poem-a-thon 8: homecoming

Third poem of the day (though only the first post), and it’s only 4:00 PM! I feel pretty swanky about that, considering I have plans and plots to do two more by the end. But it’s eight days in and I’ve already written… 25 I think? I wonder if I can get to 100 poems by the end of the month? Although I think I’ll probably be repeating a lot of themes and language by the end if I do that, and I wonder if it will be that much harder to synthesize the drafts into something with serious legs after the fact…

This is for the NaPoWriMo prompt to do a poem that’s a re-write of a famous one. I chose “the sonnet-ballad” by Gwendolyn Brooks, as it’s one of my favorites of hers (and the form fusion is a wonderful technique). And given my Poem-a-thon hoojazz, the notion of a trans youth being sent to a religious “correctional facility” stood out in my mind; not sure if the voice here is a lover or a sibling, but I got a little heavy-handed either way. Yeesh, I have to start writing lighter…

(sonnet-ballad after Gwendolyn Brooks)

My prince, my prince, what has become of you?
They scraped your polished nails and washed your face
to make you right, they said. I don’t know who
this boy is, slouching homeward in your place.
On Sundays, mother wears her best disgrace
while father burns your rouge, your skirts, your weaves.
My prince, whose leatherette was trimmed with lace,
you’ve come undone beneath the hands of thieves,
these holy thieves. And mother prays, believes
the priests will save you; father mends the walls,
ices his knuckles. I’m the one who grieves:
who are you, silent when the night bird calls?
Some sacred knife has sliced your self in two.
My prince, my prince, what has become of you?

poem-a-thon 2: maithuna

Having written seven poems in 48 hours… I’m a little bit worn out. But here’s one more for the day, to fulfill my Poem-a-thon requirements (guys! please donate!) and fold in the NaPoWriMo prompt. The idea was to use a non-Greco-Roman mythology bit as inspiration for a poem, and since I’m working in some queer theme space this month, I found that there are some erotic attestations in particular South Asian mythologies. I’ve decontextualized them a lot, as I don’t want to step on faithful toes; I’ve sprung a long way from that jumping-off point. But, well, there it is.

“Maithuna” is sexual union in a ritual context. This is also a sonnet, kind of. Enjoy while I go pass out for not nearly enough hours.


This is not love, he says. This is balance:
all matter springs from tug-of-war. The give
and the receive. He says he cannot live
without knowing what my drug is for: the chance
to open wide, to swallow, drink in the moon.
He says he was an artist once as well.
His hands and lips burn. He says, not too soon–
a coy delay’s the hardest thing to sell.
I offer up my stock of pearls, freshly stinking,
liquid and cool. He kneels and weeps relief.
Through him I see the world– the arc of time,
the elder eyes, a parched land always drinking.
I yield my shallows to his deeps. My thief
and savior: we all owe something for our crimes.

renovation eleven: escondig at dawn

It’s been a slow morning thus far, so I was able to rattle this one off pretty quickly. And I was able to rattle it off quickly because I was feeling a bit formal today, though only just a bit. I must apologize once more to Barbara for borrowing her term again (although I still haven’t found the original quote, wherever it lies) and appropriating it into saying unseamed sonnet, which I’ll use from now on for these not-quites. Here’s the prompty bit:

1. “The clouds had made a crimson crown…” (Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, “A Moment”)
2. “All the ocean’s water without me and yet in me.” (Roger Reeves, “Black Laws”)
3. “…fresh honey and the smell of sweat in parkland.” (me, “Horoscope”)
4. crumbs
5. Try to begin unpacking a paradox that normally leaves you tongue-tied. Don’t worry, you don’t have to get very far.
BONUS. Write an unseamed sonnet.
ALTERNATE (3). Use a line from one of your own previous poems that emphasizes some specific smells/tastes (more than one, if possible).

So, I’m saying “unseamed” rather than “seamless” because the latter has a connotation of so perfectly done that you don’t even notice the thing. I think an unseamed sonnet should be noticeable; I like to use it when I want to suggest a sonnet, but be pessimistic about it. For me, it’s a “this poem isn’t good enough to be a sonnet” kind of thing. And unlike a secret sonnet which is perfect, aside from the shuffling of line breaks, the unseamed sonnet can subvert any of the various elements of a “proper sonnet”. Here’s my example:

(escondig at dawn)

Consider the kiss I did not give.
And the moon still up and ghostly with dawn.
The picnic devoured, our shirts undone.
The jam on your lip I was tempted with.
Observe how we made a mess out of this.
How our faces developed in the marbled sun.
And no bravery but the occasional crumb.
The do-or-do-not of the unclasped wrist.
Remember I thought I knew better.
All my broken glass shone up from the river.
We buttoned, and folded, packed the basket.
The day in our flesh grew warmer, redder.
Look how I swayed between now and never.
Some future in my eyes, I couldn’t look past it.

Obviously, the iambic has gone right out the window (though I oscillated around ten syllables). There is a rhyme scheme, but all the rhymes are willfully imperfect and slant. Any kind of volta in line nine is buried deep, with only a metal detector showing it up. The theme is not particularly lofty or well-developed, at least at first. Still, it’s fourteen lines, and there is a modicum of sound, and something about the poem striving for sonnethood reflects, in my opinion, the theme of cowardice in love. An escondig, incidentally, is an old troubadour theme-form about a lover’s apology: sorry I couldn’t be confident enough to make a move, sorry I couldn’t get over my jaded attitude from the past clouding our possible future, sorry I couldn’t write you an actual sonnet.

But that’s all just my stuff. Y’all do what y’all want with it.

renovation six: sonnet for matins

One-fifth of the way through the month already; where does the time go? Perhaps it’s used up creating prompts:

1. “To gaze upon the fatal / without commiserating gloom:” (Sharon Dolin, “Avoid Adapting Other People’s Negative Views”)
2. “The other says: I only know a thread is loose on my sweater…” (Hsia Yü, “To Be Elsewhere”)
3. “People are sinking into tea roses.” (me, “An Anthology”)
4. a bicycle wheel
5. Describe a sixty-second pause in your day.
BONUS. Include at least three lines of perfect iambic pentameter that are not next to each other in the poem.
ALTERNATE (3). Use a line from one of your own previous poems featuring an active, lush verb and a sensual, precise noun.

Some time ago, Barbara used the term a “sonnet with the seams let out”, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. This poem ended up being just such a thing, not quite blank verse, not quite sonnet, but still 14 lines and 10 syllables per line, with some pentameter thrown in for fun. I wish I could say there was more reality to what I wrote today than there actually is, but I did have particular places, people, and feelings in mind while writing it. I think I’m more fond of it than I expected to be (and probably still riding the wave of a positive reception at workshop last night):

(sonnet for matins)

Drifting to work, I stop by the fountain
to touch the morning glories and throw coins
into the water. My church is cement,
wrought iron, and vine. There are men with dogs
asleep among the bushes with their feet
gone red and lined from cold. This time of year
gets deadly. My two prayers are a penny
tossed for the last flowers and a dollar bill
stuffed in a coffee cup offered by hands
that shake. The cyclists roll through. The students
smoke in the shaded corners, their elbows
jutting through white sleeves. My blessings are this
square of city and visible breath, and
the parting hope of leading someone out.

If you’re feeling stuck by a prompt, I think the BONUS element is a good match to hold to the fuse. Form often helps us force our brain into a poetic space, I think, if it’s not overdone; I think it’s easy to get so caught up in the patterns that we lose some of the vision. But a little bit of form goes a long way, making bones for the poem, which is why I’ve tried to give these delicate, almost incidental hints of form as part of the prompts. Though, I might have gotten a little carried away myself with it today.

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.


One more before I go make dinner and then proceed to a friend’s graduation-from-acting-school show. (I know, look at me, such the social butterfly today.) Miz Quickly is asking for sonnets. The thing with me and sonnets — and I may have given this story before — is that, back in high school (during the first era of poetry, when I was a high school poet like everyone else), I used to be part of, and eventually run, this online poetry group thing on Saturday evenings, because I was totally one of the Cool Kids. And one of the challenges we used to do was Seven-Minute Sonnets (sometimes Six-), where you were given a line/a theme/three specific words, and had that length of time to do a sonnet. So I got very practiced at doing rapid rhyme and pentameter, and when lucky, a volta (as every good sonnet should have).

