renovation twenty-one: vincent

I know I say this every day, but I warned that I’d be giving my least for these monthly prompts, didn’t I? (I’ve tried to give more than that as the occasion arises, but still, it’s been busy this month. It’s always busy.) Not much ado to be given, I feel. Here is the prompt (with two bonuses):

1. “I have watched you through windows and keyholes…” (Josh Bell, “One Shies at the Prospect of Raising Yet Another Defense of Cannibalism”)
2. “When I arrived, the elms had been shaved.” (Ruth Stone, “Romance”)
3. “Observe how we made a mess out of this.” (me, “(escondig at dawn)”)
4. a budget piece of modern art
5. Invent or relate a short narrative where you give away the end at the beginning, and then do not end at the end.
BONUS. Start every sentence (not line) with the same word AND/OR choose one vowel, and keep that vowel out of your poem entirely.
ALTERNATE (3). Use a line (either as a direct quotation, or just as inspiration) from another poem you have written in November.

…and here is the totally depressing narrative I invented out of it. Consider yourself forewarned! I kept repeating “the” and noticed I had left some a’s out, so I rolled with it. That, and I wanted to pick out some line from an earlier poem this month and make an implication out of it. The title is a maybe-too-obvious implication too.


The week before he committed suicide,
our fired neighbor broke up with his girlfriend,
drove up to Bennington one more time,
sold off on our stoop everything he owned
which would not be left behind in the will.
The money he collected in the pewter urn
would be sent to his mother for the plot
next to his brother, who drowned young.
The rest (the will instructed) would go
to the Vermont Forest Service, up north.
The morning he moved in, he’d sketched
our block in colored pencil: every grey,
peeling elm with their tissuey crowns,
the people hurrying in edgeless blurs.
The hour before he shot himself, sun
going down over the street, with nothing
left to give, he let the picture go for twenty
when we promised to mount it in our home.
The first moment we sensed something
might be wrong: his fingers clutched
round the corners of it, couldn’t offer it up
even with his will resolved, his eyes
set with their hopeless blue.

renovation seventeen: melancholia

I was going to try to get through the rest of the month without doing a Kay Ryan style poem; FAIL. Not because I’m not still totally into her work, but because I figured I should start imitating other poets more often. (The pendulum is swinging back towards the Mark Doty side of the spectrum.) But I just was in a mood for a brief Ryanesque ditty, what with the beautiful weather (I’m wearing a T-shirt! and no coat!) and the Sunday meander and all. Of course, tonight I’m headed back up to New York for another week of mayhem, but what can you do.

Here’s the assortment of treats for your Sunday prompt:

1. “I shall burn my house with the rising dawn.” (Robert Penn Warren, “Vision”)
2. “An artist is different from other people because…” (Brian Swann, “Peel”)
3. “Outside, the gulls begin to swivel and wheel.” (me, “Climate Change”)
4. a piece of canvas, not for painting
5. Answer a riddle in a unique and novel way.
BONUS. Make two sets of letters that don’t overlap. Your lines should all begin with letters from one set, and end with letters from the other.
ALTERNATE (5). Ask a question that you can’t answer.

And as often happens with the brief poems, some of the elements got flattened a little bit in mine. (1) turned into self-destruction and dawn, (2) turned into the ink on the finger, (3) and (4) turned into the bay and ships. And I fudged the bonus a bit at the beginning. But overall, I was thinking about artists committing suicide, and how bummed it makes me. Not that this is going to save anyone; this is just an idle thought or two. I just hope the theme doesn’t feel too forced.


Not everyone
refuses it. A couple
welcome the bitter
truce of muzzle
tucked beneath the tongue.
An ink-stained finger
is paralyzed
on the trigger. But they
stop at the brink
when they see
a fresh crop of sun,
or ships plying the bay.
The world being married
to the world,
how can we not go on?
Think of everything
left to say, everything
we’ve carried.

