October 16, 2022

Michael Meyerhofer

CLIMATE PROTESTERS THROW SOUP OVER VAN GOGH’S “SUNFLOWERS”

For hours, I’ve been arguing
with a friend who believes teachers
are on a crusade to make children
 
use litter boxes when I hear
about sunflowers bathed in soup
to protest the use of fossil fuels.
 
Last night, I kept picturing
my brother’s gaze before he died,
like he could see the whole
 
hospital ward melting, wavelengths
collapsing into pinheads
the way time does when you fly
 
fast enough. I don’t know how
to keep you safe. Turns out
Van Gogh made several paintings
 
of sunflowers in pale vases,
petals drooping like golden rain,
like he felt he’d missed something.
 
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget
what the earth makes of our bones,
way down deep in vaults
 
that never get locked. One day,
there will be no one left to explain
how clay yields yellow ochre
 
and the hair of wild beasts
can be bristled into brushwork,
how dust can be squeezed into stars.
 

from Poets Respond
October 16, 2022

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Michael Meyerhofer: “This ended up not making it into the poem but lately, I’ve been watching this series on YouTube that goes over every eon of our planet’s history, highlighting which species survived various climate disasters and which ones didn’t—as well as (in some cases) which species appears to have caused the very event that led to their own extinction, and how that same event might be viewed as a fortuitous by whatever species took their place. The older I get, the more it feels like every idea needs to be intertwined with its opposite. We’re right to place all this importance on our own survival—not to mention our artwork—but for me, some of that urgency also comes from the admittedly trite realization that all of this will be over soon enough, so we’d better cherish it while we can.” (web)

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August 31, 2021

Michael Meyerhofer

GIANT TORTOISE FILMED ATTACKING AND EATING BABY BIRD

I still remember reading how
sailors used to flip giant tortoises
onto their shells and stack them

like living TV dinners
in their dank ship-bellies for weeks,
months, butchered as needed.

We ask so much of stomachs.
We want our knives to stay sharp
but conscionable in their cutting,

noble somehow as they slice
clean through all that red under-silk.
In one story, Christ transforms

the sea into a graveyard
just to feed people who forgot
to pack a sack lunch.

A tern chick takes a tumble,
meets a solar eclipse with teeth.
Sometimes, it hurts to be here.

from Poets Respond
August 31, 2021

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Michael Meyerhofer: “This ended up not making it into the poem but when I read about this, I immediately flashed back to another story from nearly twenty years ago about Kumunyak (‘Blessed One’), a Kenyan lioness praised in newspapers for adopting and safeguarding baby antelope. Specifically, I remember the consternation the article’s author felt when one particular baby antelope died (presumably of natural causes) and the lioness who had previously been protecting it immediately changed gears and ate it (hunger is hunger, after all). If horror and beauty are the two seemingly opposite threads from which nature is woven, those threads crisscross constantly. Maybe that’s true of society, too.” (web)

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April 25, 2021

Michael Meyerhofer

WATCHING LIONS SPARE A TURTLE ON THE SAME DAY THAT DEREK CHAUVIN WAS FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER

My friend sends me the video:
lions kneeling at a watering hole,

chins speckled in blood,
just trying to rinse it all down

beneath a sun that whitens
anything it can’t burn.

Then this turtle paddles up
and starts licking their beards,

their jaws, like it can’t stop
tasting another’s hunger.

For a moment, tongues wrestle.
Then, somehow, it happens:

the terrapin swims clear,
lions exit on claws like triggers,

and it costs us nothing to forget
what graffities the dry grass—

the zebra with its torn flanks,
the sentence of bleached bones.

from Poets Respond
April 25, 2021

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Michael Meyerhofer: “Like countless other Americans, I was struggling to wrap my mind around everything associated with George Floyd’s death and the Derek Chauvin trial—all the outrage, the sadness, the history, the nuance—when totally out of nowhere, I had one of those weird moments where you encounter a completely unrelated story and they kind of blend together, clarifying each other in a way that’s almost impossible to put into words except through poetry. Once I felt that connection, the trick was trying to shove my own ego off its soapbox and just let the poem do what it wanted, since this seems like one of those moments where it’s more important to be a camera than a commentator.” (web)

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May 9, 2020

Michael Meyerhofer

FOR AHMAUD ARBERY, AN UNARMED BLACK JOGGER KILLED FOR ALLEGEDLY LOOKING IN THE WINDOW OF A HOUSE UNDER CONSTRUCTION

I was twenty-two, white, in love
that day I wasn’t shot for trespassing.

It happened nearly two decades ago.
We started out in the backseat

of her parents’ oxblood Subaru,
heading back from the country club

with bellies full of prime rib
and vegetables I could not name.

Then her father touched the brake,
pointed to a mansion being built

beyond a phalanx of dogwoods,
timbers stacked like wine-washed

bones on a generous plot of Iowa soil.
The crews had already gone home,

just some golden tape left behind.
So we pulled over, got out, explored—

her father darkly pinstriped, her mother
sporting a heavy rosary of pearls.

Before long, neighbors spotted us
and waved, smiling from their houses.

Unfazed, my girlfriend and I
slipped away and touched primally

in what might have been a stranger’s
future bedroom, its walls unmade.

After a great while, we reunited
beside half a staircase. Her parents

forgave our absence with a shrug
and the suggestion of frozen yogurt.

