Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Author: James Brush (page 1 of 131)

Most Earthlings

School bathroom,
fluorescent light, linoleum.

Two cold-blooded singers
face off in the corner, circling,

testing–lunge and feint.
I wash my hands.

Watch the black-clad
rivals unable to back down

or go around until someone
brings a broom and dustpan,

sweeps up these two, away
to feed chickens in the yard,

their twelve legs locked
in pointless combat.

For Prompt #1 at This Is Not a Literary Journal: Write about the first animal you see today. I didn’t include my dogs, opting instead for wild animals. Those turned out to be crickets and the beetles that appear to stalk them, both of which have infested our school, and are now being swept up and taken to feed the chickens.

Ascent

1.
She went deeper and the boat receded. She worked her chains. The world was locks and water, but she knew the key and smiled as she sank.

2.
The waves came and went leaving constant patterns in the surf. A message: Help me. The beach litter was a map of the seafloor.

3.
He swam for hours into the darkening sea, found her lying in the coral. You came, she said. He exhaled for the last time.

4.
The sea was air, the coral home. Their love the fish, the legs they grew as they evolved back to land to invent boats, chains and locks.

///

I posted this to my Twitter feed about a year ago and found it in my files. So, a rerun.

The Night of October 23

Hint of vanilla in the wine
glass stains on the table

two circles orbit each other
tidally locked. Paper wings

tremble. A mole of moths
flutters against my heart.

Red Wolf Poems: Wordle #26 | Magpie Tales #236

Writing Process Questions

I’m stealing a meme from Carolee.

What are you working on?

I’m close to publishing two short books: Highway Sky, a collection of road poems; and The Corner of Ghost & Hope, a collection of five short stories. Both have been ongoing and then back-burner projects for several years (I first put Highway Sky together in 2009) but this year I decided to commit to finishing both of them. I’m alternating between them, and they are currently in the proof stage. Once published, I plan to start working on another poetry project, not sure what, but I have some ideas I’m kicking around.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

This is a really interesting question that I don’t know how to answer without sounding like I’m full of it. I think it’s the type of question writers and other artists probably struggle with answering about their own work. Probably why author bios are written in 3rd person. Having said that, I write about things that interest me. One of the most compelling things to me is the way we interact, live with, and understand our place in nature. I try to let my sense of awe and wonder at the mysteries of the universe come through in my writing. I don’t think any of that necessarily makes my work differ from anyone else’s; plenty do those things and do them better than me. So I have my take on things, my way of seeing the world. As does everyone else. Naturally, I’m forever grateful to those who are interested in and take time to read what I have to write.

Why do you write what you do?

It depends on what I’m writing, whether it be fiction or memoir and what form I’m working in: prose, poetry, small stones… I write to explore, entertain, meditate, pray, discover, remember, understand, honor, educate. As mentioned above, I try to write from a place of curiosity, gratitude, and wonder. I’m reminded of the Grateful Dead song “Lady with a Fan” from Terrapin Station:

The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

I’ve always liked those lines, the idea of shedding light and not trying to have all the answers. I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing, that urge to discover and ask rather than answer. I guess I write more what I want to understand than what I already know.

How does your writing process work?

Too many days, I’d say it doesn’t. Sometimes I start with a prompt or an image. I freewrite and then cut away from what I’ve written. Sometimes, a phrase or an idea just comes along and hits me. I wrote this in the comments on Carolee’s blog:

I don’t always know where it comes from, at least not at first. My students ask me these kinds of things all the time when they want to learn more about writing poetry, and I always feel kind of lame when the best I have to offer are answers like “I don’t know” and “It just kind of happens.” I think the best poetry or any writing comes when we’re not setting out to say something but rather to discover something.

Truth is, I really don’t know how I do it. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m the one who wrote something. Which isn’t to say it’s not a lot of work, because it is, especially at the revision stage, but those ideas, that initial surge, just happens. But it only happens when I’m open to it. I have to show up and be there ready to respond. The real work of course, comes later when I have to sit down and turn ideas, scribbles, and drafts into something worth reading.

I’ve recently written two process posts, one about reading and recording other people’s poetry and one about videomaking. So I’ll just end with a quote from the video post that also applies to writing:

[…] maybe this is the main thing I have to say about my creative process: I don’t always intend to write a poem or make a video, but then one thing leads to another: experience, image, something I read, something someone says and then the next thing I know there’s a poem or a video or something waiting to be written or made. I guess it all comes down to being open and willing. And then, as Stephen King says, showing up at the keyboard.

warm september moon
a hard glow
between elm branches

“A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha” Videopoem

This is a video I made based on Uma Gowrishankar’s “A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha: Bardo 3″ from The Poetry Storehouse.

I had recorded a reading of the poem the previous week (along with a few others) with no intention of making videos because I didn’t have any time or ideas. But then while searching for some footage on Videvo for something else entirely, I came upon that clip that imagines an approach to the Milky Way. I’m an astronomy nerd and ever since traveling with Carl on the Ship of the Imagination, I’ve always liked this sort of thing.

I watched the clip a few times and started thinking about the poem, about the soul approaching the womb and how the stars in that footage move so fast that (I would think) the clip could encompass millions of years and so the whole thing started to seem like something that was completely outside of time and space. That reminded me of a line from the finale of Lost (which I’m re-watching): “There is no now here” which made me think of souls outside the body and outside time and space which led me back to Gowrishankar’s poem.

