oulipost 7: transhumanist couple

I always find N+7s to be one of the wackiest exercises out there, and one that I bend the rules on most frequently. It was Oulipost’s challenge to do one for today: for those not familiar with the rules, you take a passage of text and replace every noun with the word seven nouns ahead of it in the dictionary. I usually make up some house rules — I skip derivatives of the word I’m skipping, I’ll only count proper nouns when replacing proper nouns, etc. — for the sake of a more interesting text. And as usual, this one doesn’t seem to have much poetic cohesion to it, but there’s a story that hangs more or less together. And to think this is what came from an article about the ice cream parlor.

Transhumanist Couple Dabbles in Intelligent Design

Before the couriers fling open
the doppelgängers at their grace lock, though,
they’ll unveil another project: a proletariat,
set for aqualung religion.
“There’s no one sectary inhalation
to making ichthyosaurs” says Snake.
“It’s just millennia, creativity, suint, and egomania.
We wanted to share that procreation.
Ichthyosaur is one of those footballs
that most personnel don’t understand the whole
nastiness of.” But he and Cuzco
also didn’t want to write a boomerang
that just had recluses and pretty piedmont.
So instead, they wrote a chiller that follows
three anime protectors through different moors
like heat death and instauration,
weaving in ichthyosaur flecks and recluses
along the weak.

resonance seven; and also meta-blogging: CSHS

Guys, I resurrected my Twitter after forgetting that I had it for a couple months. So you’re welcome to follow me on there if you’re one of those Twitterers that one hears so much about in the news media, etc. Take a gander at my left-hand sidebar if you are so inclined!

Also, I’ll take the opportunity to do the “Interesting Announcement” I alluded to last week and mention the new journal that Tessa and I are curating. After many vicissitudes, both positive and negative, we’ve had a number of conversations about regrouping and restarting our editorial aspirations. So, at this point we’ve put together the blog page and posted for submissions, which means we’ve pretty much dug our own grave of commitment. CSHS Quarterly is open for business, if you’re the poetic, prosaic, or photographic type and want to get some work out there in the world. (And as for the cryogenically frozen elephant in the room known as Curio, there will be an Announcement about that in the near future as well. We promise.)

OK, on to the promptings. For resonance seven let’s talk about our relationship with nature. Growing up in suburbia, I was never much of a naturalist kid; I can tell a maple and an oak by their leaves, I know the cherries flower before the roses, and I know that tomatoes are only good in July. But I give a lot of credit to people who can tell trees apart by their bark, determine the age and gender of deer from their tracks, know the change in direction of wind and what it entails, etc. It’s a knowledge set that is often lost completely in the glare of screens, the blast of music, and all the other trappings of life these days. And yet poets are often caught up in the mystique of nature without taking the time to really learn their stuff about it. You could argue that it doesn’t matter so much for an observational poem to know the whys and wherefores of Thing X that is occurring and inspiring the poet; but as a consummate Wikipedia addict, I am forever looking into the reasons behind the visions.

Particularly because we’ve had so much snow in New York this week– make that this month– or hell, the last three months– I’m feeling especially starved of green, and also ignorant of the life still humming during the winter. Wherever you are, start by paying attention to your natural surroundings: start with the seasonal generalities of climate and temperature for your place, then zoom in bit by bit on the animals which are active, the plants that are currently alive/seemingly alive, the landscape of where you are. (Even the city has a botanical landscape!) Next, highlight the bits which are striking to you: I find the repeated pattern of slush/freeze/snow that causes these Ice Puddles Of Death on every street corner to be compelling. (And not just because I keep slipping into them.) And there is this one particular bird that I don’t know, which I keep seeing around, drinking from things.

