Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Homesick Blues

Kathryn A. Kopple

Marisa Merz

Until you perceive the extreme loneliness of flannel,
And rub your hands on the paint smacked brick walls,

Until you ponder the sad, square eyes of motels,
And the vinegar streaked sunsets,

When you are at the mercy of soups and kitchens,
And see yourself in the rucksack grandmothers,

When you consider under a microscope the ubiquity of cash registers,
But fail to monitor how one hand washes the other,

And you keep company with the marooned apartment cats,
And share the Purina One and the litter box,

When you understand you will perform a miracle every day,
When you finally get the artistry of lighting a match in strong winds,

When you live the purgatory of a five-story walkup,
When you suffer the pensive handshake of a stuck doorknob,

And survive years and years of emotional defenestration,
And never lose faith in the shamanistic properties of library cards,

And your body treats you like an unwanted tenant,
And you do the best that you can,

Until the stars come home,
Until God knows when.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Letter to Denise

Hayden Carruth

Wharton Escherik

Remember when you put on that wig
From the grab bag and then looked at yourself
In the mirror and laughed, and we laughed together?
It was a transformation, glamorous flowing tresses.
Who knows if you might not have liked to wear
That wig permanently, but of course you
Wouldn't. Remember when you told me how
You meditated, looking at a stone until
You knew the soul of the stone? Inwardly I
Scoffed, being the backwoods pragmatic Yankee
That I was, yet I knew what you meant. I
Called it love. No magic was needed. And we
Loved each other too, not in the way of
Romance but in the way of two poets loving
A stone, and the world that the stone signified.
Remember when we had that argument over
Pee and piss in your poem about the bear?
"Bears don't pee, they piss," I said. But you were
Adamant. "My bears pee." And that was that.
Then you moved away, across the continent,
And sometimes for a year I didn't see you.
We phoned and wrote, we kept in touch. And then
You moved again, much farther away, I don't
Know where. No word from you now at all. But
I am faithful, my dear Denise. And I still
Love the stone, and, yes, I know its soul.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Figurative North Topeka

by Eric McHenry
for Ben Lerner

Derivative graffiti crawls
up the overpass like ivy—
abstract names on concrete stanchions.
To the south, symbolic walls:
NO OUTLET signs along the levee,
idle river, idle tracks,
bypass, bluffside and the backs
of Potwin’s late Victorian mansions,
flush like book spines on a shelf.
Drunk on your late-Victorian porch
you promised me that if elected
you’d have the river redirected
down Fourth Street, to make Potwin search
North Topeka for itself.

I told you to retire Ad Astra
Per Aspera and put For God’s
Sake Take Cover on the state
seal and flag—the license plate
at least, since we collect disaster
and loss like they were classic rods:
’51 Flood; ‘66 Tornado.
Even the foot-lit Statehouse mural
has a sword-bearing Coronado,
a Beecher’s Bible-bearing Brown
and a tornado bearing down
on its defenseless mock-pastoral,
The Past. The present was still wet
when the embarrassed legislature
resolved that it would never let
John Steuart Curry paint the future.
He never did, although Topekans
would learn to let bygones be icons.

On Thursday, July 12, the rain
relented and the water rose,
darkened and stank more. The stain
is just shy of the second story
in what used to be Fernstrom Shoes.
That entire inventory
spent five nights underwater, gaping
like mussels on the riverbed.
Fernstrom spent the summer scraping
gobs of septic-smelling mud
out of eleven thousand toes.

On Friday the 13th, the Kaw
crested at thirty-seven feet.
They thought it might have cut a new
channel down Kansas Avenue.
One Capital reporter saw
a kid reach up from his canoe
and slap the stoplight at Gordon Street.

Porubsky’s never did reclaim
its lunchtime customers; the torrents
sent the Sardou Bridge to Lawrence
and there was no more Oakland traffic.
Business hasn’t been the same
for fifty years now. Fifty-two.
Ad astra per aspera: through
the general to the specific.
You do what you want to do
but I’m not using North Topeka
in conversation anymore,
because there is no north to speak of;
there’s only mud and metaphor.

Credits:  "Figurative North Topeka" was originally published in 2004 in Slate.  

McHenry is the author of Potscrubber Lullabies, Mommy, Daddy, Evan Sage, Odd Evening.  He was poet laureate of Kansas from 2015-2017.  He has won several distinguished awards. 

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