Saturday, March 20, 2010

All Arrows Point Up

On the boat to Maya Bay Kitty Sak
points to the map of scars on his body,
“Tsunami,” he says, “everything turn black,”
and then he dives into the water as if he’s forgiven it.

We feed bananas to monkeys, which is easy
at first, but they want more, always more,
and by the end they’re hissing, and eventually they
become bored by us. Our lack of bananas.

Someone rolls a joint, the smell overwhelms
those who want to smoke go to the back of the boat
where everything is Rasta.

The scars are like teeth marks, except
there was no animal. Kitty Sak takes a drag,
coughs out a laugh despite his
jagged skin, “Good shit,” he says.

On Kho Phi Phi island all arrows point up,
it is the only thing that makes sense, the only way to go.

I’m enamored by the woman who runs our guest house,
we pay three dollars a night, there are no windows but I
don’t care because she tells me I’m pretty, makes
me papaya salad, crushes chili peppers into it with her
bare hands, “I find you boyfriend,” she promises me.

When the tsunami came, first the water pulled
back, in preparation, the fish scammered to shore,
and the hungry people went running into the
water, grabbing the slippery silver flesh by
the handful, thinking about how lucky they were.
How they didn’t even have to work for it.

A loud breath, everything swallowed whole,
even the elephants followed the arrows, stampeding
towards the sun, gathered those they could with their
trunks. And Kitty Sak climbed that tree, hands
gripping coconuts, waited however
long it took for everything to turn black.

May The Crumbled Mountain Find You

Monday, March 15, 2010

William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Speech 1949

I've been preparing a lesson on conflict in fiction for a Teaching Creative Writing class, and I came upon this speech. I hadn't read it in a while, but it always just lights something up inside me. Makes me want to write until my hand falls off, or at least until my sciatica kicks in again. It brings urgency to life, and makes our truths feel essential.

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Note To Self:

In Seven Bowls - On The Year 1389

In Seven Bowls – On The Year 1389

New years smells like fire,
the canvas bottoms of our feet
almost melting from jumping
over mountains of burning coals,
the things we wanted to let go of.

Zardee-yeh man az toe,
sorkhee-yeh toe az man.
Take my dirtied yellowed year,
And bring me your fresh, new red one.

New years smells like vinegar soaked
air, like copper, garlic, the sweet, dry
fruit of the lotus tree, a pink hyacinth
flower. A child, protected by all of this –
even the fish darting into each other,
fed by me, and then again by mother –
their gold skin flickering inside our lives,
as the lentils began to sprout.

Grandfather posed in the garden
wearing a half smile, a blue suit,
while grandmother dipped her calloused
feet into the pool- handed
me a few crisp dollar bills while she
spit out what was left of the sunflower seeds.

There are photographs, and then there is a
feeling like everything in the world
can be contained in seven bowls, is as simple
as the letter “s”.

New Years smells like freshly diced
herbs, buried with mother’s bare hands
under saffron coated rice–
white fish, smoked whole, our mouths full,
thin bones tickling the backs of our throats,
preparing us for spring.

When Golden Mouths Speak

Tongue in my ear at the Beauty
Bar after two for one martinis at
Café Flor with Carter and Tim,
like talking to your grandfather
except with more gold in their
mouths. Shared travel stories with
Carter, we’d been to some of the same
places. I felt old, unknowingly wise.

He said he loved her in Vietnam,
loved her on the water canals near
Bangkok, loved her even in Phnom
Phen when he saw the shrine of skulls,
when he thought there was no more
love to give. She died last month,
and I was jealous of him. Losing all
that love, that empty space inside him.

Later Megan and I buy beers, the cheap ones,
dance in the center of it all hands raised
to the sky as is if pretending for
a moment we’re not looking for love,
or a tongue, or a touch to fill ourselves up on.

We buy beers, Megan and I, the cheap ones,
ask for olives because we forgot to eat.
Stomach feels like a cave, the air growls inside.

A tongue in my ear at the Beauty
Bar, direct road to the weakest of
knees, to a shoulder, an arm spinning
me around and around, feeling that
womanly way again, finding balance
even on this sticky floor.

Tongue admires things only seen
in the dark pink light of a body
heated room. My eyes, hand, the
glowing white of teeth. The only
thing we are certain of is movement.
So we dance, dance-
fill ourselves up with that.

I hope somewhere Carter feels it too.