Sunday is always reserved for a Poem of the Week that Kathy Temean selects from one of my books. This time I’m preempting. Yesterday I posted all of the winning monthly poems so we can select our Hall of Fame Poets for 2010. The ballot boxes will remain open until October 8 at 10:00 CST.
Today I’m posting my own monthly contributions to the cause over the past twelve months. I don’t include my own work on the balloting for Hall of Fame Poets so here I’m posting my own separate ballot box in case anyone would like to indicate a favorite among the twelve. No obligation of course. I would just be curious. The poems are posted immediately below the ballot box.
Poem: DOWN AND DIRTY
I liked you the first time we met,
at least I thought I would like you
if I got to know you,
except for your nails.
I couldn’t help noticing
the foul moon-rims of grime
clutching at your cuticles.
The thought occurred that dirt,
which you like enough
to pack at your fingertips,
might have a poem buried in it.
Honestly, I had little hope for my subject.
It’s hard to hold something in high esteem
that one tracks in on one’s shoes.
Only my respect for you kept me going.
Turns out there’s more
than meets the eye with dirt.
Roots slow-motionly wriggling down
like moles in the dark after water
prize off tiny flecks of bedrock.
Mix enough rock parts with humus
and you’re getting somewhere, dirt-wise.
Humus is a dry gumbo,
the handiwork of dentrivores,
a multiracial gang of ruffians, mostly
fungi, worms, bacteria, mites, and insects —
mercenary goblins that dine on decay,
slurping dead plants and animals
till you could easily mistake diner for dinner.
Thanks to dentrivores, not all dirt
tastes the same. But considering
the supply you keep handy,
I may not be telling you something
you don’t know.
When you think about dirt,
and I can’t seem to stop,
dirt provides lodging for a zoo
of creatures that grub, grope, and burrow
through its gritty underworld.
Mixed with water dirt fortifies bird nests and
helps mud daubers stick their homes
in annoying places such as
above my garage door.
By contrast, dust courts the corporate crowd.
Swirling like a truant genie,
dust grants wishes to carwash owners
and supports entire industries
of polish, soap, and facial tissue makers,
but I digress. The thing is, I was right
about liking you in spite of your nails
crammed with limestone powder, worm goo,
and the odd molecule of bee leg or roach
(all in a day’s work for humus).
But I can’t resist suggesting that dirt
should stick with dirt and you might consider
returning your private stash to the garden
or perhaps to a trash sack headed to
the dump. Then, I believe,
at least I hope very much, that
I can put down this thing about dirt
and wipe it off of my worry list.
Poem: NIGHT THOUGHTS
Once he took me caving,
Maybe I was three,
That he could carry me.
He didn’t have to do it –
Let me tag along –
But oh my daddy
Felt so big and strong.
He loved to take me fishing
No matter what the weather,
Dad and me,
Two guys out together.
He chose the wiggliest worm
So I could get my wish
And promised me
I’d catch the biggest fish.
On trips he told us stories,
Sang in silly rhymes,
Said my homemade
Jokes were good — sometimes.
I always meant to thank him,
But years crowd quickly on.
I hope he knew,
Because, now he’s gone.
Mostly I crawl though now and then
I duck-walk until starved
muscles cramp me back
to all fours.
The tunnel runs on for miles.
It is dark yet I see, dimly,
my way illuminated
by thin-walled pipes
that offer a glow the hint of red
and gurgle with cargo pumped
from the engine room upstairs.
Familiarity gnawing at me,
I struggle on for days (years?)
knowing that femurs
aren’t supposed to be
and I shouldn’t be here
watching mint-shaped platelets form
and cells like red and white donuts
roll off assembly lines.
Don’t ask how I suddenly
find myself peering out
my own belly button.
The thought of navel gazing
with a glazed pastry in each hand
awakens me to face yet
of bran flakes.
Poem: ONCE UPON A TIME
100 million years ago,
give or take a few –
when dinosaurs ran around
stamping and screaming
and scaring small mammals –
there lived a wasp with a sweet tooth,
which is to say the wasp
preferred sugar water
to more traditional diets
of spider juice and grub goo.
What caused this curiously altered taste
is a mystery. One can’t chalk it up
to good judgment, considering a brain
the size of this period.
Call it signs of the time:
time for blooming angiosperms,
time for bees,
time they got together.
The obliging wasp and its progeny
eventually produced a bee.
A little bit wasp but mostly bee,
the nectar lover got busy
sucking sweets and impregnating
coquettish blossomy plants
by wallowing in their sticky seeds
and spreading them around.
Tsunamis of pollen-bearing,
insect-toting plants covered the land.
Some have said the dinosaurs,
strangers to hay fever,
developed allergies that left them
vulnerable as sitting ducks
(to borrow a figure of speech from a cousin)
and ill-prepared for catastrophes lurking
on future horizons.
This probably never happened,
hay fever I mean,
but you have to admit
that a sneezing T-Rex –
a toothy island stranded amidst
a relentless sea of blossoms
while serious bees buzzed its head –
would be something.
And who among those first men,
tens of millions of years hence,
would have risked a finger
under T’s twitching nostrils
to utter an approximated “gesundheit”?
