Green Squallby Jay Hopler, Louise Glück
Jay Hopler's Green Squall is the winner of the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. As Louise Glück observes in her foreword, “Green Squall begins and ends in the garden”; however, Hopler’s gardens are not of the seasonal variety evoked by poets of the English lyric—his gardens flourish at lower, fiercer/i>/i>
Jay Hopler's Green Squall is the winner of the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. As Louise Glück observes in her foreword, “Green Squall begins and ends in the garden”; however, Hopler’s gardens are not of the seasonal variety evoked by poets of the English lyric—his gardens flourish at lower, fiercer latitudes and in altogether different mindscapes. There is a darkness in Hopler’s work as deep and brutal as any in American poetry. Though his verbal extravagance and formal invention bring to mind Wallace Stevens’s tropical extrapolations, there lies beneath Green Squall’s lush tropical surfaces a terrifying world in which nightmare and celebration are indistinguishable, and hope is synonymous with despair.
Read an ExcerptGREEN SQUALL
By JAY HOPLER
YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Copyright © 2006 Jay Hopler
All right reserved.
IN THE GARDEN And the sky! Nooned with the steadfast blue enthusiasm Of an empty nursery. Crooked lizards grassed in yellow shade. The grass was lizarding, Green and on a rampage. Shade tenacious in the crook of a bent stem. Noon. This noon- Skyed, blue and full of hum, full of bloom. The grass was lizarding.
OF PARADISE There is a black fly drowning in that glass of beer. There is a black fly drowning in that glass of beer. How can no one notice it, That black fly? Black as a zero is useless. Black as grammar school. The man with the beer is a fisherman, Small and gigantic In his white rubber boots. How sick we are, the three of us, Of Paradise.
THAT LIGHT ONE FINDS IN BABY PICTURES
1 Being born is a shame-But it's not so bad, as journeys go. It's not the worst one We will ever have to make. It's almost noon And the light now clouded in the courtyard is Like that light one finds in baby pictures: old And pale and hurt- 2 When all roads are low and lead to the same Place, we call it Fate and tell ourselves how We were born to make the journey. Who's To say we weren't? 3 The clouded light has changed to rain. The picture-. No, the baby's blurry. 4 That's me-, the child playing in the sand with a pail And shovel; in the background, my mother's shadow Is crawling across a soot-blackened collapse of brick And timber, what might have been a bathhouse once. The tide is coming in-. Someone has written HELL On its last standing wall.
WITH BOTH EYES CLOSING
1 How high and white the moon! And vampired-. Like the light a child Sinking sees. A child pushed by its mother Through the hole in the ice. 2 Are there daffodils In that vase ... Yellow daffodils In that blue Vase? Are there spiders In the corners, In the corn- Ices, The eaves? 3 If I am sinking, how comes it I can breathe? 4 If I put a daffodil In that vase, A single yellow daffodil In that blue Vase-. No, That moon Would still be useless. Still useless. Like the human race. 5 What use is such a flimsy soul- Let spiders suck the light of me And silk it into corners! Tell me, Mother, truly- What use is such a flimsy soul?
THE BOXCARS OF CONSOLIDATED RAIL FREIGHT Those angels of history are whispering, again, That I'm the product of two people who should have known Better. Now one of them is dying. The other is going Crazy over it. I know-. To this day, there's a space behind My eyes that stays lit like some small-town museum's North Atlantic collection. weeds- I think I read somewhere that certain Birds prefer a dust bath, but that seems a wretched comfort On a day like this is shaping up to be; listen: the wind's not Even moving the leaves around; the grass is growing brittle, Giving up its green. Birds bursting into flame in mid-flight, That's what I half-expect to see when I cross to the window- The day cracking down the middle-falling into the weeds.
