Is it safe to say “Happy Poetry Month” at a time like this – when so many people are frightened, huddled in their homes – if they have homes? Yet poetry has a way of keeping us in touch with existential reality, music for the soul and mind – so yes, I’m indeed saying it. Happy Poetry Month!!!
As always in April, I’m asking you to support poets and poetry by buying their books; this time, when physical bookstores are closed, you can call them and have them mail the books to you or you can order them yourself, online. Please do. I don’t need to remind readers of this column that a book of poems can reward you again and again.
The poet we have for you today, Jay Rubin, has had and continues to have a very interesting life. Well-traveled, as you will see from his poems, he is also, like so many of our poets, multi-talented.
Born in New York, he grew up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. He attended San Diego State College and, after graduating, returned to Los Angeles, where he worked in real estate and entertainment. Later he went to Cal State Northridge, where he earned a Master’s degree in English, with a specialty in rhetoric and composition theory. From there he moved up to the Bay Area, where he started teaching writing in the East Bay Community Colleges. (To our international readers: You may have to consult a map of the enormous state of California to follow all this). Still not finished with preparation for his writing career, he attended New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, and received a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry in 2007. Before arriving there, however, he had published, from 2000-2004, a literary publication called Peralta Press; and then, after graduating with his new MFA, started a little magazine called Alehouse, which I remember well. It included many well-known poets, e.g., Billy Collins, D.A. Powell, Cecelia Woloch, Allison Joseph. He also had more than 200 of his own poems published during that period.
He has been teaching writing full-time at College of Alameda in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2000, but now tells us that he has shifted his creative attention to drawing and painting, which he posts on Instagram as ZenManYo . (www.instagram.com/zenmanyo). In 2015 he also began playing ukulele, another skill he has continued to refine.
Jay and his teenage son live together in the Bay Area – until recently with their beloved dog, Lula, who died last year. Although in mandatory lockdown in San Francisco as of this writing, he hopes eventually to get back to Uruguay, where he has spent much time. While confined, he is researching a book he hopes to write about education.
But enough biography. I’m now happy to share the following three poems by Jay Rubin.
—for Chino & Abel
One slung guitar, one funky velvet hat
They ride the Metro underground
Nothing back home but a cold-water flat
The shy one grins, a timid cat
Fingertips plucking, sucking sound
From his guitar; his friend’s funky hat
Hangs in the air, a pesky gnat
Buzzing a song, bouncing around
Reaping the rent for a cold-water flat
The singer kneels down by a young girl’s lap
Her eyes resist, but her smile unfrowns
One slung guitar, one funky velvet hat
Once their song ends, the passengers clap
Coins feed the hat like rain from a cloud
Not drips in a drain of a cold-water flat
I, too, contribute a clink to their sack
I riding trains all day through town
No slung guitar, no old funky hat
And nothing—no home, not even a flat
2 River View, 2009
—Sunshine Bungalows, 2001
Each morning in my bungalow
I rise—not to songs of garden birds
but Burmese boys on the beach
brooms in their hands, brushing the sand
Before I rise, I dream of Burmese birds
sweeping last night’s fallen leaves
brooms in their wings, brushing the sand
evidence of last night’s hash?
After sweeping garden leaves
after washing clothes, after gutting fish
after a bowl of last night’s hash
that Burmese plucks his old guitar
I listen after washing, bowl full of fish
white talc smoothed across his face
that Burmese plucks at his guitar
sings an ocean melody
White talc paths swept smooth each dawn
no birds outside my bungalow
I hear the ocean’s melody
a Burmese boy on the beach
Front Range Review, 2015.
In Praise of Cracked Minds
Praise the days when our minds crack open
open like clam shells struck by fallen stones
stones splitting open, sudden thunder storms
storms of new ideas spread across the beach
Beach the giant whales, introduce them to the sun
sunshine: that new elixir for their fears
fears of drowning, suffocating sand
sand, they’ll see, makes a bed of pure pleasure
Sure, we think of giant whales at sea
see them spout as they migrate north
north and out of range, beyond our senses
senses long accustomed to what we all believe
Leave, for a moment, all those old ideas
as if old clothes that no longer fit
fit them into boxes, store them on a shelf
shelve them there with what’s no longer true
True—new ideas may at first feel snug
snuggle with them, treat them like new lovers
lovers who allow you room to shed your old dsplay
play, instead, with novelty; bounce it like a ball
Ball it up and toss it in the air: Have fun
funny how the new reminds us each of death
death, remember, lets us breathe eternal time
time for thanks, time to sing our praise
Hinchas de Poesa, 2015.