“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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!