Day 29: No Pets

Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash

No Pets

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.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 29: Today’s prompt:

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.

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.

Luckiest Man Alive

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Image by author. (He made me step off the curb. He’s not really taller than me.)

Luckiest Man Alive

If you asked me
what makes a man

–  and I mean
a good man;

someone who
keeps it one-hundred
at all times –

I would pause, smile
and tell you all about
my little brother.

If you asked me
what makes a man
a devoted dad

who may not have
all the right answers
all the time,

but who still
throws himself, full-assed
into the thankless
hard parts,

again,
I’d begin the convo
with my lil’ bro.

If you asked me
what makes a man
a keeper of the flame

a caretaker of
my earliest dreams
and fears

a silent observer
when silence is needed

a vocal objector
when I need to be checked
and called-out

the loudest supporter
when I need saving
from myself

and the ruckus-bringer
when shit gets too hot
and needs extinguishing
with a flame-thrower,

well shit,
you should already know
though I do feel bad for you
and great for me.

You see,
I’m the one
lucky enough
to be able to say,

“Let me tell you about
my lil’ bro, Phil…”
***

Written for my lil’ bro Phil, on the occasion of his 40th birthday, and shared on dVerse OpenLinkNight #243. Others contributed poems here.

Ode to the Sassy So-and-So

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Photo by Erin Simmons on Unsplash

Ode to the Sassy So-and-So

You’re a pain in my ass; sassy so-and-so.
Atypical opening as odes go, I know.
But your fiery spirit serves you well thus far,
and as far as you’ve come,
who the hell knows where you’ll go?

I’m going to level with you here, dearest one;
this wasn’t supposed to have rhyme or meter.
In fact, I almost wrote another clichéd line

– about catching the stars, as if!
I mean, I know, right? – but

you’ve been earthbound
for a quarter-century now,
so no more fairy tales.

You’re as tough as I raised you, tougher
than I envisioned, and I’m relieved for it.
You’re tempered for a cruel world, and yet
you refuse to let it make you unkind.

And while I’d love to take all the credit,
like I knew the masterpiece of you
was hidden in the marble all along,
you are the artist of your destiny;

I’m just pleased to see who you are
and who you will become.

I say again, as it is a good catchphrase;
you’re a pain in my ass; sassy so-and-so,
and I’m lucky to have you around, I know,
wherever you go, I’ll be with you always.

Oh, and please rinse your dishes.
I’m your dad; I’m not your maid.
***

Written for my Turtle, on her 25th birthday.

 

A Fragile Song

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Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

A Fragile Song

Echoes of my dream-defined visions declare war,
starbursts strike scores,
both friend and foe,
but what for?

The home that I called my base came unmoored;
willow that I know,
now embers in day-glow.

I know the sparrow that lived here,
I defended her,
but now her expended song
tends my fear.

With a voice too delicate to vibrate,
she lends me the will and might to migrate:

“Not everything ends badly,
that is conjecture.
Though everything ends
at least from our perspective.

“We can’t make amends
with cosmic architecture,
but we can begin
to live within.”

Echoes of my mother’s laugh
ring long after her last breath.

Father’s lectures resonate
beyond his untimely fate.

I derive no meaning
from their unbeating hearts,
eyes bleared from tears when
lingering on their departs.

Words left unsaid will remain unspoken,
except in dreams, with the visions unwoven.

I’ve chosen to fixate on the song of that bird
whose weakness conflated
a strength that reverbed:

“Not everything ends badly;
that’s a fiction.
Though everything ends;
sadly, it’s our restriction.

“We can’t make amends
with our cell’s afflictions,
but we can begin
to live within.

She and I loved
with conviction and convection.
Our fronts clashed in wind-slashed storms,
with no direction.

We blew ourselves apart,
parting with bitter sorrow.
Despite our worser parts,
there still came a tomorrow.

We now know the science of us, but too late
to rewind and find some solace in our fate,

but wait and listen to the sparrow
as her frail song pierces our marrow:

“Not everything ends badly,
though everything ends.
We can’t make amends
with past lovers and friends,

but we can extend
our hands and transcend
beginnings and endings
as we live within.”
***

Fate of Heaven

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Photo by Meireles Neto on Unsplash

Fate of Heaven

Waking up to us
was always the worst,
wasn’t it?

Surely you felt the same
rolling over and seeing
my displeasure at a
brand new day, didn’t you?

