March 26, 2017

Alison Luterman

WHAT WE DID IN THE RESISTANCE (PART 1)

In the beginning, we wept.
Well, some of us wept.
Some of us walked around stunned
as if pieces of sky
had fallen out of the sky and revealed themselves
to be chunks of blue plaster.
We examined the chunks.
We shook plaster dust out of our hair—there was so much dust!
We craned our necks and stared up.
Now we saw the scaffolding,
the what-do-you-call-it—sheetrock?
The drywall, the lath. We saw the insulation,
full of asbestos, we saw how the walls were stuffed
with it, like money. Everything
was revealed, yet nothing was clear.
If we were in a cunningly devised structure
not of our making, was it a theater
or a prison, a shopping mall or a mausoleum?

In the beginning, as I have said, we wept.
And raged and questioned. We embraced on the street
when we saw each other. We sat together
in cafes drinking coffee, digesting our grief.
The rest of the time we sat in front of glowing screens.
We gathered at night and made signs:
Not My President and Pussy Grabs Back;
we stapled them to sticks
and marched in exultation all over the world.
We had never seen before how many of us there are.

We clicked and liked and signed and donated and called
our Congresspeople, and sent postcards and checks.
We spoke of girding ourselves for the long fight.
We spoke of a marathon, we spoke of walking
in the footsteps of the elders, we spoke
of coal miners in Pennsylvania and Kentucky
who had voted for Trump.

And still the cat box needed to be cleaned, the oil in the car changed,
classes taught, bills paid, dishes washed.
And still the rains came down, especially, biblically—
we joked about End Times—and the witching trees
with their bare black branches
sprouted the tiniest of new buds,
almost invisible at first, a red tip at the nodes, a subtle fire,
and then overnight, purple blossoms;
the trees who knew nothing of elections,
the trees who outweighed us and would outlast us
and despite everything the earth continued to turn
from light to darkness and into light again, over and over it rolled,
as it had been rolling through generations of empire and uprising,
extinction and evolution, and once again
to our surprise we noticed that it was spring.

from Poets Respond
March 26, 2017

[download audio]

__________

Alison Luterman: “Even though these past two months have felt in some ways like two years, the earth has continued to turn toward the light, and all the rains we had this winter have created an exceptionally beautiful spring. News of the human world of politics and news of the earth both move me.” (website)

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September 10, 2015

Alison Luterman

ONE AMONG A THOUSAND POSSIBLE VERSIONS

The backyard lilacs were my mother’s favorite.
You could swoon from their scent in the spring.
You could lie on your back all afternoon
looking up through their purple calligraphy
to emerge hours later with a damp shirt back,
light-headed and dizzy.

I remember her thin, tensile arm,
the flashing cuts of her engagement ring
when she gripped our skinny wrists.
My fragile, ferocious mother
denied ever raising a hand against us,
even when my father caught her
washing my sister’s mouth out with soap.
Her denials were epic and dazzling,
cathedral-like in their complexity, and unending.

She taped a poster to our front door:
“War Is Not Good for Children and Other Living Things”
and wore her MIA bracelet for decades,
long after the U.S. had left Vietnam.
Her missing soldier was never found.

“Her missing soldier was never found.”
As good an epitaph as any.
The war in our home went on and on.

She took me to Washington with her,
and we marched, in protest, at Nixon’s inaugural.
Black shrouds covered our faces,
and around our necks we hung signs which read
“Hanoi” and “Saigon.”

A poem like this should have flowers in it,
or at least the skreel of bagpipes.
Because she wore so many veils I go naked
and tell and tell, too much of everything.
She would have fought and died for us
if only we’d lived under siege.
We lived under siege.
Still, she made sure I went to France,
and took me to plays where she cried in the dark.

The closest I ever felt to her
was the one time, parked in the car,
when I blurted out, “I always felt
you weren’t really my mother,”
and she shocked me by saying, “I know. I’ve never felt
it either.” Afterwards, of course, she denied it.
But even a few words of truth create their own star.
And that’s what she is for me now,
a fugitive beacon, often obscured
by smog or cloud cover,
but blazing relentlessly, bright and far.

