This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Week: "Lethe" by Charles Baudelaire

"Lethe"
By Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Geoffrey Wagner, "Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire"

Come on my heart, cruel and insensible soul,
My darling tiger, beast with indolent airs;
I want to plunge for hours my trembling fingers
In your thick and heavy mane;

In your petticoats filled with your perfume
To bury my aching head,
And breathe, like a faded flower,
The sweet taste of my dead love.

I want to sleep, to sleep and not to live,
In a sleep as soft as death,
I shall cover with remorseless kisses
Your body beautifully polished as copper.

To swallow my appeased sobbing
I need only the abyss of your bed;
A powerful oblivion lives on your lips,
And all Lethe flows in your kisses.

I shall obey, as though predestined,
My destiny, that is now my delight;
Submissive martyr, innocent damned one,
My ardor inflames my torture,

And I shall suck, to drown my bitterness
The nepenthe and the good hemlock,
On the lovely tips of those jutting breasts
Which have never imprisoned love.

The original French:

Le Léthé
By Charles Baudelaire

Viens sur mon coeur, âme cruelle et sourde,
Tigre adoré, monstre aux airs indolents;
Je veux longtemps plonger mes doigts tremblants
Dans l'épaisseur de ta crinière lourde;

Dans tes jupons remplis de ton parfum
Ensevelir ma tête endolorie,
Et respirer, comme une fleur flétrie,
Le doux relent de mon amour défunt.

Je veux dormir! dormir plutôt que vivre!
Dans un sommeil aussi doux que la mort,
J'étalerai mes baisers sans remords
Sur ton beau corps poli comme le cuivre.

Pour engloutir mes sanglots apaisés
Rien ne me vaut l'abîme de ta couche;
L'oubli puissant habite sur ta bouche,
Et le Léthé coule dans tes baisers.

À mon destin, désormais mon délice,
J'obéirai comme un prédestiné;
Martyr docile, innocent condamné,
Dont la ferveur attise le supplice,

Je sucerai, pour noyer ma rancoeur,
Le népenthès et la bonne ciguë
Aux bouts charmants de cette gorge aiguë
Qui n'a jamais emprisonné de coeur.

This poem was banned from "Les Fleurs du Mal" because of its corrupting content. This poem which was most likely inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s mistress Jeanne Duvall, also known as his "Black Venus."


The son of Joseph-Francois Baudelaire and Caroline Archimbaut Dufays, Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. Baudelaire's father, who was 30 years older than his mother, died when the poet was 6.

Baudelaire was very close with his mother (much of what is known of his later life comes from the letters he wrote her), but was deeply distressed when she married Major Jacques Aupick.

In 1833, the family moved to Lyons where Baudelaire attended a military boarding school. Shortly before graduation, he was kicked out for refusing to give up a note passed to him by a classmate. Baudelaire spent the next two years in Paris' Latin Quarter pursuing a career as a writer and accumulating debt. It is also believed that he contracted syphilis around this time.

In 1841 his parents sent him on ship to India, hoping the experience would help reform his bohemian urges. He left the ship, however, and returned to Paris in 1842. Upon his return, he received a large inheritance, which allowed him to live the life of a Parisian dandy. He developed a love for clothing and spent his days in the art galleries and cafes of Paris. He experimented with drugs such as hashish and opium. He fell in love with Jeanne Duval, who inspired the "Black Venus" section of Les Fleurs du mal. By 1844, he had spent nearly half of his inheritance. His family won a court order that appointed a lawyer to manage Baudelaire's fortune and pay him a small "allowance" for the rest of his life.

To supplement his income, Baudelaire wrote art criticism, essays, and reviews for various journals. His early criticism of contemporary French painters such as Eugene Delacroix and Gustave Courbet earned him a reputation as a discriminating if idiosyncratic critic. In 1847, he published the autobiographical novella La Fanfarlo. His first publications of poetry also began to appear in journals in the mid-1840s. In 1854 and 1855, he published translations of Edgar Allan Poe, whom he called a "twin soul." His translations were widely acclaimed.

In 1857, Auguste Poulet-Malassis published the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal. Baudelaire was so concerned with the quality of the printing that he took a room near the press to help supervise the book's production. Six of the poems, which described lesbian love and vampires, were condemned as obscene by the Public Safety section of the Ministry of the Interior. The ban on these poems was not lifted in France until 1949. In 1861, Baudelaire added thirty-five new poems to the collection. Les Fleurs du mal afforded Baudelaire a degree of notoriety; writers such as Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo wrote in praise of the poems. Flaubert wrote to Baudelaire claiming, "You have found a way to inject new life into Romanticism. You are unlike anyone else [which is the most important quality]." Unlike earlier Romantics, Baudelaire looked to the urban life of Paris for inspiration. He argued that art must create beauty from even the most depraved or "non-poetic" situations.

Les Fleurs du mal, with its explicit sexual content and juxtapositions of urban beauty and decay, only added to Baudelaire's reputation as a poéte maudit (cursed poet). Baudelaire enhanced this reputation by flaunting his eccentricities; for instance, he once asked a friend in the middle of a conversation "Wouldn't it be agreeable to take a bath with me?" Because of the abundance of stories about the poet, it is difficult to sort fact from fiction.

In the 1860s Baudelaire continued to write articles and essays on a wide range of subjects and figures. He was also publishing prose poems, which were posthumously collected in 1869 as Petits poémes en prose (Little Poems in Prose). By calling these non-metrical compositions poems, Baudelaire was the first poet to make a radical break with the form of verse.

In 1862, Baudelaire began to suffer nightmares and increasingly bad health. He left Paris for Brussels in 1863 to give a series of lectures, but suffered from several strokes that resulted in partial paralysis.

On August 31, 1867, at the age of 46, Charles Baudelaire died in Paris. Although doctors at the time didn't mention it, it is likely that syphilis caused his final illness. His reputation as poet at that time was secure; writers such as Stephane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud claimed him as a predecessor. In the 20th century, thinkers and artists as diverse as Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Benjamin, Robert Lowell and Seamus Heaney have celebrated his work.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week: "To One Who Is Too Cheerful" by Charles Baudelaire

To One Who Is Too Cheerful
Charles Baudelaire

Your head, your hair, your every way
Are scenic as the countryside;
the smile plays in your lips and eyes
Like fresh winds on a cloudless day.

The gloomy drudge, brushed by your charms,
Is dazzled by the vibrancy
That flashes forth so brilliantly
Out of your shoulders and your arms.

All vivid colors, and the way
They resonate in how you dress
Have poets in their idleness
Imagining a flower ballet.

These lavish robes are emblems of
The mad profusion that is you;
Madwoman, I am maddened too,
And hate you even as I love!

Sometimes within a park, at rest,
Where I have dragged my apathy,
I have felt like an irony
The sunshine lacerate my breast.

And then the spring’s luxuriance
Humiliated so my heart
That I had pulled a flower apart
To punish nature’s insolence.

So I would wish, when you’re asleep,
The time for sensuality,
Towards your body’s treasury
Silently, stealthily to creep,

To bruise your ever-tender breast,
And carve in your astonished side
An injury both deep and wide,
To chastise your too-joyous flesh.

And, sweetness that would dizzy me!
In these two lips so red and new
My sister, I have made for you,
To slip my venom, lovingly!


