poem-a-thon 24: masonry

Kind of a simple and sad one today for NaPoWriMo’s prompt. I’m circling back to my theme of youth and LGBT issues a bit; and hey you should donate please! Help keep the stuff in the purview of this poem from happening, okay?

I channeled some Kay Ryan again, as I am wont to do when time is short and ideas are slim. NaPo wanted a “masonry” poem, so I went in a couple different directions with a more abstract implication at the end. It’s not great stuff, but it will suffice.

Six more days, I’m running out of juice.


can be dangerous. Brick
and mortar
betray us and crumble
into grey and red disorder,
often with the play
of glass. And even after
there is still danger:
a boy happens to pass,
pockets rubble
meant for the head of some
other boy who
likes to dress
up. Rough words wrapped
round a brick sail heavy
and thick. And buildings
can be as much trouble as
when we use the word
evil. Imagine
how much damage waits
to be loosed in the vaults
of cathedrals.

poem-a-thon 13: next year in jerusalem

After writing a sestina for the Poetic Asides challenge first, this one was a friggin’ breath of fresh air for NaPoWriMo: the idea was merely to include some kennings in a poem. I did fudge them a bit, but I tried to play with the theme of shame and acceptance of self, in keeping with my Poem-a-thon theme. (The usual plug: please donate!) And then I went all Kay Ryan, which is what happens when I want some kind of structure but can’t think of what to do. So sue me.

(Kay Ryan, please don’t actually sue me, I heart you.)

Next Year in Jerusalem

Next year I will walk
out with the expectation
of being delivered.
Fear and predation and
the relatives’ talk
will thin like tea-breath
dripped in air. Next year
shame will be buried,
bobbing its death into
this city and its masculine
pearl-rivers. That same
boy who was sobbing
into his pillow at night
will have hurried to
an always holier land.
Its joyful embrace will be
plotted on my night-maps,
and a reason to be
desperate to get there.
Next year, my light will be
caught and sipped
from an ever gentler hand.

meta-blogging: cshs issue 1 is live!

Oof, how did I go a whole week without posting? I will try to find some time for the backlog of things I want to post about (because indeed there are many), but it’s already been a super busy week and I don’t expect today to go differently. However, I feel that I can take a moment to say: CSHS is live with issue one! Please check it out over at http://cshsq.wordpress.com/ to see the offerings we have this time around… twelve fine poets with some fine-looking poems.

And if you haven’t been over there yet, please take the time to peruse a bit and consider submitting. Tessa and I are excited about this new venture, and hope that we can get some support from the blogosphere to keep the journal going. We’re reading for our first themed issue, Alchemies, right now, and soon will open up submissions for our next unthemed issue. Your feedback is most welcome!

renovation twenty-eight: thanksgivingukkah

I know, I know, so late! But there was so much family stuff, and so much food, and I just could not get it together at a reasonable time. I’m taking care of things now before going back down to have board games time with my brothers. Hopefully everyone is enjoying their Thursday/holiday, whichever it may be. But for those who need some late evening activities, here is the prompt:

1. “…with the cities growing over us…” (W.S. Merwin, “Thanks”)
2. “And under the old roof we gather once more…” (Edgar Albert Guest, “Thanksgiving”)
3. “This is the afterlife of lying and waiting.” (me, “Valley of the Kings”)
4. a map of something cosmological
5. Describe what is unique about this moment, right now.
BONUS. Have your poem’s first and last line start with the same word.
ALTERNATE (1). “Insects nudge me in my dreams.” (Hoa Nguyen, “Swell”)

…and here is the poem that grew out of it for me, having heard “gobble tov” all day and seen the posts on social media and all. The “we” here is the universal we.


When two such holidays click into place at once,
I find myself thankful to have heard the calculation
that this fortunate spin won’t happen again
for however many millennia, and then knowing
our choices are all half chance and half foretold
by ancestors lying awake at night, thinking of us
eating turkey and trading gelt at candlelit tables,
this moment of generations knotted together
which we’ll tell our children about someday,
when they too must hide from a high, icicle moon.

renovation fourteen: lunch atop a skyscraper, 1932

Maybe you know this famous photo by Charles Ebbets?:

