A Poem of Tomorrow for Today

In late 2011 WS Merwin visited BYU and read some of his poetry to students in the JSB auditorium. He said that after 9/11 books of poetry could not stay on the shelves. He said people needed poetry in those dark times. It helped them cope and understand and feel understood and less lonely. It reached deep and endless. It touched hollow and unrelenting. It was like pockets of fresh air displacing the billows of dust and sorrow and hate.

I was in a poetry class the semester of Merwin’s visit, trying to write poetry; trying to get it. Trying to learn things way beyond my grasp from my immensely talented classmates. It was a wonderful class. The semester happened to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. I wasn’t there, but I have friends who were. Today always makes me mournful, melancholy sinking my gut. This poem was my attempt to express an aspect of that tragic event.

It is 9/12/11

nine twelve eleven
nine one-two one-one
as if my fingers
swollen and sweaty
slipped while dialing
and starting over never crossed my mind.

No one will come
until I hang up
and think more carefully
to push
finger pads to keypad
with motions that should be automatic.

My. Ribs.

It’s like inflating
a 17-inch balloon
inside a 12-inch barrel
made of popsicle sticks.

This balloon won’t pop.

Tension increases.
Pressure persists.

What is the breaking point?

When will the popsicle sticks
snap?

She has strong feet
or hands; I guess at
whatever moves inside.

Dad watches and feels
pokings and undulations
in thrilling unpredictabilities.

We three toss and turn throughout
the night. We want comfort in
limited space. Dad, though, does it
while sleeping.

She crowds my
intestines, stomach,
my lungs, bladder. To breathe
is to live; to poop is
to breathe. To pee means
not sleeping.

A little human–filling more
with brains and blood and
fatty tissue and a pumping heart;
with personality; with
muscles that make fists and smiles
and curiosity;
with life and joy and beauty–
as I lie on my side
pulls my ribs down,
weighing,

stretching bone and
cartilage and my
threshold for pain
and my capacity
to love.

This barrel has already burst.

Click

i click on the red callout box
coming from the blue world
on the blue banner
i forget
is zuckerberg’s.

i select the notification
and wait
for the page to load.

i scroll and
see your name
and yours
and even yours
with a message
for me
to be happy
on my birthday.

i smile
and i click
again
and i smile
again.

should i thank
zuckerberg?

you kept me
clicking all
day, smiling
all day,
but now
it’s tomorrow.

there is no red
on the blue banner.
but i know
i can click on my name
next to home
next to the blue world.

i scroll down screens
upon screens.
my smiles remember
the one day
in may
what the clicks
really mean.

The Poets I Know

My penultimate semester at BYU I took a poetry class as a complete novice. Along with the curriculum and the professor, a couple of classmates awakened me to the vast and diverse world of poetry. It blew me away, intimidated me. Our class would have weekly workshops and while they did have nice things to say about my poetry, classmates were often brutally honest and mercilessly constructive. It was hard not to feel discouraged.

I read a poem every day. Occasionally I’ll write down a tentative idea for a poem. I’ve fallen out of practice; it’s easier to read than write. It hasn’t always been that way. But it’s always been easy to write crappy poetry. Here, let me whip up a gross haiku for you right now:

vulnerable brain
months of oxidizing then
flaking rust matter

See? That took less than a minute. And not something I’d be proud to show even Stephenie Meyer.

There’s so much to love about poetry: taking it apart, slathering the language all over me, listening to it, reading poets’ advice. I support people who are good at it, who devote their lives to capturing beauty, tragedy in such a specialized way.

From my experience in the class, it seems some of the best poets also make the best academics. They think about issues from multiple and often-rare angles. With intense focus, they express themselves with clarity and power. I covet them so, so much.

But I also want to brag about my poet friends and acquaintances, because they’re brilliant.

My poetry professor, Susan Elizabeth Howe:

Imagination, as I have experienced it, can be part of and lead to spiritual growth, and imagination is the natural province of the poet.

Someone I knew as a computer person before he became a poet, Neil Aitken:

Neil Aitken is a poet of consummate grace and skill. His poems are acutely observed, unerring musically, sensual and lyrical. Filled with longing and subtle epiphanies, his poetry plumbs the depths of the human heart, and hints towards the heights of the human spirit. His writing accomplishes what Wallace Stevens suggested—that, in the best poems, “description is revelation,” for each of Aitken’s poems reveals the world anew for the reader.  — Maurya Simon

A friend I worked with at church in New York City, Javen Tanner:

. . . he thus takes up his poetic cross and wills us to follow as he forges a path through variations on these ambiguous realities to the end of preparing us for more lasting psychological and spiritual connections and consolations.

