Saturday, May 9, 2020

Post PAD: The Weekly Prompt

After the daily Poem-a-Day Challenge in April, the Poetic Asides blog continues their poetry prompts on a weekly basis every Wednesday. I've been participating on a sporadic basis in the weekly challenge, but I did write a poem this week, their first weekly challenge since April ended. The prompt was to write an "unsettled" poem, one that seems inspired by our current times. The Poetic Asides blog is undergoing a transformation this month, and presently we participants are not able to share our results in the comments section, so I thought I would do that here.

I also enlisted the word bank once again from the Sunday Whirl blog. Their bank of a dozen words was: singe, virus, spread, death (pretty uplifting so far, eh?), left, fly, stroke, call, lose, mask, lock, sell. Obviously, this list was inspired by our current situation as well. So what else could I write about? How about another threat, maybe not as widespread, but no less troubling? As usual, I used all twelve words from the bank, and this poem just happened to fall into a loose sort of sonnet structure - a "free verse sonnet", it you will.



As If There Wasn't Enough Bad News

Add to these unsettled times the murder wasp,
a hornet-sized predator with a sting
like the singe of metal, who swoops in like
a virus, spreading death through whole colonies
of honeybees, decapitating them with huge mandibles,
nothing left but their heads, as it flies their bodies
to its nest and masticates them,
food for its young.  In one fell stroke, the hive
is a ghost town, and the wasp will come to call
another day, to kill another community,
little citizens we cannot afford to lose.
Meanwhile, we masked humans in lockdown
try to avoid another predator's sting,
and the news feeds us anything it can sell.


Thursday, April 30, 2020

PAD April 2020: A Recap

So, to sum up, I wrote 38 poems in 30 days, including:
22 free verse
5 haiku
3 triolets
2 tanka sequences
2 "hay(na)ku sonnets"
2 light verse
1 curtal sonnet
1 concrete poem
Of those, twenty have at least a passing mention of the current pandemic and its effects, and two more could be construed to refer to it. Maybe theirs a chapbook in there somewhere - my friend Anna Evans wrote pandemic-themed tritinas all month and is planning to assemble a chapbook of them.

I always like to pick my favorite poems that I wrote during the month and showcase them at the end, so here are my "top 5", at least in my opinion. (Feel free to browse my daily posts if you prefer to form your own opinion of which are my "best".)

Day 2: 
Civic

A round rubber foundation that moves
with a simple key turn, a shift of a lever
and a pump on a pedal.
My new safe space. Not living in it,
but in a sense, living through it.

No crowds in here, few germs (I pray)
and a decent sound system.
The dark gray dashboard is fuzzy
with a film of dust, and random papers
litter the floor, but it's my mess.

I'm not too far from anything here -
my favorite takeout is 1.6 miles
down the road. They open their window,
and I open mine, the bagged transfer
of victuals - minimum contact.

A turbaned guy pumps my gas
(Jersey is still full-service),
and we pass my card back and forth.
If I have to exit this steel-glass bubble,
I don my gloves and mask,

stay a person-length away from anyone
avoid chit-chat, get my necessities,
and walk out into an invisible haze
of particles that look like tiny golf balls
studded with tees.

Many, but fewer, of us are moving like this,
self-isolation on the highway, keeping
a safe distance, just as they always told us
in Driver's Ed, so we don't crash
into one another and die.



Day 8:
The Future of the Hug

I was not ready for anything to happen.
- Sylvia Plath

The first thing they said was Don't shake hands.
Soon after that, they banned intimacy.
Stay apart, the length of a person's body.
Wash your hands. Don't leave home.
If you do, wear a mask. Wash your hands.
Don't let anyone in your house. Wash your hands.
Wash your hands.

I watch my first-grader talk to her teacher
from a laptop screen.  At the end, she leans in
and wraps her arms around herself, a virtual hug.
The teacher should be inside those arms.
I can see her tears welling.

None of us were ready for this.
A kiss, a handshake, a hug -
these days any could be deadly.
Those closest to us at home still get them -
the reward outweighs the risk.

