Poetry. The voice of poet John Tynan in these VOICE LESSONS has a natural beauty all its own that is both an innate gift and a moral, as well as technical, achievement: fresh, unspoiled, casual and yet artful, never dry or contrived, always freely flowing, and of a sensibility so kind, humorous, and radically open to experience in its immediacy and depth, that it seems an inseparable, innate part of the poet's character; and yet, again and again, in his reflections, in his lyricism, the burden of experience and memory is acknowledged and overcome by a rededication of self to love and life. If there is a lesson in these LESSONS for his readers, it may be that spontaneity and immediate joy constitute not merely a state of being, but a creative act of becoming.
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About the Author
John Tynan received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona in 1997. In addition to writing poems and stories, he also composes songs and plays the accordion. He currently lives in Beijing, China, where his wife Rene Gutel is a diplomat for the U.S. Department of State, and makes his living as a web developer.
Read an Excerpt
And Other Poems
By John Tynan
Sagging Meniscus PressCopyright © 2015 John Tynan
All rights reserved.
Change of Fortune
Bonked off my bike by a snowbird from Maine
brought me thirty grand of windfall fortune
that came, after the lawyers took their take
and the doctors with their sterile torture.
Alive and lucky, it was just a long headache.
Then, a sudden interest in my future
led to a series of meetings and handshakes
with your average corporate baby boomers.
As in a dream vacation in Las Vegas,
where the pit boss takes you into the fold
of back rooms, secrets, and one-way glass,
you see – as chump change – your new-found bankroll.
A common Joe in the eyes of the bank,
you discover, once more, the wealth of poems.
An Excellent Meal After Unprotected Sex
Were you to have been conceived yesterday afternoon,
I would like you to know, my daughter or son,
that your first nourishment was duck à l'orange
served to a table of friends Howard, Katrina, your mother and I,
by a waiter named Roland and prepared to perfection by Chef Omar Matmati
in a restaurant named Fenix, in the city of its namesake.
Were you to have been conceived yesterday as the light in the blinds faded,
I would like you to know that the wind was brisk, and that your mother wore
a brand new, red striped, purple shirt from Urban Outfitters
with a wide, French collar and her hair in a tight bun flanked by two sparkling barrettes.
Were you to have been conceived yesterday afternoon, I would like you to know
that the first sparks of taste awakening in you were that of red Zinfandel
glinting off the flint of a few pepper grains ground by our waiter
over a plate of romaine lettuce lightly glazed in vinaigrette.
Were you to have been conceived in that blush of light,
I would like you to know that the first inklings of sight
that may have come down to you were a brilliant red
that your mother might have registered from across the table,
remarking that the shade of Katrina's scarlet eyeglass frames perfectly matched her dress.
Were you to have been conceived that afternoon, I'd like you to know
that your first impulses to question might have been shaped
by your mother prying Howard for his political bent
and your first feelings of satisfaction might have come as well,
as the question was carefully rewarded, like the opening of a salty shell,
when Howard revealed only enough to imply a larger, more interesting whole
than any of us would have guessed, given the evidence
that a few years of acquaintance had deceptively sketched.
Were you to have been conceived that afternoon, you might have have heard
the first tones of excitement in Rene's voice as she talked about her work,
a radio interview she held the night before with another in a long line
of quirky characters, you may have intuited the power
to extend a microphone forward in the world and extract truth,
through plain, intended talk and words of conviction.
Were you to have been conceived yesterday afternoon, I would like you to know
that I wore an emerald green sweater and a pair of new, staggeringly expensive, brown Naot shoes
which grew, over the course of the evening, remarkably comfortable.
I would want you to know that I mentioned to the other guests,
how earlier that day I attended a poetry workshop where I came away excited,
delighted from finding the right poem to explicate a particular topic,
and hopeful for the possibility of living an academic, writer's life.
You, who may have been conceived that afternoon, February 3rd 2007, I would like you to know,
your first hundred minutes in the world, your first glimpse of consciousness
coincided with the most excellent meal of my recent memory
and where, in those hours the restaurant staff allowed our conversation to unfold,
you were given a leg up on the finer points of friendship,
a head start on the art of smart, relaxed talk,
there, with your mother and I, and two good friends,
in the city where I learned to appreciate great eating.
One afternoon not long ago, I watched two men talking;
for half an hour they monopolized an aisle at the Goodwill Store
flanked on each side by typewriters and televisions, phonographs and radios
with illustrated lightning and radar echoes around the names
of models from the factories of Futuretron and Electro-Scope.
