poem-a-thon 12: hope is a solid block of wax

Gads, I have to leave comments on people’s blogs for the Big Poetry Giveaway, don’t I? I’m coming guys, I promise! And to those who have left their names on the drawing for mine: your names will be in the hat. (Seriously, I’m kicking around the idea of actually pulling names from a fedora.)

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt is to do a “replacement” exercise, taking found text, and replacing all instances of a common concrete noun with an abstract noun. Taking inspiration from the example post, I too went to Wikipedia, and surfed a couple articles on candles, which I replaced with hope. In the spirit of Wikipedia, I edited some of them, slightly, back and forth, several times, before the final draft. And it turned out unexpectedly cheeky and funny in places, if a little stilted in its voice.

But it definitely is not within my theme that I’m trying to do for this set of poems, resonating with the Poem-a-Thon theme. Must orbit back!

Hope is a Solid Block of Wax

For most of recorded history, hope was
tallow and beeswax.

The earliest known hope originated in China;
hope did not appear in Europe or the Middle East
until sometime after. From this point, hope
became more of a decorative item.
In the developed world today, hope is used
mainly for its aesthetic value.

Various devices have been invented to
hold hope, from simple tabletop hope holders,
to elaborate chandeliers. In this case,
hope that is slightly too wide will not fit in
the holder, and hope that is slightly too narrow
will wobble.

Hope is used as a symbol
of the light of reason or rationality.
Hope followers are often deliberately heavy
or ‘weighted’, to ensure they move down.
Hope followers are often found
in churches.

Hope works by capillary action.
Hope and hope accessories pose a risk
to property and people.

For hope to burn, a heat source (commonly
a naked flame) is used. Hope burns completely
in four hours. The stumps from burned hope
can be saved and melted down
to make new hope.

poem-a-thon 10: an advertisement

Well, dang, I’ve been featured on NaPoWriMo today! Thanks for the shout-out, y’all… it warms the cockles of my wee heart. And moreover, I’m equally warmed by the fact that I managed to crank out four poems this afternoon (three of them elsewhere), which means I’ve just got one post to occupy time after workshop tonight. To anyone stopping by here for the first time: I hope you will stay and hang out a while, and enjoy yourselves!

The prompt today is to do an advertisement, which became the simple title here because I couldn’t think of anything else. Tessa and I often have entire conversations to the structure of the Burma Shave doggerel, so it put me in a bit of a cheeky mood, but I went with more of a whimsical Kay Ryan take on safe sex. Make of it what you will, it was my last-ditch end-of-the-afternoon piece, and I am headed out for a few hours. (Oulipost poem for the day to follow later…)

And while I’m preaching, if you want to support charity through poetry, please donate donate donate and I’ll write you a poem!

An Advertisement

At this time, it’s wise
to mention some facts
and figures regarding
abstention: namely,
its failures vis-a-vis
human biology.
What happens, will
happen. A sensible
boy or girl first
unwraps and unfurls
that filmy rubber cap,
rather than open doors
behind which the matter
is scorched with rashes
and sores. Despite
what people may say,
you could spend
ready cash in worse
ways. At the doc’s,
form a line: look for
the pharmaceutical box
with the suitable size
for $3.99.

Trimming the Tree

Goofy little things here for a Monday evening. We Write Poems wanted a “kaleidoscope” poem gathering source material of different kinds and spinning it into a response of some kind. So, here was my process: I decided to do a response poem to a few questions from poems by Kay Ryan (a… Kay-leidoscope, if you will? groan), which were:

It isn’t ever / all green thought / in green shade, is it?
Is it just winter / or is this worse?
Is it unkind / to hope / some will / eat others, / is it uncaring?
It’s a / matter of moisture, / isn’t it?

These are from “Duck”, “Winter Fear”, “Herring”, and “The Late Worm”, respectively. So then I tried to do some subtle allusions that would “answer” the little rhetorical questions from those poems, in the same kind of elliptical and pithy way that Ms. Ryan herself does, and which I so emulate. (But I think after this little exercise, I need to be done with imitation for a little while.) And then lastly, I think the image of a spiderweb spangled by Christmas lights makes for a nice little kaleidoscopic image, no?

Trimming the Tree

A spider, cornered
by the thousand lights,
must make do with
a smaller net; or,
now in the house’s heat,
she may yet crawl
out to the space where
branch meets wall.
Should moth or centipede
cross her path,
we will avert our faces;
we’ve heard this season
is for giving even
enemies a place
to drink their fill, and
to breathe in.


