Today I got paid six dollars and eighty-five cents (that is to say, five cents a word) to write a poem. Part of a larger commission and a bigger paycheck, but special, because this poem was, as it happens, an erotic poem – one of those that you glance over on a page, find perfectly innocent, and begin to read out loud to a friend, and only when you hear it read out loud do you begin to slowly turn red and realize that yes, indeed, THAT is what you just said.
Or anyyway, that’s the idea. Dirty double entendre has fascinated me in verse since my class read “Romeo and Juliet” aloud in class. Everyone but me laughed at “bring me my long sword, ho!” I was the only one who laughed at “the bawdy hand of the clock is on the prick of noon.” My teacher, saying nothing while the rest of the class stared at me funny, gave me the most immensely grateful look I have ever seen on a human face.
Anyway, speaking of poetry, I don’t yet have permission to share my commission pieces, but I can share an old poem I wrote for my college poetry seminar. I explained to them with a straight face that it was about the places inspiration comes from – like the Greek Muses.
Appeals To Mount Helicon
It rises imagined in my mind
Green slopes and never grey
Rich with mazy grasses and foothills orchard-laden
Blossoming with lilies and columbine in spring
Their scent, present in the air
So thick you even think to see the pollen dancing
Between the rustling trees and over cool waters
It is a place for prayer.
I meditate at a cleft between hills
Thinking of the taste of honeysuckle, gazing up
Wondering which Muse might be looking down
Favoring some pilgrim or another,
A supplicant after images and words
And of the spiralings of stars
The pink of blossoms and the floating petals
Underneath the dancers’ feet
An aspirant to art, and to mountain-climbing
To climb these cloud-drenched heights!
But I cannot, I think, climb alone
Even through the grass the sharp stones cut my hands
Portrait-perfect edges, knifelike ridges
Scaling this apotheosis of a mountain from a painter’s mind
A metaphor for effort
So I sit, face upraised, and braid the stems of flowers
Waiting for the valley to become high ground.