Emily Dickinson, First Year Medical Student

I wrote this poem after visiting a morgue at the Medical University of South Carolina.  You can read about the visit here.

Emily Dickinson, First Year Medical Student

their nightingales and psalms

 

Far removed from vanity

The old man lies exposed,

His organs sporting flags

Like holes of a golf course.

 

Nose and Ears are hairy;

He used to be a Man

Who ate beets – burped – blinked in the Sun –

It used to be Man.

 

Now disarticulated,

The antithesis of sentimentality,

Resting in pieces

Like left over turkey.

 

Yes, I have become accustomed

To hanging out with the Dead,

Assuming a cool, ironic air,

Pulling intestines like thread,

 

But when I die, I want my Lodging

As plush as plush can be,

For I have learned this lesson

In Gross Anatomy:

 

In spite of all

The noble palaver,

It’s impossible to respect

A desiccated cadaver.

Dog Gone

 

Long gone Saisy (read and hear her elegy here)

When I teach poetry, I get technical, especially with meter, because to me the marriage of sound and sense is what alchemizes verse into poetry.   Over the years, trying to get students to replicate a line of iambic pentameter or anapestic trimeter, I’ve had them bopping bongos, rapping desktops with drumsticks, clapping their hands.

Frankly, rhythm doesn’t come naturally to many — if not the majority; nevertheless, I’ll continue to emphasize meter until the end of my career, which is just around the corner, almost within shouting distance.

With the six-month anniversary of Judy’s death approaching, I have been ever so slowly inventorying and eliminating. Going through some drawers yesterday, I ran across this twenty-year-old poem/parody I wrote as an answer to a student who asked after a session of metric hand clapping, “Is there such a thing as iambic monometer?” Right then and there, I composed an answer on the chalkboard (I believe it was still the age of slate and chalk, but I could be wrong).

That night in my drafty garret at the Isle of Palms, I typed the poem and went on an over-interpreting binge, which was probably bad pedagogy since most students believe that teachers read far too much into poems anyway, but I just couldn’t help myself. I had to justify the reason for anyone ever to write a poem in iambic monometer.

Without further ado, I present it to you here, the annotated version.  Read it and weep.


Yes, Preston Wendell, There Is Such a Thing as Iambic Monometer[1]

The old dog barks backward without getting up.

I can remember when he was a pup.

The fret-[2]

ful Dog

is dead

and gone.[3]


[1] Preston Wendell studied under Wesley Moore in 1996-7. Wendell’s question led to the genesis of the poem. The epigraph is from Frost’s “The Span of Life.” Obviously, the choice of iambic monometer and the resultant abbreviated lines with their clipped cadences offer a visual and auditory parallel to the relative brevity of a dog’s life.

[2] Cf. Macbeth 5.5 “Out, out brief candle/Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets (emphasis mine) his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more.”

[3] It was been pointed out that the approximate rhyme dog/gone, not only embodies the crux of the poem, but also may be taken as a minced oath bemoaning the transitory nature of life.


Now, let me remove tongue from cheek and put some whiskey there instead.

What My Horoscope Say

original painting by George Quaintance, photoshopped by I-and-I

 

 

Sagittarius, my name’s Wes. Half

Shetland pony, half man, half drunk,

Spunky, funky feetswise, street wise

Not so much. Hobbling on All Day IPA

Crutches, engaged to a duchess, a

Non bullshitter my horoscope say.

 

My horoscope say I promise more

than deliverable, say I so un-

diplo make Donald Trump

shiver with the faux pas machine

I be revving 24/7. A freedom craving

charming ass knave, it say.

 

But I know this cat born on the same day

who be ain’t at all like me, good at math,

half Chinese, don’t waste his time

pumping out faux funk, got good

teeth, non-nomadic, tactful, wrath

less, leave no mess, a Sagittarius?

 

Wonder what his horoscope say.

 

 

No Photo Survives

artist Martin Snipper

 

 

“Lordy, lordy,” my grandmama used to say,

and “over yonder” and “I swunny.” She was

fat and lazy and loving. Called me “Ducky Mo,”

 

played the piano at Sunday school, kept

her false teeth in a glass of water on

the bedside table, which I hated to see.

 

She liked it dark inside with the gas

heater going full blast, the dry heat

like an oven when you stepped

 

in the front door. She bruised easily,

my grandmama. She waddled, had silver

hair down to her waist, which she wore in

 

a bun. Cheap dresses. White cardigans.

In the hospital, the last time I saw her,

she looked terrible and terrified.

 

No photo of her survives.

 

A Hint of Autumn, Tea Olive Edition

tea olive

To my mind, one of the most delicious odors encountered in the Lowcountry is tea olive, which blooms both in the spring and autumn. Whenever I run across its fragrance, though, I turn melancholy. Even as a child before all this dying started, I’d associate tea olive – my Mama called it sweet olive – with ephemera, maybe because the smell of tea olive is fleeting, unlike, say, a gardenia, which you can practically huff and get high on.

It’s that time of year, the light a little richer, a bit more golden, “the maturing sun” Keats calls it in that amazing poem of his, where “barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day.”

Well, today there is at last a hint of autumn in the air. It seems as if in these latter days of the empire, summer has encroached upon both spring and autumn, swiping a bit from both, and, of course, down here on the coast we don’t get any of the brilliant colors we associate with fall, no bright yellow or orange or red leaves strewing the brooks. Come to think of it, speaking strictly, I don’t know if we have brooks down here. At least I’m pretty sure I’ve never run across a “babbling brook.”

Speaking of babbling, I ain’t got nothing to say except, “Hello, autumn. How about hanging out for at least a couple of days?

That and to lay a little Keats on you:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

 

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

 

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Judy Birdsong in Autumn

Written the Day after I Promised Someone She’d Never Catch Me Whining

the poet wearing shades indoors

 

The doomed young envy the old, the doomed old the dead young

                                   John Berryman “Dream Song 190”

 

The wind, is moaning like John Berryman on a bad day,

and my sunglasses have sneaked away somewhere.

There’s no sun to block, but they would be handy

to hide my eyes at the Piggly Wiggly where I’m headed.

 

“Blind men and [racial epithet plurals] are the only ones

who wear dark glasses indoors,” a stranger once said

to hatless redheaded me inside a mall where I be sporting Ray Bans.

 

I’ve upscaled in my prosperous baldheaded old age to Costas,

but the stranger should have added “mourners,”

or better yet, minded his own fucking business that day.

 

John Berryman

 

The Swashbuckling Syphilitic and the Jolly Drill Sergeant

 

blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein

 

The swashbuckling syphilitic looks a little like

a walrus with that mustache of his.

 

The jolly drill sergeant is, of course, clean-shaven,

close-cropped, and he barks his orders like a ramrod ringmaster.

“Step right up and burnish that brass!”

 

The swashbuckling syphilitic and the jolly drill sergeant

don’t see eye-to-eye. “God is dead,” cries the former.

“I must have missed the obituary,” chuckles the latter.

 

“Gaze into the abyss,” intones the syphilitic,

“but don’t lean too far over,” warns the drill sergeant.

 

“Whoever does not have a good father . . . ”

“What’s done is done.”

 

The jolly drill sergeant

Puts his hand on the syphilitic’s shoulder.

 

“Enough of this nonsense.

The Shnapps’s on me.”

 

“Alcohol, like Christianity, intoxicates!”

“Okay, okay, forget it,” says the jolly drill sergeant.

 

And so they go their separate ways,

neither one the wiser.