poem-a-thon 23: serenading the madam

Gah, managed to get my four poems for today done before the end of work, thanks to a brief lull in things. This is for the NaPoWriMo post of doing a homophonic translation, which is to say, taking a poem in a foreign language and shifting it into English. This requires some clever use of orthography and/or some familiarity with the language’s phonology, plus a certain willingness to skim carelessly and just roll with the punches. My go-to language for such exercises is usually an Eastern European one (Hungarian and Serbian are favorites), but this time I went to Finnish, and the poem “Won’t You Close Your Eyes” by Olli Heikkonen. Here’s the original text:

Sulkisit jo silmäsi.
Heidän valonsa on muita valoja kirkkaampaa.
Se pakottaa silmiä ja korventaa niskaa.
Se tulee puiden takaa, ihmisten valo,
ja saa minut säntäämään
pensaisiin ja pitkään heinään
metsän hyiseen ytimeen.

Että millaista on pudota suohon
suorin jaloin, sorkat kuin lyijypunnukset.

Ihokarvat työntyvät turpeeseen,
jokainen huokonen
rävähtää auki. Rävähtää auki

sillä mudan ja liejun syvyyksiin
on juurtunut pehmeä valo,
sinne on juurtunut
yksinkertainen valo.

Which translates (according to Maria Lyytinen at this page) as:

Won’t you close your eyes.
Their light is brighter than other lights.
It aches in the eyes and scorches the neck.
It comes from beyond the trees, human light,
and makes me race
to the shrubs and tall grass
to the icy core of the forest.

And what it is like to sink into the swamp
with straight legs, hooves like lead weights.

Hairs push into the turf,
every pore
bursts open. Bursts open

for in the depths of mud and sludge
a soft light has taken root,
a simple light
has taken root.

But which I rendered — with my knowledge of Finnish phonology, ignorance of Finnish vocabulary, and a good deal of alphabet soup transmogrification — as some kind of frustrated love song to a bordello ex-baby-mama or something. Not at all in keeping with the rest of my stuff this month, but language and ignorance make strange bedfellows:

Serenading the Madam

Sulkily, I sit on your sill, massing
hate and valors on my values. Quick computations
see packets of similar conventions in the scar
you set me, putting talk into my stain. Value?
You say “minutes”, and tall men
penning sighs in a pinch can have no one
medicine. Who’s seen what I mean?

Add a million stars. Open dots of sun:
sun, or yellowing sores. Caught queen, looped and naked.

I, who carved out twins too vast to represent,
joke that I’m an awoken
raven, the owl key. Raven. The owl key.

Silly mother, you lie on your cervix in
one of your turned-out pay-me-off wallows.
Sins are on your tongue,
whose skin — certainly — is valued.

oulipost 23: cannibal

On a roll with the Oulipost prompts, at least. Today’s was to do an “inventory” poem, dividing up the words in a text by part of speech and working that into a poem. I took an advice column in the Voice responding to the reader’s question about whether to go vegan, and ended up with, um, this. Tongue planted in a very macabre cheek.

The italic bits started as direct quotes, but I cobbled them a little bit in the end. The four lists are verbs, concrete nouns, adjectives, and abstract nouns, respectively, drawn from the response. (There are some prepositions/articles mixed in for flourish. Sue me.) I tried to work in a bit of subtle sound similarity as well.

One more poem to go! I’m trying to get these done early in the day so I can relax this evening…

Cannibal Comes to Terms with Self, Diet

I clearly remember the day I decided
I don’t like people telling me what to do.
Prepare, continue, embrace.
Move, become, reclaim.
Should take, can do, must face.

Something that I once thought was pure evil:
occasionally I’d splurge.
Cow’s body, bird flesh, the dead.
Swordfish steak, bacon, eggs.
Vegan burger. Human head.

I enjoyed it more passionately.
I seemed to love it even more.
Unique, biological, honest.
Grotesque, bizarre, pure.
Full-blown, aware of the finest.