ACADEMIC DISCOURSE AT MIAMI: WALLACE STEVENS AND THE DOMESTICATION OF LIGHT I have no beef with Wallace Stevens Even if some of his poems do feel like so much tropical slumming. I only wish he could have lived here, in Florida, instead of simply Visiting once in a while-; how much more essential his summer- Minded poems would have been! Not that a poem like "Farewell To Florida" is solely summer-minded or is, somehow, inessential- Only, that there exists a difference between the tropical light one Finds beaming in a Stevens poem and the tropical light one finds Burning in the tropics. Florida's light is far more aggressive, far More violent, than Stevens knew- It gets inside your head and shreds Things, dismantles memory, shorts out the will; even now, at six O'clock of a Friday evening, the light here in Florida is clanging, Banging, rattling buildings, burning through the park's green pelt. This never happens in a Stevens poem.
MEDITATION ON RUIN It's not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl, or the con game gone bad, or the beating Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys, The broken shoelace, The overcharge at the gas pump Which we broach without comment-these are the things that eat away at life, these constant vibrations In the web of the unremarkable. The death of a father-the death of the mother- The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken pair of glasses, The tear in the trousers, These begin an ache behind the eyes. And it's this ache to which we will ourselves Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning-there's a crack in the water glass-we wake to find ourselves undone.
OUT OF THESE WOUNDS, THE MOON WILL RISE Now that the sun has set and the rain has abated, And every porch light in the neighborhood is lit, Maybe we can invent something; I'd like a new Way of experiencing the world, a way of taking Into myself the single light shining at the center Of all things without losing the dense, eccentric Planets orbiting around it. What you'd like is a more Attentive lover, I suppose-. Too bad that slow, Wet scorch of orange blossoms floating towards The storm drain is not a vein of stars ... we could Make a wish on one of them; not that we would Wish for anything but the impossible.
IN THE TIME OF DREARY MIRACLES
1 in the time of dreary miracles-before the coming of moonlit humidors and prehistoric orchards in the time of dreary miracles-before the coming of piebald lizards and succulent lumberyards in the time of dreary miracles-before the coming of seismic pineapples and republican guitars in the time of dreary miracles-before the coming of lissome picnics and translucent pubic hair alcoholic trolley cars made love in glacial lakes 2 alcoholic trolley cars made love in glacial lakes-beware the sunburned humming birds! glacial lakes made love in alcoholic trolley cars-beware the funereal ice cream parlors! alcoholic trolley cars made love to glacial lakes-beware the ravenous avenues of glass! glacial lakes made love to alcoholic trolley cars-beware the clairvoyant mooring buoy! 3 in the time of dreary miracles-before the coming of Gnostic frogmen and pornographic asphalt in the time of dreary miracles-before the coming of contrite juggernauts and vestigial kimonos in the time of dreary miracles-before the coming of strident vitamins and cloistered bartenders in the time of dreary miracles-before the coming of languid hangmen and gratuitous rutabagas mosquitoes were worshipped by biopsy needles
4 mosquitoes were worshipped by biopsy needles-beware the convoluted history of pins! mosquitoes were worshipped by biopsy needles-beware the parenthetical glockenspiel! mosquitoes were worshipped by biopsy needles-beware the obligatory kiss on the arm! mosquitoes were worshipped by biopsy needles-beware the monochromatic jet stream!
APPROACHING THE TOWER Light! Light! Light! The stars tonight are like tinfoil fleas On a black rat. I'm here. Not far from the train yards. Not far from the river. My eyes no less blue than they ever were. Look in my mirror, Mother. Tell me if my good Heart isn't bad luck. Tonight, I'm no more resigned to light Than some canary, Its eyes pried open with pins. How come more children Don't mistake the river for a schoolyard, Dark as it is? Nothing moving but the trains. And the trees, so quiet. Like towers. Waiting for their snipers to arrive.
