Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson 1949-2017

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Any true poem should offer its reader paths through thought and intuition toward an altered awareness of his or her own life. I want my poems to speak directly to the reader. At the same time, I hope they complicate the thinking of anyone who reads them. My poems are out of a desire to ask questions, not to supply answers."

Steve Orlen
1942-2010

******************

THE TOOTHBRUSH

I’m trying to remember you without nostalgia
thieving your words and hoarding them
because all that I’m getting is the toothbrush
you carried in a mug every day
down the corridor heading for the men’s room
to commit a small act of resistance
against breakdown.

I always laughed:
you have the best hygiene of anyone
in the department, which was a joke
because the stink of cigarettes
surrounded you like the fry oil
of a prep cook. Still something like
tenderness inhered in the mug
and its rigid little daisy.

Here’s how we met: me on job interview
fresh from New England trying
not to sweat in desert heat,
you after friendly dinner with Gail
and studio tour and poetry talk
driving me downtown in some big junk car
with no AC saying Barrio Hollywood
and Hotel Congress and the Shanty.

Then came the test: the story about a whore
in Nogales who had a spider web
tattooed around her pussy. I’m sure that
was the word—offense was the point
and I understood implicit was the question
does your poetry trump your politics?

This was in those years when women
were correcting men as if sex
were a policy that could be rewritten
in a pencil stroke. I passed, laughing it off:
Oh my god you’re kidding that’s incredible.
A poet can find wonder anywhere
and I did wonder how strong a woman
had to be to take that kind of pain.

Here’s how we said goodbye: I came
to visit you, the nurse recalibrating
your drip as you asked, have I got any time?
And you, thumbs down, facing it.
I saw you catch your breath
hand to throat beneath the black t-shirt,
some event the hand would contain,
some moment of self-consolation,
like air was alien.

Aurelie called it
the weird majesty of death
that had come over all of us,
people gathering
in a circle, each face
reorganizing itself through
the eyes of another’s grief
as if to be animated
were to violate the pure encroachment
of the inanimate.

There was a kiss,
me walking you to the bathroom
and then to bed where you lay
in shuttered afternoon light,
others in the room, whatever privacy
once meant it meant no longer
and you seemed nothing but
this invitation to tenderness.

And what kiss was this—not familial peck,
not lovers’ open-mouthed encroachment,
not parental seal of approval but
the mouth opened by the final
so quiet need to say
there is nothing between us
that needs to be cleaned away.

Alison Hawthorne Deming
January 2011

Poet, teacher, friend.


Steve, You will be sorely missed.
We will carry your words with us ~

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Cave of Angelfish Huddle Against the Moon

Put an ear to the light at fall
of dark and you will hear
nothing. This pale luminescence
that drifts in upon them
makes a blue bole of their caves,
a scare of their scything
tails. They tell
in the bubbling dark of images
that come in upon them
when light spreads like an oil slick
and sea fans
that once were their refuge
turn away.
Now there is no dark
dark enough for their silver tails,
scatter of color
(like coins massively
piling in the lap of a miser)
that was, in the day, their pride.
How hugely here we belong.
This is their song
in the silting
drift of the reef.
They have never seen the moon
nor the black scut of night, stars
spread like plankton
in their beastly infinities.

Ron De Maris

*****************************
(Micah wrote about going to hear President Obama speak in Tucson on January 12, 2011)

I went to hear the president speak with my dad. He talked about the the six people who died from the shooting. One of the most important things he told us what that Gabby opened her eyes! That made me feel happy. He talked about Christina and how she died. I felt sad. Barack Obama got to speak the longest, that made me feel good.

I knew one of the people that got shot. His name is Ron Barber. My mom worked with Gabby at the university.

Afterwards, lots of people were outside looking for Obama’s limousine.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To The New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

W. S. Merwin

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pericardium

Am I not alone, as I thought I was, as I thought
The day was, the hour I walked into, morning
When I felt night fly from my chest where prospect had
Slackened, and close itself off, understanding, as I thought I did,
That the ground would resist my legs and not let them
Break nor let them be released into air as my heart, in its
Muscle, might be released from the body that surrounds it,
Like someone who, placing a hand on a shoulder's
Blade, felt a life move inside an hour and a day
Break from the day the hour meant something more than weakness,
More than fear, and flew forward into the depths of
Prospect, your arms, where you'd been, before me, waiting
For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.

Joanna Klink

*************

Choose

THE single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
Choose:
For we meet by one or the other.

Carl Sandburg

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year’s Day

The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.
The few loves I’ve been allowed

to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia

I walk across the fields with only
a few young cows for company.

Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember

from junior high, who never
spoke, who kept their heads

lowered and their arms crossed against
their new breasts. Those girls

are nearly forty now. Like me,
they must sometimes stand

at a window late at night, looking out
on a silent backyard, at one

rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls
of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons
and cry hard for whoever used

to make them happiest,
and wonder how their lives

have carried them
this far without ever once

explaining anything. I don’t know
why I’m walking out here

with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up

with a mild sucking sound
I like to hear. I don’t care

where those girls are now.
Whatever they’ve made of it

they can have. Today I want
to resolve nothing.

I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,
and lift my face to it.

Kim Addonizio