Fire Ecology

Since yesterday was kind of a bust (I passed out at 10:45, ugh!) I’m trying to crack away at some poems and things today, while there is nothing going on. This first one is for the Miz Quickly prompt of the day, to use five song titles as (respectively) the theme, the complication to be hidden, and three bits of text in a piece. After randomizing my iTunes, I ended up with:

Bedouin Soundclash, “Until We Burn in the Sun (The Kids Just Want a Love Song)”
The Postal Service, “This Place is a Prison”
The Magnetic Fields, “World Love”
Joy Simone, “India”
Michael Gray featuring Shelly Poole, “Borderline”

So if you were curious about what’s in my music library, those are reggae-ska, electro-alternative, worldish-alternative, worldish-acoustic, and disco-house, respectively. I’m kind of relieved the first two came up when they did, and that I didn’t have to use them uninterrupted in the poem, although maybe that would have helped clarify my direction. As it is, I just ended up doing a self-destructive love-to-be-escaped  poem type of thing chock full of clichés. But you know what, this is April: I am not particularly interested in writing things that are good, or original, or publishable. This should also be called Spaghetti Month: you throw lines at the wall and see what sticks. (But don’t forget to pull it down before too long, or it gets stuck there forever.)

Fire Ecology

Yes, I said, give me
the gazing-at-gods kind of love
that blinds, I want that,
screw the moth to the flame,
I want to be a grazing comet
wet with white sacrifice
breaking free of atmosphere
to throw itself into the sun,
wide-as-the-world love
crossing sawtoothed sierras
and seas black as India ink,
dissolved by your tongue and
crushed by the tip of your finger,
thinking that love is
the endless oil well, when in fact
all of it has risen from inside me
like kerosene, I have been
a wick of fortunate paper
crackling upward with prayers,
and you with your tongue
and your cage of fingers stand
on the borderline, quiet,
the god climbing out of his bath
indifferent, tall ponderosa pine
refusing to burn.

My Furious Heart Has Many Rooms

I’ve been meaning to do a slightly ekphrastic piece for Chris Millar’s sculpture 370H55V for a while, after seeing it last month in Massachusetts. It’s absolutely stunning in person: an intricate doll’s palace that seems to float in midair, containing hundreds (thousands?) of individual pieces, each of which seem to have erupted from a Wonderlander dropping acid. (I think I remember hearing/reading that it was almost entirely crafted from bits of paint, too? Not sure.) This poem could have been done ten times over, choosing different images each time, and been just as wiggly. See photos below.

Donna’s prompt to do a piece using all prepositional phrases was the impetus to get this down. It’s not a particularly elegant poem, but I guess it will do. There’s a line break with each preposition, and a Biblical allusion for good measure. Why not!

My Furious Heart Has Many Rooms
(after Chris Millar’s “370H55V”)

Between the distant ground and the impossible sky,
aboard a flying saucer wearing a candy-floss skirt
  and growing translucent crystal
along the xenobotanical garden’s gratings spun
out of silverfish dreams, which are gathered
  to catch the rainbow’s photo negative, dangling
among the twisted trees that climb to meet
  a three-of-spades Pisa, hearts-and-diamonds
  pretending to be Gothic pinnacles
with the sugar and milk teeth onion domes done
in lapis lazuli blue or brittle cracked pink,
  rounding the plumed Arabesque whose glory sings
  like steam escaping a kettle, castle balanced
on dolls’ hands, occupying the chambers
underneath the gangway (which rattles as the late
  February wind makes it shiver),
from which dangles a trinity of roots, until
  it is impossible to tell where the gravity begins,
  how each Fauvist-masked eidolon proceeds
towards the center and blinds itself
to a hollowed half-man, ice-eyed, shotgun barrels
  tongued carefully
against the roof of his mouth, ready to jump
off the edge
at the same time (to make it certain),
  unable to decide the value
of chaos, and beauty, and finally
  thinking maybe no infinity is worth
the tearful trouble.

With Melpomene at the Corner Table

Just an odd little one for the dVerse prompt of doing an “exile” poem, using a number of dialect words I don’t normally use, for no particular reason. I like the visual of someone practicing suicide notes at a table in a cafe, and getting fed up with the grammar of it until it just doesn’t seem worth following through anymore. (There’s a black comedy film scene in there somewhere.) Meanwhile, I finished my bartending class. Anybody want a cocktail?

Sunday evening, back to work tomorrow. Maybe I’ll just stay in tonight (at the cafe now), cruising poetry sites until I pass out (early).

With Melpomene at the Corner Table

We practice suicide notes,
balancing sentences atop their full stops
like TinkerToys,
a cage-cathedral
built to be collapsed.

The way the people queue up front,
carrying mugs and conversations in
both hands: we watch them
the way the leaf drooped from
a green stem
watches the flower, full of excuses.

Now the bin is heaped with papers
covered in scribbles and crossed-out lines,
which might seem
a good omen,
to whomever might find it.