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015

__________

Alison Luterman: “I write poems, eavesdrop, loiter, teach, and pull weeds, in no particular order.” (website)

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December 29, 2013

Alison Luterman

WHEN I HEARD ABOUT THE GUNMAN

who opened fire in a movie theatre,
armed and armored, neck, groin and head;
gas-masked, with automatic rifle
killing and wounding as many as he could,
I was endeavoring to wedge my car
into the space left between hulking SUVs
at the crowded grocery store
and the radio was on; it always is.

Inside, pushing a cart—bread, raspberries, half and half—
I thought of him, but more,
I thought of us, as we maneuvered
politely around each other, avoiding eye contact,
murmuring excuse me, sorry, thanks.
The crowded aisles, the lady with thin
stringy hair who paused too long in front of the eggs.
I could see her inner debate: free-range or vegetarian feed?
Organic? Brown or white?
while disgruntled rush-hour shoppers
log-jammed around her
and I stood on one foot then the other, practicing deep breaths.

Notice how none of us, at that moment at least,
were killing each other, except perhaps in our heads,
where who knows what kinds of bombs were going off.
But the surface seemed normal, if a bit frayed.
Am I saying normal is the same as civil
or its opposite?
We’re part beast, part angel,
most of us, and now I’m remembering a woman I knew
who went crazy, that is to say her mind
crazed like a pane of glass after an earthquake—
the form still clinging to its familiar frame
but spider-webbed with cracks.
She went there, as if crazy were a place you’d go
like Winnemucca or Hackensack.
I could see her packing her bags for it,
her eyes and stories getting wilder,
all the while pretending she had a choice
in the matter, she might be back next week.
But of course she wasn’t.

Corn’s looking good today in its pale green sheath,
its tassels intact despite the drought,
despite what the news says about everything dying.
I nod at the man who’s jockeying
to get ahead of me in the check-out line,
then remember I forgot paper towels and coffee,
so park my cart to run and get them.
When I return it’s still there, filled
with all the stuff I plan to eat and use,
and this is how we live our daily news.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013

__________

Alison Luterman: “I live in a crowded, tense city with plenty of gun violence—unfortunately we’ve already had a string of shootings this year. I am all too aware of the aggression in myself, lurking always just below the surface, as well as in the people around me. If I could wave a magic wand and make all guns disappear, I would.”

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May 3, 2013

Alison Luterman

REASONS TO LIVE

for Arlene

The guy with the beautiful waist-length Byronic hair
stands braced in black fish-nets, silver tutu, and high heels
playing his violin without a trace of irony
at the entrance of 24th and Mission
where I’m elbowing through the suits and prostitutes
to get on the 5:13 to Richmond.
Ruby music spills like the blood I’ve been carrying in test-tubes all day,
sweet as raisins and almonds at a Jewish wedding.
That, too, is a reason to live
even when the long tunnel feels endless
and the months stretch out between real kisses.
All of us commuters read so we don’t have to feel
tons of dark water, pressing down on us,
and the steel-lace bridge arcing impossible miles above,
carrying a million cars, a million tiny drivers
like a battalion of sperm aimed at the ovum of evening,
slivers of sun shooting into their tired eyes,
making them wince with beauty. Music is the day’s blood,
it weaves under and over the roar of the train,
the way thought plays its sweet percussion in our wrists and throats
even while we sit so quietly, we can hear the small sounds our hearts make
when they have finished breaking themselves
against the rock of the impossible and the beautiful.
Mother-in-law, musician, friend—you know how hard I tried
to make a bridge, to make a tunnel
between one man and one woman
or between the human and divine in both of us,
between spirit and animal. That I failed is beside the point.
Now I struggle to make the daily trek
between Oakland and the Mission,
and I’m ferried along, I’m even helped
by these currents of invisible music
and the humans who strive in the city—when I turn
to find something beautiful, it is always at my side.
Greed is also a saving grace. I still
want more, you know; another love, another
go-round, and in the meantime more
light, more freedom,
more music that gives the feeling of flying.

from Rattle #21, Summer 2004

__________

Alison Luterman: “I write poems, eavesdrop, loiter, teach, and pull weeds, in no particular order.” (website)