But when we come out the other side of this,
how much warmth will we resurrect
in those social gatherings that right now
are called death traps?
Some of us have already adopted "Namaste" -
the pressing of our own palms together.
It feels wonderfully sincere, but
it is not the same as pressing  another's flesh -
hand to hand, lip to cheek, arms
around another whose arms enwrap you.

The hug will not become extinct.
When we come out again, blinking in the light,
we will see those whose absence was an ache,
and we will seek their comfort.
We will dissolve our personal space,
become blankets in each other's arms
and squeeze.



Day 10:
The Man Who Went to the Supermarket During a Slow Apocalypse

donning
battle gear -
wipes, gloves, mask -

clusters
of humanity -
cart snaking past

standing
six feet
apart in queue -

victuals
on conveyor,
card swiped through -

the only issue:
no toilet tissue



Day 22:
Go Bite the Bed Bugs

Our grandmother used to tuck us in and say,
Good night, sleep tight,
don't let the bed begs bite.
It was a quirky little rhyme, one that didn't
make a lot of sense to us - What's a bed bug?
Then they made a comeback, popping up
in unexpected places like luxury hotels,
so we had to address them again,
just like we're addressing an invisible bug
today, a hundred years after the last
such bug killed so many in the world.

I can thank my Jewish college friend
for the gift of another quirky idiom,
one that turns my grandmother's around:
In Yiddish, it's Gai strasheh di vantzen -
literally, "Go threaten the bed bugs,"
meaning, "I'm not afraid of you!"
Her bubbe actually translated it,
"Go bite the bed bugs,"
such a colorful reversal.

It comes in handy today, as I
strap on a mask to enter this world that has
so radically changed in these few months.
I must take precautions, but I can't let
the times dictate my fears.
I want to use it like a mantra,
shout it through the cloth on my face
over and over till I actually believe it,
Gai strasheh di vantzen,
Gai strasheh di vantzen.



Day 26:
Aprilcalypse

A light spring rain falls on Sunday morning
and the dandelions on my lawn.
I am here, not far from Independence Hall,
while democracy shakes like a leaf,
just as shaking hands is going out of style.
Squirrels dart across deserted streets
and tornados, my childhood nightmare,
rip through the South. This world can turn
on a dime, a dirty dime like the one I found
by the curb yesterday. From cornfields
to tenements, change is rattling the husks
and window panes. Some have spray painted
anarchy symbols and swastikas anonymously
in the alley by the trash cans; others boldly
brandish them on protest signs.  My wife and I
watch the news looking for facts, while others
eat up Pizzagate and the Deep State,
jumping into a chasm of disinformation.  
They fear Spanish and Chinese like I fear heights.
I grew up in a pink split-level, wear jeans
like Springsteen, build a playhouse for my grandkids
and read them Goodnight Moon.  Now I have
a President who asks if we can inject disinfectant
to kill the virus in us, and I think of the film
Idiocracy. (Dear Mr. President, please sit down -
you're not helping. Very truly yours, a citizen.)
I wish I could just fly away from here, mount
a poetic Pegasus and lift us both into the clouds.
But solace will have to come from the real world,
like the empty boulevard lined with cherry trees
that bloom in the rain in my home town.


Honorable Mentions:
Zombie Moment (Day 5)
Spirit (Day 12)
PM (Day 18)
Give and Take (Day 19)
Parenting in the Plague (Day 21)
Somewhat Cynically after Listening to James Schuyler's "Hymn to Life" (Day 25)
Total Blank (Day 29)


PAD Day 30: Tribute to a Health Care Worker

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a poem of praise, and (2) write a poem about something or someone returning. This is not about a person that I know, although I did have my niece in mind, who is a nurse, and whom I learned recently is working the COVID-19 units. So as a tribute to her and all the health care workers literally putting their lives on the line every day, I offer this tribute:


Warrior

All praise to you, nurse,
medic on the battle lines.
Every day you suit up in PPE,
shuttle from ER to ICU,
and tend to the suffering.