Who’s up for a goofy poem about legs! Really, this is a work-release relief poem, just something silly I needed to write to recover from a long week. And since dVerse is suggesting we go back to old prompts, I decided to work with the anaphora one (since I don’t think I really made an effort for that one). A guy did walk into the cafe with some mighty fine legs, and so I thought, what if I just tried to get the word “leg(s)” into every line? The rest of him was nice, too. But the legs were to die for. If I wasn’t just trying to have some fun, I’d probably try and piece apart some of the societal glimmers in here. Oh well.


A man walks into the cafe on a Pair Of Legs.
These are the kind of legs that demand metaphor:
legs drifting in like the masts of capsized ships,
legs like walnut saplings in the churchyard.
What is it about a pair of legs that enchants a person?
Or any body part: for he also has arms, knuckles,
upper lip, cropped nape, but it’s the legs that get me.
His legs resist like longbows. Running shorts show
one bronze, fresh-mowed leg with Hebrew tracery
tattooed round the thigh. What’s “nice legs”
in Hebrew? How do you compliment a stranger’s legs
without sounding strange? I know the legs of women
are up for constant debate, the apparition of their legs
traded on the commodities market by leg-men
whistling as they dig the street, knowing good legs
and thinking they’ve something to prove. Legs, though,
have never inspired me until These Legs. I was never
a vulgar leg-admirer hooting at the passerby.
Can one man worship the legs of another, lay kisses
on the saintly knees? And why couldn’t legs be
that once-in-a-lifetime quality? Well-legged can mean
marriageable. Good legs make men dependable,
worldly, and these legs could be wandering monuments,
sculptural as they are. I feel I am discovering legs
for the first time. I’m seeing legs, legs, suddenly
I am judging everyone by the curve of their legs,
sitting here shaking at the injustice of subpar legs,
of overgrown and shapeless legs milling about
this man with Dead Sea Legs as he stands, stretches,
pays for his coffee, scratches his one tattooed leg,
that alphabet leg!, flexing and spinning him away
like a gyroscope, out the door, his Legs gone and him
gone with them.


And you know what, here’s a poem. We Write Poems is nearly done their series of protagonist-poems, but once in a while the prompts are just fine for stand-alone works as well. This week’s is to a “sky dream” poem, which may get spiritual. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I ended up doing a catechism thought experiment or something, so here you go.


How long does it take for the dead to get
over each other? When they’re crawling
that upturned china bowl
and buzzing their wings,

once in a while they must encounter
old enemies, also dead. Sometimes,
it must happen before they’ve fully grown
into their angelhood, all acceptance
and understanding. Then you have
the deodorant stink of ozone, heat crackle,

sky piling up on itself. How they must
seethe. Eternity is for mending fences:
but first, the slash of accusations. Heaven
full of broken dishes.

Mondays at the Office

A quick one before I go in to dinner, inspired by Miz Quickly’s photo gallery offering:

It’s kind of a wry one that I think we can all relate to, in one way or another. There’s this physical reaction to Mondays that I would love to deconstruct further, but I think the absurdist dream that came out of this photo is the best I can muster for the moment. (And Frank O’Hara is still resonating in me a little bit. I can imagine him going out on his lunch break like this guy.)

Mondays at the Office

You feel like unclipping the phone’s receiver
and taking the helical cord into your mouth, swallowing,
swallowing, ripping the guts out of technology
to take them into your own. Like Cronus’s children:
death will come to you in the shape of a hiccuping bell,
another e-mail, or the goddamn fax machine jamming
again. You are not the only one: Marianne sets fire
to the ficus plant by the door, and James
shreds the photos on his desk one by one, while Yvette
staples, staples, staples, staples. This madness
lives in a cubical comb which you seal off with wax,
individual, but all in this together. What is work,
you think; it’s impossible to hear the answer over this
ringing now passing from your esophagus,
through stomach acid, into an intestinal confusion.
There is paid time off; there are holidays. But really,
what you all need is to be paid to go once per day
outside onto a flat green place, stripping off shirt, tie,
patent leather shoes, spread out and laid upon
underneath a timeless sun. What is mercy, you think,
but the freedom to show off ribcage and collarbone
turned up to that mythological blindness
free from income tax, memoranda, the purgatorial 401K.
Once per day each of you will queue up to go.
James will return glorious in his own sweat, embrace you
half tears, breathe in your ear that it’s your turn.
You will stagger past security, run type-numb fingers
through fountain water, smell the fresh-mowed grass
as you expose yourself in relief. Cough wires, shit wires,
empty yourself of copper. Strike the pose bees must
when the queen says, enough honey, when Cronus says,
split me open, let the passionate gods break free.

Lunch Sonnet

I’ve been on kind of a Frank O’Hara kick lately, as I am wont to do. I feel like when spring comes, it’s much easier to keep an eye out for the strange and somewhat uneasy side of New York; the truism is that the crazies come out when it gets warm. (Even though everyone gets a little bit crazy when it’s warm.) And since I’ve been reading Lunch Poems again, and since Poets & Writers asked for sonnets yesterday, and since I did indeed eat lunch today, here is an O’Hara send-up. No, it’s not a strict sonnet, but it rhymes very nicely and Petrarchanishly, I think. You could call it semi-persona, maybe. Anyway, it was fun to write.

