oulipost 22: pine barren rangers

Better late than never, yeah? I’m trying to make up for lost time this morning by getting some poems done; two down, two to go. This is for yesterday’s Oulipost prompt about antonymy, taking a found text and making as many of the words as possible into antonyms. I took some liberties and tweaked it a bit to make it more “poetic”, where possible. The original text was about carriage horses in NYC, and given that yesterday was Earth Day, I spun that as much as possible into an environmentalist kind of theme. Without further ado:

Pine Barren Rangers Raise Outcry over Hunting Permits

The sound of the Washington Forest birding grounds
vanishes after the feel of them,
the division of scrub grass and bayberries
and osprey shadows. It tumbles out of the sky
over the nameless bays, far west of the barrier islands,
next to Washington Preserve, for which
the birding grounds are not named.
The sound does not freeze your feet in place,
ignorant to the sudden cocks and hens.
One long ago morning, too, the gates were crowded.
A few of Jersey’s unknown wild birds
were fanning out their dark, lifting out of clearings
at nine mudflats collected on the edge marsh.
Outside Washington Forest,
when the avian visitors rustle uneasily awake,
upright carnivores were, at last,
burning their armistice to ash.

poem-a-thon 20: year of plenty

A friend of mine coined the term Weedster for today. Groan. I’ll just leave that there.

After my blaze of writing yesterday, all the food and family and travel today just tripped my circuit breaker, I think, and I’m unreasonably mad about it (even though the aforementioned events were all lovely, I suppose). It’s ten o’clock and I still have one more poem to go, and I’m not going to get done any of the stuff I actually need to get done for tomorrow. There’s a lot of things I’m frustrated about tonight, and I can’t allot myself enough time to be frustrated about them all…in the long run, I guess it’s a good thing, but in the here-and-now, not so much.

NaPoWriMo wanted a poem in the voice of a family member, but you know what, I already did one of those before. So I’m doing a bullshit nature flowering cherry poem in a Kay Ryan style because there’s nothing else I can think of, and wasted a title on it. (We did talk about the flowering cherry in the yard today, and the bees. There’s the family connection.) Enjoy!

Year of Plenty

Bees cloak
the sour cherry tree,
fuzzed collectors
flower-choked on
their own nectarology. We
who carry along
wingless see their story
buzzed from every
burst pinkish hollow–
how to pull beauty
loose, to counteract
what misery may follow.
We too circle
begging a year of plenty–
but the cropped trees
which are most fertile
are first to drop pale money,
selfless as bees
of which we have many.

poem-a-thon 6: moon taming

I know it’s after midnight EST, but I did finish this beforehand. I’m going directly to bed (do not pass go; do not collect $200) right after this, but just a bit of natter beforehand to say that I did as the NaPoWriMo prompt suggested, and gathered some sensory details outdoors today. Sat in a tree, people-watched, observed as much as I could, and gathered this scene out of it, even though I couldn’t think of a decent title. This one swings a little far from my theme for the month (reminder: please donate to my Poem-a-thon! Margo is still the only rockstar to help out!), but I’m still fond of it. The kite was something to see.

Moon Taming

Two girls huddle together, the cranberry-maned
wrapping tight round the other, who has wound string
round her fingers as if they were spindles
to slacken the kite.
There it is, an arc-minute or two to the left of the moon,
up already in the afternoon, bellying out its white
with a minuscule dark in it as the girls’ pet geometry
draws close and draws away, the air
fierce today, sharp but loose and eddying.
The girls breathe in time. Their eyes lock like a compass
at the same angle. Hoodie sleeves are rumpled, lip rings
are sucked, as they pair their arms and hips
to keep the wings afloat.
So many things threaten a tangle: the clothes donation bins,
indifferent boys throwing Frisbees, and always
the possibility of interference from trees even in the open,
far from the sounds of a city.
And the girls haven’t eaten much for days,
saving their money for Brooklyn, the couches of friends
where they will spend the spring, with at least a leaky roof
over their party-colored heads, waiting for
calmer weather to offer their most prized possession
to the vapor-trailed sky.
The moon will take confessions. The sun will hide its face.
Scribbled on the paper kite are the prayers of young lovers
who write what has not yet taken place.
It will not stay aloft forever: already the mothers begin
gathering their picnics, the rusty bikes are untethered. Still
these two laughing girls catch each upward tremor,
each dizzying fall together. What must need be
but to write these words
and aim for that littler eye of whoever’s up there, whoever
will believe what they read?

poem-a-thon 5: philadelphian spring

I had a lovely conversation in the coffeeshop line this morning, with an older woman in a green coat who remarked that her coat matched my hair. This turned into a chat about how she’s currently re-touching her (deceased?) painter father’s artwork, and so has been living in a world sensitive to color for a while (months? years?). Which then turned into a discussion of how those in my generation who have a sensitivity to art for art’s sake, and the turning of everyday things into beautiful things, must stem the cheapening tide that our culture is currently awash with. (I’m making the words more florid than they were.) We talked about the value of what’s worked with hands and personal touch, and then we got our coffees and carried on. Best three minutes I had this morning.

