As Tweetspeak’s inaugural Poet Laura, I’ve got responsibilities. Some of those include reading poems to chickens, writing poems about chocolate, and writing poems about people named Laura. I’ve done all of those.
There’s another duty on the list I’ve been avoiding, but I figure now is as good a time as any to face it:
Advise future travelers to the moon, regarding poems that should be placed in strategic areas of both the dark and light sides of the moon. And, if unwilling to personally travel to the moon if so invited, you must be willing to at least part with one of your poems for delivery to the moon, where the poem will, in perpetuity, be read by no one, but will, in any case, shine down on the earth for aeons to come.
I don’t know much about the geography (geology? oh wait—maybe topography) of the moon, so I took it upon myself to do a little bit of research. Yes, I watched a four-minute YouTube video about the two sides of the moon. Who said the Poet Laura post isn’t a commitment?
And guess what? The dark side of the moon, the side the earth never sees, has a crust that’s thirty miles thicker than the crust on the light side! And of course, I can’t watch a four-minute video about crust without making the natural leap to more important things: pizza.
So I hereby declare the thick-crusted dark side of the moon the “Chicago” side and the thinner, light side, “New York.” As such, I will advise future travelers to deposit the requisite poems on their assigned sides:
Beverly Hills, Chicago — Gwendolyn Brooks
Chicago — Carl Sandburg
Declaration — Phillip B. Williams (This one mentions pizza!)
New York Poems
On Broadway — Claude McKay
February Evening in New York — Denise Levertov
Nick’s Pizza — Sergio Jimenez (A mouth-watering spoken word tribute to the poet’s childhood pizza joint in the Bronx.)
Bringing Them Together
Last but not least, I offer you a poem by my Chicago-based friend and poet, Faisal Mohyuddin. I bet you think this poem is going to be about Chicago pizza.
Home of the Best Pizza in the World
More than I dare to dream
The summer after seventh grade,
when my family road-tripped
to Brooklyn to visit my uncle whose
mustache always reminded me
of Magnum P.I., would always be
the summer I first saw a grown man
grow young again. Two decades
after a week-long wedding
in Pakistan, his wife had finally
arrived, her long-awaited green card
in hand, four disbelieving children
at her side, all still awestruck
by America when we pulled up
in our minivan, gleaming a brighter
maroon ever since an Appalachian
rain rinsed away the brown
dust of Illinois. I hadn’t seen
my cousins in seven years,
and it took us time to remember
we were no longer little kids,
no longer entranced by imaginary
beings who hid in dark rooms.
These cousins, who knew their dad
mostly as a scratchy voice
on the phone, as a familiar-looking
stranger who visited for a week,
maybe two, every few years,
had learned to rely on inventions
to allay their longing. My uncle,
though, seemed only to age
too fast. But on our first night there,
with a youthfulness that kept us
laughing like fools, he took us all out
to his favorite pizza place, home
of the best pies in the world,
his kids eager to try that New York
delight their father had always
spoken of so lovingly, so enticingly
that it used to make them feel
even more lonely in those endless
years of waiting. Tonight, as
songs like “Here and Now” and
“From a Distance” played through
the parlor, we Chicago cousins,
used to the thicker-crusted kind,
gazed in awe at these massive pies,
cut up like clocks, with each
of the twelve slices so big it felt like
a measure of time, an arrow guiding
my uncle backwards into joy.
When he handed me my share,
the corners drooping off the edges
of my plate, I looked around
the table and saw, in the starstruck
faces of my uncle and aunt,
my cousins and siblings, my mom
and dad, the presence of a love
so filling it transcended time
and place, so vast that even if one
folded it in half, it would remain
wide enough to serve as a bridge
between two faraway lands,
between what is lost and
what still remains.
I haven’t been invited to travel to the moon, which is fine by me. I was never one of those kids who dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Frankly, it looks like a lot of work (heavy outfits, spinning around in chambers), and I can’t stand Tang. But I am, as the Poet Laura duties spell out, willing to at least part with one of my poems for delivery to the moon. In fact, if I don’t deliver it in thirty minutes, it’s free.
I’ll send up one of my own poems that takes place in Chicago. (Side note: even though I’ve lived in the greater Chicagoland area for most of my adult life and have been to NYC just once, I prefer New York pizza, hands down. I’m siding with Faisal on this one.)
Okay, moon, here comes my poem. Hope you enjoy it. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1:
El Train Magnificat
Just when I think I’ve entered my rest,
the dull glare of the office two blocks behind me,
a woman under the Wells Street tracks
opens her arms and shouts, Lord, I thank you!
Her massive breasts quake in a gray T-shirt;
a sprig of hair trembles in a rubber band.
You made me! I’m here! I’m here!
The metallic rumble of the Green Line
can’t drown her voice. She swings her hips,
clapping to the rhythm. I cross through a line of taxis
to avoid her. Now she is turning in grand circles,
her face lifted toward the tracks.
Thank you, thank you, Lord of mine.
I hum to myself, count sidewalk squares, anything
to escape the eye of her swirl. I quicken my stride
around the corner of Madison, until her voice is nothing
but a drift in the storm of buses and horns.
Yet at night, in the cool hour of unrest,
I feel her words rumbling through me
in a constant loop—I thank you, Lord;
I thank you, Lord—sparks flickering along my bones,
singeing the edges of my silent life.
Photo by Wonderlane, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Tweetspeak’s inaugural “Poet Laura,” Tania Runyan.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish