Tessa, This Is Frontier Living

Language shimmers with meaning.
Look, it’s waving a flag wildly.
Like the wind you’d feel but
could not catch.

Mesmerised, you’d gazed up to its
sedimentary layers, the antelope
canyon spectacle, a radiating beam
in tepid weather.

We are knotting and unknotting,
a rebirth. You dabbed upper
lip sweat, tucked in to steak
and beans, corn, guacomole.

What? I’m almost delirious.
Halfway up the steps, oh aren’t
we deluxe now? In the Southwest
damply climbing.

Prompt: You’d be forgiven for thinking poetry is dense. Obscure stuff. So why bother right? I mean, if you’re uninitiated, then yes. Its riches are gathered up by only the initiated I guess. The likes of Emily Dickinson “spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise.” Yet the veil is thin. So see what you can gather up in Ada Limon’s “The Frontier of Never Leaving”. And try your damnest to join the ranks of the initiated. Heck, write a poem in response.

If the wound you cover is made of sheet metal
and iron gates left over from the junkyard of
of Forever Worried, and the school of Always Broken,
here, I have saved you a seat. If you have hidden your
outlawed books in your mattress and your outlawed
thoughts in your hands, here, I will give you refuge.
This is what I heard underneath it all, underneath and in the
beginning but now let’s move to Canada. I hear it’s nice and
they don’t kill each other as often. I can even forgive them for speaking
French. Really, not all of them speak French. But would I miss it?
If I move to Canada, and there’s no war in the Spring
I won’t miss Iowa, that’s for certain, but it’s the only thing.
The fields keep growing longer like a veil between us,
the mountains like sutures on the map, and yet they are
ours, the way mustard can be ours off the highway
and windmills in the deserts and roads, even roads. Barbed
wire between us, fences between us. The roadrunner has
run into the river and Misters, you do not care. Another puzzle
piece of my American map has unfolded. I am the only
thing that fits together here, in this frontier of Never Leaving.
Today, I am going to play the record of the revolution,
everybody is going to sing along and the more we turn it up,
the less the flag will wave over you and the more it will
become a swallowtail and migrate to our houses, the little ones
in the back, the ones with the lights in the window. Look!
You can see them now, opening their doors in the fog.

Tessa, On A Full Moon Night

Are you ribbing me?
In your flannels we’re stripped
of mask. The full, opalescent moon
watching, watched.

Do we need formalities?
With a felicitous turn of phrase
you’d anointed the night.
I, leaving hysteria, winked.

Prompt: Poetry is a weird sort of meditation. I’m not even sure how it does it. Reading a poem, writing a poem, is a temporal activity. It gives us a moment. Time is a fluid and vaporous thing, but moments are real, grounded, intimate. So this literary journal that I’m curating (by accident or on purpose?) asks that one finds one’s voice through writing poems. Write a poem to find your voice.  Because you’re paying close attention, in that moment, within your poem, perhaps you’d find your soul.

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Tessa, Of Blood Sausage and Vesuvius

Artless I sat in a gaseous kitchen
watching a sausage stuffing. As paste
slid into casing, a man, escaped
convict, held court with his story,
skinny and starving on an island–
smelling the fat in situ, the gilded
frames and smooth white marble.

The beautiful mistress beheld
the dangerous man–his frame’s
the casing of apparent docility
as the child he’s telling it to fell
asleep on lap. Oh, it wasn’t his
fault being wrongly arrested but
irrevocably tainted now, how unfair.

Does one even think much about
the suffering of an animal, whose
carcass spilled blood, congealing
to a paste? One does not. The way
we feed off another, that’s how
it goes. The truth as always,
rather explosive, a molten core.

Prompt: Hi there, woke up this morning to the sounds of thunder. Now the sunlight. It’s like the storm never even happened. How deceptive. The storm did, just as the man in the story, now surrounded by prosperity, had known starvation. I’m referencing the story in Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris, conscious of how he contrasts the fat with the thin in his writing which is set in a kitchen. And then I was also thinking about Emily Dickinson, she who inhabits the world of imagination. In particular her poem, “Volcanoes be in Sicily”. In which she talked about “volcanos nearer here”, which isn’t factually true, because there aren’t any in Massachusetts, but of course she is asserting her truth metaphorically. How wonderful the imagination. I wasn’t even in that kitchen except in the story I just read. In your poem, try to link a story to a truth. The truth isn’t out there; it’s sitting right in your heart. “Vesuvius at Home”. Wow.


