Made some sauerkraut today with green cabbages, beets, carrots, scallions, and cumin. It’s getting acquainted with itself in 2 crocks on the bookshelf.
& then I remembered this poem. (& then I also found out that lucille clifton has written many books for children (!) and put the first one on my “birthday presents for baby” list.)
curling them around
i hold their bodies in obscene embrace
thinking of everything but kinship.
collards and kale
strain against each strange other
away from my kissmaking hand and
the iron bedpot.
the pot is black,
the cutting board is black,
and just for a minute
the greens roll black under the knife,
and the kitchen twists dark on its spine
and I taste in my natural appetite
the bond of live things everywhere.
Went to a Literary North event w/ a friend on Saturday featuring the poet Camille Guthrie and the short fiction writer Peter Orner, both of whom are smart lovely people who shared memorable sentences with us (a small audience/thirsty for their thoughts and works/ready with our questions).
As usual I almost enjoyed the talk about the writing as much as the writing itself. And then on the way home I read this poem out loud to my friend as she drove and we LAUGHED and we SNORTED and we LAUGHED and cried “Genius!” and LAUGHED.
During the Middle Ages
O God I am so fat
I cry all the time
A kitten scrubbed with a toothbrush online makes me sob
I’m so heartless seven species of bees
Are now endangered and I didn’t do a thing
Didn’t even send any money
To anybody doing any good
And I can’t lose any weight I skipped yoga
I’m so hot all the time so broke
So pathetic no wise investments
Should’ve bought a 7-Eleven on a busy corner
When I was seven or eleven
Nobody wants to lick my neck
Nobody wants to hold my hand at the doctor’s office
Nobody to grow old with me I’m so crabby
To pluck my beard feed the cat I don’t have
And read me endless Russian novels at night
All the ones I still haven’t got to so greatly depressing
Where are you handsome? Are you
Driving in your car to come visit me
Bringing a bottle of wine & a present so gallant?
A new translation of Akhmatova? I love it!
No? Well, I guess it’s better than living
In the real Middle Ages when
Some shithead priest threatens you with hell
To pocket your last coin and there’s no Tylenol
So you have to suck on some skullcap seeds
And knights race around knocking you down
To take your maidenhood with pointy lances
And you have to work as a midwife with no birthing tub
Nobody washes their hands or votes
Nobody knows about DNA or PMS
There’s nothing to read even if you can read
Except boring doctrines or Spiritual Exercises
By Gertrude the Great, I’m not even kidding
Yes, there’s Dante Chaucer and some sagas
But it’s not like you’d get near those books
You’d be lucky to have some jerk recite the latest
By Wulfstan the Cantor by campfire
Before he beheads your uncles
And forces you to rub salve on his abs
You know you’d be sweating in a field at twenty-two
Dying from your tenth pregnancy by the bailiff
Courtly love? Not a lot of it I bet
Some doctor would drill a hole in my head
To let the demons out because I’d be full
Of black bile as I am today
It would be a very hard time
When the sun revolves around the earth
And kings are just unbelievably selfish
And it’ll be a really long time before Pop Art
And meerkat videos and cotton candy
And Kurosawa and fish tacos and girl bands
Everything’s just so bad and you have buboes
Hopefully I’d get shoved into a nunnery
To have some ecstatic experience with mystical Jesus
Or better I could be a hardcore samurai
Laying down justice on the heads of corrupt lords
But that was tough work, dirty work
You’re working for nobility who at any period
In history are the worst people in the world
And to be an unemployed ronin was lonely
Even if all the brothel ladies offer to scrub your back
Sometimes you just want a nice nap
And some Neosporin on your wounds
If only I could be like the divine Sei Shōnagon
Resplendent in silks with seven-layered sleeves
Writing in my room about politics and my lovers
I wish okay I could be her servant
Dusting the ink stone and fluffing her pillow
But even she found many hateful things
About living in the middle ages
Like crying babies messy guests and mansplainers
So irritating even way back then
You better shut up and take your medicine
Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face
how did this happen
well that’s who I wanted to be
at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
that’s my old man across the yard
he’s talking to the meter reader
he’s telling him the world’s sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
People always ask me if they can buy my book, and I’m always like, “Oh yeah, I have these beautiful books I made, I should definitely make them available online somewhere so you can get one.” But then I never do it!