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spacer.gif
spacer.gif   CHICAGO POETRY: AN ONLINE ANTHOLOGY
Posted by : cj on Saturday, August 04, 2007 - 02:04 PM
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Poetry:  Click On The Author's Name .
If you are looking for a poetry publishing opportunity, click here.


Click Here for info. about the award ceremony.

ChicagoPoetry.com is proud to announce the winners of the 2007 Big Summer Poetry Contest. Out of all the entries, twenty-three poems were selected as finalists to be included in this online anthology; out of these twenty-three finalists, five poets in each category were selected to receive Honorable Mentions and three poets were chosen to win the cash prizes. To review the rules of the contest, click here.


* * * * * AND THE WINNERS ARE * * * * *



CATEGORY ONE: POETRY ABOUT CHICAGO

$100 WINNER

CYNTHIA GALLAHER


Winning Poem


Lucky Man Café

Noon and the men sitting here
on Milwaukee Avenue
feel lucky,
eating at the Lucky Man Café,
maybe that’s why they
strolled in anyway.

Lucky, in this city
of Polish promise,
second only to Warsaw,
where on every lunch plate,
each pierogi appears a pillow
of back-home comfort,
a savory springboard to another chance
for men steps from the port of entry.

And lucky, me,
the only woman,
in this bright place,
with patrons polite and
respectful as uncles,
the owner asks
for my order in Polish
as if I were family.

Lucky, how he still sees a pastoral Poland
my grandparents broke root from,
now planted somewhere behind my eyes,
dished visions and force fed
high speed culture
from both coasts,
tumbled together in a Midwest stew.

Lucky, maybe this is the lucky hour,
for men who bear names of cabbages,
who won’t ever become kings,
but perhaps artists.

Lucky, when two strong arms
can join limber legs not only
in night club desirable dances,
but flex profitable in daylight hours
at tomorrow’s worktables.

Lucky, when illegal,
to find friendly streets of familiars,
and multi-blocks of mixtures
to get lost in,
who won’t ask questions,
while trusting those who know answers
to keep silent in your own language.

Lucky, to those of
underground reputation as
hard workers, good mechanics,
with diamond-in-the-rough handyman skills
that fire up when
factory chimneys cool,
to renovate and rent three flats.

Lucky, even when you don’t yet own
a coat to cover your thick-sweatered back,
to own a seat for an hour,
in a place you might dream
in slices of tomorrow,
in a place with lots of elbow room
for new notions
and plenty of ears to share
uncharted and singular chantings.

To own a seat for an hour,
to warm your world for an hour,
in a place that says it all,
lunch at the Lucky Man.



After careful review of the entries, ChicagoPoetry.com announces that there is a tie for the position of Category 2 Winner. Winners will split the $100 prize money and receive $50 each.


CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

$50 WINNER

PIOTR BEHR


Winning Poem


            What Kind of Poem Will I Write Today?

            Who can tell?
            What kind of poem will I write today?
            A poèm or a po ¯me
            A snippet or a tome?
            One which rhymes,
            Or one which...doesn't?

            Should I be hip and simple,
            Like I've tried so far,
            Or pretentious and obscure,
                                soliloquizing on
                                great abstracts
                                while i attempt
                                punc-
                                tuationalistic &
                                ortho-
graphic
                                                                                                                          feats?

            Or will I ramble densely,
            The sea shore foaming dreamily
            At my blind feet, like a giant creature
            Beached by excess of metaphor and simile?

            Will I be crude and fucking raw?
            Will I be conversational, man?

            Will I try meter for my verse?
            Thought I wrote my last sonnet in high school...

            ˘   ´ ˘  ´   ´ ˘   ´  ˘  ´  ˘
            At least I could try to rhyme a couplet.
            ˘  ´   ˘   ´   ´   ˘       ´      ´  ˘
            But wait, an iamb's unstressed-stressed, dammit!

            I can rule my paper,
            Staff-wise,
            Write a tone poem—
            Hopefully not
            A drone poem.

