Day 9: Things that Fulfill the Senses, Leaving Lasting Emptiness in their Wake

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Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Things that Fulfill the Senses, Leaving Lasting Emptiness in their Wake

1.
Singular flames
roosting, dancing atop candles,

especially collectively
as birthday cake toppers,

especially when singularly
illuminating rooms
where lovers begin loving
in earnest,

especially within places
of worship and vigil
and mourning

2.
The round, full sound of bells
singularly, as a bicycle warns stragglers
to make way

or when affixed upon a cat’s collar
to mitigate hiding and stalking,

or from the needs of a beloved
on their sickbed
requesting soup
or cuddles,

or the one tolling
for their sudden departure

3.
The round,
full sound of bells
in plural, as in church
bells after weddings, or a bright
rapid

sleigh bell
cacophony or incessant
rapid ringing of a
land line, leading
edge of

a next-of-kin notification

4.
Laughter of infants
discovering their toes for
the first time, followed

by squeals of discovery
that toes can be quite ticklish

5.
Laughter of my father,
which sounded like a warbling
singular bell when it hit him
deeply and unexpectedly,

informing my insecure childhood
that regardless of any
dire circumstances,

everything
was going to be alright
in the end

6.
My dad’s laugh,
despite himself,

accompanied by his
subtle rebuke and
halfhearted admonishment

as I made him laugh
repeatedly

by quietly mocking
my freshman health teacher
during parent-teacher
conference night

7.
My dad’s laugh, accompanied by
his circular dance on an invisible candle,

as his wide, astonished eyes
observed for the first time,

his adult son, fitted in service dress blues
as a newly-minted Navy boot camp graduate;

I scarcely believe his swelling pride
let his feet touch the ground once

8.
Two decades later,
with a raspy hiss
replacing his resounding laugh,

dad’s eyes,
laughingly admiring me
even as his raspy voice
admonished me

against making him laugh
as it aggravated his cancer
as I continued instigating

because cancer deserves to be
agitated, unseated
whenever possible

9.
Those rare moments when
hilarity takes me by surprise,
causing me to break out
in giggle-fits, only to hear

the warbled-bell of dad’s laugh
ringing from deep within me,

or when I catch him
peeking at me
from my own reflection

as I wipe tears
of laughter
from my eyes

10.
Toes.
I mean, what can I say?
Babies are right; toes are both
hilarious and mostly worthless.
***

Happy Birthday, Dad. You would’ve been 67 today.

Written for NaPoWriMo’s day 9 prompt: write your own Sei Shonagon-style list of “things.”

 

code-switch virtuoso

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Image of author by author. My face doesn’t always look like that. 

code-switch virtuoso

I remember dad
made me say “yes”
with emphasis
upon the stressor

Nevermind
that I was nine
and tryin ta find
a kinder lesson

Cause he knew
that to stay true
the rule of two dialects
was needed

To succeed in greater stages,
I took heed for greater wages

That was the birth
of my first split,
my trunk from earth
and I admit

I never found out
where I fit,
forgot about
which was legit

If I could ask about my place,
Is it my mask or just my face?

I assimilate and then replace
but if it’s fate what gets erased?

Unlike the ballers,
I make myself smaller,
pump-fake for shot-callers,
and I try to hide

They don’t know me,
only what I’m showing,
phoniness controls me,
what I feel inside

I try to fit like 8-bit chipsets,
rely on wit
and slight-of-hand
to make you see
and comprehend
the fantasy

In apogee from what is me,
I hear the chorus and chime-in
a midi-synth vibe,
a remedy
that I prescribe

A suicide by a thousand cuts,
I lack the guts for full erasure
so I white-out, blot-out
the rougher sides

Not Safe For We,
or Not Safe For Me
to just safely be
authentically free

Unlike the ballers,
I make myself smaller,
I fake for shot-callers,
and I try to hide

They don’t know me,
only what I’m showing,
loneliness consoles me,
what I feel inside

Dysfunctionality amazing
when my laziness and cravings
take up space, ranting and raving

All my blemishes diminish
our corporate saving grace

I forfeit the part of me
that blends creativity and yin

Feeding them yang
yields hunger pangs
as I hang by self-inflicted sin

I cover-up
and smile through scars,
give my regards to Wayne Brady

It seems odd
the most successful switchers
go criminally crazy

O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby
cracked the code and set the bar

I ain’t with them, but let’s always
set the mode for who we are

Unlike the ballers,
I make myself smaller,
breaking for shot-callers,
and I try to hide

They don’t know me,
only what I’m showing,
only just behold me,
who I am inside.
***


(NSFW – cuss words and shit like that there.)

