Day 20: The Smiling Lady

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

The Smiling Lady

She crafted me a
lopsided chocolate cake
from a box with
a picture-perfect cake
and a smiling lady on it,
having just enough frosting
to scrawl HAPPY B-DAY SON
on it;

settled next to cousin’s
store-bought, soulless
gourmet masterpiece,
my “homemade” confection
stood out like a lumpy shrug,
and I was embarrassed
for it,

not for the obvious optics
and subtle jabs from relatives,
but I was undone at the seams
because deep down, I could feel
momma’s humiliation
at her best effort.

Knowing where her heart was,
and needing her to know mine,
months later, during a spring bloom,
I plucked the finest, loveliest
weeds I could find,
careful to select only the
prettiest undesirables
for the grandest dandelion bouquet
known to mankind.

I could tell
by the smile on her face
that I’d made my point.

She even went
and made another lumpy cake
with the lady smiling on the box.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 20: Today’s prompt:

Today, in gratitude for making it to Day 20, our (optional) prompt asks you to write a poem about a handmade or homemade gift that you have received. It could be a friendship bracelet made for you by a grade-school classmate, an itchy sweater from your Aunt Louisa, a plateful of cinnamon toast from your grandmother, a mix-tape from an old girlfriend. And whatever gift you choose, we wish you happy writing!

Yeah, I wasn’t really into this prompt, but I did it anyway because I couldn’t think of an alternative. What more can I say? Have some lumpy cake.

Day 19: Manicured Path

Photo by Avi Waxman on Unsplash

Manicured Path

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.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 19: Today’s prompt:

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.

Day 18: Nutrient and Toxin

Image by author

Nutrient and Toxin

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.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 18: Today’s prompt:

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.

Day 17: Lost Cause

Photo by Michael Rogers on Unsplash

Lost Cause

NEW GAME?

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

NEW GAME?

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

NEW GAME?

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
***

NaPoWriMo Day 17: Today’s prompt:

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.

Day 16: Default Gall

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Default Gall

You’re almost tolerable, love
but don’t take that praise too lightly
for this places you far above
riff-raff I ignore forthrightly

You just beat-out the unsightly
sharing rare air with mindful pride
apathy dwells here contritely
there’s something wrong deeper inside

Seeking within, I cannot guide
indifference is the default gall
fervor; I’ve tried, but can’t abide
I care that you care, but that’s all

Is love found in this protocol?
in some places, you’re far above
don’t judge yourself by this screwball
you’re almost tolerable, love.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 16: Today’s prompt:

Rather than encouraging minimalism, today we challenge you to write a poem of over-the-top compliments. Pick a person, place, or thing you love, and praise it in the most effusive way you can. Go for broke with metaphors, similes, and more. Need a little inspiration? Perhaps you’ll find it in the lyrics of Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top.” (Scroll down at the link for the lyrics and an annotated explanation of them).

This is another one I feel like I do way too much, so I went the other way with it, tapping into my emotional flatline (which sadly, can feel all too real at times).

Day 15: sheet music for discord

Photo by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

sheet music for discord

ask a swimmin fish to reflect
and think about how it got so wet
the answer may shock you

aside from the fact that a fish talked
his first question would be
what in the blue-hell is “wet”?

you see, I’m wrung-out, darlin
this ain’t even my voice
I’ve taken to inhabitin others
just to pass the time

this thing you ask of me
it done threw me for a loop
leavin me loopy an fumblin
for angles I ain’t covered yet
cause I’m already plenty wet

ask any man with song in heart
have him vibe in life’s minor key
like he hadn’t already mapped chords

that’s sheet music for discord

instead of steerin the ship
the fool’s countin the steps
he was formless like water
but now he need the recipe
for ice cube soup

look what you done did to me
I lived for the funk
rhythm an rhyme coarse my veins

now here you say you hear the hearsay
the challenge now is in ignoring melody
to refrain from refrain, if you will

ignore the score that screams from my pores
and whatever for; I even dream in flat-fours

look what you done did
I done fell back into rhyme
before bein mindful of my wetness

there’s no mindin for the music
when that’s all I am

just a fish out of water
drownin on a sandbar
with clammy skin
***

NaPoWriMo Day 15: Today’s prompt:

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem inspired by your favorite kind of music. Try to recreate the sounds and timing of a pop ballad, a jazz improvisation, or a Bach fugue. That could mean incorporating refrains, neologisms and flights of whimsy, or repeating/inverting lines or ideas – whatever your chosen musical form would seem to require! Perhaps a good way to start is to listen to your favorite piece of music and “free-write” for the duration of the piece, and then use what you’ve written as the building blocks for your poem.

After reading the prompt, I stared at my screen for about five minutes. This prompt is basically, exactly what I do, most of the time. My comfort zone, if you will. I found myself stymied to find a fresh idea. My desire to remain on prompt was at odds with my need to try for a unique perspective. I shrugged and tried to let go. This was the result. I’m not exactly crazy about it, but it’s not my worst stuff, so no worries, I guess.

Day 14: The Fissure

Image by mac231 from Pixabay 

The Fissure

In the beginning, there was a woman.
There’s always a woman, or so it seems.
One gave me life, light, and all her knowledge.
Some other unlocked the madness within.

In the beginning, I had cracked the code.
Deconstruction, reassembly of phrase.
Dominion over syntax, noun, and verb.
Standard structure had yielded to my will.

Then some woman asked what it meant to me.
Encouraging thought towards deeper meaning.
I couldn’t find the right answer for her.
Smiling, she said there wasn’t such a thing.

Next, she introduced me to Robert Frost.
Suddenly, English and I were strangers.
The path not taken cracked a small fissure.
Slowly, over time that sliver split me.

