Poplar Fruit

My friend Chris at Stuff as Dreams are Made On wrote a post for me the other day answering a question I had for him - so here I am repaying th favor. He asked me if I would write a poem based on a Billie Holliday song, how can anyone resist a prompt like that? If I were a great poet, I would write a whole book of items on Billie songs! Well, I chose an obvious one, I didn't want to pick something obscure, and I remember on NPR hearing an interview with Norah Jones, where she was talking about in high school, one of hr teachers asked her to do a Billie song for a talent show of some sort. She figured shed end up singing something light hearts, I think her example was "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." Instead, er teacher picked Strange Fruit, one of the headiest, darkest songs on Billies repertoire, a song about racism - in particular Lynchings. I remember thinking how hard that would be, singing a song so bitter and angry and personal, about something ones own ancestors might have participated in. So, this week, i wrote "Poplar Fruit." Hope you weren't hoping for a HAPPY poem, Mr. Chris...

My thighs are plump and sturdy,
My face is butter fat,
My belly filled with poplar fruit
My grandfathers planted.

My children are both quick and pure,
Rich with education,
Their fingers stained by poplar fruit
My grandfathers planted.

My heart is sick and heavyset
My heart, she's over fed
With strange fruit hung from poplar trees
My grandfathers planted

I wear a dress of samite silk
Dyed black and white and red,
From flesh burned ash, from bone, from blood
From poplar fruit grown rich and sweet,
From growing on the poplar trees
My grandfathers planted

Read More......


Happy Anniversary

So, as of this morning (or more accurately, I suppose, as of this afternoon) Amanda and I have been married for 13 years. Thirteen years... that's quite a number of years. The strange thing about anniversaries is that marriage is not a piece of one's identity - in so many ways it becomes the essence of one's identity. It is not something one bolts on, the way one might celebrate, for example, one's work anniversary. It something one transforms into. Its more like a birthday, in its way, and this is one of the reasons I am glad I changed my name when I was married - this is the day I ceased to be Jason Roper, a boy I now hardly remember, and became Jason Gignac, the husband of Amanda.

Like a birthday, though, an anniversary reminds one that the reality of one's existence is an objective fact, that this 'Jason Gignac' character is a person, who exists, who once did not exist who one day will cease to exist again. One steps outside one's self, and looks objectively at one's own story.

It is a peculiar one, Amanda and I. If I were the divine casting director, it is not the roles I would have cast. I'm horribly designed to be the great key to Amanda's happiness, which is always what I've wished to be in a marriage - it's a task that I am awed at the glorious responsibility of trying to fulfill, but that to be perfectly frank, I'm a great bungler at the execution of. But there you have it. When they say love is blind, perhaps this is what it means - there is a mind-boggling aspect to being the man Amanda loves. One continuously wonders, like the Catholic saints of the old days, why one was chosen, when one clearly doesn't deserve it.

And to be frank, this honestly has made me spend many anniversaries just a little bit ashamed, a little bit apologetic. Love has its sharp edges, even on the handle thereof, but it is such a beautiful thing, you feel you have to grab tight to it anyways. It is a hard thing to know that Amanda has made so much of the good for me, when honestly, I'm not even sure I have kept a positive balance in that bank in return. I'd wager not, and if I have, its been more a function of time, since I've made several awfully big negative withdrawals, and still withdraw all of the time. There is a legacy to this one cannot simply release, one cannot (and I think should not) simply say 'well, that's the past'. Responsibility is what it is.

But, then, as I get older, I've learned, perhaps, that on my anniversary, it hardly matters, that in the end, that isn't what one is to look at in an anniversary - there is something about an anniversary, I've come to think, where it is almost selfish to think of it outside of one's self. And those true aspects of what an anniversary is about, I can say wholeheartedly: how much, how dearly, how intently I love Amanda, how deeply, and profoundly grateful I am to have her as the sun I orbit 'round.

