Orion’s Lament

Photo by Simon Godfrey on Unsplash

Orion’s Lament

She was the first breath of spring
puncturing a stubborn morning frost.

She was jazz blooming from blues,
she was sacred verse bursting from psalm.

She was unrefined snorts and belly-laughs;
she was knowing eyes that knew better.

She was a midnight pub-crawl;
she was of pre-dawn shared comfort food.

She was nothing imagined
and everything desired;
she was love’s bloom; a promise kept.

And I am the fool hunter
who grasped at her corona,
eternally driving her from my reach.
***

Yes, I’m still overdosing on Hamilton. I’d ask Wifey to intervene, but we’re on this bender together. I have no regrets.

I’m sure we’ll return to normal soon, but have you seen my country’s normal? I say, let’s take all the manufactured joy we can get.

Day 29: No Pets

Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash

No Pets

What can I say, Wolf?
I’ve never owned any pets.
Too much overhead, too much work,

oh, and also because of slavery.

Yes Wolf; I mentioned pet ownership
and slavery in the same breath,
but it’s not like you’re gonna call me on it;
you’re just a dumb dog,

one that’s been dead
for nearly thirty years.

But fine, I remember those soulful eyes,
so I’ll try to explain it.

There’s something to be said of those
unlucky in birth who persevere
against all odds
to overthrow their oppressors in triumph.

Americans especially love these
underdog stories,
as our recorded history is full of them.

But what of the other stories?

With Tubman, Douglass, and The Amistad
as outliers of four-hundred years of
mostly humdrum,
garden-variety slavery,
with all the standard rape, abuse, and
outright murdering of slaves too stupid
to mask their intelligence,

how many stories of the voiceless do we know?

It’s weird, Wolf. You were a dog – a beautiful
German Shepherd/Doberman Pinscher mix

 – but when I think of all the voiceless slaves
who were born and died in
unconscionable suffering,
I think of you.

To be honest, Wolf,
I haven’t thought of you in ages,
and that’s a shame, but

the less remembered
of your tragic life and death,
the better for me.

Or perhaps not; after all,
I’ve left your memory as it were, untamed,
but there it sits upon my return,
waiting patiently
only for me.

What if my sidestepping your legacy
is but one more injustice for you?

Our lives were intertwined for so long,
with much of the trauma descendent
directly from my ancestors in bondage.

You weren’t even my damn dog,
but I was your reluctant caretaker,
and there’s nothing poetic about
feeding you and cleaning up your shit,
but I felt your loyalty
and your agony in-kind.

Wolf, you were an idiot of a dog,
raised on ignorance and cruelty,
and yet you were still sweet and loyal.

I’d given up on hiding grandma’s tools
of discipline, as she’d just find herself
a sturdier switch to snap on ya,

but I taught you to sit using head-rubs
instead of grandma’s rubber hose;
you were always a good boy.

I wish I had told you that more.

I remember you having the audacity
to demand more head-rubs from me,
swatting at my hand with your paw
like Bunky the cat taught you,
and I happily gave them to you.

I wish I’d given you all the head-rubs.

But I’d graduated the basement
and fled to the Navy,
making the cut despite the odds.

I heard of your fate secondhand,
and I wept real tears over a freaking dog
that I didn’t even own

who lived his entire existence
chained to a waterpipe
in a half-finished basement,

life snuffed-out, most likely,
by someone well-known and trusted.

Can you imagine that?  

Anyway, yeah,
I’ve never cared for any pets.

Too much overhead,
too much work,
just too much.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 29: Today’s prompt:

And now for our daily prompt (optional, as always). Today, I challenge you to write a paean to the stalwart hero of your household: your pet. Sing high your praises and tell the tale of Kitty McFluffleface’s ascension of Mt. Couch. Let us hear how your intrepid doggo bravely answers the call to adventure whenever the leash jingles.