Volcanoes be in Sicily
And South America
I judge from my Geography —
Volcanos nearer here
A Lava step at any time
Am I inclined to climb —
A Crater I may contemplate
Vesuvius at Home.

Tessa, The Rhythm Of The Beating Heart

You stay absolutely still.
There’s a rhythm, of breathing.
My son said, that’s how you control
your hands, when welding.
That’s how you hold the universe
steady, through your lungs.

And I’m thinking back,
back when he swung a lantern
by the canal, how he seemed to have
overtaken me; he asserting himself
in speech bold and brazen
that I’m struck dumb.

How does one become sacred,
become the space for another,
the bleeding heart humming, keeping up
its interrogations, singing one
anthem, that is breathing,
a rhythm, an amen.

Prompt: Our Fall/Winter 2016/2017 issue’s underway, with postings. The question is, what does your heart know? Whatever it doesn’t know, is it meant to learn? What does it learn? Learning’s an ongoing affair is it not? I think an important thing to learn is one’s life purpose. What is the thing that keeps you breathing? That you give, keep on giving? Do you give? What is your oxygen? Here’s one answer. What’s yours?

“I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all. No…not the artful postures of love, not playful and poetical games of love for the amusement of an evening, but love that…overthrows life. Unbiddable, ungovernable–like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. Love–like there has never been in a play.”

from Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love, Screenplay

Tessa, So Is This A Spiritual Ode?

I am threadbare and free now.
Knuckled and stronger–my story thus far’s
taken me here. No I’ll skip the grilled
cheese. Yes I’ll dodge the missile
this time round. She’s talking real fast
and loud. I’m eating a glazed doughnut.

So everything’s a recital. For what?
Won’t you be my rock? Maybe I’d rephrase.
We’re on a pilgrimage so won’t you be?
My closed eyes saw a curled fist, that of
a baby. Warmed the cockles of my heart.
Mirage of spotted animals on a boat.

I’m not of the flock. What do you want me to
exude? The kind of spirituality leading
to an alley free of intrigue, rich with
artefacts. There’s this quote I read where
a Puerto Rican had said, “Everybody is trying
to get home.” That resonates, doesn’t it?

Prompt: This life journey we’re on is part dream. Sort of what you dream about and then that’s what you get? But nope, it’s never straightforward. So maybe other people dreaming affects you too and we get entangled in another’s dream. Maybe. And the point is to get home. Home is where you get to be the real you. Finally. The rest is just necessary fluff. You know, like male machismo. What’s up with that? Part dream, part ritual? Maybe that’s what is so strong about an immigrant poem like Patrick Dosal’s “Uptown Ode That Ends on an Ode to the Machete” (from which the Puerto Rican quote’s taken). He revisits his memory of a neighbourhood in the Phillipines, his origin country, where the smiths make machettes–to bring home a hard lesson. So in your poem, try to fuse dream with memory of what home means. You know the saying, “Home is where the heart is.”

And that’s when
out of nowhere in the middle of the room’s boom-
braddah macumba candombe bámbula
this Puerto Rican leans over and says to me
real slow, “Everybody is trying to get
home.” And I’m like, “Aw fuck.” because
I’m on 1st Ave between 115th and 116th
not even invested in the full swerve yet.
It’s not even five past midnight and Will
is dropping science like that. Allow me
to translate: There are neighborhoods in America
where a man says one simple sentence
and out flow the first seventeen discrete meanings
of home. If you haven’t been broken by the ocean,
if your own weeping doesn’t split you down
into equal weathers: monsoon, say, and gossip,
if you can’t stand at the front door
of an ancestral house and see a black saint
staring down at you, no name, no judgment,
if you haven’t listened to the town drunks
laughing underneath a tree they planted
so they wouldn’t forget your pain, then your story
must have a whole other set of secrets.