            Haiku may suit me; (5)
            The moment is calm, peaceful. (7)
            Hey, how's it going? (5)

            What? Oh, nothing,
            Just a friend passing by.
            Perhaps I'm not ready
            To write a poem today,
            Not ready to look intently
            As words slide down my pen
            And dance about on paper.
            Instead I'll just wander off,
            My task never decided.

            What kind of poem will I write today?
            No, wrong question—
            What kind of poem will I live first?

            Chicago
            Spring 2006





CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

$50 WINNER

RUAN WRIGHT


Winning Poem



                                            thought-fish

                                          out of the mire
                                 your mind draws me
                                           till I’m reeling
                                                 wriggling
                                  like a fish on a pole
    a spavined sprat   or a mundane minnow
            sometimes     a fabulous angelfish
   knocking you out with my fibulous wings
                                                 my silver
                                                  my blue
                                                  my rose

oh                                                    
but you’re intellectual                         
and I am dumb to                              
confound you                                    
o p e n   my  m o u t h                        
gag   breathless                                 
your rarefied air                                  

you think                                           
                                                      I feel
you let me go                                     
so                                                      
                                                      I will

                                                I’ll return
              in a flurry of color and fins, flash
                                       into your mind
                                              dive there
                   splash your dun brown walls
                                                   indigo
                                           aquamarine
                                              and gold!




* * * * * HONORABLE MENTIONS AND FINALISTS * * * * *



CATEGORY ONE: POETRY ABOUT CHICAGO

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: DANIEL CLEARY


Division Street

There, for a while, the world burst forth in song.
It briefly seemed that nothing could go wrong.
Such sad reversals as were found elsewhere
By some strange alchemy were not found there.
We woke each morning to a lordly sun
That crowned our glory till his course had run
And he gave way to the mysterious night
That shone with every kind of colored light.
Never stopping traffic moved to and fro
On that exalted street we used to know
And music poured out over each window ledge
As if it would have made a rainbow bridge
To things we yet had no conception of.
We were in love or soon to be in love



CATEGORY ONE: POETRY ABOUT CHICAGO

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: STEVEN HAMMOND


Art Kids

Art kids have traced our charcoal figures
over which we now swing, dance,
as children of the future,
children of the moment coexisting, belonging,
to all things in an instant
like a paper mache snail.

The Lake wind blowing through our lives
is unlike any other.
Happy with the art kids—
lying in the middle of Michigan Avenue:
watching the clouds ooze by.



CATEGORY ONE: POETRY ABOUT CHICAGO

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: ROBERT K. QUINLIVAN


The Great Chicago Fire

Mrs. O'Leary's cow didn't kick over a lantern.
It was me, driving north on Michigan Avenue
four beers begging my shoulders slump, sag, lie
down by an Ikea-bought TV stand, pupils
wide and wandering pixel to pixel. Three weeks later,
five miles away, you met the front of a Cadillac, sides torn open
with rusted wounds, repainted twice, blue and red and black
chipped apart into confetti, femur in fourths, the driver's head
gurgling with the torture of tonic and vodka, eyes too lolling with green grain-lust
to tell the light was red.
Edging elbows on the hospital linens at Evanston,
my mind recalls the nights Prometheus granted me fire on the breath
bruised liver bleeding as I headed home down the Eisenhower
burning the tired city behind me, an oldies station struggling against static.



CATEGORY ONE: POETRY ABOUT CHICAGO

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: D. R. PECORE


The Rape of Lake Michigan

After Alice Notley

Lake Michigan curls groaned, when Sun nudges her as Dawn approaches. She said to herself, “Is it that time already” She stretches and the docks creak, aching under her pressure.

Sky looks down upon her with lust, as Sun turns her body of water into a blushing pink. He sends a message with the Wind, how lovely she looks in the A. M. light and then proceeds to tell Lake how much he wants to sock it to her.

Lake is aghast at his boldness; she is jarred awake at his crudeness, raising a huge wave in defiance. It is like giving Sky the middle finger, Lake thinks.

Sky hears her thoughts and blows tender kisses and caresses her waves, tells her “I just couldn’t help myself; your awesome beauty overwhelms me. Oh dear Lake, the peaks and valleys of your waves tempt me, their froth entice me, and the constant changing marine blues, sea weed greens, and gunboat grays cause me to go out of my mind with hunger for you.

