oulipost 25: goddess of wisdom

Playing catch-up on yesterday’s poems again, after a rough evening. This is for yesterday’s Oulipost prompt of taking two sentences from a text (in this case, an article about horse carriages from the Village Voice), inserting a sentence in between to enrich the narrative (in that case, an article about artist Judy Chicago), and repeating the process until a fleshy narrative is created. I honestly had no idea where this was going until I got to sticking the last sentence in, and I decided to just let it go the whimsical direction it wanted. Shrug?

Goddess of Wisdom Provides New Batch of Pegasi

No human has ever died as
a result of a carriage accident. We’re just
regular people who want to go to work.
It’s not that she has any complaints about
her own career. So what does she have to be upset about?
But we really don’t know. She’s coming off
a day’s work and sounds a little weary.
She’s a petite woman, but
her personality towers. Butterflies have come
in and out of my work for years,
but it’s always been a symbol of liberation, she says.
Where I am now is a miracle.
Our horses are helpful, fit, happy, bright-eyed,
and a good weight. Red, pink, purple, fuchsia,
white, silver, and gold. This is
the best birthday present in the world.
Even in pain, horses will run races.

renovation twenty-seven: lullaby

Between the whirlwind of activity yesterday, the whirlwind this morning at work before the holiday, and then the trek southward to my parents’, it has been a chore to get anything done for myself at all. But, before I traipse off to dinner, I didn’t want to leave you guys in a lurch, in case someone needs a prompt! There are still a few hours left in the day…

1. “…you showed me your dark workroom…” (Jean Valentine, “Friend,”)
2. “When I see the cradle rocking…” (Donald Hall, “Advent”)
3. “I’ve been living with static in my ears.” (me, “Headphones”)
4. luggage
5. Create a kind of strange mythology to explain something.
BONUS. Break your poem into sentences. Break each sentence across an equal number of lines.
ALTERNATE (5). Talk about when you stopped believing in something.

…and clearly the miserable weather has impacted what I’m thinking about. This one is completely slapdash, I literally wrote it ten minutes ago:


If we consider music
the flowering of noise,
every noise
could be its seed.
There is a spirit
assembling the sound
of rain and sleet
before we hear it.
We’ve tried to lose it
with machinery–
but the need
becomes too great.
Each storm finds us
keeping time with
its primal drum,
its encircling beat.

A better effort tomorrow, I promise you!

renovation twelve: ars poetica: honeysuckle

First Snow was this morning. I don’t know if I should celebrate it proper, though, since none of it stuck to the city and it was over pretty quickly. But considering how often I’ve been griping about things lately, and feeling as though I could really use some kind of break, it was at least a momentary bit of happiness (cold, wet happiness) on a grey morning. And then I beasted through this prompt, which, upon completion, will mark 40% of the way through the month. Still trucking along!

1. “A builder and a doubter.” (Tom Sleigh, “The Parallel Cathedral”)
2. “I moved my chair into sun.” (Jane Hirshfield, “I sat in the sun”)
3. “When I get to the bottom, I’ll swallow myself whole.” (me, “Indulgences”)
4. chopsticks
5. Describe what you actively do (not what you feel or think) when something you’ve been waiting for turns out to be not as amazing as you expected.
BONUS. Keep the first and second person out of the poem, at least outwardly. Or go further, and keep all humans off the surface entirely.
ALTERNATE (5). Describe what you actively do for luck, superstition, or just compulsion, in order to have something turn out the way you expect.

I keep thinking about this honeysuckle plant I was dealing with over the weekend. When it’s not in bloom or leafy, it’s basically just this mass of red-brown wire twined around everything else in the garden, living and unliving alike. I was trying to cut back specific non-honeysuckle plants, so I ended up unwrapping its curls from around other twigs and trying to bolster it with the fencepost. Probably it will be trimmed later; maybe then I’ll write a poem about what editing’s like. Still, I thought of the symmetry between the miniscule variations of growth that make it take its shape, and the similar careful choices of a poem.

Also, I thought a bit about Sharon Olds. One poet I know describes her poems as being careful in their awkwardness, which lends them a unique feel and effect. Just a little experiment in that direction, here.

(ars poetica: honeysuckle)

Writing a poem is delicate as plant-work, like
honeysuckle curled around a fence. Every piece
seems like a new pluck of words and
carefully pierced phrases, the sugar stars
white in June, the root tenacious, the harsh
tea-color vine clung to the chain-link in November.
This is how poetries are. One of them
concerned with chasing the sun armors itself
with leaves. It does not let on to the one
whose nectar is slim and ready underneath. Nor
the parasitic bit-by-bit that spirals up and down
other twigs clambering for attention, quiet and
subtle and close to the ground. By now, this
naked material catches frost easy and curls
inward for warmth. It burrows at last again
into the dirt, heavy with itself, seeing another
way it might have started and might have gone.

renovation nine: nymphs

Just a quickie. This morning there was much yardwork, which grew this poem out of the ground. And then I wanted to write something Kay Ryan-ish today as well. I need to get food, and then get home, for more family stuff… running rings round these parts. But I didn’t want to wait too late to get this prompt up:

1. “Haunt me with deities I never saw.” (George Santayana, “There may be chaos still around the world”)
2. “Your measureless compassion will be sweet.” (Sophie Jewett, “Defeated”)
3. “I see the muscles move beneath the naked skin…” (me, “Henosis”)
4. gardening paraphernalia (pruning shears, trowels, etc.)
5. Discuss some things one can do for recovery, without settling on one or the other as the right way.
BONUS. Write a poem in the style of a poet you admire.
ALTERNATE (2). “…today, the dusky seaside sparrow / became extinct.” (Alison Hawthorne Deming, “Science”)

And I didn’t get all of these into what I wrote I think; I had more, but trimmed it out to be more sparing. But, better something that nothing.


