Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Tenacity of Secrets

—Poems and Original Artwork by Joyce Odam, Sacramento, CA


It doesn’t mean she didn’t think about it—
walking home with the stranger who

had shared an hour with her in the
coffee shop—two casual moments—

sharing time—and that it was cold,
and had been raining—only an

interesting detail of the story—
he was so courteous, a little bit sad, 

and she was restless, with a sadness
of her own, and their voices

intermingled in the clear night air,
their slow footsteps sounding

in unison on the wet sidewalk,
and at the corner he held her elbow

as she stepped down, and she looked
at him sideways, and you could almost

read her thoughts, and her smile
was the smile of someone who had

made a careful decision, and they said
goodnight, and there was no ending.



going back against the dark
passing the murdered birds and
the five mad willows
I wept as well as I could
and saw the landscape lessen

and I who looked for markings
instead of trusting to my skill
wondered why days
pull backward into night

I never meant to tell
the deep-eyed stranger what this meant
all men are guilty
pointing out a finger
as if they knew

new birds are limping through the air
coughing out sad !hear me!
from their height

I hug the trees for love
they’re lonely too
and tired and blemished in their life

and here’s the turn I took
I read the sign
nailed to a rotting post
someone has used it for a target
but the words don’t hurt

the arrow is without error
it says it all again—
it always knows
the only way to go


Your drama—all wrong,
in the dark light of memory—

filtered through time
with its tearings,

how you showered
then lay on the bed

with the pistol
under your chin,

and you went on and on
with your dry, crying words

and the window curtains
blew softly in

from the open window
in the late afternoon breezes

of summer
and the city noises droned past

and everything seemed normal,
and I stood there, not wanting

to stay,
not wanting to go

from the room,
just waiting there,

holding my breath
through your breathing.



And we were young and bent on suicide, but friends
dissuaded us—took our hands and ran us along the
beaches—all summer, teasing the waves and watching
the white gulls come down among us—as if they were
tame. But these are lies, of course. I need your attention.
I need you to hold me from what might have been true
if I had known you. Is that why we had no faces—only
those white masks—stark and featureless so no one
would know us, though we cried to be known; is that
how we became anonymous? Where were you then—
my imaginary one—were you on your way to impor-
tant appointments—famous and aloof—could I have
touched you?


the nostalgia
of certain dreams
of certain plans not followed . . .

the safe illusion
of hindsight
where everything is perfect . . .

the lament of wrong-doing
of failed chances
of foolish decisions . . .

the losing of forgivers
who can never find you
who are not looking for you . . .

the easy flow toward regret
like birds off a black cliff
above a blacker sea . . .

(first pub. in Calliope, 1991)



How will I know light
if my eyes cannot open ?

I feel a warmth on my face…
I cannot tell...   I might be wrong…

if I open my eyes to darkness with
nothing to assuage my certainties . . . .



Here’s where
     two of a kind met and
          discussed their differences.

You’re a silly old man,
     she laughed, and he showed her
          his dark and beautiful poems.

His eyes pooled
     and his voice spoke tears.
          You’re a silly old man, she said.


I could say of these vines that they are tangled, cannot be
solved, that one should not enter them; they are fastened
to the earth in knots, choking their own spaces. They are
complicated—like puzzles—looking for straightness and
upwardness, or how to avoid those directions.

And they are strong, growing thick with their struggle—
as muscular as cats. They possess the place they are at with
the tenacity of secrets, or changeability. You cannot step
through them, unless you be as small as insects are, or
moisture made of gray drizzle, or are as bodiless as breezes.

And vines are very slow and dark; they are forever changing
their mind, or trying out new decisions—such are the thoughts
of vines, coiling as slow as centuries, curving all over them-
selves in a sort of sensuality—like a slow writhe of serpents
in some rare goldness—not knowing which of them is the
one they are.



Everything is tilted now—this law; this life;
this patient flaw; this red bottle of perfume
leaning to the lamplight; this string of fallen

Oh, things gone wrong—the emptiness is
full—of dragging time, of speeding time—
the emptiness is all.


What can be taken back
from time so poorly spent?

Today’s wounds were bloodless,
mostly all the small vexations:

things left undone,
half-hearted undertakings,

indecisions—nothing big enough
to mention, just the usual

waste of time, with time so dear.
What holds life so relentlessly?