If you don’t have a pet, perhaps you know one or remember one who deserves to be immortalized in verse. For inspiration, I direct you to a selection from an 18th-century poem by Christopher Smart, Jubilate Agno, in which the poet’s praise for his cat ranges from “For he is docile and can learn certain things” all the way up to “For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.” Personally, I’m lucky if my cat doesn’t just sleep the day away, but I find her pretty delightful all the same.

This was painful to write, and I nearly scrapped the whole thing. I kept trying to walk away from it, but it kept calling me back.

It’s unpolished, and I won’t be revisiting it at all, but Wolf deserves to have his story told.

Day 19: Manicured Path

Photo by Avi Waxman on Unsplash

Manicured Path

We made it halfway up before yielding
to father time and self-imposed inertia.

Bending onto a level manicured path,
a young tree bloomed in watercolor reds;
a beautiful alien among
puffy white sapling blossoms.

Along a strip of conformity where
anything out-of-place is hammered, snipped,
or sprayed into one of the approved labels,
the tree of rubies grabs the eye for all
the reasons, right, wrong, or otherwise.

Towering firs in the distance command focus,
even as humanity carved condos,
two-car garages, and rickety steps
into where their cousins were felled years ago.

They stretch and slowly sway stoically
against the light breeze, reminding all
to stand as tall as their posture allows
and inhale deeply, accepting their
regifted oxygen, exhaling in
mutual respiration.

The opposite side of the valley,
across the Sammamish river,
teams with every shade of green,
blending seamlessly into each other,
accepting the uncolored order
before bowing to man’s rectangular
boxy factories and warehouses, each
aligned to and more unremarkable
than the last beige, bland nothing.

Between the bland boxes and us
lies another greenbelt with an overgrown
abandoned rail line cutting through it;
a boundary noted and ignored by most.

Near the bottom of the rickety stair landing,
two teens social-distance together
with their tiny dog, who silently,
but rightfully eyes me suspiciously.

I doubt he’s ever seen the likes
of me in his territory before.

But he shrugs it off, finding a
far more intriguing scent, oblivious
to the nearby blackberries at war
with a similarly invasive species.

The shrub battle is waged on its own time
and would’ve gone unnoticed by my eyes
had my beloved not been beside me to
pull me out of our moment,
drawing attention to it.

She often helps me see things
with new colors and angles,
bending our halfway-uphill trips
into an unyielding odyssey.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 19: Today’s prompt:

Today, our optional prompt challenges you to write a poem based on a “walking archive.” What’s that? Well, it’s when you go on a walk and gather up interesting things – a flower, a strange piece of bark, a rock. This then becomes your “walking archive” – the physical instantiation of your walk. If you’re unable to get out of the house (as many of us now are), you can create a “walking archive” by wandering around your own home and gathering knick-knacks, family photos, maybe a strange spice or kitchen gadget you never use. One you’ve finished your gathering, lay all your materials out on  a tray table, like museum specimens. Now, let your group of materials inspire your poem! You can write about just one of the things you’ve gathered, or how all of them are all linked, or even what they say about you, who chose them and brought them together.

Of course, upon hearing that in order to stay on prompt, I’d have to leave the house, my wife was thrilled. Me, not so much, but hey, I did it.

Day 18: Nutrient and Toxin

Image by author

Nutrient and Toxin

The world burns
with the worst
humanity has to offer
along with a contagion
coldly vying to
finish the job.

The country where I was born
continues its fine tradition
of ignoring its festering
generational wounds,
allowing a con man
to bankrupt its already
decaying conscience.

The new neighborhood
is full of facile smiles
too perfectly affixed
upon the only books
I’d rather not open.

The sky is heavy,
densely burdened by
the shade of sorrow
that spittles rain in mists
too fine to be noticeable
until it beads upon
fresh spring leaves
and slickens the path
enough to reflect
dreary clouds
back into us.

The tears fall from her face,
mingling internal precipitation
with external condensation;
a reflection of both
my subconscious betrayal,
and the nature of nature.

