Day 18: Questioning an April Shower (Elegy for Momma)

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Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

Questioning an April Shower (Elegy for Momma)

There was not a hint of sun today.

It began with the kind of rain
that made me change my shoes

a healthy April shower needed
for continuity of respiration

as trees kneed saturated soil
roots rooting for their share

new leaves are budding, color
restored to pre-bloomed florae

vivid hues contrast with a heavy sky

unending clouds spill themselves
rolling in from faded sepia photos

I wonder if you’re enjoying rain now
just as I am, about two-thousand miles
and the rain-soaked earth between us

a miracle of technology at hand
and I couldn’t retrace my soggy steps
to you even if I tried, but I hope
you have a good view of a budding oak

I hope the rain humbles blossoms’ heads
showing you proper respect,

attracting good bumble-bee company
for reproduction and continuity of
respiration, for as long as this rain

is doing more service for you,
you who can no longer feel it,

as long as it does more for us
than forcing me into dryer,
sturdier shoes, then I ask you,

how can I not be content with it?
***

Written for NaPoWriMo’s day 18 prompt: “write an elegy of your own, one in which the abstraction of sadness is communicated not through abstract words, but physical detail.”

I almost skipped this prompt. Not because I didn’t find the prompt interesting, but because I did, and yet I struggled mightily. I’ve lost count of the elegies I’ve written for folks I lost, but I’ve never tried to keep the scope of my loss contained within the tangible world before.

If I’m dissatisfied with my resulting poem, it’s only because I had to restrain myself from bleeding wailing abstractions everywhere. This challenged me in ways I never envisioned, and I’m glad for it.

Bubble

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Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

Bubble

Momma thought the umbrella
too big for my tiny hands
but I proved her wrong.

It opened into a
clear bubble barrier
a rainy evening portal

droplets racing into
point-of-view
at fictious lightspeed.

At night, the raindrops
refracted streetlight into
constellation streams.

I held momma’s hand
staring up into
streaking, soaking veins

smoothed, rounded, gleaming,
luminous pinpricks

while Patrice Rushen
sent me forget-me-nots

and Stephanie Mills confessed
to never knowing
love like this before.

Momma laughed, musing
that I was too young to know
— that I was naive, ignorant of
what those songs were about,

but as I daydreamt
about the girls I pined for
in my second-grade class,
I knew better.

The chocolate frosted
donut gems momma bought me
were still fresh in my mind
echoing from grateful taste buds,

especially the thick,
honied parts that rose with heat,
bubbling while baking and

were mostly hardened
sugary goodness.

With my tiny black boots
splashing sonic indigo
puddles, I puzzled

that indeed the love
those ladies sang of

was surely a hundred times
sweeter than calcified,
chocolatized, candified,
bubbled donut shells.

Perhaps even a
bajillion times over.

Momma thought the umbrella
too big for my tiny hands
but I knew I could manage
even after a drop or two.
***

Day 24 – Elegy of Beloved Disputes

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View from my livingroom  window. (Ignore the trash bins and the ugly Hooptie. It’s my son’s fault they’re in the picture.) 

Elegy of Beloved Disputes

The path beyond my garden
leads to my favorite tree,
bursting with flowers that
remind me of you and

it occurs to me that
you would’ve marveled at
my sweet-scented tree if you
were still alive to smell it.

The sudden reminder of
your absence steals a breath
or two from me, and then
I laugh at the absurdity.

Asthma took your laugh
from me permanently.
It is an affliction
of the lungs, you see?

Had you lived long enough to
fill your lungs with my
beloved tree,

you’d have sided with Wifey,
demanding its removal.

I don’t like confrontation,
but I’d like to think I would
have enjoyed that argument.
***

Every morning on report card day, from kindergarten to third grade, momma would sing this song to me while I was eating my cereal. It was hilarious. It was terrifying. I fucking loved it. 

Written for NaPoWriMo Day 24 prompt:

Today, we’d like to challenge you to write an elegy – a poem typically written in honor or memory of someone dead. But we’d like to challenge you to write an elegy that has a hopefulness to it. Need inspiration? You might look at W.H. Auden’s elegy for Yeats, which ends on a note suggesting that the great poet’s work will live on, inspiring others in years to come. Or perhaps this elegy by Mary Jo Bang, where the sadness is shot through with a sense of forgiveness on both sides.

