Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Words to You

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento, CA


It’s not as if a sob can tear your throat
the way glass can shatter in a hand
or lies from a mouth of words.

You know the difference.
Constrict that urge. Turn it into a laugh,
one that is sharp and full of danger.

Madness holds
for the moment it takes
to switch from one rage to another.

Let go the tender thought
for one more bitter.
Life is a scar—and so is love.

Remember this lesson.
Look how the searchlight tears the wall,
looking for you, crumpled now,

moon fallen into your eyes,
the night gone blank,
the room too small to hold you.



He throws his net out
over the cluttered air of night.

His body strains forward;
it gleams in the moonlight.

He catches dreams and worries,
he catches terrors and dyings.

His back is turned to us.
He does not know we are watching.

He does not know we fill his skies
so his net will never be empty.  

(first pub. in Muse of Fire Broadside 2:3, 1997)


I cannot describe the place except for the
arched doorway with the fringed awning,
and an iron railing to a small slanted stairway
that curved into a blank wall, and a car that
was parked by the curb. I think it was raining;
the streets were shimmery, and a figure made
of wet shadow brushed by me and went inside.

The car settled into its waiting and fastened to
its reflection. The white wall-face of the building
was streaked with old rain and a wet gray light
that faded deeper into it. The street seemed to
end here—a dead-end place with no further
turnings and no one to ask where I was.

I think I was cold. The building stayed dark.
The doorway did not open again. I stood for a
long time and listened to the soft falling of the
rain and tried to memorize the feeling of this place
that had shifted forward in time—or I had shifted
backward into it—I’m not sure which was real.



Mind in muse:
summer by the sea,
a rented cottage,

music pouring out the door—
our young excuse for being careless
with the long sweet days;

the way we squandered them to life,
like summer’s driftwood
on that changing shore.


I will take the sad earth of myself
and make a poem.

Hear me.
Speak me well.
Arrange me in lines of sound.
Your eyes will know when to pause.

I will be hills
and more hills.
I will be
bleak weather
and go barren of everything.

I will be
desert stretches of emphasis.
No map will cure me.
I will not come to an end when I am done.

I will begin again,
I will begin again.

(first pub. in Parting Gifts)



Imploring them,     repeating them,
becoming intimate with their meanings,

though that is not important to know.
I want,    I need,   

their texture—
their silent directives.

Old muse of me
hurts to want so much of them,

thinking them necessary to use for language:
that precision,    that tone,      that undertone.

after Russian Impressionism (works by twenty-two academy
trained master Russian Artists of the past and present)

She is the center—her own muse—
her hands on her lap, her face in a stare.
Memories rest in layers around her:
the closed distance of her mother,
the mute presence of her father;
the attentive white cat on the lap
of an ancestor—seven lives ago.
She feels herself merge,
tries to pull away,
but the past has got her:

the visions swirl:
the old house she lived in,
the murmuring linger of vanished voices,
the thick scent of flowers in heavy vases,
the road of tall trees down to the lake,
the old cabin on the eroding bank,
the drift of summers,
the place where it snowed—
the polished fruit on the polished table
back to the present room that fits around her.



The Old Ones tell how she would come to them,
with stories of despair, then she would
fade from them like dreams they dreamed.

She left a trail of fears that they got lost upon,
her omens—their belief—became the laws
that everyone obeyed.  They were afraid.

They named villages after her, though versions
blurred; they whispered blessings to each other,
whispered superstitions of their own, whispered
warnings to instruct the next, in case she heard.

(first pub. in No Name Newsletter for Poets, 1993) 

(after The Painter and His Muse by Alan Feltus)

She is impervious—as always—to his far-off stare
and his blank canvas and his need to create her—
though she seems real and ready to be created;
he can feel her there—beside him—in the light
that is just right and the need that is so fertile . . .

but this is a tragedy: his face shows it: her self-
absorption proves it—she does not even know
why she waits for him to find her.  She holds
the right moment back—as always—musing on
those times when she was ready and he ignored her.



I cannot find words for you—you
of mute language—keeper of silence,
textureless against texture.

Leaves drift around you from
another page. Are they words?
You watch them fall.

The air is blank, like a white sky.
You are only a drawing.
I love your perfection.

The next page will turn you over.
I will not turn the page, you are
the keeper of what I want to know.

The words that seem to know you
are jealous words.
I cannot get past them.

I want to write over them,
leave you there
without the words of another.

You refuse
my writing of you,
will not help me.

You hold a small book,
tightly closed.
Is that where you keep yourself?


my muse,

I love you not

You have been cruel.
I have been unkind.

And we
have been

unfaithful to each other
all this time;

and we have been

more times
than close.

And yet
(we brood)

if love
demands so much,

why covet

(first pub. in Portland Oregonian)

Today’s LittleNip:

—Joyce Odam

Poet will stop here—will look down road
with long hard look. What here does bode
with word held back—does dark muse goad?
Poor poet. Dark mind. Lost word. Lost code.


—Medusa, with hearty thanks to Joyce Odam for today’s fine fare!

 April is National Poetry Month!