- Translated by James McGowan


This poem was banned because censors believed "venom," in the last line, was an overt reference to syphilis, a disease Baudelaire was afflicted with and one which was later suspected to have caused his death. At the time, Baudelaire told his censors they had taken the word too literally, and maintained the word more abstractly referred to his melancholy.

The son of Joseph-Francois Baudelaire and Caroline Archimbaut Dufays, Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. Baudelaire's father, who was 30 years older than his mother, died when the poet was 6.

Baudelaire was very close with his mother (much of what is known of his later life comes from the letters he wrote her), but was deeply distressed when she married Major Jacques Aupick.

In 1833, the family moved to Lyons where Baudelaire attended a military boarding school. Shortly before graduation, he was kicked out for refusing to give up a note passed to him by a classmate. Baudelaire spent the next two years in Paris' Latin Quarter pursuing a career as a writer and accumulating debt. It is also believed that he contracted syphilis around this time.

In 1841 his parents sent him on ship to India, hoping the experience would help reform his bohemian urges. He left the ship, however, and returned to Paris in 1842. Upon his return, he received a large inheritance, which allowed him to live the life of a Parisian dandy. He developed a love for clothing and spent his days in the art galleries and cafes of Paris. He experimented with drugs such as hashish and opium. He fell in love with Jeanne Duval, who inspired the "Black Venus" section of Les Fleurs du mal. By 1844, he had spent nearly half of his inheritance. His family won a court order that appointed a lawyer to manage Baudelaire's fortune and pay him a small "allowance" for the rest of his life.

To supplement his income, Baudelaire wrote art criticism, essays, and reviews for various journals. His early criticism of contemporary French painters such as Eugene Delacroix and Gustave Courbet earned him a reputation as a discriminating if idiosyncratic critic. In 1847, he published the autobiographical novella La Fanfarlo. His first publications of poetry also began to appear in journals in the mid-1840s. In 1854 and 1855, he published translations of Edgar Allan Poe, whom he called a "twin soul." His translations were widely acclaimed.

In 1857, Auguste Poulet-Malassis published the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal. Baudelaire was so concerned with the quality of the printing that he took a room near the press to help supervise the book's production. Six of the poems, which described lesbian love and vampires, were condemned as obscene by the Public Safety section of the Ministry of the Interior. The ban on these poems was not lifted in France until 1949. In 1861, Baudelaire added thirty-five new poems to the collection. Les Fleurs du mal afforded Baudelaire a degree of notoriety; writers such as Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo wrote in praise of the poems. Flaubert wrote to Baudelaire claiming, "You have found a way to inject new life into Romanticism. You are unlike anyone else [which is the most important quality]." Unlike earlier Romantics, Baudelaire looked to the urban life of Paris for inspiration. He argued that art must create beauty from even the most depraved or "non-poetic" situations.

Les Fleurs du mal, with its explicit sexual content and juxtapositions of urban beauty and decay, only added to Baudelaire's reputation as a poéte maudit (cursed poet). Baudelaire enhanced this reputation by flaunting his eccentricities; for instance, he once asked a friend in the middle of a conversation "Wouldn't it be agreeable to take a bath with me?" Because of the abundance of stories about the poet, it is difficult to sort fact from fiction.

In the 1860s Baudelaire continued to write articles and essays on a wide range of subjects and figures. He was also publishing prose poems, which were posthumously collected in 1869 as Petits poémes en prose (Little Poems in Prose). By calling these non-metrical compositions poems, Baudelaire was the first poet to make a radical break with the form of verse.

In 1862, Baudelaire began to suffer nightmares and increasingly bad health. He left Paris for Brussels in 1863 to give a series of lectures, but suffered from several strokes that resulted in partial paralysis.

On August 31, 1867, at the age of 46, Charles Baudelaire died in Paris. Although doctors at the time didn't mention it, it is likely that syphilis caused his final illness. His reputation as poet at that time was secure; writers such as Stephane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud claimed him as a predecessor. In the 20th century, thinkers and artists as diverse as Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Benjamin, Robert Lowell and Seamus Heaney have celebrated his work.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week: "America" by Allen Ginsburg

America
By Allen Ginsberg

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I'm trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.

I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they're all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don're really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

This Country

when your feet grow tired of globetrotting
and all the monuments to forgotten kings
have blurred into obscurity


when your shoulders ache
from carrying your whole world tortoise-style
from one rest-stop lover to another


when you’ve heard all the foreign tongues
repeat the same stories for the last time
and you’ve grown tired of translating


when your shoes have fallen apart
unable to martyr their soles
for your hobo evangelism …


come home
this country still longs for your sunrise
its geography is easy to map:


to the East lie my arms
curling inward to hold back time
their digits stretch northward
ten fingertips on separate crusades to find you
they unite only to pen poems about
the futility of kidnapping you across the borders
back into the caverns of my chest
overwhelming vacant since you stole its last inhabitant
which you unraveled the way Hansel and Gretel taught
to fashion a string to trace your route back here
these cave walls still shudder with your laughter
turning ribs into organ pipes
I play in dreams to orchestrate your reconquest
fool my yearning that you are only a hitchhiker’s thumb
and an hour from my doorstep —
a lie, but at least I can sleep through the night
without filling the hollow in my bed with my wailing
instead, try to keep it warm for you


to the South
are mountains of memories
impossible to scale without oxygen and a Nepalese Sherpa
they stretch to the clouds and in winter, blot out the sun
I chip at them with a pick axe of ink
take the pieces home to an orange juicer
attempt to squeeze out story after story
told in Homeric fashion
the gods of Olympus jealously dwarfed in the shadows
find their epics insufficient
Odysseus, Gilgamesh and Arjuna
camp in the foothills unable to scale you
talk about the good old days
when there wasn’t so much poetry in which to live
on the cliff sides I hunt for the road trips
the afternoon siestas
the midnight embraces
the slow Sunday mornings
for new word wombs
new poems to trap, take home, raise to maturity
and release back into the wild
for the world to see how you changed this boy
I will climb them as long as a pulse thumps me into movement


to the North is an ocean of your words
tide pools of sentences
waves of your stories
tsunamis of our arguments
to wash over any fool who braves to sail them
on maps print the words, “Here Be Dragons”
and I’m never sure which will swamp my boat
or carry me home
white-tip arrogance soothed by Sargasso Sea gentle honesty
choppy squalls when I lost myself to ego
pleas for forgiveness offered on Yom Kippur
all the poems over the phone blowing lost sailors to safe ports
someday when I have outlived you
I foresee abandoning shoes,
gripping frail hands on armrests,
rising from wheelchair
striping down to unflattering Speedo
and walking into these waves to drown
up to my ears in the waters of your laughter
filling my lungs with drops of your whispers


in the center is a house of paper
naked 8½ by 11s begging to be bathed in black ink
the first 30 stories are made of rough drafts
in preparation to meet you
the upper stories will be built to celebrate you
and when I reach my 90s
the tower will collapse with the weight
spreading the pages across this county
Billy Collins keeps an apartment across the hall from Derrick Brown
they meet in the lounge with Shane Koyczan and Ed Mabrey
have coffee on Sundays with R.C. Weslowski and Mike McGee,
each reading a new ode to you
they found that week on the cabinet
under the sink or behind the door
banisters Bill Campana will jot haiku from
window frames slam poems Klute will read aloud after bagels
dueling in rhyme with Shappy Seasholtz
sonnets on fireplaces Dan Seaman and Mikel Weisser will read in tandem
on weekends, CR Avery, Scott Dunbar and Lights
will play the ballroom made of canvasses
echoing through the vents all week long
on the upper floors
poets yet unborn ready to join to the conversation
there is room here
for whomever you choose to fill the house with
forgive the flesh of this man
for being made of flawed skin unedited
he knew not what he did
you always liked me better on paper anyway


to the West is an open country
as far as the eye can see
lie no walls nor borders
no future beyond what we make of it,
without a horizon to fall over
sunsets are unimaginable,
the land yearns for your footfalls
and I will chase you across it
until these feet break beneath me
never ask if it was all for naught
until you have seen the country you built here
the boy you reshaped who lives out in the open
uncertain of where to go now
penning poems from dawn to dusk
dreaming of your open arms
reading them to anyone who’ll listen


when you tire of travels
when you need shelter to rest weary limbs
when you want to see a boy left better
than the one you first met
this country is wherever you choose to meet me
ready to welcome you home


