According to the rabbis,
when God asks Adam, where are you?
He’s not looking for information.
He wants Adam to consider where he is
     in his life,
where he is NOW and where he intends to be.
I could say that I’m on a bus, headed for New York,
but that would be frivolous. I could say
that I’m in the middle of a dark wood,
that I’m always in the middle of a dark wood.
But that would be despair.

*

The ancient texts and traditions are full of despairing questions, God’s to Adam among the elite! The poet here eludes the question by describing how not to answer it. Such responses–frivolity on the one hand, oversimplification on the other–are too easy. Shapiro, in another poem called “Where I Am Now,” gives a more direct if painful response:

     I seem to be withdrawing from my life slowly
     Like pulling out from an alcoholic fuck.
     Savoring it but glad that it’s over.
     Tired and not knowing what to do next.

I like Shapiro because he says things–essential things–with clarity and precision. His poems avoid the frivolity of mere description on the one hand, and lyrical seduction on the other.

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In all the good Greek of Plato
I lack my roastbeef and potato.

A better man was Aristotle,
Pulling steady on the bottle.

I dip my hat to Chaucer,
Swilling soup from his saucer.

And to Master Shakespeare
Who wrote big on small beer.

The abstemious Wordsworth
Subsisted on a curd’s worth,

But a slick one was Tennyson,
Putting gravy on his venison.

What these men had to eat and drink
Is what we say and what we think.

The influence of Milton
Came wry out of Stilton.

Sing a song for Percy Shelley,
Drowned in pale lemon jelly,

And for precious John Keats,
Dripping blood of pickled beets.

Then there was poor Willie Blake,
He foundered on sweet cake.

God have mercy on the sinner
Who must write with no dinner,

No gravy and no grub,
No pewter and no pub,

No belly and no bowels,
Only consonants and vowels.

*

Getting these Monday poems out each week isn’t much trouble when I’m reading poetry, which is most of the time. But as I have been ass-deep in a Jane Austen, I haven’t been reading much poetry these past couple of weeks (though some of Austen’s rolling, wind swept prose has its moments, as in: “…they sauntered about together many a half-hour…and venturing sometimes to sit down on one of the benches now comparatively unsheltered, remaining there perhaps till, in the midst of some tender ejaculations of Fanny’s on the sweets of so protracted an autumn, they were forced by the sudden swell of a cold gust shaking down the last few yellow leaves about them to jump up and walk for warmth.”) I did, however, bring my copy of John Ransom’s Selected with me camping up along the Little Miami over the weekend, and managed to read one poem (even as I foundered on Father’s Day cookies).

I know I’m alive on this beautiful day
laying beside you. It’s summer.
Heated fruits in your hand
pour their thick odor at midday.

Before we laid down here, this radiant
world didn’t exist. Never in vain
we tore away from desire
the human love that defies the stars!

I run naked towards the blue of the sea.
I return to you like I return to the sun and I knot myself in you,
I’m born in the splendor of knowing you.

I feel the sweat of the siesta.
We drink red wine. This is the feast
in which we remember death the most.

*

A friend of mine left for Columbia with his family yesterday to complete an adoption. Since this friend happens to be one of the first two original recipients of these “Monday Poems,” begun some 22 months ago, I thought I would honor him (and his family) by sending out something by a Columbian poet today.

Durán has said, “My work simply affirms that at all times man must be conscious that he will die, which means that eroticism is, like poetry, the only moment in which we can demolish an implacable history.” The phrase is helpful because it locates the last line of the poem, which comes as a surprise. I’m not convinced that eroticism is the “only moment in which we can demolish an implacable history,” but, like poetry, the erotic moment is capable of unmooring us, briefly, from the limitations of time and space. It sets us adrift, but also can wake us as from a dream. This comes through more clearly in another poem called “The Instant”:

The day burnt like a rose.
And the bird of the moon fled
singing. We looked at each other naked.
And the sun lifted up its red tree
in the valley. Next to the river,
two beautiful bodies, forever
young. We recognized ourselves.
We had died and woken up
from time. We looked at ourselves
again, with curiosity. And the night
returned to cover the memories.

There’s something about
swatting your goalie’s shin-pads
post warm-ups—Luck thuds.

Conflict—How can I
pledge my allegiance to two
national anthems?

Detroit’s new savior:
Cujo’s mojo in the pipes.
Hasek can’t hack it.

Terror in the crease,
Sacrificing teeth for goals:
Philly’s John LeClair.

Can’t muss it up, Mess-
ier’s hair, and all those hats
doffed to the bald ice.

Dumb intermission
games, while the team four-down gets
a vulgar ear-full.

She says, “bull hockey!”
Euphemisms just aren’t
what they used to be.

Speaking Japanese,
We would know that hokku means
wet rice; also hockey.

I deke you, deke you.
In the crease, I deke you, you
who look sorrowful.

Though I shall deke back.
And the deked shall inherit
all this open ice.

It is not easy
to deke on the ice, unless
you are a deker.

The ref calls icing.
Everyone is dumbfounded.
There’s ice everywhere.

Modano’s so cute
I want to throw roses on
the ice. But I don’t.

I swear! Foiled again.
H-E-double hockey sticks.
Satan’s in the crease.

Ice cold ice. Hot dog.
Hockey game in June, Phoenix
rising from the smog.

*

My sports calendar pivots on early June, the best time of year to be a Redwings fan. So I thought it only fitting, being near the end of yet another Stanley Cup finals (which the Wings, once again, will win), to post a hockey poem. This was published in Smartish Pace a few years ago, and later came out in a book called Hockey Haiku: The Essential Collection. Subsequently, we published a comical (hint: fictional) review of the book on our web site, along with a response by the poets. You can read it here.

Deaths

i.
Osip Mandelstam

With a glass of
boiled water
not yet cold
by a small stove
not giving out
much heat
he was sitting
and saying over
those green words
Laura and laurel
written in Avignon

when out of the somber
winter day entered
Death in green clothing
having traveled
by train and on foot
ten thousand kilometers to
this end,
and moving aside to give him
a place at the fire, the poet
made him welcome, asking
for news of home.

ii.
Caesar Vallejo

Darling Death
shouted in his ear,
his ear made to record
the least, the most finespun
of worm-cries and
dragonfly-jubilations,
and with the courtesy he accorded
all clumsy living things
that stumble in broken boots
he bowed and
not flinching from her black breath
gave her his arm and
walked back with her the
way she had come and
turned the corner.

*

Levertov’s poems seem to ride the high roads of darkness and light. They haunt me the way the Bible haunts me, the way Flannery O’Connor’s charcters or Dickinson’s honed lyrical blade haunt me. Here, two versions of death arrive, one male, one female, one a traveler, the other a screamer. In both cases, the poet welcomes its arrival. The one seeking “news of home”; the other giving his arm for the journey.