poem-a-thon 29: momentary epic

Home stretch time! There’s a bare handful of poems (five or six) between now and the end of the saga that has been NaPoWriMo… I’m really very tired. I’ll have a final count of the number of drafts I’ve churned up this month tomorrow night, but really it was too many for any one person. Still, I do feel shocked into a more productive mode these days; spring juice is only part of it.

The prompt for today was to do Jim Simmerman’s “twenty little projects“, which I’m pretty sure I’ve done before. My extra challenge to myself was to get them all into twenty lines, and — by fudging the requirements a little — I think I managed to do so. You should go to the NaPo site to see the full list, and then if you want me to defend the presence of any one of the projects, I’m happy to do so, though I ma not articulate that defense very well, because it was friggin’ exhausting. Anyway, this happened yesterday, and I wanted to write about it. I’d like to write about it better, but one does what one can for prompts, ne?

Also, I crammed so much Greek mythology allusion in here that I’m set for a year.

Momentary Epic

Police stand off against the five young Medusas
whose backpacks are houses, whose dreaded hair hisses.

Though the day rings lovely through the flowering pears
and the sign reads “Open to the Public”–not all who share

this space are welcome, it seems. This afternoon’s agita
draws negative swords of light on each young Andromeda

chained to a penniless rock. Like the angel guarding
the Garden, sulfurous and skyscraper-high, like Moses parting

seas of bitter water, police shoo along the gutterpunk kids.
One shakes free and growls, a la chingada, you fuckin pigs…

now they’ll get it. Voices crescendo. The pear trees cower.
This diorama will unfold into a comment on the abuse of power.

Across the street, a friend says, Joe, get your camera out
he does, jumps through traffic hood to hood as the cops are about

to take their frustrations out on some young sandpaper faces.
He films the ready fists– so the actors all freeze in their places,

and the cops turn, mad-dog-vicious. Their breath is hot and wet–
they back off. Footage will show them climb into their car saying get

lost. Beat it. And the kids orbit out, wary, having eaten of the lotus.
Democracy moves in a mirror painted gold with small heroics.

Pomona

I’m in a frustrated place, where I feel like I want to write blog posts, but can’t. This isn’t because I don’t have anything to say, but I’m at this curious point where I want everything I write to have some kind of deeper commentary beyond the observational. (I always swore I wouldn’t be a commentary poet, and now I can’t help it. At least, any commentary was meant to be inadvertent.) So I keep trying to work these aspects into very straightforward moments that I’m trying to capture in verse, and finding that they turn into wiggly balls of yarn I want to throw out, or really interesting things that I want to keep off the blog for possible fledging in the publication arena. (It’s been almost a year since I’ve submitted stuff. Gearing up for that.) And the result is that I haven’t put anything on here in seven days.

(Of course, if people wanted to send me poems to Refine, I’d be happy to do that, too…!)

But anyway, this is from a moment on the train, though some of the details have been melded and altered. Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit and plenty and all. I kind of like the idea of her being a self-assured blind woman on the train. Give me more fodder to write with!

Pomona

No one gives up their seat for the blind woman
who taps her way onto the train.

This is the downtown 6 on a Wednesday morning,
everyone heaped with their own weight

until they’re too stubborn for anyone else’s. Except
this woman, lithe and undefeated.

Nothing has been offered to her. She doesn’t ask.
The train’s baleful light burns through

dark glasses to show the shape of staring eyes
free of worry. She sways in perfect time,

knowing the route, each curve predicted two
seconds in advance. Her right hand

props up the white cane. Her left hand reveals
fresh apricots, one by one, cracked open

by some hidden trick of the palm. Soon enough
the whole train smells like stone fruit.

Everyone wants to give something to the world.
The blind woman knows apricots

by their perfume, which she offers up, then
raises to her mouth and sucks back in.

The perfume becomes the train. Which becomes
an everything, shaped like a kiss.

Vädersolstavlan

Another Miz Quickly prompt! (The rain has picked up considerably, and I am finished with dinner and all, so there is really nothing more to do tonight except writing poems and some freelance translation; I’ll be up a while anyway.) Yesterday’s was to pick a day in history and key off that for a poem. There were a couple options, spread over April 18, 19, and 20 (since it’s already April 20 everywhere east of here), but I settled on the Sun Dog Phenomenon of 1535 (thanks Wikipedia) over Stockholm. It was the inspiration for the famous, apparently “Swedish pride” kind of painting whose title this poem has borrowed. See below:

Pretty beautiful, no? Look at all them little sundogs and parhelia! And since the 1500s were a good time for seeing meaning in astronomical events, I thought I’d do a cute little paean to the painting and the nation of Sweden, as it’s a pretty cool nation. Well, most of the time. I’m sure some others might disagree.

Vädersolstavlan

After the birth of a city
comes the idea of the city

gloried like a construct saint:
miracle of the raised beam,

miracle of the placed stone.
And good as any flag comes

this vision of a ringing sun,
as if it were a great bell tone

and the city the echo
upon echo, all the sun’s noise

rippling around a hopeful bay.
The idea drinks, takes root:

miracle of a nation
spoken into one place.

Dali’s Angelus

A little bit aggravated, the last couple of days. Part of it is too much running around, not enough sleep/caffeine (I’d prefer both, but even just one will do), part of it is too much work and real life crap, not enough trying to be myself. Why is it that we have to suppress who we are while we try to scrape together enough money, time, and security to enable us to be who we are? I hate that I have to be sitting here at work dealing with bureaucracy and playing the strait-laced worker bee when I’d rather be writing my heart out with a mug of coffee and good vibes at my side. (And I know, this is probably the complaint that people who have been in the workforce for a long time roll their eyes at, but I can’t help feeling it. Particularly today.)

I’m hoping that April won’t be cruel this year, and the deep inhalation of spring that has made itself felt the last week or so finally shouts into the world. Writing! Passion! More writing! That’s what I crave. For now, here is a brief ditty for Margo‘s ekphrastic prompt on Tuesday, keying off Dali’s Angelus painting (which actually has a much longer title) and incorporating a line or two from one of the actual Angelus prayers.

Man, yesterday was Frank O’Hara’s birthday, too, and I missed it.

Dali’s Angelus

Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord
the mangled and uncommon things,

those remnants in the middle distance
ringing amber at the end of the day

whose jigsawed edges we try and try
to line up with the holes in our hearts

rushing blood, O Lord, so we can saw
our feet home with a diminished fifth

echoing hollow through our cores,
pour in, pour in, that we may

furl the night into a thin pillow,
a tattered blanket, as we fill with

maybe someone else’s missing piece
but O Lord, at least something’s there.

Vapors

I am sitting at the café with two friends, and the most insufferable people imaginable at the table behind me. (They all came in at once, a group of eight, and the last forty-five minutes, they’ve been going on and on about apartments and real estate and rent and the like. Ugh.) Trying to get creativity running in that scenario is like trying to slice bread with a rock. I just made that simile up, but it’s a good summary, I feel.

I’m biting the bullet and starting Monday poetry workshops tomorrow! Nervous, excited, curious, etc. I have to decide what I want to bring to workshop, and would welcome any suggestions; but I have a pretty good idea already of what I want. On the one hand, I’m feeling pretty negative because of these assholes sitting behind me, and because of getting two more rejections from journals in my email. On the other hand, my workshop leader from the Winter Getaway just emailed to let me know that she’s loving my chapbook, and last night I went to a party with some friends where we talked about a collaborative project we’re getting together. One must take the good with the bad with the awesome with the awful, I suppose…

Donna suggests writing a poem made up of couplets alternating sound and silence, which is where this came from. This rock-sliced-bread poem was an attempt to glom together some images from Friday evening, when I was people-watching from a cafe window during a snowy evening. It’s about one-tenth of what I’d like to say about the beauty of that evening, but I’m blaming these people behind me, again, for stymying my output. (Now they’re talking about all their European vacations they’ve taken in the last couple years, and one guy just said, “Well, I’d go there, but I’m already taking so many other vacations this year.” I’m about two seconds from hurling my chair.)

Vapors
watching the storm from a cafe

Sharp hiss of steam, espresso machine, grind and rattle,
and a lungful of words that mean cloud on the cold window.

Taxi cabs on Sixth Avenue pillory their horns with snow
and the light knows relativity, and comes to a halt.

A thousand passerby in scarves, thick coats, all bones, shouts,
and their footfalls grow invisible, paint small grey ghosts.

Beaded silk shatters and tumbles the color of night,
and a waltz, and a long tongue, and never lapping the ground.

The pitch-perfect people colliding on the slick sidewalks,
and their voices plucked at the ends, like baby’s breath, in water

slowly turning to ice.

David

The Winter Getaway begins Friday! I am going to bite the bullet and install Twitter on my phone, simply because I imagine there will be several occasions when I want to post updates, but want to avoid my computer or won’t have access to it. I will then promptly delete it from my phone on Monday. I lucked out with the new holiday calendar at work; we have off MLK Day, so I don’t need to use my hard-earned PTO for this. If you’re going, I’ll see you there, and if not, stay tuned, for I will do my best to keep updating. (For the Refinery, I may post it on Friday instead of Saturday, just to be sure; I suppose I could do a timed post as well.)

We Write Poems wants something about revising the past/memory through writing. I’m going to be a little bit mysterious, and say that this poem is not what you think it’s about, probably. But if it helps you to think of it as “advice on a breakup”, then who am I to argue you out of it?

David

Leave your photographs out in a Southern sun
until he blanches into islands of edgeless light.

Draw a needle over the records of his voice,
turning its timbre to a thread of crackle and hiss.

