Room 57 • Poetry Hotel
Four Poems / Perie Longo
WRITING FOR LIFE
On the edge
he signs his name
with a skid mark
voice a hollow drum
willow without stretch of deer skin
to bring the rain.
Having been on the edge ourselves,
the long way down—or up—
either way barely bearable
we hide behind neatly pressed words.
He writes in such jumble (word salad
with blood dressing)
no one understands but that’s the whole idea.
Last time someone figured it out
he was sent down the river
(figure of speech) to get his head screwed on
locked in a room
of curve balls.
“I just wanted to stand out,” he says
slinging up the umbrella of his misfortune.
“As if your nails are trying to hang
onto the sky?” I ask (up talk it’s called).
He laughs a cry,
strong hand over his wet, pale cheek.
Curse the screw of chemicals
that leave who we love tweaked
and double crossed.
Thank heaven we buy a natural brand rather than one
that’s poisoning the public as reported in today’s news,
our kind the one with a thick layer of oil on top
you have to stir into the stiff brown glop beneath
so it will spread with ease onto bread
without ripping it to shreds. First you insert
the tall-handled wooden spoon mounted with a carved moose
your friend brought as a gift from Russia, and begin blending
as the oil drips down the side of the jar
onto the counter settling into the grout between the tiles
and you remember how your mother used to slather
her naturally swarthy French skin with olive oil
for a delicious tan but when you did the same thing
your fairer complexion burnt to a crisp
and then your mind drifts to the La Brea tar pits in LA
bubbling up fossils under a full moon
so you move to more drastic measures as you must
in matters attempting to penetrate the surface of things
and you dump the whole mess into a large bowl
mashing and kneading until the texture
is something like wet cement
but when you try to fight it back into the jar
you notice how the agitation and your own vigor
have caused it to expand something like the miracle
of loaves and fishes but you’re hardly Biblical, swearing
with a thick tongue trying to lick the slop
off your fingers and face, while it seems to be rising
like the price of oil itself and the more you try to beat it down
the higher it goes, the wider it spreads and you wonder
if that isn’t the way of oil, not to stop until it slicks over
every bird and boat and beach, country and continent
until we burn and slide helplessly together
in the muck of our making, just to satisfy a Permian hunger.
CLIFFS OF MOHER, COUNTY CLARE
Flight has dropped you right where the Ireland calendar
on your kitchen wall left you thousands of miles ago,
and since Dublin, days more of a good dose of twists
and turns. Walking the precipitous edge of the cliffs,
the day full sun, in the distance row upon row
of birds roost in eon-chewed niches. You peer down
to better hear the swish-swash below after the sea’s crash
against the walls still forging the ridge. At the drop,
stomach churns like the spume inside the blue whorl.
You back off at the sign posting Danger, lives lost
slipping over. A woman in a wheelchair
poised too close, gazes out, a man holding her firm.
Perhaps this view a last wish. Suddenly flashes of white
like flung arrows distract, fulmars and kittiwakes
playing like children, gliding the spray.
They whiz toward the dark cliff rise,
then tour j’eté back to sea in a kind of tease—
coming home, just kidding— like exultations
of souls unbound from flesh. What else can you do
but run toward the tower at the very tip
and lift, all wing and weave.
THE AGE WHEN ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
The fifth grade class doesn’t know what a crocus is.
That pushes over a mound of snow in spring,
I explain. That strong,. It grew in front
of my house in Wisconsin where I lived, their age.
The boy who-only-likes-sports, never poetry,
in a sky blue tank top down to his knees stops wiggling.
Did you know my cousin?”
He’s ten and serious, lived in Oconomowoc.
A girl says her mother was from Waukesha.
Native words I love wobbling in air, it’s time
to write the lesson. Music on, paper passed around
and pictures for ideas,
he appears before me, eyes round as baseballs. Whispers,
“He was murdered!”
It’s not the sun that makes him squint back tears.
Tells me his cousin was twenty-two,
tells me it happened when he was eight,
the age when life is limitless, anything possible
tells me he’s scared, they never found who did it.
These days you can’t hug children at school, without
suspicion. I hold him
in my gaze, say I’m sorry, so terrible for him, his family.
Say he could bring his cousin back to the page,
his pencil like a small bat that sends out words
where they need to go.
He drifts back to his desk. Writes fast about setting sun
you can’t stop, like sadness, morning light, his cousin
who taught him how to play football,
that life won’t last forever. I nod, move on
tending to my crocuses bright in their square
of ground, feet planted
before they blow away.
Perie Longo, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate (2007-09) has published four books of of poetry, the last two titled With Nothing behind but Sky: a journey
through grief (2006) and Baggage Claim (2014). Individual poems appear in numerous literary journals and anthologies including International
Poetry Review, Miramar, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, and Prairie Schooner. She teaches poetry for the annual Santa Barbara Writers
Conference as well as privately, and in the past through California Poets in the Schools for thirty years. A psychotherapist and poetry therapist, she
feels poetry is a light that guides us to hope and truth.
Acknowledgements:“Writing for Life” previously appeared in Writers on the Edge: 27 writers speak about addiction and dependence. (Diana M.
Raab and James Brown, eds. Ann Arbor: MI: Modern History Press, 2012); “Peanut Butter” previously appeared in Atlanta Review (Fall 2007) and
Baggage Claim: Poems, (Artamo Press, 2014); “Cliffs of Moher, County Clare” previously appeared in Levure litteraire #13, (June, 2017); “The
Age When Anything is Possible” previously appeared in Askew, (Fall, 2013).