{national poetry month: solus}

Irvington 283

{2020}

a windy Spring day
flings scent of dryer sheets and
last month’s first hindsight

It’s NPM, wherein we celebrate having our way with words. March lasted forever, but someday we’ll look back at it with longing for how good it was, I’m afraid. I’m definitely sticking to haiku this week, as I search for something to say that isn’t… what everyone is saying. I don’t want to make yet another journal of a plague month – but neither do I want to forget everything that’s going on. Instead of chronicling what I’m feeling – which is the same thing everyone is feeling, existential dread – I’m instead going to try very hard to finding something new to see – or a new way to see it – every day. There’s no point promising not to be morose or sad, but I’m encouraging all of us to try and really see things just now – things we should remember.

Something I wrote for a virtual concert our choir is having: It is a paradox that as the pandemic forces us as the world into our separate corners, it highlights the ways in which we are all interconnected. We have all become woven into a tapestry called ‘society’ without even really noticing how our threads cross… and it’s painfully evident how broken we become when we abandon that interdependence and try to live without it. Homeless or homed, rich or poor, infected or well, are all in the same leaking boat. We need to see what it is that put us here, critically examine the leadership that kept it going, and look for a way out – together. Tall order, but, I think, doable.


People have always been walkers in this neighborhood – we have a lot of families who walk as a group – and now they’re circling all hours of the day. Sometimes they chat, and always, we wave, but it’s both uplifting, and heart-twinging. When they’re out of sight, sometimes their voices float back. How we stretch to listen to conversations not our own! I feel like we’ve all turned to ghosts; only our voice carrying proof of life…

Irvington 310

masked

can you see a smile
obscured by a folded mask?
look: my eyes smile back


Poetry Sister Liz is also doing her annual haiku project this month, as is Poetry Cousin Mary Lee. Don’t miss their original poetry this month.

{pf: p7 becomes a ‘classic’}

When we came up with this word “classic” for our prompt this month, I was… a wholly different person. As were you, I’m sure. December us did not know March us, that’s for sure. December me thought ‘classic’ was a pretty okay word. March me feels like ‘classic’ is a trap.

(Yes, I’m being slightly dramatic. March me can BE dramatic – March me has earned it.)

I think ‘classic’ feels less trustworthy right now because …a lot of people do a lot of things because In The Good Old Days, We… and then insert some inanity that doesn’t have much bearing on the present day. It happens – the classic things are comfortable, and have been perceived to have a good value over time. However… as March me knows very well, times change. Often rapidly and with maximum unexpectedness. I’m all for knowing what we valued from the past, but boy do we need to be ready to jump and come correct for the new day – or we’ll get run down by circumstances, left behind by progress, or let a lot of people down who NEED you to be on top of things.

Enough said.

Now, those who know me know I love a classic car – I ADORE looking at what I call Museum Cars – those cars that people don’t really drive except from their garage to their driveway, just to show them off. They’re beautiful! I really wanted one – but they’re …not reasonable. Even with their steel bodies, their crumple zones are HORRIBLE, and today’s traffic warrants both airbags and seatbelts – classic cars usually have neither. Their gas mileage is atrocious – and even if I went through with my grand plan to have a hybrid gas or electric engine inserted into a classic car body, not only would it not sound the same, it wouldn’t give me what I want – which is a world where I could drive that kind of car, slide around safely on wide bench seats, wear gloves and a double strand of pearls and run errands instead of just taking my car five feet out of the garage into the drive. Sometimes, things that are classic are meant only for a certain time, and then that time is over.

We adjust.

Mostly.

All of those thoughts – and current events – tumbled through my head this week when Liz reminded us that it was time to remember ourselves as poets. I surprised myself with my change of heart, but I think it’s quintessentially me: old school as I can get, but always keeping a weather eye out for the new.

This poem was a quick, rushed affair, in part, because we’re putting in the garden (in between rainshowers) and so my days are writing in the afternoon/evening, and shoveling and weeding right now in the morning. (My body would really like that part of the day to end soon, but it’s hanging in there in a shocking fashion: go, me!) Once Liz reminded us of our poetry date, I couldn’t help but jump in with both feet. Just for fun, I used words in this poem which remind me of my Poetry Sisters – various turns of phrases which bring them to mind. As a for instance: there’s a math phrase in here I’d normally not use anywhere, much less in a poem, but I thought of Tricia, and of course put it in. Here’s to you, you classy, respectful, marching, offbeat, inviting, cherished women. I am holding you close in my thoughts.