Wash his clothes a hundred times, so when they ask,
what colors did he wear, you can say you don’t know.

Cut up his letters into strips for the birds,
who will weave their walls in the too-far-off spring.

Give away his stories and his stacks of change
to the untold homeless at your sneakered feet.

And then soak that memorized body in tallow
with a wick blooming from his hair to be burnt down.

When you’re done, there will be an aleph of smoke,
paper in the gutter, and someone else’s name.

Exhale strongly, and turn three times for a charm,
in search of some other air to breathe.

Dilmun

…and here is the second for Donna’s prompt. I’m sure somebody has written an Eden story from the point of view of the tree before, but I tried to be a bit lush without saying outright the theme of the fable. And my own thoughts are this: the loss of Eden is not necessarily the loss of immortality and bliss, but the loss of knowing the value of the good and the bad. Eden, paradise, whatever you want to call it: there is a constant pull towards the brighter, the better, the juicier, etc., without an appreciation of the things that counterbalance them. (It’s kind of a Taoist approach, I’ll grant you.) Remember the Snapple cap: “If every day was a good day, there’d be no good days.”

(The “creaks” near the end was a typo for “breaks”, but I actually like it much better: the heart strains under a great weight, threatening – but not quite – to break.)

Side note: I’m still taking names for the new prompt series starting this weekend. I think I saw that a couple people have already commented on Sunday’s post with offers to have me pick apart their poems, so at least there will be one customer. Anyone else want to put their work in?

Dilmun

Now only the immortal orioles and painted bramblings
tug loose my tapestry, and the fruit falls to the ground,

naked and quick to rot. Bee-eaters put on their green
cloaks and sing my name. But no one is here to stand

two-handed in the pools and trail the flowering rushes.
And no one will climb me for the sake of garlands,

or to rip loose the canopied sky. Snakes coil humbly
around my roots, gnawing slowly at the earth. They

do not bite. In the summer, kingfishers ride the shamal
bearing rain where no rain will fall, a hundred minnows

the instruments of their symphony. But no one is here
remarking on the sorrow of death for the sake of beauty,

or the sleep of storms, balanced against the desert
with all its blessed agony. What is the greatest sin?

Not a thousand pearls of dawn or a devouring night,
but the infinity between and how it is given gravity

towards one or the other. And it creaks the heart with
its everything-at-once; and slowly my fruit goes to waste.

Here in the City, it is Raining

How’s that for a self-referential title? We Write Poems wanted a stream-of-consciousness poem; I looked out the window and lo, behold. This weekend I read a book of Mary Oliver from start to finish, and there’s a lot that I admire in her work, which I try to emulate. But while her work (at least, what I’ve read) often seems rooted in the pastoral, and transmutes that experience into the heavenly, I find my own rooted in the ever-changing boundary between the urban and vaguely natural, which gets transmuted into some emotional pagan rite. Otherwise, I think we see eye-to-eye on a lot of the wonder in raindrops, pigeon feathers, grass seed, etc. Oh well: sorry Mary, I did the best I could here.

Here in the City, it is Raining

and my compass needle wanders to you, wondering whether
it is also raining in fits and starts wherever you are

after all, it seems like such a waste, for the roof of this
nomad’s tent we’re under to disgorge so much water

only for the sun to pick it all up again tomorrow: but
I suppose this is a lesson in giving, and giving

have you remembered to open the windows? and arranged
a Ten of Cups along the sill to catch your fortune?

I have asked the mule hide sky to shake its long sides
over your gutters that have forgotten this chatter

and now in the city of orphans and smoke-winged doves
it’s coming down, on its silent toes, its panting breath

and if the light breaks in, I will put it into one clinked bead
that I will roll in the meander of the fleeing storm

which will find you and wake you along your cold cheek
gentle as an ellipsis, insistent as only a gift can be

Unscaffolding

This is another of those ones where I feel certain I’ve written it before, and can’t figure out when/where I might have done. But they took away the scaffolds from in front of my office building today; I forgot that they hadn’t always been there, honestly. The sunlight was downright blinding upon leaving work, I tell you.

I’ve been doing a lot more writing in my (offline) journal this week, which is part of my not-posting. I’m hoping that some of it comes together soon… it’s all long-form stuff with lots of threads to keep track of. Don’t know what’s going to come of it quite yet, but we’ll see…

Unscaffolding

When they peel back its wrinkled steel skin filled
with months of rust calligraphy, there is no ceremony–

no ribbon-cutting, no speeches, just the curious
pallbearing of great rectangles ringing in the wind

and the breaking of vertical bones– and the builders
turned destroyers clear pigeon nests from the joists,

disentangle the rigging that has hidden the building
for so long– until at last they come to the portico

whose glass canopy had been forgotten– and
the only wake for that skeleton is a momentary

surprise, which seems so plain for jailers cracking
cocoons of metal into an ignition of the sky.