That really has nothing to do with anything else, I just wanted to mention.

Guys, I’m getting a little desperate and could use some signal boost for my Poem-a-Thon goal. Nobody’s donated yet, and we’re five days in, and I’m bummed about it (but also I’m probably not doing enough to make a stink about it, so I feel guilty too). If you’d consider donating, that would be Way Cool, and if you can’t donate, then please bug people with more accessible cash who can. I am going to raise a fuss about this until at least something materializes… I really don’t want this frenzy of poem writing that I’m putting myself through to be for naught.

And on that note, here’s today’s. NaPoWriMo wanted a golden shovel, which I wasn’t familiar with: writing a poem where each line ends with the word of a poem, in order. (Charles Simic’s “Watermelons” was suggested, and as I recently read a collection of his, I went with that one. I did cheat a little bit by turning “spit” to “respite”, and breaking the extra-long last line, with the final teleuton.) I really miss Philadelphia in the spring sometimes, though New York in the spring ain’t so bad either. I might go back outside after this!

Philadelphian Spring (with occasional myth)

The 12th Street gingkoes shrug out their newest green
and we rub their bark like we would the bellies of Buddhas,

for luck, new life, growth, change. The cafe speakers are on,
blasting Kylie Minogue; we fall over laughing as we Do The

Loco-Motion down the alleyways. Corner vendors cut fruit
for passerby, and stray tomcats blink and flee, then turn, stand,

watch. Center City gets about an hour of this sunlight, and we
need every minute, night-owl eyes squinted with joy. We eat

and drink it, we squirrel it throughout our hollowed bodies, the
most inaccessible parts. When’s the last time a lopsided smile

shed its breakers on either of our chins? Days lengthen and
earths open: we read the story of Persephone as we respite

in the used book shop. Who can say how long she’ll be out?
But we know firsthand that doesn’t matter– only the now. The

not-yet-going-back-beneath. The first time in a long while
  we’ve shown our broken teeth.

resonance seven; and also meta-blogging: CSHS

Guys, I resurrected my Twitter after forgetting that I had it for a couple months. So you’re welcome to follow me on there if you’re one of those Twitterers that one hears so much about in the news media, etc. Take a gander at my left-hand sidebar if you are so inclined!

Also, I’ll take the opportunity to do the “Interesting Announcement” I alluded to last week and mention the new journal that Tessa and I are curating. After many vicissitudes, both positive and negative, we’ve had a number of conversations about regrouping and restarting our editorial aspirations. So, at this point we’ve put together the blog page and posted for submissions, which means we’ve pretty much dug our own grave of commitment. CSHS Quarterly is open for business, if you’re the poetic, prosaic, or photographic type and want to get some work out there in the world. (And as for the cryogenically frozen elephant in the room known as Curio, there will be an Announcement about that in the near future as well. We promise.)

OK, on to the promptings. For resonance seven let’s talk about our relationship with nature. Growing up in suburbia, I was never much of a naturalist kid; I can tell a maple and an oak by their leaves, I know the cherries flower before the roses, and I know that tomatoes are only good in July. But I give a lot of credit to people who can tell trees apart by their bark, determine the age and gender of deer from their tracks, know the change in direction of wind and what it entails, etc. It’s a knowledge set that is often lost completely in the glare of screens, the blast of music, and all the other trappings of life these days. And yet poets are often caught up in the mystique of nature without taking the time to really learn their stuff about it. You could argue that it doesn’t matter so much for an observational poem to know the whys and wherefores of Thing X that is occurring and inspiring the poet; but as a consummate Wikipedia addict, I am forever looking into the reasons behind the visions.

Particularly because we’ve had so much snow in New York this week– make that this month– or hell, the last three months– I’m feeling especially starved of green, and also ignorant of the life still humming during the winter. Wherever you are, start by paying attention to your natural surroundings: start with the seasonal generalities of climate and temperature for your place, then zoom in bit by bit on the animals which are active, the plants that are currently alive/seemingly alive, the landscape of where you are. (Even the city has a botanical landscape!) Next, highlight the bits which are striking to you: I find the repeated pattern of slush/freeze/snow that causes these Ice Puddles Of Death on every street corner to be compelling. (And not just because I keep slipping into them.) And there is this one particular bird that I don’t know, which I keep seeing around, drinking from things.

