Friday, April 29, 2016

"Laguna Beach Breakdown" by Joe Bolton

You had come searching for a second chance,
But trying to break through, merely broke down,
Until at last any sense of purpose
Seemed nothing more than something else to lose.
You let it go and, seeing no reason to mourn
What you could no longer name, kept silence
Under the vast vacuum of heaven
Someone had nailed stars up to to hold in place.
You were hoping maybe a change of season
Might help, but there was none. You woke at dawn
Shuddering in the indifferent embrace
Of your own arms, unable to turn or return,
Dreaming of drowning, neutral as a seaweed in the war
The sea continually waged against the shore.

-from "The Last Nostalgia"

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"We Are All Dead At Twenty"

"We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of age
Hanging from the tree of spring
In the most beautiful of landscapes

The earth rotates for children
Those who grow up too bad for them
It will swell the regiment
Of the officials of boredom

With days that resemble
Habits and grimaces
And migraines, trembling hands
From wrinkle to wrinkle, from ice to ice

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off of the sick flower
Of an agonizing ideal
Of a barricaded spring

I who detests war
Sometimes envy
The dead child a spot of earth
Without having time to cry

Without seeing the sad smile
Without listening to the bird lying
Twenty years is to learn to live
The rest to learn how to die

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of dreams
In a station or on a bench
Where the first love ends

Why prolong its youth
Why play at being still
Love is dead and tenderness
Committed suicide from body to body

We're all ghosts
Of a certain sex, of a certain age
With words for feelings
With masks for faces

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of age
Hanging from the tree of spring
In the most beautiful of landscapes

La la la la la la la la
La la li la la la la la la
La la li la la la la la...

We are all dead at twenty..."
Original text in French: "Nous sommes tous morts à vingt ans" (Dalida)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Such is the world we inhabit: while wasting time on Facebook, between political news and recipe videos, an obituary of someone you know, half a world and years away, appears… Death asserts itself everywhere.

I met Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore in Philadelphia on Saturday, May 21, 2005. I don’t recall that because I have good memory, but because I blogged about it that day. Daniel was a judge on the Philadelphia Reading Series Open Poetry Competition, which was held at The Book Corner, a second-hand bookstore near the Free Library of Philadelphia, and around the corner from where I worked at the time. I’d been writing poetry and posting it online for a couple of years then, but that was the first time I’d read it in public. I was terrified… and I won second prize! Daniel came up to me afterwards and congratulated me. He was an editor of English translations of Mahmoud Darwish, one of my all-time favorite poets, and it meant so much to me.

The following year, thanks to Daniel, I was featured in the Other Voices International Project. But soon after, Daniel was there for me during one of the darkest episodes of my life. During Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, I was in Philadelphia while my family was under the bombs in Lebanon. I was at my wits end, feeling helpless and hopeless. I was in the streets demonstrating, reading my poetry to anyone who would listen. Daniel was part of a poetic "call to arms" I held online; and along with Laurie Pollack and Arlene Bernstein, helped me form Philly Poets for Peace, which raised money for the UNICEF Emergency Relief Fund. Daniel and I read from Darwish’s To an Iraqi Poet, he in English and I in Arabic; it helped me hold on to my sanity during that nightmare. A year later, Daniel helped me publish four poems in Islamica magazine...

And then, as they say, life happened. We lost touch, I wrote less and less, and eventually I moved back over the Atlantic to Europe… I’m ashamed to admit I followed the news of Daniel’s illness recently on Facebook in silence. Words may be what brought us together, but words failed me… I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. And here I am, at a loss of words again. So I’ll just borrow from my younger self, and dedicate to you one of the poems you helped me publish, The Flight of the Swallow… Forgive me my silence.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Flight of the Swallow

In memory of Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

What do they know
Of the flight of the swallow
Or the crane and how it dives?

What do they know
Of the life under your eyes
Or your smile and how it wanes?

What do they know
Of the gathering of the night
Or her waist and how it sways?

What will they know
Of the taste of the sea in your bread
And your embrace trembling under my sleep?

They'll know nothing
But the snow gathering under their fingernails
And the horizon as it folds onto itself...

(Originally posted on May 10, 2005)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Hard Country" by Joe Bolton

"It is, even now, a hard country to live in.

Full summer is invisible fire under cypresses
Dying of thirst,
And you think of the dog days it got too hot
To do much else but sit and sweat
And watch the ground bake till it cracked.

Or, wintering, it could be the New World:
The empty duskward distances
And killing promise of mow.
You still remember the night it fell to fifteen below.
You were sitting at the kitchen table,
Ten years old,
A blanket on your lap and a bowl
Of snow cream in front of you.
Your mother was stoking the stove.
You saw, through the window, the west field
Silvered with snow and starlight. Saw
The figure of your father crossing the field,
And the load he carried curled in his arms:
A calf that had picked a bad night for being born.
He brought it in to warm by the stove,
Red ice of afterbirth melting into pools
And the poor thing’s ears already frozen off.

Now, in autumn, walking the long mile
Back from the empty mailbox,
You can see the place, what’s left of it:
Two Plymouths and a ‘34 Ford
Squat rusting, wheelless, home
To broken tools and rotten clothes, mice.
Gray barns and outbuildings lean graying.
And the white house is white
Only in memory,
For the photographs, too, have faded.
Back of the smokehouse, from limp fur, the skull
Of an eaten raccoon grins skyward.
You wonder if there was ever any glory to be had here,
And if not, then why, for two hundred years,
Anybody has bothered....

A hard country to live in, yes,
But not a hard country in which to find
A place to drown oneself.
You think of water, of the names
Of water: Sinking River. Rough River Lake,
South Fork of the Panther.
And all of it flowing Ohioward, Gulfward.

For water everywhere rages to be with other water;
Or, held isolate in ponds, in the hoofprint
Of the thousand-pound heifer after rain,
Reflects the utter emptiness of sky.

And water is as empty as sky, only
Easier to fall into,
Heavier to breathe."