Monday, April 30, 2018

April Poems Run Out the Days: The Longest War, Following a Plath, Postcard Poetry, and a Tarot Reading Close to Home

April is a fast-moving month with, nevertheless, a lot of days. I've been trying to write a new poem each, though letting myself get behind and then catching up by writing three in one day. I have mixed feelings about coming to the end. I'll miss these prompts from National Poetry Writing Month, weird as they sometimes are. And now I won't have my daily excuse to put off whatever else I'm supposed to be doing. Goodbye April, it's been good to know you.
           Here are the last four, including some of the weirdest and silliest.

4.30 The Prompt: "Write a poem that engages with a strange and fascinating fact. It could be an odd piece of history, an unusual bit of art trivia, or something just plain weird."
            Response: Here's the fun fact I discovered: "Officially, the longest war in history was between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly, which lasted from 1651 to 1986. There were no casualties." This is both weird and (trust me) largely trivial. How can you have a 'war' against a few islands off the coast of Cornwall? Anyone born in the UK will think I'm just an American boob, but I have never heard of The Isles of Scilly and the name just drives me --- silly. There is an explanation for this doddering 'fake' war (you can find a short version here:, but it's not a very good explanation, so I ended up doing what I was afraid of all along -- just being silly.

The Longest Bore

There once was an island called Scilly
The name of which simply is silly
When you open a window
or look at the door,
All you see is an over-puffed  war.

The people all dress up like clowns
And make the most mocking of sounds
When the Dutchmen arrived,
thinking to thrive
They were met by "Hey Downy-down-downs!"

When the Norse sailed to the isles Scyllingjar
The sillies hoped they wouldn't get far
But they came under attack
by Swein, Erik, and Jack
It's tale you can keep in a jar.

In the days of old King Cnut
No Englishmen gave them a hoot
Till their navy was wrecked
By a storm out of Brecht
And incorporation followed 'Sweet toot'!

It came in the late Civil War
The Dutchmen King Charles did abhor
His fleet skulked in Scilly,
knocking Dutch trade willy-nilly,
And the Netherlands let out a roar

Now here is a jig and a romp
The Dutch sent an admiral named Tromp
He started a war
lasting three centuries and more --

So take care what you start
When you select an old fart
who's lacking both brain and a heart --

And everyone shouts, "What a bore!"

4.29 The Prompt: "We’d like to challenge you to write a poem based on the Plath Poetry Project’s calendar. Simply pick a poem from the calendar, and then write a poem that responds or engages with your chosen Plath poem in some way."
My response: Trying to write like Sylvia Plath sets the bar pretty high. Here's the poem I chose to "engage," which she wrote in the month of April.

"Among the Narcissi" by Sylvia Plath 

Spry, wry, and gray as these March sticks,
Percy bows, in his blue peajacket, among the narcissi.
He is recuperating from something on the lung.

The narcissi, too, are bowing to some big thing:
It rattles their stars on the green hill where Percy
Nurses the hardship of his stitches, and walks and walks.

There is a dignity to this; there is a formality-
The flowers vivid as bandages, and the man mending.
They bow and stand: they suffer such attacks!

And the octogenarian loves the little flocks.
He is quite blue; the terrible wind tries his breathing.
The narcissi look up like children, quickly and whitely.

            My poem attempts to respond by borrowing Plath's theme and placing it in another setting. Once again, flowers figure.

 April's Sick

Sick with the ick of a knife-probed stomach
He paces the sidewalk in dead-legged swoon
Immune to the flowers of May and April.
Nameless they crawl to the bones of the curbside,
With low expectations of June

He's Barrett, an esopha-guy, a man of many organs.
Inside his gut the tests find no bargains,
And the surgeon says 'No more.'
He complains he's lost his appetite
And pretends to walk to the store.

Curbside orphans, I guess you'd call them
Not a rose, he knows, in this spotty patch,
A place where smiling dogs will maul them.
"Get yourself an old mutt," they tell him,
Something else to worry about.

Sick with the kick of the late prognosis,
He takes what the endless sidewalk yields.
Flowers, again -- is it that time of year?
He turns off the news, the weather, the fear,
And wears the well-worn pavement out.

 4.28 The Prompt: "We challenge you today to draft a prose poem in the form/style of a postcard. If you need some inspiration, why not check out some images of vintage postcards?"

Greetings, Bro, From the Land of Sunshine

Wish you were here!
Wow, this whole state is mostly water,
interrupted by squares of reclaimed land,
with the water pumped into inland channels!
Only the fish (and lizards -- and gators!) know Florida!
Many fine latest-trend restaurants in walking distance
past huge puddles shining in streetlights, bubbling up at high tide
between new construction.
Come on in! The water is spectacular!
Old nor'easter roiling the ocean into horizontal Niagara,
all the jellyfish pounded to pieces.
I am in a state! All wet, or lying around in the sun, or both.
You won't recognize me!
Babe & me are on the trail of Ponce de Leon
and won't return until we are years younger
(and probably still drying off). Ha!

