Prose from Poetry

An interesting challenge from Björn Rudberg at the d’Verse Poets Pub  came my way yesterday.  he offered a line of from Louise Gluck’s poem All Hallows and asked us to write a prose piece of no more than 144 words, incorporating, This is the barrenness of harvest or pestilence.

marigold

Halloween always reminds me of an amazing night I spent in a graveyard in a village near Oaxaca, Mexico with a writing group led by Donna Hanelin.  The word ‘Halloween’ actually comes from an abbreviation of All Hallows’ Eve. It is the night before the Catholic celebration of All Saints’ Day.  Traditionally, the population of the faithful held vigils that evening, in honor of the saints, their own ancestors and the unburied dead.  The plague-doctor-akiko-kobayashiunburied dead were no small thing in the middle ages when a pestilence like the Black Death could sweep away entire villages, leaving no one behind to bury the bodies.  However, like most church holidays, All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day date back to cornucopia-thanksgiving-120@1xmuch more ancient festivals celebrating the harvest and the end of the pagan year.  Continuing this lineage, these three days are still celebrated as religious holidays in Mexico, and Central and South America.

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My night in the graveyard was marked by drinking tequila, singing and pitching in to clean family plots and share picnics spread across the graves.  No one could have offered greater hospitality than those villagers offered our odd band of gringo poets.  Now when Halloween comes around it’s them that I think of first.  Naturally,  Oaxaca became the setting for my story.

sugar skulls

All Hallows Eve, Oaxaca

Beth Marie stared at her mother-in-law’s altar.  An ultrasound photo of her dead baby sat among fruits and vegetables beside a tiny sugar skull labeled Katrina.  “This,” she thought, “is the barrenness of harvest or pestilence.”  She barely noticed the two statues of the ugly Mayan Goddess of Filth and Disease and beautiful Guadalupe had grown in size.  Didn’t flinch when they stepped from the altar and drew her into an embrace. 

Her flesh dissolved, leaving nothing behind but bone.  They placed bread for the dead in her empty mouth, anointed her teeth with mescal, took her by the hand and led her unresisting, along a pathway of marigolds to the tiny gravestone.  She curled around it.  Wept.  Slept.  

Her husband found her at dawn and awakened her with kisses.  She welcomed him inside herself for the first time since they’d buried their stillborn daughter.

Posted in dVerse, Halloween, Latin America, Meaning, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Polyptoton

Frank Hubeny at the d’verse Poets Pub challenged us  to use a polyptoton in a poem.   I couldn’t think of a thing to write and played with using polyptotons in Tuesday’s list of Neruda questions.  This morning, however,  I woke up up from a dream in which I wrote the following.  It’s rather disappointing as message or portent, which is what the dreams one dreams are often professed to proffer.  On the other hand, as dreams are usually wont to do, my dream mixed up  yesterday’s happenings with more than a kernel of truth about me and lightened it all with a sprinkle of wordplay and nonsense.

rain

Saved for a Rainy Day

The rain rains all day

so I curl around the mound

of books I cull from my shelves.          stack of books

Bookshelves line every room,

stuffed full to overflowing.

I always find room for one more.

It’s my weakness, my addiction.

What can I say?  Other women

keep cats.  I’m bookish.

If you add up all the money

I spend in bookstores, I could

own my own now.  But, what    stack of books

if it rains all day for forty days

and the streets flood

and it takes first responders

a week to find me?  I’ll go insane

without a book to read.

rescuing books

Posted in Books, dVerse, Nonsense, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Attendant to Enquiry

Laura Bloomsbury has directed us to muse on the power of rhetorical questions.  She’s cleverly set the entire d’Verse Poets Pub to answering, rather than posing, such questions in order to see for ourselves where such enquiries might lead.

Asking, rather than telling, has long been a tool in mediation practices and in the art of non-violent communication.  A question can invite engagement, turn away wrath.  Though it’s well to remember that “why” used aggressively can make just as powerful a weapon.

