Biography of Craig Arnold
Craig Arnold (November 16, 1967 – c. April 27, 2009) was an American poet and professor. His first book of poems, Shells (1999), was selected by W. S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. His many honors include the 2005 Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Fellowship in literature, The Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, an Alfred Hodder Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, an NEA fellowship, and a MacDowell Fellowship.
Craig Arnold Poems
For A Cook
What I remember most is what he did to the couple who sent his best pasta back to the kitchen, pronouncing it "too thin." Capers and kalamata
I'm cooking Thai—you bring the beer. The same order, although it's been a year
Teach me a fruit of your country I asked and so you dipped into a shop and in your hand held me a thick yellow pinecone no knife between us you put it to your teeth sideways like a bird and bit and peeled away the fleshy scales or were they petals crisp white at the core peppered with black seeds sweet and light like a cold cloud like some exotic sherbet carried hand over hand from a mountaintop by a relay of runners straightway to the Inca's high table we sat on metal chairs still pebbled with rain the seat of my pants damp we passed it back and forth no matter how carefully we could not help spilling the juice making our cheeks sticky our fingers getting sticky our fingers no not even once touching
There is no I in teamwork but there is a two maker there is no I in together but there is a got three a get to her the I in relationship is the heart I slip on a lithe prison in all communication we count on a mimic (I am not uncomic) our listening skills are silent killings there is no we in marriage but a grim area there is an I in family also my fail
The Invisible Birds of Central America
For Alicia The bird who creaks like a rusty playground swing the bird who sharpens the knife the bird who blows on the mouths of milk bottles the bird who bawls like a cat like a cartoon baby the bird who rubs the wineglass the bird who curlicues the bird who quacks like a duck but is not a duck the bird who pinks on a jeweller's hammer They hide behind the sunlight scattered throughout the canopy At the thud of your feet they fall thoughtful and quiet coming to life again only when you have passed Perhaps they are not multiple but one a many-mooded trickster whose voice is rich and infinitely various whose feathers liquify the rainbow rippling scarlet emerald indigo whose streaming tail is rare as a comet's a single glimpse of which is all that you could wish for the one thing missing to make your eyes at last feel full to meet this wild need of yours for wonder
Very Large Moth
After D.H.L. Your first thought when the light snaps on and the black wings clatter about the kitchen is a bat the clear part of your mind considers rabies the other part does not consider knows only to startle and cower away from the slap of its wings though it is soon clearly not a bat but a moth and harmless still you are shy of it it clings to the hood of the stove not black but brown its orange eyes sparkle like televisions its leg joints are large enough to count how could you kill it where would you hide the body a creature so solid must have room for a soul and if this is so why not in a creature half its size or half its size again and so on down to the ants clearly it must be saved caught in a shopping bag and rushed to the front door afraid to crush it feeling the plastic rattle loosened into the night air it batters the porch light throwing fitful shadows around the landing That was a really big moth is all you can say to the doorman who has watched your whole performance with a smile the half-compassion and half-horror we feel for the creatures we want not to hurt and prefer not to touch
for Boyce They are threatening to leave us the nimble-throated singers the little murderers with the quick pulses They perch at the ends of bare branches their tails are ragged and pitiful the long green feathers are fallen out They go on eating and eating last autumn's yellow melia berries They do not care that you approach cold corpses rot in the grass in the reeds The gray-shouldered crows hobble about the wren barely a mouthful cocks her pert tail and threatens to slaughter the white-footed cat in the bushes They do not understand that they are dying They are threatening to leave us how quickly we forget the way they taught us how to play our voices opening soul to weightlessness like the Spartan poet singing under the burden of his old bones to the chorus girls with their honey songs and their holy voices how he wished he could scoot like a kingfisher lightly over the flower of the waves who boasted I know the tunes of every bird but I Alcman found my words and song in the tongue of the strident partridge Where will we find songs when the sleek-headed mallards are gone who chase each other around the pond the reluctant duck and the lovesick drake The way she turns her head to the side to scold him whack whack whack whack whack the way her boyfriend chases off his rival and then swims back reeb reeb with feeble reassurances the way he sits on top of her the way she flaps her wings to keep above water the way they look pleased with themselves wagging their tails smoothing each feather back in its right place They are threatening to leave but you may still catch them saying goodbye stealthed in the cedar and cypress at dawn in the dark clarity between sleep and waking A run of five notes on a black flute another and another buried deep in the mix how many melodies can the air hold And what they sing so lovely and so meaningless may urge itself upon you with the ache of something just beyond the point of being remembered the trace of a brave thought in the face of sadness
