A Frost

All right, all right, I did an erasure poem. I’m normally not fond of these, but I figured I should be a good sport with the spirit of the NaPoWriMo prompt and do one. I’ve marked the erased text in cream, so you can probably still make out the original, but try to only read the black text, I guess. These always make me feel distinctly un-creative: I feel like taking someone else’s work and chopping away pieces with a machete leaves behind something that is either too similar, or makes so little sense (and the sense it does make is only because of what was there originally). But then, maybe I’m picking the wrong poems, or maybe I’m just trying too hard. I don’t know, this and transliteration are just the bugbears of my text-mucking life.

A Visit from St. Nicholas
(with apologies to Clement Moore)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

Recursion Twenty-Six: city by the sea

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”
~ Norman Maclean, American short story author

Scribbling out a quick prompt while I have the chance…!

Because I assume you want to know more about my sorry little life, after a crisis of confidence in writing last night, I realized that I’d pretty much hit The Wall of NaPoWriMo. You know how runners talk about the wall, that point where your body just refuses to function any further, and even the physics of momentum/inertia seems like it can’t keep you going forward? Muscles and nerves refusing to fire, etc.? I think that about sums up how it was. (I ended up surfing the Net for 2 hours.) But I jotted off a quick rhymey ditty, went to bed, and woke up early enough this morning to treat myself to another pancake breakfast with my notebook in hand. I have to stop making a habit out of this, but at least  it got me feeling like there were things worth saying that I could say, and setting things in motion again. If you’re at that point with the month, never fear: we’re in the final stretch now.

Our river has begun its final descent to the sea. I’m a big fan of cities at river mouths, for some reason: New York, Philadelphia, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam. And even seaside places that don’t have a major river by them: Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco. Paris and London and Montreal are all lovely, but there’s too much land around; I love a good marine vista. There’s something about allowing the water to parcel us up that has an implicit (and sometimes misplaced) trust in nature, but also an assertiveness in catching ourselves between land and sea, in the hopes of taming both. We rely on both for survival, and have managed to turn both into mechanisms of trade and development. Or maybe it’s just that now and then we need something to gaze at which is impossible to turn busy: you need a lot of ships and swimmers to make the ocean as distracting as developed earth. People can approach such a city from all directions, and so many factors come together to make them grow, sometimes more than they should, but always in a way that seems relatively effortless.

Such a metropolis is ripe with things to appropriate for poems. If you don’t live in such a place, don’t worry: our exercise today does not rely on firsthand/current experience with it. Think back to those prompts when I asked you to grow things along the edges of a river, using its water. Rather than growing, this time we are going to allow things to come to the river; and remember, the nature of the current has changed, twisted, amplified. Go out and do some gathering in your everyday: try to find twenty items for a list, be they concrete items, abstract ideas, everyday moments, unique experiences, bodily feelings, momentary emotions, or random musings. I recommend standing up and walking around (as Miz Quickly also has you doing today), through a park, a garden, or some other liminal space between the natural and the urban. See how the built collides with the unbuilt, and make note of the interactions that take place.

With that spirit held close, begin to go through your poems this week and see how they reflect the river itself, that line of theme and image that’s been increasing its velocity. Which of the items in your list will be nourished by that stream‘s water? If you noticed a man polishing hubcaps this morning, it may not fit with iconoclastic grief, but if you saw warblers tearing yesterday’s paper to shreds, that could be perfect. Let’s say that for my biological process in the world theme, I came across bees swarming around a dead pigeon, taxicabs nearly colliding, and a woman, topless, smoking on her fire escape. The middle one probably wouldn’t work very well, but the other two have potential. Explore the interaction between these found moments and the theme in question; I know we’ve been doing a lot of resonating of this kind, but my goal is that it puts you in a state of mind to perceive and be ready to investigate such correspondences. Part of the charm of poetry is its ability to pick out the unexpected meanings; part of the charm of the river-as-city-aorta is that sooner or later, everyone wanders down to see it.

And for added masochistic shiggles, if you need a particular form challenge today, it is Day 26, so… maybe try an abecedarian, where each line of the poem starts with the next letter of the alphabet. (Start with whichever letter you want, and maybe circle back to the beginning in a final, 27th line.) Then show us what you’ve got!

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.


I think — think — this is my fiftieth draft this month (not all of them have been posted), not counting a few revisions of old work along the way. Which means I might achieve my goal of doing two poems + one prompt each day in April after all, which would be a huge relief. (I could sleep happy into May 1.) Maybe I will try to get a little bit ahead of myself this weekend to ease up on Monday and Tuesday next week. But a lot of these also have been remixes, found poems, re-worked texts, and a translation; not sure if I should count those. I suppose the point is to mess with language a little bit and see what happens, yeah? In any case, I think this year’s NaPo has exhausted me than any other I’ve done so far, and I need some serious regroup after it. For now, this is for Poets + Writers‘ challenge to open a book you’re reading (mine: Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates) to a random page (75) and use only the words on that page to make a “literary object”. The title is a throwaway, and I don’t actually feel the way I describe here, but I suppose it works, kind of. Meh. I think I’m usually better off when I just write my own thing… damn this prompt-addiction!