Written for dVerse Poetics: On Privilege, hosted by anmol(alias HA). Other contributions to this prompt can be found here.

My dad demanded that I learn to code-switch and speak the corporate lingo so I could “make money in the white man’s world” (his words). Big ups to pops for making sure I could earn a living wage, but yeah, I almost never feel like my authentic self, whoever that may be.

This one hit me where I live, so I just let it flow in one take.

 

 

He who Was Beloved

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Photo by Antonio Molinari on Unsplash

He who Was Beloved

According to namesake,
I am the fair-haired
spearheaded
male child of he
who was beloved
by Jehovah.

At first blush,
my birth name feels
amusingly ironic to this

nappy-headed,
soft-hearted,
middle-aged agnostic
who avoids most religions,

especially the catholic one
that informed his childhood.

I am the fourth to carry
the rather singular mantle
of this rather common English name

partially derived from
Irish and Hebrew origin,

two lineages whose people have known
countless historical hardships
beyond their control
and sometimes comprehension.

I’ve no known earthly history
on how the first of my name
received his – no
our name,

no scrapbook,
no word-of-mouth lineage,

no photographs, save for
the second to carry our line
as he spearheaded
the Korean campaign before
succumbing to frostbite.

The man staring back
across monochrome grasslands
from three score ago
looks nothing like dad and me;

it’s possible that
all he ever gifted us
was his given name,

as there are no shifting sands to dig through,
excavating our eternally lost lineage.

Between the second,
his son the third, and
the grandson he never met,

there was never
a single fair-hair
among us.

Perhaps the first of our name
was a fair-haired, spear-wielding
son of he who Yah favored.

Perhaps the first was
the son of a slave – no, or
even slave-master

who really was God’s darling favorite,
spearheading the farming of
broken brown bodies through
fertile red Mississippi delta mud.

But I often wonder
what our names would have been
had our legacies not been so muddled;

had our culture’s course not been dominated
by forces beyond our control
and even comprehension.

My namesake felt
amusingly ironic
at first.

But now
I guess it’s as apt
as any other moniker

bestowed lovingly
one by one

by he who reached across decades,

lighting the wick of each nameless brown infant
reminding each new keeper of the flame
how fortunate he is
to be so beloved.
***

Written for dVerse Poetics: What’s in a Name?, hosted by Amaya, and shared at Real Toads The Tuesday Platform. Others contributed to this prompt here.

My name is Barry Dawson Jr. IV. Barry either means fair-headed, or sharp and spear-like, depending on which Gaelic historian you ask. Dawson means “son of Dawe”, which is shortened from David, which is Hebrew for “beloved of Jehovah”.

A Fragile Song

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Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

A Fragile Song

Echoes of my dream-defined visions declare war,
starbursts strike scores,
both friend and foe,
but what for?

The home that I called my base came unmoored;
willow that I know,
now embers in day-glow.

I know the sparrow that lived here,
I defended her,
but now her expended song
tends my fear.

With a voice too delicate to vibrate,
she lends me the will and might to migrate:

“Not everything ends badly,
that is conjecture.
Though everything ends
at least from our perspective.

“We can’t make amends
with cosmic architecture,
but we can begin
to live within.”

Echoes of my mother’s laugh
ring long after her last breath.

Father’s lectures resonate
beyond his untimely fate.

I derive no meaning
from their unbeating hearts,
eyes bleared from tears when
lingering on their departs.

Words left unsaid will remain unspoken,
except in dreams, with the visions unwoven.

I’ve chosen to fixate on the song of that bird
whose weakness conflated
a strength that reverbed:

“Not everything ends badly;
that’s a fiction.
Though everything ends;
sadly, it’s our restriction.

“We can’t make amends
with our cell’s afflictions,
but we can begin
to live within.