I met Azami on Sept. 28, 2009. How my life has changed over the last 12 months.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Azami Leaves My Country Today

Azami Leaves My Country Today by FoxThePoet

she leaves my country today
uncounts the miles,
returns the geography of states
abandons the familiarity of our silly accents
for one more common to her architecture
any feigned allegiances to politics
are left to shrivel in the sunlight
she no longer cares for the posturing
the details of who harmed who
which rhetorician stands more right
untrod roads must now make their own footprints
she will not pass over you, friends,
your dreams must evaporate into whatever bore them
unvisited campsites reclaim their virginities
untouched, uncaressed, unbroken
cities shed naked, stripped down to bare bones to embrace her
must now envy those she'd seen
ask how she shimmered over their sidewalks
reclined in their open parks
slept in their bedrooms
held lovers in their shadows

my countrymen begin to hear the epics
enumerated by those who had met her
watched how she glistened with exuberance
glimmered with an unsoiled joy
not seen in generations

they all come whimpering to my bedroom windows
tap reluctantly on the glass
plead an hundred existential crises
confess that in her absence
they fear nothing new will be born
I roll over, emerge from once-shared bedsheets
currently under excavation for her fingerprints
halt the archaeological expedition recostructing
how she must have inhabited this region in her golden age

assure them in calm, quiet tones
that my poems of remembered moments,
reflections on the weight of her tenancy
naked pleas for repatriation
will emerge from fingertips and speaking lips
they will be new to fill her vacancy
assuage the grief as best possible
I will use them to keep us warm
they will hold us in her absence
I will whisper them down barren highways
the hollow city streets
into unseen bedrooms,
on the mountaintops
through the empty fields
send them north to coax her home
in vain on our behalves
tell them to "go, rest now, all will be remedied"

but I am lying
poems merely comfort the dying
the abandoned,
the widowers

for those of us left behind
this isn't the end of the world
but I can't tell the difference

Saturday, September 18, 2010

25 haiku about Azami

Azami Haiku* No. I

My heart heads northward
held in Azami's backpack
sending me postcards

Azami Haiku No. II

I love Canada
because that country raised her
and sent her to us

Azami Haiku No. III

Get two drinks in me
and I'll spill all my secrets
of how she broke me

Azami Haiku No. IV

When the nighttime comes
Azami returns in dreams.
Kill me in my sleep

Azami Haiku No. V

Seen sorrow in life
but never broke down and wept
'til she left my arms

Azami Haiku No. VI

Azami's last words:
masturbate furiously
and write poetry

Azami Haiku No. VII

She makes the best dreams
holds me like a lover should:
ignorant of sins
Azami Haiku No. VIII

The smell of her hair
is what I miss most at night
unwashed, holding all

Azami Haiku No. IX

Adam left Eden
to hold Eve. With Azami,
I understand why

Azami Haiku No. X

Wraps arms around me
she kisses like an earthquake
makes my cities fall

Azami Haiku No. XI

She wore a short skirt
with nothing underneath it
gave me a passport

Azami Haiku No. XII

I never sleep nude
until she shared my bedroom
her embrace clothes me

Azami Haiku No. XIII

She bottles pure joy
spills it out when we need it
intoxicates world

Azami Haiku No. XIV

counting down the days
until she wanders back here
slips into my arms

Azami Haiku No. XV

To survive, I need:
shelter, coffee, poetry,
food, Azami's arms

Azami Haiku No. XVI

Today she called me
new city, new stories told
new poems debuted†

Azami Haiku No. XVII

Waited seven years
to find a girlfriend like her
she was worth the wait

Azami Haiku No. XVIII

Wonder which of us
more eager to hear poems,†
poet or the girl?

Azami Haiku No. XIX

When love affair ends
she sets off on a new road
I reflect in words

Azami Haiku No. XX

New boys will hold her
New girls will fill my pages
our year fades away

Azami Haiku No. XXI

I'll hold her again
though not like before. Still say,
"see, I told you so"

Azami Haiku No. XXII

She visits some nights
rides in on dreams, snuggles close,
rides out on dawn wind

Azami Haiku No. XXIII

She visits some nights
rides in on dreams, snuggles close,
rides out on dawn wind

Azami Haiku No. XXIV

What is a border?
A line? A fence? An idea?
A foe to conquer?

Azami Haiku No. XXV

My new GPS
reprogrammed to calculate
the distance to her



*Technically, these aren't haiku, but senryū, because there is no kigo (season word) nor kireji ("cutting" word), but most English speakers aren't familiar with the difference.

†I usually speak "poem" as a single syllable /poʊm/, but write it to be pronounced as a two syllable /ˈpoʊ̯ əm/

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians
By Constantine Petrou Photiades Cavafy

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

C.P. Cavafy, "Collected Poems." Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.
The original Greek:

Περιμένοντας τους Bαρβάρους
Kωστής Πέτρου Φωτιάδης Kαβάφης

— Τι περιμένουμε στην αγορά συναθροισμένοι;

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

— Γιατί μέσα στην Σύγκλητο μια τέτοια απραξία;
Τι κάθοντ' οι Συγκλητικοί και δεν νομοθετούνε;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Τι νόμους πια θα κάμουν οι Συγκλητικοί;
Οι βάρβαροι σαν έλθουν θα νομοθετήσουν.

—Γιατί ο αυτοκράτωρ μας τόσο πρωί σηκώθη,
και κάθεται στης πόλεως την πιο μεγάλη πύλη
στον θρόνο επάνω, επίσημος, φορώντας την κορώνα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Κι ο αυτοκράτωρ περιμένει να δεχθεί
τον αρχηγό τους. Μάλιστα ετοίμασε
για να τον δώσει μια περγαμηνή. Εκεί
τον έγραψε τίτλους πολλούς κι ονόματα.

— Γιατί οι δυο μας ύπατοι κ' οι πραίτορες εβγήκαν
σήμερα με τες κόκκινες, τες κεντημένες τόγες·
γιατί βραχιόλια φόρεσαν με τόσους αμεθύστους,
και δαχτυλίδια με λαμπρά, γυαλιστερά σμαράγδια·
γιατί να πιάσουν σήμερα πολύτιμα μπαστούνια
μ' ασήμια και μαλάματα έκτακτα σκαλιγμένα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα·
και τέτοια πράγματα θαμπώνουν τους βαρβάρους.