(In case you can’t tell, the title is A Classic Question.)


Like classic cars, it’s “Good old days” again –
The past, for some, remains a sacred space
Enshrined amnesia: “Remember when?”
Our glory days there never are erased.

There’s value in a classic, over time –
Respectful weight imbued with lasting style:
“That’s how we did it then!” back in our prime
But halting change’s march isn’t worthwhile.

We, curious, advance on all things new
Delight in offbeat, random, spare, and strange
And so we change: adjusting our world view
A widening invites an interchange.

So, classic – yes, it’s only what we know
Valuable, true, but celebrate routine?
Can we not cherish “known” but say hello
To odd and bright? – make that our golden mean?


Many of us right now are struggling to think straight, much less write – and many of us have suddenly had new and nearly impossibly things heaped upon us as we figure out how to make our new reality work. Check in with your family-friends, folks! And read some poetry from mine. Laura is here. Sara is here. Liz is here. Tricia is here. Some of the other Poetry Sisters may chime in later in the weekend, or catch us next month.

Poetry Friday is being ably wrangled by Tabatha Yeatts, at The Opposite of Indifference, which is quite the aptly named blog.

The road is new, and so are our shoes just now. Take breaks as we break things in – there will be some blisters and some pinching, and we may be lost at first. Keep walking, knowing we all are walking the same strange roads, together. Pax.

{pf: p7 hindsight – & birds again}

It’s been three years since my mother was last meant to have retired.

Originally, it did not stick.

It’s partially a teaching thing. There’s always some class somewhere who needs you, and whose teachers are students you once mentored or something, and they ask – please? – if you couldn’t fill in for them while this or that happens, while someone has maternity leave, while the earth implodes and reforms its mantle and the dinosaurs return. It’s always something. And, my mother, usually, is happy to help. Usually. Lately, though, she’s been counting the days ’til her last subbing job is over, and saying, “Okay, I’m done.”

I think she means it, too.

I wrote a poem in response to one my mother wrote to me, about the time she went back to work, and with all the bird flurries going on just now, it fits the bill for a poem to which I want to respond.

No nightingale, nor angel without wings
Her song rings out while pushing playground swings –
“Use listening ears – Is that what Teacher said?
“Sand’s not for throwing. Throw a ball instead.”

Long years her songs have echoed in the yard
As Littles changed, and outgrew her safeguards
Such weary notes must falter now, sometimes…
“Keep bottoms on your chairs. It’s clean-up time!”
Some birds fly south, once eggs, now hatched, take flight
Are RV migrants, dawn, until twilight
This nightingale, whose silver-plumage shines
Still loves the song, affection genuine.

Though caged, she sings in faith. Substance deferred
Through evidence unseen, hope’s undeterred.

©February 2018

I love the resigned expression (if birds can have an expression) on the face of this piping plover, as all of her chicks cram themselves in around her legs. She’s probably wondering if she’ll ever walk alone again – I know my mother did. (The real question was probably more along the lines of if she’d ever get to go to the toilet again in peace, but let’s just draw a veil over that, shall we?)

In nature, parents are allegedly much more stern parents, and push their babies out of the nest. That’s not exactly true – more often than not, baby birds are nagged out of the nest, teased, cajoled and bullied – just like human babies. Most often, though, the babies just… try out their wings one day, and fly. Sometimes, it is simply… time. One of the more terrifyingly adorable babies of the natural world are wood ducks. Wood ducklings, according to PBS, jump from nests upwards of fifty feet high. And, they… bounce.

There’s a life lesson in there somewhere… no, it’s not the one about leaping and the net appearing or whatever nonsense. The more likely lesson is that if you jump, you may land more safely than you’d imagined. Perhaps, the lesson is a Leap Year koan, something about, get out of the nest already, and give your wings a try. Whatever it is, I imagine it’s all in learning how to fall. Here’s to trusting the blue…

For your edification, this is a variation on a kyrielle.

Balboa Park 36

Baby Birds

They, loudly chirping, clamor for a bite,
A place to hide, or entertainment – rights
Which they demand as lawfully their due,
Beaks gaping wide and feathers all askew.