The sugary-tart sunshine
emanates from my glass of
vodka-spiked orange juice,
rendered pale by soaked,
anemic daylight spilling
into my window.

The long swig I take,
soaking in nutrient and toxin,
reminds me that I still draw breath,
and therefore there’s
always a chance to
set things right.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 18: Today’s prompt:

Our optional prompt for the day also honors the idea of Saturday (the Saturdays of the soul, perhaps?), by challenging you to write an ode to life’s small pleasures. Perhaps it’s the first sip of your morning coffee. Or finding some money in the pockets of an old jacket. Discovering a bird’s nest in a lilac bush or just looking up at the sky and watching the clouds go by.

Day 16: Default Gall

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Default Gall

You’re almost tolerable, love
but don’t take that praise too lightly
for this places you far above
riff-raff I ignore forthrightly

You just beat-out the unsightly
sharing rare air with mindful pride
apathy dwells here contritely
there’s something wrong deeper inside

Seeking within, I cannot guide
indifference is the default gall
fervor; I’ve tried, but can’t abide
I care that you care, but that’s all

Is love found in this protocol?
in some places, you’re far above
don’t judge yourself by this screwball
you’re almost tolerable, love.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 16: Today’s prompt:

Rather than encouraging minimalism, today we challenge you to write a poem of over-the-top compliments. Pick a person, place, or thing you love, and praise it in the most effusive way you can. Go for broke with metaphors, similes, and more. Need a little inspiration? Perhaps you’ll find it in the lyrics of Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top.” (Scroll down at the link for the lyrics and an annotated explanation of them).

This is another one I feel like I do way too much, so I went the other way with it, tapping into my emotional flatline (which sadly, can feel all too real at times).

Day 13: Surface Tensions

Photo by Afrah on Unsplash

Surface Tensions

Look, we could spin ourselves in circles
falsely claiming that you or I
drew first blood. I mean,

not one to quibble
 – it was clearly you,
though you may indeed
erroneously disagree – but
it don’t matter no more.

Sure, you had the prettiest grey eyes
I’d ever seen, and yeah,
I meant that shit, and yeah
it was corny as fuck, but well,

have you ever heard an empty cup
speak-up, looking for something
or someone to fill them
with purpose?

I didn’t think it would lead to nothing,
and was stunned when it did.

We had fun though, didn’t we?
Playing hooky some Thursdays,
laughing at shitty movies,
disappearing off the grid

into our own private world at
a different random Econo Lodge
each time looking to not form
any traceable patterns.

You had your men on the side,
and I had my whole thing going on,
but I wasn’t tripping about
what this was or where we were.

You said it first, remember?
And maybe you thought you meant it,
but at the time, I repeated it
only because I was naked and
afraid of the repercussions
of silence.

After allowing time to reflect
and to see the whole elephant,
I realized that I do care. I care.

But that’s no longer enough, is it?

And I swear to God I never knew
I’d meet someone like her
after meeting you.

She and I are just synched in ways
your sense of surface tensions
can’t possibly imagine.

What you and I had was fun, wasn’t it?

And I don’t understand a thing
about soulmates, but my mind,
heart, soul, whatever gut or
animal-instinct you can conjure;

all of them unanimously tell me
that I’d be a fool to ever let her
walk out of my life,

so… you know…

I didn’t mean to steal your joy,
but I’m dropping all pretense for her
and only her.

Do you get it?

Try to understand; remember the way
you say you felt when you fell for me?

You loved me, even as you were still
loving on those other dudes, right?
Even as you will be tomorrow, right?

Well, I met her, and everything I am
has led me to the moment where
nothing else matters except for
my pulse synching with hers.

