sometimes, the light
(Joni Mitchell’s Ode)
Blue, here is a shell for you
and sometimes, there will be sorrow,
but I have no regrets, Coyote.
We’re captive on this carousel of time,
oh, but sometimes the light.
Blue, here is a shell for you and
varnished weeds in window jars.
Why did you pick me and
do you have any regrets, Coyote?
Buy your dreams a dollar down.
Heed the trumpets’ call all night.
Blue, here is a shell for you because
the more I’m with you, pretty baby,
I’m like a black crow, flying;
dark and ragged and no regrets.
Until love sucks me back that way,
dreams…dreams and false alarms
but Blue, I’ve got a shell for you.
What points regrets, Coyote?
No Elegy for the Magic
I have never been IRS-audited
nor have I ever driven to Nome.
I have never spent a winter in sleet
and I have failed to swill any oceans,
to swan-dive from the middle of a dream.
Have you forgotten, dear reader, that
I told you about the v.vulgaris that stung
me on its way to a dying desert saguaro?
I have never died that way
because I am a little pirouette. You can’t
ignore me because you can’t ignore this:
we are never in peril of not being in peril,
however, I’m always a dialect preserved-
in-salted-water. I love this one magic life.
Now That I Know What I Had, I Know
I got what I wanted:
a delicate brume over the city,
the crown of a bright moon.
(All this happened a long time ago,
earth rising up against each transgression.)
I had hold of a good thing
and I don’t believe I knew what evil meant
between man & what shines—
(he don’t know what he doin’ yet,
his mornings are still comin’)—
the unresolved pros and cons.
All this happened yesterday—
the peel, as of live layers of skin and age.
When I want I can remember everything:
the lake wide and long, almost
out of the reaches of the impermeable moon.
Sestina for Suzanne Lummis, Empress of Noir
There is a backlot for my discontent,
the Pittsburgh of my imagination,
because it’s terrible being a myth!
(Could it be my plan needs fine-tuning?)
In L.A., it gets like this at night:
everyone drunk at the party …
Everyone is drunk at this party!—
at this backlot of our discontent.
In L.A., it gets like this at night,
in this Pittsburgh of our imaginations.
Perhaps our plans need fine-tuning
because it’s terrible being a myth.
Although it’s never terrible being a myth
especially if everyone’s drunk at the party.
None of our plans need fine-tuning
in this backlot of our discontent,
in this Pittsburgh of our imaginations.
It’s just that in L.A., it gets like this at night.
It gets like this at night in the City of Angels
where everyone’s story is nothing but myth,
a kind of Pittsburgh of the imagination
where everyone’s drunk at the party,
splayed on a backlot of discontent,
their plans suspicious of anyone’s fine-tuning.
But. Be suspicious of everyone’s fine-tuning.
Remember that in L.A., it gets like this at night:
see us huddled on a backlot of discontent
where everyone’s story is nothing but myth
with everyone drinking Jack Daniels at the soireé,
headed for the steel city of their imaginations.
I wonder though about the cities of imagination; I
gotta suspect everyone saying you could use fine-tuning;
come with us—everyone’s got a good drink at this party.
Because I remember: L.A. gets like this at night and
anyway, everyone’s story is nothing but noir & myth,
backlit on the backlot of interminable discontent.
For those who are discontent & skeptical of fine-
tuning: grab a good drink, remake all your myths as
you strut in L.A. because it gets like this every night.
On Creating a New Form (Maybe)
If you haven’t read every poem written, it’s hard to know whether you’ve invented a new form. But since I’ve never seen a poem written as a centostina (the combination of a cento and a sestina), I’m going to take pride of creation until someone proves me wrong.
What prompted me to develop this hybrid form (of which “Centostina for Suzanne Lummis, Empress of Noir” is an example) is this: Sestinas have long been the bane of my writing life. Unlike other forms, which are so pleasurable in their unfolding, in their romance or exoticism—the villanelle, the pantoum, the sonnet—the sestina has long held me in a grip of terror. I obsess endlessly about those six end-line words that have to be repeated throughout the poem instead of thinking about the poem as a whole.
Then a light went off. Why not combine a form I love with a form I loathe? Thus, the birth of the centostina!
The cento—from the Latin word for “patchwork”—is a collage composed of the lines of another poet (or group of poets) that creates an entirely new and unique poem. Homer and Virgil were early practitioners and contemporary examples can be found in the work of Nicole Sealy, Linda Bierds, John Ashbery, and Marwa Halal.
As for this centostina specifically, a group of Los Angeles poets were invited to write poems in celebration of Suzanne’s generosity in teaching and sharing her work. I reread Suzanne’s collection Open 24 Hours for inspiration and was struck by the “noir-ness”—a trait for which Suzanne is known—of so many of the lines. I wished they were my own. Then I realized I could make them my own if I reorganized them into a cento and, upon discovering that a mere cento wouldn’t suffice, it occurred to me that the centostina would be a good way to magnify the city’s noir personality as imagined in Suzanne’s poems.
The lines for inclusion were chosen fairly randomly; that is, I didn’t take any time to think about them in the context of the poems where they first appeared. Originally, there were about twenty-five lines that I narrowed to six, before beginning to mix and match and recombine until they created an idea of their own. The rest of the poem followed the strictures of the sestina form: six unrhymed stanzas of six lines each, followed by an envoi of three lines that gathers and deploys the six preceding end-words. The same six end-words reappear in each of the five successive stanzas but in a set pattern of changing order.
The result: an homage that I hope Suzanne and you, dear reader, enjoy.