I have to say that reading and seeing different concrete poems was very eye opening for me this week. Without a doubt, I feel as though I learned the most from Dan Waber’s Strings. I really liked Letter Man by Adam Lisckiewicz, but I could not stop watching the strings. The final flash element, poidog, was fantastic. I feel as though the earlier segments of the work did a good job of preparing me to really watch and understand when Adam showed us that words are strings that he pulls from his mouth. After watching this, and getting to watch the shape of the words as well as the words themselves, I feel like I have been introduced to a great new tool for writing/creating. Moving, animated words, and the meaning making that can happen in this space feels so very freeing. I decided that I would attempt to make a concrete poem of my own. Below, I am including a conversion of an older piece I wrote for one of Jay’s classes. I realized that allowing the words to take on the shape of the poem could lend a different sort of imagery and path for meaning making for the reader. While this is not as dynamic as the works that we saw this week, I feel like the reshaping of the piece has made quite a bit of a difference. I hope you enjoy it.
The railroad tracks run up the spine of my childhood home. I stand on them, watch the ribbons of iron and creosote doused timbers twist off before and after me. Nothing lives on the tracks that we traveled like teenage legionnaires seeking conquest and adventure, except my memories. I lived on the left side of the tracks. They lived on the right. I lived amongst the mill workers, volunteer firemen, working mothers, and cooks. They lived among the lawyers, the doctors, the church ministers. On the left side, there was a swamp, trails, homes that still had rings to tie a horse to, no fences around yards, handshakes between neighbors, old pickups and beat sedans, a comfort in old places with old souls. On the right, They had the shopping complex, farmer’s markets, labyrinthine McMansions with fences as tall as a man, BMW’s, constant concern over the tax assessed value of their temporary home, an instinct to pave everything over, complaints of how the town was losing its quaint charm.
The tracks still run up the middle of town. I never see the local kids walking on them. The swamp is drained, the views on the left and right look the same, adventure is at the shopping complexes on both sides of the tracks.
I have moved on to a new town. I have become one of the people on the right.
Necklace of Thorns
When I was a boy, I climbed a tree in the front yard circled by thorny bushes. I could not convince myself to come back down. Gravity + thorns = unacceptable prospect. My father refused to help. “You got up there, you can get back down.” I don’t remember climbing back down.
The Shrieking Beast
My son got a chest x-ray when he was a year old. They bound him up in an acrylic tube and he screamed like a beast led to slaughter. I held his hand for comfort despite the ray gun being pointed at my unguarded groin. He has no siblings.
I remember that old green Ford sedan; it was a viking ship, space shuttle, fighter jet, pioneer wagon, and tomb for the Pharaoh.
I remember not needing to know what it took for others to give me my happiness.
Pretty Pretty Please?
I remember thinking the best artists I knew would love to teach me if I asked just so.
The Sounds of Silence
Silence is hearing the freeway roaring with wild vehicles traveling up and down stream. Silence is the click of the clock in the bathroom that never tells the right time. Silence is the soft snore of my son in the next room. Silence is the creaking of my teeth when I try and fall asleep at night. Silence is the humming sound that fills my head when I see you smiling.
Feeding the Black Hole
Down in the black hole I keep in the back of my head, I can find the things that I never wanted to see again but needed to know where they were in case I changed my mind. Today I tried to push a bad thought into the black hole and saw a good one that had been pulled in by accident. I guess having a hiding place for thoughts isn’t always a good idea.
You Can Jump
A boy jumped off this trestle when my older sister was in high school—that feels like ancient history—the boy’s girlfriend dumped him while they sat up here drinking beers and smoking cigarettes. I look at my friend, he loves telling the story any chance he gets. I look at the beer and cigarette in my hand. We are sitting on a little platform that sticks out from the main timbers of the trestle. I always feel like I am perching at the edge of death when I sit up here, feet dangling, pitching empty bottles into the muddy water below, watching the highway traffic criss crossing the landscape in the distance. My friend says we will have to jump if a train comes along. I think I will let him jump, I will beg the train for mercy.
The Walk to the Cabin in my Head
Last night I dreamt a trail up the sky. It was paved in cobblestones made from the faces of loved ones and cherished friends. They, the cobbled faces, were silent, still, serene, set in a position of quiet repose. My sleeping angels. I stepped lightly, climbed the path, and when I reached the top, I saw a familiar, beat, cracked, broken red door; the door that looked like the broken smile of the frightening Indian man in Chemult. The door that does none of its duties well. The door that was the image of beauty to someone, once.
Corsets and the People That Make Them
People that make corsets are obsessed with making articles of clothing that do not only help present an image based on outward appearance, they try and manipulate what is beneath, the flesh. They are a bossy container of flesh that is meant to create a false ideal and help the person inside shove themselves into a shape that they otherwise would not be able to obtain.