Offspring produced with effort quiet lie,
Sweet, silent gametes, nested warm and dry.
How anxiously they’re preened when they’re brand-new!
Their every tiny peep attended to…

But soon enough, their din and racket swells
(Almost as soon as their beaks breech their shells…)
Their growing wings and bodies can’t subdue
The restless urge to bid the nest adieu.

They stretch their wings, gravity’s neophytes
‘Til one small step entrusts them to the blue.

©February 2020

Spring is coiling to spring forth, the birds are busy, and there are poetic revelations – and a whole lot else – happening all over. Our poets are revisiting their writing – Laura‘s revisit is here, and Sara’s is here. and Liz is here. Tricia is here. Other of our poetry seven may pop in later in the weekend.

In the mood for more? Poetry Friday is hosted by Karen Edmisten, she of the shockingly clever blog with the perfectly lovely name. Have a marvelous nearly-Spring weekend, and don’t forget to leap.

{pf, p7: 2020 – now with foresight}

I love Lunar New Year – because by the end of January, most of us already need a do-over. I’m never ready to perkily greet a new year after the exhaustion of running around like a headless chicken all December, so a little time to drum up some enthusiasm for the new is necessary and appreciated.

Our poetry peeps need a do-over, too. After writing together for a long while, our monthly poetry exchanges have, for some, become more challenge than refuge. We are all so very connected, and all so involved in serving our various communities, our families, and our own creative work. It’s tough to pause the hustle long enough to be deliberate in our poetry practice – but that was our original premise, and it’s time to get back there. Thus, I found a lighthouse for this year’s logo fitting – here’s to writing as a refuge.


Our last-week-of-the-month poetry meetup launches us gently with the haiku form and instead of usual take on 2020 as being a year of hindsight, we’re focused on foresight. What in the world can we change, as we’re looking ahead? We’ll find out.

foresight

prognostication
provides less accuracy
than reading laugh lines


Other phenomenal poets at today’s meetup include: Laura, Liz, Tricia who writes-while-lunching, and poets Sara, and Andi. Here’s Rebecca’s and Kelli’s poem may occur throughout the weekend.

More poetry today hosted by Jone at DeoWriter.

Happy Do-Overs. Keep looking ahead.

{the #MoSt Poetry: 30}

And, huzzah, we’ve reached the end. This was a lot easier over the break; somehow, once the new year began, it was difficult to find time for poetry – possibly because I’ve managed to have some sort of stomach ‘flu AND a sinus infection in the intervening weeks! Nevertheless, this was a great exercise in continuing to write during vacation time, and I’m grateful for Sarah bringing it up to me, and to the Modesto-Stanislaus poetry peeps. And now, onward to this last tough challenge…

Prompt #30 (for January 13th, 2020) ~ I’d like to thank you all for putting up with my peculiar approach to these NYPC prompts, and I hope you’ve had some fun along with some challenges to your writing routine. I’d like to leave you with this challenge: write a Trenta-Sei formal poem. Yes, I can hear you say Huh? and that’s okay; I’d not heard of the form, either, until I came across it in Edward Hirsch’s splendid A Poet’s Glossary and then again recently in an entry by Robert Lee Brewer in his series of descriptions of poetic forms on the Writer’s Digest website. Poet John Ciardi invented the form of trenta-sei (“thirty-six” in Italian) in 1985. It consists of six, six-line stanzas rhyming ababcc. The first stanza establishes the opening lines of each subsequent stanza: thus, the second line of the poem becomes the first line of the third line, the third line becomes the first line of the third stanza, and so on until the end. Ciardi’s “A Trenta-Sei of the Pleasure We Take in the Early Death of Keats” was the last poem he completed before his death. The poet/physician John Stone composed a memorial poem, “A Trenta-Sei for John Ciardi (1916-1986)”. (Please note that you don’t have to make death or memorials the subject of your poem!) Cheers, and may all manner of things be well with you, fellow poets!

new

All shined and new, an unwrapped year –
(We’ll give last year the evil eye)
a fresh new day we’ll now premiere
our yen for ‘recent’ we supply
pretending ‘past’ has never been
the latest, best, can now begin!

We’ll give last year the evil eye
(so long, farewell, begone with you)
With “best of” lists we codify
A time we’re glad to bid adieu…
As if, as one year slips away
Amnesia will rule the day.

A fresh new day we’ll now premiere
Let’s “carpe diem!” – Start afresh
“New Year! New You!” commercials cheer
As trainers sculpt our wobbling flesh.
Our bodies strain toward sleeker shape
(While wise brains know: there’s no escape).