Laura’s challenge included as an example of response, one of her own poems, Mournful in Lilac, inspired by Pablo Neruda.  In the final stanza she references T. S. Eliot and John Donne, and of course one can not write about poppies without the ghost of poet John McCrae whispering in the background.  My search for a title brought me to Shakespeare.  I remembered something famous about alteration, which is the subject of my poem, but couldn’t remember the exact quote.  Although it didn’t provide me with a title I was struck by the appropriateness of his quote, even down to the word “bark!” But the real point is that the enquiry connected me, as it did Laura in her poem, with our rich, living poetic heritage.

“Love is not love which alters it when alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove: O no! It is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken; it is the star to every wandering bark whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”    

I love this kind of prompt, because for me such questions unlock the door to story, a realm I relish, but to which my conscious mind has little access.  I’ve said before that I never know where stories come from.  The thing is, for me, they don’t come on demand. So thank you Laura for turning the key and letting one out.

autumn-tree-falling-leaves

Why Did The Grove Undress Itself Only To Wait For The Snow?

~Pablo Neruda

 

You must understand the history of the grove.

How an itinerant company of dancers, caught in blizzard,

huddled together, naked for warmth and froze to death

beneath a pile of gaudy finery.  How a god, stumbling

on the pile of colored ribbons, rummaged among them

to find a token for his beloved and discovered beautiful bodies.

How his tears, falling upon them like warm rain, stirred limbs,

opened eyes, in a strange facsimile of life.  Taking pity,

he turned women into dryads, binding each newly made nymph

to her own tree – ash, beech, birch, alder, oak or rowan.  Now,

every year, come autumn, the dryads dance in slow strip teases,

 letting leaves drift slowly to ground in floating eddies

and suggestive swirls.  Look how they draw each moment out,

lingering as the days shorten.  They do not fear the coming cold.

What further harm can it offer?  But oh, how they relish their colors –

scarlet, saffron, chestnut brown, chartreuse, apricot and pumpkin –

a dozen shades of each with which to flaunt and flirt.  Not until

the last fluttering leaf lets loose, will they plunge beneath snow drifts

heaped high against their dormant hosts, and curl among the twisted roots

to sleep long winter though.

Posted in beauty, Consciousness, dVerse, Metaphor, Myth, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Quadrille for d’Verse

The prompt is “quiver,” suggested bt whimsygizmo at the d’Verse Poets Pub.coat in swamp

Suckered

The quaking quagmire lies quietly

on hot afternoons.  Barely a quiver

marks the hungry quicksand

lurking beneath a thin layer

of blue green algae and flowering

pygmy waterlilies.  At quarter to four

a curious coatimundi splashes through

chasing a dragonfly.  They drown.

It sucks.

 

Posted in Animals, Poetry, quadrille, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Treating Myself

On looking through my seasonal poems, I found the following, originally called Pumpkin Shell (written  circa 1999).  It comes from my first book of poetry, Be a Teller of Tales.  It’s always strange looking back on something one wrote years earlier – sometimes I cringe, sometimes I’m astounded at my own perspicacity, infrequently I cannot remember writing it nor does it seem like something I would ever have written.

Then there are the few poems I’ve developed a particular fondness for.  Usually, it’s because I’m particularly impressed by combination of craftsmanship and content that meets my own standards of “good”, whatever that is.  These are poems that stand up to my inner critic, not anyone else’s; ones that over the years, continue to creep into readings.  But, there are also verses that aren’t particularly notable.  I just like them.   I think its because these poems expressed exactly what I was feeling or thinking when I wrote them.

This is one of those poems, one of those little landmarks that delineate a change in one’s life or psyche…  I don’t think I’ve ever read it aloud in public.  It references chakras (a Hindu concept about energy centers in the body).  Not everyone knows about chakras, and I’m not someone who thinks a poem should have to be explained beforehand to the audience.  Maybe that’s why I never read it.

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But, Thursday we were challenged at the d’Verse Poets Pub by Lillian Hallberg to treat.  So I am treating myself and setting out one of my favorites for your delectation.  (After changing the title and tweaking the line breaks a little – can’t help myself shrug emoji.)

