themselves forcibly around in my head,
I write and think until my eyes are inexplicably burning and I have to sleep.
Tags: poetry

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