Lake enjoys his praise of her so much, she raises one eye open and says to him, “Wind brings your sweet message, but there is no hope for us, we are two separate, both of different elements. I see no future for our union.”

Sky does not take no for an answer. He whips up some cumulonimbus clouds and becomes dark and threatening, working into a super cell. Sun hides behinds his clouds.

Lake Michigan remains mute.

This only angers Sky to the utmost, taking the clouds to new highs, he rails and then lets loose with a bombardment of golf ball size hail, frozen hard as nails. Wind screams of Sky’s passion, dark angry Sky proclaims, as the hail penetrates quiet Lake, “Love hurts, don’t it baby?” as he gets his way with her.

I turn to my dog, Apache, and say, “Damn it, stop that, I want to sleep,” as he licks my face. He stops and sits on my head. “Alright—alright I will let you out. God I am sore all over,” I groan. “Did you beat me up last night while I slept? I feel lumpy.”

I let Apache back in (its cold outside, in the low teens and he is done quickly, not a stupid mutt,) and decide to nuzzle the covers a little longer, falling quickly back to nod land.

Lake responds to this cold attack with a frozen face, not a word to Sky. Lake thanks god it is winter as she turns to Ice. He melts for Lake. Ice heals her liquid heart.



CATEGORY ONE: POETRY ABOUT CHICAGO

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: DIANE CONMY


Wreaths

The Friday after Thanksgiving;
a bustle of activity
And I walk alone in a city of millions to the stone steps where a line is already forming.

The ladders flank the lion guards as
enormous wreaths are lifted by many hands
in order to circle each of the stone necks,
christening the season, ’official’ by this placement.

As the cue is given, the children’s’ choir tilt their voices upward-
as to sprinkle songs down
like snow on those who have gathered
for this annual event.

The wreathing of the lions
and the voices of the children serve to move me deeply,
and I haven’t a chance to escape without tears.
I snap photos all around me through salt stained eyes.




CATEGORY ONE: POETRY ABOUT CHICAGO

FINALIST: CYNTHIA GALLAHER


Mail Box Turf

"I’m a box banger"--John Gomez, Postal Mechanic

The oldest mailbox
I banged back into shape
was from 1959, the year I was born.
This is how I do it;
first remove the old decals,
bang out any dents with a rubber mallet,
install new locks,
sand and prepare the box
for spray paint, and
when it’s dry,
put on new decals,
and I’m done.

Sometimes I work "body shop,"
sometimes I play "chicken," pecking through
what’s left of damaged bundles of mail,
other times, it’s out on the street,
usually on the most furnace-blaster hot
or crunching-stiff cold days,
me, another guy,
and six or so repaired boxes
standing together in a truck,
straight knuckle bones of a fist,
ready to knock out
the rotten teeth of the neighborhood,
the ones all loose and wrecked
and graffitied up.

On corners, we exchange them,
blue jack-in-the-boxes
that may surprise us the next time we see them,
and each twisted one we pick up seems to
burst with a new breed of confusion,
but as long as letter boxes
stay the targets of aggression,
I keep doing what I’m doing.

I cover a lot of territory,
from Niles and East River Road
down to Alsip and Hegewisch,
we’re talking 50 miles?
And I’d peg 47th and State, Cottage Grove
or the Englewood areas as the worse
places to pick up a box,
where every fireplug, lamp post, street sign
and letter box stands as a totem of authority
to battle and subdue.

When it comes to vandalism,
the high school guys
are the worst offenders,
graffiti, the number one problem
in the Latino areas,
where cryptic letters temporarily
mimic lost civilizations,
that live on more boldly
in high cheekbones,
long noses, black hair,
colors of culture that cling to them,
a genetic spray paint that sticks around
long after the boxes
are washed over in standard blue.

I’ve seen a box hit so hard by a car
it crashed through the window
of a currency exchange;
I had to retrieve it from inside.

