This first poem is based on the poetry of Walt Whitman, my favorite dead man in the entire world.
If You Want Me
I, Sarah Kaplan, the daughter of the city,
a cosmos of messy ponytails and library books and skinned knees,
bequeath myself to the sunburnt pavement
and dirty linoleum, and dandelions that grow between cracks in the sidewalk,
to the chipped and rust-stained tiles that line the walls of the 7th avenue subway station,
to the parched and yellowed outfield grass in Prospect Park, witness
to dropped pop flies and late-inning comebacks, secret kisses stolen after dark,
sorrows and picnics and bare feet attached to long freckled bodies,
arms outstretched and grasping on to a kite string as if for dear life.
I am that grass, roots dug deep in six feet of Brooklyn dirt,
trodden by the feet of eight million New Yorkers. I bury my heart
beneath their pounding heels, but quivering at the ends of kite strings
I gain the sky.
If you want me, look for me in subways and cramped kitchens;
look at cracked sidewalks and weed choked lawns, and the grass
in Prospect Park where red infield dirt meets everything that lies beyond.
If you want me again, look for me under your boot soles—
you will hardly know the dreams you’ll find there.
And these are the first three stanzas of a sestina. A sestina is one of the coolest and hardest forms of poetry out there. If you want to know more about them go to Poets.org.
Wake up to the sound of running water,
and cat feet scurrying in the morning half light,
and cries for kibble—a voice like slivers of glass
in your ears, breaking the world into pieces
you must find a way to put together;
give order to the chaos, make it habitable.
Shake sleep from your eyes, learn to reinhabit
this noisy world. Give the cat her water
and food. You string motions together:
take the twelve frozen steps to the bathroom, switch on the light,
shake off your pajamas till your dreams lie in pieces
on the tile floor, splintered like glass—
careful not to step in it. Look hard in the glass,
accept the constellations of acne that inhabit
the skin of your forehead, the unfinished piece
of abstract art that is your teenage face. Turn on the water
and scrub at your flaws, hold them up to the light,
wring them out and resolve to be better.