Blueberries for Reina

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

Blueberries for Reina

I’ve never eaten a blueberry. I confess I didn’t follow my grandma’s golden rule; don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. They look vile and undignified; like grapes that didn’t quite grape correctly. But my grandbaby is housing those things like they’re nature’s candy, leaving blue and violet streaks everywhere; a little Rembrandt. Every so often, she offers me one with compelling questions of “Uhn? Uhn?” hanging beneath our sun-streaked skylit afternoon. I politely sing, “No thank you!” which always gets a giggle from her before she crams nature’s mess artlessly into her tiny face. She’s more blueberry than toddler now. Maybe I should try one next time she offers.

sea of blue and green
bird chatter and child’s laughter
we breathe together

***

Reina, destroyer of blueberries, all cleaned up now, focused hard on play. (Image by author, used with permission.)

Day 28: Figment

Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

Figment

The shining city
on the horizon is not
actually there.

It is much lower,
and cannot be seen from here
with the naked eye.

What’s visible is
a mirage; a refraction;
trickery of light.

Theoretically, it exists,
though where you think it is,
there is nothing tangible.

In the beginning,
I had nothing,
but it was all mine.

No room to call my own,
but I owned every room
in momma’s universe.

The space we called home
coalesced from a hazy shade of blue,
brightening at the boundaries,
basement half-windows facing south,
allowing indirect light.

In the mornings and afternoons,
the TV was mine to visit Sesame Street,
Mr. Rogers, Mickey’s Club,
until evening, when dad returned
from some place called work.

We played until it was time to be silent;
I asked questions until the answers dried-up;
I cowered from the silent shadows
until the birds sang-in the blue again.

Sometimes momma kissed dad goodbye;
sometimes the silence between them
needed the icy space of January air
to thaw again; but either way,

the space was mine again
to build, to ponder,
to question.

In the beginning I had nothing,
but it gleamed along the margins,
and it was everything to me.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 28: Today’s Prompt:

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.

Edited: Shared with dVerse OLN.

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 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 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!

Love, for Love’s Sake

charlie-hang-3016-unsplash

Photo by Charlie Hang on Unsplash

Love, for Love’s Sake

I have loved romantically
while being oblivious to its depths,
confined to the surface,
grasping at facades of
who I wanted to be
and who I wanted to
completely consume me,
growing mystified by
its brittleness
and inevitable indigestion.

I have loved, by sticking my head
inside an alligator’s mouth on a dare.

I have loved the greener grass
and the path untraveled
until detours revealed illusory scope
and textures tricking optics
into grasping curves
bent into ripened shapes
by light’s deception; I have loved
but a figment of her living ghost.

I have loved an imagination
and watched it slain by her reality.

I have loved deep
into the core elements of another
swiftly and inexplicably,
with the instant shock
of total immersion into
freezing waters,
slowing until bonds arrest us
in an exquisite insanity,
tricking the brain
into seeing love and attachment
as one and the same,
which renders all into ashes.

I have loved at first sight
and it seared my retinas.

I have loved
despite my best efforts not to love,
which, in essence, means that I have failed
at both loving and not loving
nearly simultaneously.

I believe therefore
we call it “falling in love”,
for no sane person
would willingly choose
this brand of nonsense,
steering directly into it
as one who wishes to be warm
plots a course directly into the sun.

I have loved over time against my will
and it was wonderfully traumatic.

I’ve flipped
the game
on its head
countless times;

each time,
my game piece
lands inside
the gator’s mouth.

I now love, knowing
its tremendous highs and incalculable lows,
the capricious nature of reciprocation
and whimsically fickle access to action
to fully experience and share,
fully aware that I wield little power
over the gambit,
only my position on the board
of an ultimately unsolvable game.

I now love with a full heart, knowing
that though I often experience bliss
and wield love to lift her
to fleeting triumphs with me,
ultimately I can never win,
and even as we run out of moves,
as we retire or surrender to fate
and, inevitably, as we
begin to lose each other,
the game will continue.

I now love,
not as a matter of choice or dare,
not with purpose nor design on winning;

I now love without purpose
because I see little purpose in not loving,
and also, aimless, purposeless love
is just love for love’s sake.

I now love that I love.
***

Shared at Poets United Poetry Pantry #442.

Day 24 – Elegy of Beloved Disputes

20180424_164943

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.

My Phlegmy Valentine

Kratzenstein_orpheus

By Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub – Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15686494

My Phlegmy Valentine

February’s second week
you are unwell, feverish
difficult, intransigent
unwilling to yield control

I bring you medicine
heat your soup,
soothe your fever
confronting your fight head-on

You are grateful for my patience,
remorseful for making life
much harder than it has to be,
missing the point completely

Your ragged breathing
is my lullaby
your phlegmy cough,
my action prompt
your sudden silence,
my panic button

When I am caring for you
it’s not an act of compassion
but it is the most selfish act
I can muster under pressure

I’ll work on my possessive streak
as soon as you’re well again
for now, I lead Eurydice from Hades
looking back as often as I need.
***

 

Tuna Salad

barryterri

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.