Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Winter's Garden: Cats and Other Domestic Creatures in December's Verse-Virtual

All of a sudden people are becoming very up front about their cats. In his poem "Litter Box," Jefferson Carter compares his conduct to the self-indulgent behavior of the characters "in the new Italian movie":

I don’t whine
about my latest chore, cleaning
the litter box four or five times
a day.  I can imagine one
of those histrionic Italian husbands
fuming, yearning for his mistress
as he kneels by the reeking box,
scooping cat feces & urinous clots
of litter into a plastic bag.

Oh, those "urinous clots," a detail that surely rings true to cat owners. We have seen those "histrionic" husbands in foreign films as well. Although this poem should probably be seen as a comment on domesticity since it begins with a wife (and an ex-wife, talk about doubling down) asking the litter-box cleaning husband if he has ever been unfaithful, the tone of the whole piece and its knowing, self-mocking imagery leave me positively light-hearted. The language is just so fine.  
            Turns out, as we learn in the final stanza, the poet "loves" the cat: 

Most nights
he snuggles under the comforter,
buzzing between me & my wife like a
space heater I need to repair.

            Comparing the cat at the end with another difficult domestic task which the poet is probably putting off wraps the poem up like a present rediscovered under the tree on a raw, ugly morning three days after Christmas. Worried wives and histrionic husbands are, of course, another story. 
 (You can read the entire poem here:

            The poem "Overgrowth" by Jeffrey Winter also teaches me a lesson about my own world. He writes about the differences between his mother and himself in their approach to gardening. While the poet, "a young man," believes in "discipline and ruthless pruning," his mother, "an old woman"...

longs to see the things
she has loved grow wild out in her yard,
consuming the scenery, obliterating limits,
filling with greedy leaves every spare inch
of what is left of the world.

            Greedy leaves? Chewing the scenery? Established plants pouring over the conventional limits of walkways, sidewalks, patios, and new, young plants struggling for light, water and air beneath their undisciplined, self-indulgent neighbors -- well, I know whose garden that reminds me of. I'm with the poet's mother.
            I think we should note, however, that when a mother longs to see the things "she has loved grow wild," those objects of her nurturing include her son. As a parent as well as a gardener, I'm with Mom here again.
             Ken Slaughter's "tanka" poems intrigue me and make wish to know more about the form. Is the syllable pattern fixed? The orthodox definition of syllables per line I found online ( doesn't apply to this poem ("a backpack") but the poem completely works for me.

a backpack
with my life story inside
the truth
I twist and bend
just to get it in

The poems says so much in its few words. The telling gesture -- that twist and bend -- rings true for any backpacker, but stands for so much more. That's the way we do it on life's journey: we pick up our burden and go. But nobody's "life story" fits that easily in the places where we try to put it. 
                 I find some strong sensual imagery in the poet's other December tanka too. The "smell of dust," for instance when the poet's son looks for his baseball glove

as I search for something
to say to my ex-wife

And this evocation of a universal childhood moment:

my mother’s voice
when the streetlights come on
calling me home

Many more presents under the tree in December's Verse-Virtual. Here are a few:

          Trish Hopkinson's "Memory Therapy" treats a deep subject ("Growing up poor is tough") with spare, unsentimental, convincing language. It feels like an insider's look. I love the concluding image: 
..memories are survival,
the umbrella covering my brain,
an inflatable raft for my soul.
Adults float like fallen limbs.
Kids, they swim.

          In Kenneth Pobo's  "Even in Death," a poem about a gardener saying goodbye to the plants that have companioned his summer (I do that too), the poet sees the vines he's cut down turn into a nest of snakes and then a "hundred wounded clotheslines holding the tears of August." Great multi-layered image: vines, snakes, clotheslines. We can read these changes in our own way.
And the beautiful turn in his poem "Following Directions" from minor shortcomings such as algebra and problems following directions, to the stuff that matters, beautifully expressed here:

You came without directions,
love.  Me too.
Our blossoms always come
as a surprise.

          The six poems from Frederick Pollack's "Untitled," all make demands and reward attention. I found them alternately sad, satirical, wry, reflective, philosophical, abstract, and on the mark. I will say that the poet has a very articulate cat (compare to Jefferson Carter's aging cat above), who is given the whole of poem 7 to sum up the case for the prosecution (or is it defense?):

You too have lived indoors,
for outside there are cancers, dogs, and cars;
have felt, when you allowed yourself to feel,
the love that feeds you, watches while you eat,
cleans up your mess,..." 

           Barbara Crooker's "In Paris" offers a lot of on-the-spot imagery (and a fair amount of French) that suggests the magic so many people, Americans among them, feel for that city of beauty and art. The incantation that breaks out near the end --

Praise the small cage of the elevator
that carries us to our chambre.  Praise my four-
chambered heart, still beating; praise your gall
bladder, unremoved.

-- though it celebrates blessings everywhere, feels particularly fitting here as it covers a lot of ground in a few words. 
(All of these poems and many more are on