Poetry Improv

Ballard Market Poetrymongers

Back at the Ballard Market

Made my second trip back to the Ballard Market this summer.

I’m always in awe of poets persisting in their craft and striving to earn a living. the Ballard Market has a couple of regulars who do just that.

Seven and Elliot show up for work with their manual typewriters and their signs that read: “Poems: Your Topic. Your Price.”

They are the improvisational performance artists of the poetry world. If you engage one of them, they will tell you to name a topic and then give them a few minutes.

When you return from sampling the goat cheese and perusing the organic vegetables, they will have a short poem to your theme.

I asked Elliot to write about writer’s block (since that is a topic close to my heart!)  Here is his effort:

Market Poem by Elliiot the Poet

That’s pretty insightful. I couldn’t do that on such short notice! I love the insight about “the voyage inside.”

Elliot told us that he can make some decent money “on a good day.” But, then there are other days when the take is not so good.

I shared my favorite Hayden Carruth haiku with him. The one about the Japanese haiku master Basho.

Basho, you made
A living writing haiku?
Wow! Way to go, man!

I’m always happy to see poets making a go of it.

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Sonnet for Late Summer

Dry grass, abandoned boat, and old shed

Late Summer’s Sun

Late summer’s sun has baked the grass to brown.
The days grow shorter with each passing day,
Soon, autumn’s chill will make the leaves fall down.
All of this aching beauty will decay.

And yet I love the shadows’ slanting trace,
The once green grain gone golden in its rows,
And how I love the lines etched in your face.
It’s funny, as love ripens how it grows.

The number of our days we do not know.
No sleeper knows if he will ever wake.
So come, let’s join above, between, below.
My dear, let’s cause our fragile clay to quake.
Let us make love as if it’s our last go.
Let us embrace like dawn will never break.


(2015)

Notes:  It’s not really late summer, but it just feels like it. The ground is parched, the foliage is showing its mortality, and I’m ready for some rain. Normally I would wait until September to haul out this sonnet, but this year it feels later than it is.

Extra credit to any poetry geek who can spot the homage to John Donne in this poem.

Poem, with Overt Biblical and Literary Themes

The Grapes of Wrath

Grapes of Wrath

Once I loved a Jewess,
Tenderly and fair.
I was her gentle gentile,
She my queen with raven hair.

She fed me cheese and crackers,
We followed mountain streams.
We slept outside on winter nights,
And traded smoky dreams.

We cried outside a movie —
Our comfort caused us shame —
Mascara stained my sweater black,
I whispered close her name.

But when I loved another Jew,
She could not understand.
She thought he’d died in Palestine
When Romans ruled the land.

I sometimes think I see her still
Though many years have passed.
A glimpse of black hair in a crowd
Still makes my heart beat fast.


(1979)

Notes:  I’m not sure when I first noticed the new-fangled way to refer to B.C. and A.D. as Before the Common Era and Common Era.  Wikipedia tells us that the expression was used as far back as 1615 (A.D.), to emphasize secularism.

Harrumph.

Strictly for me, “B.C.E” and “C.E.” have always seemed like just one more feeble attempt to be politically correct. And political correctness gives me hives.

But, no matter. I have my own ways of marking time.  I have a B.C. and A.D. of my own.  One cold February day in 1972 marks that dividing line for me. I guess if you personalized them with my name, you could call them “B.B.C.” and “B.A.D.”

I also observe another, alternate. personal calendar that revolves around a different landmark of my life, that being when I found my wife.  There is “Before Jan” (B.J.), and “After Jan” (A.J.)  If you’ve been following this blog and reading the poems, you understand the significance.

This poem is definitely a B.J. era poem, and it straddles my personal B.C./A.D. divide. It has been consigned to a dusty old notebook for decades without seeing the light of day. In the midst of a recent guileless moment, I recited it to my wife.  She encouraged me to publish it.

While the drama in this little poem was a big deal at the time, I must say that I’ve pretty much made my peace with it now.

Independence Day Love Poem

Minneapolis Independence Day fireworks

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The wind and you played in my hair,
You lambent in the moon,
The night arranged as by design,
Mysteriously boon.

Afresh the breeze and warm our hands,
So lately introduced,
Traced so gently new found lands,
From tyranny aloosed.

While all around with fire and bang
Our freedom was proclaimed,
A nation’s liberty was meant,
To us, two hearts unchained.


(1982)

NOTES: We have our communal holiday traditions, and then we have our own, personal traditions.

I celebrate the Fourth of July as a double holiday. I’m proud and happy to honor our exceptional America and call it home.

And, it also warms my heart to remember the night I discovered my role in an on-going love story.

My personal affection for July Fourth goes back to 1982, when a young couple snuck to the roof of the Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis to watch the fireworks. This perch, high above Lake Calhoun, offered a 360 degree view of the entire Twin Cities area. You could see several fireworks displays from there, both near and far away.

Not gonna lie … best fireworks ever.

 

Minneapolis Love Poem

Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis
Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis … long ago

That Day We Lay Upon the Grass

That day we lay upon the grass,
++++A luminescent green.
The sparks that arced from arm to arm
++++Across the space between.

Our bodies quickened by the sun,
++++The willow leaves aflush,
The sunlight sparkling on the lake,
++++Our blood bestirred to rush.

Up and down the parkway, flowers
++++Enticing with their blooms,
Our loveless winter ended there,
++++Emerging from our tombs.

For we had slept as sleepers sleep,
++++Unmindful of the world,
Astonishingly we awoke,
++++Much like a rose unfurled.