I’ve written elegies for both parents, and both of my grandmothers passed away last year, so I wasn’t exactly eager for this prompt. Still, I couldn’t resist the challenge of adding some hopefulness to a poem about loss. Best to keep it short though.

Day 7 – Fork

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Fork

The path beyond my garden
forks at impossible angles
like the leading edge
of a switchback where I can
climb or descend,
should I choose one.

On the high path
beckons a
wood nymph;

the low path is guarded by
a cat darker than
light’s absence.

As I approach the switchback fork,
the nymph squeals with delight.

“Follow me,” she squeaks,
“into the sunlight! Ahead lies
treasures of impeccable sights!”

I take a step, but
soon paused to observe the cat,
who shrugs and licks his scrotum,
nonplussed, matter-of-fact.

“I’d go with her if I were you,”
he said between luxurious
unhurried licks.

“Down here, there is only truth
and the sad epiphanies
one can only obtain
through pain; it is the

hard-won knowledge
only attained by loss.

“This path is not for the timid.”

The nymph grabbed my hand with a jerk.
“Up here!” she cried, “on this trail,
no one grows old or dies!

“Your mom is alive and well
and rational and laughing!

“Your not-dead-from-cancer dad
is mighty proud of
all the mighty things
you never did or said, but
imagined mightily
inside your head!

“Your children aren’t disappointed
by your disengaged inertia!

“Racism, jingoism, war,
famine, pestilence don’t exist
up here!

“Follow me, and it
will all disappear,
enveloped by your will!

“What will be will only be
if only you dream it so!”

I glance back at the cat,
who just sat and shrugged.

“I won’t pretend to compete
with the little fairy up there.

“Down here, there is truth;
only the reality
of what is, and tough
conversations leading
to more sad truths.

“You may learn new things
about you that you may not like,
only to find that
you’ve always known them.

“Reckonings don’t come with good vibes.
That’s why they’re called reckonings.

“But there is knowledge
in great abundance”

It’s the same daily routine,
and I follow along,
playing my part as if guided
by some sacred ritual.

I always “let” the nymph
drag me along the high road,
not just because it’s easier,

but I could take the path
a billion times and it always
leads me somewhere new.

But upon return,
I accompany the cat
upon the low road,

knowing it always leads home.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo Day 7 prompt:

In our interview, Kyle Dargan suggests writing out a list of all of your different layers of identity. For example, you might be a wife, a grandmother, a Philadelphian, a dental assistant, a rabid Phillies fan, a seamstress, retiree, agnostic, cancer survivor, etc.. These are all ways you could be described or lenses you could be viewed through. Now divide all of those things into lists of what makes you feel powerful and what makes you feel vulnerable. Now write a poem in which one of the identities from the first list contends or talks with an identity from the second list. This might turn out to be kind of a “heavy” exercise, emotionally, but I hope you will find the results enlightening.

Indeed, that did sound like a “heavy” exercise, and as much confessional poetry as I write, this one didn’t appeal to me too much. When I start making lists of things that I am, that list inevitably turns dark for me. I still did the prompt, though I skimmed the surface, opting not to dig much deeper.

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Day 1 – Coyote

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Photo by Joshua Wilking on Unsplash

Coyote

The path beyond my garden
slick with rain, heavy falling,
weighing all down with greying
fur of a coyote blocking my way,
challenging my journey.

His fur, saturated by rainfall,
hangs in greying tendrils,
his soaked shadow bolstering
his foreboding visage.

His yellow eyes lock onto mine,
knowing them with a
disdainful familiarity.

“You fear me,” he said,
almost wearily,
“even now, even still,
fearful they’ll know it all,

not just all the sobbing
– you’ve been a crybaby all your life,
yet you hide in plain sight – but you’re
fearful of revealing deeper shame.

“I was an uncooked shrimp
held by your father to
menace you at age five,
remember?

“You cowered from your unprepared dinner,
flummoxing and enraging your dad into
giving you something real to cry about.

“Your chest-piece was forged that day.

“Remember many years and
several armored fittings later when
I pushed you down with no one around to see?

“I recall your relief
at not having to look into
mother and brother’s eyes.

“You were glad you didn’t have to fight back.

“I don’t know how long
you’d have let me pummel you
before a child half your size
rushed in to defend your meekness.

“That’s when you rose and
gave me everything you had left,
knowing it wouldn’t be enough,
I guess it didn’t matter.

“I know your secret shame,”
said the weary coyote.

“Even now,
you would surrender
if there were no one around
to witness you quit.”