You save many, but watch some die.
For those whose families
are not allowed to come,
you hold their phone for face time
so they can say goodbye.

It's all you can do
to keep from crying yourself.
It's all you can do
to strap on the mask again
and push yourself forward.

You are exhausted.
you say hello to your kids
through the storm door glass
on your back patio.
Then you go out again.

You finish another long shift,
strip your mask and face shield,
gloves and gown,
take a long shower
and try to sleep a little.

Day after day,
you pass gurneys in the hall,
beeping monitors,
ventilators pumping,
and you soldier on.

You've been doing it for a month
or longer, then one morning
you're not feeling well
and take your temperature -
one hundred and one.

Luckily, it's a mild case -
a few days in bed, then
two weeks in quarantine,
and you're ready to return.
Once again, you dress for work.

A row of colleagues claps you in.
Back on the floor,
in PPE battle gear,
you shuttle from ER to ICU,
and tend to the suffering.



Wednesday, April 29, 2020

PAD Day 29: Writer's Block and an Old Dog

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a poem with the title "Total ______", and (2) write a "paean toyour pet". I didn't combine the prompts today, so I have two poems to offer. As for the first, I thought "Total Blank" was already a great title, so I wrote a triolet with that title:


Total Blank

I want to write but draw a total blank.
My mind's on hold; my inspiration's shot.
My muse plays hide-and-seek - a cruel prank!
I want to write but draw a total blank.
I rummage my vocabulary bank -
A doodle in the margin's all I've got.
I want to write but draw - a total blank.
My mind's on hold; my inspiration's shot.


Regarding the second, I've always been a dog lover, and had family dogs off and on from the time I was very little until I went off to college, but never since, until about a year ago when we adopted a dog from a friend who was no longer able to care for her. We had known the dog for years, and she is one of the gentlest, sweetest dogs we've ever met, but she is now quite old. Still, she has some spunk left in her, as this poem, written in tanka form, relates. (It's not quite a "paean", but it will do.)

World's Oldest Puppy

all of sixteen years
she's a centenarian
by human measure

totally deaf and half-blind
sleeping through most of the day

yet her head perks up
anytime the door opens
and she stands up straight

or straight as old hips allow -
watches me through clouded eyes

I put on my coat
and she scampers for the door
with metronome tail

then bounds down the two front steps
seeking some new adventure

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

PAD Day 28: Storm Clouds

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "looking back" and/or "looking forward" poem, and (2) inspired by a brief reminiscence by Emily Dickinson's niece of visiting her aunt's bedroom: describe a bedroom from your past. These two prompts mesh almost perfectly, and though I've written about my favorite childhood bedroom in the past, I thought I'd visit it again with a new poem:


Weatherman

I'm sitting in my bedroom at twelve.
My parents have just redecorated the room
for my birthday, a more mature look.
White painted furniture includes a new desk;
nautical flags and sailing ships grace the wallpaper.

But my pride and joy is the other birthday present -
a junior weather station just outside my window.
I've always loved science, and think of myself
as a budding meteorologist. The anemometer spins,
catching the wind in its pinwheel  cups.
The hygrometer tells me the humidity in the air
with a simple calculation. The max-min thermometer 
registers highs and lows, and the barometer
is the oracle, predicting incoming weather
with the augury of air pressure - a downward tick
in the needle today means rain is on the way.

I document everything in a red notebook
on my bright white desk, but soon something else
will take over these pages - random musings
and thoughts set to poetry, as I begin
to chart the storms of adolescence.


Monday, April 27, 2020

PAD Day 27: Happy Birthday to Me

Yeah, it's my birthday, and this year it's hard to get excited about it, but I did have a nice brunch at home with my wife, son and daughter-in-law and two grandkids, and my other three sons and my sister-in-law attended via Zoom. Today was a more normal day (by current standards, anyway), and I got a lot of nice birthday wishes via Facebook (the first coming from India and Australia, where the day of course starts much earlier). I also got a nice personal greeting from my poet friend Marge Piercy. I usually write a poem about my birthday each year, but this year one just wasn't forthcoming. Maybe later.