I had the reading and the footage so I put them together, but thought I needed something less spacey and metaphorical, which is why I added the audio of the fetal heartbeat. It seemed to ground the thing and make it more earthly, which is one thing I really like about the original poem.

It’s funny to me how things like this just kind of happen, and maybe this is the main thing I have to say about my creative process: I don’t always intend to write a poem or make a video, but then one thing leads to another: experience, image, something I read, something someone says and then the next thing I know there’s a poem or a video or something waiting to be written or made. I guess it all comes down to being open and willing. And then, as Stephen King says, showing up at the keyboard.

fevered skin
a wolf pack stalking
over snow

The Scariest Book I Ever Read

The Fellowship of the Ring is probably the scariest book I’ve ever read. Not because the book is particularly scary—it isn’t—but because the first time I tried to read it, back when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I was home sick. I’d been home from school reading it most of the day and fell asleep somewhere after the chapter “Fog on the Barrow Downs.”

That night I had terrible fever dreams in which I kept dreaming and re-dreaming the scenes in which the Hobbits are hunted by the barrow wights. These were fever dreams and so very real, immediate, and hard to wake from. When I did wake, I was scared and sweaty and when I went back to sleep, the dreams would pick up where I left off or start over, and never once did Tom Bombadil show up to rescue me as he did the Hobbits in the books.

Eventually morning came, and I was freaked out enough that I put the book aside, not to be read again until late in my freshman year of high school. When I finally did read it, I made sure that I had time to read a few chapters beyond “Barrow Downs” before going to sleep. I still do this when I reread Fellowship of the Ring, and I must admit that when the movie came out in 2001, I was a bit relieved that the scene had been cut. Still, it’s among my favorite books.

I was thinking about this the other night when I was feverish and starting to have strange dreams. I finally woke and started thinking about that night of Tolkien inspired fever dreams and that led to thinking about books and the ones that have stuck with me over the years. Not always (but mostly) favorites but important for the way they affected me or made me see or understand things differently. Or maybe just because I liked them so much.

Strangely, the next morning one of my friends tagged me on Facebook with a meme to share just such a list. So, here ’tis:

Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
The House at Pooh Corner – AA Milne
Thirty Seconds over Tokyo – Ted Lawson
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
Childhood’s End – Arthur C Clarke
Blue Highways – William Least Heat-Moon
Dark and Like a Web – Nic Sebastian
VALIS – Philip K Dick
Roughing It – Mark Twain
The Sibley Guide to Birds – David Allen Sibley

I’m supposed to tag nine others but I’m not. Play along if you like.

On Reading for The Poetry Storehouse

Recently, I spent some time learning and reading poems from some other poets whose work I admire. I found the poems at The Poetry Storehouse (where a few of mine can be found too) a site created by Nic Sebastian and dedicated to bringing poetry off the page and into new venues. There’s a bunch of work licensed under the creative commons license, and it’s all available for remix–audio, video, whatever–so long as it’s for noncommercial use.

So, I went and did some looking and read the following poems:

A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha: Bardo 3
 by Uma Gowrishankar
Skimming by Janeen Rastall
Horses by Kristine Ong Muslim
my days are flocks of starlings by Nic Sebastian

I recorded a couple last spring and again, this was a cool thing to do. It is one thing to read a poem, even read it over and over again to oneself, but to say the words, over and over and then to hear yourself say them and then to say them again (the repetitions required to get a satisfactory reading) is to go farther into the poem than you might have imagined was possible. Suddenly, you start to see the things between the lines and letters. Sometimes, you stop in your tracks mid-read and realize you have to start over. That’s a good thing.

In each case, I started by just recording the lines in my classroom while I have it to myself during lunchtime. But with each subsequent reading, I found myself feeling the poems more as the speaker rather than an outside reader. I suppose it must be a bit like this for an actor learning a character, moving from reader to this other self that exists in the lines of the poem.

I don’t know if this is how poetry reading should be done, but it makes sense to me to think of a poem as something that is said or told as if letting the audience in on some secret rather than recited or pronounced (in the sense of pronouncement). When I read to my students, this approach seems to work best for them. They actually listen.

The best thing about this is that by the end, when I sit back and listen, I feel like I’ve come to understand the poem in a way I hadn’t before. As if now, I’ve really walked that mile in the other’s shoes. This came about most especially when I was working on Gowrishankar’s poem. It’s one thing to get the idea of reincarnation of the soul as an outsider, but reading the poem aloud and then listening to it helped me feel it in a more personal way.

So, thank you to Nic for creating the Storehouse and to the poets who’ve posted their work for others like me to experiment with. And if you’re reading this, consider paying a visit and listening or watching what’s been done, and perhaps even add your own contribution.

Ordinary Night

It was ordinary:
the hill, the town,
the sky, a wisp
of cloud against
the stars. Ordinary
as methane rain
on Titan or the dry
encroaching ice
on the windswept
Martian poles.
Common as each
flower in this field
around my feet,
each one a star
to mirror constellations
above my blood-filled
head. The window
lights in town
click off, a chorus
of everyday amens,
whispered in the holy
darkness of the night.

Magpie Tales #234

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