From Patrick Dosal’s “Uptown Ode That Ends on an Ode to the Machete”

Tessa, A Bohemian Rhapsody

It’s easy to do sleaze.
But unendurable, like melancholy. On the shimmering canal
looking through glass. It was an insult if you ask me,
a commodified lease–hair’s only the bohemian
saving grace in the window of leash.
We shuffled along a block waiting for
an old man on his toilet break. He had a filial daughter
who was a doctor. We saw windmills, and cheese.
Large wooden clogs tease our hollow feet.

I was embarrassed, by something I forgot.
The sun’s benevolence dissolved it.
A barrage of joy and donning hotel slippers.
Later I was to be adorned by neat fins,
so I could wriggle, like a mermaid,
or a fish. It was later too,
that we met in the backroom of
a monastery. There I read you a poem.
We were finally alone and sinuous
and you kissed my cheek.

Prompt: Good morning folks! Or good evening more likely. I had a flashback to Amsterdam. So that’s how the poem started. But then I had to stage some kind of meltdown so I went for fiction. Language has fins. So that’s how you are to do it. Do some kind of travelogue. But fictionalise it. I think fiction’s more interesting. And somehow more real. How’s how a pro does it:

In Chartres from her entourage of flames Our Lady beamed at me
The blood of your Sacred Heart drenched me in Montmartre
I’m sick of hearing blissful promises
The love I feel is a venereal disease
And the image possessing you in your pain your insomnia
Vanishes and it is always near you

And now you are on the Riviera
Under lemon trees that never stop blooming
You are boating with friends
One is from Nice one is from Menton two from La Turbie
We are staring terrified at giant squid
At fish the symbols of Jesus swimming through seaweed

You are in the garden at an inn outside of Prague
You are completely happy a rose is on the table
And instead of getting on with your short-story
You watch the rosebug sleeping in the rose’s heart

from Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem “Zone”

Tessa, About This Poetry Shit

I admit it. I’m literary as shit.
My revelries, how unreal, but c’mon
they’re built to scale, so I can
scale them up or down. Up and they’re
tremendous–outrageous even–
or down, down, down.

My son keeps talking about money
as if it’s a scale of anything,
of any worth, and maybe it is,
the real scale. So this is thin,
this is unlauded, this poetry shit–
so why keep doin’ it.

I built it a coffin. Does that
satisfy you? Does it?
It’s something I started and then
it kept multiplying, and now
became a sunlit room, even as
I’m typing now.

It’s got my heart in it, okay,
maybe even blood. So it must be
sacred, some kind of legacy,
you imbecile, you stone hard
of hearing–keep that wound so
as to ripen.

Prompt: Hey there, I must be in some kind of rebound. Hope so. So I’m asking, how do you answer poetry detractors? You know. How do you get real, because everyone’s expecting you to, you know, dump this stuff and get a basically poetry-less, commercial-driven, unliterary real life? If your heart is in poetry then how? How do you dump what you love to do? Do you drive it to a dumpster? Yes of course, real life is privileged over fiction. Yes, I’m going. I’m going down down down…to tie my shoelaces. Scoot.

And if none of this inspires you, then maybe Seamus Heaney would.

“The soul exceeds its circumstances”. Yes.
History not to be granted the last word
Or the first claim … In the end I gathered
From the display-case peat my staying powers,
Told my webbed wrists to be like silver birches,
My old uncallused hands to be young sward,
The spade-cut skin to heal, and got restored
By telling myself this.”
–from “The Tollund Man in Springtime”

Tessa, We See Fragments

Young for a summer’s spell but
gray-haired now. Still voracious,
hope’s moored where there’s
a brood and some fanfare.

In summer you looked at a snail
keeping stationary retracting body.
Till it decided to move–its surge
carried it so far you were amazed.

In a soft-spoken manner does
the universe works. Unobtrusive needle
pulling thread–swear, on your
heart, did you see fragments
        of a tapestry?

Prompt: Given life’s vissisitudes how does one cope? I mean, the economy’s not doing too well. In real life, the middle classes are being sucked into the sink-hole of capitalism. Work is being outsourced to cheap foreign labor. Too many businesses squeezed by high rentals are closing shop. Everyone’s trying to make ends meet. How does the heart keep faith in bleak times?

I know that
hope is the hardest
love we carry.
–Jane Hirshfield, “Hope and Love”

Perhaps writing a poem is easier. Perhaps not.