Saturday, July 30, 2005

Where do poems come from?

Over on Wild Poetry Forum, we have instituted a weekly challenge. This week's challenge was to list 6 words associated with either city or nature and describe one environment using the words from the other.

I put this together from odd bits of memory when I lived in Washington Heights in NYC during the middle 1980s. Crack cocaine trade was booming and many of the drug dealers were busy killing one another off for profitable real estate. I took my vivid sensory images from that time and wove in a poem about a fictional narrator and her attempt to hold to memories of living somewhere else.

I think having spent a year writing a novel, I'm more able to see stories everywhere. In fact, I found it hard to write this as a poem. It kept emerging more as prose.

170th Street between Broadway and Ft. Washington

Woodpeckers tapping against the tree
in the front yard. The rattle
of hail on the barn's tin roof.
Her dreams transfigure street sounds

into memory. In the morning,
heat shimmers smear the air,
diesel fumes belch from pitted
steel, brakes squeal. She cranes

her neck up and around
to see the the distant sky framed
through bars, over the brick
chimney of the apartment next door.

Three more dead in Washington Heights,
Jamaican boys, their dreadlocks matted
with dried blood, tangled
like a wild horse's mane. One more

night of gunfire and madness,
one more night dreaming of thunder
and the sweet smell of ozone,
wind scything through the hay.

Tomorrow she'll walk Mariana
to the park, push her on the rusted
swing and pretend
it will be simpler back home.

ljcohen, 2005

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