Sunday, December 21, 2008

Conch Chowder

by Elizabeth Alexander

“I’m making conch chowder,” says my next-door neighbor, Joe. There are no walls between our apartments. “We’ll all watch basketball,” he says, “and we’ll eat it with French bread.” I tell him that I have to run an errand.

Next thing I know, I’m outside New York, looking for a roadside Holocaust museum I’d read about, I had to see. I find it, hand-lettered signs, an old woman on a bench with a heavy Polish accent. A young man and his son go inside; you go down into the Invisible Man’s basement, which is wildly lit up and makeshift, and you look out at the world from that small space. I begin to cry. I cry and cry and cry. Then it’s time to go home, so I look for a cab. How much would it cost to go from Jersey to Chicago?

Everyone is upset when I get there. Danielle, Joe’s wife, says we have to have a family meeting, no more lateness, no more unexplained absences. My eyes fill up again when she says the word, “family.” I sit down in front of the TV and eat my conch chowder, which is cold. (2001)

I’m delighted Elizabeth Alexander is Obama’s inauguration poet, for I have always been impressed with her efforts to address herself to matters of American history especially through poems. I was particularly taken by her third book, Antebellum Dream Book, and by the apparent centrality of dreaming to her fashioning many of those poems. As such, she offered the dream space as a site of public and poetic conversation, for the poems are “interpretable” largely through communications between one unconscious and that of another.

I look forward to the new conversations.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Psychoanalysis: An Elegy

by Jack Spicer

What are you thinking about?

I am thinking of an early summer.
I am thinking of wet hills in the rain
Pouring water. Shedding it
Down empty acres of oak and manzanita
Down to the old green brush tangled in the sun,
Greasewood, sage, and spring mustard.
Or the hot wind coming down from Santa Ana
Driving the hills crazy,
A fast wind with a bit of dust in it
Bruising everything and making the seed sweet.
Or down in the city where the peach trees
Are awkward as young horses,
And there are kites caught on the wires
Up above the street lamps,
And the storm drains are all choked with dead branches.

What are you thinking?

I think that I would like to write a poem that is slow as a summer
As slow getting started
As 4th of July somewhere around the middle of the second stanza
After a lot of unusual rain
California seems long in the summer.
I would like to write a poem as long as California
And as slow as a summer.
Do you get me, Doctor? It would have to be as slow
As the very tip of summer.
As slow as the summer seems
On a hot day drinking beer outside Riverside
Or standing in the middle of a white-hot road
Between Bakersfield and Hell
Waiting for Santa Claus.

What are you thinking now?

I’m thinking that she is very much like California.
When she is still her dress is like a roadmap. Highways
Traveling up and down her skin
Long empty highways
With the moon chasing jackrabbits across them
On hot summer nights.
I am thinking that her body could be California
And I a rich Eastern tourist
Lost somewhere between Hell and Texas
Looking at a map of a long, wet, dancing California
That I have never seen.
Send me some penny picture-postcards, lady,
Send them.
One of each breast photographed looking
Like curious national monuments,
One of your body sweeping like a three-lane highway
Twenty-seven miles from a night’s lodging
In the world’s oldest hotel.

What are you thinking?

I am thinking of how many times this poem
Will be repeated. How many summers
Will torture California
Until the damned maps burn
Until the mad cartographer
Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.

What are you thinking now?

I am thinking that a poem could go on forever.