Install Theme

Poetic Rebuttal: Suzanne Paola and Charles Webb

Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor  - Suzanne Paola

Because we need to remember
that memory will end, let the womb remain
untouched. Its walls
an image of the earth without us—
No form sharpening, no clutter
of umbilicus,
no fingers diverging from their webs.

Generation is an argument.
It says
my finitude is infinity: I will shape from it
another & another.

& these will go on, like numbers
that through division can continue, if a little less
each time—

But infants press
against two oblivions: the one before,
the one after. And one being
can never outrun two deaths.

Let’s celebrate the emptiness, the other place.
Let’s create, like God, both void & image.
And carry our end
as we’ve carried ourselves, in imagination—in film & theater,
statues & mirrors, the long gaze
at our own face.

Look in. See the earth
greening again: closing around
the long bright scars
of cities. When plastic’s
rare, and honorable fossil. All glass
finally polished in the sea.

When the reign of the nude skin, the opposable thumb’s
over, when the argument runs
whether bones should crouch or stand in the Hall of Humans.

Will it be crows who inherit? With towns
in treetops, winds holy, beauty a pure dull black.
Or beetles, asking themselves
how we ever made love, we all gravity & heavy limbs.

Maybe by then the fumes of the toilet-tissue plant
will have risen past the atmosphere, & whales will be back, 25
thick as cattle, with a dim mythology of bloody ships.

Let’s insist on contingency, on seeing
our earth in our dream, false
& mutable: blacktopped, split
through the geometries of building & plowing, daylight
dragged into nighttime in small glass bowls.

Let my body stay as it is, saying
we have done our damage, all
in the name of imagination: let something else
through its mind, mar
the surfaces of things.

"Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor," by Suzanne Paola
(in Bardo. University of Wisconsin Press, 1998)


Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam DownCharles Harper Webb

Because we know our lives will end,
Let the vagina host a huge party, and let the penis come.

Let it come nude, without a raincoat.
Let it come rich, and leave with coffers drained.

Throw the prostate’s floodgates open.
Let sperm crowd the womb full as a World Cup stadium.

Let them flip and wriggle like a mackerel shoal.
Let babies leap into being like atoms after the Big Bang.

Let’s celebrate fullness, roundness, gravidity.
Let’s worship generation—this one,

And the next, and next, forever.
Let’s adore the progression: protozoan to guppy

To salamander to slow loris to Shakespeare.
Forget Caligula. Forget Hitler. Mistakes

Were made. Let’s celebrate our own faces
Grinning back at us across ten thousand years.

Let’s get this straight: Earth doesn’t care if it’s overrun—
If it’s green or brown or black, rain forest, desert, or ice pack.

A paper mill is sweet as lavender to Earth,
Which has no sense of smell, and doesn’t care

If roads gouge it, or industries fume into its air.
Beetles don’t care. Or crows.

Or whales, despite their singing and big brains.
Sure, rabbits feel. Spicebush swallowtails

Feel their proboscides slide into flowers’
Honeypots, which may feel too,

But lack the brains to care. Even if beagles
Are as mournful as they look—

Even if great apes grieve, wage war, catch termites
With twigs, and say in sign language,

"Ca-ca on your head," they still don’t care.
Or if the do—well, join the club. 30

We humans care so much, some of us dub life
A vale of tears, and see heaven as oblivion.

Some pray, for Earth’s sake, not to be reborn.
Wake up! Earth will be charred by the exploding sun,

Blasted to dust, reduced to quarks, and still not care.
If some people enjoy their lives too much

To share, let them not share. If some despise themselves
Too much to reproduce, let them disappear.

If some perceive themselves as a disease, let them
Take the cure, and go extinct. It’s immaterial to Earth.

Let people realize this, or not. Earth doesn’t care.
I do, and celebrate my own fecundity.

I celebrate my wife’s ovaries, her fallopian tubes
Down which, like monthly paychecks,

Golden eggs roll. I celebrate the body’s changing.
(Might as well: it changes anyway.)

I celebrate gestation, water breaking,
The dash to the hospital, the staff descending,

Malpractice polices in hand. I celebrate
Dilation of the cervix, doctors in green scrubs,

And even (since I won’t get one) the episiotomy.
I’ll celebrate my bloody, dripping son, head deformed

By trusting against the world’s door.
Let it open wide for him. Let others make room for him.

Let his imagination shine like God’s.
Let his caring change the face of everything.

"Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam Down," By Charles Harper Webb, In Billy Collins,
ed., The Best American Poetry 2006, New York: Scribner Poetry, 2006

" The problem in many ways is something that poetry has struggled with for a long time, especially in the 20th century. The misimpression that many people have, the misapprehension that poetry is something that they’re not clever enough for or that poetry belongs to high culture or that it’s so sensitive and emotional in nature that it’s impractical in the real world, that is has nothing to do with mechanics or science or money or making a living. The first illusion that any poet has to dispel, I think, is that poetries is for sissies, or that poetry is for people who are specially qualified when in fact American poetry is one of the great populist bodies of culture in the world, in the history the world. "

- Tony Hoagland, “Twenty Little Poems That Could Save The World” interview for ArtBeat

Donald Hall on Bi-polarity, from “The Way to Say ‘Pleasure’”

Literature is largely although not entirely the product of maniacs. 

Any notion that connects genius with abnormal psychology is routinely dismissed with the epithet romantic. Conventional minds need to dismiss the notion of functional aberration. But discovery necessitates eccentricity because the center is already known. Of course it must be noted that neither mania nor anything else guarantees discovery.

The incidence of bi-polar mood disorder in artists, especially in writers, rises high in proportion to the rest of the population. Bi-polarity implies gross swings of mood, but not necessarily the madness of delusion or suicide. Some manic-depressives—including Robert Lowell and Theodore Roethke—enter institutions for thought-disorders not just mood-disorders. In any case, bi-polarity is painful and wasteful: Mania is self-deceptive and depression self-destructive. At extremely manic states one lacks judgement so thoroughly that one is unlikely to write well; in extreme depression one cannot lift a pencil. Recent pharmacological discovery allows many patients respite from these extremes.

But also: Manic inspiration can make great art. The confidence and energy of a limited manic state is the divine afflatus, the sense of possession or transport, inspiration, the vatic voice that speaks unbidden. Mania characterizes not only poets but saints, mystics, mathematicians, and inventors. The poet’s inspiration is a heightened ability to perceive and embody previously unrecognized identities. It reaches past pleasure to joy. Pleasure is the body’s and allows the poem its entry. Joy is the spirit’s and responds to what mania provides: the insight that recognizes and establishes connections and resemblances. Metaphor is the spirit’s rhetoric as mania is its chemistry; the psyche which we experience as immaterial works through material means.

Mania is essential to the survival of the species, and to the large machine of civilization; it enhances not the individual but the collective. Manic-depressives may kill themselves when they are down but when they are up they give birth. Creation needs destruction. By inventing epics and wheels when they are inspired, manics provide for the whole machine. When they are low they provide nothing—but they do not break the machine. (They break themselves and people around them.) When they write books they write out of their experience, much of which is hopeless. They report on loss and despair, which are endemic to all life, in the flesh and body of their art which is pleasure. This marriage of dark and light, this wedding of pain and pleasure, makes literature’s bi-polar wholeness. Poetry weds the unweddable and embodies the conditions we live under: twigs of dread, nest of pleasure.

Can’t beat having a great library at hand. Love my program. Forensics manuals (I left mine in STL) and Blind Huber, for research and inspiration.

Watching 10th Kingdom Again.

Scott Cohen take me now.

(I may draw fanart.)


from my new story. It doesn’t have a title yet.

“A key turned in the lock. Behind the closed door of my bedroom I heard footsteps and whispers of more than two people. A girl’s voice laughed. I flexed my feet. These boys are not the kind that think enough about any decision to regret it. I could…

My sweet Luby’s sweet ass writing.

In the Longhouse, Oneida Museum || by Roberta Hill Whiteman

House of five fires, you never raised me.
Those nights when the throat of the furnace
wheezed and rattled its regular death,
I wanted your wide door,

your mottled air of bark and working sunlight,
wanted your smokehole with its stars,
and your roof curving its singing mouth above me.
Here are the tiers once filled with sleepers,

and their low laughter measured harmony or strife.
Here I could wake amazed at winter,
my breath in the draft a chain of violets.
The house I left as a child now seems

a shell of sobs. Each year I dream it sinister
and dig in my heels to keep out the intruder
banging at the back door. My eyes burn
from cat urine under the basement stairs

and the hall reveals a nameless hunger,
as if without a history, I should always walk
the cluttered streets of this hapless continent.
Thinking it best I be wanderer,

I rode whatever river, ignoring every zigzag,
every spin. I’ve been a fragment, less than my name,
shaking in a solitary landscape,
like the last burnt leaf on an oak.

What autumn wind told me you’d be waiting?
House of five fires, they take you for a tomb,
but I know you better. When desolation comes,
I’ll hide your ridgepole in my spine

and melt into crow call, reminding my children
that spiders near your door
joined all the reddening blades of grass
without oil, hasp, or uranium.


