Monday, April 30, 2007

April Poems

Here we go ...

30. Apiary Pastoral
29. Object Permanence
28. They Eat Their Young
27. Wings
26. Conversations with a Mirror
25. Prestidigitation
24. Masochist
23. Blossomgame
22. Elvis at the Airport
21. True Story #4: If Memory Serves
20. Suffice
19. Making and Doing
18. After Sex
17. iPoem (“This poem is user friendly.”)
16. Proper Personals
15. Sunday Morning, Coffee Shop
14. Shelf Life
13. Thoughts Before the Internment
12. Woman Escapes Death After Being Pushed to Subway Tracks
11. Poem for Phebus
10. Elopement
9. Book Burning
8. The First Beneath
7. Rockport Smoked Fish Comapny6. You Are Disappearing
5. First Draft
4. Narcissus
3. iPoem (“This morning happiness washed through my body”)
2. The Secret Lives of Poets
1. First Job

NaPoWriMo 30!!!

Woo Hoo! NaPoWriMo is OVER!!! Sending out a big high-five for those who wrote 30 poems this month or gave it the old college try.

Since I did not really pay attention to the Poetry Thursday prompts, I thought I would include all of them in one poem. It's kind of a sound poem, but not really.

One thing's for sure--this poem means absolutely nothing.

Here are the prompts, in case you're keeping score:
absolve, spiral, perennial, yield, broken thread, unspoken, kneel, leather, at first blush, hollow, breathless, celluloid, bluff, plunge, pearl, hunger, glass, tick tock, root, fishing hole, ten items or less, misplaced, pluck, sheen, blaze, glimpse, improper, circle, split, spiral

Apiary Pastoral

At the bee yard,
the working girls pay
their rent in honey.
The queen pimps
them out of the hive
and like a good mama,
she keeps them from
blazing out too soon
while their biology
buzzes breathless,
completely unspoken.

These whores shop around,
10 items or less, you might say,
tasting nectar after nectar after
sweet nectar. Watch them kneel
on the heads of dandelions at first blush,
the hollow stems misplaced
by the banks of a fishing hole.
They twist and turn,
spiral and plunge,
dip and dive in a schoolgirl’s jive,
yield only to a flash of leather
from the beekeeper’s boot,
like a cop on the beat
who’s new to the street.

They absolve to resolve
the circle of hunger
in perennial bliss
by the water’s edge.
Legs glisten in pollen
with a sheen
glossier than celluloid.
But don’t be fooled,
you can’t keep good girls down
They’ll groom their bodies
into bright pearls,
itching to swarm and split,
find their own colonies,
no matter how improper.
Watch these working girls
scatter, open up shop
on the corners of the world,
The queen knows time
like a broken thread,
like the glass surrounding a clock
tick tock.

So, was April good for you, too?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

NaPoWriMo 29

Now that we're at the end of NaPoWriMo, I'm all caught up!

Object Permanence

If she cups her hands over her eyes
I cease to exist. And if I am lucky
I do, disappearing into the sun of her smile
like a balloon tethered to nothing,
which makes it easier to watch the years
float away, rise in her giggles
at the end of the day
like a woman coming home after work,
indebted for those little pleasures
that rise to hug your neck so tight
you wonder if it all
just might break.

NaPoWriMo 28

They Eat Their Young

Maybe because I was 13 and too inexperienced to help raise a family, or maybe because your mate died a few weeks before, or maybe you felt starved that you thought you had to eat your babies. When I lifted the mesh top from the cage, there you were, pulling the flesh off of their pink and furless skin. Never have I known a mouse to eat its young, but never have I been caged, or known what it’s like to be sated by time and survival, when life becomes one long Habitrail, full of long frustratingly endless tubes, with me lurking nearby like a predator. All you can do is sit on my hand, your pointed snout already burying the very idea of what it means to live.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sunday Scribblings/NaPoWriMo27

I was thinking about wings and came up with a few random thoughts and a NaPoWriMo poem for Sunday Scribblings.


  1. First of all, congrats to Laini on her new book. How wonderful it is to work on something and then let it go. Writing is such a solitary art that it’s hard to release it into the world. But despite the success and accolades, completion of a project like this is a huge accomplishment. Congratulations!

  2. Yesterday in the mail I received Kelli Russell Agodon’s book, Small Knots, and have been enjoying her poetry. This gift is greatly appreciated, which makes me think again about how we send things into the world never knowing where they will end up. If we’re lucky, our words fall into the hands of the right people. Thanks Kelli!

  3. April has been a difficult month with the lost of friend and fellow poet Phebus Etienne. Today, I was thinking about the priest who performed the Mass. During the service, he said something to the effect of, “A new poet has entered heaven today … in good company with others who have gone before her.” Gives me great comfort to know that she’s spreading her wings in grand style, reciting poetry and dishing the gossip among the greatest writers who ever lived.