—Γιατί κ' οι άξιοι ρήτορες δεν έρχονται σαν πάντα
να βγάλουνε τους λόγους τους, να πούνε τα δικά τους;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα·
κι αυτοί βαρυούντ' ευφράδειες και δημηγορίες.

— Γιατί ν' αρχίσει μονομιάς αυτή η ανησυχία
κ' η σύγχυσις. (Τα πρόσωπα τι σοβαρά που εγίναν).
Γιατί αδειάζουν γρήγορα οι δρόμοι κ' η πλατέες,
κι όλοι γυρνούν στα σπίτια τους πολύ συλλογισμένοι;

Γιατί ενύχτωσε κ' οι βάρβαροι δεν ήλθαν.
Και μερικοί έφθασαν απ' τα σύνορα,
και είπανε πως βάρβαροι πια δεν υπάρχουν.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους.
Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.

Constantine Petrou Photiades Cavafy (as he wanted the family name to be spelled in English), son of Peter-John Ioannou Cavafy and Charicleia Georgaki Photiades, was born in Alexandria on 29 April 1863. Both his parents were natives of Constantinople, and Constantine was proud of his heritage and his illustrious ancestors. His Phanariote great-grandfather Peter Cavafy (1740-1804) was Secretary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, while his Phanariote great-great-grandfather John Cavafy (1701-1762) was Governor of Jassium, as was his great-grandfather Michael Scarlato Pantzo (brother of Meletius, Patriarch of Alexandria), while his great-great-great-grandfather Theodosius Photiades (brother of Cyril, Bishop of Caesarea Philippi) was an Official of the Ottoman Government.
Cavafy was a cosmopolitan by birth, his family roots extending from Constantinople to London (via Alexandria, Trebizond, Chios, Trieste, Venice and Vienna), and was the youngest of seven brothers (two more elder siblings, a boy and the sole girl, died in infancy).
His father, Peter-John, the fourth child of five, proved to be an astute merchant (his own father had also been a merchant and a landowner). Holding dual citizenship (Greek and British), he set up offices in Constantinople, London and Liverpool, before establishing firm and family in Alexandria, where he was one of the founders of the Greek Community. The Cavafy family flourished there both financially and socially, but Peter-John's death in 1870 forced the surviving members of the family to move to England in 1872, when Constantine was nine years old.
His mother, Charicleia, the eldest child of eight, was a practical person. Her father was a gem merchant, and married off Charicleia to Peter-John when she was about fourteen years old. As her husband was mostly away on business, she spent the first couple of years of marriage at her in-law's and later set up house in England, where Peter-John hired tutors for her education. After his death, Charicleia returned to England in order to be close to the family of her brother-in-law George Cavafy, who was running the Cavafy firm.
As family fortunes declined, Charicleia lived in Liverpool for almost two years, then moved to London for roughly the same amount of time, then back to Liverpool for less than a year. The firm «Cavafy & Co.» dissolved in 1876, and in 1877 Charicleia and her younger children returned to Alexandria, settling in an apartment instead of the townhouse of old.
Not much is known about the five years that Constantine spent in England, save that he attended school there and that he spent some summer vacations in Dover. We do know that in Alexandria he attended the «Hermes» school, where he made his first close friends in the persons of Mike Ralli, John Rhodokanaki and Stephan Skylizzi, that he was borrowing books from public libraries and that he had started drafting his own Historical Dictionary at age eighteen.
Cavafy's second Alexandrian period was cut short in less than five years by local unrest. Charicleia, sensing that an invasion was imminent, packed her family once again and sailed to her father's home in Constantinople, just two weeks before the British fleet bombarded Alexandria. The Cavafy home was destroyed in the ensuing fire, and with it all of Constantine's books and papers. Thus the first surviving manuscript we have of Cavafy is the journal he kept on the journey to Constantinople, and the first surviving poem in manuscript is «Leaving Therapia», written in English and dated at 2:30 p.m. on 16 July 1882.
In Constantinople, the nineteen-year old Cavafy met his numerous relatives and became acquainted with the legendary Queen City of the Greeks, the seat and capital of Greekness. It was there and then that he started researching his ancestry, trying to define himself as a young man in the wider Hellenic context, preparing for a career in politics or journalism. It was also there and then, according to one source, that he had his first homosexual experience. «Themes of my poetry were fashioned, and the area of my art was mapped out, in the wanton days of my youth», he was to write many years later.
Most of his brothers had returned to Alexandria in the meantime, in order to work and sustain the family. Charicleia and Constantine (who had already started writing poems and articles) remained in Constantinople, awaiting payment of the insurance indemnity for their destroyed house. As much as Constantine enjoyed living in Constantinople, he was eager to return home. The indemnity was paid in September 1885, and the Cavafys sailed to Alexandria one month later, where Constantine faced the ruins of his former house. During the same month, joint British and Ottoman rule was imposed in Egypt, and young Constantine renounced his British citizenship.
This political act was not inconsequential in the British-run Protectorate of Egypt: when Constantine was finally able to gain employment in 1892 in the Third Circle of Irrigation at the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt, he was hired as a temporary clerk, since his Greek citizenship excluded him from any permanent position. Being an assiduous and conscientious worker, Cavafy managed to hold this temporary position (renewed annually) for thirty years. He was always mindful of his finances, both out of necessity and out of vanity: he recalled the affluent days of his childhood and strove to halt the family's declining fortunes. He started working at the Alexandrian Stock Exchanges early on, and was a registered broker from 1894 to 1902. He was also gambling systematically, entering his gains and losses in a «Gambling Notebook» which he kept until 1909. This parallel source of income, along with some shrewd investments, enabled him to live in relative comfort for the rest of his life.
Cavafy started publishing poems and articles in Greek following his second return to Alexandria. His first published text was an article entitled «Coral, from a Mythological Viewpoint» in the newspaper Constantinople on 3 January 1886. Three months later, on 27 March, he published his first poem, entitled «Bacchial», in the Leipzig periodical Hesperus. Around that time came the first in a series of deaths that would leave their mark on him: in April 1886 his friend Stephan Skylizzi died, then in 1889 his friend Mike Ralli, in 1891 his brother Peter-John and his uncle George Cavafy, in 1896 his grandfather George Photiades, in 1899 his mother, in 1900 his brother George, in 1902 his brother Aristeides and in 1905 his brother Alexander.
Cavafy rarely left Alexandria: he took some day trips and excursions in Egypt (especially to Cairo in the winter, as had been his father's custom) but after 1885 he traveled abroad only five times: in 1897 he visited Paris and London (with his brother John-Constantine), in 1901 and 1903 he visited Athens (with his brother Alexander), and in 1905 he travelled again to Athens to be with the dying Alexander. His next (and ultimate) trip abroad came twenty-seven years later, once again to Athens (with Aleko and Rika Singhopoulo), for reasons of his own health.
In Alexandria, Cavafy lived with his mother and his brothers Paul and John-Constantine, who were the closest to him, not only in age: Paul was known in Alexandria as «the homosexual Cavafy», while John-Constantine was known as «the poet Cavafy» (he was an accomplished poet in English). After Charicleia's death in 1899, Constantine lived with the two brothers until 1904, when John-Constantine moved to Cairo. Cavafy continued living with Paul, and in 1907 they moved to an apartment on rue Lepsius. In 1908 Paul traveled abroad, never to return, and Cavafy started living on his own at the age of 45. Soon his life took a marked turn: he severely limited his social life and devoted himself to poetry. He had by now discovered his own poetic voice, and he was confident of its worth.
Cavafy was fond of his two nieces, Charicleia Cavafy (daughter of Aristeides) and Helen-Anghelica-Lucia Cavafy (daughter of Alexander), but was especially tender towards Aleko Singhopoulo, the son of the Greek seamstress Helen Singhopoulo, who was employed by Cavafy's mother. His unusual concern for Aleko (later his designated heir), coupled with their facial resemblance, led some people to speculate that Singhopoulo was Cavafy's illegitimate son. This hypothesis is certainly valid, especially since Rika Singhopoulo (Aleko's first wife) notes that Cavafy was bisexual into his thirties. Another, equally plausible, hypothesis has Aleko as the illegitimate offspring of one of Cavafy's brothers, which would explain the reluctance of both men to specify the exact nature of their relationship.
Cavafy made a clear distinction between his public persona and his personal life, which became a cause celebre as soon as his poetry became popular. He was, above all, a poet (in his last passport, issued in 1932, under «Occupation» he declared «Poet») and wished to be remembered solely as a poet, with no modifiers (with the possible exception of «Hellenic»). He lived a rather unremarkable public life, offering no cause for scandal to the Alexandrian community or the Athenian establishment, where he was under close scrutiny as the potential diasporic alternative to the native poet Kostis Palamas. The followers of Cavafy and Palamas first clashed in 1918, but all-out literary war was declared in Athens in 1924, only to end when Palamas published a brief and sober appreciation of Cavafy's work. In 1926, during the Pangalos dictatorship, the Greek state honoured Cavafy for his contribution to Greek Letters by awarding him the Silver medal of the Order of Phoenix.
In his mature years, Cavafy's interests were many and diverse, as evidenced by his personal papers, and by his unsigned comments published in the periodical Alexandrian Art (he had founded this magazine and was essentially running with the help of Aleko and Rika Singhopoulo). In 1932 Cavafy (who was a life-long smoker) first noticed an irritation in his throat, and in June of the same year his doctors in Alexandria diagnosed cancer of the larynx. He traveled to Athens for advanced treatment, which proved ineffectual. He was subjected to a tracheotomy depriving him of the power of speech, and resorted to communicating through a series of written "hospital notes". He returned to Alexandria, where he died a few months later in the Greek Hospital which was close to his home (when he had moved to this apartment he had said, somewhat prophetically, «Where could I live better? Under me is a house of ill repute, which caters to the needs of the flesh. Over there is the church, where sins are forgiven. And beyond is the hospital, where we die»).
Cavafy developed a unique method for publishing his poems. He never published a collection in book form, and refused at least two such offers (one for a Greek edition and one for an English). He opted to publish his poems in newspapers, periodicals and annuals, then printing them privately in broadsheets, which he would collate in makeshift collections for any interested party. The first volume of the 154 poems which comprise his poetic Canon (he had repudiated 27 early poems) was published posthumously in Alexandria, edited by Rika Singhopoulo. This same collection was first published in Greece in 1948 by Ikaros Publishing, and was issued again by the same publisher in 1963, edited and annotated by G.P. Savidis, who first adopted the thematic sequence advocated by Cavafy. Savidis acquired the Cavafy Archive in 1969, after the death of Aleko Singhopoulo. He had already edited Cavafy's Unpublished (or Hidden) poems in 1968, and invited scholars to study the other material resting in the Cavafy Archive, resulting in a variety of publications, most notably Cavafy's Unfinished poems in 1994 (edited by Renata Lavagnini), Cavafy's Prose in 2003 (edited by Michalis Pieris) and Cavafy's Comments on his poetry (forthcoming, edited by Diana Haas).
Cavafy was introduced to the English-speaking public in 1919 by his friend E.M Forster, who used translations of selected poems by George Valassopoulo. There have been numerous translations of the Canon over the years, most notably by John Mavrogordato in 1951 (with an introduction by Rex Warner), Rae Dalven in 1961 (with an introduction by W.H. Auden), Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard in 1975 (edited by G.P. Savidis) and Stratis Haviaras in 2004 (with a foreword by Seamus Heaney). The international appeal of Cavafy's poetry, as attested by the multiplicity of its translations, would not come as a surprise to the poet.