The downside is that I can almost never think of a theme for sonnets. Every sonnet prompt I’ve seen is, I think, simply “write a sonnet”, because that’s usually enough. Which means I have to go hunting for ideas; I refuse, point-blank, to default to doing a love sonnet. I cruised over to Verse Daily and ended up at the Charles Simic poem “Roadside Stand”; I only read the first line before immediately rushing back to write the sonnet, after an experience from childhood I’m probably mis-remembering. The sonnet is about as regular and exactas I get with them; the narrative is pretty self-explanatory. And this is one of my rare actual narrative poems, with very little else going on it (except for maybe a too-subtle allusion here or there), so… enjoy!


My mother swings off-course and cries, fresh corn!
The sign hangs awkward, painted red and white:
she knows the market. We are sometimes born-
again to local farms, lapsed converts sworn
then swayed and swayed again. A secret right,
an unpaved road, the farmer’s gingham wife
up to our window. Taste this, have a bite–
but we crave corn. The wife sighs, money’s tight,
we had to sell. Instead, she has black plums
like far-off planets ready for the knife.
Of course, desire denied is hard-replaced:
but see the yard, the house. My mother thumbs
through dollars: we’ll make cobbler, or still-life.
The fruit is passed; my mother’s hand, embraced.

The Artist’s Dream

Ten minutes to spare, and I am beasting out a poem before bed. This is actually not an original: Poets and Writers asked for translations, though I think they were half-serious. Maybe tomorrow I’ll do a looser, more goofy one, but since I just wanted to exercise some part of my brain creatively before calling it quits tonight*, I grabbed the book of Émile Nelligan poems I picked up in Montréal last time I was there, and chose one at random. He’s a very formal poet from the last century, so his style is quite unlike mine, but I don’t mind it so much. Viv can probably do a much better one; this was rushed, and pretty free with the perfect alexandrine sonnet form of the original. Anyway, it’s something, which (this month) is almost always better than nothing.

(* My caveat is that I did have workshop tonight, and I was very proud of what I wrote for it; I think they liked it better than the one I actually revised/prepared for discussion. But as I don’t make a habit of posting workshop poems on here… another was needed.)

The original French:

Rêve d’artiste

Parfois j’ai le désir d’une sœur bonne et tendre,
D’une sœur angélique au sourire discret :
Sœur qui m’enseignera doucement le secret
De prier comme il faut, d’ésperer et d’attendre.

J’ai ce désir très pur d’une sœur éternelle,
D’une sœur d’amitié dans le règne de l’Art,
Qui me saura veillant à ma lampe très tard
Et qui me couvrira des cieux de sa prunelle ;

Qui me prendra les mains quelquefois dans les siennes
Et me chuchotera d’immaculés conseils,
Avec le charme alié des voix musiciennes ;

Et pour qui je ferai, si j’aborde à la gloire,
Fleurir tout un jardin de lys et de soleils
Dans l’azur d’un poème offert à sa mémoire.

…and, my translation:

The Artist’s Dream

Sometimes I wish for a sister, gentle and kind,
angelic, and with a Mona Lisa smile:
a sister who will softly teach me the way
to pray as one must, to hope for a while.

I have this pure wish for a sister, eternal,
who keeps company with the essence of Art,
who’ll know me by the lamp that burns late
and come cover me with the sky in her heart.

Sometimes she’ll take my hands in her own
and whisper in my ear some sisterly advice
in a strange melody that charms with its tone.

And if I can follow her out of the world,
I’ll grow a garden sown with lilies and stars
to her honor, in a sky-blue poem I’ve unfurled.

Ghazal at a Rave

Happy February! A friend of a friend of mine is doing a creative challenge thing for the month called 28K/28D, that is, 28000 words in 28 days. I’m going to spin it a bit: I want to try to meet a creative goal every day, because I have an assortment of them this month. (A poem will obviously count as one, but I have a couple prose projects that have been lying in the dust since December, and some crafty things to take care of.) As I’ve said before, new resolutions are a slow, accumulative process for me: I’ve been reasonably revising my lifestyle through January, and now it’s time to take it to the second level in February. I’m hoping additional electric shocks to the creativity will effect that.