  4. Finally, I’m so glad that National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) is almost over. While the ritual of writing every day has been grueling, I’m thrilled that I’ll have 30 first drafts. Looking forward to letting go of this project and attempting something new.

  5. I love being an artist, in the company of those (near and virtual) more talented than me.



Wings

High above the treetops’ skeleton arms and bare fingertips,
large, white birds soar and glide in conversation with the air.

Are they angels flying in the formation of a cross,
their wings extended and exposed under the afternoon sky?

You and I have chosen a sullen life. We rattle our cages,
bite the bell, every feather of our fiery wings clipped.

As the curtains grow pale, we look through layers of light
while something in the world flies away from us.

Friday, April 27, 2007

NaPoWriMo 26

Conversations with the Mirror

“One size is sad, it says,” meaning
it looks upon the body as a city in ruin.
How much easier it would be
to move her flesh where it is needed,
to make the body grow or shrink
or disappear?

How often it spoke about her mood
and deepened it. She flickers before the mirror
like a solitary flame, yet turns away
from the soft hues of the physical.
She glows for no one brilliantly
against midnight.

Once it told her bones she was ordinary,
unstructured—no more light and shade.
How often has she come to it
as if it was a wailing wall.
She looks for absolution
when no one else is watching.

And the winner is ...? ME!


(Mom and me)

I never win anything. So it was a complete shock when a reporter from the Salem News called to let me know that my poem, "Night Work", a poem about my mom, was a winner in the 25th annual Eagle Tribune/Robert Frost Foundation Spring Poetry Contest! The categories were broken up by seasons, and I won in the winter category. The online version does not feature photos or mention the blog (drat!), but the print version does. The photo above is similar to one that ran on the front cover of the newspaper's Life section.

All of the winners and honorable mentions will be invited to read their winning works at the Super Hoot organized by the Robert Frost Foundation on Saturday, May 12. (Somehow I've gone from zero readings in three years to two in a month. How does that happen?)

Thanks to all of you who read the poem and liked it when it was originally posted for Poetry Thursday. ROCK STARS, each and every one of you!

Have you heard the NEWS?

Boston-area poets, Boston Erin and I are putting down the keyboards to start a reading series showcasing the work of up-and-coming local writers. We hope you can join us, or consider reading with us in the future.


New & Emerging Writers Series (NEWS)

Who: Boston-area writers
What: Reading their fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, to-do lists … you get the idea.
When: Reading: 7 p.m.
Upcoming Dates
· Wednesday, May 2—Poetry
· Wednesday, May 30—Fiction
· Wednesday, June 27—Mixed bag

Where: The Regent Theater, Arlington, MA • Sponsored by The Book Rack







Why? Because these writers are ones to watch—award-winners, MFA candidates, and the future of the Boston literary scene.

Shindig: Immediately after

Regent Theater
7 Medford Street
Arlington, MA

The Book Rack
13 Medford Street
Arlington, MA
Phone: 781.646.2665

Contact me at jgill27494@aol.com for more information.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

NaPoWriMo 25/Poem for Poetry Thursday

This post should be titled, "when good poems go bad." Oh, the villanelle--the tawdry wench to my NaPoWriMo. At some point, I broke form and couldn't make the rhymes work (see "unfurl" and "bird.") Maybe I'll come back to it since NaPoWriMo is coming to a close, thank goodness. But for now, I'll just let it be and go on to read your brilliant Poetry Thursday posts.

Prestidigitation

My son stops the wind with his hands
Turns leaves into water, makes closed blossoms unfurl
In child’s play we create what does not exist

With a stick he is a wizard where he stands
making the low sky dance, twist, and curl
My son stops the wind with his hands

He tells me one day he will be a man,
as he kicks the leaves the air starts to whirl
In child’s play we create what does not exist

I push him on a park swing, his feet graze the sand
His hide-and-seek smile forms inside like a pearl
My son stops the wind with his hands

X marks the spot of his buried treasure plans
His pirate of a mom once an ordinary girl
In child’s play we create what does not exist

One day you’ll work your magic, do what you can
Throw bread crusts in the air, become a bird
My son stops the wind with his hands
In child’s play we create what does not exist

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

NaPoWriMo 24

Masochist

I love it when my daughter
scratches my face,
so excited to hold something:
my eyebrow, an earring, a clump of hair.
She grabs hold of my cheeks
and awkwardly pulls me close,
biting my nose and kissing me
open-mouthed,
her tongue like a fish
swimming in my dark stream.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

NaPoWriMo 23

Blossomgame

~For my mother

Your life before we met is slightly mysterious:
the you of my imagination is otherworldly and striking.
American dream right in front of you
yet you carry dual citizenship, young and black,
hauling a last name you can’t explain.
Native American or slave name,
a distraction from the destruction of your worst days.
Atlanta, early ’60s, lunch counter sit-in—
you were the kind of person who would
run toward a tornado, at least I wished it so.
You understood when to keep your mouth shut
and when to speak up, living by your own logic
of survival, which doesn’t seem to have any
in the face of change. In my head
I have reinvented you a as warrior,
disruptive as a cold snap in spring.
You open in me like a flower,
a constant state of becoming
and being.

