SUNY English professor, and award-winning poet Shannon Tate Jonas visits from Buffalo to read poems from his new manuscript “The Rake” for our first hour this afternoon. He will also read from, and be signing copies of, his book “Battle Sleep” (amazon.com) during the intermission. Jonas also received an Honorable Mention in the 2019 SDPA Steve Kowit Prize for his poem ‘The Forest Torso’. As always, an open mic for everyone on the sign-up board follows in the second hour of the afternoon.
I’ve smeared my blood on the front door of a stranger.
Anything that means something has layers to its music.
Those who are quiet enough know this.
The tractor turned over as I was mowing
the hill above the football practice field.
I taught myself how to mimic birds
I admired during the summers. The birds follow
the tractor. They swallow the insects
the blades toss up. This behavior makes me love the birds.
Later, strangers pretend that they visit the capital city
where I’ve moved on to. I let them believe, almost happily so.
They ask me the progress of certain civic projects there.
I project the news for them & they listen as one. The woods sound within & the birds never vanish.
Shannon Tate Jonas will read his poem “The Forest Torso” at the awards ceremony and reception for the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize on Friday, March 22, 2019, 6:30pm, in the 9th-floor rooftop Shiley Room at the Central Library, downtown San Diego, CA.
So these are the night’s final stars.
So my voice has changed.
There is no lack of music in my youth.
I will count my age by the length of my hair.
Doctors do not lie
but they do.
The shadow is precious because you can see
it. It is not what you wish, but it is.
When we bid goodnight to the night’s final stars,
the doctor had what he called a “change of mind.”
According to him, the organic
relationship was reversed:
the health of the solar helix hinged on the health of the boscage on earth.
You look down the road
& don’t remember the car
that doesn’t come.
You still don’t remember.
Less weight to manage.
Something about corrupted cells,
Last Days & terrifying dreams
though what can be recollected
cannot be terrifying.
Nonetheless, you say.
You still don’t remember.
Even though that’s not what I said
you say, you still don’t.
Something about wild fire,
a horse named Spook & white eyes,
dead milk, if milk can be dead.
You are in the field, you are in the field,
as I was there.
The silent isolated farms
are covered by a sea of haze
from a wildfire somewhere
to the west of town.
The smoke fills the world
the way the heiligenschein
of the woman who lived
in this house before me
inhabits my liver. I could sit
in the mechanic’s shop & listen
to the passerby’s stories
of hotwired boats & squandered
family fortune for hours
but the evening draws out
vulgar language from the calendar
peddler in the corner who knew
my father. Walking home I see
diseased faces wheezing
in the branches. On the porch
a spider lets herself down
from the eaves. She falls
like an ember in the dark
from the celibate woman
People say after the farms
the town will be next to go.
I open the windows & mind
the whispers & breathing I hear outside.
say the mind is a crutch
—a tool for navigation
—an end table
say the imagination is an eye
no: say a hand
fondle a stone and say I’ve forgotten how to think
kiss the lover’s mouth & say you are god to me
say you are a warm smooth stone on my tongue
—say I do not choose you
—I need you—I feel pain most because you exist
Had my son or daughter ever become
old, I would have liked them
to be able to return
to the first door they opened,
on their own, and entered through.
I would have marked it,
as a witness, so they could know
For me, in this house, the door
to the wind is the first door
I have chosen to open.
The door to the wind
is the door to the tilled fields.
The door is the first door
it is the last door.
A nacreous though sanctimonious voice issues ledgers from the closet & a nacreous thought.
I tried not to describe the small man, gnome really,
crouched inside our fence in the backyard corner,
but here it is, in a long line:
I said to the gnome, “Gnome, I used to wonder what you did around here all day & after having spent a day with you now I know what you do do around here. You guard the house when we sleep. Perhaps you arrange our dreaming.”
I thanked him, & good for him, that gnome, looking, not at me, but at the air in between, a pearl of sweat on a Titan’s chest, a shark following lethargically the wake of the swimmer in the center of the sea.
For an exercise in ecphrasis, air the blood.
My son complains there is nothing to do, that he is bored to death.
I tell him to study the dictionary.
He ascends to his room upstairs. I don’t see him for days.
I begin to worry about his absence & he returns
to tell me something, perhaps what he has learned, I hope.
He says, We are the moral liars, of which little is writ of our true selves.
I say, Every single line is connected to every single line.
He says, You invent meaning to suit you. We all do. What makes the connections real?
I say, What I wanted you to capture from the exercise was knowledge.
He asks, So why do you snigger above what you have created?
I leave the question unanswered & step outside into the yard.
I realize my son has more potential than I.
But I wonder if he is too serious to ever be content or content others.
Writ is a lovely word.