Our yen for recent we supply
With meals and shopping – and our phones
Consumed by news we gratify
Our appetites and we postpone
The hollowness we often feel,
(Disquietude we can’t conceal).

Pretending ‘past’ has never been.
Pretending all is shiny-anew!
Pretend the fear that underpins
The lives we live and our worldview
Can be erased by days or weeks
That “new” will be the change we seek.

The latest, best, can now begin
Is New Year’s “fresh start” real and clean?
To tell the truth, to our chagrin
Change is much harder than routine.
To break the cycle of the past
Make one small change – and make it last.

{the #MoSt Poetry: 29}

Prompt #29 (for January 12th, 2020) ~ Because I couldn’t imagine myself compiling a set of NYPC prompts without including a Mary Oliver poem as “combustion” for a poem of your own, I offer one of my favorites, West Wind #2. Respond to it/ borrow (i. e., steal wisely) from it in any way you like. Ready and…Steady…Go and…

Oban D 68

midway

nearly halfway –
surely, to receive instruction
after all this time
must render both the gift –
and the giver –
unnecessary. and yet
the reminder blazed
stark across the page
renewing a wisdom you knew before:
don’t lose chances – take them all
don’t lose your heart – give it out for free
your roll of the dice says the winner takes all:
put your face to the wind,
toward all that unmakes you, and
row for your life.
run to the battle.

{the #MoSt Poetry: 28}

Prompt #28 (for January 11th, 2020)~ Read “The Peace of Wild Things,” by Wendell Berry. Where do you find peace amid and/or because of wild things? Perhaps your poem about this will be an ode to a particular beach where the tides crash against boulders, or a sonnet about a black phoebe on a backyard limb, or some other formal poem — a ghazal? — about being stuck in freeway traffic and having the time to notice a delta of geese against the sunset.

Irvington 248

winter ornament

weary and aching
my restless gaze snags lightning –
on winter-seared thorns
adorned with iridescence
that ruby throat defies cold

{the #MoSt Poetry: 27}

Prompt #27 (for January 10th, 2020) ~ Read “Writing in the Dark,” by Denise Levertov. Write a poem about writing under adverse or unusual circumstances or in strange places— maybe standing up in a crowded airport gate waiting area and drafting that poem that must be written, even if it means using a leaky pen on a grimy window, or using your pant leg as your writing desk, or… R~S~G…

the scrawl

what did i mean then?
on the edge of the bedpost
blunt pencil gripped tight
on the back of a receipt
“who does the little things, wins.”

{the #MoSt Poetry: 26}

Prompt #26 (for January 9th, 2020) ~ Less than a day after writing yesterday’s prompt, I watched a CBS Sunday Morning segment on David Byrne, the principal songwriter, singer, and guitarist for Talking Heads. In it, he discussed one of his current projects: an online magazine called Reasons to Be Cheerful. Write a poem with that title— “How to Be Cheerful” — in an authentic voice — or an ironic one. Here are some other options:

  • Write a Part II/conclusion/continuation to the poem you wrote from yesterday’s prompt;
  • Write a poem entitled “How to Be _____________,” a “recipe” or pedagogical poem with you — or your narrator persona—as the experienced expert. Maybe your poem is “How to Be a Middle Child,” “How to Be On the Right Side of History,” or “How to Be Quasi-Apathetic.”
  • Write a poem about a time when someone told you to “just cheer up,” or “walk it off,” or “turn that frown upside down.”
  • For extra credit, write your poem to music that seems to “harmonize” with the tone of your poem—or whose melody, rhythm, or genre is entirely antithetical to the flow of your poem. So whether it’s The Piano Guys or Arnold Schönberg, Beatles or Bebop, “meditation music” or Metallica: play and write on…
  • Ready, Steady, You Know the Rest…

How to be Less Annoyed (Because Cheerful Is Asking A Lot)

(with apologies to Wendell Berry)

Make a place of acceptance.
Accept. Leave space
For any unexpected silence, for
Trailing doubts, seeping resentment.
Accept them. Abandon regret.

Close the judgmental electronic eye.
Eschew social media; the “Likes,”
And “Shares” and “Friend”ing;
Shift your gears to neutral.
In lieu of speaking, coast.

Let the road unspool before you.
And discover its own uncharted track.
Be buoyed by the winds of a new doctrine
And let it blow all through you –
Open your hands and let go.