Analogies and Metaphors

I received this on e-mail, so I don’t know where it originates. But for those of us who look for the perfect image, I thought you’d get a kick out of it!


Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners. (The origin may also be an old Royko column).

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. >From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p. m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p. m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p. m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Monday, April 23, 2007

META-FREE-PHOR-ALL



Time for a metaphor smackdown with Stephen Colbert, Sean Penn, and Robert Pinsky, from Comedy Central's Colbert Report.

Enjoy!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

NaPoWriMo 22

Yes, this poem may be lame, but I'm all caught up with NaPoWriMo. It's hard to concentrate when the Red Sox take a three-game series against the Yankees!!! Priorities, after all.

I invite you to scroll through the week, as well as my Poetry Thursday entry, and comment on past NaPoWriMo posts.

Elvis at the Airport

This kid was cool in the uncoolest of places
trapped between here and there.
His long, lanky legs extended into the aisle,
head propped up by his fist on the armrest.
He looks younger than I thought he ever could,
25-ish, younger than ’68 Comeback Special Elvis,
the-leather-suit-is-wearing-him Elvis.

This is Elvis before This Is Elvis,
before he really knew how cruel life could be
before the swivel would leave his hips
before Nixon left and the hostages came home.
before the Wall came down and the Internet went up
before he was everywhere.

Impersonator or real deal,
he’s an airport angel bumped from his flight.
Sideburns like wings, he slouches
in a too small chair in Cincinnati
on route in this place full of comings and goings.
I ask myself—what’s that expression?
You can’t make a comeback
unless you go away.

NaPoWriMo 21

True Story #4: If Memory Serves

The farmer cut the jugular and bled the buffalo
right there on the highway, its massive head hung

at a right angle, the tender flesh cut beneath the throat,
drawing its hot blood down and out onto the street.

Moments earlier, it had escaped from its trailer.
Frantic commuters waved down the farmer,

who did not see the confused animal
stagger then dart into oncoming traffic.

And the farmer, on his way to the butcher,
took out a rifle and shot the beast in the head

four times to save the meat, still edible,
to feed insatiable carnivores stuck in traffic,

the taste of that blood song
smudged across their lips forever.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

NaPoWriMo 20

Suffice

It to say that summer knows nothing
about the April rain, the tulips
buried in dead dirt, the trees hiding their
buds amidst the crime scene of winter.
Suffice it to say that something is lacking.
Sticks cover the front lawn like bones.
Yes, the air is warm. It exhales May
from its lithe lungs, but what does that prove?
Spring has gone missing far too long.
Take the woodpeckers, for example,
who couldn’t identify the change of season
if they tried. They see what they want to see.
Suffice it to say the sun spotlights
shafts of light over everything
so we are unable to identify what existed.
Yet memory is never accurate.
Azaleas always forget that they are dying,
but they return year after year
to celebrate the anniversary of their passing.
Funny how a murder of crows can make
suffice sound like sacrifice.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Rooted


(Alex and Ella)


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my roots. My parents are visiting from Virginia so whenever we reconnect I think about where I came from.

I’ve always had a hard time asking my parents about family history. As far as I know, there are no family secrets—at least there are none to be ashamed of. So I can’t figure out why we stopped communicating about the past. If memory serves, I remember it always made my father sad when he talked about his parents because he missed them so much. And then he would cry, so I stopped asking.

Since I finished my first poetry manuscript, I thought it would a good idea to approach the question of history through a project. I think I’m ready to write about those family secrets, whatever they may be. So while my parents are here, I’ll start collecting anecdotes and tidbits of information so I can preserve them through poems. With any luck, my kids will have a written history to hold onto forever.

Red Sox and Pizza

With NaPoWriMo taking up so much time, I haven't had a chance to blog about Red Sox baseball. Tonight, they will face the New York Yankees at Fenway Park for the beginning of a three-game series. Coupled with warm weather and the best ERA in baseball, I’m predicting they will win all of their games this weekend.

If you didn’t see this footage from last Monday’s game, here’s the infamous pizza-throwing incident, a.k.a. the slice seen round the world (well, on ESPN and now YouTube).

Let’s hope there are no pizza-throwing incidents during this series or it’s going to get ugly in a big and major way.

Enjoy!

NaPoWriMo 19

(The last line is not working for me but I'll look at it at some point.)