Certain boxes seem bent on self-destruction,
especially in winter, where slippery spots
force cars to slides into boxes like magnets.
I went to one location
where a box was reported missing,
only to cross the street
and find its pieces along the curb.

I’ve retrieved boxes doused in gasoline
and set to burning,
others have been wriggled with wrenches
that turned like magic wands on lug bolts,
pushing cold steel into backs of station wagons,
driven to invisible destinations.

One box was found floating in Lake Michigan,
and like a message in a bottle,
a solitary letter from Columbus, Ohio,
was found inside.

We’ve lent boxes to the movie guys
to use as props,
boxes already in bad shape
were lined up for a Bill Murray movie,
when stunt men just ran ‘em down
flat as film on the cutting room floor.

Love letters

Every Valentine’s Day has at least one mailbox massacre,
bags full of destroyed mail land on my worktable,
scorched letters with scorching messages,
their smoky wrappers tinged in pink and red,
envelopes covered in lipstick kisses
along with powder burns,
cards smelling of perfume and soot,
and what broken codes our office can’t piece together
and send on towards waiting sweethearts
in plastic wrap like body bags,
never do reach their destinations,
instead, I pull half-baked hugs and cut-off kisses
toward myself,
gestures that seem to say,
it’s hard to deliver
true love on these streets.

Inside out

I’ve found everything
in those mailboxes,
the aftermath of lit M-80s
shredding crates of mail,
I sometimes see real faces through the touch and smell
of burnt messages, lost forever;
it’s my job to discard
the empty crack vials,
the mail drenched in Coca-Cola and ice cream;
I’ve seen dumped acid
burn like fiery shouts through a box’s bottom.

When local dumpsters are full,
kids turn to mailboxes
as garbage cans--
final gas bills stuck to Fudgsicle wrappers,
greasy popcorn boxes
filled with lacy invitations
to quinceñeras,
mixing up and short circuiting messages
to the point
we take the boxes off school corners.

I’ve seen boxes shot with 357 Magnums,
the smaller caliber guns just dent them up,
but a high-powered rifle will
shoot clean through;
usually the mail sits so low
there’s no damage from bullets.

I hear the box bangers in Texas
and Arizona find lots of exotic snakes
curling out wildly when they open the doors,
but here under the narrow gray stare
that winter casts over Chicago,
especially over mailboxes,
there’s a simple beauty in the meager treasure
of pennies and rocks from kids,
the occasional cat dead or alive.


The Leprechaun from Blue Island Avenue
Who Dyed the River Green

                "Methinks my own soul must be a bright invisible green."
                                                            --Thoreau


He’d touch one magic crystal
to a bucket of water,
and there brimmed Ireland,
greener than a sheep’s hill in spring.

Instead of chasing rainbows
he pulled the brightest green ribbon
    from the one arching across
State Street from the lake,
and wove wet edges of downtown Chicago
to a new tradition,
a new passion for the river;
bolted to the architecture with bridges,
this wide, wet meander, until today,
as plain as the weathered deck of a barge.

A new tradition, too,
receiving another father
after losing a St. Patrick’s Day dad
years before,
a new father,
who crawled into the world
on the back of a crab,
who mixed drinks
in his father’s Prohibition tavern
on Blue Island Avenue,
whipping red grenadine with ice
    into Pink Ladies--
lining up shots & beers with his eyes closed,
swirling crème de menthe and leaf sprigs
into long Mint Juleps.

Years later, nurses pinned
a fresh shamrock
to my March son’s receiving blanket
the day I took him home.

But way back,
in our knotty pine rec room,
the tequila sunrises
    tumbled in on themselves
    like lava lamps,
made by a man
who thrilled to entertain with jiggers of fluids
and colors and shaved ice
for all our wedding, communion and even funeral guests.
Who else could it have been
to send out the speedboats
like crazed blenders
    into the Chicago River,
dumping bags of orange crystals
that exploded into its other,
churning up a new wardrobe
for the clang, clang,
workingman’s river
until now, clad in railroad overalls,
the river that found itself
wearing one long leprechaun sleeve
in time for the parade.