If not, this is from the middle of the Great Depression, as the GE Building (now more popularly known, maybe, as “30 Rock”) was being built. There’s something strange and poignant about all this New York Deco history happening in the middle of economic disaster. Probably the starkest example of this, in this photo at least, is the fact that these are men eating lunch (actually, posed to eat lunch) nearly 1000 feet above the ground, with no safety harnesses. The pulley in the foreground caught my attention, as did the man on the far right, who does not appear to share the camaraderie of the others. Since this was the prompt list I put together…

1. “…understanding what touch meant / for the first time…” (Roger Bonair-Agard, “Because I cannot remember my first kiss”)
2. “The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.” (Stephen Spender, “The Truly Great”)
3. “I bled sweetness across the outside of my teeth.” (me, “Treasure Hunt”)
4. an artistic photograph of something mundane
5. Give an example of the usefulness of a simple machine.
BONUS. Give your poem a prime number of lines (prime numbers being those that can only be divided by themselves and 1, such as 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, etc.)
ALTERNATE (2). “We pretended to know nothing about it.” (Cleopatra Mathis, “Dead Fox”)

…I thought of the photo pretty quickly, and the poem grew from there. There’s probably a lot more to be written just from this photo (and indeed there’s even a documentary about it, particularly about how nobody knows the identities of these men for certain), but this will have to do for now.

(lunch atop a skyscraper, 1932)

The man on the end frowns at the camera
while the rest pass cigarettes, discuss baseball,
trade gristle and hard-boiled eggs for red apples.
He drinks his lunch from a half-empty flask
to take the edge off, to help him forget that he is
one sharp breeze away from death.
Most builders have forgotten to envy the beam,
held in its web of pulley and rope, except this
scowling man pulling a rosary around the hand
tucked in his pocket. Life has gotten
so cheap these days. He, at least, is still
not ready to give up on it, even when shivering
on the bread line, or riveting these new cathedrals.
Or even now, when the bosses tell their men,
walk out on that girder– sit– smile for the camera–
and he does not smile. Tenacious as a bull.
Staring at the crowd who waits for him to fall.

renovation ten: a memento

I keep having these determined plans to get stuff done on the weekends that keep failing miserably. It’s just so comfortable being at home with nothing pressing (or at least, nothing that is in my face being pressing) to do. Of course there is plenty I could and should be working on, but dammit, this bed just demands naps, and the food demands eating, and the friends demand to be visited. There’s no room for responsibility!

At least I managed to get this done before the sun went down:

1. “I’m tired of being quoted as a Fright and Fad and Freak.” (Carolyn Wells, “The Poster Girl’s Defence)
2. “Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by…” (Vachel Lindsay, “Flower-Fed Buffaloes”)
3. “They made a thousand-mile song for you, for me.” (me, “Running Water Ghazal”)
4. a thick scarf
5. Give an example of cause and effect that happened to you recently.
BONUS. Have most of the poem use one grammatical structure over and over, but then subvert it in the last few lines to show a stark contrast.
ALTERNATE (4). shot glasses covered in dust

As I’ve warned before, I’m not putting particular attention into the poems that I’m writing for the prompts this month, although I’ve occasionally gotten more involved than intended. I do feel pretty thoroughly juiced today, as in, squeezed out, like a piece of citrus. It’s a lovelorn poem with object-memory, of which I think every poet has written at least a dozen. But I guess, as always, better to toss together something you’re not particularly thrilled by than to just throw in the towel. I guess. :P

(For the record, for the BONUS: the way I did it in my poem, just to give you an example, was to have each sentence carry multiple clauses joined by conjunctions, except for the very end.)

(a memento)

Your epilogue sits unused on some dresser,
or tucked in a drawer: the love letter whose ink
has crisped brown, or wedding souvenirs
you split in half. And you don’t mean to get
sentimental: why bother, when both of you
tuck yourselves into strangers’ beds each night
to keep the winter at bay. Still you can’t help it
when a finger idly brushes along the surface
of a once-shared thing, and you remember
the last time you felt the heft of it, right hand
cupped around it in a pocket, the left crushing
his. It might have been the talisman against
those last few minutes of flight, bumpy
and uncertain, or maybe just the steady wear
long journeys bring, either in trains or cars,
heading somewhere less bright. For a moment
you forget all the stories you tell: all the venom
changes to water and pours right out of you.
You gather it up. You put it back inside, clean.
You carry on through the calming weather.

