Fans of Heart, the rawk band led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, fall into one of two categories: (1) those who dig the band’s fat rock licks from the 70s and lost interest after 1982’s underwhelming Private Audition, and (2) those who think that after 1982’s disappointing Private Audition the band was just getting started and who actually prefer the more embarrassing, slick, and power-ballad-heavy material to come. Naturally, I fall into the latter category, because guitars and feathered hair are nice, but exploding pianos and Aquanet are better.

This Heart-fan dichotomy was illustrated powerfully last year at karaoke night at Matchless bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Surely you’ve heard about what happened. It was a battle royale between the old school and the, uh, new old school, and boy was it a shitstorm. For my song I chose “Alone,” the desperate power ballad to end all desperate power ballads, and I sang the f*ck out of it.

 

Like in a classroom film, I see the mass
of blood cells scything through your membranes, parted
like curtains by an ingénue. They pass
onto the main stage; from there some black-hearted
director flicks them, spinning, at my brain.
I smash the cup, and lose my words again.

Every heart, they told me, has a hole—
mine, enlarged by pregnancy and birth,
just more permissive. Meanwhile, hormones stole
the water from my blood. For what it’s worth
this was coincidence: a mini-stroke,
neither God’s justice nor the Devil’s joke.

Still, I wanted you gone. I wouldn’t join
their long term studies, chose to have them worm
a plastic cap toward you from my groin,
key holed into place, and then closed firm.
By now it should be overgrown with tissue,
and don’t think for one moment that I miss you,

but you belonged to me, unlucky flaw.
I had a gorgeous heart, the surgeon said—
more beautiful, I think, for having your
asymmetry. Now plugged and pulsing red,
you’re blameless, while, although I’m going to live,
love still falls through me like a rusty sieve.

Rock of Ages

By Gloria Harrison

Notes

I’m three years old. My parents call me outside one day and point at the sky, from which water is falling onto the hard, dirt-packed floor of the Mojave. I can’t imagine where this water is coming from, but it’s everywhere, making the air smell like wet earth. I’m amazed. Later, I’m playing outside, digging earthworms out of the dirt with a spoon, when I spot the biggest earthworm I’ve ever seen. I’m thunderstruck with joy, but as I try to approach, my dog and my best friend, a cockapoo named Gnome, jumps in front of the worm, barking like he’s crazy. I keep approaching when, suddenly, the giant worm lashes out and bites Gnome, who yelps and falls to the ground. The worm rattles off. I run inside to get my mom, to tell her that a worm just bit the dog. She gets to him just in time to take him to the vet and save his life, as he has just done mine. My mom holds me on her lap and we sing my favorite song. “Say, say little playmate – come out and play with me. We’ll climb up my apple tree.” I think about how I wish I had an apple tree with rainbow slides and branches brimming with playmates.

parker_pen_and_paper

 A Closer Look at What You Should Be Reading


This past month I found myself reading a lot of poetry, going through old books, new books and re-reading work from authors like Kim Parko, Bin Ramke and Lisa Robertson. That prompted me to go one further and re-read work that had been published in various journals and magazines. I’d long wanted to read work by Sara Veglahn and now I had the perfect chance. Letter Machine Editions had published her work last year and so I began to read. The writing that exists in these pages ignites something in me to drop what I’m doing and go write, even if it’s terrible. I want to sit and type or pick up a pen and scribble down random thoughts and hope that they’ll turn into something as impressive as a work like Another Random Heart. Each word, thought and phrase feels as though it were plucked out of obscurity and placed on the page just for you, the reader. I find myself envious of the beauty and the perfection of a poem. For me, poetry reminds me of what I find inspiring about being a writer. I want to keep turning the page, pick up the pen or start over at page one with the knowledge that I could be on no other journey than the I’m on. I think in examining what lurks on so few pages here, we might find some light shed on why poetry remains one of the most beautiful and challenging forms to conquer.

