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.

Stolen Sermon

Ugh. I am not satisfied with this one, but I felt like I had to do some kind of poem this evening. This is for Donna’s prompt, inspired by Melissa Stein’s “Robber Girl”; I’ve heard nothing but praises for her collection Rough Honey, and this poem is a clear example. I tried to appropriate (rob!) as much of the aspect of it as I could in one go, and fell woefully flat. But this is an attempt, at least, to have the “robber girl” persona show through a bit, as well as be a somewhat simplified sonnet and have a word-becoming-another-word. Tried to concentrate certain sounds through the poem, keep a bit of rhyme in, and have a sort-of-turn that didn’t work at all. I’m proud of how transpose can be re-arranged to patroness though.

But still, I need to go think of something better.

Stolen Sermon

What does the goddess of thieves desire?
Intangible things: the taste of apples
in August, the juice scooped from skins like rough
gems offered with a slight hand. She appears
when the lock is broken, the knot undone.
And your prayer’s never answered without a price:
a bee dance, a genie of ice and fire.
What does the woman with everything want?
You’ll know it when it slips through your fingers:
a jeweled word, a song, dimly unwound and
unheard. She swallows a little more light
out of the world: just a scrap at a time.
How easy does knighted transpose to night:
what does its patroness crave as she nears?