Today I watched motes of dust play through the air in the cabin in my head. The dust passes through a shaft of light coming through the broken door and gives the air a cluttered, dancing quality. The dust settles over anything that sits too long, making things look diffuse, unknowable. I brought a mirror into the cabin to watch the dust settle over me. I was blinded little by little as the dust put down roots in my eyes. I wiped my eyes clean to reveal that the rest of me remained spotless.
Yesterday, I sat in front of my typewriter, looked at the window, and contemplated what lay beyond. My window spider had encased the glass in a solid wall of silk. I asked her forgiveness for intruding as I gingerly pulled her web aside. As I worked, I thought of the windows in my wood shop, how my Grandfather’s shop had no windows, and how the windows in my shop are more oppressive than the lack of windows in his. I thought of how I am self-conscious as I spin my lathe, clumsily carve wood bowls, and hope that no one is watching and judging me foolish. I remember Grandpa’s thumbs were nearly as thick as my wrist the first time he showed me how to set the tool into the bowl, let the ribbons fall free. I realize that my thumbs are becoming thick like his now, though they do not bear the marks of a man that works with his hands, like his; mine are soft, nails bitten, the hands of an anxious artist.
When the web is removed, I see the view outside the cabin has changed over the years. The river has been replaced by my creek, Still Creek, where I go to sit below Mount Hood and escape the city. This creek has swallowed the bodies of two loved ones, carried them off until they reached the Pacific. Grandpa Carlsen and Aunt Dorothy, brother and sister, entered the river at the same spot on the same day. To the right of the cabin is my old blue pickup truck. My family rode in that truck to Still Creek to send the siblings on their way. I thoroughly enjoyed bringing my city slicker family with me to the wild. They gasped as I flung the grainy ashes into the water. My grandfather floated down stream, dancing, and bobbing like the moats of dust in front of the cabin’s broken door. My Aunt Dorothy sank to the bottom, clung to the rocks and refused to be washed away. It took her until the end of Summer to move on.
Outside the cabin, the sun is twinkling down on the stream. The water glints and surges along. My toes begin to feel thirsty. I gently pry the broken door open and walk to the shore. When I step out, the sound of the creek rushes into me. I am filled with giddiness at the idea of soaking my feet in the water. I kick off my shoes and run to the shore. I am smiling. I have not smiled like this in my cabin in a great while. It feels fantastic.
From the water, I see Mount Hood. Wy’east is his real name. He was a great Indian warrior that fell in love with Loowit, who we call Mount Saint Helens. His brother, Klickitat, is a mountain too; he is called Mount Adams these days. The brothers, Wy’east and Klickitat, loved Loowit and she loved both of them. Their love was spread among too many and was jealous. They all died because of their love. I have never let love try and kill me. I do not have the constitution for such things. One time a dear friend kissed a girlfriend of mine. I was angry at first, but he pointed out that her love was easy to get and gotten by many. I made the mistake of believing his excuse, excusing him. I left the girl. For good measure, I kissed his next girlfriend. Fare is fare. Soon, I realized my error, women are not tradable currency, not weapons in jealous wars, not what I came to think of them at all, I left him. I wish I could leave the memory of my actions as well; leave that wretched, momentary me outside of my cabin. Let him gather dust somewhere else.
I followed my sister down my hill. No way is she going to beat me to the bottom. She can be the smallest, the cutest, the most innocent. I am the biggest, the first, the King of the Hill.
Mom braids her hair like Laura from Little House on the Prairie. Two banners of blond hair flap from under her helmet. She tucks over her bars like Super Girl, low to the frame, small and slippery in the rushing air. I am elbows and knees flapping in the wind. A gorilla falling downhill.
She makes it to the bottom first. She has no fear, does not brake before hitting the gravel at the bottom. She is triumphant. She loses control. I lose my jealousy. I become scared. She stands, blood rushing from her mouth. I scoop her up, cary her home, tell her she is King of the Hill now.
I live for small victories. Small victories always feel the biggest. Today my son ran to me smiling, “Gonna go poop!” I scoop him up, dash up the stairs to his bathroom, tug down his pants and diaper, plop him on his training toilet and wait. There is singing, talk of candy, more singing, talk of cows and Star Wars, a grunt, a moment of quiet concentration, back to cows and Galaxies Far Far Away. False alarm. No problem. We stand, he pulls up his pants and diaper. I am walking out when I notice he is looking down in the toilet, eyes big. “Poops in der!” I look over his shoulder, see that his claim is true. We dance like mad men, dazed with the joy of the first poop that did not take place in his pants. Small victories feel huge. Now to teach him how to wipe.
A boy jumped off this trestle when my older sister was in high school—that feels like ancient history—his girlfriend dumped him while they sat up here drinking beers and smoking cigarettes. I look at my friend. He loves telling this story. I look at the beer and cigarette in my hand. We are sitting on a little platform that sticks out from the main timbers of the trestle. I always feel like I am perching at the edge of death when I sit up here, feet dangling, pitching empty bottles into the muddy water below, watching the highway traffic criss crossing the landscape in the distance. My friend says we will have to jump if a train comes along. I think I will let him jump, I’ll just beg the train for mercy.