“You are a fool to think you know me,” I laughed.
“You are but a ratio of a shadow;
a trick of light and absence of color.

“It’s true I’ve always been soft and meek in a
world that’s too hard and brutal for my liking.

“But what you see in my loved one’s eyes as
pity and shame, I see as compassion and love.

“I don’t shy away from it;
I draw strength from it.

“And though my impenetrable exterior
may be a well-crafted illusion,
what lies beneath my meekness is
a ferocity I fear most.

“Yes, I would rather run away
or curl-up and take the hits,
but if they need me, then
I see things differently.”

“One day you’ll grow weary of
hiding your true self,”
snarled the coyote,
closing in on me.

“I already am, fool,” I retort.
“But this is who we are.
And now I am cold and wet.
End this foolishness,
and return to me.”

With that, the coyote leapt at me,
draping himself around my chest,
back, and shoulders.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo’s Day 1 prompt: write a poem that is based on a secret shame, or a secret pleasure. Obviously, I chose the former. 

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Untitled

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Photo by Asso Myron on Unsplash

Untitled

A brown empty cup
is how I entered this world
hungry ignorance
unaware of those hating
my random brown existence

Those folks call this stage
alligator bait because
in their eyes, our worth
can only be measured by
how brown skin is devoured

Outgrowing this phase
takes courage, guile, grit, and luck
especially luck
how fortunate was I then
to be born from mom and dad?

And their good fortune
passed forward by their parents
themselves grand fortune
treasures from great grandparents
seeds cherished by ancestors

Shackled in bondage
four-hundred years they languished
with limited means
yet somehow navigating
plucking fate’s string through eras

Living history
is my fate now, no longer
alligator bait
I may not reach those who hate
but how lucky am I now

To be mindful of this gift?
***

Tuna Salad

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Momma and me, circa sometime in 1981-83, I think.

Tuna Salad

Wifey made tuna salad today and offered me some. I gratefully heaped a pile of it into a cereal bowl, but stopped short of eating. It was missing something. I diced up two hardboiled eggs and mixed them with the tuna salad. Much better, but it was still missing something. I sprinkled paprika onto the dish and tasted it. It was good, but one more thing was missing; Ritz crackers. Sadly, we were out of Ritz, so multigrain gourmet cracker nonsense had to do. I tasted, and was transplanted back to Chicago housing projects during the many times momma made this special snack for me.

grayer than most light
noon sky, counterfeit silver
I pocket the fee

Minus the Ritz, I had inadvertently made momma’s special way of making tuna salad, which on the surface, was probably unremarkable to most. But it was the one meal she made where I didn’t feel like a poor person while eating it. I could imagine all wage brackets having a tuna salad craving, and I imagined people from all walks of life savoring this delicacy in some fashion. It felt good to be on some kind of universal level with wealthy ones who enjoyed tuna salad occasionally.

clouds hide sky-scrapers
visibility is poor
to what lies beneath

I had always known I was poor, but it wasn’t a big deal because everyone I knew was also poor. We lived the same struggles, went to the same government check-cashing places, shopped at the same discount stores, ate the same public school free lunches, wore the same knockoff-brand clothing, and feared the same criminal element and/or corrupt, racist police shakedowns. I didn’t experience any stigma or shame for being poor until I began being bussed to the magnet school Beasley Academic Center. I have nothing against the school, as it was an expansive learning opportunity, but it was perfectly apparent to me that I was one of the poorer kids in attendance. Many kids were from stable, successful 80’s Cosby-sitcom-style homes. They wore Guess jeans, Genera button-ups, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, BK’s, you name it, and they always had the latest technological marvels like Walkmans, mini-synthesizers and etc…

rain bathed in streetlight
amber-hued menagerie
all will be covered

I recall being teased for many things; being shy (back then, nobody mentioned introverts as otherwise normal folks content to keep to themselves; we were “shy” kids who needed to be “fixed” so we would be more social like a “normal” kid), being a nerd (back at regular school, being a nerd just meant that I was smarter than the average sixth-grader or had greater intellectual curiosity than most; being a nerd at the magnet school – where I was rendered intellectually average due to all the other “gifted” kids being bussed in –  just meant that I was the funny-looking kid with the coke-bottle glasses), and being rather unfriendly and all too eager to throw hands for someone so tiny, shy, and nerdlike (if all you wanted was to be left alone, but others kept screwing with you, I suspect you would develop a chip on your shoulder as well).