I wrestle with the fact that I might have to choose
a version of myself that had existed before.
Thought in sin in sincerity.
Pleasure. Damage. Brutality.

oulipost 22: pine barren rangers

Better late than never, yeah? I’m trying to make up for lost time this morning by getting some poems done; two down, two to go. This is for yesterday’s Oulipost prompt about antonymy, taking a found text and making as many of the words as possible into antonyms. I took some liberties and tweaked it a bit to make it more “poetic”, where possible. The original text was about carriage horses in NYC, and given that yesterday was Earth Day, I spun that as much as possible into an environmentalist kind of theme. Without further ado:

Pine Barren Rangers Raise Outcry over Hunting Permits

The sound of the Washington Forest birding grounds
vanishes after the feel of them,
the division of scrub grass and bayberries
and osprey shadows. It tumbles out of the sky
over the nameless bays, far west of the barrier islands,
next to Washington Preserve, for which
the birding grounds are not named.
The sound does not freeze your feet in place,
ignorant to the sudden cocks and hens.
One long ago morning, too, the gates were crowded.
A few of Jersey’s unknown wild birds
were fanning out their dark, lifting out of clearings
at nine mudflats collected on the edge marsh.
Outside Washington Forest,
when the avian visitors rustle uneasily awake,
upright carnivores were, at last,
burning their armistice to ash.

poem-a-thon 22: skipping rhyme

Slacking off! I didn’t manage to get today’s four done, and it’s already 12:30; I think I’m going to have to double up on Oulipost tomorrow to make up for it, because I am (for reasons I shan’t discuss on here) unable to keep my eyes open a moment longer. NaPoWriMo had a very simple prompt to write for children, and I’m taking them up on the nursery rhyme suggestion, since that’s all I’ve got left in me this evening. Enjoy this brief ditty about being gender-blind, and teach it to your kids!

Skipping Rhyme

Boys with wings and girlish things:
these are what the sparrow brings.
Girls with hearts and boyish parts:
these are what the leopard starts.
In between, the mix unseen:
these are both the king and queen.
Both at once, from backs to fronts:
these are what good fortune hunts.
Please be wise: appearance lies,
but what’s within is undisguised.

poem-a-thon 21: the date

This is kind of an over-the-top last-minute sort of post, since I got home much later than expected and had much less time to polish and work over this one as I would’ve liked. (On the counterside, workshop was lovely and I do not regret the late hour whatsoever.) NaPoWriMo wanted a New York School style poem, following a “recipe” by Thom Donovan, which I did my best to overdo completely; I think I managed to cram all his elements in. It’s such a mishmash that I think Frank O’Hara would shake his head in disgust at it, and I would cry No, Frank! and beg him for another chance because he is one of my poetry spirit animals. But since I doubt that’ll happen, and it’s late, I’ll just toss it up on here and leave that as it is.

Hey, why don’t you donate to a worthy cause? And poetry?

The Date

          Christopher, you remember I rode the 9:52 train
into New York for a day with you; it was early November
and Bedford Street shimmered beneath me, and you were
eating an apple fritter in front of Starbucks when I arrived.
And you asked, do you want to come to the market, and
of course, yes, I had nowhere else to go:
                              so we roamed Strawberry Fields
buying sausage and heavy globed kiwifruit
and Vivaldi insisting on the speaker, and I paid
for everything. Then we climbed up three flights of stairs
to your apartment, well, your corner of a minimal room
with the single mattress was laid out
                              and we cooked sausage
and ate it, and tasted its grease on each other as we kissed,
soon we were fucking hard and fast on the floor
warmed by November light. Afterward we listened:
steam pipes trilled, a stray dog whined, Mrs. Lukacs
next door was on the phone shouting in muffled Hungarian
through the wall. Kurafi! kurafi! she kept shouting
so we flipped on the TV
                              still fucking once in a while
like when Jodie Foster in Panic Room changed over to
Tom Hanks in Big separated by commercials for crash
lawyers, bathroom cleaners, all the things we did not need.
Light moved and thinned with each thrust of our hips
until it had nearly vanished completely. You were craving
another cigarette, so we went back down again, and
walked out into the dusk
                              which meant I had missed all my classes
for a boy I’d known a week, whose life consisted of the Roxy
til 4 a.m., Avalon after that, who did lines of cocaine with
Kate Moss between shoots (or so you said, although
you couldn’t find the issue of PAPER you two were in),
who purred in his sleep, whose cock unfurled like
night-blooming jasmine
                              who bit my lip hard when we kissed again
at that moment, and I thought, what am I doing here?
where’d I get this fever? And Christopher, it was marvelous
when you offered the until death part as though you were
marriageable and I your bride, but darling, the next morning
I had a French exam, and rehearsal, and there was
only so much room in me
                              for those other men of yours
and mine. What would you have had me do? I bought
my ticket back by the glare of a PATH train light.
I turned off my phone. I was Sisyphus paused at
the top of his hill. Christopher you are climbing still.

