- Dayton. Inside the city limits but with a working dairy farm a half-block across the street.
- Bloomington. On the Indiana University campus, and later at the edge of town.
- Binghamton. In the ‘hood, then on a hippie farm near the New York-Pennsylvania line.
- The yoga ashram. Out on a yoga farm in the Pocono mountains.
- Fostoria. In a loft downtown, over St. Vincent’s charity store, in what was once Ohio’s Great Black Swamp.
- Yakima, Washington. Including three years in an orchard.
- Warren, Ohio. We bought a lovely arts-and-crafts bungalow in an industrial city in economic collapse.
- Baltimore. Downtown in the trendy Bolton Hill neighborhood and then out in suburban Owings Mills.
- Manchester, New Hampshire. By the Merrimack River, then atop the tallest hill.
- Dover, New Hampshire. A mile from downtown. The longest I’ve lived in the same house, by the way.
And one other place that never really counted.
Tell us something good or bad about someplace you’ve lived. Like maybe your favorite?
I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.
These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)
Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.
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I could imagine myself an orchestral conductor, but there are many things that must be trusted to the players themselves. Something like Rubato, within a musical phrase, comes to mind. And then, in a flash, it’s passed. Reflect on that with these poems.
For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.
As I would have said at the time: Note to folks living below the Mason-Dixon Line: It’s time to remove the Confederate monuments. They look too much like a sore loser.
Let’s remember, those shafts (at least the ones I’ve seen) have to be offensive to every descendant of every slave in America.
Think of all the German-Americans who never erected Kaiser monuments in honor of their dead kin. Japanese-Americans who could have placed Hiroshima/Nagasaki reminders. Italian-Americans, with Mussolini railroad efficiency. Vietnamese, Native-Americans, French?
It’s one thing to respect the dead, but this has felt defiant. From my view of history, it was a rich man’s war fought by the poor who continued to suffer poverty long after. Including many of my ancestors.
Now, what do I make of the statues of Civil War soldiers found on every town green in New England?
The wounds linger, don’t they.
did I hear thunder?
coffee in the treetops
just a pony cart of vegetables
street vendor’s cry
(O! the Arabs of Baltimore!)
on his daily round
somehow getting by
yet clouds slipped in
with a long cord, the phone
this old apartment, all light and draught
the floor sinking, new cracks in the plaster
was giving way, downward, you could hear it in the night
paint flaking, more pieces falling to my bed
all going downhill, to the basement
rusty pipes, armies of cockroaches
at work in the walls
constantly dripping faucets
kitchen, shower, the bathroom sink
stacked magazines slid away on their own
new grit emerged immediately after sweeping
the faucet knobs never matched
water rings in the ceiling
blooms collapsing for lack of circulation
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Yeah, there were brats. You couldn’t avoid them.
And broken glass. And sirens at midnight.
It’s what we could afford where we were.
Oh, what a neighborhood!
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How can you not appreciate the way the word flows on the teeth and tongue and along the lips?
Given its name, Oyster River, in the Lenape tongue for the profusion at its mouth in Chesapeake Bay, the word ripples and sings.
Upstream, where I lived, a different name would have been fitting but, I’ll presume, no more beautiful.
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The prose-poem presents a subtle challenge. In theory, it should be a natural fit for the English language. In practice, however, what I see all too often is simply wordy prose. Somewhere, the poetry gets trapped or tangled or loses its spin.
Coming across a guideline to keep a prose-poem under a hundred words spurred my thinking. As I considered revising a clutch of drafted poems, a sensed an opportunity. Recast without line breaks, they flew – especially when I removed the punctuation that pushed them toward prose.
I’m satisfied with the results, which I feel are more powerful and vibrant and authentic than either a straight-prose or straight-verse version would present.
Take a look for yourself. Just click here.
“Hey! You! Come here!” Black man, about thirty, in Pitt sweatshirt and Pirates cap, stands at the fence and motions one of the tough talking grade-schoolers over. “I said, Come here! Yes, YOU! I’m warning you, leave my daughter alone. Don’t call her, don’t talk to her, don’t approach her.” He fiddles with his car keys. The kid smirks. “Listen to me,” I suspect he wants to add “you little asshole,” but he restrains. “If I ever hear that you’ve said anything like that again, you’re in deep trouble. Understand me? Real deep trouble. And that goes for my wife, too. You’re to leave them both alone, got that. You can tell your mother what I’ve said to you, I don’t care. You can tell your pa, too. I don’t care. But I’m warning you, hear?”
(The blond brat, walking back to the pool from the fence, smirks to his buddies.)
I’m itching like crazy. This has been going on the past two weeks, ever since the first flea bites. Those are gone now but the itching gets worse. Hellfire. Mites? Fungi? Anemia? Allergies? (WATER! Hot showers or swimming?) Negative effects from the sun? First sunbathing in three weeks: my tan’s faded to half.
Hot shower and soap up thoroughly. No relief.
Much lotion, which I’ve been using for a week and a half anyway.
Spray, for relief: Solarcaine. Tinactin. Bactine.
Avoid water now. Salute the dad.
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It’s life in the inner city, usually not far from downtown and often in an enclave near the river. High density population, at least compared to the suburbs, and filled with children. Usually blue-collar or poor or a mix of students added in, it’s noisy and lively, even colorful in its urban decay. You can walk to the store or corner bar.
We lived on the second floor and later, a street over, on the third.
That’s where these poems originate and resonate still.
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