Today’s prompt was the challenge to write a poem that argues against, or somehow questions, a proverb or saying.
They say that “all cats are black at midnight,” but are they really? Surely some of them remain striped. And maybe there is an ill wind that blows some good. Perhaps that wind just has some mild dyspepsia.
I chose a phrase from Emily Dickinson who had become my muse for this poetry writing month. It’s rather a metaphor than a proverb but that’s close enough for me today. I’m feeling the joy of tweaking a piece I wrote some time ago when Ryan was still living directly underneath the Brown Line “L” Train in Chicago.
when death comes
emily says dying is a wild night and a new road. i say dying is sort of like walking too close to the rails when the chicago “l” whizzes by--whooosh! nowyouseeme. nowyoudon’t. dying tastes like a quiet color in explosive rainbow proportions. i hear the clacking coming, i feel the rush of wind, i touch the steamy air just before that silver bullet train whizzes toward me.
i wonder if the actual moment of death feels like being a rider on the train watching the people stare as i pass by them.
i wonder if death feels like new life.
i wonder if becalmanddie would make a good slogan on a billboard to advertise dying.
perhaps emily is right after all; perhaps there should be a billboard sign lit in blinking neon lights, guiding the way home on the new road, which just happens to pass a tad too close to the Chicago l tracks—
Today’s prompt is based on Robert Hass’s remarkable prose poem, “A Story About the Body.” The idea is to write my own prose poem that, whatever title I choose to give it, is a story about the body. The poem should contain an encounter between two people, some spoken language, and at least one crisp visual image. Here is my attempt.
For me, holding things in has been a way of life. The natural outcome of this internal action has been the external result of packing on the pounds.
I was never allowed to talk about anything negative, especially any sort of family issues in front of anyone else. And I learned that habit young.
Only recently have I learned to express myself in healthy ways, holding others accountable for their words and actions. Only recently have I been able to consistently begin to shed the weight of those secrets, and along with it, has come actual weight loss.
Fifty-two pounds, to be exact.
There is no more holding of secrets, and I don’t plan to pass this on to the next generation. It can stop with me.
“Sssh. Hush hush. Don’t say that. It’s taboo.” Only the perfect blush of color is allowed in our flawless family tree. No embolus of evil, no skeletons here. No binges of beer or illegitimate broods. No family feuds. “Sssh. Hush hush. Don’t say that. It’s taboo.” And so my story begins: I'm not allowed to show disappointment or speak pain into the air. “Surely it wasn’t quite that way. Anyway,it all happened yesterday.” I must move on. Get over it. Suck it in. Suck it up. So I suck up everything I can find until my body swells with the excess weight. My feet slow, my spirits droop, and even in my sluggish state, I hear her voice, “But don’t you dare spit it out.” So I shut my mouth—I suck it up like a Hoover vacuum, like the vortex of a tornado, like a slurpee through a straw, and all I'm left with is one colossal brain-freeze.
This particular writing challenge was to write a poem that stretches my comfort zone with line breaks. Well, this poem stretched my comfort level with many things.
At first I thought perhaps I’d write a poem with very long lines, or maybe one with very short lines. Or a poem that blends the two? Who knows what that might look like? I vacillated between all of these ideas.
Maybe breaking apart lines to emphasize (or de-emphasize) sounds or rhymes, or creating a moment of hesitation in the middle of a thought might be the way to go.
My method was to read several different poems, and then I began to write. Every poem and its process brings out some different part of myself. Even the story poems that are outside of my personal experience have a piece of me woven into them.
Before posting this poem, I was reading the story of a sweet friend who has deconstructed and reconstructed the faith and religion of her youth. I could totally connect with all that she shared.
For each one of us the process is different, but I hope for each one of you that you love and live near the edge of the world with gusto.
near the edge of the world with gusto if not lunacy. she chose unity with herself.
She lost her vision from living in the darkness— the rose colored glasses foggy from flashes of light.
A ray of hope in no man’s land she teetered on the edge of the cliff. The sedge a sign
of her dry bones. the moon rose unbidden, nearly hidden by love.
She loved wild and reckless— in the light no danger of flight— I think.
Watching the first episode of the Netflix Original “High on the Hog”, listening to the news stories of the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and reflecting on the documentary of the Holocaust in Hungary, my heart became weighted down.
The grief was real. And heavy.
But I know the importance of wading through the ugly parts of history. We must know where we’ve went been to know where we are going.
We remember the past, so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.
Life In The Middle
A story has no beginning and it has no end, which leaves me living somewhere in the middle. Though I’m not one who came before,
I’ve no breath without the exhale of my ancestors. I come home to the place they left; I hold on so that place is not forgotten.
