Originally posted on Very Like A Whale:
Poems on big metaphysical themes are some of the most rewarding to work as video remixes, because they leave the visual field wide open and give the remixer real opportunities to insert him or herself into a poem’s narrative and move it forward in complementary but different ways. This lovely poem by Risa Denenberg at The Poetry Storehouse was a case in point. I read it as beautifully capturing one of those devastating moments of big doubt we sometimes encounter.
Which is where it got personal. The belief I try to live by is that we are lying fallow during such bleak periods, and that, their awfulness notwithstanding, they are at the same time periods of underground preparation, restoration and growth. So I went with that approach. I thought rain, with its double connotation of weeping/mourning and of life-inspiring nature, was the perfect backdrop metaphor. I found two ‘rain’ clips…
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I didn’t post my last poem because, well, who wants to write their last poem?
I have tried to personally thank everyone who contributed to Tupelo Press during August to sponsor my 31 poems in 31 days. But I am still looking for someone. LS, if you read this, send me your mailing address so I can send you a copy of my book as a thank you! My email is risaden [at] gmail [dot] com. If anyone else contributed that hasn’t heard back from me, it means I didn’t hear about it, so please contact me.
It was a wonderful month of writing during which I also did workshops at Centrum’s Port Townsend Writers’ Conference with the fabulous Cate Marvin and the astonishing Arthur Sze. I feel my own work flourish and improve whenever I spend time with other poets.
I feel so fortified by and grateful to the poets and poetry-lovers who have supported me over years with feedback, mentoring, by reading and critiquing my poems, by the hands of friendship that have been extended to me, by the sense of community knowing other poets has given me. Thank you doesn’t begin to express the depth of my gratitude.
Lessons for dying
Like a midwife, I sit and count
breaths until they stop.
I lean on the memory of rehearsal
as witness, as shepherd.
I embrace and say the soothing
words that must be said.
They are all nearby, the ones that
matter. It hurts to watch them lose her.
How to describe her face, alive, now dead.
Her words forever fixed in glass.
Soon, I’ll see her everywhere, guarding
words she cannot utter.
They are grateful I have come to sit with them.
As for me, I’ve lost the myth of shelter.
I do not unearth meaning.
I do not know how to pray.
The Big Five / by Risa Denenberg
(1) Signs of Aging
You may find you can’t do the tango anymore.
Your sex drive will circle the drain. There is no point
in looking for the whole picture with presbyopia.
In fact, all of your senses become altogether unreliable,
making you wonder if the universe, as you thought
you knew it, really exists.
(2) Common allergies
Peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and shellfish. Odd
leftovers that slosh over the bowl’s edge. Also,
shouldn’t we get smaller as we age, not bigger,
and shouldn’t we disappear at death, not leave
a ruined body behind for others to grapple with?
If I don’t smile much, what of it? Tell me a pun,
I’ll give you a big grin. I mean, how much loss can I
pile on before I lose it? I struggle this way often, hold
my temples with both hands to sequester anxieties.
So I have OCD, what’s it to you? What I really want
is to be left alone, gut-empty alone.
The potential for catatonia exists in every moment.
Look, I don’t always know what point I am trying to make.
I certainly have no idea how someone else will take
my point, my poem, my whole damn philosophy.
I’m getting to that place now, where you will either
sign off or sigh and continue reading. You’ve come
this far. Let’s walk a bit further, even if we are afraid.
It costs a quarter for each x-ray, fifty cents per pill;
the bargain is brokered by hope, the doctor’s cut
enormous. Yes, it will cost dear. And as the end draws
near, you won’t recall why you have to suffer so,
you will only stare, eyes too big in your cachectic body.
It will be awful to witness.
Shower / by Risa Denenberg
Mornings can be dour.
I languish here for hours,
moldering under the storm.
Heat is salve to ache and heartache.
Steam defrosts stiff right hip, charms
a scalp, thaws sour displeasure. Lemon
sage, lavender, tea tree suffuse me. Still,
it seems, there is never enough pleasure.
Late July, circa 1959 / by Risa Denenberg
Baseball cards cluck in the spokes of bikes,
Bikes do figure eights in and out of the gas station,
Tires shriek as feet touch cement,
Bare soles squish on hot tarry streets,
Fingers grab a nickel from the coin return cup,
Mouths glug Nehi Orange,
Breath whistles across the empty bottle,
Ball bounces to the rhythm of the swift slaps of a game of jacks,
We rhyme verse to the whacks of the jump ropes,
Feet thwack the dirt to Olly olly oxen free,
Crickets jeer, cats whine,
Sun sets with a splash,
We’re called to bed, curtains thwap, sheets damp and sticky.