“Imagine a window looking into a place or onto a particular scene. It could be your childhood neighbor’s workshop, or a window looking into an alien spaceship. Maybe a window looking into a witch’s gingerbread cottage, or Lord Nelson’s cabin aboard the H.M.S. Victory. What do you see? What’s going on?”
I. I dreamt I died today, and this was my last poem, which isn’t a big deal;
I have died twice before, run-through at seventeen, undone at twenty-eight,
Respawning’s not instant; often years overlap some pieces remain lost,
the burn unrelenting as pain from phantom limb connect me to this realm.
Vast, and marvelous, we are no more than my dream; reality is me.
We cling to each other, turbulent distractions, our skin, burdened touchstones;
massaged lies, we embrace pleasure clawed from our truth; we’re so very alone.
Love me without knowing, you’ll never see the seams that bind the shame that is.
I would taste better as ashes upon your tongue. Love me until the void.
II. Nothing warned me; nothing prepared me. There was no vocabulary for the remnants, for when the sun turned away, withholding all of nature.
Nothing foretold the catastrophe, nor was it immediately known, but felt in phases; a series of cascading calamities leaving the world dimmer in stages as sources of nourishment withered and fell like so many dominoes,
and soon, I found myself face-down on momma’s couch, immobile, unresponsive to external pleas to eat or demands to get my shit together.
Soon, external voices no longer registered as loud as the absence of the one who no longer cared if I ate or starved, and so I fell, falling behind the dimming event horizon, leaving only with what I entered; ending as I began, staring into the space between atoms as fields dissolved and barriers melted to nothing.
III. Perhaps in another life, in a reality we’ll never know I persevered against your will shattered your absurd barriers and married you.
I made you happy, filled your cup, and exposed your doubts and the specters of my many fears as foolhardy fairy tales.
We had a girl and fought furiously to name her; I wanted Olivia, you demanded something African that I couldn’t pronounce.
We compromised, choosing Nefertari with Olivia as her middle name and I was a good dad.
We loved each other and lifted each other up, instead of yielding to fear, spite, and desperation,
but I guess if that all came to pass, I wouldn’t really be me, you’d be someone else, and our daughter, a specter; just another fantasy of a foolish old man.
Stare into the void long enough and the phantoms name themselves.
IV. We all feel that lonely, empty, meaningless pull towards twilight of eternal nightshade where the unknowable hell-verse beckons as a perverse lullaby to our seemingly incessant suffering and so we are compelled to seek its finite serenade towards infinity.
We hope to name it in order to cast it back into its bottle;
we will ourselves to defy it by defining it for ourselves, for
to chronicle it is to vanquish its unshakable power over us.
We scrawl the void in ink and blood and then someone labeled it poetry.
V. In some eastern religions, philosophies, and fiction, heaven and hell are recast as reincarnation and
the void; an endless chasm.
It is said that if our souls carry too much vile darkness at the instant of our death, instead of our soul’s rebirth,
the last remnants of our light are cast into the abyss, never to feel warmth again, left alone in an endless
chasm of despair alone with the dreadful comfort of all terrible emotions imaginable to us.
At first blush, that doesn’t sound all that bad to me; in fact, it sounds like a fine place where the best poetry is forged,
but never allowed to see the light of a brand-new day.
But on second thought, perhaps eternal life in darkness as death’s greatest unshared poems really is a hellish fate
And now for our (optional) prompt. Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem in the form of a review. But not a review of a book or a movie of a restaurant. Instead, I challenge you to write a poetic review of something that isn’t normally reviewed. For example, your mother-in-law, the moon, or the year 2020 (I think many of us have some thoughts on that one!)
