Poetry

REWIND (a poem for Ed Ackerson)


Ed Ackerson – Photo by Shane Flanery

I wrote this poem in February of 2021. Early this this morning, along the Seine in Paris where I am studying poetry, I read this poem to a small group of fellow students to mark the occasion of what would have been Ed Ackerson‘s 56th birthday.

REWIND

            For Ed Ackerson (July 18, 1965-October 4, 2019)

Rewind the year. Rewind

the night we huddled

with Ed’s widow,

his 5-year-old daughter and the grief

counsellor on Zoom.

Rewind the pandemic fall

and summer of 2020, the May riots,

the burning of the 3rd Precinct Police Station. Rewind

8 minutes and 46 seconds, and remove

Derek Chauvin’s knee from a living, breathing George Floyd’s neck.

Unsay the 20-dollar bill was fake. Un-call the police.

Re-place the bill in George Floyd’s pocket and un-read

months of bad news. Watch

the global pandemic shrink to a single

fatal case in Santa Clara County,

retreat to Wuhan, China.

                                    Un-fly

to Los Angeles. Return the children

to Disneyland. Revisit

the grandparents in Arizona

and friends in Minneapolis. Un-walk

the frigid streets from the downtown Hilton

to the parking lot of Schmitt music. Un-take the photo

of the children playing on snow

in the parking lot by the 5-story mural

of Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”

in front of which Prince (rewind to 1977) posed.

Un-sleep off jetlag. Un-eat the Bloody Mary brunch

at Hell’s Kitchen. Return to Ed’s Memorial

at First Avenue, un-drink

a jumbo Corona and two White Russians and un-watch

small round pieces of ice in your drink grow

large and square. Un-hear the Jayhawks, un-hear

Mark Mallman and David Poe. Un-hear Ed’s wife

perform Ed’s songs with Ed’s friends.

Un-watch the tribute film.

                                                Un-talk about

how you can’t believe he’s been gone five months.

Un-fly to Finland. Re-survive

the long winter when mortality was the word of the day.

Every day. Un-watch

the Facebook video where Ed tells

his cancer has gotten worse. Un-read

the Instagram post where he reveals

his Cancer is stage IV. Feel your crest rise

instead of fall. Un-marvel at the shoutout

from Pete Townshend of The Who wishing

he hopes Ed will recover

in front of thousands at the Xcel.

                                    Rewind

decades, years, months, and days

of love and rock and roll

in Uptown, Minneapolis,

to a time where Ed is my neighbor,

and we’re both alive.

R.I.P. Dawn Wells (1938-2020)

Dawn Wells, 1964

I wrote the following poem about the survivors of Gilligan’s Island a few years ago. As 2021 begins, only Ginger is left.

Castaways, 1964

Who can forget Gilligan – year after year
he and his motley crew

our after school companions, in black and white
then color, two-dimensional yet

more vivid than old classmates
in the reruns of memory.

And the actors died one by one,
each a strike of childhood’s death knell:

Jim Backus, Alan Hale Jr., Natalie Schafer
Bob Denver. Now, even the professor is gone,

no one left but Ginger and Mary Ann,
castaways of time’s inexorable shipwreck.

Top Replies to a Tweet by Nancy Pelosi Congratulating Joy Harjo, the First Native American U.S. Poet Laureate (a found poem)

IMPEACH.

Televise hearings!! Enforce subpoenas!! Start impeachment investigations!!

Please impeach Trump

#impeachtrump

Bla bla bla Start impeachment hearings now

All I want to hear from you is impeachment inquiry Don’t act as if things are normal

Congratulations to Joy Harjo. Still, impeach!

Congratulations well deserved. Now about those impeachment hearings.

When are you going to do something about 45? I’m beginning to think you may be in cahoots with him.

Impeach and 2 jail CLIMATE control 2

Impeach!

#ITMFA

Great but this is not your constitutional duty

Congratulations, beautiful

You’re about as competent as Paul Ryan. Impeach!

Impeach potus (repeated 19 times)

This is great news! We need Native representation across all of our institutions. We also need impeachment, like today!

I am very happy and lucky to have lived long enough to see a 100% of non-migrant descendance American get such recognition. Well earned!

She’s a wonderful poet and a wonderful choice!