But for all the random teasing, nothing left me as defenseless as being teased for bring poor. Being a shy nerd who fought a lot was in my DNA, and I owned all of that, but I had nothing to do with being born poor. I had no say in it. Those were cards I had been dealt.

sunshine reveals you
true colors rich, emboldened
the shade, deeper still

The hilarious part was that after three consecutive days of being teased, bullied, getting fed up and fighting back, and ultimately, losing said fights in overwhelmingly one-sided fashion, a teacher decided to counsel me. She wanted to “crack my shell” and find out why I was always so angry and depressed. She wanted to know what in my home life could possibly make me so enraged and isolated. It had to be something at home, right? Perhaps my mother was abusing me, or had boyfriends with boundary issues.

I never opened up, partially because at the time – though an undiagnosed schizophrenic initially losing her grip on reality – mom was the best thing going for me and I didn’t want any outsiders screwing that up by revealing her secret. Also, I never opened up, partially because I felt like asking for help was a sign of weakness, and I felt compelled to endure on my own. But mostly I remained silent because I couldn’t fathom why the teachers couldn’t see the bullying right in front of their faces and understand it for what it was. I was baffled at having to show them what was happening and having to explain why it hurt so much to have to endure it. So, I never did.

birdsongs vibrate moods
gathering for the ride home
we flock and migrate

I would bus home after a particularly rough day of being teased and bullied for wearing generic versions of Converse shoes and a Michael Jackson jacket only five years out-of-style. Sometimes mom would have tuna salad on Ritz crackers waiting for me. I don’t think she knew all that was going on with me, but I suspect she knew I was traversing a rough patch. She never asked about it, but she would talk with me, cracking corny jokes to get me to crack a smile and laugh a bit. She always succeeded. I don’t know if the tuna salad was her secret weapon, but it was often present while she was peppering me with corny jokes. I miss those jokes, as well as the sound of her laugh. But the tuna salad I accidentally made in her honor was pretty tasty.

bluest sky leans west
surrounding me with comfort
memories of you
** *

Written for Terri Ann Dawson, on the ninth anniversary of her death.

The Laundry

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Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

The Laundry

Once upon an evening dreamy, reclined beyond conscience unseemly

Clean-laundry piled shotgun beside me burst forth with Terri Ann’s allure.

Her voice apparent, yet quite untimely, bubbled with laughter, light and finely-

Tuned for my perception, winding her time, which ended years before

A decade before, less or more. Is my mom’s soul now laundry lore?

I’m just baked. I must ignore.

 

We watched cartoons and tripped fantastic, Kush-soaked reflections, quite elastic.

Asked laundry-mother what traumatic lesson her spirit had in store?

Her laughter warmed peripherals, soft linen, looming lavender smells

Her soothing hearth of laughter tells me, unseen, with heart a-pure

Soothing song sang as she gathered with mother’s heart, rang, not demure

Laundry said, “You must endure.”

 

I laughed at her linen reprisal as if she sensed my suicidal,

Un-suspenseful thought-revivals. I asked clean laundry, “Is there more?”

For to suffer life in silence, its smearing rife with leering violence,

Abysmal veering into blindness; is that our fate, and nothing more?

Subliminal closed-mindedness? Should I get baked and just ignore?

Spit at fate, and what’s in-store?

 

My laundry-mother laughed disarming laughs, belying life’s alarming

Nature, nurturing and charming me, unanswered, insecure.

Her non-answers thrust upon me like a thirst quenched by tsunami

Voicing visions far beyond me, unseen, she sings with heart a-pure

She stings my heart, weary, unsure, with momma’s voice ringing a cure

Laundry sang, “You must endure.”

** *

Written for dVerse Poetics’ The voice of the monster, hosted by Björn. I know I’m a day late, but I thought I’d share an actual ghost story that happened to me about a week before Halloween, when my mom visited me during a low point. I’m agnostic, but I believe my mom dropped by to kick my ass, get me to stop feeling for myself and keep grinding for the fam. Perhaps in my case, the monster was my depression? (Who am I kidding? It’s almost always my monster.)

Go here to read other spooky stories.

 

The Lucky Ones

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Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

The Lucky Ones

Tina says we do it to one another, every day,

Knowing and not knowing. When it is love,

What happens feels like dumb luck. When it’s not,

We’re riddled with bullets, shot through like ducks.