Do you have any idea
how many poems
I’ve written about you
only to have to file them away,

snuffing-out their wicked truths
like so many birthed stars
that ate through their fair
share of hydrogen

long before Ra set
the table for you and me
to ignore our own nature?

Can you fathom how every kiss shared
will be compared to the caramel of your lips
nibbling mine in our candlelit shame
of being exactly who we are

exactly where we wanted to be,
exactly beneath the weight of
who we wanted pressed into our flesh
exactly the way we needed?

Do you also wish to shake
the morning gate of heaven
to its foundation for fating us
a taste of what could be,

only to allow our respective free will
to choose to loosen our firm midnight grip
on respective flesh before the black sky
blushed soft purple with promise of new day

separating me from you
as earth from firmament,

forming boundaries everywhere
instead of simply being
happily entangled in
undefined twilight?

On some level, I know
you were just as selfish,
just as grateful for those broad,
quiet charcoal strokes

shared in faint starlight,
silently sucking our
pigment from sundown,

but no matter our
moon-soaked efforts,
morning always comes,
doesn’t it?
***

Shared at dVerse OpenLinkNight #229. Other poets have shared their poems here.

Fleeting

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Photo by Simone Dalmeri on Unsplash

Fleeting

A familiar summer scent
smiling, embracing our path
you’d sprung onto winter’s end
before knowing our spring need
unexpected kiss warmed us
your lips activated mine
your tongue filled me at love’s loss

What manner of spell is this
where I can relive seasons
of past-lives unlocked by smell
as weaponized nostalgia?
Will you cling to innocence
as you move to turn the lock
sealing us within our vice?

Lock me in; I will not flee
pour yourself upon my chest
envelope me in warm breath
crash and strain, power exchange
slake your thirst and wring me taut
plum our depths and bottle them
encrust us in lush reprise.
***

Inspired by Septets for dVerse’s Seventh Anniversary, though I missed the prompt’s deadline. Go here to read other poets’ submissions for this prompt.

Shared at dVerse’s Open Link Night

My Darling Belladonna

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Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

My Darling Belladonna

In my garden
there is a toxic plant
with an exotic name
I can’t remember

I bet it rhymes with
your name

nourished by my
infatuation

returning only the
burning pin-pricks
of your nettles.

I may be mistaken,
or perhaps even
misremembering
the flora, for it

may have been foxglove,
as the buds were
bell-shaped
like a summer dress.

I’m no botanist,
though I do recall the
breezy cotton
that clung to you,

complementing,
wicking the glisten
that occasionally beaded
upon your skin.

But enough about
my envy of your dress
and my craving for
your poisonous berries.

Perhaps it is best
that I don’t tend garden,
allowing the natural path

to be overgrown,
observing with a reverent,
passive joy

and suppressed yen,

especially
since I struggle
to know my foxglove
from my nightshade.

Besides,
I’d be done in
by your pollen

long before
the toxins took effect.
***

A Contemporary Fiction

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Photo by Steve Roe on Unsplash

A Contemporary Fiction

I wanna be able to
walk away from folks
like anime characters do,
ya know? Like, not even

wasting energy
on words like
“I love you,” or
“Goodbye forever,” or, or,

or, “I never wanna see you again.”

Somewhere within that spectrum, ya know?

Because regardless of where
you fit on that scale,
you should already know it,
ya know? Where you stand…

Without me needing to spell it out to ya.

Yeah, I’d leave the scene
with an unhurried gait and
a stoic, hardboiled heroic
Hemmingway protag expression

poker-facing what lies beneath the surface
where it’s clear that I’ll cherish the bones of you
till it causes my own bones to perish,

aching at your absence
or reluctance to stare into the heart
of this shared melody with me.

But just glimpsing my
flatlined visage spin on its heel,
about-facing into
the shadow of what was

would reveal to you a context
not easily decoded by layman outsiders
who cannot hear the song
that splits me to the bone

as I am undone by the truth
that offers no solace in the fact that
sometimes love isn’t enough.

We could really lean into the cliché
and have it be a twilight summer rain
sound-tracking our final parting,

as if nature herself weeps on behalf of
eyes too composed to cry for our own loss
as our last sliver of daylight
gets doused in westward skies,

the wind billowing, blowing
long flowing garments,
disturbing locks of hair
in wild contrast to personal stillness
and economy of movement,

slowly creating distance between us
until we could scarcely hear parting words
even if we wanted to
breathe them into existence.

Ya know? Just like anime characters.
***

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.