When I learned longing,
it was too abstract, too dark
with the American night.
My dream-shell might be
casual ink; my fierce choices
free of translation.
An emotional phrase grows
husked and rare in my ears,
later to turn black
with functions. The moon always
explaining; the custom of love
a world-weight, appearing.
Why, I also learned opening,
original and imagistic,
but inside the usual vividness
I stood here too aware. I was
made in reverse, then
believed that image mine.

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.

Fire Ecology, remixed

Too much chocolate, I think, has left me with an unhappy stomach this evening. At least, that’s what I’m blaming it on, because the very idea of being sick simply won’t do in my life right now. For dinner, I have eaten an avocado sprinkled with salt, and I think that will be all I need. Meanwhile, catching up some poetry business… tomorrow is the Rainbow Book Fair, which will eat up a lot of time, but since I already feel slumped from work today, I will redouble my efforts to get some things written in the scraps of time available. On Sunday I’ll do a count of poems, because it will be nigh the halfway point, and I’d like to check. The goal this month was 2 poems + 1 prompt per day + an extra prompt/poem whenever I could toss one in. (Not all of them have been online.) I should be up to 24 and a few. What the hell am I thinking?

Miz Quickly was asking for remixes of stuff we’ve already written this month. I took “Fire Ecology” from last week and tried a cut-up remix, as well as an erasure. I miss the actual Erasures site; I hope they come back soon. Meanwhile, this is what I’ve got; I’ll count it as some progress for the day, I suppose!

Fire Ecology, remixed

endless upward tongue give tongue and
risen his god indifferent, want fortunate sun,
wide-as-the-world throw the kerosene,
cage cage seas said;

I paper crackling finger, thinking kerosene,
stand on your white moth seas as India
your kerosene of want crossing me
the prayers, and

oil god sawtoothed inside give sierras
and ink, dissolve the well, thinking your love that is
the prayers, and to sacrifice breaking well,
to climb with your fact;

all kerosene, atmosphere to fortunate sun,
wide-as-the-world comet wet grazing inside prayers,
and India be atmosphere to stand on
endless, itself risen as I, thinking

Fire Ecology (rmxd)

give me
love that blinds,

the flame grazing wet white
free of atmosphere

throw it into
black ink,

dissolve your tongue and
endless wick

prayers, your tongue
your cage, quiet god

out of his indifferent burn


Well, I find myself somewhat bemused, but also chuffed, that my blog showed up on the WordPress Freshly Pressed site this morning. (Although, like when they show those sweepstakes winners on TV, and they answer the door in housecoats or sweatpants with, I don’t know, pizza sauce in their upper lip, I feel like the particular post that was featured was one of my clunkier ones.) Honestly, I have no idea how that process works, but: thanks, WordPress! I hope that means people like the blog, and that if there are new people cruising my writing, they like it, too.

So, I’m doing a couple different challenges for the month, some of which I will put on here, some of which I won’t. I think that the NaPoWriMo.net ones will all find their way here, as will other prompted poems as the occasion arises. There will also be daily Recursions, and occasional Refineries. But then, as always, I will keep my workshop poems offline, along with other prompt work that happens when I least expect it. (Tomorrow I’m going down to DC, so I hope a long bus ride will be fruitful. The next day, a ride back up!) Got in two today, though, so I hope that’s a good start…

I’ve been thinking about writing some more lurid-dream poetry. The intersection of sexuality, religion, gritty city things, elemental imagery, and lyric turns of phrase is still, ultimately, my favorite assortment of things in a poem, so probably the NaPo ones will lean heavily on those this month. I’ll get chaste and prudish and whimsical again later. The prompt for Day 1 was to use the first line of another poem for the first of your own, and I ended up using “Life is Fine” by Langston Hughes. Although, this is pretty much as opposite a direction you could go in as possible from his piece. Um, enjoy!


I went down to the river
Saturday night. I wanted to see her
disassemble the moon, make
little lamp-mirrors to mark the path.
And the men were walking on water
over to the boys’ side
to celebrate the first of Spring. It was
open-up-your-zippers weather
with two cold teeth subtle in its mouth.
The river hummed to be trod on,
sacred and sure in her alto murmur
under a stinking bridge.
I was waiting on a wooden bench.
I was the witness for sudden weddings
dripped from the earliest rosebuds.
And the river: the priestess.
One man pissed in her steady lap, then
sat next to me to make his proposals.
But I said, no, I am only here
changing the night into a story.
Watching the river spell out her name.
I perform no miracles, I kissed
into his ear. And the water is
a bitch tonight, wanting so much to be
more like us, who seem so alive.