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
Today’s (optional) prompt is brought to us by the Emily Dickinson Museum. First, read this brief reminiscence of Emily Dickinson, written by her niece. And now, here is the prompt that the museum suggests:
Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s description of her aunt’s cozy room, scented with hyacinths and a crackling stove, warmly recalls the setting decades later. Describe a bedroom from your past in a series of descriptive paragraphs or a poem. It could be your childhood room, your grandmother’s room, a college dormitory or another significant space from your life.
I went back to my earliest memory, when I was 3-4yrs old, and possessed neither a room of my own, nor the very concept of a room of my own. I did have tons of questions though, just as I do now.
And now for our prompt (optional, as always). This is one that we’ve used before, but one test of a good prompt is that you can come back to it! For this prompt, you will need to fill out, in five minutes or less, the following “Almanac Questionnaire.” Then, use your responses as to basis for a poem.
I tinkered with this prompt for about thirty minutes after answering the questionnaire (My answers listed below) before completely abandoning the prompt. The prompt itself is fine, but I began to experience Deja-vu, as if I were just retreading old thoughts, writing the same themes, and feeling rather stagnant and unoriginal.
At that point, I stopped, and gave myself permission to start again, independent of the prompt. The result still feels like themes I’ve covered before, but it also gave me an unbound sense of expression, so I went with it.
Maybe I’ll return another day to tinker with my answers to the Almanac Questionnaire.
Weather: overcast, calm Flora: evergreen, fir, new green, apple blossoms Architecture: twenty-first century modern residence Customs: America first, hoard the most nuts Mammals/reptiles/fish: deer, bunnies, coyotes Childhood dream: play halfback for the Bears Found on the Street: nothing substantial Export: thoughts, prayers, comedy Graffiti: none Lover: strong, confident, vulnerable Conspiracy: only a genius could fake such stupidity Dress: aggressively casual Hometown memory: Bulls winning the 91 NBA Championship Notable person: Kendrick Lamar Outside your window, you find: air and water Today’s news headline: tedious and depressing, as usual Scrap from a letter: “You will not have this day…” (Seriously, Who has written a letter recently? I went with Chancellor Gowron’s last words after Worf, son of Mogh killed him in one-on-one armed combat during the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Yes, I’m a nerd.) Animal from a myth: Pegasus Story read to children at night: Go the Fuck to Sleep You walk three minutes down an alley and you find: the scene of my mugging You walk to the border and hear: slander, hearsay, and tribalism What you fear: spiders, exotic insects, tribalism Picture on your city’s postcard: A curtain being drawn beyond the Magnificent Mile, revealing the quiet suffering of its forgotten citizens.
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.
Find a poem in a language that you don’t know, and perform a “homophonic translation” on it. What does that mean? Well, it means to try to translate the poem simply based on how it sounds. You may not wind up with a credible poem at the end, but this can be a fun way to step outside of your own mind for a bit, and develop a poem that speaks in a distinctive voice.
Yeah, nah. I went off-prompt today, as much as hated to do so. I’ve done homophonic translations many times before, but it just didn’t do anything for me this time. I couldn’t turn off my rational brain long enough to create a word palette with which to experiment.
I gave it a go, but bending the foreign words into something else that made sense in English felt weird to me this time. I used to do this a lot with J-Pop, K-Pop, and anime theme music, but twisting the words of a foreign poet felt wrong to me on some level. I’m not sure how I’d feel if someone twisted a poem of mine about some heavy topic like racism or injustice into some kind of child’s nursery rhyme.
Meh, I’m probably reading too much into it. I couldn’t get out of my own head this time. Oh well.
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. ***
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.
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.
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.