poem-a-thon 24: masonry

Kind of a simple and sad one today for NaPoWriMo’s prompt. I’m circling back to my theme of youth and LGBT issues a bit; and hey you should donate please! Help keep the stuff in the purview of this poem from happening, okay?

I channeled some Kay Ryan again, as I am wont to do when time is short and ideas are slim. NaPo wanted a “masonry” poem, so I went in a couple different directions with a more abstract implication at the end. It’s not great stuff, but it will suffice.

Six more days, I’m running out of juice.


can be dangerous. Brick
and mortar
betray us and crumble
into grey and red disorder,
often with the play
of glass. And even after
there is still danger:
a boy happens to pass,
pockets rubble
meant for the head of some
other boy who
likes to dress
up. Rough words wrapped
round a brick sail heavy
and thick. And buildings
can be as much trouble as
when we use the word
evil. Imagine
how much damage waits
to be loosed in the vaults
of cathedrals.

poem-a-thon 13: next year in jerusalem

After writing a sestina for the Poetic Asides challenge first, this one was a friggin’ breath of fresh air for NaPoWriMo: the idea was merely to include some kennings in a poem. I did fudge them a bit, but I tried to play with the theme of shame and acceptance of self, in keeping with my Poem-a-thon theme. (The usual plug: please donate!) And then I went all Kay Ryan, which is what happens when I want some kind of structure but can’t think of what to do. So sue me.

(Kay Ryan, please don’t actually sue me, I heart you.)

Next Year in Jerusalem

Next year I will walk
out with the expectation
of being delivered.
Fear and predation and
the relatives’ talk
will thin like tea-breath
dripped in air. Next year
shame will be buried,
bobbing its death into
this city and its masculine
pearl-rivers. That same
boy who was sobbing
into his pillow at night
will have hurried to
an always holier land.
Its joyful embrace will be
plotted on my night-maps,
and a reason to be
desperate to get there.
Next year, my light will be
caught and sipped
from an ever gentler hand.

meta-blogging: cshs issue 1 is live!

Oof, how did I go a whole week without posting? I will try to find some time for the backlog of things I want to post about (because indeed there are many), but it’s already been a super busy week and I don’t expect today to go differently. However, I feel that I can take a moment to say: CSHS is live with issue one! Please check it out over at http://cshsq.wordpress.com/ to see the offerings we have this time around… twelve fine poets with some fine-looking poems.

And if you haven’t been over there yet, please take the time to peruse a bit and consider submitting. Tessa and I are excited about this new venture, and hope that we can get some support from the blogosphere to keep the journal going. We’re reading for our first themed issue, Alchemies, right now, and soon will open up submissions for our next unthemed issue. Your feedback is most welcome!

renovation twenty-eight: thanksgivingukkah

I know, I know, so late! But there was so much family stuff, and so much food, and I just could not get it together at a reasonable time. I’m taking care of things now before going back down to have board games time with my brothers. Hopefully everyone is enjoying their Thursday/holiday, whichever it may be. But for those who need some late evening activities, here is the prompt:

1. “…with the cities growing over us…” (W.S. Merwin, “Thanks”)
2. “And under the old roof we gather once more…” (Edgar Albert Guest, “Thanksgiving”)
3. “This is the afterlife of lying and waiting.” (me, “Valley of the Kings”)
4. a map of something cosmological
5. Describe what is unique about this moment, right now.
BONUS. Have your poem’s first and last line start with the same word.
ALTERNATE (1). “Insects nudge me in my dreams.” (Hoa Nguyen, “Swell”)

…and here is the poem that grew out of it for me, having heard “gobble tov” all day and seen the posts on social media and all. The “we” here is the universal we.


When two such holidays click into place at once,
I find myself thankful to have heard the calculation
that this fortunate spin won’t happen again
for however many millennia, and then knowing
our choices are all half chance and half foretold
by ancestors lying awake at night, thinking of us
eating turkey and trading gelt at candlelit tables,
this moment of generations knotted together
which we’ll tell our children about someday,
when they too must hide from a high, icicle moon.

renovation fourteen: lunch atop a skyscraper, 1932

Maybe you know this famous photo by Charles Ebbets?:

If not, this is from the middle of the Great Depression, as the GE Building (now more popularly known, maybe, as “30 Rock”) was being built. There’s something strange and poignant about all this New York Deco history happening in the middle of economic disaster. Probably the starkest example of this, in this photo at least, is the fact that these are men eating lunch (actually, posed to eat lunch) nearly 1000 feet above the ground, with no safety harnesses. The pulley in the foreground caught my attention, as did the man on the far right, who does not appear to share the camaraderie of the others. Since this was the prompt list I put together…

1. “…understanding what touch meant / for the first time…” (Roger Bonair-Agard, “Because I cannot remember my first kiss”)
2. “The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.” (Stephen Spender, “The Truly Great”)
3. “I bled sweetness across the outside of my teeth.” (me, “Treasure Hunt”)
4. an artistic photograph of something mundane
5. Give an example of the usefulness of a simple machine.
BONUS. Give your poem a prime number of lines (prime numbers being those that can only be divided by themselves and 1, such as 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, etc.)
ALTERNATE (2). “We pretended to know nothing about it.” (Cleopatra Mathis, “Dead Fox”)

…I thought of the photo pretty quickly, and the poem grew from there. There’s probably a lot more to be written just from this photo (and indeed there’s even a documentary about it, particularly about how nobody knows the identities of these men for certain), but this will have to do for now.