Dogsitting For My daughter

 

Last Tuesday, nosing

along the irrigation ditch,

Wizard the dog finds

a remnant of Halloween,

round pumpkin shell

beached in backwater,

wearing second chakra colors.

Lodged behind my navel,

sits a two-faced frightened

Jack-o-lantern                                                             

seeing opposites everywhere,

longing for control,

knowing nothing

of letting go.

Watching Wizard

Wednesday

Thursday,

Friday, 

freewheeling through familiar scents,

abandoning each one

to follow up the next,

something loosens.

Like the pumpkin skin

drifting unexpectedly by

this Saturday morning,

a dense piece of shell works itself

out of my abdomen

and floats away.

                                pumpkin floating

 

Posted in Animals, Consciousness, Halloween, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Indigenous to d’Verse

When does immigrant, migrant, refugee, nomad, citizen become indigenous? One year, Ten years, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand?  And who stays in one place forever?  In truth we are all indigenous to Africa, our birthplace, starting point, origin.  All of us relations,  entangled in complex genetic webs  that, genome or not, we may never be able to trace them all.

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Last night five of us, all white daughters of the predominant culture, met in circle to perform a simple ritual.  We called to the four directions,  We smudged with sage gathered in the plains outside our little town.  And while it’s true we learned this lore from books, our ancestors also smudged and called.  All us humans began to worship in the same way – honoring the Earth and all her creatures, remaining in good relationship with all the manifestations life offers. in a long. long line of human beings indigenous to this planet.

like migrating geese

we wander in great circles

ever returning

Fish-Canada-geese-1024x407

following seasons

we fly north, east south and west

every place a home

Posted in Nature, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Didactic Poem

I recently had a conversation with a friend about didactic poetry.  Her poem had been negatively critiqued for being didactic.  The Poetry Foundation defines didactic poetry as,

“Poetry that instructs, either in terms of morals or by providing knowledge of philosophy, religion, arts, science, or skills. Although some poets believe that all poetry is inherently instructional, didactic poetry separately refers to poems that contain a clear moral or message or purpose to convey to its readers.”

It’s not my favorite form.  I like my poetry a little juicier, but sometimes its important to state an opinion straightforwardly and clearly, boiled down to essence.    Sometimes people need a straight shot of information to go on, or go forth.

I also find that writing didactically can clarify something about which I’m fuzzy or misinformed. That is exactly what happened to me when I was writing to this prompt for which I felt great resistance – Pop Art.  I now have a better idea of what Andy and the gang were showing us; the point to, as it previously appeared to me, utterly banal art.  So thank you Victoria Ceretto-Slotto for your prompt at the d’Verse Poets Pub.  I love being stripped of my erroneously conceived opinion!

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“Soup Can 11.46 (Tomato Soup)” Andy Warhol.

With A Slight Bow to Andy Warhol

 

I never liked those soup cans

 

retrospective soon as they appeared,

boring beyond belief, as if the Fifties

on which we so happily turned our backs

insisted on re-emergence.

 

Probably, it’s the storyteller in me,

failing to find purchase in a soup can,

who resents how pop art drains soul

from its subjects, crafts icons out of isolation.

 

Isolation is a man-made illusion

designed to punish, torture, maim.

But this is exactly the dreary point Pop Art

makes so well, the warning it flashes.

 

Notice we eagerly deny… no one willing

to admit commercialism kills.  Entices us,

one-by -one, to separate.  Presses us flat,

churning out thousands of identical copies

 

until we saturate the market with ourselves,

everything else disappears, and we stand alone

on a flat white canvas wiped clean of all connection,

dead as a single beautifully painted doornail

 

with no one left to notice.

Posted in Art, Cultural icons, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Word Portraits

This week at the dVerse Poets Pub, Anmol challenged us to write a portrait, paint a picture in words.  I’m actually cheating a bit because I am including the picture I describe (making this work double as an ekphrastic poem).  I’m not sure the poem stands alone without the picture, but I’m just to fond of it not to share.

hag4

Old Root Woman

Old root woman stops on her walk beside the sea,

poses patiently for the stranger with a camera.