Former classmate and also a BYU soccer player, Conner Bassett:

When reading poetry out loud, you see the poem for what it is; half of the poem is the words, but the other half is the sound of it,” Bassett said. “Reading and hearing it out loud is a completely different experience.”

Another classmate, Kylan Rice. He seems to have a relatively new tumblr:

…Stop looking so
shocked at the grammy fat. Are we not
all a tapestry of garbled hearts?

I have a few other poet friends, but I’m having trouble finding stuff about them on the internet. Which usually doesn’t happen. You’ll just have to believe they’re also talented and incredible and very awesome.

Look these people up. During any time of crisis, these are some of the people you can listen to.

Thanksgiving Ponderance

So I’m reading the Book of Mormon
and it’s the Rameumpton scene.
And I’m just so thankful that I’m not like that
looking down from that tower up
so high, thanking God
that I’m better than
everyone else.
That I’m more righteous,
that I have more.
People at the top of that tower
are so stupid and pious.
Pie? Yes, please.

I know friends who struggle with mental illness / gay friends who’ve found success after getting kicked out of BYU / friends who’ve had their hearts broken trying to have or adopt children / those who’ve had their hearts broken trying to find love / friends with children who have limb differences and other special needs / friends who mourn and grieve all manner of loss / soldiers who have died in military service / those who know sign language / friends who’ve had sexual trauma / friends who don’t have “traditional” parents / homeless people / creative people / angry|bitter friends / friends and family whose feelings I’ve hurt / dying friends / lost friends / people who are easily offended / loved ones who don’t care about the church / introverts / friends who have helped with tsunami relief in Japan / and who have survived 9|11 / and hurricane Katrina / and hurricane Sandy.

My great and spacious building
faces the tower,
and we go around the table
with our abundant plentiful
copious many blessings
or list something every day
this month
that we are just so thankful for.
Guilt arrives,
awkward, familiar guest.
Help yourself to some stuffing,
turkey.

I remember the sick feeling I got the day after this past election / what it’s like to be “chee-choh-ching”ed at / what my own prejudices are / talking with African college students on a dilapidated campus about their dreams to teach their children and give their country hope / being at a drag show / my own sexual abuse as a child / being with my mom the first time she returned to the temple / the outhouse that my Filipino grandpa built that reminds me of the one the the beginning of Slumdog Millionaire / the trailer that I lived in as a kid / my barefoot cousins in a bamboo village / seeing friends who’ve been separated by distance and time and contention become reunited / a constant feeling of helplessness for this world / watching Muslims in Africa as they kneel in prayer / playing with malnourished, licy children who don’t care that my French is horrible / yelling at a homeless man / ordering another round / sweat.

This feast won’t settle. I wipe
the cranberry sauce and spleen
from my face. I excuse myself
and walk out of the room
and down the stairs.
I trip across the threshold
onto packed snow,
into fog.

The well-cloyed see me and scoff
because I keep slipping
away from the tower and the building.
I slide into a canyon of people
who slid there too,
better than anyone else
without knowing it.
You help me up.
It’s warm here.

It Was on a Tuesday

This particular anniversary seems more significant because it happened on a Tuesday. September 11. Eleven years ago. All those elevens. All those ones.

Individuals.

This poem happened the day after the 10th anniversary. The numbers switch around in that date and today’s date. Two lines are missing, or I’ve debated leaving two lines in, so I don’t think it’s a final draft. I can’t seem to find those lines right now.

Or, there’s just no final draft at all.

It is 9/12/11

nine twelve eleven
nine one-two one-one
as if my fingers
swollen and sweaty
slipped while dialing
and starting over never crossed my mind.

No one will come
until I hang up
and think more carefully
to push
finger pads to keypad
with motions that should be automatic.

Reliability

A month is not
twenty-eight days.
On time is always
early.
The fifth of September means
October third then
thirty-first.
Whites of my eyes can bleed
twice in October.
Excuse for swinging moods.
Pressure that only
caffeine and a nap
lessen.
Excuse for insecurity,
inferiority, opportunity
missed.
Weakness.
Just an excuse.
Logic, charm, work, love,
strength,
with the clock
and her bell to chime
every twenty-eight
days as
a reason.
Indicate my sex–
XX marks the spot.
Eggs float
hot,
flow
red, unused.
Almost too eager,
never late.