Cutting back the garden’s
unmade bed, shapes
accuse from the eye’s
periphery. Shutting a gate
hardens into the idea of
some muse dead to history
whose look could crack
old slate. No matter
that handiwork clears
a mind and its scatter.
Spirits to banish, who blunt
the shears, are required.
Roots must have teachers
of the kind of rough edges
well-known to survivors.

The Spider

And also, a poem. DVerse wanted a “bathroom poem”, however that is to be interpreted. So I rolled with the spider theme, having seen one in the bathroom the other day; but also, another attempt to exorcise this idea of the spider as the spirit animal. I think she’s a good shape for that analytical part of ourselves that (for poets in general, maybe) takes the tragedies of others and turns them into writing, which always strikes me as callous on top of whatever other value it has (instructive, cathartic, etc.) What is the psychosis of the writer that death leads to good writing about death? What is the animal shape of that part of the spirit which simply allows itself to mourn?

I think I was also trying to do subtle things with sound, but they were so subtle they disappeared. Womp womp.

The Spider

She stares eightfold from the showerhead
before continuing her web.
A grey body skirts along blue tile.
Barring water, the little deaths
will string their constellation to the windowsill.

It can be so easy to claim kinship,
confusing webs for words,
when the epilogue belongs to someone else.
The spider is the one who dangles from it.
She is just out of reach in the totem-dream,
harbored on the underside
of the cabinet, shaded by the shelf.

Some of her outdoor cousins
are long-lived too. You’ve seen them spin
between tree branches, webs well-built
as ten o’clock fog in early June,
those scraps too stubborn to melt.

Heart’s Thaw

Oh, what the hell, why not a random poem. We Write Poems wanted a Zen poem about body-soul connection, and while I can’t claim this is either Zen or a body-soul connection kind of poem, I guess it veers, like a wheeling bird, slightly close to both. I just wanted to have some fun with rhyme and structure, and come up with an image or two worth repeating. It was just something to do for a Monday evening, I suppose.

Heart’s Thaw

After such a long time heartsick,
to see the birds’ northward line
and the archery of homecoming–
from the bone to the flesh grown thick
moans a green sound, the rhyme
of the body with the sky hums
vowel on drowned vowel– the signs
meaning spring and rain running
will fill each part and cavity– the sun
paints bird backs as a flame the wick,
gravity claims their upward climb–
and the flock tacks right, lowly divine
with the sleepless heart caught undone
in its wake– knotted by the quick
turn, by the art of so many dimensions
and leaves who burn with becoming.

New Jersey

Finally, the weekend! Guys: I needed this like you would not believe.

I finished (again) Lunch Poems on my way home, and some O’Hara — along with some Whitman and Sandburg, I guess — influenced the feel of this one. Miz Quickly’s prompt today was to observe Nature, while yesterday’s Poets and Writers was to write a letter to a landscape, which seemed to go hand-in-hand. And while I struggled with the themes all day, I realized that traveling New Jersey almost end to end was a pretty good source, so this is a little paean for the old home state. It’s kind of wonky and rambly, and doesn’t do a tenth of the justice that I’d like to, but then again, it’s only one poem, written to prompts, and it’s late. Be merciful, I beg you!

New Jersey

The length of you electrified, the breadth of you cast-iron,
mouth sunk deep into one city, tail rattled round another,
         what do you think about underneath?
Do you start with a man walking tunnels under the Hudson
to burst out into the Secaucus sunlight, slodging through
         marshwater pierced with telephone poles
whose wires dip parabolic underneath an egret’s wing?
Will he say, this is the arrowhead, flung forward, carved
         scrap of flint dipping its colonial point
into marine history, extending in a perfect line, industrial
revolution and immigrant tale, feathered with one eye
         pointed east into tomorrow’s Atlantic sun?
Who will smell salt air as the cars roam these counties
packed with fine gravel, listen to the mosquitoes buzz
         fear of the finchmouth under viaducts
crazyquilted with graffiti, buckling freight, hollowed like
a careful clay gorge? Are they women with moonscape hair,
         men with block-letter tattoos, children,
muddied and painted, roaming from stone checkerboards
onto your threadbare fields to execute the last crabapple,
         deer stalking the interstate’s shrug
to gnaw a bit of alder shoot? How do they weigh on you,
you who were always slight, the runt, the performer,
         the intense gaze, always warmer than
anyone thought, even with vertebrae all full of steel pins,
your limbs catalogued and the ospreys tagged, your feet
         shod wooden and dipped in Delaware Bay?
When spring comes fierce and yellow, dogwoods hang up
chandeliers in all your roofless parlors, and the cherries
         weep, do you tell them, this is no death,
show them a man walking tracks, a child splattered pink
and black, first tomato bloody in her teeth? Won’t new life
         wrought out of rust and broken glass,
wrung from reeds round empty factories, need a mother too?
What better land than one that sings them its similarity:
         small, wise, proud, wild, radio, radiant!