Do some inquiry into the scientific, botanical, meteorological underpinnings of what you’ve teased out. With those puddles, I imagine there must be some kind of air temperature pattern that’s causing the very particular thaw/freeze cycle which leads to their layered water/ice construction. That bird must have a name and a reason for not migrating. For the sake of a poem that just needs hints of background, I think Wikipedia will often suffice; depending on your readership, no one is going to ask you for citations of the facts. But adding that bit of knowledge allows you to go a bit deeper and find metaphors and elements you didn’t know were in there before. And find ways to incorporate the information in poetic ways: rather than talk about how the apple is in the same botanical family as the rose, talk about the apple being “teased out of the wild rose” or something. Most importantly: don’t allow these factoids to distract from your observations. You want the two to dovetail and complement, not one to overshadow the other. The factoids taking precedence will sound stuffy; the factoids being incidental will sound tangential.

(As an example I’m fond of, although there’s only a bit of this development, go read Ross Gay’s poem “To the Fig Tree at 9th and Christian”. He very deftly incorporates a couple factoids with a minimum of words: describing figs as “wasps’ sugar” is the most beautiful way I’ve ever seen to handle the symbiosis of figs and wasps, a very biological theme.)

(Also read Dorianne Laux’s “Facts About the Moon” for a different approach which combines the two impulses very neatly!)

Your poem may be kept a bit spare. It’s easy to go off on wild flights with poems that are purely about the inspiration drawn from seeing a ring around the moon, much harder to get pedantic with why the ice crystals that cause the effect form the way they do. The poem will be reined in, and that’s okay; this is an exercise in restraint as much as an exploration of theme. And as always, when you have done your poem, you are welcome to report on the state of climate, flora, and fauna in your region by posting it here, in poem-form. Many maps unroll tonight.

renovation twenty-nine: support

Just one more day to go… oof. I really hoped I’d be out of the woods with everything by the end of the month, but of course, as things rarely go according to plan, it seems as though the next several days will still be a hectic mess. (Which I guess is fine. I live on hectic messes, most days.) But I’m proud of myself that I have managed to do one of these every day thus far in November. Probably afterward I’ll go dark again for at least a few days, before starting up again…

Anyway, here’s today’s:

1. “For you I stay like a mountain.” (Sarah Messer, “Prayer from a Mouse”)
2. “Of course we miss the flowers…” (James Whitcomb Riley, “When the Frost is on the Punkin”)
3. “Can one man worship the legs of another?” (me, “Legs”)
4. an alarm of some kind
5. Praise a quality in others that you do not have.
BONUS. Write a tritina: three tercets with the pattern of repeated endwords ABC, CAB, BCA, followed by a line that uses all three endwords in it. See below.
ALTERNATE (2). “Strike deep, divide us from cheap-got doubt.” (Marie Ponsot, “Private and Profane”)

…and some vague weirdness I did in response:


Good lovers wear their tallness like a tree
who’s known the storm. I watch the lightning drum
upon their hair and wish for such a calm–

but unsure-footed boys are rarely calm.
I’m more a marsh-flat reed than some old tree
that’s deeply rooted, swaying to a drum

whose pattern always hesitates– my drum
of fear. Good lovers keep their watchers calm.
They never fall. Each turns his manhood-tree

to heartbeat-drums, weight-bearing, tree of calm.

renovation twenty-seven: lullaby

Between the whirlwind of activity yesterday, the whirlwind this morning at work before the holiday, and then the trek southward to my parents’, it has been a chore to get anything done for myself at all. But, before I traipse off to dinner, I didn’t want to leave you guys in a lurch, in case someone needs a prompt! There are still a few hours left in the day…

1. “…you showed me your dark workroom…” (Jean Valentine, “Friend,”)
2. “When I see the cradle rocking…” (Donald Hall, “Advent”)
3. “I’ve been living with static in my ears.” (me, “Headphones”)
4. luggage
5. Create a kind of strange mythology to explain something.
BONUS. Break your poem into sentences. Break each sentence across an equal number of lines.
ALTERNATE (5). Talk about when you stopped believing in something.

…and clearly the miserable weather has impacted what I’m thinking about. This one is completely slapdash, I literally wrote it ten minutes ago:


If we consider music
the flowering of noise,
every noise
could be its seed.
There is a spirit
assembling the sound
of rain and sleet
before we hear it.
We’ve tried to lose it
with machinery–
but the need
becomes too great.
Each storm finds us
keeping time with
its primal drum,
its encircling beat.

A better effort tomorrow, I promise you!