Sunday, June 17, 2018

I Got Up at Five A.M. Because I Had to Write This Poem

The Refugee

She is only two, hardly old enough to understand.
In any language.
She sleeps on the floor of what used to be
a big-box store, with hundreds of others.
But she doesn't really sleep.

Mostly she wanders around, crying
and screaming for her mama,
who was told they were taking her away for a bath.
She pounds her fists on the floor, inconsolable,
with terror in her eyes.

I try to give her some old toys they supplied for us,
but she is not interested. Her tears will not stop.
I want to hug her, cuddle her, rock her,
tell her it will be all right, but I'm not allowed.
It's against the rules.

Why did I take this job?
I want to say,
This is not who we are,
but that would be naive,
when I know we wrested children
from their mothers on plantations,
sent them to their deaths
on a thousand-mile snow-covered trail,
put them in a desert enclosed in barbed wire
because they looked like the enemy.
This is not who we should be.

This two-year-old's only crime was having a mama
who was scared enough for their safety to flee
to a country where she thought things would be better,
who didn't know that the laws would be so cruel.

The children try to sleep tonight,
on a brightly lit, hard floor,
with shabby blankets,
and a big mural of the President
who scowls down on them.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

April PAD: A Recap

Well, that's it! We return to our regular life in progress. I wrote 35 poems in the month of April - not as many as I did back in November (40) or last April (54), but still not a bad level of production. I had a harder time this month getting time to sit down and write something earlier in the day due to my rather busy retired life, which is largely taken up with caring for my two lovely granddaughters while Mom and Dad work (and Mom-Mom too, part-time), so often I didn't write a poem till at least mid-evening. I wrote mostly free verse, like I usually do, but I did write a little in form: a haibun, a roundelay, four light verse poems in rhyming couplets and one in ABAB quatrains, a prose poem, and a "haiku sonnet". I didn't write as many "formal" poems as I usually do for PAD, and there were no "traditional" sonnets, my favorite form, but it is what it is. Looking at it another way, though, I wrote 704 lines of poetry in April. I don't know how that compares to previous months, but I know, for instance, that several of my 54 last April were pretty short, like haiku and limericks. My poems this April ranged from  3 to 39 lines. As for quality? Well, there's only one poem I can truly say I'm completely satisfied with at this point, but as fellow poet Peter Murphy says, sometimes you have to give yourself permission to write a "shitty" poem, and there's always room for revision.

As always, I have Robert at Poetic Asides and Maureen at NaPoWriMo to thank for spurring me on with their daily prompts. I'm a little disappointed that Robert has discontinued the "prize" incentive on his blog - at one point he was actually publishing anthologies of the best poems of the month from the blog. But I understand what a Herculean task that was, and when it comes down to it, the best reward is really having a couple of dozen new poems to add to your body of work, not to mention being able to read some fine poems from your "partners in crime".

As usual, I'm picking out what I consider some of my best poems of the month and recapping them here, so those of you who didn't follow me daily can see some of the fruits of my labor. So here are my "top five" and some honorable mentions (with the prompts that they responded to):

[Day 29: Write a "response" poem; write a poem that "engages" with one by Sylvia Plath. See this link to read my poem "Cedar".]

[Day 8: Write a "family" poem; write a poem were magical or mysterious things occur.]

Hazel in the Tree House

My granddaughter took the color of her eyes
and made it the name of her imaginary friend.
Hazel lived in a house in the cherry tree.
Hazel would invite her up to play
in the tree house with her pet baby elephant,
and they would all dance a kind of jitterbug.
When she would bring her fairy wings
and magic wand, Hazel turned into
a real fairy and made her one too.
They flitted around the windows
of the houses of the neighborhood
and peeked in. Hazel was the one who made
her tree blossom all pink-white in April.

But eventually imaginary friends move on,
usually to another town, with another name
to be friends with other girls and boys.
So it was after one more spring spectacular
that exploded the cherry tree with flowers,
when Hazel left, practically overnight.
The blossoms faded a few days later,
and the wind caught up the falling petals
into a swirling cascade that to most people
looked like snow, but to Isabel
they looked like tears.

[Day 17: Write a "love" and/or "anti-love" poem; write a poem about a family anecdote.]

Family Engagements

My wife’s grandmother had one date
with her future husband, back when movies
were silent and a nickel.  Its title is lost to the ages,
and they didn’t even hold hands.
Her little brother and sister sat between them.
They were married over fifty years
and had four children.

One evening my wife’s father came to visit
his friend, a fellow musician, and met his sister.
He wrote letters to her, and in one he said
that when he played his saxophone,
the music on his stand dissolved
and he would see her face.
They married six months before the war.

After a Christmas snowstorm, our son took his girlfriend
to see their favorite neighborhood lights display.
She turned around to brush some snow
off a lit plastic snowman, and when she turned back
he was on one knee.
He was married with his grandfather’s wedding ring.