We must know where we have been, and where we are in order to understand where we are going; if we choose to ignore the past,
we ignore a part of ourselves. Light shines in the dark, and sunshine chases away the dim shadows, but where do the memories hide?
Where does the past leave the present? In the stillness of the night skies, there lives the anguish in our blood— fragments of a lost memory.
If we don’t valorize the past, who will? I’m not the beginning of the story, and I am not the end. I sit here with you in
this moment, knowing who we are, understanding our connection, convening with our ancestry— and choosing never to forget.
Today’s challenge was to write a poem that reacts both to photography and to words in a language not your own. I had to begin with a photograph, and then find a poem in a language I didn’t know. My mission was to start translating the poem into English, with the idea that the poem was actually “about” my photograph.
I chose a poem in Irish (Gaelic) and used a photo I took at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. First is the poem in its original language, and following is my “translation”.
Faoi Chabáistí is Ríonacha By Celia de Fréine
In ionad bláthanna a bhronnadh ar a bhean agus é i mbun tochmhairc, d’fhrasaigh Risteard bronntanais ar a máthair. I dtosach tháinig na málaí plaisteacha, ansin na saic, iad lán le glasraí a d'fhás sé féin a is a athair. Leasaithe go nádúrtha. Uiscithe faoi scáth hoíche i rith an triomaigh. Turnapaí ar aon mhéid le do chloigeann. Prátaí Rí Éadbhard as ar deineadh na sceallóga ba shúmhaire. Cabáistí sách leathan le ceathrairíní a cheilt. Ní raibh bean Risteaird ag súil le ceathrairíní – iníon a leanbh sise, í tugtha go mór do fhrithbhualadh na glúine, ar nós a máthar.
Fair Chaps Beware
Over eons the base of the bastions blossomed, ageless and immune to time
like a resilient band of brothers. I searched those majestic rolling plains atop the pounding sea,
and under my gaze their angel hair frolicked in the wind. Let no man go adventuring,
unless he find the path; for high and wide the tumultuous treachery hidden below the churning sea.
Yes, pounding against and pounding beneath, the salacious sea sings her song. Come, she sings,
lay your head on my chest. No radiant beams shine more resiliently than I, she croons; from here,
I lovingly rise to greet the moon. So lest you frivolous and foolish be, go no more near the edge of the sea.
The prompt for today was to write a fourteener. Fourteeners can have any number of lines, but each line should have fourteen syllables. Traditionally, each line consists of seven iambic feet (i.e., an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, times seven). The fourteener was popular in 16th and 17th century England, where it was particular common in ballads.
My brain was tired and fourteens didn’t come easily today. Actually, not much came easily today; so instead, I wrote my fourteener in two lines of 8 and 6, and then I strung them together and shaped them into quatrains. Since the lines also equal fourteen, I’m going to call this a win.
It’s not exactly the prompt, but I still had fun writing it. The visuals were taken from my memories of traveling to places that looked just like this one in the picture.
The full moon watched from western sky as stars began to fade,
and ghosts rose from the water smooth and danced within the glade.
The wispy trails of dancing tails hung low beneath the trees
and disappeared into the sun who smiled with rapturous ease.
The glass that looked like honey comb glowed rosy in the light,
the dawn breathed a collective breath preparing to ignite.
For past and present intertwined to weave their tapestry—
a strand of golden thread shone through glinting with majesty.
And hope was whispered on the breeze so boisterous the mirth,
the favored queen now labored hard anticipating birth.
Just as morning broke into day the princess graced the land.
born to rule with joy and wisdom— compassion now at hand.
And so the kingdom all rejoiced with grateful dignity;
peace settled deep within their bones: Welcome sweet Charity.
-A Draft by Carla Jeanne Picklo Jordan
May your day be filled with anticipation, joy, and sweet charity.
After talking with my poetry buddy today, I was challenged to write a tanka. The tanka is described as the form of poetry that comprised the majority of Japanese poetry from the ninth to the nineteenth century. In fact, several sources list it as possibly the central genre in Japanese literature. According to one website, the tanka has “prototypes in communal song, in oral literature dating back to the seventh century, or earlier.”
A tanka is structured much like a haiku with each line containing a certain number of syllables. There is no rhyming and no end punctuation used in this form, however, it does make use of a “pivot” or “turning point” line. The third line is the pivot that divides the tanka into two different sections that are joined in the middle in order to tell the whole story.
The syllable breakdown for the five lines looks like this: 5 – 7 – 5 – 7 – 7
Lately I’ve really been pining for my red maple. It’s my favorite tree, and Monday it must come down. In full disclosure, this may not be my last Red-Maple-Inspired Poem. I will be pining the loss of it for years to come.
vast red towering
gnarled trunk with knotty whorls
to holy righteous living
today we fell it