I imagine these guys are retired research assistants and ham radio buffs:
the neighbor with so many antennae on his roof
you would think he leased his house from NASA;
where late each evening the garage door windows cast an incandescent glow
into a dark, where the chirping of crickets
seemed almost like Morse code from halfway around the globe.
And I wonder about these Bakelite buddies,
about the tools and the ends of their work.
How their talk is similar to what you might hear today
listening to the technology segment on the news, a whole revolution
of acronyms, of dot coms and companies with names that sound
like synthetic elements in a fresh, new periodic table
cooked up for another generation of white-collar workers,
only to leave the fine ideas of their predecessors
as banged-up relics on a shelf in some thrift shop.
And I think about these one-time Mr. Wizards
and the echoes that they must sense in these discarded things,
the system of solutions and approaches each relic presents
and how important it is for these friends to assess – together –
these arrangements of spent vacuum tubes and banged-up metal.
Perhaps one of them had a friend, like I did,
a partner they had wished to work with for the rest of their life.
Perhaps they imagined a curious life spent building and planning
until, one day, they would open a shop of their own,
the culmination of discussions in restaurants and coffee shops,
their wives or girlfriends sitting nearby and rolling their eyes
at the unintelligible talk of transistors and who knows what.
Perhaps, on a midnight one of them cannot forget,
the other man's wife's voice through the telephone handset
saying that he was dead. What do you do then?
How much doubt and hurt goes into your work,
and will it ever be the same?
That's why I applaud these imagined heroes
for the filament of figuring things out that's radiating in their heads
and the resonance that comes from two friends sharing technical things.
Last night, Nancy asked me to pick up some milk.
So I ambled the aisles of the ABCO eyeing the shelves
for food that would bring comfort to my life.
No visions of Whitman among the watermelons.
No great dismay over the hold that corporations
may have on my wallet, or the mind
that chooses Donald Duck over the Tropicana Girl.
Just another jamoke with a middle-manager's belly
bringing home the bacon to his suburban beauty.
Across the aisle, a couple with facial piercings and bikers' clothes
are goofing around as they decide
on just the right bakery item. They single out the whitest,
sweetest, frosted creation and carry it with a grin
to the checkout line, where a woman who treats each exchange
with the same feigned "How are you?"
punches in a late-night liquor sale
and a college coed's weekly run of frozen dinners.
The couple, looking like a pair of matted terriers,
step to the back of the line carrying the sheet cake between them.
They snicker at the juxtaposition of their black-booted, Gestapo selves
waiting in the middle of the supermarket like any ordinary, anybody else,
doing the bland old things that people do.
After, as I push my groceries out to the car,
chirp the remote for my leased Lexus,
and slide a carton of Almost Eggs onto the passenger seat,
I see the couple loading their pastry into the hatchback
of a beat-up Datsun, its surface plastered with slogans
like a hand-stamped steamer trunk
traveling through countries of Anger and Doubt,
and I think of the work that goes into maintaining an image,
the tactics it takes to be a part of a crowd.
What has undoubtedly been a remarkable spring training,
a vast acceleration of their relationship,
in all this forward momentum, the bride and groom
would like us to take a moment, today, to pause with friends,
and have a conference on the mound,
with all of us in the stands, cheering!
And if I may be so foolish or so brave as to strain
the metaphor of America's favorite pastime past its breaking point
to find a corollary of baseball as a form
for marriage as evidenced in life,
I might think of it as a kind of question and answer game
to be played out on the ball-field
of a municipal park, a couple alone:
the husband lobbing softballs to the wife at bat,
and then the opposite. The woman pitching
and the husband's careful attention as he readies his bat in reply.
It's this kind of private practice
that improves individual performance;
this finding ways to fine tune and ratchet up
the average for the current season.
But you never hear about these kinds of pairs in the major leagues.
It's not the warm-ups that get the attention –
but the rare exceptions, the three runs batted in
after the 7th inning stretch to clinch the game.
But were they to give credit to the warm-ups,
to these daily tunings, these constant corrections
that might have carried a hitter across the range
of his (or her) better years, they would do good
to look to this simple husband's and wife's exchange,
these conscious, considered motions with each at bat.
I Know I've Wanted to be Here Before
The hammock, as seen past the French doors, sways in a lattice of shade.