When I see a bee,
sometimes I wonder if its ancestors –
still carrying carnivorous wasp-lust
in their genes –
took on the big guys armed with
the latest technology,
Poem: THE PRICE OF EGGS
The sign says EAT AT MADGE’S!
BEST BREAKFAST ALL DAY!
I whiz by Exit 12-B,
forfeit my chance to meet Madge
and sample her cooking.
Can’t help wondering though
how Madge is doing.
That’s a big sign, cost her a bundle,
sleep, too, I bet,
all that money nailed onto poles beside the road –
cost a lot of eggs.
Is Madge there now, off Exit 12-B,
hoping travelers inspired by her sign
will swing off the Interstate to see if
she’s really as good as she says?
I imagine her red faced from the heat,
hair showing gray – no time for color –
blowing strays from her eyes,
cracking eggs on the grill,
yelling at someone, “Hey folks!
Thanks for coming! Be right with you!”
hoping this week, this month, she’ll crack
enough eggs to pay for that sign.
Poem: BETTER CHEMISTRY
When Earth was an acned youth given
to volcanic tantrums and cosmic collisions,
bobbing like microscopic apples
in toxic pools acidic enough to eat a car battery
(if cars or batteries had existed then),
happened to align themselves just so,
thereby acquiring the capacity
to repeat their likeness among other atoms.
Life, of a sort, was off and running.
This accident of chemistry made possible,
four billion years hence,
the pair of Mallard ducks
that just strolled by my window searching
for a suitable place to duplicate themselves.
It wasn’t simply from atom to duck.
Bacteria came early
in numbers too staggering to guess
producing enough oxygen
to clothe our spinning rock,
cool its temper,
keep it out of fights with passing asteroids.
Soon these ducks will repeat their likeness
in the next generation.
So will gnats and elephants
and horseshoe crabs.
Those ancient molecular stews
did what came naturally.
Today, through better chemistry,
so do we.
Poem: SPRING FLING
struts the fence
red as a Valentine,
tail seductively flickering,
issuing throaty notes
finds a limb
with a better view.
sails to the ground,
returns with a twig,
does not leave.
returns when he resumes
an appropriate distance,
at this point in the game.
How this ends
I think I know.
utters urgent yearnings.
Poem: THE GALL OF SOME PEOPLE
Before she went to surgery,
I stood beside her bed.
“Granny, please oh please!” I begged,
“Remember what you said!”
Daddy sadly shook his head,
“Son, don’t be absurd,”
But I saw Granny wink at me,
And Granny keeps her word.
I like my skulls and turtle shells,
I like my spider jar,
I like my pickled octopus,
I like my baby gar,
I like my walls of wings and hides,
I like my bugs and bones,
I like my snakes and scorpions, but
I LOVE my granny’s stones!
Poem: TREE SONGS
of the chill night breaks
as if a tree
has taken voice to sing.
the solo rings,
a second singer
riddle the lake by night.
Poem: A SAD TALE
Nothing frightened Bryon Biggers,
Not even lions, not even tiggers,
He spent his life exploring this land,
Knew these hills like the back of his hand.
Striding down the path he came
Always looking for bigger game
But in the end he met his match
In a lowly Ozarks chigger patch.
Byron laughed, “Ha ha!” cried he,
“No bug could be the death of me!”
But halfway through that patch of chiggers
And it was over for Byron Biggers.
He clawed those bites till his dying breath,
Sighing, “I’ve scratched myself to death.
Someday they’ll find me here alone
With chiggers gnawing on my bones.”
He died the way he lived – brave,
And few have seen poor Byron’s grave.
He’s buried high on a lonely hill
Where to this day he itches still.
Here lie the bones of Byron Biggers,
Eaten alive by hungry chiggers,
So if you see poor Byron twitch,
Scratch his bones ‘cause they still itch.
Poem: LOUDER THAN WORDS
He never told her,
not in so many words,
or kissed her,
or said she was pretty.
Sometimes she might have wished
for a hug,
might have wished
to hear the words
Yet she knew, always knew,
Whatever she needed he’d do –
blow the hurt off a skinned knee,
save his best tomato for her,
take her hunting and let her
carry the squirrels.
When she started school,
he picked her up
in his bread truck
and took her home
for a better meal.
when she lived three states away,
after work he’d drive all night
to see her for a single day,
bring her baby a bunny,
press small amounts into her hand
that made all the difference.
He’s been gone awhile and with him
his favorite expressions:
“You did that to yourself.”
“Boy I like ‘em.”
Gone, his boyish grin, beloved garden,
gone, those words unspoken
but few right deeds undone.
And even now she knows,
has always known,
how he loved her.
Poem: READ IT BEFORE
Okay, the basement needs some work,
The drive is sprouting weeds,
I’ll do them both immediately
And see what else she needs.
I’ll hang those pictures in the hall,
I’ll scour the outdoor grill,
I’ll clean out all the gutter leaves –
I promised her I will.
I’ll straighten up the garage (again),
(I promised that before),
I’ll clean my office till it shines –
I’ll do all that and more
The minute I finish the poem I’m on.
So why do I get the look?
What does she mean by telling me
She reads me like a book?