She and I loved
with conviction and convection.
Our fronts clashed in wind-slashed storms,
with no direction.

We blew ourselves apart,
parting with bitter sorrow.
Despite our worser parts,
there still came a tomorrow.

We now know the science of us, but too late
to rewind and find some solace in our fate,

but wait and listen to the sparrow
as her frail song pierces our marrow:

“Not everything ends badly,
though everything ends.
We can’t make amends
with past lovers and friends,

but we can extend
our hands and transcend
beginnings and endings
as we live within.”
***

Day 9 – Of Smeared Rainbows

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Photo by Matheus Queiroz on Unsplash

Of Smeared Rainbows

The path
beyond my
unkempt garden
led me to a black
butterfly fluttering
on fearless currents,
his plain beauty
apparent
even
in morning
shade before the
first glint of rising
sunlight kissed corners of
his wings, igniting
reality
with a
firestorm
of hues.

He is hunted,
snatched from the sky,
knitter of rainbows, felled
killed in the dayglow
by the Anglo-
All-American calico
everyone knows well,
who left it smeared
on the pavement
after becoming bored
from batting the life
from the bite-sized
black body.

The dead butterfly
never even knew he was
being hunted down.

He was
probably altogether
unfamiliar with the very concept,
as he was preoccupied with
feeding on milkweed
and finding a mate.

I wish I could explain it to him.

It would probably blow his tiny mind
to know that some creatures hunt and kill,
shortening a life to extend their own.

I wonder
how he would react
to learning that
some creatures
also hunt and kill
at random
because they’re just
passing the time,
as was the case
with his chaotic,
chubby
calico assailant.

I can’t talk to butterflies,
as we haven’t yet broken
the language barrier.

I don’t know where
that breakthrough falls
on the scientific scale.

I can’t see it ranking
up there with
reversing climate change,
curing cancer, or
perfecting erection pills.

So, I won’t be talking
to butterflies
anytime soon.

I won’t try talking with
that butterfly in particular
because he’s dead.

Smeared on the pavement
by a well-fed, bored calico cat.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo Day 9 prompt: “write a poem in which something big and something small come together.”

Day 7 – Fork

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Fork

The path beyond my garden
forks at impossible angles
like the leading edge
of a switchback where I can
climb or descend,
should I choose one.

On the high path
beckons a
wood nymph;

the low path is guarded by
a cat darker than
light’s absence.

As I approach the switchback fork,
the nymph squeals with delight.

“Follow me,” she squeaks,
“into the sunlight! Ahead lies
treasures of impeccable sights!”

I take a step, but
soon paused to observe the cat,
who shrugs and licks his scrotum,
nonplussed, matter-of-fact.

“I’d go with her if I were you,”
he said between luxurious
unhurried licks.

“Down here, there is only truth
and the sad epiphanies
one can only obtain
through pain; it is the

hard-won knowledge
only attained by loss.

“This path is not for the timid.”

The nymph grabbed my hand with a jerk.
“Up here!” she cried, “on this trail,
no one grows old or dies!

“Your mom is alive and well
and rational and laughing!

“Your not-dead-from-cancer dad
is mighty proud of
all the mighty things
you never did or said, but
imagined mightily
inside your head!

“Your children aren’t disappointed
by your disengaged inertia!

“Racism, jingoism, war,
famine, pestilence don’t exist
up here!

“Follow me, and it
will all disappear,
enveloped by your will!

“What will be will only be
if only you dream it so!”

I glance back at the cat,
who just sat and shrugged.

“I won’t pretend to compete
with the little fairy up there.

“Down here, there is truth;
only the reality
of what is, and tough
conversations leading
to more sad truths.

“You may learn new things
about you that you may not like,
only to find that
you’ve always known them.

“Reckonings don’t come with good vibes.
That’s why they’re called reckonings.

“But there is knowledge
in great abundance”

It’s the same daily routine,
and I follow along,
playing my part as if guided
by some sacred ritual.

I always “let” the nymph
drag me along the high road,
not just because it’s easier,

but I could take the path
a billion times and it always
leads me somewhere new.