There is a madness, a quickening, a voice saying things one feels to be true, but doesn’t want to hear, and so we stop and shutter the door to beginning, living in a state of non-living, but waiting for death as if it were the next bus out of the slum of existence, and so maybe the voice should be revisited and heard to see where it leads, and so we settle into the sound even though we know it as a figment of an active ego we’re vying to wrestle control from, even if for just a moment and the only sound observed should resonate from the pulse, the heartbeat, the controlled breathing of one who is close to oneness, for the voice is just an awakening of noisy mind being disciplined into silence as our eyelids lower and the body sinks into the chair and then the ground and then the softness of cosmic fabric, and for the briefest of moments it is felt, the connection we so secretly crave has been there all along, for you and I are now linked to everything and everyone that has ever lived and who will come after we are dust, and thusly, the voice is silenced for a moment as water becomes what is it shaped to become, just as you and I have become water and the spring season beckons a sliver of all seasons, the pollen that tickles the nose coming from a breeze that was the dying breath of artic jet-streams thousands of miles ago, roused by a global spin and the sun’s disparate heating of the sky; it is all connected as we are unified by the breath of life, so when I yield to you, I’m yielding to us, and once bowed and humbled, you will see the good earth and know that it is both ours and no one’s. ***
Because it’s a Saturday, I have an (optional) prompt for you that takes a little time to work through — although you can certainly take short-cuts through it, if you like! The prompt, which you can find in its entirety here, was developed by the poet and teacher Hoa Nguyen, asks you to use a long poem by James Schuyler as a guidepost for your poem. (You may remember James Schuyler from our poetry resource for Day 2.) This is a prompt that allows you to sink deeply into another poet’s work, as well as your own.
I included a bit of a shortcut to this prompt. While I found the poetry of James Schuyler to be amazing and engaging, listening to the speaker read it was a bit grating and took me out of it. Instead, I read it myself while playing a live Tibetan meditation music channel from YouTube. Midway through reading, I broke-off and began crafting my own poem based on how I felt in the moment, paying no heed to the other steps.
I think I did pretty ok. I certainly felt better allowing for a stream of consciousness and getting out of its way a bit before returning to shape it a bit. It was an intriguing experience and helped to center me a bit.
Today’s prompt is a fairly simple one: to write about a particular fruit – your choice. But I’d like you to describe this fruit as closely as possible. Perhaps your poem could attempt to tell the reader some (or all!) of the following about your chosen fruit: What does it look like, how does it feel, how does it smell, what does it taste like, where did you find it, do you need to thump it to know if it’s ripe, how do you get into it (peeling, a knife, your teeth), do you need to spit out the seeds, should you bake it, can you make jam with it, do you have to fight the birds for it, when is it available, do you need a ladder to pick it, what is your favorite memory of eating it, if you threw it at someone’s head would it splatter them or knock them out, is it expensive . . . As you may have realized from this list, there’s honestly an awful lot you can write about a fruit!
One afternoon in your next reincarnation, as the crow recognizes your intent and the rainclouds run dry of metaphor; daylight, weakened, outliving its worth you will know the pain of sending me away and I will disappear like the last good day returning only when you swallow the sun chasing the bitter-soaked roots of regret today you will squawk and I will remain returning to roost by your side despite you you can deny the blue sky if you want though you can’t see it, you know it exists but one afternoon in your next lonesome life, the starling will sing; you’ll hear the whispers you’ll feel the last good day, as it lingers but never today, for it lingers for you. ***
Our (optional) prompt for the day asks you to engage with different languages and cultures through the lens of proverbs and idiomatic phrases. Many different cultures have proverbs or phrases that have largely the same meaning, but are expressed in different ways. For example, in English we say “his bark is worse than his bite,” but the same idea in Spanish would be stated as “the lion isn’t as fierce as his painting.” Today, I’d like to challenge you to find an idiomatic phrase from a different language or culture, and use it as the jumping-off point for your poem. Here’s are a few lists to help get you started: One, two, three.
The idiom: ชาติหน้าตอนบ่าย ๆ Literal translation: “One afternoon in your next reincarnation.” What it means: “It’s never gonna happen.” Other languages this idiom exists in: A phrase that means a similar thing in English: “When pigs fly.” In French, the same idea is conveyed by the phrase, “when hens have teeth (quand les poules auront des dents).” In Russian, it’s the intriguing phrase, “When a lobster whistles on top of a mountain (Когда рак на горе свистнет).” And in Dutch, it’s “When the cows are dancing on the ice (Als de koeien op het ijs dansen).”
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. ***
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.
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!