I loved you. I did. I still do.
But I can never let her go.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 13: Today’s prompt:

There’s a pithy phrase attributed to T.S. Eliot: “Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” (He actually said something a bit different, and phrased it a bit more pompously – after all, this is T.S. Eliot we’re talking about). Nonetheless, our optional prompt for today (developed by Rachel McKibbens, who is well-known for her imaginative and inspiring prompts) plays on the idea of stealing. Today, I challenge you to write a non-apology for the things you’ve stolen. Maybe it’s something as small as your sister’s hairbrush (or maybe it was your sister’s boyfriend!) Regardless, I hope this sly prompt generates some provocative verse for you.

Oh, thank God! I was afraid that this might be one of those Erasure – found poetry prompts that I suck at find so frustrating. Thank goodness it’s just a prompt about good-old stealing! Yay for stealing!

Day 12: Blue Snow (For Brooklyn)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeffry A. Willadsen/Released)

Blue Snow (For Brooklyn)

Like petals falling from our view
Your loss now added to our snow
Compassion bright as any blue
Like petals falling from our view
Our spring, a timeless deja-vu
We wait our turns to fall below
Like petals falling from our view
Your loss now added to our snow
***

NaPoWriMo Day 12: The Triolet:

For today’s prompt (optional, as always), I’d like to challenge you to write a triolet. These eight-line poems involve repeating lines and a tight rhyme scheme. The repetitions and rhymes can lend themselves to humorous poems, as well as to poems expressing dramatic or sorrowful moods. And sometimes the repetitions can be used in deceptive ways, by splitting the words in a given line into different sentences, and making subtle changes, as in this powerful triolet by Sandra McPherson.

Years ago, I was addicted to writing triolets, so this was a welcome blast from the past.

It was also a good way to honor the passing of a shipmate I served with on the USS Ingraham from 95 until 98. Ronnell “Brooklyn” Warren passed away on March 30. Dude had a photographic memory and knew my full name, date-of-birth, birthplace, and social security number even twenty years later, which should’ve been somewhat alarming, but he was just so damned kind-hearted, and it reflected well upon his character that it never even occurred to him to use his superpowers for nefarious means.

Quite frankly, Ronnie was the kindest, sweetest man I have even known. He was also a poet with an optimistic voice.

He always had a kind word for everyone. He was one of the few people in my life whose positive attitude made me want to step-up and just be better to get on his level. Hell, I think he loved the 90’s Chicago Bulls more than I did! I heard that he went quickly and unexpectedly, from a heart attack, but I don’t know the details.

It made me think about how we will all soon be parting from one another.

I’ve never dealt with this type of loss well; I tend to stuff it down where the feelings can’t hurt me anymore. And though we hadn’t spoken or kept in touch since our ship’s decommissioning ceremony, this is a most unkind cut that will take some time to stuff down.

Ron, your passing over was most unwelcome news. I’ll drink one for you. We have the watch, shipmate.

Day 11: Fate of the Lilies

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Fate of the Lilies

it was an Easter Sunday
she wanted the white lilies
or maybe they were tiger
or stargazers; who can say

I’m no botanist for sure
but I gifted them to her
roots in-tact for repotting

she squealed with impish delight
showering me in kisses
I fought her back, kiss for kiss

she said she loved me, then gasped
asking if that was ok

I assured her that it was
and that I loved her as well

when can I see you again
she asked between prolonged hugs
her sparkle drawing me in

as soon as we are able
I said, strengthening my grip

she blinked back tears with a wink
cramming with delicacy
her potted plant and body
into her car to depart

I’ll text you when I make it
she said with one more blown kiss
she was true to her word, but

I never saw her again

looking back, it hurts to breathe
but still, it was for the best
as we were from different worlds

I don’t know what lilies mean
but the ones I got for her
are probably long dead now.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 11: Today’s challenge – Language of Flowers:

Our optional prompt for the day is based on the concept of the language of flowers. Have you ever heard, for example, that yellow roses stand for friendship, white roses for innocence, and red roses for love? Well, there are as many potential meanings for flowers as there are flowers. The Victorians were particularly ga-ga for giving each other bouquets that were essentially decoder-rings of meaning. For today, I challenge you to write a poem in which one or more flowers take on specific meanings. And if you’re having trouble getting started, why not take a gander at this glossary of flower meanings? (You can find a plain-text version here). Feel free to make use of these existing meanings, or make up your own.

