When the Neighbors Fight
The trumpet’s mouth is apology.
We sit listening
To Kind of Blue. Miles Davis
Beat his wife. It hurts
To know the music is better
Than him. The wall
Is damaged skin. Tears can purify
The heart. Even the soft
Kiss can bite. Miles Davis beat
His wife. It’s muffled
In the jazz, the struggle
With good & bad. The wall
Is damaged skin. The horn knows
A serious fear.
Your tongue burns pushing
Into my ear. Miles Davis
Beat his wife. No one called
The cops until the music
Stopped. The heart is a muted
Horn. The horn is a bleeding
Wife. Tonight our neighbors are a score
Of danger. You open
My shirt like a door you want
To enter. I am tender
As regret. Mouth on the nipple
Above my heart.
There is the good pain
Of your bite.

*

My own commentary would only diminish this poem’s effect. Better to listen to Hayes read it here. The poem comes from a book called Muscular Music.

20

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
                        fell in love
                                  with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
                                       the licorice sticks
                    and tootsie rolls
            and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
                              and they cried
                                                  Too soon! too soon!

*

Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind is one of those cult classics I never got around to reading. So when I saw it at the Vine Street Warehouse Booksale over the weekend for a couple bucks, I had to pick it up. The lady taking money did one of those raised eyebrow “oh boys,” holding it at arm’s length as if looking at an embarrassing photograph from her Woodstock days. “That sure takes me back,” she said as she took my two bucks. I felt a little lame coming to it so late, at 35, well past any season of youth in which it might have knocked me down. Still, it was a fun read, even for a late-comer.

This Moment (Eavan Boland)

August 11, 2009

A neighborhood.
At dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

*

One striking thing about this poem is the anonymity of its subjects, which gives it a certain universality. “This moment” could happen, is happening, anywhere, or everywhere. Our world with its ten thousand things is in constant flux, where even the rinds of fruit move in the dark, and yet dusk remembers the subtle magic of things about to happen, the almost-but-not-yets of life. These moments hum with greater force and clarity when we are young, no doubt. Called in from the day’s romp to the buttery window lights of the house, it’s as if, at last, the stars, the moths, the apples can let out their held breath and once again rise, flutter, sweeten.

A few years back Eavan Boland participated with great generosity in the Poets Q & A forum at smartishpace.com, which is worth checking out if you have some time.

No matter how awful it is to be sitting in this
Terrible magazine office, and talking to this
Circular-saw-voiced West side girl in a dirt-
Stiff Marimekko and lavender glasses, and this
Cake-bearded boy in short-rise Levi’s, and hearing
The drip and rasp of their tones on the softening
Stone of my brain, and losing
The thread of their circular words, and looking
Out through their faces and soot on the window to
Winter in University Place, where a blue-
Faced man, made of rags and old newspapers, faces
A horrible grill, looking in at the food and the faces
It disappears into, and feeling,
Perhaps, for the first time in days, a hunger instead
Of a thirst; where two young girls in peacoats and hair
As long as your arm and snow-sanded sandals
Proceed to their hideout, a festering cold-water flat
Animated by roaches, where their lovers, loafing in wait
To warm and be warmed by brainless caresses,
Stake out a state
Of suspension; and where a black Cadillac 75
Stands by the curb to collect a collector of rents,
Its owner, the owner of numberless tenement flats;
And swivelling back
To the editorial pad
Of Chaos, a quarter-old quarterly of the arts,
And its brotherly, sisterly staff, told hardly apart
In their listlessly colored sackcloth, their ash-colored skins,
Their resisterly sullenness, I suddenly think
That no matter how awful it is, it’s better than it
Would be to be dead. But who can be sure about that?

*

I began reading L.E. Sissman only recently. He lived and wrote throughout the middle part of the twentieth century, taking for subject matter the professional world of middle age, middle class men. Not the most poetic of material, and yet this is why his poems appeal to me so much, that even with the least poetic subject matter, he achieves a poetry if not quite beautiful, then beautifully rendered. His almost stream-of-consciousness narrative poems sing with as much elegance as any of his contemporaries, and with no shortage of irony and humor.

Although offering the weakest of life-affirmations, the poem’s conclusion is true to its peevish narrator, whom we begin almost to like by the end. The interior rhyming becomes nearly too much to handle, almost too fun to speak. What’s more, few poets can get away with so many adjectives in a single poem. “Circular-saw-voiced West side girl,” “Cake-bearded boy,” “horrible grill,” “cold-water flat,” “brotherly, sisterly staff.” These honor, in a way, the very subjects/objects they are disparagingly describing.

The last collection of Sissman’s work that I’m aware of, Night Music, came out in 1999.