Tag Archives: poems

sidewalk

Sidewalk. Just side and walk. A place to the side where you may walk. Something concrete to put your feet on, a safe lane whereon vehicles will not pass (you hope).

Streets didn’t use to have sidewalks. They were for walking on, and for riding horses on and pulling carriages on if you could make your way. Nobody went a whole lot faster than anyone else, generally. And much of the time it was all dirt and mud, and “mud” often meant what was left behind by the horses.

When it first appeared, in the 1600s, sidewalk meant a minor lane or path off to the side of a main one. We might call those alleys and side streets now. By the early 1700s it was also used to mean a raised pavement alongside the carriageway. And outside of North America, pavement is still the term commonly used for what Canadians and Americans call a sidewalk. But where I’m from, pavement is what’s on the streets – meaning where the cars drive, the asphalt – while the concrete on the sides is a sidewalk.

Which tells us that the foot-passers, the people walking and running and sometimes wheeling in wheelchairs and scooters, everyone who is not going forth clad in two or three tons of metal – a rigid, awkward mobility suit that takes up more than fifty times the space of the person in it (and most of the time it is just one person at a time) – is off to the side: peripheral, accessory, less important, less vital. 

In dense traffic, a city block can fit about 40 cars, which will typically hold about 50 people. The sidewalk can hold hundreds moving smoothly without collision. But our heavy expensive devices are our empires of the mind. No matter that every car must park sooner or later and the person inside go walking; no matter that streets were made for walking before they were given to cars. Walking is off to the side. It’s where you meet and pass people, where people ask you for money and directions, where you go into and out of stores, where you see the weather and the birds and the buildings close up and in detail. It’s where you truly encounter the concrete. But it’s off to the side now, and going-somewhere-else, insulated in a big expensive box, is the rule.

I’ve been thinking recently, for some reason, about a poem I wrote in 2007. It’s really why I decided to taste this word sidewalk today. Here it is.

A patch of sidewalk speaks

Well, I was
a rock, yes,
I did that thing
for a few million years.
It was fun, it had
a certain solidity,
and you know how
people think of rocks.
It was good.
But things change.
And I’m not willing
to say it was not
for the better, or it was
somehow not good;
I think I’ve been opened
to a whole new set 
of experiences:
soles, paws, 
tires, papers.
Where I was before,
those trees, that grass, 
the other rocks, 
they can be peaceful, 
but it loses its attraction.
Now every hour brings
thousands of new 
fascinations.
And I have new friends, 
we’re all in this together,
a lot of us who
did the rock thing back when
(though it doesn’t seem
so long ago, in
the grand scheme of things).
And I’m not kidding
myself, I won’t be
a rock again.
So I have to accept it.
But things change.
What’s not to like?

selenotropic

This word seems so serene and tropical – and it is, in its way. It is from Classical Greek σελήνη seléné ‘moon’ (also the name of the moon goddess: Σελήνη) and τροπος tropos ‘turning’, and it means ‘turning to the moon’. It is used technically of plants that follow the cold mottled white orb of the night in its celestial transit, but all humans (and not just on tropical nights) – and especially all poets – do it too.

The noun from which selenotropic is derived, selenotropism, was confected by M.C. Musset in 1883 following an experiment (read his short summary) in which he raised plants in darkness and then exposed them to moonlight to see if they would follow it, and they did.

I’ve written a poem on this theme. While you read it, why not listen to Claude Débussy playing his own Clair de Lune, recorded on piano roll, inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name?

You can read Verlaine’s poem in the description on the video, if you click through to YouTube. Here is mine:

selenotropic

Did you turn to the moon?

After sprouting in shadow,
after you grew in darkness,
grew slender, long, sun-starved,
grew leaves and tendrils knowing
no warmth, no joy, no mist,
no riot of birds, no bee-kiss,
nothing to trample or eat you,
nothing to touch or greet you,

after one warm hand took you,
after your captor exposed you,
exposed you to glass, to sky,
exposed you to whispers, to watching
your stems, your terminal buds,
your eyes, your fingers of blood
wanting the sun, the rain,
wanting the wings, the pain,

did you pull at your roots,
did you lean to see
what this lover was,
what this almost-light—
not sun, not day, not bulb,
not flame, not lightning flash—
wanted, running and sinking,
wanted behind the mountain?

Did you, in all your paleness,
did you, in never-green,
in your concavities,
in your internal cause,
know then that you were seen,
know then that you were named,
and glow with unowned light,
and grow, and shine, and fade?

Did you turn to the moon?

apartment

I grew up in houses, which are about as apart as a dwelling place can be, especially when they’re far out in the country with no one else in sight. Now my wife and I live in the city, so far downtown that downtown is up, with people living all around us, hundreds of them even within wifi radius, and somehow the space we have walled off for us in the middle of all that is an apartment. You’d think they might call the whole building a togetherment, but no. Well, each unit is its own little world, set apart from all the others, except for the noise that leaks through the ceiling, floor, and wall from those on the other side.

Anyway, here’s a poem, in fairly free verse.