Japanese Stinkbugs

Slowly — very, very slowly — trying to pull it together. I have a birthday in a week. I have a roommate to live with, probably. The job is, for the moment, kind of settled down, and I’m actually getting PhD applications in line. Poetry workshop starts up in nine days. The muse is still on a very long holiday (and sending postcards with tantalizing bits that make it even more frustrating), but I expect she’ll return soon.

Back when I lived in DC, we had a stinkbug invasion at one point. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get up six or seven times a night to deal with them. You learn pretty quickly not to squash them, and/or you invest in incense and potpourri like a champ. But they were pretty harmless bugs, to us: loud, ungainly, and frustrating, but not creepy/crawly, dangerous, or damaging. So we would just scoop them up and toss them out, over and over, until winter came and they let up. I suppose this poem grew out of trying to find some kind of lesson in that. (It also fits, roughly, into the dVerse prompt looking for “peace poems”, I think.)

I need to do more Refineries, I think. And maybe a review or two of the things I’ve been reading. At some point, that is…

Japanese Stinkbugs

They crept in under windowsills
and behind radiators. They split shield bodies
into buzzing wings, caromed around the room.
At first we crushed them, leaving brown stains
on our curtains, and their dying perfume,
like ozone and blighted pine, lingered in the hall
until we learned. Then our hands began
to move of their own accord. Our fingers grew
nimble and caught them whole, let them clamber
up over rosy nails while we opened
the apartment door and tossed them out.
And even though more came in every evening
we traded the war for the practice of hesitation.
We could not hold ourselves back from
holding back. Think of it as muscle memory.
Think of it like playing the piano,
like an unconscious twitch across the surface
of some instrument, with small crooked legs,
whose notes are a long crawl of mercy.


TGIF indeed, ladies and germs.

I’ve got this incipient cycle of poems that are for a certain persona. Not sure where it’s going to go, but I’ll probably be focused on them for the next couple of weeks, and drafting not-so-often here. (Although I said I was cutting down anyway.) And I put in for vacation from the 6th to the 15th of June (plus the weekend after, so really the 17th), which I hope will be a much-needed jolt of relaxation and time for writing. Not sure if I’m going to travel anywhere yet, but the Berkshires are looking mighty tempting if I can swing it, as is Montréal. But hell, even just reclining at home would be nice. And my sister-in-law is due in mid-June, so I’ll probably want to stay around these parts to go home for any impending becoming-an-uncle…

Speaking of having time to write, that was one of the key components in my poem for Sam Peralta’s prompt at dVerse, to write a glosa. I’ve seen this form before, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it before: it involves taking a four-line snippet of a well-known poem, doing four ten-line stanzas off it that successively end with each of the four lines, and rhyming lines six and nine in each with the last. (Plus, tipping your hat to the poet’s style helps.) Since it’s often a tribute form, I chose a dead poet I’ve been admiring more and more lately, Jane Kenyon, and used her poem “Dutch Interiors” as the basis for mine. This character of the merchant’s wife, so cryptic yet elegant, interests me. I started thinking about what Kenyon’s personal heaven might be like, and wondered if there was an echo to be found in this poem that is ultimately a slightly cheeky take on the presence of the divine.

But, you know, just read it as you will. I wrote it as such.


And the merchant’s wife, still
in her yellow dressing gown
at noon, dips her quill into India ink
with an air of cautious pleasure.
~ Jane Kenyon, “Dutch Interiors”

This is what comes, after:
always the sun just beyond reach,
a fat bumblebee in the blossom
gathering pollen to make time
(which will seep and slowly flow)
but too drunk. He never will.
Instead all things are frozen:
the room, the table, the water glass
forever beginning to spill,
and the merchant’s wife– still.

Far below her, the counting-houses
churn their presses, the fisherman’s
fishing, and the king is up a tree.
When you’ve no more life left,
how dazzling to see it spread out
for writing! She gazes down:
what else to do but memorize
the flicker of light on silver scales
and the color of the king’s crown
in her yellow dressing gown?

And she forgets the feel of silk
and the tumbling coin’s sonata.
Only the words, now. The words
join together in her like knots of wind
meeting overhead. Up here,
it is all the glory of watch and think,
waiting for the sun to start up again.
And she feels its wings click close
as her hymn reaches its brink
at noon, dips her quill into India ink.