He crawled into the world
on the back of a crab,
and left in the balance,
and every Mid-March,
I glance down from
my glass-lined lookout,
I see the gum-white Wrigley Building
and the Tinker-toyed Marina City,
I see the frilly floats line up along Wacker Drive,
I see the boatswains and bridgetenders
    and bags of dye,
    and the swirl of water
    under outboard motors
as if he were standing there still,
along cement docks,
reciting the formula.

And even after traffic
begins to roar its way out
from the city,
the river glows still,
a more brilliant green at twilight,
curving at my feet
into a perfect smile,
a reverse rainbow,
the pots of gold in three places
leprechauns never look,
mid-March, a time to let the past go,
the lost map of my blood father,
a time to look to the future
growth of my son,
and a time made new every year
by a man
more a father than my real father,
more magician than barsman
    from a Blue Island.



CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: CAROLYN PAPROCKI


Writing the Poem is Fighting the Dragon

You have to grip that poem in your hands
And wrestle it to the ground,
Tangle with it in a sweat,
Contorting lines like arms
Around its back,
Shaking it like the muscle of a snake
Twitching on the floor
As you grapple with it.

Then upheaval;
You on the bottom and the poem on top,
The flesh and ferocity claw to a peak
As you punch Paradise in its face,
Breathe the devilish flame in its cheeks,
And make it leap with a wail
To shake the Universe.



CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: BETH STAAS


A Poem Stillborn

It was planned, you see,
conceived in sweat and passion,
then nurtured and fed
by words like stars and springtime,
their lissome sounds rippling forth
in joyful affirmation
of the Ultimate.

It was to grow and take form,
the lines angular and striking
or curved in enjambment,
the phrases a dancing trochaic
or an iambic parade
ascending Olympus
to embrace the Muse.

But the phonemes resisted
and buzzed, whirred and ring-rang
without rhyme or reason
while letters morphed into meters
of hexa- and penta- or steadfast spondee
helter-skelter
where no feet belonged.

So the ode became an elegy,
for after prolonged labor
it was delivered, limp and voiceless,
an image of nothing
but one moment of glory
and deceptive delight.



CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: SUSAN SPAETH CHERRY


TRYING TO WRITE ON A SNOWY EVENING

This page is blank as wintertime,
As wordless as a pantomime.
The Muse won't pay a visit here
To fill this paper up with rhyme.

I pray that she will soon appear
And whisper genius in my ear
Before my pride begins to ache
And tell me not to persevere.

I know I'm not a Frost or Blake
But like to think I'm not a fake
versemaker. Yet I'm now knee-deep
In whiteness, frigid and opaque.

A window's here. I'd like to leap,
But there are anapests to reap
And iambs to sow before I sleep,
And iambs to sow before I sleep.


OFFERING

Poetry makes nothing happen.
            --W.H. Auden


This one's for you, the people
who don't read poetry,
who don't have time to read at all,
who may not even know how to read.

I see you when I buy a TV.
You are uncrating metal desks,
using your back instead of your knees.
You will never visit a chiropractor.

I see you when I stare out the window
in search of an elusive rhyme.
You are cutting my neighbor's grass,
conversing in a language I,
a master of language, cannot understand.

I see you from the podium
as I read my latest creation aloud.
You are mopping the bookstore floor.

I wish my stanzas could buy your children
winter coats, could free you from needing
to work on the Sabbath. But in your world,
poetry makes nothing happen,

so although I've said this one's for you,
both of us know it's really for me.



CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

FINALIST WITH HONORABLE MENTION: LAURIE SLICER


Poets and Physics 101

Poets make
Lousy lab partners
Their science already
Assumes chaos
From bit to iota
Pole to pole
Depicted with magnetism
Lurid by gravity

Poets make
Lousy lab partners
They feed
Schrödinger's Cat
Ecstatically since
There is no proof

Poets really do make
Really lousy lab partners



CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

FINALIST: DANIEL CLEARY


Looking Back

Back in those early days when I
Was nothing more than just a boy
It seemed to me a thing remote
That I could ever be a poet;
It was a title like a star
That dimly glimmered from afar.
I did not know by taking thought
That beauty might with skill be caught.
It seemed so stunning then, a thing
That filled me with much wondering.
Now with the years as I have grown
And I have come into my own;
With confidence I saunter forth
As if it is to span the earth.



CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

FINALIST: D. R. PECORE


Considering the Case of the Intellectual Academic Bards

The words they use are beautiful luminous and luxuriant.
They become an ocherous affliction, coalesce into infinity.
Curl around the tongue, they pour out, a fast flood of flooy.

More irrelevant the work, deeper the critic dives into
the empty swimming pool of words, finding meaning
in this vast barrenness. Exuding guilt too; cookie cutter

non rhyming verses, form drawn from the canons, the renown,
cliché turned slant and nobody really saying anything—period.
The turn of phrase needs a prayer sheriff. Amend profanity, not

talking about vulgarity, fight a holy war. Ideas accessible, but not
forgettable, the need to be memorable, to give the reader a reason
to reassess. Thought turns one to find that word, that perfect word

to hook a mind. The word: a piece of bait on tensile line.
Post modernism’s view; there are no new, just words askew.




CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

FINALIST: RUAN WRIGHT


Poets

Chimaera bred, we see things slant
with dragon eyes and human bent.
Our gorgon heads
our griffin legs
they glisten in the sun.

We listen sharp with eagle ears
but snake-infested mind adjures.
The writhing winds
the thriving fiends
we taste them on our tongues.

Our feet are clawed, our hands are pawed
passant, we daub the wrested word.
We bleed it ill
we blend it till
our monstrous child's begun.



CATEGORY TWO: POETRY ABOUT POETRY

FINALIST: CYNTHIA GALLAHER


Making Books at Hull House

Glue with muscle, flat bone sticks,
a cake of beeswax, thick cotton thread,
pulled and pushed
in and out from paper pages,
making books.

Windows swing open,
summer streams in,
as jazz from our radio throbs out,
we jam with our books’ blank folios,
and they become
jazz books.

Young mother in the corner
speaks of how her child died,
cries through lessons,
watermarks pages with tears as she works,
her book becomes a book
of sorrow and forgetting.

And the old woman across the table
finishes her first binding,
asks in a child-like crackle,
"What shall I fill it with?"
Flipping through choices
is a new happiness, finally up to her.

There are different women’s circles
filling charted canvasses with nostalgia,
others’ suggestions of "what is art,"
looped together in matched dye lots,
but the classmate next to me
looks at the stitches of her binding,
lumpy as stray sax riffs,
some pages sticking out ever so slightly
from the rest, and says,
"The only thing perfect is God,"
holds her book
like a prayer book,
offers the flawed volume as she does
her wayward rhythms.

In this room,
what new things we create
are joyfully incomplete,
paper vessels for musical fragments we hear,
riffs of clarinet, piano, pain,
some hot nights of love we play over and over.

Someone opens a book,
begins to write,
"If everyone made books this slowly,
imagine how many trees
would still
be standing."


Drunk on Words
For Sue, who passed July 2, 2007

On Sunday afternoons
with my best friend Susan Johnson,
we waited for my parents to leave,
to break out Johnnie Walker Red
from the basement bar,
and from paper cups
later rinsed and destroyed,
we’d sip, sip, until we’d spin.

At first adrift, unfocused from whiskey,
I laughed as Johnson
pulled out the slim volume
of Emily Dickinson from her cut-offs,
then fell silent as she stood and
read aloud the first three lines she turned to,
which hung like faceted jewels
over my parents’ plastic-covered sofa.

Other Sundays, we partied on
English Romantics,
though some of their lines proved
too serious or sweet for Johnson,
who’d improvise,
making Keats leap from Grecian urn
to opium den,
"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft smokers, toke on--"

Johnson, Gallaher, calling each other
by last names,
then adding more to our spoken circle,
Brautigan, Kerouac, Sexton, Plath,
drinking buddies whose words
continued to move us after our hangovers faded.
Then in Johnson’s basement,
we heard a "Howl"
like none other,
on a used record player,
there howled Ginsberg, first hand.