 

Come in, welcome, let me
show you around. This
is the front door closing behind you and
this is the front closet, where
we keep a thousand pounds
of coats, but half of that
weight is dust and dead bugs.
If you push to the back of the closet,
far beyond the jumbled
stack of suitcases and tubes
of awkward wrapping paper, and step
where no foot has set in a decade
and shove through the fabric, you
will enter a different world—
of dead bugs and dust and wall.
And the stacks of boxes will all
collapse behind you and bury you.
Don’t go in there. Come.

Ahead is the door to the bedroom,
where you do not belong. This way.

Here is the guest toilet, with the tap
that is easy to use, except
if you are that one person for whom
it will always fall apart suddenly.
The walls in here are red, as red
as fresh blood, and I recommend
that if you shut the door, you
keep your eyes shut too. No,
we didn’t paint it that colour;
it was the previous owners.

Here is the hall and here
is a cute door that you must
never open, because—wait—no—
oh, ha ha, just kidding, it’s
our washer and dryer. Moving on.

Ahead is a view of the city,
as much of it as you can see,
which is about three blocks, because
all the other buildings
around us are taller. But
if you just press your face
against the window, you
can see the tower. Wait.
Here, this is paper towel
and this is Windex. Please
remove the greasy faceprint
you’ve just made on the glass.

Through that sliding door is
the little solarium, which
is small and contains nothing
that would interest you, just
cameras and boxes and boxes
and chairs and papers. The walls?
Oh, yes, you see that they
are murder red as well. Guess why.
Yes, the previous owners. Move
on, don’t bother, don’t touch that.

You are in the dining room.
You can see that it is part
of the same amorphous space
that is most of the dwelling;
we arbitrarily divide it
into nominal rooms,
each a part apart of apartment,
like Europe divided from Asia or
work time from happy time or
joy from terror, pet
from meat, head from neck.
Oh, now you’ve stepped
out of the dining room. Oh,
now you’re back in. Do you see?
Imagine a line from this shelf
to this liquor cabinet that
is next to my desk here. Look,
this matters. You should always
be able to say where you are. Here,
have a drink. Step this way.

And here, as you pass between
the computer desk Charybdis
and the Scylla of chaise longue,
is the library, so called
because obvious reasons.
Here, sit down, have a chair
that I’ve dragged from the dining room
to set your drink on. Good.
Sit on the chaise longue. No,
you can’t sit on the big
baseball-glove-shaped chair.
Why? It’s mine. Sit. Drink!
The wall? Behind the books? You
can see it? Oh. No, heh, that
was the previous owners.

Sorry, I don’t know. We still
get mail for them, all these
dozen or so years later. Huh.

As you can see from your seat
on the chaise longue, over here
is the kitchen: where the magic
happens. No, no, stay there.
Yes, iron pan, yes, fridge, yes,
knives, only the best, you know,
and behind all those jars are jars.
No. Stay there. You can hear me
well enough as I cook.
There is one thing you should know
about my kitchen, and that is
stay out.

Say, if you’re getting bored
with the view of my three thousand books
while I whip up dinner for you,
here’s a special treat:
let’s go see the view
from the bedroom window. No, really.
It’s OK. I’ll go with you.

Why is that door open?
Yes, still the washer and dryer.

Here is the bedroom, and as
you can see, it is facing the other
way. Ignore those books. Yes,
there is a bed under all that.
Here is the window. See? There
is the island, and the tracks,
and the freeway, and the holes
in which they are going to put
more huge buildings. Yay.
In there is the master
bathroom, but wait, no,
don’t look, it’s, no, wait,
no, you don’t, ah, no, well,
yes, as you can see, there is
a shower and a separate tub,
and some shelves and dust and a sink
and, oh, that wall? Sorry, that
was the previous owners. Now
do come have a sit
and let me refresh your drink
and I’ll go cut some things.

Jellicle

This is Jaggie, the gumbie cat

A couple of nights ago, I saw the musical Cats for the first time. That may seem rather late, given how long it’s been around, and given that my wife even had a nickname among some of her skater friends based on it. But so it goes. Continue reading

The sound of Povember

Not everyone who reads Sesquiotica may know that for the last year and more I’ve been record an audio version of every new word tasting and similar article I post. I usually don’t have the time to record it for a few days after posting the original article, and I always release it early for Patreon subscribers first before putting it on SoundCloud and embedding it in the article. So by the time I add it to the article, most subscribers have moved on. But it’s there, waiting for you to come back and listen to it whenever you want.