Samuel Peralta has a prompt at dVerse to combine the ghazal and sonnet. I often end up doing iambic pentameter in ghazals anyway, but this time I have also made efforts to get a sonnet-fashion thematic turn, some internal rhymes and strong pre-refrain ghazal rhymes going (though I snuck in that extra syllable for kicks). Patricia Smith, with her Hip-Hop Ghazal (still one of my favorites!) is my spirit guide. The poem has a pretty simple narrative — I could call it “the time I went to a rave with the deaf pill-popper guy I had a huge crush on” — that doesn’t really betray any depth of emotion. In the workshop, I was accused (well, maybe “labeled” is a less fiery word) of being a virtuoso for bringing a carefully-crafted, lyrical poem that didn’t have enough dimension to it. I’m trying to fix that, but not on this one: the form is hard enough to do interestingly without giving it veins.

Ghazal at a Rave

Got spattered boots tied low to kiss the downbeat,
got phosphorescence strung to wrists. The downbeat–

all anabolic glow, you’re rhapsody
in blue, all star-shot when you miss the downbeat–

I love imperfect flow. I love to see
such un-restraint. Your debut. Hiss the downbeat–

hold high those fingers, throw mirage on me.
I’ll sidle up and watch you twist the downbeat–

you sign for pills? and no more ecstasy.
I fumble, sorry, shrug through this. The downbeat–

our grinding hips, your crowing wordless glee
before you move to find new bliss, the downbeat–

transcending speech. Say Joe by hand when we
part ways. Then pause and lift two fists. The downbeat–

Winter Begins Like A Cataract

Three hours later, here I am at the neighborhood Starbucks (walking distance from the parental house: yeah!), looking at the absolutely dismal sky. It’s very wintry today, even if it’s not snowing: chilly, superbly windy, damp, drab, bare, llwyd*, and throwing into sharp relief all the more the glories of being wrapped in a snug coat with a mug of something steamy, having friends and family and candles nearby in the night. That’s winter, to me. DVerse is asking for kyrielles, which I loathe, and kyrielle sonnets, which I find marginally more interesting, so this is the latter. I did see two hawks doing their little courtship circle over what could have been (today) a post-apocalyptic supermarket parking lot, but I have never had cataracts. Truth be told, though, the whole world turning to dirty canvas like it is, I’d not be surprised if it is like this.

Llwyd is one of my favorite words in any language. It’s Welsh for “grey”, but it covers more than just smoke or steel or donkey coat color. It’s also that drab brown of winter earth, the color of stripped trees, the cloud-covered sky, the spectrum from “dun” to “ashen” to “taupe”. At least, that’s what I was taught; maybe it just means “grey” to most people.

On multiple occasions lately, I’ve seen one blind person leading another on Seventh Avenue. It’s a marvelous thing to observe, given the proverb about such situations.

Winter Begins Like a Cataract

Two hawks circling the nicotine sky
forget the sun. The red-rimmed eye
whispers, must the mysteries of sight
dive low to drink? The end of light
has starved them to an ambient grey.
Two hawks with swallowing throats display
their plumage. And we– you and I–
dive low, too. Drink the end of light
from plastic cups, take in the scene:
two hawks hunting, the lots picked clean,
quiet wait-in-the-weeds. Blind men sigh,
dive low. Here’s to the end. A flight:
two hawks circling the nicotine sky
dive low to drink the end of light.

The Wake

This has not been a good summer for anyone, it seems like. Today we lost a family friend (my brother’s godfather), who had been struggling with illness for a long time. It’s unsettling when there just seems to be nothing but death and misfortune in your life and the lives of others that you know, but I suppose we must reach the bottom of things before they can improve, sometimes. Anyway, DVerse asked for a sonnet, so this was on my mind today. I think that really, no one is good at funerals, but some people are just better at faking it than me. A happier one tomorrow, I hope…

The Wake

I don’t know what to say at funerals;
I have no words of remedy, no cures.
(The ancients wrote them somewhere, to be sure,
in sea-drowned tomes or black incunables.)
I know the minute’s worth in numerals,
how necessary that each hour endures.
I know the things to say to sound mature;
but nothing easy, nothing beautiful.
So silence is the haven where I go:
dealt out with hands, drawn in with memory.
I know my observations: husbands, wives,
this dim grey peace, this timeless undertow.
I know enough to know this treasury,
these things that fill our dreamless afterlives.