The merchant’s wife, who is poised
without need, who smiles when
there’s nobody to smile at, knows
when things are too good to be true,
and when they’re just good enough.
This place: she’s taken its measure.
In other houses, other bargains:
but here she is content to be a hand
spilling its simple treasure
with an air of cautious pleasure.

Adam and Steve

All right, last one for the month, at least on the ol’ blogmachine. This is for Miz Quickly‘s prompt to write about a stereotype; at the risk of being heavy-handed and beating people over the head with the topic, I elected to write about the first one that sprung to mind. But I tried to have some wry humor mixed in with the bummer stuff, at least. I don’t think it’s really ending April with a bang, but then, I didn’t really expect to, and didn’t really start the month with a bang, either. Maybe tonight/tomorrow I’ll have the blog giveaway and the final summation of the challenge, but for now, I am going to head home and cook some flounder. How’s that for a happy ending!

Adam and Steve

are not in your kitchen destroying your marriage,
ripping out cabinets and screaming in falsetto
this tile has got to GO. They are not upstairs
whispering to your son, whose voice has just begun
cracking, who locks himself in the bathroom
(where he stares at his own reflection), nor are they
on your bed, filling your sheets with their sweat
so that you can’t sleep for the unholy reek of it.
They are not strutting this-hip-that-hip down the walk,
stuffing porn in the mailboxes and snorting cocaine
off the hood of your car. They are not gelling their hair,
popping pink polo collars, looking over aviator shades
and sucking their teeth. They are not at the gym,
or the bathhouse, or the park behind the supermarket
(because everyone knows what goes on there).

Adam is taking the bar exam in two weeks.
These days he lives in the library, while Steve
drives back home from seeing his dying mother,
which he can only do while she is doped unconscious
(she swears and spits on him when she’s not).
One of them will call the other to pick up dinner,
to share while they watch their favorite sitcom
on the royal blue loveseat. Adam worries about debt,
Steve worries about death. If you look in their window,
you will see them opening envelopes, wiping the table,
folding gym shorts, and once in a while, standing
quietly wrapped around each other. Their curtains
have been torn down by an unruly mob; their doors
unhinged and battered to kindling. Everyone passes by,
peering in, jumping at long shadows in the dusk.

In the Beginning, There Were Only Probabilities

I guess the HIV- and AIDS-inspired poetry I heard today generated the idea for this one. Miz Quickly‘s prompt was to write about luck, good or bad, and I decided to walk the balance beam between the two. (Or, maybe one foot firmly planted in each, aha!) Rest assured: this is not a true-to-life situation, though I’m sure it could very easily happen to people. And if it ever happened to me, I definitely do not think I would be this vicious. I can equate that waiting for test results with quantum physics in the abstract; in the real world (and given this poem, what is the “real world”, anyway?), I’d be shaking right with him on those chairs.

The title is a quote by physicist Martin Rees, and I love this quote. It has the right amount of religion and science that the awe of quantum physics ought to inspire (as Niels Bohr suggested).

In the Beginning, There Were Only Probabilities

In quantum mechanics, the idea of Schrödinger’s cat
is that the cat is simultaneously alive and dead,
poisoned or irradiated in its box. And two universes
(torus-shaped, immeasurable) bleed together inside

until you open it. We are also always in two states
waiting for an outside observer to tell us
what we don’t trust ourselves to know. It’s like this:
sitting at the clinic on hard teal leatherette cushions

while the clock clicks its tongue and I am
flipping the National Geographic page by page.
You are biting your nails. In one potential universe–
and here, I can unfold a glossy chart full of graphics

to explain this– a chemical machine plays marbles
with your blood, knocks loose a few antibodies,
and the nurse’s plastic wand will come up POZ.
In the other, the inverted world you hold up

to examine in light, there’s no such things as
consequences. You don’t want to tell me which of you
forgot the condom, who was so T’d out of his mind
that even the thought of transmission was sexiled,

miserable on the stoop as mislaid ideas often are.
And that’s fine; I accept many things. For example,
in a closed system, entropy increases. Probabilities
always, eventually, add up to 1. You can tell me

he didn’t look sick, that normally you’re so careful.
Schrödinger’s cat is doomed whenever that first atom
splits, and leatherette creaks when you start
shaking, even though the room feels warm. This is

the longest twenty minutes of your life, but also
another life: one bullet-dodge, one crucifixion.
Look, the hard part is perceiving both at once.
Even our best scientists have no good explanation.