poem-a-thon 6: moon taming

I know it’s after midnight EST, but I did finish this beforehand. I’m going directly to bed (do not pass go; do not collect $200) right after this, but just a bit of natter beforehand to say that I did as the NaPoWriMo prompt suggested, and gathered some sensory details outdoors today. Sat in a tree, people-watched, observed as much as I could, and gathered this scene out of it, even though I couldn’t think of a decent title. This one swings a little far from my theme for the month (reminder: please donate to my Poem-a-thon! Margo is still the only rockstar to help out!), but I’m still fond of it. The kite was something to see.

Moon Taming

Two girls huddle together, the cranberry-maned
wrapping tight round the other, who has wound string
round her fingers as if they were spindles
to slacken the kite.
There it is, an arc-minute or two to the left of the moon,
up already in the afternoon, bellying out its white
with a minuscule dark in it as the girls’ pet geometry
draws close and draws away, the air
fierce today, sharp but loose and eddying.
The girls breathe in time. Their eyes lock like a compass
at the same angle. Hoodie sleeves are rumpled, lip rings
are sucked, as they pair their arms and hips
to keep the wings afloat.
So many things threaten a tangle: the clothes donation bins,
indifferent boys throwing Frisbees, and always
the possibility of interference from trees even in the open,
far from the sounds of a city.
And the girls haven’t eaten much for days,
saving their money for Brooklyn, the couches of friends
where they will spend the spring, with at least a leaky roof
over their party-colored heads, waiting for
calmer weather to offer their most prized possession
to the vapor-trailed sky.
The moon will take confessions. The sun will hide its face.
Scribbled on the paper kite are the prayers of young lovers
who write what has not yet taken place.
It will not stay aloft forever: already the mothers begin
gathering their picnics, the rusty bikes are untethered. Still
these two laughing girls catch each upward tremor,
each dizzying fall together. What must need be
but to write these words
and aim for that littler eye of whoever’s up there, whoever
will believe what they read?

poem-a-thon 5: philadelphian spring

I had a lovely conversation in the coffeeshop line this morning, with an older woman in a green coat who remarked that her coat matched my hair. This turned into a chat about how she’s currently re-touching her (deceased?) painter father’s artwork, and so has been living in a world sensitive to color for a while (months? years?). Which then turned into a discussion of how those in my generation who have a sensitivity to art for art’s sake, and the turning of everyday things into beautiful things, must stem the cheapening tide that our culture is currently awash with. (I’m making the words more florid than they were.) We talked about the value of what’s worked with hands and personal touch, and then we got our coffees and carried on. Best three minutes I had this morning.

That really has nothing to do with anything else, I just wanted to mention.

Guys, I’m getting a little desperate and could use some signal boost for my Poem-a-Thon goal. Nobody’s donated yet, and we’re five days in, and I’m bummed about it (but also I’m probably not doing enough to make a stink about it, so I feel guilty too). If you’d consider donating, that would be Way Cool, and if you can’t donate, then please bug people with more accessible cash who can. I am going to raise a fuss about this until at least something materializes… I really don’t want this frenzy of poem writing that I’m putting myself through to be for naught.

And on that note, here’s today’s. NaPoWriMo wanted a golden shovel, which I wasn’t familiar with: writing a poem where each line ends with the word of a poem, in order. (Charles Simic’s “Watermelons” was suggested, and as I recently read a collection of his, I went with that one. I did cheat a little bit by turning “spit” to “respite”, and breaking the extra-long last line, with the final teleuton.) I really miss Philadelphia in the spring sometimes, though New York in the spring ain’t so bad either. I might go back outside after this!

Philadelphian Spring (with occasional myth)

The 12th Street gingkoes shrug out their newest green
and we rub their bark like we would the bellies of Buddhas,

for luck, new life, growth, change. The cafe speakers are on,
blasting Kylie Minogue; we fall over laughing as we Do The

Loco-Motion down the alleyways. Corner vendors cut fruit
for passerby, and stray tomcats blink and flee, then turn, stand,

watch. Center City gets about an hour of this sunlight, and we
need every minute, night-owl eyes squinted with joy. We eat

and drink it, we squirrel it throughout our hollowed bodies, the
most inaccessible parts. When’s the last time a lopsided smile

shed its breakers on either of our chins? Days lengthen and
earths open: we read the story of Persephone as we respite

in the used book shop. Who can say how long she’ll be out?
But we know firsthand that doesn’t matter– only the now. The

not-yet-going-back-beneath. The first time in a long while
  we’ve shown our broken teeth.

resonance two

It’s such temptation to have an unlimited MetroCard. I keep finding excuses to come into Manhattan, partially because I don’t want to be one of those people that says “oh, I don’t go leave Brooklyn on the weekend”, and partly because there are so many beloved things I have here. (Such as the cafe, which I am at now. A gay couple is playing cribbage at the next table. Only in New York!) After this, I might wander over to my favorite bookstores and see if there’s anything worth scrounging… still, though, it’s tough to ignore the fact that this morning, I met another neighbor in my building as I was walking down the block to have French toast at a friend’s place. Those things never happened to me in Manhattan. There’s a neighborhood quality in my new existence that I find most appealing.