Making and Doing

I see him through the bay window
as I drive home from a long day’s work.
He’s moving back and forth vacuuming the rug
in a slow dance; I watch him through the gauzy view
of the curtains, back and forth, back and forth
in a sort of box step, as if practicing for
a big dance with large feet cutouts
that I am unable to see.
I imagine him teaching our daughter these steps,
bracing his arm around her, their careful syncopation,
the trust of a partner who won’t let go. Not ever.
Maybe she is dreaming in his arms
after being danced to sleep in the midnight hours.
He coos to her, tells her of life’s mundane tasks
and daily passages, the simple acts of making
and doing the ordinary things around the house.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Guerrilla Poetry Thursday

Happy Poetry Thursday!

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a bit NaPoWriMo-ed OUT! It's been a while since I just posted something because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to.

So this poetry prompt came at a terrific time. It's Founder's Day on campus, a day that we, the campus community, honor the college's founder. (I won't mention the college's name but you can probably figure it out from the photos.) The poem I chose was a new one--seems appropriate and fits nicely on the Poetry Thursday template. Poem and pictures to follow.

I left about 20 poems around on campus--even slipped one into the president's suggestion box (hope that one doesn't come to back haunt me). Felt like a covert operative leaving poems and snapping photos. Guess it will take a few days for my coworkers to figure out who left the poems. But I may leave a few more around next week, just to see what happens.


iPoem

This poem is user friendly.
What you see is what you get.
This poem loves to be loved.
This poem is fresh,
yet clean as a whistle.
This poem will make you sweat:
water resistant but not waterproof;
kid tested—mother approved.
In fact, four out of five dentists
recommend this poem.
This is a total body poem.
Every day this poem strives
to live its best life.
This poem won’t get voted off the island
and doesn’t want to be America’s next top model.
This poem is not a found poem
but has played one on TV.
Does this poem contradict itself?
Very well then, it contradicts itself.
What can you say about an around-the-way poem?
It brings the noise AND brings the funk.
This poem knows 40 is the new 20.
This poem IS the new black.
This poem can keep a secret.
I pity the fool who doesn’t
like this poem.
This poem lives la vida loca.
Don’t be fooled by its good girl smile,
this poem is bringing sexy back.
I have known this poem
to put a spell on readers
and spin them like a top.




























Nikki Giovanni: We ARE Virgina Tech

"No one deserves a tragedy."

As it turns out, it was professor and poet Nikki Giovanni who taught the troubled Va Tech student in her class but had him removed. My thoughts are with her, Lucinda Roy, the campus community, and all who tried to do something but couldn't do enough.

Here are Giovanni's closing remarks from the April 17 address to the VA Tech Campus.

Go Hokies, and God bless.

NaPoWriMo 18

After Sex

This I have worn like a dress
with black fringe at the hem
cascading over my thighs
whenever I move.

Whenever I can,
I go back to the hum of it.
Nothing’s more delightful
than all that is unspoken in me.
Such music always lingers,
yet I float dumbstruck
above the dogwoods
and the buildings
who must find them
irresistible.

Today, I am a map
that can’t be folded,
an umbrella opening wide
at every opportunity.
So it rises in me,
this secret I’m dying to tell you
but simply don’t have the words.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

NaPoWriMo 17

iPoem

This poem is user friendly.
What you see is what you get.
This poem loves to be loved.
This poem is fresh,
yet clean as a whistle.
This poem will make you sweat:
water resistant but not waterproof;
kid tested—mother approved.
In fact, four out of five dentists
recommend this poem.
This is a total body poem.
Every day this poem strives
to live its best life.
This poem won’t get voted off the island
and doesn’t want to be America’s next top model.
This poem is not a found poem
but has played one on TV.
Does this poem contradict itself?
Very well then, it contradicts itself.
What can you say about an around-the-way poem?
It brings the noise AND brings the funk.
This poem knows 40 is the new 20.
This poem IS the new black.
This poem can keep a secret.
I pity the fool who doesn’t
like this poem.
This poem lives la vida loca.
Don’t be fooled by its good girl smile,
this poem is bringing sexy back.
I have known this poem
to put a spell on readers
and spin them like a top.


(I borrowed lines from Walt Whitman and Lucille Clifton--I bow at their poetry alter.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

NaPoWriMo 16

Proper Personals
(From the Improper Bostonian)

Creative intelligent compassionate poet seeks friend, soulmate, jack of all trades, time traveler emotionally and physically fit, average looking or better, brown eyes, facial hair O.K., heart of a lion, a vessel of creativity, who has not been smothered by full-time city life, no pets, no smokers, no scrubs, to share walks along Singing Beach, aspires to change the world one person at a time sees the beauty in diversity, invokes the names of Frost, Plath, Walker, Morrison (Jim or Toni) at least once a day in casual conversation, can watch the Blair Witch Project without experiencing motion sickness, appreciates Nirvana’s Nevermind, enjoys tennis, billiards, swing dancing, California Rolls, daily meditation, long drives, clubbing, monogamy, museums, theater, arts, poetry, politics, good conversation—a real diamond in the rough waiting to be polished. Back Bay Bostonian would like to stop and smell the roses with someone who is not afraid of thorns. Why be alone when you can have me around?