And I, the romantic poet,
proposed to my beloved, my wife of forty-five years,
over the telephone.

[Day 24: Write a "roundelay"; write an elegy.]

Midnight Rider

Oh Gregg, you've left the worldly band,
and joined your brother's early lead.
With Southern Rock at your command,
your voice and keyboard sowed the seed.
With bluesy riffs you took a stand,
impassioned jams that filled our need.

With Southern Rock at your command,
your voice and keyboard sowed the seed.
Admittedly, the flames were fanned
with talent, and with booze and weed.
With bluesy riffs you took a stand,
Impassioned jams that filled our need.

Admittedly, the flames were fanned
with talent, and with booze and weed.
From "Whipping Post" to "Ramblin' Man",
"In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,"
with bluesy riffs you took a stand,
impassioned jams that filled our need.

From "Whipping Post" to "Ramblin' Man",
"In Memory of Elizabeth Reed",
you Midnight Rider in that land
where Duane will welcome you indeed.
With bluesy riffs you took a stand,
impassioned jams that filled our need.

[Day 16: Write about something that is a "favorite"; write a poem about "play".]

Weigh with Words

I think a splendid game of Scrabble
sets one above the common rabble.
Strategic placement of those tiles
can bring sweet scores to lexophiles.
How great to get your foe in trouble
with “bingos” or a triple-double.
The winning Scrabble player girds
his loins with rare, exotic words,
Like QI and QAT and SYZYGY,
and ZAX and SUQ and QUIXOTRY.
Though words like MUZJIKS bring elation,
They’re hard to work in conversation.
Vocabulary won’t impress
when causing listeners distress.
So go enjoy your game of Scrabble;
but know some words just sound like babble.

Honorable Mentions:

Self-portrait as a Zombie (Day 2)
20 Possible Titles for My Next Poetry Collection (Day 3)
Case of Fatigue (Day 4)
Brussels Sprouts (Day 6)
Note to Future Highway Self (Day 11)
Defiant Ones (Day 12)
American Thread (Day 19)
Narcissus 2018 (Day 21)
Nectar (Day 26)
Long-distance Wave (Day 28)

Monday, April 30, 2018

PAD Day 30: Closing Time, or Napoleon Attacked by Rabbits

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) write a "closing time" poem, and (2) write a poem based on, or engaging with some weird fact or bit of trivia.

I didn't combine the prompts today. I wrote my valedictory poem for Poetic Asides early in the day, a sort of haiku:

At the Poet's Bar

last call
time to finish up
your final draft

For NaPoWriMo, I looked up a link they provided of weird history facts, and I couldn't get one of them out of my mind for the amusing and surreal images it conjured: an actual incident where the emperor Napoleon was attacked by a horde of rabbits. I got a little more background on it and wrote this rhyming couplet light verse:

Napoleon Attacked by Rabbits

There are still some, I think, who revere Bonaparte,
a man whom they think transformed conquest to art.
And yet, unstoppable as he might have been,
there was at least one battle that he couldn't win.

In 1807 a treaty was signed
which put some troubles with Russia behind.
To celebrate, the emperor proposed a stunt,
a huge après-déjeuner wild rabbit hunt.
His aide Berthier organized the event
and with dozens of cages dutifully went
to gather up bunnies to release right on cue,
so hunters could look forward to some rabbit stew.

But after lunch, when set free, instead of retreating,
the long-eared critters were hell-bent on meeting
Napoleon on their own field of battle,
and their onslaught was more than enough to rattle
the grand homme as they hopped right up his pants
and nipped at his heels, which caused him to dance
and shoo them away, a mad hordes of hares,
hundreds, nay, thousands, not as deadly as bears,
but still quite disarming, which caused him to flee
to his carriage, defeated, and still the sortie
would continue -  some even jumped at his wheels
and forced the great emperor to turn on his heels.

They say that Mssr. Berthier's fatal error
which caused Bonaparte and his guests so much terror,
was rounding up not a flock of hares from the wild,
but domestic farm bunnies, who are normally mild,
unless starved in their cages, then released in a bunch -
they saw Bonaparte as the man with their lunch!
I imagine that scene that embarrassed the crown
was not so much Waterloo, as Watership Down.

So that's it for April! Thanks once again for Robert Lee Brewer of Poetic Asides and Maureen Thorson of NaPoWriMo for providing thirty days of inspiration once again. I'll wrap it up tomorrow or so with a summary of my month of writing.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

PAD Day 29: The End is Near!

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) write a "response" poem, and coincidentally, (2) write a poem that responds to, or engages with, a poem by Sylvia Plath. NaPoWriMo provided a link to a website called The Plath Poetry Project, an intriguing site that has Sylvia Plath's poetry organized in a sort of calendar, inviting readers to use the daily poem as a prompt, and "publishing" some of the best submissions. I chose "Elm", the poem for April 19, 1962 (the date it was written). One of the editors suggests picking an iamb, repeating it three times (like the last line in the Plath poem) and writing to that for your poem. (See the above link under "April Mini-retrospective" to read the poem.)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

PAD Day 28: A Post Card to St. Thomas

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) write a poem with the title "______ Wave", and (2) write a "post card" poem.  I've done the latter prompt several times, as part of The Winter Getaway Writing Conference run by Peter Murphy every year.  One of the poems I wrote, "Postcard to the Ex", was published in U.S. 1 Worksheets and nominated by them for a Pushcart Prize. 

I keep thinking about my wonderful vacation last February in St. Thomas, and all the terrible damage they suffered as the result of two hurricanes last fall - they were hit nearly as hard as Puerto Rico, and their economy is floundering as a result. I sent a donation for relief, but wish I could do more to give back for their hospitality and the beauty of their island. So here's my post card to them:

Long-distance Wave

Dear St. Thomas,

I still remember our time together,
all white sand and crystal blue waters,
palms swaying in the trade winds,
a week of getting away from my troubles.

Now you have troubles of your own,
after the horrible storms,
your houses a sea of blue tarps
where roofs used to be,
hospitals, schools and lives damaged.

I've sent what I can afford,
and I'll be back some day,
because I know how much
you depend on a traveler like me.
Wish I was there.

For now, all I can offer is a wave
of love from my part of the ocean,
which I hope will ripple down
and lap on your beautiful shores.

Friday, April 27, 2018

PAD Day 27: Meeting The Hanging Man, and a Happy (Prime) Birthday

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) write a "story" poem, and (2) write a poem inspired by a tarot card. I know very little about tarot cards, but for me, the most intriguing one has always been "The Hanging Man". So I imagined what it would be like to actually meet this character, and made it into a "story" of sorts in a prose poem.  I'm not sure where I'm going with this, and it doesn't feel quite finished - I think I'm just trying to inject a little humor and humanization into a mystical character.

The Hanging Man

I met a man on the road, hanging upside down by his right ankle from a tree.
"You remind me of a tarot card," I said.
"Really?" he replied. "I am not familiar with that."
"Are you a martyr or a traitor?" I asked.
"That depends on who you ask."
"Who did this to you?"
"Oh, I did this on my own free will.
I might have had a little help."
I noticed his free foot was folded
behind his bound one,
and his arms were folded behind him.
"You look triangular," I said. "Or a cross folded over, like a swastika."
"Oh no," he protested. "A fylfot cross. It had a long history in heraldry,
before those Nazis got hold of it."
"You look like a crucifixion, yet you don't seem to be suffering."
"On the contrary, I've had much time for reflection.
It's as though I'm hanging between the material and spiritual worlds."
"Wow," I said. "Have you come up with any Great Truths?"
"I'm still working those out. One thing I know is I won't die here."
Suddenly I noticed something else unusual about him.
"Did you know that you have a halo?"
"No, I didn't. That might just be from all the blood rushing to my head.
Sometimes I get a doozy of a migraine.
Hey, you don't happen to have an extra sandwich
in that backpack, do you?"

And here's a bonus poem: My birthday is today (April 27), and since I'm always wrapping up a month of daily poems on my birthday, I always try to write a birthday poem to myself. Here is this year's installment. (It's also a bit of a riddle - see if you can figure out how old I am.)

Prime of My Life

This year I am a prime number.
If you counted birthdays in this way,
I would be only nineteen.

I'll have six more in my first century,
three in the next decade alone,
and I hope to make it to them all.

There is a certain security in knowing
that this year I can only be divided
by one or by myself.

I've added two lines to this poem
to make it prime as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

PAD Day 26: Love in Bloom

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) write a "relationship" poem, and (2) write a poem that uses all five senses.  That latter one is pretty familiar, but it always tends to produce good results. Today I wrote a "haiku sonnet" - its origins are unclear, though my poet friend Vince Gotera claims to have invented it. (It's very likely as he is the inventive type. He's doing daily poems too - check out his blog here.). It's basically just a 14-line poem like a sonnet, though there the similarity mostly ends. The poem is written with four tercets, each with the standard 5-7-5 syllable count of a haiku, and the last two lines are seven syllables each, as a tanka would have. I used a love theme, like a sonnet, and a nature theme, like a haiku. As far as a "relationship" poem goes, the speaker has a relationship of sorts with... well, you'll see.


stars are fading in
with dusk, pink light in the west
birds in evensong

you've returned again -
your scent sweetens the darkness
I follow my nose

you have dressed for spring -
a silky, petaled gown that
I stroke with my thumb

plucking a blossom
from your stem, I bite the tip
suck out the nectar

honeysuckle, you're my love
and I am your butterfly