But upon return,
I accompany the cat
upon the low road,

knowing it always leads home.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo Day 7 prompt:

In our interview, Kyle Dargan suggests writing out a list of all of your different layers of identity. For example, you might be a wife, a grandmother, a Philadelphian, a dental assistant, a rabid Phillies fan, a seamstress, retiree, agnostic, cancer survivor, etc.. These are all ways you could be described or lenses you could be viewed through. Now divide all of those things into lists of what makes you feel powerful and what makes you feel vulnerable. Now write a poem in which one of the identities from the first list contends or talks with an identity from the second list. This might turn out to be kind of a “heavy” exercise, emotionally, but I hope you will find the results enlightening.

Indeed, that did sound like a “heavy” exercise, and as much confessional poetry as I write, this one didn’t appeal to me too much. When I start making lists of things that I am, that list inevitably turns dark for me. I still did the prompt, though I skimmed the surface, opting not to dig much deeper.

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Day 1 – Coyote

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Photo by Joshua Wilking on Unsplash

Coyote

The path beyond my garden
slick with rain, heavy falling,
weighing all down with greying
fur of a coyote blocking my way,
challenging my journey.

His fur, saturated by rainfall,
hangs in greying tendrils,
his soaked shadow bolstering
his foreboding visage.

His yellow eyes lock onto mine,
knowing them with a
disdainful familiarity.

“You fear me,” he said,
almost wearily,
“even now, even still,
fearful they’ll know it all,

not just all the sobbing
– you’ve been a crybaby all your life,
yet you hide in plain sight – but you’re
fearful of revealing deeper shame.

“I was an uncooked shrimp
held by your father to
menace you at age five,
remember?

“You cowered from your unprepared dinner,
flummoxing and enraging your dad into
giving you something real to cry about.

“Your chest-piece was forged that day.

“Remember many years and
several armored fittings later when
I pushed you down with no one around to see?

“I recall your relief
at not having to look into
mother and brother’s eyes.

“You were glad you didn’t have to fight back.

“I don’t know how long
you’d have let me pummel you
before a child half your size
rushed in to defend your meekness.

“That’s when you rose and
gave me everything you had left,
knowing it wouldn’t be enough,
I guess it didn’t matter.

“I know your secret shame,”
said the weary coyote.

“Even now,
you would surrender
if there were no one around
to witness you quit.”

“You are a fool to think you know me,” I laughed.
“You are but a ratio of a shadow;
a trick of light and absence of color.

“It’s true I’ve always been soft and meek in a
world that’s too hard and brutal for my liking.

“But what you see in my loved one’s eyes as
pity and shame, I see as compassion and love.

“I don’t shy away from it;
I draw strength from it.

“And though my impenetrable exterior
may be a well-crafted illusion,
what lies beneath my meekness is
a ferocity I fear most.

“Yes, I would rather run away
or curl-up and take the hits,
but if they need me, then
I see things differently.”

“One day you’ll grow weary of
hiding your true self,”
snarled the coyote,
closing in on me.

“I already am, fool,” I retort.
“But this is who we are.
And now I am cold and wet.
End this foolishness,
and return to me.”

With that, the coyote leapt at me,
draping himself around my chest,
back, and shoulders.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo’s Day 1 prompt: write a poem that is based on a secret shame, or a secret pleasure. Obviously, I chose the former. 

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Untitled

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Photo by Asso Myron on Unsplash

Untitled

A brown empty cup
is how I entered this world
hungry ignorance
unaware of those hating
my random brown existence

Those folks call this stage
alligator bait because
in their eyes, our worth
can only be measured by
how brown skin is devoured

Outgrowing this phase
takes courage, guile, grit, and luck
especially luck
how fortunate was I then
to be born from mom and dad?

And their good fortune
passed forward by their parents
themselves grand fortune
treasures from great grandparents
seeds cherished by ancestors

Shackled in bondage
four-hundred years they languished
with limited means
yet somehow navigating
plucking fate’s string through eras

Living history
is my fate now, no longer
alligator bait
I may not reach those who hate
but how lucky am I now

To be mindful of this gift?
***

My Terms

My Terms

My next funeral will be mine
ain’t strong enough to bear mankind
I saw my mama laid to rest
so you all can just bear the rest

Yup, skipped-out on dad’s last ride
both grandmas’ gone to great divide
losses felt within my breast
withdrew from the manifest

Not fearful of facing west and careening
into oblivion’s bosom
my trepidation of death’s breath, sans meaning
keeping me keen on what could come

I cannot insulate from weathered fate
as winter’s weight descends
so I capitulate with feathered gait
as I await what ends

But no more bitter-sour goodbyes.
***

The Lucky Ones

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Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

The Lucky Ones

Tina says we do it to one another, every day,

Knowing and not knowing. When it is love,

What happens feels like dumb luck. When it’s not,

We’re riddled with bullets, shot through like ducks.