NaPoWriMo 15

Sunday Morning, Coffee Shop

The rain beads and rolls off the hood of an SUV parked in front of the coffee shop. A man and a woman sit in oversized chairs facing different directions, with nothing but their big lattes between them. The thick ground aroma floats into the noisy air. They are no greedier for love than their disposable cups, which she cradles like a distant memory. Maybe they were the type of couple who would sit at home on Sunday mornings sipping Colombian roast, his head resting on her soft sweet lap all day, the couple whose life once could have passed for mine. But on this day, they sit side by side in their separate hemispheres, until the dregs are all that’s left. They walk to their car, into the rain. And that’s where our stories end.

NaPoWriMo 14

Shelf Life

Now that I am older, books love me intensely.
They have forgiven my college indiscretions
of cracking spines and highlighting pages in yellow,
back when I was desperate to eat words.

In the bookstore, I converse with the paperbacks—
These books have no sense of history.
They yawn, flip their flimsy pages incredulously
as if they know it all in 200 words or less.

They just don’t get it, so I visit the clearance bin,
say hi to the one-offs and discontinueds.
This is a generous lot. They mold themselves to my hands
as they often do for anyone bookworming on a Saturday afternoon.

Like kittens in a box, they’re waiting to be adopted
by someone like me, who combs the aisles of the familiar,
looking for a slim gem or doorstop tale to anoint
the small place in me that can always make room for one more.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

NaPoWriMo 13

(This poem I started before my trip to NYC. While I certainly was influenced by the events of the day, this piece is not directly about my friend’s funeral.)


Thoughts Before the Internment

No one ever takes pictures at a funeral.
Sure, we take pictures at weddings or births
but never the very end of life.

Why would we not want to preserve this moment?
Is it really so terrible to capture the eyes soaked in grief,
the fingers wrapped around snot-soaked tissues?

For the deceased, it may be the best they’ve ever looked.
Long after the internment, we can look back on the departed
at rest, with his rosy cheeks and plump lips, flush,

as if just exiting a roller coaster ride,
the big scream captured after the denouement—
the last photo at the end of the line.

And for the mourners, when the loss shrinks to a dull ache,
we may pick up that glossy image and, for a second,
mistake our own sorrow for tears of joy.

Photos from NYC

Despite getting stuck in horrendous traffic, my trip to and from NYC went off without a hitch. In between the tears, we did get in a few laughs. Once again, Phebus brings us together to celebrate the small moments. Here are a few images from my brief trip.




Me with Kundiman founders Joseph Legaspi and Sarah Gambito.

























Friday, April 13, 2007

Saying Goodbye


Don’t think these little ironies have been lost on me. It’s Friday the 13th, and in a few short hours I will be driving to NYC to say hello to my best friend and goodbye to another. And I’m saying goodbye to a poet in National Poetry Month, a month that meant something to both of us.

Thought I would be able to sit at my desk at work for a few hours before hitting the road, but I underestimated how hard it would be. Trying to fight off tears until I hit the road. Maybe because in my head I’ve planned out how my day would go. Now the day is in motion, it’s a build up to the ultimate conclusion of saying goodbye to P-Diddy.

Thanks, everyone, for the support this past week. I’ll post my NaPoWriMo poems but probably not comment during the next few days.

(Joseph and I always called Phebus “P-Diddy” in e-mail, but I don’t think she knew we did that.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

NaPoWriMo 12

Woman Escapes Death After Being Pushed to Subway Tracks

Something in me derails when I hear the story
of a woman who was pushed into the path
of an oncoming train. Moments before,
she must have braced her body,
rolled herself in the trough between tracks,
everything inside of her soul clamping down,
her breasts pressed tight against her body,
her face, face down in the deluge of melted snow
and cigarette butts and piss.

And what about this stranger? No descriptions,
no arrests—his presence just an echo
in the hollows of the station. That presence
washes through me, leaving me dumbstruck
as I ride next to men who can do unspeakable things,
coffee in one hand, newspaper in the other.
Part of me wants to lay my body down
feel the vibration left from the steel wheel's screech,
only to be pulled out from under by rescuers
and morning commuters. I need this sheer terror
so that I may never take death for granted
or cheat myself out of living.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

NaPoWriMo 11/Poem for Poetry Thursday

Happy Poetry Thursday, everyone.

For those of you participating in NaPoWriMo, are you tired of writing or what? Writing a poem a day has sapped my energy in a way I didn't expect. But this week's prompt is my favorite Poetry Thursday prompt of all time: writing a poem based on a line submitted by a community member. I can always find the energy to do this prompt.

