We’re All Cool
I must remember
That just like how I wish I were a knitter or a baker or a pool player
Other people wish they were poets
If you slide your fingers down the slender stem
like a man searching the body of a woman
for signs of yes,
you will find your palm filled
with tiny flowers composed
of intricate beauty
You will find your palm
has become a bowl of soundless
You will find faces
made of petals
& you may even find
something of yourself.
I loathe when people complain about the weather. It’s like complaining about being in a body. Being in a body is 1) the only choice we all have, and 2) essentially a miracle. I’m bored by easy negativity because it’s not creating anything. It simply laments what IS.
Weather is the main way that nature touches us. Even if you live in a city, the weather affects you. One of my favorite things about living in the country is how big of a character the weather is in my life, in the lives of all my friends and neighbors. It’s something we all share, and yet it affects us differently—where Justin’s snowdrifts pile up is different from where mine do, but both of us have blocked windows.
That being said, February is not an easy time to be alive in the northern hemisphere. It’s cold, it can be dark for days. Which is why, two years ago, I created something called Patti Smith Month. It started when I decided to reread her book “Just Kids,” because my friend Scott had gone to the St Mark’s bookstore in search of it (we had recently seen Patti Smith do a reading there in frigidicecold winter). When he got to the bookstore, he couldn’t find it anywhere. He wanted to buy it because I’d told him how much I love it, and because we both loved the way Patti Smith looked at her reading, with her boyish body and her black beanie. We both loved what she said.
He finally asked a clerk at the front of the bookstore where he could find “Just Kids.” In my head, she looked at him like he was an Effing Idiot (because this is how clerks look at you because you ARE one and also they’re tired) (I’ve been there), and said “Her books are all in the back, next to her.”
Patti Smith was in the store at that very moment signing books. Instead of buying the book for himself, he bought me a copy, which he had her inscribe. This is one of my most prized possessions.
As I read this book two years ago, it lit all those little flames inside of me. Some of those flames have to do with being an artist, which has practically become a dirty word these days. Some of those flames have to do with the talismanic powers that we all have to instill our lives with meaning. Some of those flames have to do with wearing menswear and necklaces. Suffice to say: that book is a world I need.
And so I decided that every February, I would re-read it. That’s the beginning. That’s the kindling. Because when I reread it, I relive and remember my own dedication to art-making. I am reminded. I am refreshed. I refurbish my altars and don my Patti Smith shirt, the only shirt with a face on it I’d ever wear. I drink tea in the dark nighttime house and tear up pages of notebooks with words. Sometimes I commit to writing more letters, or revising a long piece, or improving the art on my wall.
This year, I will write a poem every day for the month of February. I will write a letter to a new penpal in the hopes that she wants to write back. I am in the process of beginning an exciting new literary project with a friend of mine, so that will come to fruition, too. I don’t know what else will happen. Patti Smith Month is about saying, I am a maker. And: there is no time but the present.
I believe Patti Smith Month is one of my best ideas. Not only because what it inspires, but because in making February a special month for myself, I have improved my own life. Patti Smith Month is the opposite of complaining about Feburary. It means I look forward to February and the way I’ll spend the month leaning in to the artistry inside me. Remember how environmentalists sometimes tell you that you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem? I disagree. You are both the problem and the solution. So even if Patti Smith Month isn’t what will make your own personal February awesome, find out what will. Then buy yourself a t-shirt and get to work.
Why were those deer
in the road
Didn’t they know
their duskhour is still
away? Didn’t they look
dark & lovely
in the morning light,
and didn’t you
hope in your fleshy
heart they’d survive
Maybe it’s just because I’m stretched as thin as cheap stockings right now and prone to emotions, but I cried this morning hearing (again) about the passing of Galway Kinnell.
I learned to love his poems in college, by my professor who loves his poems. When I worked for the Dartmouth bookstore years ago, I sold books at a reading he gave at Dartmouth, sitting next to him as he signed new and wellworn copies. The reading he gave was equal parts wonderful and sad; he often lost his place while reading a poem, or seemed to drift away mid-thought. I witnessed the deteriorating mind of a poet whose poems have meant a lot to me.
