Today’s prompt was a challenge to write a poem about a very large thing. It could be a mountain or a blue whale or a skyscraper or a planet or the various contenders for the honor of being the Biggest Ball of Twine. Whatever I wanted.
So I sat down to write and this story happened. Weird and a bit quirky, but I tend to trust the process of writing and flow with it.
The Squamous Juke
The size is what she remembered the most. It was silver and purple and looming— With dragonflies dip-dashing overhead And red tiger lilies blooming below.
Imagining it all belonged to her, she reached out a tentative fingertip And immediately regretted it. The tingling moved quickly from her fingers
to her arm, and slid slowly to her heart here the tiniest sliver embedded. They found her like that, clutching at her heart and resting serenely under the stem
of the giant squamous juke tree. The peace on her face showed a kind of contentment she never knew while awake, and for that she couldn’t fault the tree. When she woke up,
she was different somehow—a changed woman who loved mammoth trees, dragonflies, and sun. A woman who would forever carry A tiny sliver of tree in her heart.
Today’s prompt was a welcome relief from the one from yesterday. I found that one very challenging. But today, I was challenged to write a different kind of acrostic poem.
In this variation, rather than spelling out a word with the first letters of each line, I had to write a poem that reproduced a phrase with the first words of each line.
I chose to use a snippet from one of my most favorite poems by Mary Oliver. I chose to use two or three word acrostic beginnings instead of a single word or letter.
If you read the bold italic words, you will see my favorite lines from this poem. If you read the poem as is, you will see my poem. It’s a bit of “poem in a poem” on this rainy and dreary Wednesday morning.
Excerpt from a Mary Oliver poem:
“Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
— Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
Tell me, does the journey get easier with time; what else is there to do? Should I be the one to pull the stars? I have done greater things, l think.
Doesn’t everything decompose in time, die at last, shrivel to dust, and too soon? Too soon. Much too soon.
Tell me, about your great “What is it”—I certainly do not know; you plan, but life twists and turns.
To do great things doesn’t require planning with your head, it requires simply one wild dream, a singular hope, and precious night skies full of stars—
The prompt for today was to write a poem . . . in the form of a poetry prompt. If that sounds silly, well, maybe it is! But it’s not without precedent.
The poet Mathias Svalina has been writing surrealist prompt-poems for quite a while, posting them to Instagram. You can find examples here, and here, and here.
And as always, you can read my spin on it below.
An Ode To Writing Prompts for Spring 2022
1. Come to the garden gate 2. And lie down in the patch of hydrangeas. 3. Write your name in the earth; 4. Remember how it belongs only to you. 5. Count the plants and name the blossoms; 6. Write their names in the sky like clouds. 7. Choose the most brilliant blue to mark this sacred place 8. and choose to remember (do not be fooled: this is the hardest part)— 9. Choose to remember where you alone have been.
Today’s prompt was a bit complex. The challenge was to write a Spanish form called a “glosa” – literally a poem that glosses, or explains, or in some way responds to another poem.
The idea is to take a quatrain from a poem that you like, and then write a four-stanza poem that explains or responds to each line of the quatrain, with each of the quatrain’s four lines in turn forming the last line of each stanza. Traditionally, each stanza has ten lines, and here is a nice summary of the glosa form for anyone who is interested.
I chose a poem by Rumi found in a book of his quatrains (Rubaiyat) put together by John Moyne and Coleman Barks. I love reading Rumi anyway, so I was delighted to find this book in an online format, easily accessible to all.
This is the quatrain or rubyaiyat I chose:
“The morning wind spreads its fresh smell. We must get up and take that in, that wind that lets us live. Breathe, before it's gone.” —Unseen Rain: Quatrains of Rumi
And here is my response to Rumi with each line of the Rumi quatrain woven in to complete my verse of ten lines.
The Wind That Lets Us Live
I am so small a twinkle in the starry night, a single ray of light escaping from behind a cloud. I do not know the strength I own— Like the scent of salty air, I permeate the taste buds. I am alive, breathe in— The morning wind spreads its fresh smell.
I am fearless in my tiny state I know not when or where. I know not how or what’s to come, yet move ahead without an inkling of tomorrows’s fright. I am alive, breathe in— We must get up and take that in,
I must get up with brave resolve not filled with dread or doom. Tragedy might tear apart, yet I choose to stand— to look in the eyes of wailing winds whipping wildly lash and cheek. I am alive, breathe in— that wind that lets us live.
I sing of life; I dream of death. I fear not either one. I see eternity among the stars, still choose to shine my light. Not everyone can see the rays, I find contentment there— moving forward, arms outstretched; I am alive, breathe in— Breathe, before it's gone.