I chose lines from Delia (“I am a window, a girl, you can see right through me”) and Pumpkin Doodle (“It smells nothing like rain.”). Both of these bloggers posted their lines back to back, which seemed to fit together naturally for me.

Shameless plug: If you haven't done so, visit my column at Poetry Thursday, as well as the other great posts this week from Delia, Liz, and Dana.

Lastly, thank you for your support regarding the passing of Phebus Etienne. I appreciate it.


Poem for Phebus

Everything—
the apartment slightly bigger than a shoebox,
the creaky floorboards, the cupboard with its
chipped plates and scratched glasses—
dropped out of the cloudy sky of memory
when I heard the news. Brought me back
to our college days when we spoke
the secret language of youth.
Tonight, I am a window, a girl,
you can see right through me,
this unremarkable evening, the street glistening
but it smells nothing like rain.
I am all of these things—
the late nights, the hours we filled with poems,
not poems but words, not words but meaning,
which now hang over me like a star.
The dry air is full of your spark.
Your poems leave me quite dumb
with love for you all over again.
It’s not your absence but your presence
that unnerves me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

NaPoWriMo 10

Elopement

My mother wore a blue suit on her wedding day.
She married my father in front of the justice of the peace.
Painfully young, they were a blank slate waiting for the world to
write their story. My mother, all of 25, living
in North Carolina. My father, newly divorced, not yet 30,
with a son he would not see again until age 30. My father,
handsome in his Marine green uniform--this I have from my mother’s stories.
No pictures record the union, no dried flowers pressed in a book,
or even a faded blue suit stored in the dark corner
of the attic. Just the two of them before a man, asking for justice,
standing before all that awaits them. When asked
why she didn’t want a church wedding, she said she didn’t want
to be given away. She wanted to go freely, leaving everything behind
only to meet this new couple, whom they would get to know
for the rest of their lives.

Phebus Etienne at Spelman

Here's Phebus reading at Spelman College during the AWP Conference last month in Atlanta.

Thanks to Amanda Johnston for the video and Mendi Lewis Obadike for leading me to it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

NaPoWriMo 9

Book Burning

~ for Phebus Etienne

I am reading your poem from a book that’s never been published. Your body is a book with a page ripped out. The story will never make sense again. My first instinct is to burn the book. Burn, baby, burn, I say. Let’s burn all of the books in my house. Words are not good enough today. I want the spines to snap and the pages to furl. Those glossy paperbacks, let their covers ignite into ash into confetti. Let the letters float upward toward heaven. I want you to see this living room bonfire from wherever you are. I am a castaway on an island burning the book of you to keep warm. Here it is, late afternoon, and what I want most is to crawl into the bottom of your poem, the only safe place I can go. But this is all a fiction. You are gone and this is how I grieve.

Phebus


My friend Phebus Etienne passed away on March 31 of a heart attack. She was 41.

Seems like we have always been friends, but in truth I’ve known her for 12 years from our days together at New York University. Born in Haiti, she moved to New Jersey in her early teens, and blossomed into a talented writer. God, she was talented. It was only a matter of time before she published her manuscript—everybody knew it. Phebus was a fellow with Cave Canem, volunteering much of her time and energy to CC, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and other arts organizations in the New Jersey/New York City area.

The last time I saw her was a few weeks ago at the AWP Conference in Atlanta. You just never know when the last time you see someone will be the very last time. I can still feel her arms around my body from the last time we hugged. We talked poetry and love and friends and family—all of which were so important to her. And she was hopeful about the future.

Phebus was like an aunt to my two children. I will miss her wit and charm and generous, beautiful spirit. She was my touchstone, especially when it came to writing. Her sound advice guided the revisions to my manuscript. I will miss her more than I can say.

Here’s a poem of hers that I love dearly; this poem is also the title of her unpublished manuscript.



Chainstitching

After I buried my mother, I would see her often,
standing at the foot of my bed
in a handmade nightgown she trimmed with lace
whenever I was restless with fever or menstrual cramps.
I was not afraid, and if her appearance was a delusion,
it only confirmed my heritage.
Haitians always have relationships with the dead.
Each Sabbath, I lit a candle that burned for seven days.
I created an altar on the top shelf of an old television cart.
It was decorated with her Bible, a copy of The Three Musketeers,
freesia, delphinium or lilies if they were in season.
My offering of her favorite things didn’t conjure
conversations with her spirit as I had hoped.
But there was a dream or two where she was happy,
garnets dangling from her ears,
and one night she shuffled some papers,
which could have been history of my difficult luck
because she said, “We have to do something about this.”

She hasn’t visited me for months.
I worry that my life is an insult to her memory,
that she looks in and turns away
because I didn’t remain a virgin until I married,
because my debts will remain unforgiven.