Even my truck misses Azami


Even my truck misses Azami. You can tell.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Today, I will wash my bedsheets

Today, I will wash my bedsheets
it has come that time in the laundry cycle
when towels and sheets are pulled from their homes
added to the general population
and thrown into the soap for purification
the sheets were granted parole last time
pleading their case that of all the remnants of you:
the abandoned clothes,
the unfinished chapstick,
the notes on the back of receipts
too far from the trash can lid to lift up from the floor
the calendar still pausing over the day you left
the unread, overdue library books
the unstamped, unsent letters
to friends I’d yet to meet —
of all these things either since remedied,
expelled or ignored for later contemplation
of them all, only bedsheets can still claim proof
they held you next to me,
still bear on strands the isolated molecules of your scent
bloodhounds may use to track you
and bring you back to my arms
when time and circumstance are ruled inadmissible by the court
your departure premature
on these sheets, hide cells of your skin
that forensics investigators may one day
reconstitute into a clone of you
and ask under hot lights
in a good cop, bad cop interrogation
what gave you reason to love me
what right you had to reach through bone and flesh
cradle my ventricles and aorta like newborn puppies
breathe into them the taste of your smile
that infected the rest of the victim’s circulatory system
and now leaves me unable to move
without thumping your name
into my organs 80 beats per minute

today I will wash my bedsheets
because the moths who share my room
are beginning to ask questions
the generations of them who last heard you laugh
all have died from old age
their sons and daughters are soon to retire
they tell their children
they heard stories of a raven-haired creature
who used to sleep through the morning
disappear in day
and play in the night with the creature
who still remains here
the one who whispers her name in his sleep
tries to weep so soft
we must strain to hear him

today I will wash my bedsheets
is what I said yesterday
with the full conviction it would come to pass,
but the stress of laboring for daily bread
and the nonnegotiable duties of nighttime contemplation
left me too exhausted to fulfill such trite obligations —
yearning for you is a full-time hobby for the most fervent devotees
akin to those who attend sci-fi conventions
with pointed Vulcan ears surgically grafted
or fully functional lightsabers peace-tied to Jedi belts
lest a rascal child should grab it in haste —
for all the anime fans who cosplay as Akira to the grocery store on Sundays
or Civil War reenactors who pretend to disbelieve Appomattox’s surrender
or Renaissance Faire nobles who strut the mall with longswords sheathed,
I will delicately affix the decals
reimagine all the famous battles with new plotlines
but diligently reassemble their conclusions in perfect detail
to keep our timeline pure
this attention to each feature of our story
makes it impossible to worry about trivial matters like dirty sheets or laundry
when there is so much more reliving to do

Today I will wash my bedsheets
because yesterday I said I would do so
and if I failed,
I would instead collect all your love notes
and file them into a box
in autobiographical order
so I knew with which order truths and lies
were told, believed, exposed, forgiven, forgotten and laughed over
from our first kiss to my last touch
as I left you staring at the stars —
and if I failed that
would donate all your leftover shirts to Goodwill
hoping other girls would feel finally what love was
soaked in our shared heart rhythms
baked into the threads
and passed on their lovers
like a whispered game of telephone —
and if I failed that
promised I would stop thinking so hard for you
that my skull pounds with ache by end of day
leaving wine, ibuprofen or poetry to unshackle thoughts —
and if I failed that
to remove your name from the immediacy of daily vocabulary
so if a stranger were to ask for a word
that begins with an “A,”
your name would not be the first in my lexicon —
and if I failed that
would cease sending you daily love letters —
this one is proof I have yet to begin