The geometry between sitting and what's seen forms its own weight, a feng shui
that propels me through this morning's montage of reminders,
sets a particular tone, muses at the piano in a pedal point of intent.
And in that moment, it's almost as if the words have already been chosen
for the gestures and trajectory of the full span of the day.
And it is not so much a rarefied moment as it is deliberate.
Even the most mundane few minutes over the frying pan with a glob of breakfast sausage
fits into a larger plan; of perhaps, saving some dollars where you can say in three weeks time,
"I live better, due to this-saved-amount"; a number that has real relation to events and things,
a node in a web of intentions. And it all culminates in a kind of quality;
an intentional déjà vu where you might think, "I know I've wanted to be here before."
To pursue this quality of moment is to start each day at the center of your bed
and careen out in a wake of considered quiet, to invite which messages hum in your head
and which echo back in their own translations, say, as you stop in the hallway later at work
to shake a colleague's hand. It is these affirmations that add music to your voice,
and surprise you when, looking out from a rooftop over a city with a sense of good chance
you almost could not have imagined, you can say "I know I've wanted to be here before."
All My Exes
All my exes, how I could care less
about your addresses,
your dogs, your daughters,
or the state of your kitchen.
I will live in the secure orbit
of not giving a good god damn
about your prescriptions,
or the color, this week,
that you are painting your toes.
Family of past loves,
envelop your children
in thy care. Circle your wagons
around them on this night
and kindle a fire of distraction.
Talk of other dates,
other husbands, fiancés, lovers, friends.
But when the conversation
comes around to me
and the sharp barbs have pierced the skin
of the old stories
associated with my name,
please discourage them
from seeking me out
among the vastness of everybody else.
Direct, instead, their attention
to some other someone else.
Entreat them to extend that choice phrase
that they might have reserved for me
to their new friends and potential exes.
Get them away from me!
I have a wife to have my coffee with
in the morning. I have her name
to address my letters to,
her jeans to pick up off the carpet
when I come home.
Mixed Up Weather
Twelve feet of snow in Milwaukee this morning
and here, two time zones away,
seventy degrees and bright,
a slight wind swaying the eucalyptus.
This faux-fall here in Arizona the weather gets all mixed up,
doesn't know if it wants to be spring, or winter, or fall.
Other years, I'd be on bicycle
grooving to the chill, our five months reward;
helmet webbing strapped under my chin
feet circling in the stirrups,
but this new season I'm content to round the corner
at the speed that four dachshund feet can lead.
We get to the very edge of the park and bolt
through the leaves crisply hushing under our feet
as we run through the obstacle course of trashcans and trees.
And I keep a wide distance from the pond, this man-made
depression that passes for a lake in these parts.
I see the pond's sole, dusty heron, like some Victorian contraption
that you would check by the coat rack in some brownstone's foyer.
I don't want to startle, send into flight, this bit of antiquity
during its quiet vigil over the meager crappies and catfish
that daily attract the bird to our neighborhood lake.
The poet John Logan talks about how, after three moves in six months,
he still remained the same, about his similar suburban shore
and its lame ducks, drunk on the swill from boats.
I see the same complacent clucks. But who says they have to fly ...
Who says you can't walk reverently around a rare experience?
That you can't sneak up on a singular species,
a change of mode, a change of awareness, a mixed-up season?
At home, the Christmas lights are on,
a string of fireflies under the eaves.
Wrapping paper is laid out on the table
next to today's festive FedEx delivery.
And I take this chance to speak out in a clear voice for joy,
for what is rare. For what is meant from the soul.
I'll wait. I'll wait it out.
If tomorrow, that dusty heron should be gone,
I'll wait out the ducks.
I'll wait out the ducks till some new mixed season comes along
that leads me to song, that frees me from the dry words of work
and gives me ease of mind and voice.
Excerpted from Voice Lessons by John Tynan. Copyright © 2015 John Tynan. Excerpted by permission of Sagging Meniscus Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsChange of Fortune,
An Excellent Meal After Unprotected Sex,
I Know I've Wanted to be Here Before,
All My Exes,
Mixed Up Weather,
A Golden Solution,
Dog Among Icons,
Exchange of Devotion,
The Poem as Conduit,
Love is the Soul of Genius,
A Poem for Our Futures,
Down On Weighted Knees,
Prayer for Our Parents,
206 Mill Street,
My Papy's Hand,
Our Last Defiant Days,
The End of Mischief,
All Our Soiled Laundry,
What Hollywood Wants from a Poem,