I found out retroactively that the white lily is associated with purity and is often used as a funeral flower. Also, in Buddhism, tiger lilies represent the virtues of mercy and compassion. Make of that what you will.

Stargazers symbolize lots of stuff. Google it for yourself. This blog poem about flowers is over!

Day 8: A Poem Beginning with a Line by Sylvia Plath

Photo by Warner on Unsplash

A Poem Beginning with a Line by Sylvia Plath

Musky as a lovebed the morning after.
As blue a sky vintage toxins could allow.
Remnants of when playing it cool was disrobed.
Careful not to drop breadcrumbs, out slipped the tongue,
afraid of what could be left unexplored, lost.
What was said, now muddled; tangled, dangled sheets.
Secrets spilled upon linen, taunts veiled in smiles.
Favors returned in earth-suckles and shudders.
Reflections! How urgent! Come through! Come, midnight!
Fat and black, moonless regrets are swallowed whole.
At sunrise, only faint aroma lingers,
pushed aside by a faint whiff of breakfast as
only briefly, hunger displaces hunger.
It all makes sense when thinking of that first kiss.
Still don’t know of the why, but glad of the how.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 8: “…peruse the work of one or more of these twitter bots, and use a line or two, or a phrase or even a word that stands out to you, as the seed for your own poem. Need an example? Well, there’s actually quite a respectable lineage of poems that start with a line by another poet, such as this poem by Robert Duncan, or this one by Lisa Robertson.”

NaPoWriMo nailed it with this one. They even provided me with a Sylvia Plath Twitter Bot, and anyone who reads me probably had an inkling that it was either going to be Plath or Poe.

Day 5: Short Spring

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

Short Spring

over time, trauma is a thief of joy
two fingers of bourbon mug the mugger
spring oozed into her room nonchalantly
embracing us with equanimity
her voice cooing we shouldn’t do this now
her lips tasting of why haven’t we yet
the fire in her almond eyes read mine
we chose the same musk-knotted adventure
music was jealous of our harmony
you introduced me to Martin Gore and
I didn’t get him, but through you, I did
I’m jealous I missed your London punk scene
and all the parts that broke you apart
we were both trauma and broken things
we been runnin’, done ran, till we bumped heads
finding joy in tending each other’s shards
I lived to cut myself open on you
seducing you into seducing me
say I won’t rise to meet your velvet taunt
your tongue had already run us through
I marked you as mine when your teeth pierced me
by the thinnest skin of goddess sinew
we loved, clear-eyed in the blackest of night
as the box-springs sang je t’aime, je t’aime
you took my life each time I surrendered
only to find your dear Eeyore renewed
I’ll re-steal this joy, returning to us
delightful, bottled beautiful struggle
thus was the elixir of our short spring
***

NaPoWriMo Day 5: “Twenty Little Poetry Projects,” developed by Jim Simmerman. The challenge is to use/do all of the list below in the same poem, or as many as possible. This was extremely challenging, but also super engaging. I kicked off my shoes, threw out the punctuation, meditated on a topic that frequents my thoughts, (I was born a dirty old man. Sorry/not sorry) and started tinkering. I fudged some of the criteria, but I honored the spirit of all twenty requirements.

Here they are:

  1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
  2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
  3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.
  4. Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).
  5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.
  6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
  7. Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.
  8. Use a word (slang?) you’ve never seen in a poem.
  9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic.
  10. Use a piece of talk you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand).
  11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun) . . .”
  12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.
  13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he or she could not do in “real life.”
  14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
  15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
  16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
  17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that finally makes no sense.
  18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.
  19. Make a non-human object say or do something human (personification).
  20. Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that “echoes” an image from earlier in the poem.