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Guy Biederman: California Poets Part 6, Four Poems

Guy Biederman

October 18th, 2023

California Poets: Part VI

Guy Biederman

Four Poems

Hang a Lantern on the Carpenter’s Mistake

These are things the dead can teach us: every opportunity to be generous is itself a generous gift; no property or thing has more value than a friend; we all know how this will end & along the way sorrow will have its say. . . .so stay a little longer in the chair for the purr from the cat on your chest, it’s not yet time to rise; don’t sweat the cat hair stuck on your favorite fleece; don’t sweat the cat hair on the coat of the person next to you in line; let go of 10-pound anger, 50-pound grudges, pinches of envy, and bitter types of all dimensions; hang a lantern on the carpenter’s mistake; say hello to all you pass while out for a soggy walk...or a sunny one; get that coat with all the buttons; wear that hat; go for the new haircut and put your fate in the hands of a barber you don’t know; forget it, let it grow; regret is a beast that doesn’t want out, let it have the house, leave no forwarding address; buy all your own books and give each one away; buy all your friends’ books and hear their voices in every line; art is no chapter in your life, it’s your autobiography with a spine; go play on a parallel cloud, give a wave; toss the seagulls a crust, give a shrug to the bread police; uncertainty is temporary, to be beloved is not; to be remembered in a poem is eternity; similes for death are like tomatoes hanging on a winter vine; as the end draws near make a smile be the last thing you see on planet earth; make a smile be the legacy you share; these are the things the dead can teach us, these are the poems they leave behind, with love.

Paper Clip Mechanics

You take a paper clip — with its simple, functional design, its etch-a-sketch lines and twist it into a two-legged creature with no head or arms. You straighten it out and turn it into a pipe cleaner covered in resin, or a scratch awl and carve initials into your locker, next to the scrawlings made by others before you, a paper clip registry of sorts. You discover its utility as a key to open locks, handcuffs. You shape it into a circle whose ends don't quite meet up and realize once bent, it can never be bent back to its original shape, to hold, say, this sheath of papers you would like to organize and keep together — these poems of your life. You look at your crooked fingers, your crooked handwriting, your slant on the world, and now your crooked paper clip, with its principles of torsion and history of resistance. You decide this sheath of papers will make do as a loose pile that will get shuffled, lost, recycled, or some day trashed and you understand it's not the keeping of them together, the organizing of them for eternity, or the semester, or the rest of the calendar year that matters, but the moments spent uncovering simple epiphanies, like the wonder of the paper clip and its simple design, the flowing of ink on the page, the momentary meaning of this life, and the unfolding of function into new shapes yet unborn, yet unbent.

Guy Biederman

(Previously published in Nova Nights, Nomadic Press)

Free Verse Departure Poets bring nothing to the party.

They don't even ask.

They show up on time or late.

They get lost.

They say they're coming but don't.

They arrive in time for food,

stand in a corner and drink.

Never take off their coat.

Then strip to a t-shirt

and talk about Bird,

things you've never heard

as Parker plays on your Alexa.

Sometimes poetry breaks out.

Someone picks up a guitar.

There's action on the roof.

Shy cats come out of hiding.

An enormous radish is carved into art.

Memory floats up from a morning

in Oaxaca, 1984 ~

The houseboat rises, warms.

Everyone leaves all at once

a free verse departure.

Sink full of dishes.

Someone leaves a hat.

The night itself becomes a poem.

And guess what?

That's what the poets brought. (Previously appeared in Nova Nights, Nomadic Press)

Invisible Shelf

We need places to put things.

We need names to call things.

We need to say what needs to be

said even if we don't know how to

say it, even if sometimes it doesn't

need to be said. So in the end I build

an invisible shelf, a shelf only I can see

where words don't fail, where rudimentary

skills don't mangle, where things I later wish

I hadn't said don't bruise or spoil. I can only

do a few things in this life, am doing one now,

building an invisible shelf where I can put how

I feel about you, so I can see with much love

what it's really about, what you mean to me

with no weirdness or misunderstanding or

wrong label. So if you were to find this poem

on the fiction shelf, or, this little fiction in poetry,

this avocado in the bin of tomatoes, this toothbrush

where aluminum foil should be, know that somewhere

in a market, in a bookstore, in a house that floats there's

an invisible shelf where sits how I feel about you, and nothing,

nothing else.

(Previously published in Nova Nights, Nomadic Press)

Author Bio:

Guy Biederman is the author of six books of poetry and prose, including Translated from The Original, one-inch punch fiction (Nomadic Press), Nova Nights, poetry (Nomadic Press), and Edible Grace, lyrical micro prose (KYSO FLASH). He lives on a houseboat four nautical miles


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