Tomorrow begins the National/Global Poetry Writing Month—the day I look forward to all year long.
But today, we were offered an early-bird prompt based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The challenge was to write a response to one of her poems. I included the poem I used for inspiration below and also used a similar form and meter.
I hope you enjoy eavesdropping on my conversation with Emily.
Consulting summer’s clock, But half the hours remain. I ascertain it with a shock — I shall not look again. The second half of joy Is shorter than the first. The truth I do not dare to know I muffle with a jest.
—By Emily Dickinson
A Response to Emily
I stand with the poet, Stunned how steep the slope. Beauty as we know it Denies us all the hope. Shorter joy I refuse; The truth I choose to know. The hues of life ensconced in blue, and I in here and now.
The backyard has been a minefield of mud for the entire spring and summer months. The contractor we hired the end of April has used very excuse you can imagine as to why the work wasn’t complete.
As a teacher, I have heard many an excuse in my day as to why work wasn’t finished, why books weren’t brought to class, and why one child needed to insult another child. Often I have reminded students to simply stand tall and own their truth, even if they think they might “get in trouble” for it.
In my own life I have found that honest self reflection leads to growth.
Unfortunately, this contractor wasn’t interested in self reflection or growth. He was a poor communicator and gave excuses instead of owning his truth. Nearly four months later, he finally poured our patio. All the roots still aren’t trimmed around the edges of the patio, and the attention to finish details simply aren’t anywhere to be seen there, but we have a poured patio.
For now this is enough.
After the concrete patio was set, we hired these young men (with better communication skills, respect, and follow through than the older contractor) to build the gazebo kit we bought. They communicated clearly the dates they were available (all within the week’s time) and showed up right on time. When they finished there wasn’t so much as a scrap of paper lying about the yard. The job was finished above and beyond our expectations. The work ethic and follow through of these young men restored my hope in builders.
Tonight Trace, Ev, and I sat out on the patio with our dear friend Jen, listening to the thrum of cicadas and watching the dragonflies dance in the evening sky.
Peaceful rest is what Jen called it, and I quite agree.
In those moments, I rediscovered my muse; it was the magic of the late summer garden at sunset.
Swarming dragonflies, honking geese heading south— they left me wondering how the summer waned into fall without word or warning. All I did was blink.
When I was growing up in the fundamentalist evangelical church, I was taught that I was too loud, too bossy, too brass and too crass. I was chubby and wore half sizes in children’s sizes which was the plus size version for kids. My best friend was skinny, flat chested, and sporty. I was chubby, developed breasts early, and quite clumsy.
I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 16 and then only Christian boys because the Bible said it was a sun to be “unequally yoked”. I couldn’t see PG rated movies, use playing cards, listen to rock music, or use “crass language” including “substitute” words like gosh, darn, golly, shoot, poop, or (Heavens to Betsy!) crap.
But it was the messages I heard about sex and my body that have been the toughest to overcome. Sex outside of marriage wasn’t even an option. Should I do such a thing, I would be forever ruined, someone else’s trash.
The list of rules for girls was quite long:
- Bodies should be covered up, even when swimming.
- Nakedness was something to cause shame.
- Virginity is what gave women value; it’s was her gift to her future husband.
- Sex is shameful, don’t do it… unless you’re married.
- Once married, women won’t want sex as often as men, but never refuse your husband.
- Always keep yourself looking good for your man.
- Put something pretty on just before your husband comes home.
- Women should submit to the authority of men for their own protection.
- Only men have strong sex drives.
- If women have sex before marriage they are damaged goods and no one will want them—they are like a crumpled rose.
Deconstruction is a process that I am still experiencing. It’s amazing how quickly the teaching and indoctrination of my youth comes back to bite my enlightened feminist modern soul. I find it difficult to separate the good from the bad of my upbringing. But I am determined to continue this work.
Men are visual Or so I’ve been told So many times It is woven into my DNA.
Be careful Watch what you wear; Watch how you walk don’t be forward or loud or brassy.
No one likes A brassy woman Women are responsible For the lusting found In the hearts of men.
I tell myself I have grown out I have moved on From such foolish Patriarchal nonsense.
I tell myself I have deconstructed Whatever that means I have separated The truth from the lies.
Until something happens And all of it comes Rushing back— Guilt, Anger, And Burning Shame.
At the end Of deconstruction There remains a giant Pile of rubble, one Mess of mortified me.
But I own Every last piece Of senseless shame Every tiny bit Of damning guilt
I own my story I own my future I alone own The power to rebuild my life.