Which language she composes poetry in?

May her talents come to our talents as an art of beauty!

I thought it was Elisabeth Warren.

Acknowledgment of indigenous people finally after genocide of millions indigenous peoples by European immigrants

Nancy I grow up with native Americans Indians friend

Poetry, yes! I love it. But, what about TCB* when it comes to what does matter in real life?

* TCB is an acronym, in this case presumably standing for “taking care of business”

Author comment: I wrote this poem (or more accurately, assembled it) in response to comments on a tweet June 20th by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House congratulating Joy Harjo on being selected as new poet laureate of the United States.

People say don’t read the comments. But I did, and I was appalled but also convinced that they represent a cross section of America speaking for itself. Every line of this poem is a real comment, randomly selected from the top replies and unedited for syntax, spelling or punctuation. The poem ends with a comment by a Twitter user with 8 followers that I felt sums up the antithesis of my opinion that poetry does matter in real life, more than a lot of things.

And, if I need to even say it myself, yes, congratulations to Joy Harjo! I believe she is a wonderful choice for the next poet laureate of the U.S.

Driver Three

I’ve been taking an online poetry class from the UK’s The Poetry School. The tutor is Leah Umansky (@lady_bronte on Twitter), author most recently of The Barbarous Century (Eyewear, 2018).

The class, called “Only Love Studio,” is ostensibly about love poetry, but love is interpreted broadly and includes romantic love, platonic love, and love of place so the subject matter for the poems has been quite far-ranging.

It’s been a joy to be in Leah’s class. Her assignments have pushed me to write in ways I typically might not, and her feedback has been generous, encouraging and insightful. Time will tell if I get any keepers out of this class, but most assignments have produced at least one poem worthy of sharing in one form or another.

Our class of 18 students is diverse, and it’s been inspirational to see the depth of expression possible by poets of different levels. Based on my first experience, I would definitely recommend The Poetry School.

I made an audio recording of last week’s workshop poem called “1982.” It was a bit of retrospective on the experience of American high school when you’re a bit of a nerd. You can hear an early version of that poem below:

This week, I wrote “Driver Three” in response to a prompt related to “love of place.” On the surface it’s a 15-line story about a car ride (well, technically 3) that I had during a work trip to China last week. But more importantly, it’s about the necessity of trusting even in a world with plenty of evidence you should do otherwise. I struggled with it for 4 days while traveling, but when I got home my wife immediately gave me the feedback I needed to figure out how to end it.

It’s a work in progress, but you can see what I’ve got in the video below.

The Rainbow-Colored Gorilla Plays Foosball

Just for fun, here’s an ekphrastic poem inspired by a photo my friend Ed Ackerson posted to Instagram the other day. The photo seemed to urgently want to tell a story so I had to make one up around it.

The Rainbow-Colored Gorilla Plays Foosball

We were down 10 points when
boom! The rainbow-colored gorilla
sat down on the foosball table. Maybe

he was wound up after the pride
parade. Or maybe he was just angry.
Oooo oooo oooo, was all he said,

but that’s all he ever said. We had
to abandon the game after that
due to the smell and carry the table,

gorilla and all, out to the alley behind
the house. He didn’t budge, and soon the
weeds grew up around him. To this day,

he patrols the penalty arc, rain or shine.
Best goalie I’ve seen in Uptown in years, one neighbor said.
Greatest of all time! Insists another.

Guy Lombardo and Champagne

Our grandparents knew
Guy Lombardo and champagne
are the keys to New Year’s Eve.
Hours before midnight, in the shoe store,
I could not keep my big mouth shut about the boots you found
which you were terribly excited about.
I just had to say I had bought that same brand last year,
and the heel came off
within weeks. Don’t you remember?
Your excitement faded. Your smile dimmed.
You no longer wanted the boots.
From that moment on, nothing I could say would convince you to buy them.

So what if they might fall apart in 3 months?
What right had I to take away the pleasure you might have found
from your first new pair of boots in 3 years!
At midnight
my foolishness almost forgotten
I asked you to dance to “Auld Lang Syne”
when it came on the music player. And then
“Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).”
It was intimate, exciting,
just the two of us,
dancing in the candlelight
to Guy Lombardo.
Who knows what the new year holds in store,
for us, or our shoes.