His epic poem (note: I do not generally use the word epic so you know I mean it) “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World” has so much more of New York in it than Taylor Swift’s new song (that’s not saying a lot), and even more of New York in it than Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ song. He was compared to Walt Whitman after that poem, and I see why: it contains multitudes, big time.
As Daniel Lewis of the New York Times writes, “The poem is a 14-part work about Avenue C in Manhattan, a mother lode of inspiration for someone with Mr. Kinnell’s photographic eye and intuitive sense of other people’s lives. In these verses and on this street, Jews, blacks and Puerto Ricans walked in the spring sunlight, past the avenue’s mainstays at the time — the Downtown Talmud Torah, Blosztein’s Cutrate Bakery, Areceba Panataria Hispano, Nathan Kugler Chicken Store Fresh Killed Daily and others.”
I’ve experienced a renewed love of Kinnell since moving to Vermont, as I read his poems again, many of which are set in this state, such as “Blackberry Eating”:
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths and squinched,
many-lettered, on-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.
And then there’s this poem, which has always blown my mind. If someone had told me in college that you could write a poem with the word “is” used three times in a row and it would be a stunner, I would not have believe him/her.
Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.
Harriet Richardson, a Student Organizer at Pennsylvania’s Juniata College, Presses a Cloth to the Wounds of Galway Kinnell, Who Was Then Poet-In-Residence at Juiata, Selma, Alabama, 1965.
Drinking cherry schnapps
in bikini tops
Picking out the best pajamas
beside a pair of just-married llamas
Waving atop a zamboni
as I eat a sandwich of cheese & baloney
Partaking in a teen movie montage
while gluing an aspirational collage
Eating a spoonful of mustard
as I slather my thighs with custard
Soil air sky breeze
no lease no
yours & always
open free &
that came from
Jeez you’d think
we’d be cherishing
all this so hard
by now (picture
& men in love
we are shitting
on it more
than ever &
what I think
also ugly &
these patches of
dancing from the base
of their stalks up
to the petals
in the fields
all around me
You make love like the last
snow leopard. Time hunts your shadows.
Your grooves dip a real x of an arc.
I love your shadow. It’s performance on the wall.
Your white hair flocked. It’s old age that makes
you kill for food. You bring a long blank to
bed in, the weight draws out.
You need someone with skill for the excursion.
Ride through the reservoir of sour peaches.
Your name meanders through the grass. Tall
people are in the way. I crowd surf to get to you.
You spill me into the flood. Water rushes out your sides.
You make a mystery of playing political love.
I could kill for you. I’d bring you an eagle stuffed
with finches. It’s pouch growing large and groaning
in your palm. A cliff of umbrellas and memory
shaping your every move.
PS: If you buy her book, let me know, so we can talk about it, because I want to buy it, too. And I will definitely want to talk about it.
PPS: August is my marathon month. For most of the month, my poems will likely sound like
and so are my legs
and I’m thirsty
and maybe my legs are thirsty too
I want to go to sleep
…and so I will probably be posting other people’s poems this month. But then again, who knows–maybe the tired poems will cross over into the psychedelic side of things, and become really awesome. I am very open to that possibility.
One red felt hat three pairs of boots three
pairs of fancy low-but-clicking pairs
of shoes two bikinis one Boy Scout
backpack one pair of light light blue
Levi’s mom jeans one white lacey
t-shirt three slips one long salmon
-colored nightgown one silk periwinkle
top seven pairs of stockings one pair
of socks with flowers on them one pair
of sparkly pink socks one tiny purple
apothecary jar three bandanas one jean
skirt that Jessie from Saved by the Bell
would have worn one black dress given
to a pregnant friend two quarts of pickled
radishes one red dahl maybe two dozen
elderflower heads one busting bag full
of dried wild mint three sunflowers now
blooming four iris stems in a lilac-colored
jar one thousand pieces of Israeli
cous cous one iced coffee in a big red
cup one hay fork two axes one double
-size cast iron griddle three checks
made out to Free Verse Farm twenty
pounds of strawberries two containers
of curried chickpeas one batch of basil
hummus one can of IPA six tins of tea
two tinctures six jars of no-cook
strawberry jam one goal scored
by Germany one three egg omelette
with scapes & onions one black fly bite
one phone call with sis one phone call
with Katie one phone call with dad
one shower two dirty feet four clean
pillowcases and one lightswitch switched—