A symmetry

drew a perfect circle
only once
a partial eclipse
coffee ring
seeping into the
tablecloth
licked my thumb
extinguished
the match
rorschach
do you weep?

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Gravitas

Head-on
Walks
With real purpose

He’s about to change the world

If you let him.

Back arched
Salvaging our
Dignity
He is peace
He is gravity

In his kingdom
There are no
Servants
To sweep the debris
From his path

Chases trash
Down the street
Runs it out of town
Makes it wish
It had never been born

Cannot figure out
How it all goes
Unnoticed
It’s beginning
To climb itself

Head-on
Eyes down
He just wants them
To see
What he has always seen.

Poetry is a Hedgehog

Poetic theory, as any poor twisted soul (all English students) will tell you, is difficult enough to get your head around without Derrida throwing in his two cents as well.

Recently I was faced with the fascinating yet illusive text, Jacques Derrida’s Che cos’e la poesia? This roughly translates to “What is that thing poetry?” which I think has a nice ring to it. It approaches poetry (or the poetic, as Derrida prefers to call it) as if it were a surly creature, something wild yet deeply vulnerable that runs straight into the motorway with no fear of becoming pavement pizza. More specifically, he states confidently that “yes, you know what? Poetry…is not just any animal. Poetry is a hedgehog.”

For one thing, poems are often prickly. Their shields are up, they don’t want to offer themselves up willingly. But if you start your inspection from afar, the hedgehog eventually uncoils itself. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t get pricked! On the contrary, Derrida is keen to stress the hedgehog’s inherent nature to wound. It lures us in with humility and its apparent nonchalance (“I don’t care if you read me or not”) while secretly hoping to be read, to be solved.

And this, to make an educated guess, is where many people give up (the hedgehog risks being rejected; metaphorically run over). They sense that the poem requires more attention than say, an article in the local paper, or a post on Buzzfeed, and they don’t want that stress. Which is fair enough! But for those of us who are willing to work with the poetic, to let it change shape before our very eyes, not only are we liable to be wounded but, according to Monsieur Derrida, the poem itself is revealed to be an open wound.

If we take, for example, Charles Bukowski’s Bluebird (1992):

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.

The poem is vulnerable in the sense that Bukowski is expressing something highly personal, a melancholia that he tries hard to suppress. It asks us to consider exactly what the poet means by ‘bluebird’ and once this inspection occurs, we see the open wound. Next is the poem’s ability to wound:

when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?

In addressing us directly, we are encouraged, nay obliged to turn our previous inspection of Bukowski inwards, and examine our own vulnerabilities. “Do I show my sadness, my sensitivity on the outside? Do I?”

This is also the kind of poem that stays with its reader, claims them as its own. Even if they do not think of Bluebird for weeks, or even months on end, it will return to them in the future. Derrida claims that we are vessels for the poetic, we devour poems and then carry them within us. They appeal to our hearts, but not only in the anatomical sense. We learn them by heart, even if we are not aware of it. In fact, we learn them in an unconscious state, the way that infants learn their first words or adults learn clichéd phrases to drop into their everyday speech.

But surely not every poem is to be transported within us? Some works are so overblown, so overused that they merely grate on us (I’m looking at you Rudyard Kipling). But then again, even those poems we pledge not to like, to find so incredibly tedious are ingrained in us. If by Rudyard Kipling does not have substantial meaning for me after hearing it several thousand times, not to mention Jerusalem by William Blake which makes a grab for me every Sunday when I flick through the TV channels and catch a quick snippet of Songs of Praise, but I will not deny the fact that I can recite most of their lines.

I cannot for the life of me remember every single poem I have ever read. I doubt any of us can. But that doesn’t mean to say that they are not inside us somewhere. Perhaps they are curled up tightly, bricked against each other, their pricked spines arched into place. Unstable and ever-evolving. Waiting for us to pay attention to them.

hanker

salt beef on a
plain bagel,

hot mustard,
damp pickles,
I barely tasted
any of it.

the beef was tough,
the mustard stung
my fingers,
I wanted to cry some more
but didn’t have it
in me.

fuck the diet,
I want carbs.
I want fat and salty
ruin.
I want my veins
to pump syrup
until that sugar coma
hits hard,
hits home
and then keeps on
throwing punches.

salt beef
that refused to shred
between my teeth,
mustard that stained
my shirt.
a faint heat that
threatened to distract me
for one sumptuous
moment
but could not work its magic
on my coward soul.

Trampling Ground

And this ache refuses to leave

I have been a hospitable host
made up his bed,
turned down the sheets
each morning,

he has outstayed his welcome.

Kick-back
hooves,
I have become a
trampling ground,
Dust settling
in my life line
where fates are fused.

crisscross my palm
and read me my
rights,
hope to die
if I cannot put my faith
in something,
someone,
anything
other than myself.

And this ache refuses to leave

Refuted claims of love
replace the clockwork,
spring cleaned headspace
I try to keep
clean as spring water,
but muddied by my own
reflection.

Morn-strewn bedsheets,
I have watched with
fearful intrigue,
Blowing dust
from my palms
where fates have focused
their fevered penance
on me,
and me alone.

And this ache refuses to leave.

Mentality

weird character
or mental state of intellectual inclination
weird or mental
quality of character
quality
his character
inclination of mental
weird mental state
or intellectual mental quality
intellectual mental mentality
of mental intellectual character
a weird mentality
an ability
an ability
an ability
mental thinking
or quality mental character
intellectual state of weird
a mental mentality
his character; his inclination
his inclination: intellectual

State his ability.

[This poem was created using William S. Burroughs’ Cut-Up technique. I used the definition of the word ‘mentality’ as produced by the OED.]