April is Poetry Month — reason enough to check in on what some of our local poets have been up to recently.
Below you'll find five poems from Washington writers with new books out. Whatever their focus, they nimbly balance wordplay with heartplay, while showing a sharp awareness of what's extraordinary about the ordinary existence.
We also have audio of the poets reading the selections below, as well as other poems and insights into how some of those poems came to be written.
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times book critic
Mornings, she'd hop on my shoulder for a ride,
take off to the blinds, or like a lover, nibble
my earlobe with such persistence I had to
brush her off — and struggled through illness
as though called back. When I saw her
on her side and righted her, she allowed me
to stroke her flank and head with my finger,
keeping herself upright, vertical, just tipping
forward, stretching her neck out, black eyes
undimmed, without sound or stir, as she died.
Her absence hovers like a swelling drop,
the words she almost knew in two languages.
She'd roll a pencil to the table edge,
watch it stall, then lower her beak and push,
nudging it forward again, and wait for the crash.
— Mark Halperin
If you believe in the magic of language,
then Elvis really Lives
and Princess Diana foretold I end as car spin.
If you believe the letters themselves
contain a power within them,
then you understand
what makes outside tedious,
how desperation becomes a rope ends it.
The circular logic that allows senator to become treason,
and treason to become atoners.
That eleven plus two is twelve plus one,
and an admirer is also married.
That if you could just rearrange things the right way
you'd find your true life,
the right path, the answer to your questions:
you'd understand how the Titanic
turns into that ice tin,
and debit card becomes bad credit.
How listen is the same as silent,
and not one letter separates stained from sainted.
— Peter Pereira
"Mr. Saturday Night"
— for my student, Khalid
This could be an American story: drugs, discos, even
the Somali nickname that clings to you like an out-of-date
aphrodisiac. Living by chance in a Kenyan city, a mother's
rules flung across the lost luggage of border crossings,
her final dollars follow you: sixteen, exiled, on the edge
of sanity. You slip through an open window
riddled by a breath of mixed fortune. Money lighting
on hands with a warlord's stratagem until no one remains
rich enough to refuse you. Yes, American history.
Your daily regime of qaat dreams, as good a win as any.
Who will tell of the deep pleasure in tragedy? This
no waiting for tomorrow to bathe in the forbidden.
Yes — our red, white, and blue story. Now worlds
away, sponging up new nouns in a new country —
it's undercut by the stench of an abandoned body
you try not to step on in the creosoled street.
— Susan Rich
You know the feeling, the sudden fumble for
your wallet, keys, and passport — all are there,
in place, yet as they seal the cabin door
you're missing something crucial, you could swear.
Whatever necessity you've left behind,
too late: you're airborne now and going fast.
The place you're leaving slips away. Resigned,
you watch as places you'll never be speed past
beneath the wing. Short of catastrophe
there's nothing that a man with cash can't master,
you tell yourself; and that, you think, could be
the modern definition of disaster:
anything that money doesn't mend.
Now calm, you feel the airplane pick up speed.
You lose your sense of loss as you ascend.
The earth and its uncertainties recede.
— Richard Wakefield
All life born of hot thrust and eager
clinch is born to die
while those who come from
cell division can live forever.
The soul's flesh ripens
and chafes, stretches and cramps,
caught in the body's confine.
Still, she may be amused
at her changing clothing, momentarily
enjoying its theater, snake skin
high heels, gritty bars with big red wine,
a dusty lake gliding alongside a lilac road.
The soul, always hungry, watches
the fleshy appetites and says
no, no that's not what I want.
But we, animal-ethereal alliances
that we are, break our hearts and health
trying to feed her what she cannot use
and does not want, her dark night
driving us to outrageous extremes,
while hunger, blind,
begging and nagging at us,
gnaws our flesh and leeches
— Judith Roche