Saturday, June 7, 2014

Poems about Working: Playlist for June 6, 2014


Lowering Your Standards for Food Stamps


By  Sheryl Luna  



Words fall out of my coat pocket,


soak in bleach water. I touch everyone’s


dirty dollars. Maslow’s got everything on me.


Fourteen hours on my feet. No breaks.


No smokes or lunch. Blank-eyed movements:


trash bags, coffee burner, fingers numb.


I am hourly protestations and false smiles.


The clock clicks its slow slowing.


Faces blur in a stream of  hurried soccer games,


sunlight, and church certainty. I have no


poem to carry, no material illusions.


Cola spilled on hands, so sticky fingered,


I’m far from poems. I’d write of politicians,


refineries, and a border’s barbed wire,


but I am unlearning America’s languages


with a mop. In a summer-hot red


polyester top, I sell lotto tickets. Cars wait for gas


billowing black. Killing time has new meaning.


A jackhammer breaks apart a life. The slow globe


spirals, and at night black space has me dizzy.


Visionaries off their meds and wacked out


meth heads sing to me. A panicky fear of robbery


and humiliation drips with my sweat.


Words some say are weeping twilight and sunrise.


I am drawn to dramas, the couple arguing, the man


headbutting his wife in the parking lot.


911: no metered aubade, and nobody but


myself to blame.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Reflections in D by Duke Ellington






The Professor


By  Joshua Mehigan  



I get there early and I find a chair.


I squeeze my plastic cup of wine. I nod.


I maladroitly eat a pretzel rod


and second an opinion I don’t share.


I think: whatever else I am, I’m there.


Afterwards, I escape across the quad


into fresh air, alone again, thank god.


Nobody cares. They’re quite right not to care.



I can’t go home. Even my family


is thoroughly contemptuous of me.


I look bad. I’m exactly how I look.


These days I never read, but no one does,


and, anyhow, I proved how smart I was.


Everything I know is from a book.


REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Nowhere Man by John Lennon









Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons


By  Diane Wakoski  



The relief of putting your fingers on the keyboard,  


as if you were walking on the beach


and found a diamond


as big as a shoe;



as if


you had just built a wooden table


and the smell of sawdust was in the air,  


your hands dry and woody;



as if


you had eluded


the man in the dark hat who had been following you  


all week;



the relief


of putting your fingers on the keyboard,  


playing the chords of


Beethoven,


Bach,


Chopin


         in an afternoon when I had no one to talk to,


         when the magazine advertisement forms of soft sweaters  


         and clean shining Republican middle-class hair


         walked into carpeted houses  


         and left me alone


         with bare floors and a few books



I want to thank my mother  


for working every day


in a drab office


in garages and water companies


cutting the cream out of her coffee at 40


to lose weight, her heavy body


writing its delicate bookkeeper’s ledgers


alone, with no man to look at her face,  


her body, her prematurely white hair  


in love


         I want to thank


my mother for working and always paying for  


my piano lessons


before she paid the Bank of America loan  


or bought the groceries


or had our old rattling Ford repaired.



I was a quiet child,


afraid of walking into a store alone,


afraid of the water,


the sun,


the dirty weeds in back yards,


afraid of my mother’s bad breath,


and afraid of my father’s occasional visits home,  


knowing he would leave again;


afraid of not having any money,


afraid of my clumsy body,


that I knew


         no one would ever love



But I played my way


on the old upright piano


obtained for $10,


played my way through fear,


through ugliness,


through growing up in a world of dime-store purchases,  


and a desire to love


a loveless world.



I played my way through an ugly face


and lonely afternoons, days, evenings, nights,  


mornings even, empty


as a rusty coffee can,


played my way through the rustles of spring


and wanted everything around me to shimmer like the narrow tide  


on a flat beach at sunset in Southern California,


I played my way through


an empty father’s hat in my mother’s closet


and a bed she slept on only one side of,


never wrinkling an inch of


the other side,


waiting,  


waiting,



I played my way through honors in school,  


the only place I could


talk


       the classroom,


       or at my piano lessons, Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary always  


       singing the most for my talents,


       as if I had thrown some part of my body away upon entering  


       her house


       and was now searching every ivory case


       of the keyboard, slipping my fingers over black  


       ridges and around smooth rocks,


       wondering where I had lost my bloody organs,  


       or my mouth which sometimes opened


       like a California poppy,


       wide and with contrasts


       beautiful in sweeping fields,


       entirely closed morning and night,



I played my way from age to age,


but they all seemed ageless


or perhaps always


old and lonely,


wanting only one thing, surrounded by the dusty bitter-smelling  


leaves of orange trees,


wanting only to be touched by a man who loved me,  


who would be there every night


to put his large strong hand over my shoulder,


whose hips I would wake up against in the morning,  


whose mustaches might brush a face asleep,


dreaming of pianos that made the sound of Mozart  


and Schubert without demanding


that life suck everything


out of you each day,


without demanding the emptiness


of a timid little life.