Aside from all that, poetry workshop is back for a January stint; I’m taking deep breaths as I shift into this new year. The first ten days of it have already felt eternal and otherworldly, in a good way. I’m trying to stick with my pronouncements of sailing gently along the year’s waves rather than forcing myself across currents; we’ll see. Workshop helps keep me focused and forces me to organize my thoughts; and whether it will do so enough to keep me moving forward with wind in my canvas remains to be seen. For the time being, it’s good to have prompts, which inspires me to keep up with my own, thrown to you lot. :)

That leads me into resonance two, which is going to stem from music. I’d like you to take a listen to Erik Satie’s Gnossienne #1, which you can listen to here. To me, this piece always suggests winter better than most other pieces I’m aware of, which is the mood I’ve been in; and if you’re somewhere with better weather than I am, you’ll just have to project and get into the mindset. Listen to it a couple times, two or three maybe, and try to get a list of twenty words, phrases, emotions, full sentences, names, whatever darts across the surface of your mind, no matter how ephemeral. I have a suspicion that there are whole realms of story hidden under the notes if we dare to make ourselves subtle enough to find them.

Once you have your list, we’re going to draw a bit of inspiration from Surrealism, automatic writing, and the like. Take another sheet of paper and make a scatterplot of twenty dots; assign each one a different letter of the alphabet, and you may wish to leave out the rarer ones (q, x, etc.) Then draw a line, however curvy you wish, to connect them in a specific order, from one to another, through everything in between. Next, follow the path and note the order in which the twenty letters appear; write them in the left column of a second list. For each letter, glance at your first list of twenty items, and mark the first instance of the letter in question. Cross the item off, and transfer it to the right column of the second list. So, it might look something like this:

FIRST LIST: snowflakes, birds eating holly berries, an indefinable sense of loss…
SECOND LIST: h. birds eating holly berries, s. snowflakes, a. an indefinable sense of loss…

Note that all of them have “l”, “s”, and “a”, it’s just a matter of which the eye lights upon first. If you’ve managed to choose a letter for your scatterplot that is not represented in your first list, put any as-yet-unused item in the empty slot at the end.

Once you’ve finished that second list, write a poem of (at least) twenty lines. Try your best to have the images flow seamlessly one to the other, but don’t worry about cramming them all in. As with a Wordle, get in as many as you work. You may find it profitable to listen to the Gnossienne on repeat or something as you go through; I suppose you could also choose another pieces that signifies winter to you, if you wanted. I listened through about eight times as I wrote this prompt, and it helped! And then, as always, if you want to come back and show us your draft, everyone will, I’m sure, find it appropriately snowy and delicious.

resonance one

~pulling out the ice-chipper, the snow-brush, the dust-cloth, and the polish-rag~

Yes, yes, let’s dispense with the obvious stuff. I took a month (five weeks, even) to regroup, which was maybe a bit longer than planned. But some important things have happened in that time. Namely, I moved apartments and I got a new job. Those of you who follow my life at all know that living on couches and hating every second of the work week were the main stressors on my existence for the last several months, and it was an excellent idea to take the time to address those. And once I gave up on 2013 entirely, it was much easier to just coast through it, allow the good to turn up, and suffer through the rest. (There were also the winter holidays to get through, which ate a lot of energy.)

I’ve been doing some thinking about hubris. I think I entered the year with a lot of it, saying I was going to grab 2013 by the horns and make it work for me; what I got instead was the second worst year of my life. A lot of the Taoism I espouse fell by the Wayside, which was a mistake. So I’m going into this new year with resolve (not resolutions) and reserve (not reservations). That applies to my writing life that I seek to jumpstart once again, and really all the other aspects of life that need some charge. Instead of setting out for concrete achievements, perhaps I’ll try to form good habits, just one at a time, and let that build into a better lifestyle. It may not be as earthshaking as when people say “I am going to skydive this year!!” or whatever, but I think it will make me feel like a happier person in the end, and hopefully good stuff will follow along the way.

(There’s a tipsy burn in my mouth. I think the cute barista added way more vanilla extract than required to this latte, and it’s all sunk to the bottom. Perhaps he is trying to sauce me up?)