Lines for painting on grains of rice
For Rebecca You are the kind of person who buys exotic fruits leaves them out on the counter until they rot You always mean to eat them sometimes you rearrange them rousing over the bowl a cloud of tiny flies & How do they balance the parrot who chews a walnut sideways holding it up in his right foot the owl perched on a just-lit lamppost scratching behind its ear like a big dog & Your pencil eraser wears down long before the point for every word you write you rub out two & Where the slice of toast rested the plate is still warm a film of fog little points of dew & Love is like velocity we feel the speeding up and the slowing down otherwise not at all the more steady the more it feels like going nowhere my love I want to go nowhere with you & I cannot bring myself to toss the cup of cold coffee you set down by the door on your way to the taxi all day I have sipped it each time forgetting your two tablets of fake sugar too sweet & Running down the street dodging between raindrops plump as cherries & The ground was feathered with wild strawberries I picked seven as many as I could bear I ate two I saved the rest for you here hold out your hand take them taste how sweet & Please hold me the forgotten way the wall pleads spray-paint face and voice of a damned poet the darling damned poets save them from themselves maybe it is us they need saving from
Meditation on a Grapefruit
To wake when all is possible before the agitations of the day have gripped you To come to the kitchen and peel a little basketball for breakfast To tear the husk like cotton padding a cloud of oil misting out of its pinprick pores clean and sharp as pepper To ease each pale pink section out of its case so carefully without breaking a single pearly cell To slide each piece into a cold blue china bowl the juice pooling until the whole fruit is divided from its skin and only then to eat so sweet a discipline precisely pointless a devout involvement of the hands and senses a pause a little emptiness each year harder to live within each year harder to live without
You have towered here leaning half over the wall all my awareness years before I knew what silkworm was or China I felt your berries pulp under my feet tracked your purple all over grandmother's carpet a sapling planted by some sea captain to make shade for a future This winter you lost one of your long low branches to a backed-up car and the old woman who has known you all her life wept at the split wood Your bark is wrinkled more deeply than any face you live so slowly do our voices sound to you like the fluttering of paper moth wings do we seem rootless holding fast to the anchor of the saddest things
The chain uncouples, and his jacket hangs on the peg over hers, and he's inside. She stalls in the kitchen, putting the kettle on, buys herself a minute looking for two matching cups for the lime-flower tea, not really lime but linden, heart-shaped leaves and sticky flowers that smell of antifreeze. She talks a wall around her, twists the string tighter around the tea bag in her spoon. But every conversation has to break somewhere, and at the far end of the sofa he sits, warming his hands around the cup he hasn't tasted yet, and listens on with such an exasperating show of patience it's almost a relief to hear him ask it: If you're not using your body right now maybe you'd let me borrow it for a while? It isn't what you're thinking. No, it's worse. Why on earth did she find him so attractive the first time she met him, propping the wall at an awkward party, clearly trying to drink himself into some sort of conversation? Was it the dark uncomfortable reserve she took upon herself to tease him out of, asking, Are you a vampire? That depends, he stammered, are you a virgin? No, not funny, but why did she laugh at him? What made her think that he needed her, that she could teach him something? Why did she let him believe she was drunk and needed a ride home? Why did she let him take her shirt off, fumble around a bit on the spare futon, passing back and forth the warm breath of a half-hearted kiss they kept falling asleep in the middle of? And when he asked her, why did she not object? I'd like to try something. I need you to trust me. Younger and given to daydreams, she imagined trading bodies with someone, a best friend, the boy she had a crush on. But the fact was more fantastic, a fairy-tale adventure where the wolf wins, and hides in the girl's red hood. How it happens she doesn't really