I want to thank my mother


for letting me wake her up sometimes at 6 in the morning  


when I practiced my lessons


and for making sure I had a piano


to lay my school books down on, every afternoon.


I haven’t touched the piano in 10 years,


perhaps in fear that what little love I’ve been able to


pick, like lint, out of the corners of pockets,


will get lost,


slide away,


into the terribly empty cavern of me


if I ever open it all the way up again.


Love is a man


with a mustache


gently holding me every night,


always being there when I need to touch him;


he could not know the painfully loud


music from the past that


his loving stops from pounding, banging,


battering through my brain,


which does its best to destroy the precarious gray matter when I  


am alone;


he does not hear Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary singing for me,


liking the sound of my lesson this week,


telling me,


confirming what my teacher says,  


that I have a gift for the piano  


few of her other pupils had.


When I touch the man


I love,


I want to thank my mother for giving me  


piano lessons


all those years,


keeping the memory of Beethoven,


a deaf tortured man,


in mind;


            of the beauty that can come


from even an ugly


past.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Prelude in F-sharp major, Op. 28/13 by Frederic Chopin






Happiness

By  Paisley Rekdal  



I have been taught never to brag but now


I cannot help it: I keep


a beautiful garden, all abundance,


indiscriminate, pulling itself


from the stubborn earth: does it offend you


to watch me working in it,


touching my hands to the greening tips or


tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild


the living and the dead both


snap off in my hands?


The neighbor with his stuttering


fingers, the neighbor with his broken


love: each comes up my drive


to receive his pitying,


accustomed consolations, watches me


work in silence awhile, rises in anger,


walks back. Does it offend them to watch me


not mourning with them but working


fitfully, fruitlessly, working


the way the bees work, which is to say


by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?


I can stand for hours among the sweet


narcissus, silent as a point of bone.


I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer


than your grief. It is such a small thing


to be proud of, a garden. Today


there were scrub jays, quail,


a woodpecker knocking at the white-


and-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit


scratching under the barberry: is it


indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,


and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?


It is only a little time, a little space.


Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush


like a stream of kerosene being lit?


If I could not have made this garden beautiful


I wouldn’t understand your suffering,


nor care for each the same, inflamed way.


I would have to stay only like the bees,


beyond consciousness, beyond


self-reproach, fingers dug down hard


into stone, and growing nothing.


There is no end to ego,


with its museum of disappointments.


I want to take my neighbors into the garden


and show them: Here is consolation.


Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops


around the sparrows as they fight.


It lives alongside their misery.


It glows each evening with a violent light.


REFLECTIVE MUSIC: In A Summer Garden by Frederick Delius




“Find Work”


 “Find Work”


By  Rhina P. Espaillat 



I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—

Life's little duties do—precisely

As the very least

Were infinite—to me—

 —Emily Dickinson, #443


My mother’s mother, widowed very young


of her first love, and of that love’s first fruit,


moved through her father’s farm, her country tongue


and country heart anaesthetized and mute


with labor. So her kind was taught to do—


“Find work,” she would reply to every grief—


and her one dictum, whether false or true,


tolled heavy with her passionate belief.


Widowed again, with children, in her prime,


she spoke so little it was hard to bear


so much composure, such a truce with time


spent in the lifelong practice of despair.


But I recall her floors, scrubbed white as bone,


her dishes, and how painfully they shone.


REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Holy Manna



Happiness


I have been taught never to brag but now

I cannot help it: I keep

a beautiful garden, all abundance,

indiscriminate, pulling itself

from the stubborn earth: does it offend you

to watch me working in it,

touching my hands to the greening tips or

tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild

the living and the dead both

snap off in my hands?

The neighbor with his stuttering

fingers, the neighbor with his broken

love: each comes up my drive

to receive his pitying,

accustomed consolations, watches me

work in silence awhile, rises in anger,

walks back. Does it offend them to watch me

not mourning with them but working

fitfully, fruitlessly, working

the way the bees work, which is to say

by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?

I can stand for hours among the sweet

narcissus, silent as a point of bone.

I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer

than your grief. It is such a small thing

to be proud of, a garden. Today

there were scrub jays, quail,

a woodpecker knocking at the white-

and-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit

scratching under the barberry: is it

indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,

and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?

It is only a little time, a little space.

Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush

like a stream of kerosene being lit?

If I could not have made this garden beautiful

I wouldn’t understand your suffering,

nor care for each the same, inflamed way.

I would have to stay only like the bees,

beyond consciousness, beyond

self-reproach, fingers dug down hard

into stone, and growing nothing.

There is no end to ego,

with its museum of disappointments.

I want to take my neighbors into the garden

and show them: Here is consolation.

Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops

around the sparrows as they fight.

It lives alongside their misery.

It glows each evening with a violent light.

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