 

Every day. To ourselves and one another. And what

If what it is, and what sends it, has nothing to do

With what we can’t see? Nothing whatsoever

To do with a power other than muscle, will, sheer fright?  

Tracy K. Smith, an excerpt from Life on Mars, Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection.

 

1.

What is the nature of a single soul?

How can one measure its worth?

Do we weigh it by the hearts it formed in life,

or perhaps the void it leaves behind?

Terri Ann whispers, but I can’t quite hear.

Dad just smirks. He knows, but won’t tell.

 

2.

Put throngs of souls through hardships,

deny them dignity,

basic human comforts,

heap tragedy upon disaster

upon blight upon humiliation

upon their collective shoulders,

and I promise the plural response

won’t remind you of anything from

the Book of Job.

 

Oh, there will be outliers

of philosophers and saints

embracing quiet intangible dignity,

but the mass majority will go looking

for someone to blame.

 

Often those very same fringe

philosophers and saints

resigned to their fates

become targets.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

3.

After the Great Kantō earthquake

and before cyclone winds

begat fire-tornadoes,

a helpful policeman took charge

guiding four-thousand survivors

to what he thought was safety

but what inevitably became

mass immolation.

 

There was no way he could know

and nothing he could do,

their fate

inexorably twisted

among tails of fire dragons,

but in the policeman’s eyes,

he led the masses to their fate

the sum of his heroic intentions

now ashes.

 

Despondent

unable to bear the shame,

the officer committed seppuku,

increasing the countless body-count

by one soul.

 

4.

Is there something after this realm?

I can’t find the answer in math, science,

not in faith, not even in poetry.

 

If I contemplate for too long, the voids

of my departed soul-hearts cause

my body to ache like overused knee-joints

that signal pending monsoons.

 

Dad knows, but won’t tell. He always

insisted that I find things out for myself.

Terri Ann crossed over once, came back,

when her heart stopped, she just saw black.

 

That’s what she said, anyway. I suspect

that she just wasn’t paying attention then.

I’m sure she knows the answer now,

but I can’t quite hear her anymore.

 

5.

Danielle said it was too bad about

that rock-n-roll guy who died.

I nodded grimly, but said nothing more.

 

The soul of that rock-n-roll guy left us

for God knows where, assuming He does exist

and not just as some embodiment

of a salve for aching joints.

 

The rock-n-roll guy left a void for his wife,

children, family, and close friends to

contemplate, celebrate, or mourn,

depending on where they fall

on the afterlife belief spectrum.

 

Rock-n-roll guy bequeathed

to millions of us musical fans

a soundtrack cipher, unlocking

precious memories,

possibly including moments when other souls

left voids for us to contemplate,

celebrate, or mourn.

 

I hope there’s something after this for him,

and for us as well. I hope the blackness Mom

claims she saw was nothing more than a cosmic

practical joke that Dad is already in on.

 

6.

I watched it on accident.

Wincing, I looked away,

but I could still hear it

the lone automatic weapon.

 

I listened to folks in the aftermath

yelling that this shouldn’t happen

in civilized society. I also heard myself

joining this chorus,

yelling into the void.

 

I listened to opposition shush us,

as this is not the time to discuss

people dying needlessly because

those people just died needlessly.

 

So I shut up and listened

as others failed

to listen to each other,

instead they turned and

devoured each other’s message

like we did when this happened before

like they’ll do again.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

7.

The leader of the free world

Said we were lucky

For only fifty-nine deaths

 

It could’ve been much much worse

Rejoice in our good fortune

 

My soul hurts

***

***

Information on how to help the Las Vegas shooting victims.

Information on how to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Go here to donate to Tim Duncan’s island storm relief fund.

Go here and here to help hurricane Harvey victims

Go here and here to find out how to help hurricane Irma victims.

Shared at dVerse’s Open Link Night # 205. Go here to read other poet’s contributions. 

 

 

The Egregious Lie Regarding Tinkerbell’s Revenge

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Photo by David Pentek on Unsplash

The Egregious Lie Regarding Tinkerbell’s Revenge

After Tinker Bell died,

Peter couldn’t remember her.

Do my dead parents

haunt my peripherals

because they fear similar fates?

 

Fairies are too small

to hold more than one feeling

at a time. When dreamy

unspoken words dissipate

into unsavory vapor,

 

I envy them.

** *

Written for dVerse’s  Quadrille #37–Be Not Afraid, hostd by Victoria Slotto. Go here to read other poet’s contributions.