remember, drifting off with a vague sense of being drawn out through a single point of her skin, like a bedsheet threaded through a needle's eye, and bundled into a body that must be his. Sometimes she startles, as on the verge of sleep you can feel yourself fall backward over a brink, and snaps her eyelids open, to catch herself slipping out of the bed, her legs swinging over the edge, and feels the sudden sick split-screen impression of being for a second both she and her. What he does with her while she's asleep, she never really knows, flickers, only, conducted back in dreams: Walking in neighborhoods she doesn't know and wouldn't go to, overpasses, ragweed, cars dry-docked on cinderblocks, wolf-whistles, wanting to run away and yet her steps planted sure and defiant. Performing tasks too odd to recognize and too mundane to have made up, like fixing a green salad with the sunflower seeds and peppers that she hates, pouring on twice the oil and vinegar that she would like, and being unable to stop. Her hands feel but are somehow not her own, running over the racks of stacked fabric in a clothing store, stroking the slick silk, teased cotton and polar fleece, as if her fingers each were a tongue tasting the knits and weaves. Harmless enough. It's what she doesn't dream that scares her, panic she can't account for, faces familiar but not known, déjà vu making a mess of memory, coming to with a fresh love-bite on her left breast and the aftershock of granting another's flesh, of having gripped, slipped in and fluttered tender mmm, unbraided, and spent the whole slow day clutching her thighs to keep the chafe from fading, and furious at being joyful, less at the violation, less the danger, than the sense he'd taken her enjoyment for his own. That was the time before, the time she swore would be the last—returning to her senses, she'd grabbed his throat and hit him around the face and threw him out, and sat there on the floor shaking. She hadn't known how hard it was to throw a punch without pulling it back. Now, as they sit together on her couch with the liquid cooling in the stained chipped cups that would never match, no matter how hard she stared at them, he seems the same as ever, a quiet clumsy self-effacing ghost with the gray-circled eyes that she once wanted so badly to defy, that seemed to see her seeing him—and she has to admit, she's missed him. Why? She scrolls back through their conversations, searching for any reason not to hate him. She'd ask him, What's it like being a girl when you're not a girl? His answers, when he gave them, weren't helpful, so evasively poetic: It's like a sponge somebody else is squeezing. A radio tuned to all stations at once. Like having skin that's softer but more thick. Then she remembers the morning she awoke with the smear of tears still raw across her cheeks and the spent feeling of having cried herself down to the bottom of something. Why was I crying? she asked, and he looked back blankly, with that little curve of a lip that served him for a smile. Because I can't. And that would be their secret. The power to feel another appetite pass through her, like a shudder, like a cold lungful of oxygen or hot sweet smoke, fill her and then be stilled. The freedom to fall asleep behind the blinds of his dark body and wake cleanly. And when she swings her legs over the edge of the bed, to trust her feet to hit the carpet, and know as not before how she never quite trusted the floor to be there, no, not since she was a girl first learning to swim, hugging her skinny breastless body close to the pool-gutter, skirting along the dark and darker blue of the bottom dropping out— Now she can stand, and take the cup out of his giving hand, and feel what they have learned inside each other fair and enough, and not without a kind of satisfaction, that she can put her foot down, clear to the bottom of desire, and find that it can stop, and go no deeper.
Of many reasons I love you here is one the way you write me from the gate at the airport so I can tell you everything will be alright so you can tell me there is a bird trapped in the terminal all the people ignoring it because they do not know what to do with it except to leave it alone until it scares itself to death it makes you terribly terribly sad You wish you could take the bird outside and set it free or (failing that) call a bird-understander to come help the bird All you can do is notice the bird and feel for the bird and write to tell me how language feels impossibly useless but you are wrong You are a bird-understander better than I could ever be who make so many noises and call them song These are your own words your way of noticing and saying plainly of not turning away from hurt you have offered them to me I am only giving them back if only I could show you how very useless they are not
The chain uncouples, and his jacket hangs
on the peg over hers, and he's inside.
She stalls in the kitchen, putting the kettle on,
buys herself a minute looking for two
matching cups for the lime-flower tea,
not really lime but linden, heart-shaped leaves
and sticky flowers that smell of antifreeze.
She talks a wall around her, twists the string