I have been condemned. It’s okay. This is what happens. It was a long time coming. Actually, I don’t know how I eluded it for as long as I did. Luck, I guess. But I always knew that someday there would be a reckoning. I always sensed the day would come when I would have to pay. There are consequences to the things we do. This is just the way it is. Without them, it’s not life, it’s not real. We must suffer for our mistakes. For our crimes. This is the way it must be.  

I know how it all came about as well. I knew then. I’m not that ignorant. You’re young, and your heart aches. It won’t stop. You don’t know why. It just does. A drag here, a sip there, looking for a tiny bit of relief, something to dial down the furious turning of your mind, the relentless twisting. Trying to make sense of the contradictory emotions. All of it seems to accumulate in your soul. It becomes the depository for the pain. You try this and that. It turns out to be fruitless of course, and by the time you find out it’s far too late, but for so long it seems possible, to turn a mirage into something real. So you play with the salts, they fade, the half-life shorter and shorter, you start mixing this with that, waving your hands through the smoke.  

Eventually it stops working and still your heart aches. Your heart breaks. It breaks again. And again. You keep taking the drugs because you know it will happen again, and you just can’t bear it once more. You want to stop. But you can’t. It’s too late now. You try this, you try that, but every time the pain seems worse,  heavier, a dull heat somewhere inside, baking a part of you into something solid, a hard shell forming over your heart, fused with the flesh.

One day you wake up on a floor somewhere. You have nothing. Absolutely nothing. The illusions and delusions are gone. You see clearly. You feel like a fool. You’ve wasted so much time. You did. No one else. This is where you should stop. Find a way. Before it’s too late. Stare it down and start over. Shout. Scream. Yell for help. But you didn’t. You couldn’t. It was too terrifying to face. And you felt like a weak, useless, piece of trash for not being able to confront it, and begin anew. So you dig. You begin a tiny excavation, searching for the bottom. For years it goes on, miraculously, nothing happening but things changing hands, you sell and others buy, exchanging death sentences. Somehow it keeps the end at bay. Deeper, deeper, you go. You know that you are going the wrong way and you hate yourself for it. Your mind wants to stop and turn around. Your heart has dreams. But they were locked up now, out of the light, trapped inside the stone. It was your body that was in control now. Your body that was taking you down this horrible path. It was your flesh that caused this. It was the criminal. It must pay. Not for the crimes against society, and not by them either. You must punish yourself. For the real crimes, the inability to be what you wanted to be, what you thought you should be. For not being good enough, for not being strong enough. For not being able to love. For not being able to stop.

I must punish myself. No one else seemed willing to do it. I had to do something. I couldn’t blame it on anyone else. After all, it was I who had thrown my life away. It was I who’d broken the hearts and shattered the dreams of my loved ones, few though they were. It was I. The others, they found it within themselves to give me chance after chance. Try though I did, I could not take them. I felt undeserving. Maybe I have too much pride. Maybe, not enough. Did I deserve forgiveness? I don’t know.  It’s irrelevant now. There must be consequences or it would all be meaningless.

There was no trial. No lawyers, no courtroom. They weren’t needed. You knew you were guilty. And once you sentenced yourself, you knew what to do. Shot after shot, you carpet-bombed your flesh, until the highways were obliterated and all the trees turned to ash. Still, you kept on, wandering from place to place, burying land mines, planting pockets of black tar heroin, dope to be detonated at a later date. You buried them in the muscle, in the flesh. You dug deep. They did not dissipate and go away. They sat there like markings, give-aways, tattoos but deeper, of the thing you truly were. Black. Shapeless. Permanent, like ink. One day it will bubble up through your skin to the surface and someone will use it to write your fate on a scroll, to be read aloud in the public square on the day of your execution.

And now it is over. The sentence was real aloud and carried out. It was not as severe as I had expected, merely to live with the destruction. I have paid. Maybe, a little too much. Maybe, not enough. Only time will tell. I paid a pound of flesh from one side of my buttock, and another pound from the other. Just to be sure I took some from both arms and both calves as well, along with a few shards of bone for good measure. You always felt like an open wound, unprotected, vulnerable, and so it makes sense that is what you became. What remain now are scars, where the cavernous wounds once were. The things I will have to live with, fragile, delicate, ugly. Bloodless tissue, shiny like plastic. My hip is damaged, the bone dissolved from infection, one leg now shorter than the other and my hands don’t function correctly, the wires severed. This is my punishment. And yet it did not end me, as I had thought it would. I am still here, wondering why, and how.  Playing with words instead of smoke. Hammering with a hammer called hope, trying to break into my heart.