Lunch Sonnet

I came for peace and quiet: lunch standing up, at small round
silver tables grit with crumbs, garlic, red pepper flakes,
two slices and a Coke two seventy-five. The thick-chin boy takes
two paper plates and lifts my lunch like I am about to be crowned
street-food royalty, I am starved with thanks.
Patient standing the art student and Titus who marked his place
with bundled trash, the paranoid Honduran girl and that half-face
dogfighter with scarred dewlaps. Dissension in the goddamn ranks
when a guy cuts in front, wheelchair tires squealing
he hoists his plastic leg like a truncheon. Some fucking respect
for a Eye-rack vet he bleats and I think, just let it happen, best
avoid trouble. Peace. and. quiet. In here we’re used to feeling
lullabied by salsa radio and grill smoke, when the mood is wrecked,
when he snarls up to my table, I keep my change. I leave the rest.

That Word

I admit I’m being straight-up cheeky with this piece, after a very long and dismal day that I’m trying to erase from my memory. Tried over and over to do the NaPoWriMo prompt, but the trouble with being a language nerd and translation industry professional is that I can’t just not-quite-translate a poem from an unfamiliar tongue. First, there’s few that are truly unfamiliar to me, at least among ones that you’re liable to find poetry in easily. At the very least, I can usually identify the language itself, the pronunciation, and hazard a few guesses about words. Then, I get very hung up on trying to capture the sounds perfectly into English words, rather than just mucking about with what the text looks like. So instead I did Miz Q‘s prompt to re-line a chunk of prose.

And she may recognize where I got it from. ^_^

That Word

By rights,
each line should have
a reason for being a separate line, a reason
for beginning where it does,
and a reason for ending with just
that word. Even if
that word is there,
as in formal poems, for the rhyme
or to complete a syllable count.
And if that word is there
in free verse because you want it to shout,
the word is still only
part of the line,
and the line is only
part of the poem.

What Do Wonks Want?

Once in a while, you need to have some fun, especially when you post something of bleakness like I did earlier. Right? So, Poets + Writers has a fun prompt for the day, asking for an Oulipo-style N+7 adaptation of a famous poem. (This is where you take a poem and a dictionary, replacing all nouns with the noun seven nouns ahead of it. I do it to the adjectives and proper names too.) I flexed the rules a little bit to make it turn out better (the EastEnders line was my favorite, and too much fun to pass up), but I think it’s still gleefully surreal, and I hope carries a bit of the charm from the original. The original, of course, is Kim Addonizio’s wonderful “What Do Women Want?” Enjoy!

What Do Wonks Want?

I want a redesigned drift.
I want it floral and cheerless,
I want it too timid, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it slimming and backwater,
this drift, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the strife past Tibet and the harlequin storyboard
with all those kibbitzers glittering in the wings,
past Mr. and Mrs. Xerxes selling de luxe
doomwatchers in their cairn, past the Gujarati brownstones
slinging pigments from the truncation and onto the domicile,
hoisting the slipped sob over their showcase.
I want to walk like I’m the only
wonk on EastEnders and I can have my picnic.
I want that redesigned drift bad.
I want it to confirm
your woven federalism about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garrotte
from its hansom like I’m choosing a boiler
to carry me into this worthiness, through
the bisque-crimson and the lox-crimson too,
and I’ll wear it like bonsai, like skulduggery,
it’ll be the gold-rimmed
drift they bury me in.

Some Blood

Turns out I may not end up at AWP after all; there is a large snowstorm moving in tomorrow night, and the forecast for Thursday (when I have to go up the Interstate in a rickety bus) is not yet set. I’ll see how it looks tomorrow, but I don’t fancy the idea of riding through a blizzard. It would certainly be a wonderful treat to get there, though. We’ll see.

With snow on the mind, here’s a quick piece for We Write Poems, who wanted natural images without “the”, in the hopes of (presumably) making the elements more personified. Thundersnow has always confounded me, a little bit. I don’t go for that sort of thing. A little bit of Kay Ryan channeled into this one, maybe. A very little bit.

Some Blood

Snow and thunder
should not mix.
At least with summer storms
you know some blood’s beneath
tall clouds gnashing
their rainswept teeth.
But this contraption of dusk,
catching streetlights with its
rapid whirl, striking
every heart dumb
with distant, muffled dynamite–
well, it just won’t do. To come
so coldly beautiful, to
slow time to a crawl
and the world to one’s liking,
you know, it won’t do at all.