Anyway, the point is that I’m in a much better place than I was back in the fall, for all of my grandstanding. Today I had the first real poem of the year come upon me, shaped out of the events of yesterday, full-formed and ready for the page. (I was in the shower at the time, so you can imagine how awkward that was.) And that gives me confidence and renewed vigor; I’m going to resist the urge to tug at it, and just let it wash on through. What I do want to do is get into the prompts again, since that kept the engine running on this blog when I had nothing else to fuel it with. And as is my wont, I’ve been going with Resonance as a working title, for one of those abstract re- words I love so much. There’s not going to be a particular structure or theme to the prompts, and I may not always give an example poem of my own, but I’ll do my best to keep them up through the year. At least I’ll try for once a week. Maybe Margo needs some Saturday/Sunday bits to fill the rolls…?

So here we have resonance one, fairly mechanical in nature, which you can take as much of as you will for the sake of a poem: Begin by finding three segments of text, not too long, not very sensational. They could be newspaper headlines, short paragraphs from the novel you’re reading, whatever. Try to re-write one of them by replacing each content word (nouns, verbs, and adjectives especially) with its antonym, or at least a very different word with the same part of speech: explosion might become construction, red could change to bluewalking shifts into flying. The new phrase should make sense, though: what you want to do is create a space bounded by the original text and this new one, an area that is a spectrum fading from one to the other.

Develop your ideas in this space. You might decide to address the how or the why: how did that explosion lead to a (new) construction, and why would that (insert noun here) change from red to blue? The theme of this poem is transition and change, and making sense of these inexplicable shifts. Additional challenge: incorporate any ideas generated by the other two bits of text you found. Maybe the nouns you pull from the others can be woven into the body of the poem to become symbols, or the verbs you pull will give your subject more animation. But here is the cardinal guideline: ask yourself the questions you want to answer with the poem, on the subject you’ve created with mirrors. And then, by the end, do answer them.

I know that’s a lot of wiggly stuff to start off the year; I will try to come up with an example if I can. I think I know what I mean, at least. But that cute barista’s sly smile is getting to me, so I think it will have to wait until later. For now, it’s good to be back, and I will endeavor to be more present; I wish you all the same!

Winter Rhubarb

I have a kitty on my lap, I just wrote two poems (and revised a third), and I’m full of Malaysian food; there are worse birthdays, I suppose. I feel as though I’d be remiss if I didn’t post today. Another year, another sense of not-quite-accomplishment; overall, it was a pretty banal and unfulfilling time. But I’m trying to get myself out of the funk, as I’ve been trying to do all summer: certainly a new job and a place to live next month would help, but until those pieces fall into place, I’ll have to try and work the ones that have already so fallen, in order to brighten life up a bit.

One such thing is that workshop starts up again tomorrow, which I’m looking forward to. I feel as though I haven’t written nearly enough this summer (and certainly nothing I’m particularly proud of) to bring stuff, but I’ll just have to deal, at least for the first week. I’m more and more hopeful that I can re-discover good patterns of creation and productivity; if I didn’t have hope, I don’t know what I’d do.

Anyway, this is for a dVerse prompt to imitate a Jane Hirshfield theme: eroticism through fruit. The suggestion includes writing about the first sexual encounter, so I tried to weave a little bit of that into this one. But mostly, it was just a cheeky little piece with some shameless imagery. I’ll leave you to read it to your amusement and arousal.

Winter Rhubarb

A single gleaming stalk of it, its poisonous leaves
stripped and left on the floor of the forcing shed,
slender and redly naked in the dim candlelight
where it has pushed through years of cold soil
and cracked the rime, the crisp feel of it
clutched in the curious hand, spring’s first fruit
so desperate to grow they say you can hear it
creak in the darkness, ready to be pulled up,
to bless the tongue with its bittersweetness
like some sugar acid taper begging for flame,
like the exhumed finger of a too-long-buried sun.


Oy, it’s been a week. A few things:

First, there are two poets lined up for Refinery! I promise you both that I’ll get to them, and I have read both poems already. I just need to find some time to actually put the thoughts in order and craft them into a post. It’s been incredibly busy at work (the boss is away), so I haven’t been able to work on it then. The evenings have also been pretty chock full of things to take care of, with the roommate away. My hope is to get at least one up by Friday (so Margo will have something to report!), and the other this weekend.

Second, one reason the weekend was so busy is that, holy cats, I did a reading on Sunday evening. So I was freaking out for a few days leading up to it about what to read, would people like it, etc. (I’ve done an open mic here and there, but this was the first time I was a “headliner”, and people paid to get in, and I was up first.) I think it went fairly well; I read eight poems, which got various amounts of applause, and the almighty “Mm!” which is the reading poet’s best friend. Anyone can clap, whether they feel something or not; it takes an actual emotional response to get that Mm!, and you can hear how the audience feels in it. (Fantastic magical realism poem about my grandmother’s house? A wistful, charmed one. Poem about my friend who died of AIDS? One that was ripped out of their throats.) Hoping that there will be other readings to follow, at some point.