oulipost 21: battered artist

On a roll today (three done before sundown yessss), which is good, because it’s going to be a busy day tomorrow. This one is for Oulipost’s “confabulation” prompt, constructing a “he said-she said” poem out of quotes from the paper. I took a bunch of direct quotes from dudes and ladies, but ultimately it ended up being a lady’s story, so I let the poem roll with it. For the sake of demonstration, the italics came from quotes by women, non-italics from quotes by men.

Off to workshop for now!

Battered Artist Narrates Leaving Her Husband

I chose to photograph the space
exactly as it appears — I think, “Look, I’m a novice,
I’m a newbie, I’m stretching my legs,” but because
the shutter is open for so long, it moved to
the corner, and then my office, and then the closet,
attracted to spaces without people.
Architecture does not move; I tell the truth. I cannot
lie before God. Three months ago, I literally did not know
what I was doing. And then because you go away,
for a few months, I do not move or change things.
I’m finally able to think straight.
Pop culture did a good job of getting us
addicted to the airport – I don’t know where you go.
Who was responsible for this bizarre masterpiece?
People don’t even know you, but they say,
‘Oh, I guess she never comes out of the closet?’
The answer was overwhelmingly: “I’m free from
everything now.” I cut my hair. I look a little different
walking in there and kissing the ring and saying,
The good thing is the freedom. But the good thing is
letting you know
you actually leave.

oulipost 20: thelma and louise

OK, last one for the day and then I’m calling it a night. The Oulipost prompt was about permutation of different kinds, such as Lescurean or Roussellian: the bottom line is, take a text and switch around the nouns, first with second, third with fourth, etc. Different patterns will yield different results. I kind of mishmashed my source text (a photography exhibit review) in various ways, and just kind of arranged the nouns in the same locality in a way that would be mildly interesting. You be the judge of whether that element of it succeeded…

And while I’m posting, an announcement: Tessa and I are extending the submission deadline for Issue 2 of CSHS Quarterly, “Alchemies“, until Friday! So, you have another five days to get some stuff in for the theme, and we are in an accepting mood… please head over, see what we’ve got, consider the theme, and send us some work. It will be grand, we hope!

Thelma and Louise Sequel Announced, Decried

Just how tough is the leather
in that babe bouffant, auburn jacket
and mercury cheekbones? She looks
to have been around a bit, as has
the 1969 cougar model she’s just parked
at the hardtop snack drive-in,
its textured shack dulled black by
too many leopard prints. And there she is
again, wearing winters, but in this
second Midwestern story, a martini
trails softly off her hair and she is sipping
a backyard pool. In her shoulders,
a girlfriend and a scenario– who is taking
a cigarette in cheek-collapsing drag?
Both look tense, heavy thirtysomething eyes
not fully camouflaging that they’ve
rounded the makeup of corners. Perhaps
in our cougar-obsessed future,
they’re pondering their youth as water,
the martini-spotted and chipped glass beauty
symbolic of mortality’s culture.

poem-a-thon 20: year of plenty

A friend of mine coined the term Weedster for today. Groan. I’ll just leave that there.

After my blaze of writing yesterday, all the food and family and travel today just tripped my circuit breaker, I think, and I’m unreasonably mad about it (even though the aforementioned events were all lovely, I suppose). It’s ten o’clock and I still have one more poem to go, and I’m not going to get done any of the stuff I actually need to get done for tomorrow. There’s a lot of things I’m frustrated about tonight, and I can’t allot myself enough time to be frustrated about them all…in the long run, I guess it’s a good thing, but in the here-and-now, not so much.

NaPoWriMo wanted a poem in the voice of a family member, but you know what, I already did one of those before. So I’m doing a bullshit nature flowering cherry poem in a Kay Ryan style because there’s nothing else I can think of, and wasted a title on it. (We did talk about the flowering cherry in the yard today, and the bees. There’s the family connection.) Enjoy!