On the way back, I could smell her
on my fingers, which made her blush.

Meanwhile, her parents shared
daydreams of their own mansion

with taller floors and windows,
thicker drapes to block the sunset.

from Poets Respond
May 9, 2020

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Michael Meyerhofer: “When I read about Ahmaud Arbery, murdered for supposedly looking in the window of a house still under construction, I immediately flashed back to a time when I’d done something similar (though actually a lot more obtrusive) without suffering any consequences whatsoever. There were four of us that day: my girlfriend and me, plus her parents. However, because all of us were white, and her parents also happened to be wealthy (as evidenced by their clean new car and formal attire), no one in the neighborhood batted an eyelash. To be honest, I might never even have given that incident a second thought if I hadn’t read about the circumstances behind Arbery’s murder. Given my own impoverished childhood, I admit that I sometimes chafe at the notion that I’ve benefited from white privilege. That’s the biggest hallmark of white privilege, though: those who benefit from it rarely even know it’s there, until something happens that makes the double standard impossible to deny.” (web)

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November 24, 2019

Michael Meyerhofer

SILVER-BACKED CHEVROTAIN, WITH FANGS AND HOOVES, PHOTOGRAPHED IN WILD FOR FIRST TIME

Schoolkids all over the country
keep pace with TV cameras

by practicing a new word—impeach
even as a dozen time zones

from the leaning pillars of democracy,
unseen for decades, a silver-

splashed deer with fangs
tiptoes out of the undergrowth

and presses his nose to the lens,
two unlit moons kissing

in the wild gaps between rivers.
Why should these days matter?

Bones are just the bones
of whatever else came before:

a quickening of dust into rock,
into fire, into blood, then

a softening of God into rain.
See how each drop opens

like luggage, how a heart can only
be a heart if it dies screaming?

Meanwhile, the chevrotain
moves about on hooves

so thin, the mind recalls
the ankles of a ballet dancer,

the stick-limbs of a cave painting.
Even those fangs, used

to fight over mates, only led
to a thickening of muscles

around the throat. We repeat
what we know. Each generation

an untamed refrain you need
not sing, unless you want to.

from Poets Respond
November 24, 2019

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Michael Meyerhofer: “This poem came about after interrupting a long day of watching political analysis videos by reading about an extremely rare animal photographed in the wild for the first time, and those events seeming strangely related in a way I couldn’t logically articulate.” (web)

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August 21, 2015

Ekphrastic Challenge, July 2015: Editor’s Choice

 

Photograph by Aparna Pathak

[download broadside]

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Michael Meyerhofer

CRUELEST OF ALL ARE THE GODS WHO NEVER FROWN

I am tired of goats walking on ledges—
how calmly they disregard their own peril,
how even those nubby little horns
seem less like swirls of keratin
than middle fingers poised above faces
that have evolved into wide, permanent grins.
Maybe it’s our ancestors’ fault
for wanting smiles on their milk cartons
instead of missing children.
Did you know that goats sometimes
get their heads stuck in fences and have to wait
until a farmer comes by to free them?
It’s the horns. To remove them
is called disbudding. It takes a tool
like an Inquisitor’s pliers, castration bands
that resemble swollen wedding rings,
and a big glass of water to soak them in.

Ekphrastic Challenge, July 2015
Editor’s Choice Winner

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Comment from the editor, Timothy Green, on his selection: “Part of the fun in making this selection after the artist’s choice is highlighting a poem that’s very different from the other winner. While this month’s image filled many poets with either anxiety or awe, no one but Michael Meyerhofer responded this way—with disdain. Coupled with a voice as sure-footed as these goats on the ledge themselves, the effect is transformative—what were once faces of casual confidence suddenly become smug and menacing. That’s no easy feat, and makes for a truly memorable poem.”

For more on Michael Meyerhofer, visit his website.

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December 15, 2014

Michael Meyerhofer

ON MY FIRST TRIP TO A STRIP CLUB

You’d better jack off first
one of my friends advised the night
before my eighteenth birthday,
the group planning
to drive me up to Davenport
where the treatment for birthday boys
was a lap dance on stage
while their friends cheered—
the implication being it wouldn’t do
to get too excited over
the proximity of all those fake breasts
and press-on nails, bad hip-hop
twisting out of the speakers,
the regulars using this as an excuse
to step out back for a smoke.
I remember the lead dancer had
a gap between her teeth
and no one raised their eyebrows
when they smiled. Later,
a brunette with roots like fools’ gold
talked me out of fifty bucks
in a back room where I made
too much eye contact while she opened
like a desert highway. I remember
thinking how all of this seemed
a little related to the rape
reenactments they showed us
in Health Class, Susie and Brian
struggling in some cardboard room
full of bottles with the labels turned away,
interrupted only by a narrator
as far removed as that
announcer from The Twilight Zone
who breezed in with his gray jacket and tie
and told us what we’d just seen
and what to think and how to feel.

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014

[download audio]

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Michael Meyerhofer: “There’s a passage in J.D. Salinger’s Seymour: An Introduction that describes writing as religion. That was probably the truest thing I’ve ever read, even twenty-odd years later. Sometimes, writing is a monastery on a hill, surrounded by dogwoods; more often, though, it’s a bottom-of-the-valley shack full of snakes and loud music.” (website)

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