THE FRUSTRATED ANGEL The Angel says if I want to be a sucker, that's my business, But it's all about service, not servitude-in this world, you Either become a monster or you wait on one. O, Hopler! If only sitting on your hands was heroic! If only boredom was a form of prayer! The Angel says I have the quiet confidence and smoldering Good looks one usually associates with more confident and attractive people. A coward's confession-, that's what he thinks my ulcer is. He thinks I should knock some heads together if I'm really So convinced everyone is such a mother- Fucker. I see what they mean, Hopler- one really does get tired of you. He wants to know how often I've been mistaken for a shrub. The Angel says if you beat someone long enough and hard enough, They will learn to love you for it. That's mighty big talk, isn't it, Hopler-coming from a man who lives with his mother? Hopler, I've had it with all your crying and complaining. If I wanted to hear whining, I'd kick a dog.
NOTHING TO DO NOW BUT SIT AND WAIT 1 A pair of African parakeets lands in the backyard And vanishes, or seems to, because their feathers Are a green that matches the grass almost exactly And because the light by which the lawn is being Lit is weaker than it used to be- 2 Last-legged, A little closer to ghostly; a little closer to October Than to April, actually-, though it's not quite as Visibly bristled or as sharply defined. April's got A way of doing that, slumming about in autumn's Ragged clothes, throwing long, funereal shadows, Taking shallow breaths- 3 The parakeets are preening, Plucking feathers from their breasts. The wind is Bearing them away so quickly-, so quietly. It's Like they were never here.
LITTLE MIRRORS OF DESPAIR It is the end of a beautiful summer-. It is going to rain and my mother is humming. The closely cropped leaves of the boxwood reflect an oncoming moonlight; the breeze carries it across The koi pond. Is it really so bad, this garden with its koi fish ponded ... its birds seed-fed ... my mother humming- Her voice so soft ..., so far-off-hearted, Like the sound of the grass lying down. Couldn't we be happy Here? The rain is just beginning to fall. The sky gives up its water like an old woman wringing The life out of her son. The drops hit the still surface of the koi pond And shatter it, the ripples and rings sparkling Like little moonlit Mirrors of despair.
MEDITATION ON A BLUE VASE I have a blue vase but no flowers. I never have any flowers, not one of my neighbors has ever given me flowers. I keep an empty blue vase empty. I should fill it. With what, white mice and charcoal? I should fill it. With what, Chinese bees? If I fill it, my estranged neighbor will give me flowers and I will have no place to put them. Should I fill it with red prawns and tobacco? Should I fill it with my own gold teeth? I have a blue vase but no flowers. I have no flowers. My neighbor has them all.
LIKE THE STARE OF SOME GLASS-EYED GOD If we are not busy fixing what we have broken, we are busy breaking What, someday, we will need to fix. As for that which cannot be broken- As for that for which there is no fix- I wish we were patches Of that miraculous afternoon light: Bright. Unbroken. Fixed On the grass- Imagine! Being fixed on the grass. How sad ..., what has come to pass For the miraculous.
Of the two undiscovered countries, Life and Death, Which one lies the closer to God?
OF HUNGER AND HUMAN FREEDOM
The Bird in the Courtyard
Those whirls she trailed of red, flocked, Cloth across the black macadam of the parking lot
Looked nothing like some trapped bird's fear-dropped feathers. And yet, that's what I thought of when I saw her: that red bird in the courtyard,
Trapped-its feathers like scraps of red cloth Dropping against the black mesh
Of the screen door. A cardinal, I think it was- Lean and summer-hungry.
Summer-hungry, can that be right? I didn't think things went hungry in the summer.
The Woman in Red
She trailed across that parking lot Such worlds of red-, it was as if the sky had taken off its hinges the last black door of winter and let go
A sigh, the first, long satisfied sigh of summer. Satisfied-that can't be right; summer's never
Satisfied, never quite. It's never quiet, either; it doesn't sigh, It cries. It howls. It bleats and groans. Its stomach growls-
The rookery islands and the mangrove strands, The mossy hummocks and the season beaches,
Echo at all hours with the roiling, Mad cacophonies of that longing.
Sitting in this courtyard, thinking of the bird That was trapped here and the woman in red,
Listening to the tree frogs wring their rubber tongues in the moist air, breathing deep the heaving-green Smell of the peat moss and the palm trees, watching the leaves of the mangos and the limes, the guavas,
Tremble, grow still-tremble and grow still- You know what I long for?