I filled it with poet after poet.
Each time the fracture eagerly widened.
Langston Hughes led to a Gwendolyn Brooks.
The woman grinned as I re-learned to speak.

I gobbled up the greats, never filling.
Plath. Poe. Epics. Death poems. Always Hip-Hop.
The more I consumed, the greater my thirst.
“Now find your voice,” she said, always smiling.

I can see beyond sight; touch with feeling;
Taste, smell, and hear in all four dimensions.
In the beginning, there was a woman.
There’s always a woman, or so it seems.

My wholeness was splintered by a woman.
I was birthed by one and broken by one.
Poetry; born to me poetically;
Filling my mind with how little I knew.

It flashes from unfiltered nothingness.
It throbs when clawed at from outside the lines.
An entrenched urge to impress a woman.
A cliché-riddled love note to woo one.

Heartbroken angsty teardrop journaling.
Overzealous declarations of love.
Bleak brooding over unrequited love.
Self-flagellation over star-crossed love.

All of it ignited over women.
The ones who brought chaos to my order.
And then one day when I least expected,
It transcended, ending the beginning.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 14: Today’s prompt:

Today’s optional prompt asks you, like Alice Notley, to think about your own inspirations and forebears (whether literary or otherwise). Specifically, I challenge you today to write a poem that deals with the poems, poets, and other people who inspired you to write poems. These could be poems/poets/poepl that you strive to be like, or even poems, poets, and people that you strive not to be like. There are as many ways to go with this prompt as there are ways to be inspired.

When I was in Junior High, my normal English teacher had to take a leave of absence near the end of the school year. The substitute English teacher was much younger, and – stop me if you’ve heard this from me before – yeah, I had a HUGE crush on her.

But initially, her curriculum baffled me. I was all set to flex my mastery of breaking down and diagraming sentences for her, but she never asked for any of that. Instead, she had us read “The Road Not Taken”, by Robert Frost, asking us to interpret it and find our own meaning within it.

I scoffed at first, but eventually, very subtly, something shifted within me. Prior to that, I had already weaponized the written word via love notes to girls I liked, but her classes encouraged me to try poetry in earnest, for better or worse.

I’m still pretty much a one-trick pony, but I’m at peace with it.  

Day 13: Surface Tensions

Photo by Afrah on Unsplash

Surface Tensions

Look, we could spin ourselves in circles
falsely claiming that you or I
drew first blood. I mean,

not one to quibble
 – it was clearly you,
though you may indeed
erroneously disagree – but
it don’t matter no more.

Sure, you had the prettiest grey eyes
I’d ever seen, and yeah,
I meant that shit, and yeah
it was corny as fuck, but well,

have you ever heard an empty cup
speak-up, looking for something
or someone to fill them
with purpose?

I didn’t think it would lead to nothing,
and was stunned when it did.

We had fun though, didn’t we?
Playing hooky some Thursdays,
laughing at shitty movies,
disappearing off the grid

into our own private world at
a different random Econo Lodge
each time looking to not form
any traceable patterns.

You had your men on the side,
and I had my whole thing going on,
but I wasn’t tripping about
what this was or where we were.

You said it first, remember?
And maybe you thought you meant it,
but at the time, I repeated it
only because I was naked and
afraid of the repercussions
of silence.

After allowing time to reflect
and to see the whole elephant,
I realized that I do care. I care.

But that’s no longer enough, is it?

And I swear to God I never knew
I’d meet someone like her
after meeting you.

She and I are just synched in ways
your sense of surface tensions
can’t possibly imagine.

What you and I had was fun, wasn’t it?

And I don’t understand a thing
about soulmates, but my mind,
heart, soul, whatever gut or
animal-instinct you can conjure;

all of them unanimously tell me
that I’d be a fool to ever let her
walk out of my life,

so… you know…

I didn’t mean to steal your joy,
but I’m dropping all pretense for her
and only her.

Do you get it?

Try to understand; remember the way
you say you felt when you fell for me?

You loved me, even as you were still
loving on those other dudes, right?
Even as you will be tomorrow, right?

Well, I met her, and everything I am
has led me to the moment where
nothing else matters except for
my pulse synching with hers.

I loved you. I did. I still do.
But I can never let her go.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 13: Today’s prompt:

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!

Day 12: Blue Snow (For Brooklyn)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeffry A. Willadsen/Released)

Blue Snow (For Brooklyn)

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
***

NaPoWriMo Day 12: The Triolet:

For today’s prompt (optional, as always), I’d like to challenge you to write a triolet. These eight-line poems involve repeating lines and a tight rhyme scheme. The repetitions and rhymes can lend themselves to humorous poems, as well as to poems expressing dramatic or sorrowful moods. And sometimes the repetitions can be used in deceptive ways, by splitting the words in a given line into different sentences, and making subtle changes, as in this powerful triolet by Sandra McPherson.

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.

Day 11: Fate of the Lilies

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Fate of the Lilies

it was an Easter Sunday
she wanted the white lilies
or maybe they were tiger
or stargazers; who can say

I’m no botanist for sure
but I gifted them to her
roots in-tact for repotting

she squealed with impish delight
showering me in kisses
I fought her back, kiss for kiss

she said she loved me, then gasped
asking if that was ok

I assured her that it was
and that I loved her as well

when can I see you again
she asked between prolonged hugs
her sparkle drawing me in

as soon as we are able
I said, strengthening my grip

she blinked back tears with a wink
cramming with delicacy
her potted plant and body
into her car to depart

I’ll text you when I make it
she said with one more blown kiss
she was true to her word, but

I never saw her again

looking back, it hurts to breathe
but still, it was for the best
as we were from different worlds

I don’t know what lilies mean
but the ones I got for her
are probably long dead now.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 11: Today’s challenge – Language of Flowers:

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!