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July 26, 2012

Alison Luterman

BIG NAKED MAN

Slumps, glowering,
ten feet tall
in a corner of the white museum.
The little live boy is amazed
at the man’s gigantic penis,
slack, pink, hairy.
He giggles with his hand over his mouth,
pointing at the sad sack balls
ten times their normal size,
hanging like discouraged tomatoes
in the wrinkled pink scrotum.
Here, little boy, is what you get if you’re lucky,
if you live to get old:
pendulous belly, thighs like spoiled milk,
veins, splotches, wrinkles, enlarged pores.
The big naked man
has spent all his non-life in various galleries,
amazing and disgusting onlookers.
Is he really polyester?
How long did it take to make him?
They never ask, Who loved him?
Although clearly someone did:
enough to render
in perfect precision every detail of his downfall,
and then leave him
naked, and vulnerable,
just like the rest of us in the end.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Tribute to Buddhist Poets

__________

Alison Luterman: “I couldn’t take my eyes off the sculpture of the Big Naked Man—if that’s what he was called, I don’t remember—who dominated a whole corner of a museum room at the Smithsonian. I saw many other beautiful paintings and sculptures that day, but the sight of this man in all his naked, defeated sagging humanity, touched me deeply, made me shiver with revulsion, recognition and tenderness for the processes of decay that are even now taking place in my own body. I wish I remembered the name of the artist, or the title of the work. But in the end it’s just the physical fact of the piece itself—the man in all his helplessness—that remains in my memory. Which is perhaps as it should be.” (web)

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January 18, 2012

Alison Luterman

SAY YES TO THE DRESS

a reality television show, viewed while flying across country

And in this episode, a woman of forty-five
whose face says This cake is stale,
whose face says Just tell me
how much it costs, whose face
if you knew how to feel
would make you ashamed not to over-tip your waitress—
this woman, hauling her two teenage daughters,
her mother, her sister, and an aunt, (all
brides have entourages, it’s some kind of law), announces
she wants to walk down the aisle in a ball gown:
she wants something poufy, like Cinderella.

Even though everyone is telling her
a middle-aged bride should wear a sheath,
something knife-like and discreet
and lethal; even though she and her fiancé were both recently laid off,
and she’s been living with this guy for fifteen years,
arguing about bills and laundry,
they have children together, they have a house
which they might lose and God knows
why they’re even getting married now, neither one
has health insurance, still.
It’s her One Big Day
and she’s determined to have it,
so dress after dress is trotted out,
tea-length confections of satin and tulle,
strapless numbers, ribboned and ruched,
and the words shirred, and scalloped, and pin-tucked are used—
and found wanting.

The saleslady is practically drowning
in a magnificent tumble of glossy, rejected fabrics,
leaving the viewer to imagine the texture of this woman’s disappointments.
Her lower lip trembles,
she only has two thousand dollars to spend
(which in the parlance of this show, is peanuts),
still, a girl has a right, doesn’t she? Doesn’t she?

The flight attendant trundles by
offering peanuts and headphones, and I’m thinking
Say yes! Yes, yes, yes
to the sacred, dreaded threshold,
yes to being shredded like a negligee and scattered
like seed pearls—

and we’re a mile up in the sky where even in June
there’s a frieze of lace over the rough brown breasts of the Rockies.
The plane tilts and rights itself so quietly
we don’t even notice, dozing as we are,
in a hive of white noise,
suspended, blind, over the deserts and mountains
and fruited plains of our inheritance: Americans,
with not quite enough leg room
frowning or chuckling in front of our separate screens,
entitled to our dreams and dreaming them.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011

[download audio]

__________

Alison Luterman: “On a cross-country airplane trip (Jet Blue) I lugged my usual complement of five serious books—no Kindle for me!—and then spent most of the flight staring dumbly at the little miniature television sets the airline thoughtfully provides each passenger. Since I don’t have TV at home, I am especially caught by reality shows, and since I had gotten (re)-married at age 50 the year before (wearing a vintage blush-colored tea-length dress) I was especially caught by Say Yes to the Dress.” (website)

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