“In today’s (optional) prompt, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem inspired by an entry from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The entries are very vivid – maybe too vivid! But perhaps one of the sorrows will strike a chord with you, or even get you thinking about defining an in-between, minor, haunting feeling that you have, and that does not yet have a name.”
I didn’t pick a single entry, as reading through most of them put me in a melancholic zone, and I was already pretty bummed-out from my day job to begin with. Let’s just say that the Obscure Sorrows’ body of work inspired me to write this.
Imagine a world where property value, tax-paid infrastructure, the rule of law,
justice’s infuriatingly slow machinations,
tact, decorum, gold prices and golden manners,
collective peace-of-mind, tranquility of greater-good, and the easy flow of status-quo traffic
and blissful return to whatever we consider our communal normal
were all more important
than the unconscionable completely avoidable death of your son, or brother, or father, or lover.
Really imagine it though, and feel free to sub-out and imagine your daughter, sister, or mother instead
murdered by the state;
I didn’t recommend it because I’m no monster.
Now sit with that moment, that overcooked despair and rage as your civic institutions tell you with a dismissive shrug
that his death was unavoidable, his assailants, servants of the state are good and normal in completing the task of snuffing-out his light
and your reaction to his completely avoidable death is completely unreasonable and lives as proof of the sole reason why guys who look like him
– and yes, who look like you too –
are routinely slaughtered by the state-sanctioned violence in the first place.
He’s never coming back, his voice forever silenced
and there is no one with leveraged power to champion his cause, to validate your grief,
nowhere to turn to wring meaning from your loss.
What would you do? What is your next move?
Whatever you decide, best be quick about it.
Monday’s coming, and you’d better be on time with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.
Wouldn’t want to give anyone within the superstructure the wrong idea that you’re angry or resentful
or one of those malcontents out there disrupting the established order. ***
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
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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 last, but not least, our final (optional) prompt! In some past years, I’ve challenged you to write a poem of farewell for our thirtieth day, but this year, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem about something that returns. For, just as the swallows come back to Capistrano each year, NaPoWriMo and GloPoWriMo will ride again!
Sorry to end NaPoWriMo on such a dismal note. I could’ve gone with some type of spring renewal, but I guess I wasn’t there.
I was just sitting here thinking about how the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely (and rightfully) squash the May Day protests tomorrow, but our US (and nearly global) capitalist economy is just chompin’ at the bit to throw our sick, broken bodies back into the churn, risk-assessment be damned. I hear talk of rushing to get “back to normal”, and it just makes me wonder, normal in relation to what, exactly?
Thanks for hanging with me this month. I’ll see you back here next year, but until then, feel free to hang out and read my infrequent poetry postings.
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. ***
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.
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!)
Not so much a question than an inevitable blank slate new opportunity sitting upon invisible embers that were once entire worlds unto themselves; hexadecimal monuments to finger dexterity pattern recognition and time
Not so much an option than a mockery of time lost oh so much time lost pressing the right buttons at the perfect times with only the finger-blisters to show as testament to almost finishing
NEW GAME? flashing dispassionately as if the old game existed only in my frenetic skull
but for a flicker of light a moment of darkness and the whirring of renewal as electrons fire on command oblivious to their renegade static cousins outside who ended my noble quest so ignobly
NEW GAME? pulsing in-sync with the throb of fury flowing through vessels near my temple
impressively concealing the internal rage rivaling the storm outside stifling the screams that would illicit told you so’s from mom
Nah man not right now but you haven’t seen the last of me soon, very soon vengeance will be mine
mark my words in hexadecimal or binary proton or electron photon, quark, or string
or whatever vile language your forked tongue speaks
I don’t even care how long it takes I will break you ***
Today, I challenge you to write a poem that features forgotten technology. Maybe it’s a VCR, or a rotary phone. A cassette player or even a radio. If you’re looking for a potential example, check out this poem by Adam Clay, which takes its central metaphor from something that used to stoke fear in the hearts of kids typing term papers, or just trying to play a game of Oregon Trail.
Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, NES and SNES introduced rudimentary game saving features. It was far from the robust storage features of modern games like the PS4 or whatever Xbox is out now. This feature was contingent upon a rather volatile battery backup function inside game cartridges. If the internal battery lost its charge, or if you were dumb or arrogant enough to play your game during a thunderstorm as a lightning strike killed power (like, oh I dunno, a teenage version of me), you lost ALL of your data, forcing you to start from scratch. Hours and hours of gameplay lost forever in the blink of an eye. Kids today will never know that struggle, and I’m glad for them.
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 ***
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.