Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Program for February 3, 2017

Song for Putting Aside Anger
By Stephen Dobyns

Four walls open to the sky: you are
in a small prison.  There is no door.
You are there for hatred, theft; it doesn’t
matter.  You might have been here all your life.
You might have come yesterday.  It feels like
your entire life.  It feels like your friends
have all died.  You imagine their bodies
in a white room.  Perhaps you killed them.
Your throat is too small for your hatred.
You sit sifting dirt through your fingers.
You say it is your heart:  a dry sand,
an encumbrance.  You wish it were a red bird in the blue sky above you. 
In the hills above you, a dozen monks
hurry along a road toward a mountain.
They wear blue robes.  They play flutes and
small cymbals.  In the midst of four walls,
you listen to the high notes of the flutes,
the chime of the cymbals.  The sounds turn,
spin together in the air around you,
weaving together into a thin rope.
Having found it, you must trust it.
This is how you put aside anger:
Pulling yourself up, hand over hand.

ANGER by April Bernard

When in a farmhouse kitchen that smelled
of old rinds and wet cigarette butts 
I hoisted the shotgun to my shoulder
and aimed but did not fire it at the man 
who had just taken my virginity like a snack, 
with my collusion, but still — 

When I sat in a conference room 
in an inquisition
at the “newspaper of record,”
across from the one slurping his pipe,
the one arching her eyebrow,
and I felt the heat like a wet brand in my chest,
repaid insult for insult and left their fancy job
like a squashed bug on the floor — 

When I was twelve, too old, the last time my father 
spanked me, pants down, 
because I had “distressed” my mother
and my vision went red-black and
I did not forgive — 

When, during my travels along the Gulf Coast, 
the intruder returned in the night
and I did not call the cops again but stood
with a butcher knife facing the door, yelling, “Come in!”
although this time it was just the wind flapping 
and banging the screen door — 

When across a skating-rink-sized glistening table
I told the committee chair and her brooch I was a fan of Marx
and lost the fellowship — 

When I threw a pot of hot coffee
and it just missed a man’s head, and the black-brown spatter stains
were still there four years later long after he’d left me 
when I finally moved out of that East Village hole — 


I would have had to be thinking
in order to have thought — loaded, not loaded?
 — and I was not thinking, I was only dripping hot
and oh the pleasure, I can still feel its prickling,
crackle over the furnace of my rage,
to see his face go pale, his eyes widen,
his “put it down, put it down” — and I
put it down and allowed my life as well as his
to go on.


I miss my anger. Decades go by
when all I can muster is absent-minded invective,
you know, directed at the news;
or a brief fantasy 
of shoving someone in front of a bus. Yesterday
I slammed my fist on my desk
and then apologized, to the desk.

Consider the tapestry of the seven deadly sins, at Saint-Denis:
Anger, wild-haired and half-dressed,
picked out in blue and silver thread bunched 
against the crimson,
rough against the fingertips, she
rides a black boar dappled with blood
and waves her double-headed axe — 

Yes, I remember her.
I always lie when I always say
I didn’t know the gun was loaded.

The Bad Old Days
The summer of nineteen eighteen   
I read The Jungle and The 
Research Magnificent. That fall   
My father died and my aunt   
Took me to Chicago to live.   
The first thing I did was to take   
A streetcar to the stockyards.   
In the winter afternoon,   
Gritty and fetid, I walked 
Through the filthy snow, through the   
Squalid streets, looking shyly   
Into the people’s faces, 
Those who were home in the daytime.   
Debauched and exhausted faces,   
Starved and looted brains, faces   
Like the faces in the senile   
And insane wards of charity   
Hospitals. Predatory 
Faces of little children. 
Then as the soiled twilight darkened,   
Under the green gas lamps, and the   
Sputtering purple arc lamps,   
The faces of the men coming 
Home from work, some still alive with   
The last pulse of hope or courage,   
Some sly and bitter, some smart and   
Silly, most of them already   
Broken and empty, no life,   
Only blinding tiredness, worse   
Than any tired animal.   
The sour smells of a thousand   
Suppers of fried potatoes and   
Fried cabbage bled into the street.   
I was giddy and sick, and out   
Of my misery I felt rising   
A terrible anger and out 
Of the anger, an absolute vow.   
Today the evil is clean 
And prosperous, but it is   
Everywhere, you don’t have to   
Take a streetcar to find it, 
And it is the same evil. 
And the misery, and the 
Anger, and the vow are the same.

Kenneth Rexroth, “The Bad Old Days” from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. 

Justice, Come Down

A huge sound waits, bound in the ice, 
in the icicle roots, in the buds of snow 
on fir branches, in the falling silence 
of snow, glittering in the sun, brilliant 
as a swarm of gnats, nothing but hovering 
wings at midday. With the sun comes noise. 
Tongues of ice break free, fall, shatter, 
splinter, speak. If I could write the words. 