An end to summer.
Just imagine the peace in that quiet.
And the clouds this morning! Moving like a herd of curtains across a pasture of blue glass-
It would be a relief; no, it would be A release-
Not just from something, but into something, Into the midst of something: a day endowed with summer's Jungled lushness but lacking its lust-
Yes-, a lack of lust! That's what I Long for. To live in the midst of the physical, the visceral, Untroubled by the crush Of want-
We Cannot Love the World as It Is
We cannot love the world as it is, Because the world, as it is, is impossible to love.
We have only to lust for it- To lust for each other in it-
And, somehow, to make that suffice.
No, somehow to make that sacrifice.
The Goddess of the Parking Lot
Maybe it was Ceres I saw that day, Moving across that parking lot in breeze-blown blooms of red, flocked, cloth and not just some woman who was A credit to her dress. Unlikely, I admit-but wouldn't it Make sense? In a world overrun with hunger engines whose need to consume everything is bringing them, once again, to the brink of their own extinction, Where else but a parking lot-a used-up, paved-over field- Would one expect to find a goddess Of agriculture?
And one bedecked in red, no less! Red-the color of passion, lust and blood-the color of war, not wheat-the color of Mars with its two moons, Deimos and Phobos, Panic and Fear, fixed in their morbid orbits. Mars was the god of grain for a time, but he gave it up for war, a growth industry- He didn't see much future in fertility. Poor Ceres-. Gone the blood route, Too, I see.
Still-, she looked so beautiful In that red dress. Even if it wasn't the one she was born to wear, She made of it a fit, magnificent-an exquisiteness the fire-wild billowings of which lit a day
Not otherwise enlightened and lifted from that place the gray weight of late-winter cloud cover, raising it above the streetlamps for the first time In months. And whether she had come as feast or as famine- In the name of war or wheat, I did not care-for the miracle Of that dress alone would I have loved her.
Meditation on the Nature of Human Freedom
Our bonds are inescapable. Freedom's not Our natural state, nor does it follow, naturally, the mere cessation of restraint. Even in the absence of our masters, Are we mastered; even in the absence of the father, we wait upon the father upon whom have we waited our lives Long. That wasn't Ceres I saw that day, gliding across The parking lot in breeze-blown blooms of red-flocked Cloth, but the daughter of Erysichthon, Turning herself into a bird-a cardinal- Her feathers billowing up in great red clouds around her as she moved across that parking lot. She had no earthly reason to reenact those wrongs to which her Father and her masters had subjected her; yet, she did just that. And when her transformation was complete, She flew off not to seek her father's house-for she knew it to be ruined- But to seek a place that would in ways Approximate that prison. What brought her to my father's house, I do not know. No place is there less prison-like Than this; the rooms are few and small, But all are cool and quiet-clean, uncluttered and at all times brightly lit. Perhaps it was the cardinal's guard that brought her here-
It grows like a weed in the courtyard, its hot-red Bloom-spikes shooting up like rockets by the black screen doors. Someone must have left those screen doors open and she flew in. I found her perched on the fountain and because I did Not know her right at first, had not yet come to understand That freedom is unnatural, a curse, I misread her Relief as desperation and I set her free.
But how cruel it is to free a thing-to do so Is to contradict the nature of that thing, to insure that thing's erasure. Our bonds define us, after all; they're what protect us from an earth cursed by hunger. No wonder she flew from my shooing in frantic dashes and suicidal swoops! Those black doors standing open must have looked to her like her father's awful jaws pride Wide by want. By the time I realized who it was, It was too late. I'd chased her free and closed the doors behind her. Had I known, I might have let her stay. No- I would have. I would have. Let her stay.
Excerpted from GREEN SQUALL by JAY HOPLER Copyright © 2006 by Jay Hopler. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Jay Hopler was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1970 and has earned degrees from New York University, The Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He lives in Southwest Florida.
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