Today I will wash my bedsheets
is what I plan to say tomorrow
because today, I plan to spend one more night in your arms
hold the sheets over my open mouth and breath in
so I remember what it’s like to kiss you
then breathe out so you remember me
strip naked and roll into a ball so you’re wrapped around me
tight like you used to be
before you bid goodbye to this room —
tonight, I will unhinge my eyes
let tears pour out in my regret
that I did not strip these sheets from the bed
the moment I last saw you
shove them into your arms and told you:
as long you keep these sheets unwashed
I will always be with you
my tears and sweat are held here
whenever you need them to remind you
what a boy’s heart feels like
when dripped out day by day
given in fair trade for the right to love you
and when you miss me
wrap them around you tight
and wherever I am,
my arms will curve inward to keep you warm
hold them over your open mouth and inhale
and remember how I kissed you

Sunday, September 12, 2010

17 Poets Enter, 1 Poet Leaves: Haiku Death Match begins at 4 p.m.

GumptionFest V's Haiku Death Match is at 4 p.m. today, Sunday, Sept. 12

When GumptionFest, Sedona's annual grassroots arts festival returns for its fifth year, one of the poetic elements for the festival will be a Haiku Death Match, returning again from last year.

The festival organizers need Haiku Death Match competitors, or “haikusters” to start writing now and have roughly 20-30 haiku each by the time of GumptionFest, Saturday Sunday, Sept. 11 to 12.

There will be a cash prize for the winning Haikusters.

GumptionFest’s Haiku Death Match rules:

Haikusters can read their haiku’s titles before they read the haiku. This technically gives the haikusters more syllables to put the haiku in context, but the haiku itself must still be only 17 syllables.

Poets must be the sole authors of the haiku they use in competition. Poets can read from the page, book, journal, notepad, etc. Poets can have haiku written beforehand or write them in their head while at the microphone. As long as the haiku are 17 syllables, we don’t care how, when or from where the haiku originates.

Rounds will be determined by the number of haikusters who sign up to compete. Thirty haiku will likely be enough for poets to compete in all the rounds. More haiku is always better.

Be flexible and include a mixture of serious and funny haiku. Adult themes and language are acceptable.

The Haiku Death Match will take place at GumptionFest V in the early evening on Sunday, Sept. 12.

For Haiku Death Match tips and haiku examples, visit foxthepoet.blogspot.com.

To register or for more information, e-mail host Haiku Death Match host Christopher Fox Graham at foxthepoet@yahoo.

For more information about GumptionFest IV, e-mail to GumptionFest@gmail.com.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What time is it? GumptionTime!


It's GumptionTime - the festival starts now! Get in your car, truck, jet, boat, hovercraft, helicopter, Ultralight, TARDIS or hop on your bicycle, skateboard, horse, motorcycle, Hoverboard, rickshaw, mule, scooter, Segway, camel, hang glider or zip line and get over to Coffee Pot Drive in West Sedona.

GumptionFest V
  • Fifth annual event takes place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11 and 12.
  • Activities last all day at several venues along Coffee Pot Drive.
  • Admission is free. All art and music is supplied by donation.
  • All amateur and professional artists are invited to participate.
  • To volunteer, participate or for more information, e-mail GumptionFest@gmail.com.


To compete in GumptionFest's Poetry Slam or Haiku Death Match, e-mail: foxthepoet@yahoo.com

To participate, volunteer or for more information about GumptionFest V, e-mail GumptionFest@gmail.com or visit GumptionFest on Facebook.

They Held Hands

On a commonplace Tuesday morning,
not unlike that Sunday morning
60 years before, destined for infamy
they held hands as they fell

It was a working Tuesday
a date on the calendar
a morning like the morning before
but now they found themselves
standing on the window sill
of the 92nd floor
overlooking the city
and they felt weightless

They were not thinking
about the cause-and-effect history
of textbooks and CNN sound bytes
they weren’t debating the geopolitical ramifications leading up to that morning
he had decaf
she had a bearclaw and an espresso
and they talked about Will & Grace

jets impregnated buildings with infernos
and now the fire was burning
and the smoke was rising
and it was getting hard to breathe
even after they smashed the window out
the inferno was swelling
it had reached their floor
their stairwells were gone
and the options now
were to burn
or to fall

when the human animal realizes death is inevitable
psychologists say we want control
over those final moments
choosing suicide over surrender is a healthy reaction
because we choose to accept annihilation
rather than letting it choose us

So on one side
is unbearable heat
roaring flames
acrid smoke
and screams of the suffering
On the other side
fresh air
suicide is the final act of free will
that keeps the consciousness intact
even as it is destroyed

but they were not thinking about psychology
they were not thinking about terrorism
the debate about responsibility,
retalaiation,
wars, flags, and Patriot Acts
can wait until September 12th
this morning belongs to them
because they did not have a tomorrow
the true terror of that morning
is to know what they were thinking
as they decided then whether
to burn
or to fall
now, imagine having that conversation
with the stranger
sitting next to you:
The barricade at the door is on fire
the extinguisher is empty
we are blinded by the smoke
and on the windowsill of the 92nd floor
we wait until flames lick our clothes
before we lean forward
and choose that moment to fall
others who fell were scrambling
or screaming or on fire
but we held hands as we fell

survivors of falls from extreme heights report
that falls are slow-motion transcendence
and the experience is almost “mystical”

I don’t know if they felt “mystical”
I know it takes
1 …
2 …
3 …
4 …
5 …
6 …
7 …
8.54 seconds to fall 1,144 feet

just enough time to say a prayer
or regret a memory
or ask forgiveness
or say goodbye
or wonder how the sky can be so perfectly blue
on such a beautiful morning

Friday, September 10, 2010

GumptionFest is so awesome, you want to high-5 a cat

GumptionFest V will be so awesome that you want to high-5 a cat.

What is GumptionFest V? Thanks for asking:

GumptionFest V
  • Fifth annual event takes place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11 and 12.
  • Activities last all day at several venues along Coffee Pot Drive.
  • Admission is free. All art and music is supplied by donation.
  • All amateur and professional artists are invited to participate.
  • To volunteer, participate or for more information, e-mail GumptionFest@gmail.com.


To compete in GumptionFest's Poetry Slam or Haiku Death Match, e-mail: foxthepoet@yahoo.com

To participate, volunteer or for more information about GumptionFest V, e-mail GumptionFest@gmail.com or visit GumptionFest on Facebook.

Math is hard. GumptionFest is easy


While classical mechanics, relativistic mechanics and quantum mechanics describe the motion of bodies and particles, this electromagnetic mechanics of particles proposes a description of their fundamental nature and an explanation to the cause of their motion and the reason why they naturally tend to self-propel at constant velocity and to self-guide in straight line when no external force is acting on them.

That being said, GumptionFest V is this weekend. Take some time off and get out of the house to enjoy local art in Sedona.