Do some inquiry into the scientific, botanical, meteorological underpinnings of what you’ve teased out. With those puddles, I imagine there must be some kind of air temperature pattern that’s causing the very particular thaw/freeze cycle which leads to their layered water/ice construction. That bird must have a name and a reason for not migrating. For the sake of a poem that just needs hints of background, I think Wikipedia will often suffice; depending on your readership, no one is going to ask you for citations of the facts. But adding that bit of knowledge allows you to go a bit deeper and find metaphors and elements you didn’t know were in there before. And find ways to incorporate the information in poetic ways: rather than talk about how the apple is in the same botanical family as the rose, talk about the apple being “teased out of the wild rose” or something. Most importantly: don’t allow these factoids to distract from your observations. You want the two to dovetail and complement, not one to overshadow the other. The factoids taking precedence will sound stuffy; the factoids being incidental will sound tangential.

(As an example I’m fond of, although there’s only a bit of this development, go read Ross Gay’s poem “To the Fig Tree at 9th and Christian”. He very deftly incorporates a couple factoids with a minimum of words: describing figs as “wasps’ sugar” is the most beautiful way I’ve ever seen to handle the symbiosis of figs and wasps, a very biological theme.)

(Also read Dorianne Laux’s “Facts About the Moon” for a different approach which combines the two impulses very neatly!)

Your poem may be kept a bit spare. It’s easy to go off on wild flights with poems that are purely about the inspiration drawn from seeing a ring around the moon, much harder to get pedantic with why the ice crystals that cause the effect form the way they do. The poem will be reined in, and that’s okay; this is an exercise in restraint as much as an exploration of theme. And as always, when you have done your poem, you are welcome to report on the state of climate, flora, and fauna in your region by posting it here, in poem-form. Many maps unroll tonight.

Telegraph

I haven’t flittered a poem out at work in a while, but this odd little metaphor-poem just rose unbidden and nearly fully-formed after reading Afzal Ahmed Syad’s “If My Voice is Not Reaching You” on poets.org. It was a crazy busy weekend (and will be again, coming up), so I’m scraping together what musey bits I can. I was thinking and reading about the telegraph, as it’s one of my favorite words. I like the use as a verb (to pre-announce), as a concept (universal communication), and as a metaphor (in this case, a heart), with a bit of Kay Ryan admiration (naturally) tossed in. Given the current situation of my love life, I think it’s apt. And I think it kind of fits one peculiar angle of the We Write Poems prompt for the week about “growing up”. And that’s enough moping on my part; now I must disappear back into the morass of the office…

(Fun fact, though: telegraphs did catch fire in geomagnetic storms like this one.)

Telegraph

Once my heart has been
long enough with one person
I no longer believe
in its artful conversion
of blood to magic,
its thrummed relief.

Instead it grows
staccato, all punctuation.
That’s the way a heart goes
after elation.

I find it announcing
its own arrival: chewed wood
wrapped with wire,
the kind of up-to-no-good
which in sufficient storms
catches blue fire.

Never a Boring Moment

This is for Miz Quickly‘s Wordle prompt. I recommend you head over and check it out, not only because they’re fun words to wrangle, but also because she gives some excellent advice for approaching such prompts. I won’t tell you what the words are in this one, to hold with the second of her principles (to make them seem natural), but I hope that they work, along with the sort-of-climbing rhyme scheme going on. And now one prompt done, on to the next one… it’s gonna be a good Wednesday night!

Never a Boring Moment

Each guest arrives in style
for the slab. Open them wide,
knot their veins, objects at rest
stay at rest. A heart may have
one good valve, the rivet pains
turned deadly. A heart, compressed,
yields blood money. The canals,
shocked silent, are not quite ready.
A rubber glove, a palm of honey,
a modest heart is sheet-white, quiet
for its massage, done with love
done with love, and a furious art.
Pick up. The beat. Red collage
all tissue-throb, the aftermath of
time, stood still. What a feat,
to detour death, they’ll say, awed.
What hospitable skill.
They too feel short of breath.
A nurse draws the transfer writ.
The tick-mark guest’s report
follows him out; the slack-jawed
watchers say, it was so quick,
we almost felt no doubt,
we quite forgot to pray.