 

Every day. To ourselves and one another. And what

If what it is, and what sends it, has nothing to do

With what we can’t see? Nothing whatsoever

To do with a power other than muscle, will, sheer fright?  

Tracy K. Smith, an excerpt from Life on Mars, Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection.

 

1.

What is the nature of a single soul?

How can one measure its worth?

Do we weigh it by the hearts it formed in life,

or perhaps the void it leaves behind?

Terri Ann whispers, but I can’t quite hear.

Dad just smirks. He knows, but won’t tell.

 

2.

Put throngs of souls through hardships,

deny them dignity,

basic human comforts,

heap tragedy upon disaster

upon blight upon humiliation

upon their collective shoulders,

and I promise the plural response

won’t remind you of anything from

the Book of Job.

 

Oh, there will be outliers

of philosophers and saints

embracing quiet intangible dignity,

but the mass majority will go looking

for someone to blame.

 

Often those very same fringe

philosophers and saints

resigned to their fates

become targets.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

3.

After the Great Kantō earthquake

and before cyclone winds

begat fire-tornadoes,

a helpful policeman took charge

guiding four-thousand survivors

to what he thought was safety

but what inevitably became

mass immolation.

 

There was no way he could know

and nothing he could do,

their fate

inexorably twisted

among tails of fire dragons,

but in the policeman’s eyes,

he led the masses to their fate

the sum of his heroic intentions

now ashes.

 

Despondent

unable to bear the shame,

the officer committed seppuku,

increasing the countless body-count

by one soul.

 

4.

Is there something after this realm?

I can’t find the answer in math, science,

not in faith, not even in poetry.

 

If I contemplate for too long, the voids

of my departed soul-hearts cause

my body to ache like overused knee-joints

that signal pending monsoons.

 

Dad knows, but won’t tell. He always

insisted that I find things out for myself.

Terri Ann crossed over once, came back,

when her heart stopped, she just saw black.

 

That’s what she said, anyway. I suspect

that she just wasn’t paying attention then.

I’m sure she knows the answer now,

but I can’t quite hear her anymore.

 

5.

Danielle said it was too bad about

that rock-n-roll guy who died.

I nodded grimly, but said nothing more.

 

The soul of that rock-n-roll guy left us

for God knows where, assuming He does exist

and not just as some embodiment

of a salve for aching joints.

 

The rock-n-roll guy left a void for his wife,

children, family, and close friends to

contemplate, celebrate, or mourn,

depending on where they fall

on the afterlife belief spectrum.

 

Rock-n-roll guy bequeathed

to millions of us musical fans

a soundtrack cipher, unlocking

precious memories,

possibly including moments when other souls

left voids for us to contemplate,

celebrate, or mourn.

 

I hope there’s something after this for him,

and for us as well. I hope the blackness Mom

claims she saw was nothing more than a cosmic

practical joke that Dad is already in on.

 

6.

I watched it on accident.

Wincing, I looked away,

but I could still hear it

the lone automatic weapon.

 

I listened to folks in the aftermath

yelling that this shouldn’t happen

in civilized society. I also heard myself

joining this chorus,

yelling into the void.

 

I listened to opposition shush us,

as this is not the time to discuss

people dying needlessly because

those people just died needlessly.

 

So I shut up and listened

as others failed

to listen to each other,

instead they turned and

devoured each other’s message

like we did when this happened before

like they’ll do again.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

7.

The leader of the free world

Said we were lucky

For only fifty-nine deaths

 

It could’ve been much much worse

Rejoice in our good fortune

 

My soul hurts

***

***

Information on how to help the Las Vegas shooting victims.

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Shared at dVerse’s Open Link Night # 205. Go here to read other poet’s contributions.