GumptionFest V
  • Fifth annual event takes place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11 and 12.
  • Activities last all day at several venues along Coffee Pot Drive.
  • Admission is free. All art and music is supplied by donation.
  • All amateur and professional artists are invited to participate.
  • To volunteer, participate or for more information, e-mail GumptionFest@gmail.com.


To compete in GumptionFest's Poetry Slam or Haiku Death Match, e-mail: foxthepoet@yahoo.com

To participate, volunteer or for more information about GumptionFest V, e-mail GumptionFest@gmail.com or visit GumptionFest on Facebook.

Finished making your coat hanger gorilla?


Are you finished making your coat hanger gorilla? GumptionFest is tomorrow!


GumptionFest V
  • Fifth annual event takes place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11 and 12.
  • Activities last all day at several venues along Coffee Pot Drive.
  • Admission is free. All art and music is supplied by donation.
  • All amateur and professional artists are invited to participate.
  • To volunteer, participate or for more information, e-mail GumptionFest@gmail.com.


To compete in GumptionFest's Poetry Slam or Haiku Death Match, e-mail: foxthepoet@yahoo.com

To participate, volunteer or for more information about GumptionFest V, e-mail GumptionFest@gmail.com or visit GumptionFest on Facebook.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Poems I Performed for Tonight's FlagSlam feature

Seven Years of Solitude

Seven years of solitude
one-night stands
and last names lost to the wind
I wrote them in chronological order
carved their names in the sand
rewrote our mythologies
into my own fictions
to win 10s from strangers who preferred verses
rather than the cut and dry facts of thrusting hips
and white lies to strip cotton from our skins
before clothing ourselves in dawn-lit shame
of till-we-meet-agains

I found her literally in my own back yard
spreading dandelions along her path
on highways and backcountry roads
from the tundra to Sonora
fallen into disuse by travelers —
save Kerouac scholars

she called herself a hobo,
always homeward bound
but yet to find a doorstep to call her own
she came to kiss the red from the rocks
paint her lips with this Martian dust
swirl pirouettes in the vortices
verify that stars here match home
and chase down crash-landed aliens
looking for a one-way trip home to Perseus

she broke me open like an egg
scrambled my contents with her garlic smile
smothered in maple leaf syrup
and salted to taste

she coaxed herself inside
to better hear the word
by smiths more crafted than me
pressed skin to skin
and melted my insides into cheddar
smothered the sheets
in her unrepentant smiles

she is joy
unpasteurized, caffeine-free, antioxidant-rich
joy
if it could drip from its source
sculpt itself into flesh and skin and bones
camber its soft exterior into curves
tender to trepid fingertips
hesitant to brush capsulated ebullience
lest it evanesce into vapor
like the morning fog
she zipped herself up behind a smile
radiant as auroras
to stay warm in the Yukon

we knew from the first kiss
the impending expiration date
I could only hold her so long
before wanderlust reignited her blood
pumped visions of highway sunsets into her aorta
pulled her sticky sunrise from my bed
I held tightly to dreams
that I would foresee us waking unshared unemptied
in the decades to come
but behind shuttered eyes
one loses the path of footsteps
roads meander as they must
not as we desire
and mountains have yet to yield to men

we were doomed to end
from the first morning we shared
each time we pressed hips and lips
I tried to capture the details
with scientific precision
to reconstruct the crime scene of her illegal emigration
from the homeland I built
she could have packed and parted a thousand times
without a second thought
or smile in a stranger's rearview
after her outstretched thumb purchased passage
yet I found her bedecked in my socks
or shirts or shorts and boxers after a time

I would have shed my skin to keep her warm
if it would have delayed her departure
a few hours more

she left me thrice:
to smell the stories wafting on Diné desert
see tors resistant to harassing winds —
play in a park where symbols of peace
were even written on the stones —
pioneer the plateau seared asunder
by patient waters that still run wild
too oblivious to laugh at our cages
knowing that they too will one day fall
Ozymandias could not conquer the sands
Hoover cannot break the canyon's will
though the crest once offered us a view
down to the moonlit sea
all endeavors come to an end
despite the glory
of their lofty dedications

each time, the gravity of our weight
pulled orbits back to the same ellipse
we shared atmospheres
and now with her light years across the plain
it's harder to breathe the air
before I knew her grace

in the winter nights
with the rest of the house bursting with life
lovers pressing tender touches
uncaring of audiences
friends rehashing old wounds reopened
musicians repeating tunes remembered by fingertips alone
I long for her pride
I languish for the smell of her with days trapped in hair
I yearn for the exhilaration of her tender brilliance
dropping falling stars into my exosphere
to scar the surface
leaving us again in the naked ecstasy
when the world faded away
leaving us alone with our uninhibited vices

the nights seem colder
and my limbs never warm enough to sleep through the night
awake with dreams unremembered
each one leaves a passport of her absence
the way she alone could seem to fill the bed with her laughter
as I left her in the mornings

our last day
remains wickedly vivid
how I longed to break my fingers and toes
to render my hands unable to labor
feet unable to leave her
knowing that as the door closed
when I next returned
she'd not greet me with outstretched arms
and leopardic leaps to pin me beneath her passions

I couldn’t have loved her better
goodbye was always on our lips
but when the last one came
it broke me down the middle

in the center of my city
tourists who came for millennial stones unbroken
saw us cleave together our last moments
and for the first time, she shed tears
broke open her dam
to cleave the street beneath us in two
in a way only the canyons know
the red rocks above trembled in dread
conjuring that winds and creeks had taken their toll
but she, unleashed, could finally break them into red sand
washing them like blood into the seas

there, at a crossroads I could recreate from memory
she said I would not cross the road with her
I was unable to follow
could not take her trek homeward bound
because I had never been
she carried my heart across the asphalt lanes
tied up in her pack
beneath snacks for the road
betwixt books and rolled socks
she carried it in secret
which I knew as she walked away from me
along a stretch of road
that seemed to widen for miles
until I lost her behind what could have been her next ride
or mere passersby
stained with her goodbyes
I watched until she was vapor and wind
red hat and pack
and then a mirage
as if she never was
but the hollow in my chest
beat her empty echoes with thumps in rhythm to her wandering footsteps
I send out platoons of foxes to find her
seek her out even in cities unknown to their habits
hoping their spying slyness
can catch her eye

now I seek out hitchhikers
the way addicts itch for a fix
I want to ask if they've seen her
if I can glean some knowledge of her whereabouts
and if they haven't yet
if they would pass on a message in my absence:
when the first winter breeze
blows in from the north
I will strip naked wherever I am
in the midst of Times Square,
the hollow of empty woods
or in my own living room
let her cold kisses caress all my sharp curves
feel her twirl around all my edges
inhale her joy so deeply
the atmosphere in my lungs turn to ice
all my pores will rise into goosebumps
to return her ten-thousand kisses
send all my silent words northward to find her
along whatever road she finds herself
wrap the embrace of breath around her
so she feels my arms again
even if just once more
even if just in dreams
even if she never knows


An Open Letter to Dave Matthews
aka
Fuck You, Dave Matthews

This is an open letter to Dave Matthews,


for those of you expecting the typical "ode to a musician" slam poem
this would be the point
where I would insert biographical references
of the Johannesburg-born guitarist,
raised in New York
who finally left South Africa to avoid military conscription

or obscure clues to his professional history,
like his honorary doctorate from Haverford College
or the anti-Apartheid theme of “Don’t Drink the Water”

this is the point where you’d expect me
to weave the names of his albums into the poem
as if I was “Under the Table and Dreaming”
just about to “Stand Up” “Before These Crowded Streets”
like I do “Everyday” before I “Crash” into “Busted Stuff”
but “Remember Two Things,”
and no they’re not “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King”
one:
this is not one of those poems
and two:
fuck you, Dave Matthews
and not for the same reason we all hate
Hootie & the Blowfish,
no, this is personal

