Have you ever felt like an anomaly? like a sideshow people were looking at curiously, if sideways, but you couldn't figure out what could be interesting enough to garner the attention? When I wrote this piece, that's a bit how I was feeling, although I just chuckled at the oddity of it all. My friend and coworker in the clothing business invited me to a party and I accepted. That's when things got weird; I typically didn't do social events, but rather spent my time with my nose in a book, writing, or talking about whatever random bits of literature or life sparked some kind of synaptic response in my brain that week. But then people kept coming up to me asking, "Is it true? Are you going to the party?" I had a lot of responses bouncing around in my brain, but the shocked expression they wore shocked me into a numb, dumb response, "uh, yeah." The situation was singular enough to my experience that I decided to put Thomas in that position and wrote this piece as a result.
After spending an evening on the beach in Wilmington N.C., I came back to the room I was renting from a chemist while starting grad school and I wrote this poem. I know I was influenced by the fact that I was far from Oklahoma and have always had this inner longing to really connect to and understand people. In addition, I enjoy the Tennyson poem, Ulysses, especially those last few lines...
...that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I remember having fun with this one, playing with the sounds. The subject, however, is not as playful. Thomas is a very reflective character, even more so than I. He has a hard time making peace with the past, and even wonders how honest we are with ourselves, how well can we trust our own memories. He wants a real, Greek type of knowledge of himself and the world, but doesn't trust that he wouldn't then drown himself in it. Most people would just say he thinks too much; but the un-examined life and all that jazz... What do you think?
This is a short piece I wrote many years ago. I like the image with the poem and the idea of touch as the central theme. At times, we get so busy we can forget how essential touch is to our experience, and how necessary. When I wrote this, I had my ideal in mind, my muse, if you will, but no real person. Now, I know what touch I longed to find; the singular experience of my wife's touch. She laughs at me when I talk like this, as she probably should, but she loves me anyway ;)
Many of the Thomas poems were written after leaving graduate school when I could no longer afford the tuition. A bit lost in the world, I had a job at a popular clothing store and spent the rest of my time reading, writing, and drinking coffee. You'll see references to this job and this time period often in these poems.
Here is a short piece I remember writing. It was a cool, clear night in Oklahoma and I couldn't sleep. I was upstairs in an old, black-and-white two-story house; I opened the window, removed the screen, and sat on the window sill, leaning against the frame. My CD player (remember those) was playing Vivaldi. I sat, looking at the night sky and thinking about my life. I remember thinking about how small I felt, about the mistakes I'd made, and still not feeling overwhelmed or insignificant, just resolute. I picked up a clipboard with paper and a pen and wrote this with one leg hanging out the window. I hope you enjoy it.
One of the early Thomas pieces, this one was written about Thomas feeling a little low. He was trying hard to connect to a world disinterested in him. It all makes him wonder if there is something wrong with his internal construction. He thinks maybe he should be meaner, make himself more of an asshole, but it isn't in him; he can't do it. In the end, he's left studying semantics, both in the world and in his words. His only recourse is just to keep going.
If you would like to see more of the Thomas poems, click the Thomas tag at the end of this post.
This poem was written long ago, and I just recently found it among my papers. I remember I wanted to try write a piece with more technical, scientific language, Also, I was interested in the idea of a person's last breath; was it special? Could it contain something essential, the essence, of a person? I started creating this scientist in my head who poisoned patients in order to trap the patients' last breath. As you read the poem, you'll understand what the scientist hoped to find in that breath. I also played with the form of the poem to give the visual image of a last breath being exhaled. killer nocturnals was published in a random book of contest poetry of dubious merit. I enjoy its oddity, and hope you do as well.
This selection is from a series of poems based on, or about, a character named Thomas. I designed him as an alter ego of myself; think Henry in John Berryman’s Dream Songs. During the writing of the Thomas poems, you’ll see that sound comes up often. Within the poems, Thomas’ words are often referred to as songs: this is mostly because these poems, like most poems, should be read aloud. Consonance and assonance, spaces, line breaks (breath), a disjointed rhyme, all are important to how they are vocalized; even the feel of the words as they are formed and trip off the tongue. Many of them are loosely based on the sonnet form, the key word being loosely.
They may feel a little obscure at first, but if you read them aloud and give them a your full attention while accepting that within the ruminating nature of them there is a definite playfulness and mischievousness, you’ll soon find that they will stick with you.
In the end, I just want you to enjoy them and hope they resonate with you in some manner.
Which mountain should we climb?
you asked one night in your bed, our bodies
touching under the tan blanket, my nose
buried in your neck, my lips just grazing there
where my breath was dancing.
I could not help but think
of mountains in Japanese novels, of their strength
and their mass, their contrast with the quiet moon.
But you had not read those books
and I had not talked enough about them.
What then did you mean by mountain
when there are none near?
I thought my answer would be all,
that this answer would be a man’s voice sounding,
but could tell by the tone translated by your tongue
that this answer wouldn’t be right,
that you’d accept it in silence as one does
the speaker of a foreign language, smiling, to be nice.
Still thinking of the moon, and the strength
of a mist-ringed mountain, I looked
into your face for a faint trace of an answer.
Your eyes were shut; I kissed their lids
and touched your fresh, clean cheek.
You stirred, dug a little deeper
into my arms, and soon fell asleep.
I still remember how this poem came about. It was 1998, and I was fascinated by the Japanese authors Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, and, to a lesser extent, Kenzaburo Oe. Mount Fuji is often mentioned in Japanese literature, and I would look up pictures of it to gaze at. I had recently finished reading the exquisite and exotic Sea of Fertility tetralogy and was thinking about satori moments (similar to an epiphany) and started writing a few lines down about mountains while drinking coffee. I still like this poem and the way it sounds when read aloud (please, read poetry aloud). Most of my poetry consists of terse, tension filled fragments (most evident in the series of Thomas poems); this is more lyrical.
The poem was published in Volume XIV of Oxford Magazine in 2000. The magazine is still active, and they can be found online here.