(2015)

Notes: July 3 is almost as big a holiday for me as July 4.

On July 3, 1982 I took a walk with a beautiful woman around that most beautiful of the Minneapolis lakes, Lake of the Isles. We had known each other less than two months. We sat down in the grass by the lagoon.

And then this happened.

Midsummer Love Poem

Here comes midsummer's milestone of our love

Here Comes Midsummer’s Milestone

Here comes midsummer’s milestone of our love,
Years since our selfish selves we pledged to yield,
So we’re as broken-in now as the glove,
I wore so long ago while in the field.

Fresh from the store unworn straight to my room,
Rubbed in the oil and every crease explored,
All through the night I savored the perfume,
The musky linseed leather I adored.

Come sober daylight with our job to do,
All awkward stiff not giving either way,
How many sweaty strivings’ deja vu
It took before we as one flesh could play.

Some ragged days I’d spit and pound the palm,
Or hurl the thing against the dugout wall,
But all the while a magic mute and calm
Mutated hand to glove with every ball.

The softening was gradual but sure.
Soon nerves and muscles seemed just like they spanned
From fingertips to join the glove secure,
As if I had been born with one webbed hand.

We’ve come now to the eve of middle age,
Well worn but with a lot of sport to go.
We must each for the other one assuage
Those stinging blows life certainly will throw.

We’ve held through wins and losses and through rain,
That etched new cracks not there at all before.
But loves like this were made to take the strain,
Just like that piece of cowhide that I wore.


(1992)

Notes:

Not long ago, I asked my wife if she had a favorite poem. Her blink reaction was, “the one about the baseball glove.”

It was written sometime in the early 1990s. We were just starting a family. My career was having troubled taking off. The agency where I worked had just downsized, leaving the few of us who remained in a state of anxiety.  I would take long lunch breaks and write poems parked by the side of Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.

Years before, back in my Missouri hometown, my first love had been baseball.

I cannot begin to total up the hours spent playing baseball, watching baseball, collecting baseball cards, sorting baseball cards, reading about baseball, and dreaming about playing in the World Series.

My first baseball glove was a treasure, my most prized possession.

I knew the starting line-ups of both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City A’s by heart. Hot summer nights were made tolerable listening to games my little transistor radio. Harry Caray (who broadcast for the Cardinals BEFORE he jumped to the Cubs) was my favorite.  “Holy cow!”

When I played one-man whiffle ball against my friend Royce, we would pick a team and go through the line up as each individual player. If the guy batted right, we batted right. If he batted left, we batted left.

(We drew the line at pitching left-handed, because neither of us was truly ambidextrous.)

Our spare time was spent searching for discarded pop bottles which we could turn into the neighborhood grocery store for two cents apiece. Every 5 bottles meant we could buy two more packs of baseball cards.

Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 13, we discovered girls and moved on to other interests. A long and winding path led me to the love of my life.

We were married 33 year ago this June.

The inspirations for this poem are multiple. I recall midsummer drawing near and along with it my wedding anniversary.

I was feeling that sense of my youth slipping away. But, despite the oppressive job I was enduring, I was confident that good things still lay ahead.

I was also listening to a lot of Van Morrison. His song “Madame George” was stuck in my head. (Quite possible the most poignant song ever written.)

In particular, I was hearing the line where Van does his improvisational scat-singing thing repeating the words “love” and “glove” over and over in an almost hypnotic chant.

My story is about a very different glove, and a very different love. But that merging of the two rhyming words was lodged in my mind.

The result of all of this ferment was this poem.

The only time I’ve ever read it in public, I was told it was “an audacious metaphor.”

I’ll take that.

Today, I post this little poem again. It’s as true today as when I wrote it years ago.

Honeymoon sonnet

Honeymoon epiphany

Epiphanies

We come now to the winter of our years
(Where did the autumn with its pleasures go?)
Our roof will all too soon be cloaked with snow,
So, come, let’s stoke our fire against the fears.

It seems another life ago, my dear,
That full of grace you pilgrim sat aglow
Enkindled so this prodigal would know
That grace was free and grace was very near.

Midsummer’s eve brought more epiphanies
Of spotless bride adorned, redeemed, in white,
Too ill for customary liberties,
So wan, yet still for these sore eyes a sight.
Then! Over Lake Champlain the full moon sees
A railway sleeper car rock through the night.


(2013)

Notes:

When love is good and it lasts, it can be tempting to idealize its beginnings.

But, the very first time I saw my wife, she was glowing. I kid you not. Sitting in the second row of a darkened auditorium listening to the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, there she was — surrounded by a golden aura.

At the time, I was a reporter for a small suburban weekly paper, and was there on assignment. I had a camera, but was so befuddled I failed to get the shot. (Of the Glowing Girl, that is.) You might argue I was imagining things, but I don’t think so. I’m not given to visions nor hallucinations. I’ve never witnessed anything like it before or since.

I kept my eye on her while I got my story. But at the end of the program, she went right up to the speaker. I figured she must be with the group of important people who had accompanied him from Washington, D.C.

So, I put The Glowing Girl out of mind and tried to forget about her.

Fortunately for me, she turned up again a couple of weeks later at church. It turns out she was a friend of a friend, who introduced us and immediately left us alone. I didn’t let her get away a second time.

I think the whole experience was a special gift for a fellow a bit slow on the uptake, who needed a sign to notice a good thing right under my nose.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

We were married three years later at Midsummer. She was sick and only made it through the festivities with the help of cold medicine. The next morning we flew out of town to New York, and the very next night, took an overnight train to Montreal.

I’ve been a fan of railway travel ever since.