Dave,
the month I turned 18
I heard “Crash Into Me” for the first time
with lyrics so sharp they stung

for those of us
too shy to talk to girls
all tied up and twisted,
it was our ballad,
our song,
it gave boys like me hope
that even awkward outsiders
could find the right girl
even if we felt too creepy
to stand the sight of ourselves

Dave,
you expressed our dream
asked on our behalf
in way only you could
that they forgive us in our haste
yes, we were peeping toms
watching through the window
asking them to overlook our failures
and for both our sakes, to just
crash into us
just hike up their skirts a little more
and show the world to us

you said what we couldn’t:
“I’m lost for you;
I'm so lost for you
Touch your lips
just so I know
In your eyes, love, it glows so
I'm bareboned and crazy for you
When you come crash into me”
we felt creepy,  
but you made it sound sweet

Dave, you were king of the castle
we were the dirty rascals
and that song was our secret
I knew what the words meant
while everyone else just heard the melody

and then I met her
she loved that song, too,
and I don’t know if she felt like the girl inside
winking at us in the bushes
or she was outside with the rest of us
feeling awkward, too,
but she hiked up her skirt
and showed her world to me
and while that song played
she wanted to crash into me
wanted me to come into her in a boy’s dream

she was sweet like candy to my soul
sweet she rock
And sweet she roll
she wore nothing at all
but she wore it so well
we were tied up and twisted
they way we ought to be
I was her Dixie chicken
she was my Tennessee lamb
and we walked together
down in Dixieland
just like you said we would

but Dave,
fuck you,
that song only lasts 5 minutes 16 seconds
the longest bootleg I can find
is 8 minutes 23 seconds
and that’s not enough time to love her
she’s worth decades
but no one makes CDs that long
and I can’t put it on repeat ...

she’s too smart for that

if you had written the song to last a day
I might have held her longer than a year,
she’s tied me up tight
tied me up again
she’s got her claws into me, my friend
I’ve got my ball
I’ve got my chain
her wave crashed into me
and I’ve gone overboard

I’ve lived that boy’s dream,
I made it real and now she’s gone
you gave me hope,
but fuck you, Dave,
you never said what happens when the song ends
Just that into my heart she'll beat again
now whenever I hear those opening chords,
the song just crashes into me
knocks me overboard
leaves me drowning
in a girl’s dream

Love Like A Scar: Part II
or
She Bit Me In the Face
or
When She Says, "Don't Move, Trust Me," Don't Fucking Move


she cut me above right eyebrow
scar shimmers still fresh red
she is always with me
below the surface

in decades hence
when the biographer asks, tape rolling,
who marred my brow,
I plan to lean back and with straight face
declare the flesh wound
a sniper bullet
from the Euro-American War of 2035
as I dashed from demolished home
to cinderblock shelter
carrying Mighty Mike McGee B-side bootlegs

or maybe Battle of Satin Hill shrapnel
during the Second American Civil War
dodging landmines on the eastern front near Kansas City
rescuing a microphone once used by Derrick Brown
molecules of his saliva clinging to the mesh
long after he is but two stars left of the North American moon

I saw draftee boys drop like flies
to restore the Republic
while I was on a mission to clone the lost poets
into Founding Fathers and Mothers
so they could draft a new Constitution
that could be read in 3:10
and yet bring a tear to the eye

the biographer will write down “madman”
because fiction will have overtaken me by then

the truth of this scar
is hard to explain
but humorous to declare:
“my girlfriend
bit me in the face”

it was no unrestrained passion
nor a tryst turned to domestic violence
but rather innocent:
she, perched above me
on a Saturday afternoon,
so eager to cuddle
she could not wait to hold me
she told me not to move
as she collapsed wrestling match-style

of course,
I moved

and tooth struck brow
tearing open skin

she cut me
leaving a mark of her inhabitance
proof she reached deeper than touch
left residue no shower could flush away

if lightning strikes me dead
between back door and laundry room —
or Babel reprises
and one Tuesday morning
we forget the sounds of English —
or poems worldwide
so intensely hold human passion they spontaneously ignite
explode all the words they’re unable to speak
burn notebooks and shoeboxes to cinders —
if memory just ... evaporates —
I’ll still have the scar
evidence for the Grand Jury
that I was guilty of loving her
my carefully constructed alibi evaporates in the face of habeas cicatrices

more than poems or photographs
the scar of her marks me
in mirrors,
in the reflection of car windows
the snap of portraits
the mark a centimeter wide
that could tear open like a zipper
on a beaten-up, used childhood toy
and spill out my stuffing

I am unable to amnesia her away
when Alzheimer’s settles in to play a hand of bridge
nurses and other patients will quietly ask
“Mr. Graham, how did you earn that scar?”
and I’ll repeat the details as best I know them
a thousand times,
each one again anew

no matter how misanthropic I may become
as these hands wrinkle in the coming decades
this mark whispers witness
that I was touched once —
let a lover past my front stoop
through my bedroom doorway
where she evaded resistant arms
wrapped her Canadian limbs
around my torso
and got so close
that she even tried to eat me
swallow me into her — right eyebrow first

even rendered mute by death
my corpse will speak to strangers
that she visited this skin
touched this household of dust and ash
saw the mask that I hid in
tried to open me like a can of soup
to spill out my brain and ego

she wanted nothing
but for me to hold fast and trust her
and I could not
this mark proves my doubts manifest
leaves me to forever contemplate
my near-impossibility to love someone else selflessly
the cut a battle wound
no less serious than seppuku across the belly
a shotgun blast to the ribcage
I failed in a split second
and the path of blood from bed to sink
still stains the tile grout
reiterating every morning to my toes
the eschatology of our love affair

these arms still reach out to empty air
still beg the dawn that her absence is conjectural
I haven’t washed my sheets since she left
in hopes that the smell of her in the bed
will bring her back like a bloodhound
searching the crime scene for the victims

I’ll go mad some morning
and take chisel to the tile
attempt to chip out each cell of hemoglobin
force them back into the wound
pick out all the solitary strands of her hair
embedded in the carpet
and glue them back together
use all the collected powers
of every clairvoyant and bullshit psychic in this city
to pull me back through time
return to that moment
and tell that son-of-bitch in the bed
that "when she says 'don’t move'
"you don’t fucking move
"you let her collapse into your arms like she meant to
"you hold her so tight, it hurts to exhale
"because you're pushing her heart millimeters away from yours
"you stop thinking about whether she might hurt you
"because even if she does,
"she's still here"

and as the future-me
begins to back away into the shadows
he fades away into nothing as they taught us
in all proper science-fictions,
the past-me and she
will swing arms wide into ocean waves
wash over and crash into each other
until the sheets are drenched in salt and seawater

this tiny cut
this scar to remember her by
will be last thing to fade
supernova-ing into the ash of angels
disappearing in a twinkle like forgotten star
without even a single pair of lovers on summer grass
somewhere in the galaxy
to note its passing
and wonder, “what was that?”