4.27 The Prompt: "Following [the] practice of relying on tarot cards to generate ideas for poems, we challenge you to pick a card (any card) from this online guide to the tarot -- "Pictorial Key to the Tarot"  [] -- and then to write a poem inspired either by the card or by the images or ideas that are associated with it."
             My poem:

The High Priestess
            "She is really the Secret Church,
            The House which is of God and Man."*

Where do we find this Secret Church?
Not on Sunday morning,
when we linger long at breakfast,
over two Sunday papers
with many renditions of the inner church such as
Sunday Stilettos,
Sur-real Estate,
Sports fronted with Living Section stories
about the nuances of mothering while
defending tennis titles, accompanied by
Big Glamour Shot

... And some complicated breakfast cookery
like Cream of Wheat

But She is the moon,
so perhaps when we stroll the garden
in the cool of the evening
under the sky of the little-known universe
and -- in the perfect half-light
of the marriage of daylight and nightlight --
the face of the moon is the serene
and beautiful mother
of the Temple of the High Priestess,
"the mystic temple"
wherein one hears wisdom and birdsong
and see the colors of the "flowing, gauzy mantle"
of the veil of shimmering radiance
(plus, of course, the birdsong)

She is the Shekinah of the morning commute,
the four-dimensional pattern of
interlocking bus lines,
and battered rails,
that lead to a swift and painless commute to
a City Near You
or a hegira of all too common complications,
interruptions, general dispensations of routine

She is the "Daughter of the Stars,"
not that day-timey life-waster starring yesterday's heroines
plus unfrocked abusers,
but those flaming gas giants
that turn the desert
into the Elevated Transcendental Supernal
Garden of Evenings
where we end our evening strolls
back in the Temple of Ordinary Evenings in
            Your Home Town,
inscribed by Higher Law, and Picayune Law,
and mother-in-law

and the in-dwelling bliss
of the blessed kingdom
of ancient days,
endlessly recycled.

*from "Pictorial Key to the Tarot"

 For the whole story on naprowrimo see:


Friday, April 27, 2018

Garden of the Seasons: New Light in April

          When the weather cleared last week, and warmed a bit, one day the sunlight lasted until late afternoon and the special late light of the golden hour found something in the garden to shine on. The green leaf-blades of the daffodils had shot up, and were joined by a few yellow flower heads. Stems on returning perennials that did not yet show a leaf were reddening with early plans, inklings of a new season. One day they too would make green stuff.
            And the buds were appearing on the cherry tree (second to last photo). It was not yet cherry blossom time in eastern Massachusetts. That would come this week.
            The bare limbs of the dogwood shrub are poking up to the umbrella-like crown (second photo). They are red when the leaves fall in November. And now they are red again.
            Both irises and daylilies get an early start with the vertical, sun-seeking leaves (third photo). The irises have sword-like bends.
            A few days later a truly strange woodpecker, called the Common Northern Flicker (bottom photo) showed up. It's not common to my experience. It's plump as a pigeon, and about a foot long. I thought it might be some immature woodland fowl, a kind of pheasant or woodcock.
            But no, the flicker.  
            As the photo shows, I had only begun to clear the leaves when it arrived.  
            Since then the daffodils have all begun to bloom (fifth photo). And the hyacinths (fourth), which had been poking along without much color began brighten their areas.
            And the buds of a maple tree (sixth), bringer of summer shade, opened a red canopy over the place where we park the car. They hang like that for about a week. Most of them are lying on the pavement now, after a daylong rain on Wednesday. 
            It's raining again today. These are the rains that will green things up in a hurry.
           Every day is different. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

April Poetry: What the Senses Tell Us About This Place We're Living In; Also, A Wicked Strong Advisory, An Elegy, and What They Said About 'Walking'

"April is so changeable."
It's been raining all day long,
and I've spent the day at home --
the sort of  thing that happens 
to make you write a poem.

          Oh, right, that's what I've been doing every day this month. Here are my efforts from the last four days. 

4.26 The Prompt: "We’d like to challenge you to write a poem that includes images that engage all five senses. Try to be as concrete and exact as possible with the “feel” of what the poem invites the reader to see, smell, touch, taste and hear."
            My poem:

Deer Food

I'm developing a taste for this stuff.
Reel stuff. Wild. Nourishing. Green. Leafy. Young. Like snowflakes on the tongue.
            Does it have a scent?
Strawberries. Ice. The first sunny days.
            Those are scents?
Pine. Citrus.
            OK, I'm getting something. Are you hearing anything?
Murmuring rumbles in the sky. Dripping. Snow melting from the trees. Cool, moist, happy times.
            That's a lot to hear.
You'll like it. Sunshine. Did I mention sunlight? Flakes melting in your hair. Your lips alive. Your nose touching firm, clean, skin-like.
            You're getting my attention. What do you feel?
The crunch in your teeth. The foliage -- soft, viney, dense, but low. The clean comb of a brush on your hair. An urge to lie down and bed -- but fight it.
Safe, you feel safe. A first inkling of a ray of light breaking through the clouds.
Spring! You feel spring -- !
            OK, enough. Enough. I get it, man. Don't push too hard.
Are you with me?
            Wait... Just one more thing. What does it look like?
Like a necklace. Like a blanket. Like a halo of ribbons, green and gold, for a queen. Like a glade in a valley where the water drips from the crag of an ancient cliff... The kind of place where the king looks down on you and blesses you with his eyes. Like a green mist on a sunny day... A refuse, a secret, a place to lie down and dream of time stretching out in a perfect line of identically perfect moments, hours, days.
            Holy cow! Anything more?
It looks like a garden.
It looks like food.
            OK, you got me. Let's go. Let's go right now. I'm hungry. I'm always hungry.  

4.25 The Prompt: "Today, we challenge you to write a poem that takes the form of a warning label . . . for yourself! (Mine definitely includes the statement: “Do Not Feed More Than Four Cookies Per Hour.”)
           My response: Maybe not exactly an advisory, but definitely in that area. 

I Told You Not to Eat It

I told you not to eat it,
now you're feeling very sick

I told you not to sniff it,
and not to take a lick
Now you worry that you'll stiff it
'cause you're feeling very sick

I told you just to wrap it up
and store it in a box
And lock it up in package tape
and cover it with dirty socks

Then throw it in the garbage
and rush it to the curb
and bury it in garden waste
imbued with leaves of rotten-breath, and stinky-weed,
            and a certain form of indelicate, 
not-to-mention "poisoned" herb
-- Truly not to your best taste!

Just do it, and make haste!

I told you not to taste it
with the tipple of a tongue 
and not to roll it on the teeth,
and make that lipsy-smacky noise
Remember -- you're not young!

I told you not to lick it
and make that greedy face
There may be ways to do such things
            -- when you're alone, and I'm asleep --
but this is neither time nor place

And the waiter now turns up his nose,
appalled at your disgrace!

And now you want to take it home,
pretending it's for doggy dear  
 -- Oh such deceit! Oh greed replete! --
When our old dog died last year!

It will only make you sick
All night I'll hear you groan
And when at last you slumber off
I'll wake you with a moan --   

"I told you not to eat it!"
Words I'm writing on your stone.

4.24 The 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."    
            My response: an elegy for a nameless death, with the slightest whisper of hope at the end.

Elegy For A Border Corpse

You paid your way and said your prayers
Still they left you by yourself
to face alone the border snares

The others said 'Give up, turn back,'
You've lost your way, outrun your luck
You faced the river -- ain't it grand?
Come back! they cried,
We'll find another place to stand

You lacked the shame to face defeat
Not going back, on tender feet
I'll wear my flesh down to the bone
My sisters and my mother wait
I won't return with nothing more  
than the scars of futile hate

The desert is a barren place
that never saw a savior's face
By the waters of forgetfulness
A fool throws down his heart
The lion takes the slowest beast
The desert does its part

From barren hearts they built a fence
and watered it with blood
I'll swim the devil's water
and ride it at the flood

I'll eat the bitter leavings
of those who've gone before
Trace bloody truths on naked stones
Sniff the air of specters, gnaw upon the bones

I'll spend my life on a futile chase
For a destiny that seeks my death
And whisper prayers with dying breath
For a life in a better place.

4.23 The Prompt: “When you hear it, you write it down.” Today, we challenge you to honor this idea with a poem based in sound. The poem, for example, could incorporate overheard language. Perhaps it could incorporate a song lyric in some way, or language from something often heard spoken aloud (a prayer, a pledge, the Girl Scout motto). Or you could use a regional or local phrase from your hometown that you don’t hear elsewhere, e.g. “that boy won’t amount to a pinch.”
            My poem, about hearing things.

Things Heard

He walked a fair piece.
I used to walk a little, but he walked farther.

Take a walk, pal.
Good advice. I'm sure I'll take it,
you should too.
After saying such-and-such about such-a-thing,
how can you walk that back?
Well, you shouldn't have gone down that path
to begin with.
When a scrap of talk, or a path taken -- or a big mistake -- goes to meet its maker,
and that maker turns out to be you...
I heard a man say
he took a walk just yesterday,
and today it was nowhere to be found.

But he walked farther than anyone else.
When he returned all the lights were out
and the clean-up gang was preparing for a new century
The trees were cut down, and the parking lot
            for the mega-something was smoothed and sterile,
the way they are supposed to be.
Wild no more
He turned, walking back into the Idea of Place
that was no longer there
Until he stepped inside,
and then it was.

For more information on National Poetry Writing Month here's the link.