She’s trying not to let her irritation show,

channeling hard-earned compassion,

the self-imposed discipline of loving kindness

one tries to offer children.

You can see why they want to take her picture.

The bizarre headdress

of leafless,  interwoven branches

stands in such contrast

to the sweetness of her features –

the apple cheeks,  the kindly eyes

set among deep laugh lines.

The importune photographer

cannot equate the power of roots

to this small body wrapped in black.

Forgets how roots can live for generations,

strangle, bind, raze and overturn.

Will the old crone let this person  live?

Or will she send a lifeless looking tendril

to snake around an ankle, pull and push

till waves begin to drown, mouth fills with sand

and eyes get eaten by the fish?

Posted in Archetype, dVerse, Women, Writing | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Quadrille # 89 for d’Verse Poets Pub

I really love the quadrille  – for me it’s a challenge to tell a tiny short story.  Most of my poetry probably classifies as flash fiction  I almost always tell a story.  You probably know the six word short story attributed, by some, to Hemingway.  The way I first heard it,  was that Papa H. used it as an example of the shortest tragedy ever written.  It’s still pretty evocative.

“For sale, Baby shoes, Never Worn.”

I’ve never really understood why poetry is classified so often as nonfiction.  Almost every poem I write is made up.  Not to say it isn’t true, but the truth lies in the meaning, embedded in context.

I have a poet friend who distributes wallet-sized poetic licenses to poets who impress him.  I take mine seriously and put it to good use, frequently employing first person to tell my tales.  I like to use first person because people want to hear personal stories.  It takes time and maturation to learn that all the stories are true and all of them are also yours.  Meanwhile, it may be easier for others  to hear the truth (and possibly take it to heart) if I am the one suffering misfortune  or consequence; or if I admit to telling a lie or cheating.  And of course, I really have suffered, cheated and lied at some point, in some way.  The circumstances may differ, but the fact that actions have consequences is a universal condition.  This is the power and glory of storytelling.

Writing about the events of my life in a journalistic fashion has never interested me. Been there!  “Read the book, saw the movie, et the pie.”  Beside being slightly bored with the retelling of my own life, I find that a strange imperative to be literal sneaks up and ambushes me.  Facts interfere with my ability to craft the poem as well as I’d like.  I find myself forcing words into position.  The literal recounting takes up every inch of space.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my work as a ritualist, it’s that if you want something numinous, fresh and vital to come into your space – be it a circle, church, poem or your life, the most important thing is to leave enough room for that mystery to land in and move around.

The little forty-four word quadrille offers nothing but space.  There’s no room for a literal recounting of events.  In its own way it offers utter freedom and room to play.

“Play with the truth,” comes to mind and suddenly I think what better plaything could one have?

At the End of Our Beginning

We set the time for 7am on Sunday morning in September, sixteen years hence.  We chose the Seventh Day Adventist meeting hall lawn on Sacramento Street beneath the sycamore.

childhood behind us

we turned our backs on God, but

vowed to keep the faith

Posted in Haiku, Politics, quadrille, Storytelling, wisdom, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

“How Doth the Little Busy Bee…”

Yesterday, at the d’Verse Poets Pub,  Kim set us to writing haibun about insects. Bees came to mind immediately…

Bees and honeycombs. Watercolor hand drawing illustration Stock Illustration - 107311180Bees are never far from my thoughts and my interior prayer wheel stays in constant motion petitioning for their well-being.  This is hardly selfless on my part.  Though our existence is  intimately tied to every other creature’s, the line is more direct with bees.  If they go, we go.  Simple and scary.  I’m reminded of the bush overhanging the garden step in one of my childhood homes.  Its flowering mass held hundreds of buzzing bees.  Walking by them each day was both exhilarating and terrifying. Nowadays, I never encounter flowerbeds or bushes chock full of bees.  Every day their numbers dwindle…

fermenting windfalls

summon busy bees to pause

sip and celebrate

Posted in Animals, dVerse, Nature, Poetry, wisdom | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments