moth in flight, its erratic charge from light bulb
to window to light bulb outside our bedroom.
Billy Collins Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph inThe Life of Emily Dickinson. Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs ofA Modest Proposal. Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page–
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy ofCatcher in the Rye I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil–
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet–
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”
-Stolen words prompt
“Look Around”: https://vimeo.com/167983083
-Snapshot prompt: Some place Big!
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.
My Wicked Wicked Ways
This is my father.
See? He is young.
He looks like Errol Flynn.
He is wearing a hat
that tips over one eye,
a suit that fits him good,
and baggy pants.
He is also wearing
those awful shoes,
the two-toned ones
my mother hates.
Here is my mother.
She is not crying.
She cannot look into the lens
because the sun is bright.
the one my father knows,
is not here.
She does not come till later.
My mother will get very mad.
Her face will turn red
and she will throw one shoe.
My father will say nothing.
After a while everyone
will forget it.
Years and years will pass.
My mother will stop mentioning it.
This is me she is carrying.
I am a baby.
She does not know
I will turn out bad.
………………………………………………..Please Photograph This Prompt: 3 specific ideas + stolen words/phrases
In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over the mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.
Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm and slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?
But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.
This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.
All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside the generous pocket of his silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.
After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck,
and our boots stand dripping by the door.
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.
Drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon with Jesus
It’s six o’clock and happy hour is nearly finished.
PBR drafts are a buck twenty five at Mitchells,
and I’m happy to be drinking beer at cut
rate costs and even happier to be
drinking beer with Jesus.
We joke easy. I tell him the one about
the guy who walks into a bar with a
duck on his head. He tells me the
one about the mustard seed
and the barren fig tree.
He is wearing a red flannel shirt, and
of course his hair is long and blond and
flecked with saw dust. He muscles
the glass with calloused fingers-
large and circular- the products of a
thousand hours on the saw horse.
His hands seemed poised to hold a thousand
fishes with a thousand loaves in this way. And
his red flannel shirt seems to reflect crimson
in the neon lights and it could be that he has
bathed in a thousand lights of a thousand Mitchells
what’s that waitress?
yes, we’ll take two more.
*Some discussion on the Buson haiku, taken from http://lilliputreview.blogspot.com/2009/02/butterfly-and-moth-redux-buson-and.html
The haiku by Buson:
釣鐘に止りてねむる胡蝶かな tsurigane ni tomarite nemuru kochô kana
is indeed one of his most famous and most often translated. Harold Henderson, in his Introduction to Haiku, renders it literally as follows:
Temple-bell-on settling sleep butterfly kana
where “kana” is a kireji, a word in Japanese that governs the relationship between two parts of a sentence and here is a sort of unvoiced sigh or sotto voce “that’s so.”
Collins apparently saw the translation that was published in X.J. Kennedy’s Introduction to Poetry:
On the one-ton temple bell
On the one-ton temple bell a moon moth, folded into sleep, sits still
A frail white butterfly, beneath the spell
Of noon, is sleeping on the huge bronze bell
Stewart, Net of Fireflies, 52
on the temple bell.
Hass, Essential Haiku (1994), 108
Folded soft on temple bell …
Then bronze gong rang!
Japanese Haiku (1955); Haiku Garland (1968); Little Treasury (1980)
Clinging to the bell
he dozes so peacefully
this new butterfly
Hamill, trans, Sound of Water; Hamill, trans, Little Book of Haiku, 61
Something rests in quiet sleep.
Look, a butterfly!
Buchanan, Daniel C.
Buchanan, One Hundred Famous Haiku (1973), 65
On the temple’s great
Bronze bell, a butterfly sleeps
In the noon sun
By Billy Collins
You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.
Zen Flesh and Dog Bones
Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms
with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.
I am peeking my head through the flap of the teepee.
It is early summer in Santa Fe. The patchy spring snows
of New Mexico have faded. An Australian shepherd
looks at me with a hazel and blue bandit’s mask.
The camouflage of white and grey fur rambles about our
home. Chico circles the camp impatiently heading
into the forest, turns, trots back.
The forest is calm and settled. A slight crunch of stone ticks
under canine pads. The membranous wings of the cicada,
these subterranean nymphs, chirr their distinct song.
The banana yucca flowers: the aroma of its
white cream and purple marries with the mesquite and
cottonwood. Paleface Hibiscus and desert lavender
give way to the gentle char of a breakfast fire.
I wander towards my mother’s blue corn fritters
splattering in grease nearby. She scoops them
from the bubbling oil and their uncanny resemblance
to the horned toad makes me laugh. I crunch through
the pine tar of the poblano and smokiness of the
chipotle to the earthy flesh of the corn,
staples of the New Mexican diet.
this small basin of the Chihuahan desert
this lost cousin of El Dorado
this clearing in an Agua Fria gorge
this paleface boy
And Robert holds me close, smiles,
the tequila never far, an agave cologne
I can still smell today
The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me
April 19, 1998|SHERMAN ALEXIE |
I learned to read with a Superman comic book. Simple enough, I suppose. I cannot recall which particular Superman comic book I read, nor can I remember which villain he fought in that issue. I cannot remember the plot, nor the means by which I obtained the comic book. What I can remember is this: I was 3 years old, a Spokane Indian boy living with his family on the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington state. We were poor by most standards, but one of my parents usually managed to find some minimum-wage job or another, which made us middle-class by reservation standards. I had a brother and three sisters. We lived on a combination of irregular paychecks, hope, fear and government surplus food.
My father, who is one of the few Indians who went to Catholic school on purpose, was an avid reader of westerns, spy thrillers, murder mysteries, gangster epics, basketball player biographies and anything else he could find. He bought his books by the pound at Dutch's Pawn Shop, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Value Village. When he had extra money, he bought new novels at supermarkets, convenience stores and hospital gift shops. Our house was filled with books. They were stacked in crazy piles in the bathroom, bedrooms and living room. In a fit of unemployment-inspired creative energy, my father built a set of bookshelves and soon filled them with a radom assortment of books about the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Vietnam War and the entire 23-book series of the Apache westerns. My father loved books, and since I loved my father with an aching devotion, I decided to love books as well.
I can remember picking up my father's books before I could read. The words themselves were mostly foreign, but I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph. I didn't have the vocabulary to say "paragraph," but I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence. This knowledge delighted me. I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. Our reservation was a small paragraph within the United States. My family's house was a paragraph, distinct from the other paragraphs of the LeBrets to the north, the Fords to our south and the Tribal School to the west. Inside our house, each family member existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link us. Now, using this logic, I can see my changed family as an essay of seven paragraphs: mother, father, older brother, the deceased sister, my younger twin sisters and our adopted little brother.
At the same time I was seeing the world in paragraphs, I also picked up that Superman comic book. Each panel, complete with picture, dialogue and narrative was a three-dimensional paragraph. In one panel, Superman breaks through a door. His suit is red, blue and yellow. The brown door shatters into many pieces. I look at the narrative above the picture. I cannot read the words, but I assume it tells me that "Superman is breaking down the door." Aloud, I pretend to read the words and say, "Superman is breaking down the door." Words, dialogue, also float out of Superman's mouth. Because he is breaking down the door, I assume he says, "I am breaking down the door." Once again, I pretend to read the words and say aloud, "I am breaking down the door" In this way, I learned to read.
This might be an interesting story all by itself. A little Indian boy teaches himself to read at an early age and advances quickly. He reads "Grapes of Wrath" in kindergarten when other children are struggling through "Dick and Jane." If he'd been anything but an Indian boy living on the reservation, he might have been called a prodigy. But he is an Indian boy living on the reservation and is simply an oddity. He grows into a man who often speaks of his childhood in the third-person, as if it will somehow dull the pain and make him sound more modest about his talents.
A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike. I fought with my classmates on a daily basis. They wanted me to stay quiet when the non-Indian teacher asked for answers, for volunteers, for help. We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. Most lived up to those expectations inside the classroom but subverted them on the outside. They struggled with basic reading in school but could remember how to sing a few dozen powwow songs. They were monosyllabic in front of their non-Indian teachers but could tell complicated stories and jokes at the dinner table. They submissively ducked their heads when confronted by a non-Indian adult but would slug it out with the Indian bully who was 10 years older. As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world. Those who failed were ceremonially accepted by other Indians and appropriately pitied by non-Indians.
I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky. I read books late into the night, until I could barely keep my eyes open. I read books at recess, then during lunch, and in the few minutes left after I had finished my classroom assignments. I read books in the car when my family traveled to powwows or basketball games. In shopping malls, I ran to the bookstores and read bits and pieces of as many books as I could. I read the books my father brought home from the pawnshops and secondhand. I read the books I borrowed from the library. I read the backs of cereal boxes. I read the newspaper. I read the bulletins posted on the walls of the school, the clinic, the tribal offices, the post office. I read junk mail. I read auto-repair manuals. I read magazines. I read anything that had words and paragraphs. I read with equal parts joy and desperation. I loved those books, but I also knew that love had only one purpose. I was trying to save my life.