The circles one goes round in
when the mind is plagued

with fret and worries,
let alone the hurries that jam up,

slow down,
refuse to make good use of time;

the wrong directions made;
the morning energies all wasted;

the usual naps in the afternoon
when effort slows and you realize

that tomorrow will be filled
with today’s procrastinations.



What is this affirmation made of doubt,
all contradiction and page-turning
of ideas and simple philosophy?

Now is the right time
for everything to evolve,
the only sharp edge of decision to allow.

One window looks out on the confusion,
harsh winds tearing at the glass, leaves
and birds struggling in the gusts of winter.

How long before shadows lie quietly again
on the ground, like whispering, like murmuring,
held in retrospect to fill the now with such consoling.

After “The Shore” (postcard) by Lewis H. Siegel

Trying to make sense
out of wrong perspective:

a bird flying over the moon
a sailfish flying in the sky,

a huge red rose becoming
a monument,

a red shell, and a blue shell,
and a rock guard their fossils.

Blue is blue here,
even through the gray,

the shore is totally benign.
Why describe this. It is nowhere,

Once there were stirrings—
had life—

were not yet made of memory.
Someone told me this.



Now you must do a slow dance
upon your reflection—
a slow dance for the rain
that has left such a shimmering.

Or you must stand in perfect stillness
and look down into your image
that waits for you to step back
to realize how important
such choosing is.

You could lose yourself here—
somehow release
one self
from the other
by a mere decision
of thought that is not yet
ready to give up such power.

You must make
the first disconnection.

But even then
you hesitate at the choice
between resistance and surrender.

So you choose the dance,
and your sad reflection must dance, too.


(a Cornish Sonnet)

I wonder if I’ll ever learn the way.
I wonder if the way will ever change.
Just fold the map. It might be fun to stray—

not know if I’ll get lost, if night will fall
on wilderness, the landscape dark and strange,
with underbrush through which no one can crawl,

through dirt roads with no signs—no center line.
I guess I’m not a wanderer after all,
content now with a place already mine:

my wants all settled for, if not exact:
windows, roof, and door—and on the wall,
a Blessings Sampler. Everything intact . . .

yet wonder if I’ll ever learn the way
through dirt roads with no signs—no center line.


Today’s LittleNip:

—Joyce Odam

There is something called fate.
People fear it. Or bless it,
according to their experience.

Fate is useful to use in place of
reason, or explanation,
or any responsibility

for decision. It is always
fate. It is only fate.
Fate willed it.


Our thanks to Joyce Odam for today’s wonderful exploration of decisions, right or wrong, fated or not. Our new Seed of the Week is an ekphrastic one:   

 —Anonymous Photo

See what you can come up with about this photo, and then send your poems, photos and artwork about this (or any other) subject to kathykieth@hotmail.com. No deadline on SOWs, though, and for a peek at our past ones, click on “Calliope’s Closet”, the link at the top of this column, for plenty of others to choose from.

This just in: This Saturday, Ana Castillo, who will be offering a workshop and a reading on Sunday, will be offering a meet-and-greet, short talk and book signing at Sol Collective, 2574 21st St., Sacramento from 6-7pm. Info: www.facebook.com/events/373159576410601/. 

And Taylor Graham and Katy Brown will facilitate a poetry workshop this coming Sunday, Capturing Wakamatsu, in Placerville, 2-4pm. Info and reg. information: www.arconservancy.org/event/capturing-wakamatsu-poetry-workshop-2/.

Joyce's "Not Really a Flip-Coin Decision" above is a Cornish Sonnet. At the same time as travelers were inventing the courts and introducing the sonnet form to England, France and Spain, traders in the southern ports of England were also bringing in their own forms of poetry. These forms consisted of hybrid poetry influenced by those Arab traders who plied their trade with the ports along the Mediterranean and the tin mines of Cornwall. It is only natural that they would come into contact with the sonnet form and in time come up with a fusion of that form. this sonnet form is similar to the hybrid poetry that emerged from that part of the world. If you'd like to try one, the form consists of two, three couplets stanzas and a refrain made up of the first line of each stanza: A  b.  a  c.  b.  c. ….   D.  e.  d.  f.  e.  f…  A.  D.


 Celebrate poetry!

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