(lunch atop a skyscraper, 1932)

The man on the end frowns at the camera
while the rest pass cigarettes, discuss baseball,
trade gristle and hard-boiled eggs for red apples.
He drinks his lunch from a half-empty flask
to take the edge off, to help him forget that he is
one sharp breeze away from death.
Most builders have forgotten to envy the beam,
held in its web of pulley and rope, except this
scowling man pulling a rosary around the hand
tucked in his pocket. Life has gotten
so cheap these days. He, at least, is still
not ready to give up on it, even when shivering
on the bread line, or riveting these new cathedrals.
Or even now, when the bosses tell their men,
walk out on that girder– sit– smile for the camera–
and he does not smile. Tenacious as a bull.
Staring at the crowd who waits for him to fall.

renovation ten: a memento

I keep having these determined plans to get stuff done on the weekends that keep failing miserably. It’s just so comfortable being at home with nothing pressing (or at least, nothing that is in my face being pressing) to do. Of course there is plenty I could and should be working on, but dammit, this bed just demands naps, and the food demands eating, and the friends demand to be visited. There’s no room for responsibility!

At least I managed to get this done before the sun went down:

1. “I’m tired of being quoted as a Fright and Fad and Freak.” (Carolyn Wells, “The Poster Girl’s Defence)
2. “Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by…” (Vachel Lindsay, “Flower-Fed Buffaloes”)
3. “They made a thousand-mile song for you, for me.” (me, “Running Water Ghazal”)
4. a thick scarf
5. Give an example of cause and effect that happened to you recently.
BONUS. Have most of the poem use one grammatical structure over and over, but then subvert it in the last few lines to show a stark contrast.
ALTERNATE (4). shot glasses covered in dust

As I’ve warned before, I’m not putting particular attention into the poems that I’m writing for the prompts this month, although I’ve occasionally gotten more involved than intended. I do feel pretty thoroughly juiced today, as in, squeezed out, like a piece of citrus. It’s a lovelorn poem with object-memory, of which I think every poet has written at least a dozen. But I guess, as always, better to toss together something you’re not particularly thrilled by than to just throw in the towel. I guess. :P

(For the record, for the BONUS: the way I did it in my poem, just to give you an example, was to have each sentence carry multiple clauses joined by conjunctions, except for the very end.)

(a memento)

Your epilogue sits unused on some dresser,
or tucked in a drawer: the love letter whose ink
has crisped brown, or wedding souvenirs
you split in half. And you don’t mean to get
sentimental: why bother, when both of you
tuck yourselves into strangers’ beds each night
to keep the winter at bay. Still you can’t help it
when a finger idly brushes along the surface
of a once-shared thing, and you remember
the last time you felt the heft of it, right hand
cupped around it in a pocket, the left crushing
his. It might have been the talisman against
those last few minutes of flight, bumpy
and uncertain, or maybe just the steady wear
long journeys bring, either in trains or cars,
heading somewhere less bright. For a moment
you forget all the stories you tell: all the venom
changes to water and pours right out of you.
You gather it up. You put it back inside, clean.
You carry on through the calming weather.

Japanese Stinkbugs

Slowly — very, very slowly — trying to pull it together. I have a birthday in a week. I have a roommate to live with, probably. The job is, for the moment, kind of settled down, and I’m actually getting PhD applications in line. Poetry workshop starts up in nine days. The muse is still on a very long holiday (and sending postcards with tantalizing bits that make it even more frustrating), but I expect she’ll return soon.

Back when I lived in DC, we had a stinkbug invasion at one point. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get up six or seven times a night to deal with them. You learn pretty quickly not to squash them, and/or you invest in incense and potpourri like a champ. But they were pretty harmless bugs, to us: loud, ungainly, and frustrating, but not creepy/crawly, dangerous, or damaging. So we would just scoop them up and toss them out, over and over, until winter came and they let up. I suppose this poem grew out of trying to find some kind of lesson in that. (It also fits, roughly, into the dVerse prompt looking for “peace poems”, I think.)

I need to do more Refineries, I think. And maybe a review or two of the things I’ve been reading. At some point, that is…

Japanese Stinkbugs

They crept in under windowsills
and behind radiators. They split shield bodies
into buzzing wings, caromed around the room.
At first we crushed them, leaving brown stains
on our curtains, and their dying perfume,
like ozone and blighted pine, lingered in the hall
until we learned. Then our hands began
to move of their own accord. Our fingers grew
nimble and caught them whole, let them clamber
up over rosy nails while we opened
the apartment door and tossed them out.
And even though more came in every evening
we traded the war for the practice of hesitation.
We could not hold ourselves back from
holding back. Think of it as muscle memory.
Think of it like playing the piano,
like an unconscious twitch across the surface
of some instrument, with small crooked legs,
whose notes are a long crawl of mercy.