Despite all the books I read, I am still surprised I became a writer. I was going to be a pediatrician. These days, I write novels, short stories, and poems. I visit schools and teach creative writing to Indian kids. In all my years in the reservation school system, I was never taught how to write poetry, short stories or novels. I was certainly never taught that Indians wrote poetry, short stories and novels. Writing was something beyond Indians. I cannot recall a single time that a guest teacher visited the reservation. There must have been visiting teachers. Who were they? Where are they now? Do they exist? I visit the schools as often as possible. The Indian kids crowd the classroom. Many are writing their own poems, short stories and novels. They have read my books. They have read many other books. They look at me with bright eyes and arrogant wonder. They are trying to save their lives. Then there are the sullen and already defeated Indian kids who sit in the back rows and ignore me with theatrical precision. The pages of their notebooks are empty. They carry neither pencil nor pen. They stare out the window. They refuse and resist. "Books," I say to them. "Books," I say. I throw my weight against their locked doors. The door holds. I am smart. I am arrogant. I am lucky. I am trying to save our lives.
Mentor Text Prompt:
I learned to read with X. I cannot (can) recall X, nor can I remember X2. What I can remember is this: X= how old + where you were + 3 concrete details. We were ….,(specific idea about your situation at the time) but …. (a contrast to the specific idea). We lived on a combination of x, y, z and something else.
Student Example Rebecca Vaive: First Words: Vaive Senior Final
jacket. I’m checking out the deceased when a woman
grabs my elbow. She wants to know how I knew
Around 1972 my sister tells me and my parents she’s gay. Dad
says it’s unnatural and they start arguing. I keep
quiet. Mom goes to the kitchen to make sundaes.
Around 1962 my brother feels like scaring the hell out of me
and chases me around the house with a butcher knife.
I hide behind Dad’s suits. It smells like Old Spice.
Around 1969 I tell my parents over dinner that I’d live with a
man before I’d marry him. Dad says it’s unnatural. I
tell him to get his own dessert.
Around 1963 Grandma gives me ten bucks for learning the
Around 1957 Dad and I sing My Darlin’ Clementine every
morning on the way to school.
Around 1968 Patty Bryant and I run out on the check at
Around 1964 Mom colors her hair—starts wearing eye
shadow and mascara. She’s standing over a steaming
sink in a pale green mohair singing “Edelweiss.” She
looks absolutely radiant.
(*with thanks to Terence Winch)
~ Deborah Harding
Shards of Memory: Playing with Time
A Process for Recovering Fugitive Memories Jot down a list of some of the places where you have lived.
Jot down a list of some of the jobs you’ve had. Include the weirder ones.
Jot down a list of old friends, people you don’t see much of anymore.
Jot down two embarrassing things you’ve done and a lie you once told.
Jot down one triumph and two failures.
Jot down a list of remembered kisses.
Jot down the names of someone who hurt you, someone who helped you, and someone you admired.
Describe a piece of clothing you once loved, name a piece of music you still love, and two old movies you still remember.
Poem A: Shards of Memory
Write a poem with the same structure as “How I Knew Harold.” Begin each line with the phrase “Around 19—“ or some variation on it. Plug in a few choice items from the above exercise, each of them sketched briefly with a few well-chosen details. Add other memories as they come to you. Jumble the chronology so that the memories don’t move in a clear progression but jump back and forth. Make sure that at least three of the items interconnect, if only tangentially. Organize the poem intuitively. Hold on to a chatty voice. Don’t get self-consciously eloquent or lyrical.
If your poem’s resemblance to the model bothers you, try deleting some of the dates and placing a few others in the middle or at the end of the item. You might leave out the dates completely. You may wish to number the stanza and call the piece something like “Fifteen Little Poems about My Life.”
Poem B: A List Poem
It might be “Those I’ve kissed,” or “People I’ve Hurt,” or “A Few of my Failures.” Keep each item spare, but vary them enough so that the poem never gets monotonous. End each item with a date if you wish but in the final draft you may wish to leave out dates altogether. You may wish to vary your lines more than Berrigan does.
Remember there is ultimately only one essential rule for writing: it must be interesting to read! Cross out anything that isn’t interesting to read and replace it with something that is!
~ From In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit via Liz Spalding
BY BILLY COLLINS
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
Concept + thingness
BY BILLY COLLINS
This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,