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "massive" poem, and (2) write a poem in the form of a review, specifically, something that would not normally be reviewed. Well, I wrote a pretty "massive" (as in long) poem two days ago (massive for me, anyway), so I wasn't going to let the first prompt dictate the length of the poem itself, but I did work in the word "massive". One of the suggestions for the second prompt was a review of this year, 2020, so I ran with that, trying to mimic one of those scathing, vindicative but sometimes clueless reviews that you find on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, and the like. Kind of satirical but tongue-in-cheek too, I guess.


Yelp Review of Year 2020

This is the worst year I've ever been in!
You can't find a restaurant that will seat you!
There are no movies playing,
no concerts, no sporting events -
you can't even visit a park
or get a tattoo or a haircut!
This place is dead, and the people
walk around wearing masks
and act like they're trying to avoid you!
Even going to a grocery store is a chore -
I had to wait outside in line for an hour!
And then they were out of everything -
I mean, who doesn't stock toilet paper?
The only good thing I can say is
the traffic isn't bad, and the air
is pretty clean, and gas is cheap.
But zero nightlife! I might as well stay home!
This year has been a massive disappointment!
I'm never coming back to it again!!!
(One star)



Sunday, April 26, 2020

PAD Day 26: More Musing on Our Times

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "change" poem, and (2) write a poem based on an "almanac" prompt. Using the following list, fill in your answers in 5 minutes or less - in other words, don't over-think them, just answer with the first thing that pops into your head. Then use your answers as the basis for the poem.

The first prompt is a no-brainer: What hasn't changed in our world in the past few months? The second one is more challenging, but not as much so as yesterday's NaPoWriMo prompt. And, as with yesterday's, it resulted in a kind of freewheeling, stream-of-consciouslnes poem from me. So here's the list, with my answers, followed by my poem. I tried to use my answers to the list in the same order in the poem, but gave that up about midway through, although they still generally move from the beginning to the end. I used them all, though a few are kind of indirect references.

Almanac Questionnaire
Weather: Light rain
Flora: dandelion
Architecture: Independence Hall
Customs: handshake
Mammals/reptiles/fish: squirrel
Childhood dream: tornados
Found on the Street: dime
Export: corn
Graffiti: anarchy symbol
Lover: my wife
Conspiracy:  Pizzagate
Dress: jeans
Hometown memory: pink split level house
Notable person: Bruce Springsteen
Outside your window, you find: playhouse
Today’s news headline: Trump suggests disinfectant injection
Scrap from a letter: Very truly yours
Animal from a myth: Pegasus
Story read to children at night: Goodnight Moon
You walk three minutes down an alley and you find: trash
You walk to the border and hear: Spanish
What you fear:  heights
Picture on your city’s postcard: cherry trees           


Aprilcalypse

A light spring rain falls on Sunday morning
and the dandelions on my lawn.
I am here, not far from Independence Hall,
while democracy shakes like a leaf,
just as shaking hands is going out of style.
Squirrels dart across deserted streets
and tornados, my childhood nightmare,
rip through the South. This world can turn
on a dime, a dirty dime like the one I found
by the curb yesterday. From cornfields
to tenements, change is rattling the husks
and window panes. Some have spray painted
anarchy symbols and swastikas anonymously
in the alley by the trash cans; others boldly
brandish them on protest signs.  My wife and I
watch the news looking for facts, while others
eat up Pizzagate and the Deep State,
jumping into a chasm of disinformation.  
They fear Spanish and Chinese like I fear heights.
I grew up in a pink split-level, wear jeans
like Springsteen, build a playhouse for my grandkids
and read them Goodnight Moon.  Now I have
a President who asks if we can inject disinfectant
to kill the virus in us, and I think of the film
Idiocracy. (Dear Mr. President, please sit down -
you're not helping. Very truly yours, a citizen.)
I wish I could just fly away from here, mount
a poetic Pegasus and lift us both into the clouds.
But solace will have to come from the real world,
like the empty boulevard lined with cherry trees
that bloom in the rain in my home town.