Città al Fiume

Today’s RWP prompt (thanks to Jill!) is to take an unfinished poem from before and edit, re-work, do whatever to finish it. I’ve actually had the beginning of this sonnet sitting in my poetry scribbles for months now, so as soon as I saw the prompt, I knew I should just go back and see why I hated it… and you know what? I didn’t. It’s a perfectly fine Poesque little Petrarchan sonnet about the perils of exploring Italian rivers that needed a couple tweaks and the last five lines added in. I mean, I don’t think it’s awful anymore, at least. So it took me 15 minutes, I feel like I copped out, and I have to get up in six hours for the Big Important Meeting, so I should probably head to bed. Ta!

Città al fiume

Though strangers pass this paradise disarmed
by vain cathedrals clutching at the day,
we watch from windows where the waters lay
so heavy, hypnotized, their currents charmed;

what histories they hide, preserved unharmed,
awaiting exploration from the quay,
amphibious, desiring to display
some mystery, unknown and unalarmed:

what secrets left in riverbeds, in sand,
cold corpse and copper blue with age interred
and best forgotten, for if we descend

we might remain in that half-muted land,
the fascinated drowned who gasp unheard
while strangers wander round the river bend.

The Red Line is Experiencing Temporary Delays

After Internet troubles (noooo!) I am back in action, and tackling the RWP prompt (thanks to Nicole!) of a “cleave” poem. But they’re similar enough to the “quantum poetry” I’ve dabbled in a few times before, so I stuck with the usual way I find to cram two poems into one. The way this works is: read the un-italicized lines on the way down. Then read the italicized lines in reverse from the bottom up. Then read both kinds, every line, going back down. Or you could read the italicized ones on the way down only. Or you could do just about any other combination of this fashion, and hopefully it’ll still tell a slightly different story from a slightly different point of view each time. Did I mention I love this kind of poetry?

The Red Line is Experiencing Temporary Delays

A passenger has fallen ill, the announcement says,
    but it’s just not true. Why disturb anyone else today
with a serious condition, a life-threatening emergency:
   falling in front of trains tends to have that effect,
and we believe we sympathize. Between Dupont and A-M
    observers will be craning their necks. They see
the parallel tracks are blood- and bit-of-brain-colored,
   birdshot and scatterplot across the tunnel walls, and
one woman fainting from the mess. (She woke up,
   thought this was a dream, oscillating unpleasantly,
thinking normal Wednesday things as inoffensive as
   birds, who never stop singing. Much better off, if it had been
sunlit, warm, outdoors.) It will be a good forty minutes,
   before things start happening again, before starting to miss
meetings and appointments inconveniently cast aside;
    No turning back now, not really, or effectively. Better jump
at the next station, make arrangements. But do hurry,
   because the uncertain agitation is starting to become deadly.

Bridge Jumper

Today’s RWP prompt (thanks to Rhiannon!) was to go through a collection of photos we had and pick one out that you could “converse” with. I’m not much of a photo collector, so I went to Flickr, and as I’ve had bridges on my mind, typed in just the word “bridge” to see what came up. The one below (which you can and should click for the guy’s site!) immediately captured my attention, so the next part of the prompt was to dialogue with that image, ask questions that could form a poem. I ended up wanting to personify both the bridge and the anchor, work in all the philosophical and mythological thoughts I have about bridges (that thing about walling up the women is true in Balkan myth), and convey my sense of thoughtful unease in regarding this photo. It ended up being free verse rather than formal, but I still like it; the Nietzsche quote was a no-brainer.

Forth Rail Bridge by angus clyne

Bridge Jumper

“I love him who reserves no share of spirit for himself, but wants to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus he walks as spirit over the bridge.”
~~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Listen, he said:
they’re symbols of our power of nature,
mankind’s desire to break free of borders, rivers constricting
nooses around our necks, chains of mountaintops,
barriers to be leaped and pierced. We stitch ourselves

From the riverbed, as he stripped off his clothes, he told me:
there are whole mythologies about the right way to do it.
Serbia and places like that, they used to
wall up their women to make sure the structure would stand.
Ancient Rome would mount the heads of traitors there.
Every good construction has some blood in it,
steeped with a soul. That’s transformation. That’s
immortality, and civic duty at once.

Sunset touched his rolling eyes, spheres of carnelian
darting unsteadily in time with his pronouncement:
I want that kind of connection. You’ll see me when you see
angels of steel crossing their wings together,
bearing up the cars and the people. How many souls
do you think have washed up on the piers by now?
Who has jumped? Who populates
this rattling metallic corner of purgatory?
Descent into the underworld is achieved at water’s edge;
to come through it you must first fall from a height.