In my worst moments, when I’m awake and shouldn’t be, when I feel as though I am merely surviving this life, I think: what am I? I don’t know what I am but I do know a little about the habits of the creature that is me. Maybe the most important duality I inhabit is that between focusing on my mind and focusing on my heart. When I’m in my mind, I’m serious, possibly a little cranky, and doing something useful like accepting my next friend on Facebook. When I’m in my heart, I’m either writing my next new poem or practicing one of my more inspired hobbies like autoerotic asphyxiation or Reiki.

I’m an American but I ain’t stupid, I know most Americans live in their minds. The reason for this dates back to a bunch of old philosophers who thought thinking was really awesome. And it was, but ask a shaman if there’s more power in the human heart than the mind. Go ahead, ask. I’ll wait. See? Everybody knows shamans don’t lie and it would be culturally insensitive and possibly even racist to think that one would. So for the love of everything good and pure, just trust me, the heart is a better place to be. Without quoting saints or any other rhetoric devices, suffice to say, you don’t feel joy with your mind now, do you?

See, for those of you who don’t know it I’m a poet. And I see a lot of dry, contrived, sober, clever poetry published online and in print. Let me break down some types of poets for you. One kind of poet is the person (usually a guy) that constantly references ancient mythology or history without adding any nuance to the myth or story. Old and new scholars and wannabe types trying to ride the coattails of someone else’s glory. Then there is the conceptual poet. This poet is devoted to style and may not even care about content. This poet has pretty good odds of getting published these days and can probably be observed at your local Starbucks.

I don’t know how many of you are poets so I don’t know how interesting this is so I won’t go on too much longer here about the different kinds of poets, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what I call the line lover. This is a person who writes essays then breaks them down into short lines. Of course it’s a poem they might say, look, it has line breaks. Then there are the poets that use words that only a tiny percentage of the population knows or cares about. They think a poem should be a puzzle, a little nightclub of exclusivity to boost up the old ego.

Poetry has many different uses and however anyone wants to use poetry is their business, but once you’re out in the world of the published you’re influencing poetry and as someone who has devoted my life to the craft, the actual craft of poetry, I’m insulted at what some people call poetry. It makes sense though. As with art, poetry is in this magical category of stuff that a whole bunch of people agree is really deep, the very study of depth itself to some people, and so, such claims are going to attract all kinds of people who simply want to think of themselves as deep.

As for the heart, emotions, and poetry, I call out to any and all poets reading this to remember and honor the reservoir of all reservoirs of creativity, that messy beating thing in your chest. There are certainly sappy, incomplete poets who go too far in the other direction and write sloppy, emotional poems that do nothing for the reader. A poet has to open his/her heart, linger in that uncomfortable, vulnerable space where poetry can happen and get a little lucky. Every venture into that zone, every word I write, is not sacred. Personally, I now publish only the very best fruits of these experiments, the distillations of my occasional successes.

My goal in writing this essay is to push all the publishing poets of the world to use their hearts a little more and their heads a little less. Poetry needs what society needs right now: genuine, powerful, well chosen words and not self-ironic, obscure, linguistic pyrotechnics. Fluff. My genuine apologies if this happens to offend anyone but I feel strongly about the craft of poetry and its future. Poetry’s everything to me, my baby, my woman, my spirit, so when you treat her badly, I feel badly. Again, emotions, but I promise it’s all worth the effort. Living in your head is just too damned easy. And in reference to what emotional, heartfelt, well crafted poetry is in my definition, yes, I know that’s subjective so please nobody write “it’s all subjective” in your comments. I know that. I’m just a poet expressing his views on poetry.