 Featured in New Voices From the Longhouse, 1989

One of my favorite poems from one of my tribesmembers (Oneida). She is incredible. I hope to be writing like this someday.


about the megafauna || a poem by Kerri Webster

about the megafauna

Things grow inchoate when I close my eyes. So open them:
red dumpster and the redbud tree, how the pitcher-plant

drowns its prey, terra cotta earth, my soft nun-body—
coarse sheets, cheap underthings.

Inside the vanishing, women bump each other on the street. 
Their bags-full-of-world make a tissue paper rustling.

I’ve been thinking about the megafauna.
Take the tundra horse. Take the secretary bird.

Leaves become trash and the invasive grasses are facilitated by our hems. 
Thaw-water in clogged gutters, a fault line where I salt the steps.

The tundra horse, once real, is no longer among us.
Night says             galaxy            dryrot             distillation.

Night wobbles like a tilda.

Histology says I’m bruised but good.

From “Lake of Hours.” Kerri has a collection called We Do Not Eat Our Hearts Alone.

Well, I thought I would share this, too. While in undergraduate at Washington University in STL I was delighted to attend a Brenda Shaughnessy reading. I love listening to her read—she is so matter-of-fact, but feels so deeply. She signed my copy of Human Dark with Sugar. For some reason it makes me well-up every time.

"Dear McKenzie, What a treat to meet you & your fantastic smile—Lucky poet to have such enthusiasm! Yours, Brenda"


Sorry, T. || Brenda Shaughnessy


Sorry, T.

but I’m a ghost. Do you understand
that the person you love
is fleshy and heavy from hip

to boot to make up for this?
There’s a name for it: Brenda,
but I can’t fool everyone.

Even if I have convinced you,
and I don’t bruise easily, that I am yours
to strong-arm and throttle.

Even when you force me to become
of this world—of this cold floor.
I can do so only for a moment.

When the moment falls off
and primal fool-seasons
affix their wintry incubus,

I tend to stomp around to another
bed. Hurting you vaporizes me,
which is why I love others.

I don’t leave a flukeprint in the sweat
of things. The ground won’t greet me
like a domestic animal when I walk.

When I talk you glaze over like the sun
on shifty pavement.
I won’t see the lip of a step

before I bloody my knees again.
(The blood isn’t so bad, but for a ghost
it doesn’t make sense.

Others can draw it, they don’t know.
They make it into a potion for themselves
but you try to make me look at it.)


From Human Dark With Sugar (on sale now, ooh!)


Beautiful. Something I was meditating on today. Getting back to work over here, head to desk, you won’t see much original content from me unless it’s those sketches. So here’s my inspiration for the day.

For more Shaughnessy, also from Human Dark With Sugar —> (I’m Over the Moon)


Recreation | by Audre Lorde

Coming together
it is easier to work
after our bodies
paper and pen
neither care nor profit
whether we write or not
but as your body moves
under my hands
charged and waiting
we cut the leash
you create me against your thighs
hilly with images
moving through our word countries
my body
writes into your flesh
the poem
you make of me.

Touching you I catch midnight
as moon fires set in my throat
I love you flesh into blossom
I made you
and take you made
into me. 


By Audre Lorde. Via the insanely talented Tamiko Beyer for the find. I want someday to be so accomplished. :)

" And there is, for me, no difference between writing a good poem and moving into sunlight against the body of a woman I love. "

- Lorde, Audre. "Uses of the Erotic: The erotic as Power." Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984. 53-59.


What Goes On — Stephen Dunn

After the affair and the moving out, 
after the destructive revivifying passion, 
we watched her life quiet

into a new one, her lover more and more 
on its periphery. She spent many nights 
alone, happy for the narcosis

of the television. When she got cancer 
she kept it to herself until she couldn’t 
keep it from anyone. The chemo debilitated 
and saved her, and one day

her husband asked her to come back— 
his wife, who after all had only fallen 
in love as anyone might 
who hadn’t been in love in a while—

and he held her, so different now, 
so thin, her hair just partially 
grown back. He held her like a new woman

and what she felt 
felt almost as good as love had, 
and each of them called it love 
because precision didn’t matter anymore.

And we who’d been part of it, 
often rejoicing with one 
and consoling the other,

we who had seen her truly alive 
and then merely alive, 
what could we do but revise 
our phone book, our hearts,

offer a little toast to what goes on.

         - Stephen Dunn (Different Hours)

Image: redfull