Year of Plenty

Bees cloak
the sour cherry tree,
fuzzed collectors
flower-choked on
their own nectarology. We
who carry along
wingless see their story
buzzed from every
burst pinkish hollow–
how to pull beauty
loose, to counteract
what misery may follow.
We too circle
begging a year of plenty–
but the cropped trees
which are most fertile
are first to drop pale money,
selfless as bees
of which we have many.

oulipost 19: aging yuppies

I must say, I am surprisingly proud of myself with this one.

The Oulipost prompt was to make a (holy shit) sestina out of the found text from the paper; I took four articles about marijuana from the Village Voice, which is their feature for the week. Process note: I dropped the entire text into Word, picked out my teleutons (I’m using this instead of “endwords” because I’m feeling pretentious today), and then just wrote the damn thing, checking through the Word document along the way to see if the words I wanted were in there. If they weren’t, I checked for synonyms, or went in a new direction of none could be found, and the whole thing took surprisingly little time (about an hour). (I might have changed a verb tense here or there.) And it makes sense, kind of! And there’s a narrative, kind of!

…sestinas are beastly things, but as far as sestinas go, one could do worse, I guess. One could certainly do better. I’ll take it. ^_^

Aging Yuppies Mellow Out, Learn Russian

We spent the day reading Dostoevsky
in the crystal light of a Brooklyn spring:
all white wax and purple variation.
We bought up our pretension from the state
with old film cases and ready money
from college research. Now we can last years

relaxing on the sofa, foie gras years
topped with wine. The pleasure of Dostoevsky
is: he never gets boring, like blue money
flowing among roses from a wellspring.
We crave the Russian sentence in this state:
long and green and full of variation,

food for the brain. We want variation
because we spent so many empty years
smashed dull by the system. We couldn’t state
what love was, opened up Dostoevsky
and, halfhearted, picked out what would spring
from the page. Caught in the forge of money

were hosts of whispers. Born to covet money,
within the walls of dorm rooms, variation
seemed bizarre as a camera running on springs.
How did we bust out? It took twenty years
of care and– day by day– Dostoevsky,
to get us out of that malignant state.

We walked around the country, state to state,
doing research on how to really live. Money
fell away; we only needed Dostoevsky,
who sustained us with strange variation,
and each other. Literature of yesteryear
led us, at last, to this dopamine spring

where we’re comfortable, full of relief, spring
physical with appetite. Normal states
are for normal people. We say, “This year,
motherfucker, we’re not after money,
church, any of that shit.” Just variation,
something new. (Except Dostoevsky–

he’s staying). The first spring of the first year
of money-freedom, Dostoevsky will be
the symbol; variation, the blissed-out state.

poem-a-thon 19: liberation

Feeling a lot more refreshed today: I can actually swallow without pain again! Take that, strep.

So we’re moving into the last decan of April, and I do feel a little bit more in tune with my poem-brain this morning; two down, one to go for the day (and maybe a bonus one for my pocket if I’m lucky). NaPoWriMo gave a list of seashells with peculiar names as the prompt, and I’m actually pretty happy I more or less worked in four of them (incised moon, Lazarus’ jewel box, sparse dove, unequal bittersweet), kept to my Poem-a-thon theme of queer youth struggle, and got a little Ryanesque voice in there around some unpacked Catholic school hangups. Not so bad for a morning’s work, I’d say, even if it got a little obtuse in the execution.

Since I’m at home while the Easter preparations are going on, obviously there’s a lot of religious topics on my mind, and also there’s not much to do (as I don’t want to get bacteria in the food or anything). I’ll try to be more active and firebrandy today and tomorrow. To wit, why don’t you go donate a bit? If you enjoy my writing, help save some lives…


How we scoured the testaments
looking for hidden theology:
hours considering Jonathan’s
sentiments for David, or how,
unbidden, the Beloved Apostle came
from Galilee to bow beneath the cross.
Or Lazarus, uncovered,
unbound: imagine how he thought
he’d lost the incised moon forever
to the merciless ground.
Who but a lover would open up
his jewel box of miracles and release
the most precious? We hoped
by reading between the lines
that these sparse doves of peace
could let us sleep easy.
No youth’s heart of hearts beats
abomination. We only wanted
truth instead of this– haunted
with complication, unequal, bittersweet.