Lightning tattoos the elms as florists make
corsages to honor living mothers.
I think of going to mass at St. Anne, where she was startled
by the fire of wine when she received her first communion.
But I remember that first Mother’s Day without her,
how it pissed me off to watch a seventy year-old daughter
escort her mom to sip from the chalice.

Yesterday, as the rain fell warm on the azaleas,
I planted creeping phlox on my mother’s grace,
urging the miniature flowers to bloom larger next year
like the velvet petals of bougainvillea that covered our neighbor’s gate.
I crave a yard to plant lemon and mango trees as she did.
Tonight I mold dumplings for pumpkin stew,
add a dash of vinegar for spice as she taught me,
sprinkle my palms with flour before rolling the dough between them.
I will thread my needle and embroider a coconut tree on a place mat,
keep stitching her presence in my life.
~Phebus Etienne

Sunday, April 08, 2007

NaPoWriMo 8

I worked way too long on this poem. Will take a second look at it tomorrow.



The First Beneath

Why do we speak to children as they sleep,
whispering our foolish dreams into their
too small ears?

My son is in his nocturne.
He goes where superheroes never sleep
because there are always battles to be won,
never lost. I look for him in the sound of his breathing,
watch his eyes flicker as he discovers secret worlds,
the first to fly beneath the moon. Always
his breath smells sweet of peanut butter.
By his bed lay a towel-cape and paper mask—
evidence his super identity is safe
another night.

Wherever he is he roams the dark unprotected,
never thinks about falling out of the sky.
I whisper on the rim of his ear, “come back soon,”
He tells me not to worry, he’ll be right back,
the message resting deeply on the tip of his tongue.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

NaPoWriMo 7

Rockport Smoked Fish Company

Sometimes I think you wake up at the Rockport Smoked Fish Company, working long hours to preserve fish in the family business. You held fish fillets in brine while your brothers placed the wet flanks side-by-side on large, steel racks. I can see you mixing salt into ice cold water to make brine, your 11-year old hands stirring the liquid with a canoe ore, stirring yourself into manhood. Pieces of bluefish smoked into tender jerky rested in your cheek, just as your father did for more years than he had left. What remains is the fine grain of hard work. When the neighborhood kids played hide and seek and street baseball, did you glimpse your future, working hours you own to clean stained carpets and smoke-filled sofa sets? I know so little about how to be a good man, about dreams held underwater until they become something else. What I know is how to wake you when you've already gone. When you return, I kiss the salt from your tired skin.

Sunday Scribblings: In the News

Years ago, I worked for the Associated Press, in the Broadcast News division in Washington DC and at AP headquarters in NYC. So I spent my 20s developing a deep, abiding respect for good, solid journalism.

After 9/11, the Bush administration quelled any skepticism the media might have had about weapons of mass destruction and the U.S.’s involvement in Iraq. Now, we’re living with the aftermath: because the right questions weren’t asked up front, the country is stuck in a war with no exit strategy in sight.

My hope is that reporters continue to ask tough questions about our government and of big business. Journalists have the rare opportunity to speak for those with no voice, so I hope they continue to surprise us. As horrible as it was, the Walter Reed story shined a light on the substandard conditions of one of the country’s best-known veterans hospitals. Let reporters be equally as relentless on subjects such as the federal deficit, subprime mortgage lending, poverty, and global warming, to name a few.

Additionally, I hope the blogosphere continues to add to the mix of dissenting voices. While I don’t consider bloggers journalists, I do think we have a unique opportunity to contribute to the media at a time when the public is listening.

Friday, April 06, 2007

NaPoWriMo 6

This is the first poem where I've managed to use a Poetry Thursday prompt, broken thread.


You Are Disappearing

What I remember:

Fuchsia crepe myrtle hanging low from its branches.
Pink Cadillac in the driveway. Hot dogs fried
in Crisco with mayonnaise dolloped on the side.
Old peppermint candy from the bottom of your purse.
Picking me up from day care when my father
couldn’t be reached. Bifocals. Your wedding photo.
Your graying hair stuck in the forest of your brush.
Your leaving and your loss.

What remains:

A flower whose name I will forget by the end
of this poem. An empty house. Your hands,
which I have claimed for myself. A motherless
father. A broken thread in need of repair. Being
old enough to remember, but not recalling a thing.

Top 100 Mom Blog Awards


How cool is this? The kind folks over at MothersDayCentral.com have included my blog in their list of top 100 mom blogs! They think my blog is "of exceptional quality." (I'm sure I was chosen BEFORE I started NaPoWriMo ... Yikes!)

But seriously, my thanks to MothersDayCentral.com, and special thanks to all the moms in the blogosphere, or "momosphere," for doing what you do on a regular basis.

Woo hoo!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

NaPoWriMo 5

First Draft

They say you will
never amount to anything,
but they are wrong.