Motionless, he lets the breezes sway him, singing:
feel my pulse through the metal, you old
feat of engineering; bind me to your ankles,
hold you in place; teach me how you stretch yourself
from a here to a beyond;

and his ecstatic shout was thousandfold shrapnel
and the indigo sky tumbled off him into the sea.

Banish the Night

The One Single Impression prompt today is “departed”, so this is a poem about all kinds of departure… physical, geographical, emotional. It’s been a rough month.

In other news, the Poetic Asides challenge is going well… haven’t done my Day 9 poem yet, but if you haven’t seen the site yet, you should go have a look! I’m thinking pretty strongly about putting a chapbook together after November, but I’m not quite sure how to go about gathering a selection of poems, constructing, marketing, etc. Does anyone have some advice? (I feel like I need to submit to more journals first, too.)

Banish the Night

Once in a while, I go through the might-have-beens:
what I would have done if they’d called and said
they found you too late,
pills in one hand and knife in the other,
what if I’d lied to you with revenant words,

what if I hadn’t escaped in the first blush of dawn
with the sky still pink as our cheeks in the cold;

I think the world would be less without your
birdlike steps, for that weight, however slight, keeps
the planet from going unhinged
and when you’d gone, crowing your way to the sunrise
I could hope you wouldn’t hate me too much

but the truth is you lived, and sacred dead flesh,
grave wax, that  was the dream, fleeing nocturnal;

and the day reveals instead more pitiful creatures,
the corpse of our interaction, mathematical matrix
reduced to zero, fled,
in truth I’ll spend my morning with the shrine of
all you left behind when you cursed me:

stuffed animals and books in strange tongues, paint
on canvas, a scent in the blankets, and me.


Once in a while, I go through the might-have-beens:

what I would have done if they’d called and said

they found you too late,

pills in one hand and knife in the other,

what if I’d lied to you with revenant words,

what if I hadn’t escaped in the first blush of dawn

with the sky still pink as our cheeks in the cold;

I think the world would be less without your

birdlike steps, for that weight, however slight, keeps

the planet from going unhinged

and when you’d gone, crowing your way to the sunrise

I could hope you wouldn’t hate me too much

but the truth is you lived, and sacred dead flesh,

grave wax, that  was the dream, fleeing nocturnal;

and the day reveals instead more pitiful creatures,

the corpse of our interaction, mathematical matrix

reduced to zero, fled,

in truth I’ll spend my morning with the shrine of

all you left behind when you cursed me:

stuffed animals and books in strange tongues, paint

on canvas, a scent in the blankets, and me


Sometimes we do foolish things to try understand why people do foolish things. I know I’m no exception, though I don’t like to confess to it very often. But that’s the fourth sacrament, after all: confession and reconciliation. I hate to admit that I’ve done something harmful to someone because of sheer stupidity, and I often go to ridiculous places in my brain to comprehend my actions/their reactions. This is one such thing that happened, though perhaps it’s not all true; it is an October happening, and has to do with people fucking up their bodies (literally and metaphorically), so that’s my body poem challenge connection this time.

This is an exceptionally anguished poem. I’d rather not talk about it later.


Black seed from the spinebacked womb,
separate me mercifully.  Start with the joints.
Share me your mystery when you undo
the knots of my breath and the dirt in my soul.
I watched you spring from crushed brown leaves
in the frigid sunlight by the side of a weeping road.
I squeezed myself with your thorns in hand
and sucked my thumb to taste the ink in my veins,
hoping it would lead me to understanding.

Men who are not there are tenderizing me,
their eyes hungry, the bed smelling like smoke
from the cooking fire.  Black seed, I have
such tears and such confusion.  Show me
the auguries you’ve cast from my knucklebones,
sore and stretched by the shortening days.
Open my gates and stick in the red-hot pokers
to make me admit.  Rub that dirt in the wounds.
Paint the story of my shame on my skin.

They said that I would speak to the ones
in far-off places, beyond where the wires reach.
I lost my love in the roadside grove, traded him
for a dead man walking.  (Snap my tendons now.)
In the worst of my nightmares, I feel him,
dry rot and white noise, pointing, repeating,
here, here, you buried it here.  His dreams are
thrusting on mine, and the friction, black seed,
it keeps me warm. These nights are shivering me.