Thanks to Tom Murphy, my English teacher at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh (I keep meaning to get in touch with him to thank him), I started writing poetry when I was about sixteen or seventeen. Then I went off to Reed College as an English major, and as a senior wrote a creative thesis (with the wonderful Lisa Steinman as my advisor) composed of twelve sonnets. After that I went to New York and studied under Galway Kinnell and others in the graduate Creative Writing/Poetry program at NYU (unfortunately, I was apparently too preoccupied with my hipster lifestyle in lower Manhattan to write my thesis, and therefore never actually got my degree).
Like just about any poet, I always wanted to see my poems in print, either in literary journals (a few of which published some of my work) or as a book. I’d kind of given up on the latter ever happening, but that was before the advent of indie publishing. So I’ve been kind of amazed to find myself, all these years later, putting together a manuscript of my poems from about 1983 to the present (I don’t seem to have my high school poems any more, but I have a feeling that most of them probably shouldn’t see the light of day anyway, as they would definitely be labeled “juvenalia”). It will take me at least a few months to put it all together and include some new poems that I’ve been working on (seeing some of the previous posts here), but I’m getting kind of excited about it.
Anyway, every so often I’ll be posting some of the poems here, although this blog is still primarily dedicated to my first book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days. Here’s one:
(An entry in my journal from June of 1985 notes that I wrote the following poem after meeting and having a conversation with “the most amazing man” at the Lutz Tavern in Portland the night before. I remember neither the man nor the conversation, but the entry tells me that this is one of the few, if not the only, poems that I’d ever written in less than an hour.)
THE MONKEY TREE
“All the pennies in my pocket dropped
unnoticed through a seam I never found.
I never spent a single one. Tonight
I can remember everything: the salmon
stabbed with a stick and stolen, all its flesh
unwasted, sweet; the perfect curve and glare
of balls turned off their course on an uneven
table; the sticky bitterness of every beer
I ever drank. Sometimes I wish I had
more schooling. Once I met another boy,
brilliant in hard science. No one knew him
so I took him to the monkey tree, black
and aching and arthritic, rooted
in dead water. We shinnied down into the swamp
and ran like beasts on fire through the fog.
That same year he killed himself.
If you come down there with me
I’ll take you to the monkey tree.”