We were two Alices passing through a
subterranean door, and would never
quite emerge unchanged;
Johnson, tracing a series of lost weekends,
from a meter maid job writing parking tickets,
comedy skits, to three a.m. post office
scribblings on backs of envelopes for local newspapers;
and I, trading toasts for trochees,
missing days but counting poems,
feeling new phrases dance
through my fingers,
thinking on those times
we could still slip the books away
and not think of them again for a week,
when we could still stash the evidence,
as if it were made of mere paper.


In My Hands
work/love/cash/book/hot/help

The grey mouse I once feared in the corner
has become beige and oblong,
    is in my hand, and part of work,
as I turn off power, the screen shudders
like the last moments of love,
    my palms itch, all I see is flesh, no cash,
I walk from Hubbard Street with a long red pen,
wind-blown lips, a finely lined book,
    to a cold "el" where all three burn my
way home--with pages, white, and words, hot,
my hand dips under my coat in a way no one can see,
    to hold my own breast for inspiration,
    seldom one to click the button that says "help."

The message races toward me as the snow rivets
train windows between stops, "You can help."
    But it’s an inclination to feel
that all that’s not sensual,
is work,
    and all that’s not disregard, is love,
and all the help offices beg for is to create cash,
while magician-like, all I want to create are books,
    and the words burn with or without paper,
    flaming, aching, hot.

I can hold the feet of a newborn,
even at midnight, and his skin glows hot,
    and when I stroke the toes they feel like
tight, ripe peas, or digits on a keyboard,
none of which say "help,"
    and the understanding of what gives me every breath
comes in the work, and neither the toes,
nor the heat, nor the words
    can put me in touch with the love,
and you still can’t get it,
because it’s almost impossible to picture a baby
    ever saying the word "cash,"
as I can’t imagine the half-crazed lover
who’s biting at my throat in the dark, the morning after,
    across the table from me at coffee,
    quietly saying the word "book."

And my book becomes me, and I become my book,
until tired of paper and ink,
    I want sheets and sweat instead,
I want to rip away pages
and just show them what’s hot,
    the kind without words,
but to do so, I write more poems and work,
and discover the wildest responses
    come from the most
calculated love,
and the names embedded most deeply in the
    earth’s palate of pleasure
    haven’t cluttered their personal luggage with cash.

I’d just stop complaining if I could get my
hands on some cash,
    it would be a quantum leap, as in a sci-fi book,
I’d find myself sipping tall, cool drinks
in countries tropically hot,
    and never again ask for anyone’s help,
and thoughts, and books, and travel
would become my work,
    it might encompass everything,
even shake that annoying need,
that nagging desire,
    year in/year out,
    for love.

My fingers stay away from it
like a chalkboard,
    something won’t click,
that button, that nipple, my tongue,
the tip of my pen, altogether allude love,
    while money swivels in my hand
as sure as a stick shift,
like a car around a corner,
    the verbatim promise of the concrete, cash.
And balanced between success
and slavery to a dream
open the pages of my book,
and while it’s pulled all my
silly pastimes from me like a raw tooth,
    it treats me as life has always treated me,
cold, hot, hot, cold, hot,
but you keep pushing words like drugs,
    boot them like a Texan,
speaks softly to them
as to a laid-off worker on a ledge,
    toss them into the sea
like a wayfaring letter
I refuse to settle down for,
    and words keep drifting back toward me
    in a more intricate language of help.
And eventually I absorb
the sweet fragrance of help,
    and do so without fear, or mice,
or shudders,
and finally emerge from behind a screen
    with words I’ve been avoiding
about myself,
stretching an invisible hand
    through all my patter,
out from under my coat,
and find after all,
    it is
    no longer work.

It is no longer work,
but for the task to justify
    cash, books,
and the utterly enticing,
endless and exhausting cravings of hot,
    I lean back, and the blunt arrows of desire
whiz right toward me,
how even these
    can be pulled through,
polished,
helped with words,
    redeemed,
    turned inside out into love.






Note: The Winners of the 2007 ChicagoPoetry.com Summer Contest have been announced. Out of all entries, twenty-three poems were selected to be published in our online anthology, Chicago Poetry. Click Here to read the winning poems.

 
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