And then, the third wrinkle this weekend was a domestic dispute upstairs, followed the next day by a fly infestation in the hallway ceiling, which had me really paranoid for a little while. (I called my roommate from DC, who majored in forensic science, to see how long a body took to start producing flies.) The infestation has blown over, and I don’t think my neighbor killed anyone, but it threw me for a loop. That’s what I get for writing a poem about swarms of black insects, I suppose.

Enough housekeeping natter. Here’s a poem without much substance and originality. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” pretty much did the theme as well as it needed to be done, back in the 1600s. But I don’t have rosebuds, I have berries outside the window, and that’s that.


Every morning the temptation by the window:
rain dripping from leaves and berries from vines
climbing the trellis. White paint cracks,
green globes grow red-violet, and pockets
heaped with adverbs give up their loads:
slowly, eventually, soon. The sun escapes
to drop sugarcubes in a pale chipped afternoon.
Thoughts clip to modal verbs: I will, is promised,
I should, is said. A wrapped bolt of summer heat
and summer fruit dangles before the eyes.
Wet, then dry. Who allows the clumps of color
to blacken and fall? Who allows the sparrows
to swallow them, purple staining their beaks
and their music, their shit on the garden wall?
Then consequence closes in like evening glory.
Participles make mist from hot summer ground,
a backwards-traveling song. Its key is minor,
its moral threatening, going, is going, has gone.

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.


Just sitting at the cafe stretching the writing-brain this evening. I’ve been getting good responses on the chapbook manuscript, and wrote two poems while here; next I’ll probably go home, eat dinner, and revise. Might try to get through one more as well, but an offline well-crafted one (which will probably not get finished tonight). This is just an exercise. It’s from that same excellent Dorianne Laux prompt from ReadWritePoem almost exactly four years ago, to do something autobiographical and loaded with imagery. I got way too cryptic in this one, but I think I just wanted to play with some images a bit. Shrug? Anyway, I think it’s a good prompt to come back to every four years.


You try your best; you find your life buried under the ice,
snow-blind. You scramble against the glacier with all your might.
This is how it’s been from Genesis on. What did Eve do?
She chipped away. Sooner or later, you go from lion skins
to library books with their stale perfume, you tame the wild grain,
then you’re plonking at an out-of-tune piano. They say necessity
breeds invention. When did we first need these little things?
You go down to see the cherry trees bloom in April, you lounge
at the hookah bar with Abe and Angel, hoping one of those
Egyptian men watching the soccer match will take you home,
knowing what lasts, and what doesn’t. Another year means
another city, Orion posed somewhere else overhead. Soon,
you’re scooping up centipedes and drowning joints in puddles.
Pigeons cling to the tips of girders like limp hangnails.
And you’ve crumpled hundred-dollar bills in sweaty jean pockets,
espresso foam flecks your well-licked lips. So many ancestors
died to get you here, how can you not feel a bit ungrateful?
But you’re really trying. Where to? You could follow the third rail
to Gowanus, sniff the bayou of old condoms, needing beauty,
any kind of it. Or go further. Maybe Providence when the leaves
turn; you once knew a man there, tattooed with birds. Further still.
This is where you are against history, a post-evolutionary Age.
Lucky. But you feel like you’ll never be lucky enough.

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.

Tramp Song

I went to the Publishing Triangle Awards earlier this evening, to hope for the wins of three excellent authors (a memoirist, novelist, and poet, respectively) I admire; two made it, and I am dismayed about the third, but it was still nice to go and check it out. (And it was free/open to the public. Also nice.) I’ve just been in kind of a malaise all day, and wish that had snapped me out of it, but instead I just came home, made dinner, and did absolutely nothing for a while. I don’t know why. I’ve been thinking too much about the future and how much different things I love are worth it.

But Miz Quickly had a prompt that I kind of followed, to write a poem after another poet’s line. This one is from a line by Mark Doty, which is the first line of my poem, from his “At the Gym”. I walked by a bench under flowering trees earlier this evening, and thought it looked like a nice place to nap. That’s about as deep as the story goes.

Tramp Song

Here is some halo
for a carpetbag saint:
the cherry-web blown
and the magnolia browned,
this bench with chipped paint
for a carpetbag throne.
Here is a motive
to be sleeping outside:
the banish of grey
from republican sky,
nobody’s denied
to be sleeping all day.
Here is a coda
on the night-weather’s chords:
by night, blessed to find
a chapel out of wind,
some bench with its boards
on the night-weather’s mind.