How lovely that is, after all - there is something terrific and marvelous about being married to Amanda, to being married to someone you can love and love and love, and never quite find the far borders of. Love is a mystery, right? One cannot understand it - maybe that's the challenge of it, it is the thing which teaches us to be happy whether or not we understand all the ramifications of happiness, to allow happiness to be great for its own sake, not to think of all those adult ideas of 'deserving' and 'balances' and whatnot, but simply to say 'This, all of this, this darling woman, she makes me happy, and she hasn't asked to go, after all, and I love her so desperately, and isn't happiness wonderful?'

Read More......


Once on Monday

Once on Monday
Twice on Tue,
Thrice for Thursday,
Friday - once.
On Saturday, tis deeper done
So Sunday's rosy rivers run.
Then Monday comes,
And once again,
The kiss against,
The clammy skin.
The children's laughs
Are beet-juice red
And echo 'round
The riverbeds.

Read More......


Why the Internet is awesome...

So, this is what happens when you search Flicker's Creative commons for 'Nursery Rhymes':

Read More......


The Voice Behind the Voice

I suppose it might be a vice, but I think its intoxicating to listen to recordings of poets and writers I already love. This is odd, because I don't like it in reverse - for instance, reading song lyrics that I heard first makes them feel somehow less - maybe I've just never had the right experience, but removing a spoken word to the page feels like translation and reduction. Taking a poem on the other hand, and having the poet read it, feels like a different, entirely separate work of art, particularly if I already know the written work well enough.

I was reminded of this, this week, when I listened to Madeleine L'Engle read an audiobook of "A Wrinkle in Time" (by the way, whichever of my friends knew this existed, and failed to notify me, I'm very disappointed in you (j/k)). When I first read this book as a kid, I believed Ms L'Engle was British, actually - I imagine it was simply that where I lived, people did not have lovely, romantic names that must be spelled with apostrophes, and that are difficult to alphabetize properly. And though I did learn better, this manufactured voice is what I heard the book read in, pretty much my whole life. Listening to Ms L'Engle changed this entirely, for me, made m understand the book in a slightly lisping, cranny-filled Northeast accent in a way that made the book even more beautiful than it had been.

It also reminded me of two New Yorkers I've heard the voice of: Jack Kerouac and Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman, who was recorded so early we're lucky to have him at all, positively shocked me the first time I heard it - his poetry is all fire and boldness, and I pictured it being read like a sermon, the way that Dylan Thomas (hilariously, to me) reads his poetry (no, seriously, listen to him read, its like the 'Death Comes Unexpectedly' scene from Pollyanna, and was WITHOUT A DOUBT imitated (poorly) by me in the golden days of Death and Baby Death if you've wondered). Mr. Whitman, though, first of all has an accent that we tend to resere now for movie characters (the closest analog in terms of dialect in my mind is the masterfully researched performance of Daniel Day Lewis as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York (warning for content on that one - I'm just saying it was well researched, I've never been able to stomach the film well enough to tell if I like it). Only, instead of the accent being in a continuous snarl, You hear this strain of almost fragile love through everything - all that poetry about the wide, expansive united states, poetry we often asscoiate with empty fields and rural imagery (also his voice, and a strange, strange commercial on top of it all) suddenly compressed into a little garret anda drinking hall in Greenwich.

In other poets one hears something else - Plath and Woolf and Sexton are all recorded reading their work, and each one, in my mind has this edge of something almost like hatred in thier tone, almost like they are daring you to listen, the cycnic trying to hope. Sylvia Plath recordings keep me awake at night.  Or in a James Joyce recording, one hears how fully he inhabits what he's writing, how much his writing really was simply a voice in his many-voiced head. Or with Yeats, you hear his fragility, his tottering air of almost continuous shock at the world he's in.

Anyway, it's December, and I thought about these all this morning, and I thought I would collect links to listen, in case you've never heard them. If you know any other revealingly recorded poets and writers, I'd love to hear about them.

Madeleine L'Engle reads from "A Wrinkle in Time"

Sylvia Plath reads "Lady Lazarus" or "Daddy"

Virginia Woolf reads an essay entitled "Craftsmanship"

Anne Sexton reads "The Truth the Dead Know"

Dylan Thomas reads "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"

Jack Kerouac reads "Charlie Parker"

WB Yeats reads "The Lake of Inisfree"

James Joyce reads from "Finnegan's Wake"

Walt Whitman reads "America"

Read More......