This holiday, why not stuff the stockings with poetry?
Poetry! Who would expect it? And who could forget it?
My book of poems, Transitions: Early Poems, 1979-1989, is personal, earnest, humorous, and accessible.
And Transitions is affordable: just $13 for the paperback or $10 for the digital version at Amazon. (You can read the enthusiastic reviews there.)
Poetry can be more satisfying than the junk that often get stuffed into stockings: high-cal candy, ha-ha toys, dubious games and vulgarities. Transitions is frank but never gratuitously so. Take “Enfants Terrible,” in which the five-year-old speaker is entertaining a young lady in a mock-tea ceremony:
When out the front door like a bat from hell shot
my four-year-old brother Bob, wearing only his BVDs
and a diabolical smile. Susie and I squinted into the sun
and saw Bobby squatting like a dog, dropping his drawers,
and, horror of horrors, before I could jump up and summon
Mom, depositing one lump, no, two, three, four lumps on the lawn.
Or another poem about childhood, “Variation on a Theme by Maxim Gorky,” the great Russian writer, which ends with a young boy sitting with an old alchemist:
And in the evening, when all else has failed,
sits with him, hour after fading hour, two
bumps on a courtyard log, two brown owls
blending into the late summer sky’s strange
transparency, into the earth of burdock,
wormwood, nettle. Sits with him unblinking,
little hand in his great blistered hand, watching
the moon rising above it all, jackdaws cawing
and wheeling, linnets, goldfinches, martins
sweeping into the inhuman night.
In these coming-of-age poems, childhood gives way naturally to adolescence. In “Physical,” for example, the fourteen-year-old boy, examined by a physician, imagines that the doctor is in league with the priest and has told him about the boy’s unclean habits:
Had I been suspect? How could
he know? Would it show?
Crossing myself, I crossed
the good physician’s threshold,
sped out into the suburban dusk,
and made bold to think several
impure thoughts about his twin
blonde pubescent daughters.
Later in life, the poet learns of the loss of love, friendship, even life. In “Something for My Cousin,” for example, attending the funeral of a cousin who has committed suicide, he suffers doubts about the consolations of religion:
At the ceremony, her mom, grief- or dumbstruck,
choked up, didn’t argue with her daughter anymore
but sang, with the crowd, the pop psalm “On Eagle’s
Wings,” a modern liturgical manifestation of the need
to believe there’s something out there waiting for us,
after all. In my cousin’s case, it was to be cremation.
Yes, friends and family diminish, doubts surge. But as long as words are left, they can be signs that life and love abound. Here’s the entire “Poem on the Beautiful Hands of Jennifer”:
In the half-light of the marriage bed
you take from under the sheets and show me
your incredibly beautiful hands —
small, slim, tapering into flame —
and hold me then to the heat of your breast,
your heart which is choiring in this milky
light, and tell me with your erotically
articulate fingers how close we can be.
As I unfurl from doubt’s tight fist,
from the fetal dark, it dawns on me
how wholly unclenched and open you are —
your fingers which know so well how to sew
and cook and tease a balky piano into music
and stroke a lover ecstatically, a wand
of subtle light and heat that binds me gently
to you, this early hour of the morning,
in the half-light of the marriage bed.
So, stuff poetry into a stocking this year, won’t you? Or wrap the book under the tree. The light and heat these poems provide may comfort and amaze a long time.