Simple, like turning a page, to say Write 
what happened, but this means a return 
to the cold place where I am being punished. 
Alone to the stony circle where I am frozen, 
the empty space, children, mother, father gone, 
lover gone away. There grief still sits 
and waits, grim, numb, keeping company with 
anger. I can smell my anger like sulfur- 
struck matches. I wanted what had happened 
to be a wall to burn, a window to smash. 
At my fist the pieces would sparkle and fall. 
All would be changed. I would not be alone. 

Instead I have told my story over and over 
at parties, on the edge of meetings, my life 
clenched in my fist, my eyes brittle as glass. 

Ashamed, people turned their faces away 
from the woman ranting, asking: Justice, 
stretch out your hand. Come down, glittering, 
from where you have hidden yourself away. 

Everybody Has a Heartache: A Blues

In the United terminal in Chicago at five on a Friday afternoon
The sky is breaking with rain and wind and all the flights
Are delayed forever. We will never get to where we are going
And there’s no way back to where we’ve been.
The sun and the moon have disappeared to an island far from 

Everybody has a heartache — 

The immense gatekeeper of Gate Z–100 keeps his cool.
This guardian of the sky teases me and makes me smile through the mess,
Building up his airline by stacking it against the company I usually travel:
Come on over to our side, we’ll treat you nice.
I laugh as he hands me back my ticket, then he turns to charm
The next customer, his feet tired in his minimum wage shoes.

Everybody has a heartache — 

The man with his head bobbing to music no one else can hear has that satisfied
Feel — a full belly of sweet and a wife who sings heartache to sleep.
In his luggage (that will be lost and never found) is a musty dream of flying
Solo to Africa, with a stop on the return to let go the stories too difficult to
Carry home. He’ll take off his shoes to walk in a warm, tropical sea.
He’ll sing to the ancestors:
Take me home to mama. No one cooks like her.
But all the mamas worked to the bone gone too young. 
Broken by The Man.

Everybody has a heartache —  

Everyone’s mouthing fried, sweet, soft and fat,
While we wait for word in the heart of the scrambled beast.
The sparkle of soda wets the dream core.
That woman over there the color of broth did what she was told.
It’s worked out well as can be expected in a world
Where she was no beauty queen and was never seen,
Always in the back of someplace in the back — 
She holds the newest baby. He has croup.
Shush, shush. Go to sleep, my little baby sheepie.
He sits up front of her with his new crop of teeth.

Everybody has a heartache — 

This man speaks to no one, but his body does.
Half his liver is swollen with anger; the other half is trying
To apologize — 
What a mess I’ve made of history, he thinks without thinking.
Mother coming through the screen door, her clothes torn,
Whimpering: It’s okay baby, please don’t cry.
Don’t cry. Baby don’t cry.
And he never cries again.

Everybody has a heartache — 

Baby girl dressed to impress, toddles about with lace on this and ruffle on that — 
Her mother’s relatives are a few hundred miles away poised to 
They might as well live on a planet of ice cream.
She’s a brand new wing, grown up from a family’s broken hope.
Dance girl, you carry our joy.
Just don’t look down.

Everybody has a heartache — 

Good-looking punk girl taps this on her screen
to a stranger she has never seen:
Just before dawn, you’re high again beneath a marbled sky,
I was slick fine leather with a drink in my hand.
Flying with a comet messenger nobody sees.
The quick visitor predicts that the top will be the bottom
And the bottom will flatten and dive into the sea.
I want to tell her:
You will dine with the lobster king, and
You will dance with crabs clicking castanets. You will sleep-
Walk beyond the vestibule of sadness with a stranger
You have loved for years.

Everybody has a heartache — 

This silence in the noise of the terminal is a mountain of bison skulls.
Nobody knows, nobody sees — 
Unless the indigenous are dancing powwow all decked out in flash and beauty
We just don’t exist. We’ve been dispersed to an outlaw cowboy tale.
What were they thinking with all those guns and those handcuffs
In a size for babies?
They just don’t choose to remember.
We’re here.

In the terminal of stopped time I went unsteady to the beat,
Driven by a hungry spirit who is drunk with words and songs.
What can I do?
I have to take care of it.
The famished spirit eats fire, poetry, and rain; it only wants love.

I argue:

You want love?
Do you even know what it looks like, smells like?

But you cannot argue with hungry spirits.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going; I only know where I’ve been,
I want to tell the man who sifted through the wreck to find us here
In the blues shack of disappeared history — 
I feel the weight of his heart against my cheek.
His hand is on my back pulling me to him in the dark, to a place
No soldiers can reach.
I hear the whoop-cries of warriors calling fire for a stand 
Against the brutality of forgetfulness — 

Everybody has a heartache — 

We will all find our way, no matter fire leaping through holes in jump time,
No matter earthquake, or the breaking of love spilling over the dreck of matter
In the ether, stacking one burden
Against the other — 

We have a heartache.

March 18, 2013 United Terminal C, Chicago and en route between Chicago O’Hare and Newport, Virginia.

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