* cynicism via Adam Levine & Philip Larkin

This show changed my life.  I was a cynic.  It brought back the joy…
(Adam Levine)

*at cynics not-so-anonymous*
*at cynics not-so-anonymous*

This week on the Influence: Philip Larkin!

FIRST, though, a confession: I watch The Voice.  There I said it.

Sharing this information in a public forum is tough.  Indeed, admitting what T.V. shows one indulges in can be as nerve-wracking and potentially embarrassing as…uhm, I don’t know – writing poetry.

Growing up in Texas, some of my homeboys back in the day didn’t take kindly to my versifying ways (I say it this way because it wouldn’t be polite of me to share exactly what they said of my ambitions to be a poet).

And yet I forged on – not out of any well-thought out conviction that I had been born with a direct line to the Muse – I forged on out of a sheer inability to do anything else but forge on.

It is this reflex, this connection that cannot be denied, that gets me to the page each day.  This reflex has its roots down where everything I enjoy resonates – from what I eat to what I read – and, yes, what I watch on T.V.

What moves me about Adam Levine’s words above is that simple admission: that he was a cynic.  One spends years entrenched in an art and risks slowly growing competitive and desensitized, unwilling to see beyond the niche one works out of.  One must seek ways to push beyond such limits, experiences that bring back the joy of what you do, that bring you back to why you do it.

Nothing beats finding a new writer you enjoy – someone who raises the temperature in the room you’re in, that has you smiling despite yourself as you read each incredible, engrossing word.

Afterwards, you judge.  You gauge how good it is against what you see as better.  You go back to your page to catch up, to outdo.  But for awhile there, you simply read.

Watching Adam Levine & co. listen to music and talk about it passionately has taught me a lot about humility and generosity.

Across the Street

Philip Larkin, too, has been a model for humility.

His poem “This Be the Verse” is infamous for its bitterness and warning against ever becoming a parent.  He HATED this poem being what most people recalled when his name was brought up.  While being popular, he felt it also made him seem less serious.  People often miss when the bitterness gives way.  He was a man of strong opinions – who knew what he liked – and it is that strength and nerve that guided the many illuminating and well-crafted poems he left us.

Here’s another poem about “mum and dad.”  I love how it leaves you at that moment of not understanding something fully but feeling it.

Ultimately, what we like is what we feel.

***

Coming – Philip Larkin

On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
Laurel-surrounded
In the deep bare garden,
It’s fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon –
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.

***

Happy starting!

Jose

* re-acquaintances & memory lane

I recently reconnected with an aunt of mine.

On the surface, this is no big deal.  Except the nice lady in question is the last living blood relative I have connected with my father.  I mean, she might know his actual birthday.

The last time Pilar, my aunt, and I saw each other, my grandmother – mother to her and my father – had died.  I spent the day with her and her family going around the neighborhood collecting stories about him.

Then she handed me what photographs she had of him.  I had never seen these photos, never seen so much of my father.

We lost touch after that visit.  It’s been eight years.

Finding each other again is a big deal because my father’s side of the family is riddled with men who leave or go missing.

In honor of our re-acquaintance, I have decided to share a poem I wrote a little after my grandmother’s death.

The line about the whispers of tough gossip is Pilar wondering after her brother.

***

Two Years *

 

In a house with only a front and back door,

The rooms separated by bed sheets,

A television that only worked at night,

When it wasn’t windy,

When it didn’t rain,

And a crucifix above the kitchen sink,

My grandmother would fill bottles with water and sugar

And watch over me as I ate in my sleep,

My mouth chewing dreams that would never fill me up.

 

Eyes puddled with dark rings would look down,

Bags the color of beaten and bruised fruit;

Her hands, brown and thin with veins

Like cross hatched branches,

A tree named Augustina

Would hold me, pour water over me

In the same place she peeled potatoes.

 

I never knew her name til I was eight.

On the phone, there was more static than I knew words in Spanish.

There was a photograph, paper swollen and smooth,

Picture blurry and dull,

A smile the color of headlights at night.

 

What face did I make as she passed me around,

Miren Angel, look at my son’s boy,

My father, the fisherman

Who let his son grow up not knowing how to swim,

His footsteps on the whispers of tough gossip,

Like dust being swept across the floor,

No longer the imprint of a foot,

No longer there.

 

Tina, I have seen buildings fall and the morning grow gray with smoke,

I have seen deserts explode through the green eye of the television,

I have seen a man hit in the mouth with his own gun,

I have seen women scream because men with broken bottles in their hands

            Don’t know better or don’t care,

I have seen love in a bruised face,

A pair of heavy eyes,

Your eyes —

 

Skin crinkling like burning leaves —

 

And I wish the metaphors could stop,

I wish I was Jesus,

That when I laid my hand down

It meant more to me than words,

More to you than an unfamiliar tongue,

Sounds you can’t understand

Stretched out in scribbles, curled

Like hair on a newborn’s head.

***

Happy scribbling!

J

* an earlier version of this poem appeared in Glyph, the literary journal of the College of Santa Fe