I’ve seen you slam the night
against a chain link fence
to make it talk.

I’ve seen you flim-flam
an unsuspecting mark
from her most hidden of secrets.

Maybe you’ll grift me out
of everything I have
but the truth is

there’s a place you go
to build your language
others dare not enter

yet every evening I wait for you here,
like a damsel in distress
cursing your name under my breath.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

NaPoWriMo 4/Poem for Poetry Thursday

Ahhhh! Poetry Thursday. Even though it's April, you'd never know it with the wintry mix we're getting in the Boston area.

Not to much to say about this poem except that I'm participating in NaPoWriMo, and I encourage you to scroll back through the week and comment on any poem you wish.

Narcissus

You look sullen
in bridal white.
Your long, slender stem
bows down
under the weight
of your beauty,
with a scent so faint
it almost seems artificial.
Soon, your small,
vulnerable body
will give way
despite
my best efforts
to keep you.

A ring of petals
will surround your
eathernware pot—
a grave for your
unloved roots.

Poeting Is Hard

Day Three ... now Day Four of my NaPoWriMo and this is really f*ck*ng hard. Forgive my language, but I don't know how people write poems on a daily basis. I remember an interview with Robert Bly saying he doesn't get out of bed until he writes a poem in the morning, and some days he doesn't get out of bed at all. Must be nice.

Not to sound grumpy, but I have a head cold, which makes it hard to focus in my Sudafed-induced haze. And with Poetry Thursday around the corner, there's just no time to slow down. The nice thing about writing a poem a day is that at the end of the month, I'll have 30 first drafts to show for my efforts.

So if you're reading or writing poems, how are you enjoying NaPoWriMo?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

NaPoWriMo 3

iPoem

This morning happiness washed through my body
while looking up into a pool of stars
with no one to tell and nothing to write with.

I am stuck inside a car
with a new poem burning my fingers.
This is my own unique brand of crazy.

I talk to an oak in my front yard,
ask it how its survives
all of this early-morning beauty.

It says,
“I am a tree who owns itself.
My joy is the wind through my branches

forever.
Love the dark that awaits—
know that you can bloom at anytime.”

Monday, April 02, 2007

NaPoWriMo 2

Poeting is hard.


The Secret Lives of Poets


You wait for moments like this—
when the children are fussy

and the car won’t start,
changing its mind with the turn of a key.

Could it be the battery,
the inadequate heart that won’t start?

Or is it the corroded connections
tired of the stress of making ends meet?

And you, mechanically inclined as a wisk,
are stranded at the grocery store parking lot,

embarrassed by this sudden vulnerability.
Your eyes fill up by the quart.

Both kids look to you as if to say,
how are you going to fix this?

They don’t understand that
you cannot chose the days you are given

when you pull out of the driveway
to the next quiet disaster, all your hopes

strapped to the back seat. It’s just you
armed with a pen, the only tool you know how to use.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

NaPoWriMo 1

Happy National Poetry Month!

While I am over the moon about writing a poem a day, I think I had forgotten how hard it is to come up with a poem a day--Yikes! It's only Day One! At least last year, I only posted the poems I liked. This month I'm putting it all out there.

So my April poetry won't be pretty but it will be interesting. Needless to say, everything is a first draft. Feel free to comment but be kind.

And I'm *really* looking forward to reading your poems this month! If you have a new poem and would like me to read it, just leave a note and I'll stop in to say hello.


First Job

At 16, I worked the concession stand at Circle 6 Theatres,
offering butter flavoring on large tubs of popcorn and upsizing
large drinks to the size of vats. I envied the folks going to the movies,
entering a dark room to come out the other side changed.
The shopping mall where the theater was located was a Petri dish
of human interaction—young Navy boys on shore leave
trying to pick up high school girls looking to cement their
jailbait status with all of their jailbait friends. After the late-night
movies ended, I’d walk down the house aisles
to find everything from used condoms to
drink cups filled with chaw. Eventually, I hated it all,
the hookups and breakups in the front lobby,
the unflushed toilets and syrup-covered floors.
When I came home from my evening shift
I smelled like burnt popcorn, my feet sore
from the overworked-underpaid burn that comes from standing,
a burn deeper than flesh or muscle. I stayed at the job
through most of my high-school years.
Wasn’t until later when I moved away from home
that I did all those things the lobby kids did in darkened theaters.
Now, Cirlce 6 is closed. The mall once filled with destinations
is home to stores with cool yet misspelled names
like DRESS 4 LESS, VIZIONS, and KOOL SHADES.
Rarely do I smell popcorn and not think about
the hard work of making people happy,
But, oh, to disappear in the dark for few hours
and come away as someone else—I long for it.

*The spelling of Theaters in the first line is correct.

**And now, I'm off to the movies!**

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