It's an odd thing to sit down and attempt to write about my "poetics" when I know that, whatever they are, they are always changing. That is to say that they are a mystery to me and perhaps it is partly that mystery that keeps me writing. More and more I feel that I write poems to better understand myself, the world I live in, to understand happiness and grief, to understand the person who yelled at me on the bus this morning, to understand my boss, my weaknesses, the woman I love. Right now above my desk there is a quote, written on a beer coaster, that says: "Poems are not monuments". The poet William Stafford said that (or something close to it) and perhaps that's the closest to a poetics I can get. I like poems because they are not immovable structures. A poem is pliable, malleable, what Breyten Breytenbach calls "a membrane, rippling, thrumming; reminding us that we are breathing organisms continually translating the space around us, continually translating ourselves into the spaces of the known and thus drawing circumferences around locations of the unknown". It's the adventure toward the unknown I like most. Of reaching back into memory or forward into my workday and finding something of the human there, finding something I didn't know or feel until I read it or wrote it down in a poem. Nothing brings me back down to earth, flings me out into space, reminding me of this extraordinary experience of being a person like a poem does. And there are poets, for me, that are always doing this. If I were to make a mix-tape of my daily life the poets on that tape would be Dorianne Laux, Joe Millar, Marie Howe, Tony Hoagland, Carl Adamshick, Michael McGriff, my brother Michael Dickman, Anne Sexton, Diane Wakoski, Major Jackson, Matthew Lippman, Gerald Stern, Rimbaud, Norman Dubie…So many! And so many more! There are poets I reach for when it's raining and those I sit with on a bench in the park with the sun shinning down through the maples. And all of them influence not only my writing but also who I am as a person. I feel better about things when I read a poem by Barbara Ras and I don't feel so alone when I read a poem by Franz Wright. Right now I'm drinking peach tea, listening to The Vasalines, and thinking about Breytenbach again. He wrote that poetry was a "love-act" and it is! To read poetry, to write poetry, no matter how seldom is to be part of a love-movement. And it is that movement, that marching band, I am moved by, learn from, and feel lucky to be a small part of.
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Let's put on our gloves and scarves
and walk out under the birches
into the white world!
We can make snow angels with Rockefeller and most
of Harvard Law. The white world I'm talking about.
The Kennedy brothers and snowball fights when all the roads
Hyannis are covered in black ice
and wouldn't my grandmother be happy if her dead president
was alive and well and drinking hot chocolate.
The milkish crunch beneath our boots
and the bright blue breath rising from our mouths like
Each of us his own train puffing up the cold hill
where Teddy lets go one giant frozen pumpkin that gathers
layer after layer of snow on its descent into the street below
where cars are frozen shut and cannot be driven or else
they slip and slide
and can kill somebody. Santa is somewhere in his red leather
smoking a pipe that smells like cinnamon.
He is Christmas-white the same way Jesus is, sleeping
in a cradle somewhere in Palo Alto,
below the twinkling lights of a Starbucks
where candy-cane mochas
are flying out the window like geese
out of hell. It is fucking co-old
out here. The big flakes coming down
through the bell tower and landing on the benches of a city
park where no one is sleeping. Covered in snow
they look like polar bears at the zoo. Too knocked up
on heart medication to do anything else but lie around and eat.
is quiet like blankets are quiet
and I put my hand into Jackie's back pocket to get a lighter
for my cigarette but also for obvious reasons.
How her snow pants fit
around her ass and how I didn't want to be alone that night
I wrote your name in the snow but only got to the second R
before I had to go back in and drink another beer. I was so close
and in the blue light the yard was making
with the moon your name looked like something
carved by an ice skate worn by a gold medalist
famous for his flirting
and connected in some circles to the Norwegian judge.
I give you an eight
for putting up with me. I give you a ten for sleeping in the igloo
I built out of everything that had fallen that day.
I can't tell you how strangely romantic the Atlantic becomes
when the sky
is dumping snow into it. It's like seeing, for the first time,
a naked body. Even though you know her name. You have even
played a big part
in making her naked, but now she is something
altogether different. Something altogether secret like under-
when you were five and there were really monsters in the world.
Snow and sand. You can make a snowman
with a lobster claw pipe, a pebble nose, and two eyes made
out of shells.
White shells some creature used to live inside of.
Pebbles ground down from the great rocks
they used to be. A claw pulled apart by seagulls, the body still
and match-box red. I made one next to a row of overturned
covered in ice and white like the top of Mt. Hood
even in summer. That's the magic of mountains
besides the mist and the fact that some of them will blow up,
a blizzard of ash
covering hundreds of miles.
I put a scarf around my snowman and gave him a name
so we can be formally introduced. I light a small cigar
and give it to him but he lets it die.
We talk about how high the winds are
until the hat i gave him flies off and goes tumbling
down the snow covered beach, me running after it
because my sister made it for me
and there is something about winter and sibling rivalry I
can't live without.
Poem from All-American Poem (Copper Canyon Press, 2008). Reprinted with the permisison of the author. All Rights Reserved.
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