Up Comes the Cicada

Another one before I get down to actual work I have to do this afternoon. This is for the NaPoWriMo prompt of using a list of words, Wordle-style, for a poem… I ended up using miraculous, gutter, salt, curl, ego, elusive, twice, and ghost in mine which is, for some reason, about cicadas. (I’m looking forward to their arrival, unlike just about everyone else I know.) I don’t always follow the NaPo prompts themselves, but regardless, they have some pretty great daily links for poetry sites around the Web that you ought to check out. I recommend it!

Up Comes the Cicada

Right out of the ground: dirt boils,
trees flow. You can’t help but respect
sleeper agents waiting seventeen years,
patient, webbed with their own growth,
until who-knows-what moment.
It must be clicked into place by that sun
each cicada only knows twice
(first as the salt-crystal egg, then as
one wriggling thumb to crawl the gutter),
triggered like a curl of watchwork gears
grinds their teeth. This day and age,
how can anything be so elusive?
You thump barefoot through the weeds,
all id and ego and here i am, naught else
but yourself. To go unknown under that
could be the last miraculous thing.
And the second-to-last is exposure
for the sake of just one green moment
quick with music, bodies slipped
off bodies, battered together until
particles of young cicada fill the V’s
whittled into a twig. To bloom and fall,
to rise and rejoice, and between to sleep
seventeen years: who won’t say
there is still such a thing as a secret?
Not to mention kept by nymphs who sing
like a million match-heads striking:
like how ash crumbles after the burn,
and wet fire itself must be rubbed close
to keep in your memory, down drop
the cicadas, up go the ghosts.

Courtyard with Statue of Maimonides

I’m sitting at the cafe listening to Joanna Newsom’s Ys (which I’ve heartily recommended on here before, and do so happily again), drinking an iced honey-nut latte as I wait for the place to close and the expected severe thunderstorms roll in, with a fresh new poem draft hot out of the oven for consumption by any who are interested in that sort of thing (as well as interested in the prompt by Miz Quickly to do a “postcard poem”) on an evening — like any other evening — that needs a reminder of how we’ve come from righteous, charitable places in our history, and there is hope for us yet.

Sorry, I just wanted to write a 100-word sentence. Anyway, this might be a bit long for a postcard poem, but I write small anyway. I took this photo in Córdoba:


That’s Maimonides, celebrated medieval Jewish philosopher and physician. I remember exploring the city and being surprised, but happy, to come across it. Andalucía is one of my favorite places in the world; it’s on the shortlist of “Places To Which I’d Happily Retire, Or At Least Live Awhile”, along with Barcelona, Paris, the Berkshires, Montreal, and Buenos Aires. (Maybe not such a shortlist.) And I love elements of the history, with a level of religious and intellectual enlightenment that, although spotty, was still probably more agreeable than anywhere else in the medieval era. Maimonides himself had some pretty cool ideas about the balance between science and faith, respect between mutual faiths, and compassion in law. I wish more people had those ideas.

There might be more going on in this poem under the surface. I’m not really sure.

Courtyard with Statue of Maimonides

who considers forever before he speaks,
(bronze lips pursed, bronze brow furrowed)
here where he sprouted
like the almond shoot shouldering up
between mud bricks, in that far-off century
where everyone thanks god
for the blessing of each other in the street
no matter the name, strolling along
the nearby Guadalquivir who,
if you face upstream, back to the wind,
seems just as content to flow backwards
as it is to go down to that equitable sea
where all things, anyway, end.


…and this is the other one, which is half-heartedly for both Miz Quickly’s prompt about found objects and the NaPoWriMo prompt of a greeting. (We’ll see if I can get a better one for either before I close up shop for the night.) I did a quick count and I think I’ve written 32 poems this month so far, so I’m a little behind on my goal. But then I was reading some truly excellent work from some other poets and realizing how much quality counts over quantity. That is the lesson we must forget this month, I suppose…


It was that effortless hour when the tree,
already having cracked its upper knuckles
from red punctuation into leaves,
began to show dust emeralds caught
rippling along the lower bark’s dun sea.
This is the one hour when the tree
constellates down its body;
if you aren’t looking for it,
you might later see those young twigs
clumped with seed and realize
you missed it. And then you wish
that you, too, could strip naked
on Eighth Avenue in broad daylight, stand
laughing, craning your neck and saying
good morning to everyone,
ready for all this green in you like
the grime of heaven to condense out
from your bare body, the back,
the rib-ditches, the pores from which
a thousand needles of life are rarely
expected to rejoice.