I’ve finally finished adding all my audio versions of my Povember poems. To save you the hassle of looking them all up, I’ve embedded them all below. Click on any one to listen to it! Continue reading

mischievous

I’d like you all to meet Miss Chievous.
She’s got a lot of fun to give us.
With eyes so wiley and mouth so devious,
She’ll trick you to thinking she’s Miss Chievious
(She isn’t now, though you should know
She had that name centuries ago).
She’s a little imp, a sylph, a sprite,
A naughty mistress of delight;
When it comes to fun that could end in grief,
She’s the boss-girl – she’s Miss Chief.
It’s Friday evening and you’re bored stiff?
Just wave a little handkerchief,
Put on your tail coat and your waistcoat –
Or kevlar vest, and grab your mess kit –
Her boat to fun’s docked at the quay.
She’ll teach you to be wild and free!
She’ll have you dangling on a gunwale
Quaffing Cognac with a funnel,
Held inverted by a boatswain
Mostly naked till half frozen;
Sneaking peaks and stealing victuals –
Blancmanges and peanut brittles,
Caesars spiked with sauce from Worcester –
Then she’ll say, “Come meet my sister.”
If your tongue is free from injury,
Just wait till she comes out in… lingerie!
For that’s how she breeds fascination:
She ever foils your expectation.
If you make your chief Miss Chief,
You’ll end up hanging from a cliff
And see Miss Chievous just above it…
But mark my words, boy, you will love it.

I encourage you to read this through for yourself first. But you may thereafter watch this video of me reading it, if you wish:

by

A word such as by is really too basic and multifarious to do a tasting of the usual sort on it. Instead, I present a poem – another from Songs of Love and Grammar.

Joined by fate by April

Last fall I was hit by a stop sign
by a truck that failed to stop;
the driver was caught by a red light
and sent off to jail by a cop.
I was taken away by an ambulance
and laid by a nurse in a bed
in a hospital built by a river
and by morning was back from the dead.
I was kept in a room by the river
by the nurse to heal and stay.
I was seen by my bed by the window
by the nurse twice every day.
I was healed by the power of beauty:
I was struck by the nurse’s face
and blown away by her lovely lips
by the time I left that place.
The nurse was known by April
by friends and by people about
and, by George, she was called by the next month
by me to ask her out.
By April she had been courted
by me for half a year
and by then it was time for a ring
to be given by me to my dear.
We were wed by a tree by a lake
by a hill by the moon by a priest
and the joining by God was feted
by the stars by our friends by a feast.
Now I’m joined in my life by April
and by fate we will never be parted,
and my wall is bedecked by the stop sign
by which this all was started.
By the wall a cradle’s been placed,
and by April all will know why:
by and large, my April’s grown pregnant,
and we’ll have a child by and by.

Unrequoted love

A friend recently got a tweet from an interested chap in which he used quotation marks in a way she, as an editor, did not approve of. I was put in mind of this poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar:

Unrequoted love

I’m getting letters from my dear,
but I’m not sure that she’s sincere.
I see the way she ends her notes:
the phrase “I love you” is in quotes.
I really don’t know what to do,
for if she’s quoting, quoting who?

Although I know it seems absurd,
her every gift is but a word:
I send you “hugs”, I send you “kisses”
That’s it? Some kind of present this is!
She writes, I “miss” you, and I see
the missing is mere irony!

Well, I think I know what to do:
I’m writing her, I “miss” you too.
My “love” is such, if you were here,
you’d get “a diamond ring”, my dear.
My “life” shall be at your disposal –
I wait for “yes” to my “proposal”.

She sends mere quotes? I send her same!
She’ll know that two can play this game!

If you enjoyed that, there are five dozen more in Songs of Love and Grammar, available for just $12 on lulu.com and amazon.com.

A naughty chemistry poem

I think it’s about time for another poem from Songs of Love and Grammar (my book of salacious verse about English usage, available at Lulu.com and Amazon.com). This one is a naughty chemistry poem – by which I mean both a naughty poem about chemistry and a poem about naughty chemistry. It is larded with abbreviations from the periodic table – e.g., Fe for iron. To read it correctly you need to read the abbreviations as the full names of the elements. If you’re stuck, no worries: I’ve made a video of it.

The elements of lust

I met a chemist just by chance
in the Pd at a dance.
I’m a bit of a B the dancing floor,
so I thought I’d try a little more.
I asked, “Would it be much amiss
to lead a Rn your mouth with a little kiss?”
She said, “Oh, please, don’t get me wrong.
It’s just – your W inches long.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s fun for play,
though when I it’s in the way.”
She said, “Then let’s be somewhat bolder,
with my right Ne your left shoulder.
The days Ar when I would shy –
they’re dead; let’s Ba, say bye-bye.”
My sense of shame I’d S a Ni,
so we commenced some slap and tickle,
but even I turn Cd red
to think of where our actions Pb…
The host told us we had to stop or
we’d be dragged off by a Cu;
it took some Au to Fe it out.
But this adventure left no doubt:
in love, I’m not so sentimental…
I’ll take a girl who’s elemental.

Now here’s the video:

The various chemical symbols, which have to be pronounced as the full name of the element, are: Pd = palladium, B = boron, Rn = radon, W = tungsten, I = iodine, Ne = neon, Ar = argon, Ba = barium, S = sulfur, Ni = nickel, Cd = cadmium, Pb = lead, Cu = copper, Au = gold, Fe = iron. Note that the I in line 10 is iodine, not simply the first-person singular pronoun. Cadmium red is a bright red.

To split the sweet infinitive

Instead of a word tasting note today, I present, for your entertainment, a video of my poem “To sweetly split the infinitive” from Songs of Love and Grammar. I think you’re going to really like it. 😉