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The dark that’s gathering strength
these days is submissive,
kinky, silken, willing;
stretched taut as a trampoline.
World events rattle by like circus
trains we wave at occasionally,
as striped, homed and spotted
heads poke out their windows.
Feels like I’m wearing a corset,
though I haven’t a stitch on.
Burn the place setting I ate from,
OK? and destroy the easy chair
I languished in. Let birds
unravel my lingerie
for nesting materials.
Fingers poised on the piano keys,
I can’t think what to play.
A dirge, a fugue?
What, exactly, are crimes
against nature? How many
calories are consumed while
lolling in this dimness,
mentally lamenting the lack
of anything to indicate
some faint mirage of right-
mindedness has been sighted
on the horizon? The world
is full of morbid thinkers,
miserable workers and compulsive
doodlers. Darling, my mother
used to croon, you were a happy
accident, like the discovery
of penicillin. When I sense
the zillions of cells in my body
laboring together, such grand
fatigue sweeps over me.
Once in a blue moon I smell
the future’s breath,
that purgatorial whiff
shot through with the scent
of burnt hair, like when sailors
have been drifting at sea
for a long time and suddenly
they see gulls circling
and the ripe composty odor
of land unfurls in the air,
but they’ve no idea whether
an oasis of breadfruit
and pineapple awaits them
or an enclave of cannibals.

–Amy Gerstler

This poem is so good and so full, I don’t even know where to begin. It is not the last note I want to leave you with however, so here’s something lighter to counterbalance the intensity of Doomsday:

In Kyoto …

In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.


Amy Gerstler’s latest volume of poetry, Dearest Creature, was reviewed in the New York Times this past Sunday. An excerpt from that review by David Kirby is referenced in this Slow Muse post.

“Known for witty, complex poetry that reflects such themes as redemption, suffering, and survival, Amy Gerstler won the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for the collection Bitter Angel.” (The Poetry Foundation.)

Bashō (1644 – 1694) was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan.

Amy Gerstler, “Doomsday” from Nerve Storm. Copyright © 1993 by Amy Gerstler. Courtesy of Penguin Group.

Bashō, “In Kyoto,” translated by Jane Hirshfield. Courtesy of the translator.

Best description of reading poetry I’ve found was in a review of Amy Gerstler’s latest volume, Dearest Creature, from the Sunday Times Book Review. Written by a fellow poet David Kirby, it is clear he knows of what he speaks: “Look, a poem either sends you a bill or writes you a check. You can use up too much of your intellectual and emotional capital, not to mention your good will, and come away feeling had. Or you can pat your billfold and say, ‘Hey, this baby just got a little fatter.’”

He goes on to flesh out the metaphor:

When I’m asked by fellow air passengers what I do for a living and reply, “I write poems,” the reaction is often a startled smile, as though they’re thinking Homer! Dante! Milton! (At least that’s what I’m thinking they’re thinking.) And then comes the lean-in, the furrowed brow, the voice thick with compassion as my new friend says, “But there isn’t any money in that, is there?”

There are some pretty snappy comebacks to this one, but what I usually offer is Somerset Maugham’s “Poetry is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five.” Actually, Maugham says “money,” not “poetry,” but that’s the point. Money and poetry both act as catalysts, and they bring together objects and experiences that wouldn’t have anything to do with one another otherwise. Wealth takes many forms, and sometimes it shows up as stanzas.