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Genesis of a poem

Two and a half days left of open ended time. Then it is back to work. While I love my job, feel the work is meaningful, open ended time is tastier.

Kat has recently reminded us that this forum has become underused. Maybe this will lend to a redress. About the only useful thing I've done over the week was to put together and submit a batch of poetry for an upcoming anthology of LA based poets. The poems have to give a sense of place, but not necessarily about Louisiana. Three of the poems submitted draw on LA, one on FL, and one on Spain. I want to lead up to the Spain poem with the story of how it got conceived. The story involves a marked degree of what most of us would call immoral behavior. If anyone, even one friend, is offended by the story I promise to evaporate the thread.

Ten years ago, maybe nine, I met a woman online in a poetry chatroom. I was pretty injudicious in those days about the kind of poetry I showed: the kind of poetry that can get a poet into trouble. There was this one gal who lived on the east coast. At the time I was on the west coast. She contacted me and we got to talking. Her story absolutely fascinated me, mostly because it made no sense.

E. was older than me by a few years. The pictures she sent showed an older woman still quite striking, easy on the eyes as we say down here. She was still married to her high school sweetheart and who had been her first lover. She had six children, all grown. I remember she was Catholic and I think she was Irish. She had some sort of job involving high tech and she traveled extensively. This would have been during the time of the high tech investment balloon.

E. had lovers in every town she visited on the job. From coast to coast and in towns in between. She had at least one lover in the neighborhood where she lived. She told me about them all. A guy in Austin, one in Chicago, another in Atlanta I think, and the late night on a neighbor's back porch. I know why I listened to her stories. I was both fascinated by the behavior and I couldn't make sense of it. I know why she told me her stories. Put simply, my poetry has always been braver than me in these matters.

None of it made sense. Why live with a man for thirty plus years, a man you do not love enough to at least keep faithful to? Why dishonor the father of your children? She never spoke badly of her husband. But she did speak indifferently of him. Indifferent. That is the precise word for how she spoke of him. Why? She never said he had been unfaithful to her. She never said he had been cruel. From what she told me the guy sounded pretty regular, taking care of responsibilities and such. I am thinking he was a tradesman. Maybe he worked construction. And why the need for a lover in every port?

To get a little in front of my story finally one day my turn would come. She was going to be at a conference in California. Her company would be paying for the hotel room. I would come down from WA. And we would spend a few nights together. I figured what the hell? It would be nice to wake up to a woman for a change instead of waking up to a forest and to the rain. One afternoon I bought a plane ticket. That night I got kind of drunk. Early next morning I woke up, went to the phone, cancelled the plane ride. Just couldn't go there. Still not sure why except to say it likely had nothing to do with a sense of right and wrong, or even of honor. Not arrriving in CA hurt E.'s feelings badly. Badly. It amounted to a rejection. And she was right to feel slighted. Conversation between us soon dropped off. But I just couldn't go there.

Before this fateful day I was still trying to figure E. out. I was living and working as a caretaker on an estate up in the Olympic mountains. I remember this one day as if it was yesterday. I was clearing the gravel road that led down to the highway of leaves, using a leaf blower. All the while thinking on E. The first step was to remember the ancient holy prostitutes, priestesses who in the Goddess precincts devoted to fertility rites had the responsibility to bring in men, to couple with them in the name of fertility, and to bring about the kind of sympathetic magic the ancients used to make the land fecund. The second step was more a leap. I remembered a gypsy girl I had encountered in Spain 20 years before. Third step was an even larger leap. It brought me to the Magdalene, Jesus Christ's woman friend who, by report, had been a whore. By the time I got back up the mountain to my cottage and desk I had the poem in my head. And I had figured a certain kind of woman.

Just to be clear my poem got made before Dan Brown's novel involving the Magdalene was published. I got to her before he did. The poem:

Picture Postscript

There is a tradition
Gnostic in origin
about the Magdalene, saying
she was to succeed Him.

These are the whitest nights I’ve ever seen.
Overnight train through the plains of Castile.
Destination: Andalucía.
In the federal streets of Madrid, and Franco recently dead,
freedoms start in stutter on the unused tongue.
And hilltop Toledo, the ancient capitol where
there the river ghost skies El Greco saw.
But now the Iberian night, and the white plateau
barely habited, scraped clean, chalky.

Her black eyes miss nothing in the train’s dark;
gypsy girl captioned in moonshine window.
Her lover’s lips buried in her neck, his hand
hidden in her fulling skirt, and her
suckling, her son or daughter, content at her breast.
Granada by morning. I cannot sleep.

The Alhambra, the castellated mountaintop.
Perfectly defensible, or until
Gothic Crusader stretched, strained, pulled.
Inside these cool walls the sister soul flourished.
And still the stylus in the stone, the intricate
inflorescence more modern fingers can trace.
Now another incursion, this by the busload,
the camera carrying, tourist pilgrim.

The opposing hillside. In white washed cave
I make the rare trade of Tarot pack for
the lonely Juerga in all night flamenco session.
And there she is again, the same dark eyed girl
with son or daughter at play on her lap;
while she who keeps the pitos, sharp finger rhythm for
Gitano on low stool who in deep song
delves the thing alive, she stares him on,
alive inside the big bottomed guitar; slender neck.
And the tidal surge felt for the middle sea.

Thin ribbon roads through mountains and
Sierra Nevada’s divide, the descent.
And roadside women, age indeterminate,
sweeping in black sack dress, sweeping pendulous while
politics of pursuit keep the approach;
and the blood of the bull, death ceremonial,
what must dance a man’s life away for him.

Costa del Sol. Muscular
olive groin, hibiscus home.
Old fishermen beached, staring to will the sea,
hauling in long nets with rotten teeth.
I want the Mallorcan man, sure sign of him,
the last lyricist, poetry’s final best.
But dementia has lately cleared his head.
Clinging to the coast are the English expatriates.

Too many Jerez bars. Too many brawls. Too much talk.
Just the unsettled argument between
communist, anarchist, fascist,
separatist and the like.
And the American bar run by
the Chicago born man whose pasty, night face
is a Trader Vic portrait, who says:
“simply disengage.” And so away from them
with soon the question, who the hell keeps the lead?

As she shows that night on ink well beach.
This girl I’ve seen, in dreamscape too.
The same woman in full phase, same
daughter or son sifting sand beside her, and
there the lover she lays, disciple three.

She who body breeds the fertile dream, sea change.

Sep/10/2010, 9:10 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
Christine98 Profile
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Re: Genesis of a poem

This is a spell-binder, Tere. Nervy of you to start with the word/place, "Andalucia." It's a big promise, but the poem keeps it.

Sep/11/2010, 9:03 am Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
Terreson Profile
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Re: Genesis of a poem

Thanks, Chris. I get your point. I suppose it does amount to taking a chance by raising expectations. This was one of those poems that darn near wrote itself.

Sep/11/2010, 1:33 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
vkp Profile
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Re: Genesis of a poem

This is powerful. I love the Magdalen idea but am not sure pointing your reader in that direction in the first 4 lines is really part of the poem. In any case -- the fecund muse with knowing eyes has captured yet another poet.
Jan/1/2012, 7:15 pm Link to this post Send Email to vkp   Send PM to vkp Blog

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