Epithalamion with Figs

I’m not much of an epithalamion (or epithalamium, if you prefer the Latin) writer, but it was the first thing that occurred to me for this prompt, and dammit, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. (I found out about this fig/wasp thing only a few days ago, probably when I was reading up for the very-similar cicada poem.) Symbiotic relationships that have evolved over millions of years always fascinate me and seem to put our “relationships” in humanity (I use the term loosely as a result) in a poor light. So I figured, Green Partier that I am, it’s Earth Day, I want to write an Earth Day poem for Miz Quickly and NaPoWriMo, I don’t have much time to do it, why not something touching on that conceit? Here, then, are figs, wasps, and wedding vows.

This is a throwaway poem, but I really like the idea behind it. Probably in a month or so, once I’m out of the work-frenzy and production-frenzy, I’ll settle down and write something less clunky to explore the topic.

Epithalamion with Figs

There are certain species of wasp who,
over the course of eighty million years,
have evolved to lay their eggs within figs.
The surrogate wombs close them in dark
with floret cradles, slowly ripening.
Wind comes, rain comes. The sun,
warm in some eons, cool in some others,
stirs them awake. The males mate
and burrow with equal ferocity
like desperate prisoners do, dying content
once they breathe the outside air.
Then the females, weighed down by wings,
scooping fig pollen as they go,
follow their brother-husbands’ tunnels
and take flight. Some will cross worlds
to find a virgin tree, folding back the fruit’s
puckered lip to crawl in, release the young.
How many generations have there been
since they came to this understanding,
the fig and the wasp? To bind together
so many lives– what can two people do
that the nurseries bobbing under
green leaves don’t already make clear?
But of course even the smallest things,
like love, must be cherished.
Split open a fig and see the sleepers
row after row: to know their parable,
to run one thumb over it and be humbled,
is the only vow worth making.

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.

Theory of the Earth and the Moon

All right, I caved and got a Facebook. I mean, I’ve had one for years, but it’s my personal one; this is the official writerly one. You’ll have to go find it yourself — I don’t plan on posting the link here for all to see — but your hint is that it’s the first and last name and apparently there are thirty other people with my name before me. You’ll know me by the blacklit photo. I probably won’t add everyone willy-nilly, but if I recognize the name, I’ll say yes.

This is just a random one for Miz Quickly‘s prompt… I was listening to Four Tet, and quite randomly, got a vivid image of these two girls dancing around in Tennessee or somewhere. And then that turned into a quasi-mythological connection, and another lengthy narrative thing. What can I say; it’s late, and my brain craves restenance. (Which is rest + sustenance, combined.) Enjoy, or not, and I’ll see you on the flip.

Theory of the Earth and the Moon

Some days, they are barefoot sisters,
skinned knees and clay feet, picking up worms
and cutting them in half to see what happens.
Their yard is wide and empty.
Neighboring planets with broods of their own
hide behind fences threaded through with camelthorn
and rosary pea. These girls don’t talk to them.
They just carry on over that rusting hoe
and the radio waves, stirring up the crickets
with their slip and their shake.
Other days, they are goddesses with
private mythologies: vengeful lovers,
misbegotten children, the whole lot. But right now,
their only tragedy is the little one, born so frail
leaving her to always steal her light.
She is the ghost partner, grown up insubstantial
around her sister, playing helicopter. Still, she’s
hanging on. And the other, breathing,
tuning strings and pumping water, she presses one
big hand with dirty nails to that little eclipse palm,
laughing and starting up an off-kilter waltz.
Some days, they don’t want any nonsense,
just an easy kind of revolution.
Soon enough the sun will reach out
over the waving patches of jade and cloud
to call them in for dinner. Then it’s clear
they are family. They all go in together
leaving the ramshackle yard bare as they found it.