Memorial Day, 2021 sonnet

Ancestry.com found me a new cousin.
He’s a third or a fourth counting all
Our common DNA threads. I recognize
His great grandfather’s name, same as my Mama’s
Uncle, who served in France during the war
To end all wars. Same uncle who used to pray
Long prayers in the cold country church heated
By a coal-burning potbellied stove
Just in front of the pulpit. Mama, I’d whisper,
Shivering, why are Uncle Ben’s prayers so long?
She’d whisper back, “Hush boy, your uncle is
Talking with God.” I remember feeling
Empowered to know that someone so close
Had such contact with the Almighty.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #31 – End of Another Cycle

Always there’s an upbeat to end on –
A U-shaped curve. Life’s narrative arc
Is a comedy, at least we hope,
In the strictest sense of the word.
Another Cycle comes to an end –
A resolution and a denouement
That gathers and ties up every loose end
like rope, whipped to prevent unravelling.
A free body diagram dangles
In space, never showing its constraints
Or the forces it exerts. Good drama
Is the same. It withholds conclusions
Until every jot and tittle is laid bare –
And the finish is as clear as the start.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #26 – Live from the Oscars 2021!

If you stay long enough at the fair
You’ll see played out in living color
The many intersecting timelines
Of projected realities – right in your face.
They always return to the scene
Of their crimes – or to be biblical,
The dog returns to his vomit:
The fool repeats his folly.
I went to bed early and missed
The Glenn Close live action short –
Hey, you lose when you snooze!
But I have School Daze around here
Somewhere, probably on cassette.
I’ll have to dig it up and check it out.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #25 – Grandola Vila Morena

It’s a song that fills my eyes with tears
Whenever I hear it. Grandola
Vila Morena. The sound of soldiers
Marching, a signal on the radio
To free men in the countryside:
Rise up against corrupt government!
“It is the people who lead!”
Not leaders who buy expensive houses.

The villanelle reminds us what freedom
Used to sound like, used to seem to be.
Place a carnation in the barrel
Of the rifle. Here in freedom land,
We march in step with the machinery.
Disaster lurks as rivals bide their time.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #21 – Hedley’s Blues

They ask us to require this sacrifice.
Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Blood for blood.
This sacrifice will somehow make us whole,
Cure our ailments, fill the gaps you left
When they sold you down river for a song.
Those who bought you never knew stolen goods
Was all you were, living on borrowed time
And leaving casualties in your wake.
You were the sacrifice, the fatted calf,
your unwilling blood a fitting offering
To the gods. Once. Spilled on the seeded ground
Of hopes and dreams – your intoxication.
There’s no balm in revenge. So there’s no need
For a present value calculation.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #16 – Off the rhyming prompt

Today’s optional rhyming prompt
is just not my cup of tea.
All my poems used to rhyme
but at some point they stopped –
I freed myself from that
requirement when I could,
when I learned why it was
merely an optional prompt.
Now I lean towards fourteen lines,
these days, though I vary
the lines’ length. The main thing
is the telling of the story –
the pleasure of the text,
the deep love the words convey.

From the archives – Sonnet #25

I have talked with fellow writers about writing my way through (and out of) tough times, hard times, even depressions. Here’s an example from 1991 that never made it to the blog page:

I fight with all my waning strength against
distrustfulness, the self-suspicious fear
that seeks free rent. The night’s uncertainty
envelops me and whispers in my ear:
“Take arms, retreat; resist, cooperate.”
The will, the faith to overcome escapes
my grasp each moment I attempt to make
it mine. At times it seizes me, this fear,
engulfing like a parasite my source.
I cannot let it win! My soul must hold
its ground! Though wounded, bloodied, overcome,
I must be . . . . justified.
The sword of victory and peace is drawn.
The darkest part of night precedes the dawn.

Eclipse/summer solstice/Juneteenth sonnet

(I lifted some phrases at the start and the finish from Cornell West. He won’t mind. “It’s not where you take it from – but where you take it to.”)

Some say we are in for grim times. They say
We should fortify our souls for the storms
Headed soon this way – put on the armor,
Set our sights on a distant unnamed star.

I am studying the constellations
Like our ancestors used to do. I stand
On their shoulders – holy ground. Through their eyes
I learn how they armed themselves and endured.

An annular eclipse coincided
With summer solstice this year. An omen
Of things to come, a lunar ring of fire
Not visible to seeking western eyes.

I saw it on YouTube. A ring of fire.
Let no man steal your joy, your sense of style.

Poems from the crucible, pt. 6

Did They Ever Find His Body? An Elegy for Christopher Dorner

I had forgotten about Chris Dorner
Until Dave Chappelle’s mention. I recall
secretly pulling for him, hoping he’d
escape being swiss-cheesed by 400
Of his fellow cops. Did they ever find
his body? I found his manifesto,
living and breathing on the internet.
He left behind a lot for us to read
and digest. Hyperlinks . . . all over the place.
Did they ever find his body? We’ve not
heard from him since. We must assume he died
in that shitstorm, transitioned this life.
Still, the mention of him makes me want to smoke.
The burned body they found was never identified.

confined to quarters – a sonnet and a farewell to Wilson’s ten-play cycle

What must we conclude when the cycle ends?
Is there cause for hope, for optimism,
A balm we can surely find in Gilead?
Or isn’t all just a wink and a nod,
Yet another slave narrative that shows
the futility of our pleas for peace?

As a teen I thought Robert Redford might
Someday be President. I mean, Bobby Seale
Didn’t really stand a chance and Redford
Was at least a man of action. But there
was no great art in his films, well, except
in that spy flick he did with Dunaway –
Who had been my secret crush forever –
Where, under duress, she said, “This is . . . unfair!”

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #29

To my shipmate, Wendy

Some might say this work/life has given us
A warped sense of humor. We cast a glance
At each other and smile. Yes, I was there
With you in Baghdad, dodging mortar rounds
On selected days, and on the tarmac
Overnight in Kuwait City where we
had to have a special sense of humor
To survive war’s absurd insanity.

Time passes. The wounds heal. The scars remain.
We write the future, it does not write us.
We arrange and describe our past to fit
truth’s narrative arc. It doesn’t matter
That we spent nights in the Palace
Fearful of those whose lands we invaded.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #28

Loss of innocence/Rite of passage

She said, “I’ll be your lover if you wish.”
That forwardness was new to me. I paused,
But dared not respond, fearing I’d foreclose
My hope for a happy ending. She spoke,
“I’m a hippie, it won’t mean much to me.”
That’s odd, I thought, it’d mean so much to me.

A sudden death for my virginity
Was averted. I still recall it, clear
as day, perhaps, well, clear as yesterday.
All good things must end, and my time would come
To cross the line, to break the sacred plane,
To taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge
Of good and evil. The time, soon enough,
Would arrive and my soul would be prepared.

**********************************

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #23 – A Thursday sonnet

For Maria

It might be time for a shape shift moment.
This kernel of time, wedged between the walls
Of two more standardized realities
Only points us backwards on the path
Of forward growth. You can write your own poem –
This one holds out hope for a revival
And a different direction for our dreams.

Old ways benefited the chosen few.
Their poets and prophets sing of better
Days to come. They have playwrights and Netflix
Producers on the job around the clock,
Promising to protect the status quo.
I can’t say I wish them ill. Their vision
Is a museum object, best preserved, mute.

**********************************

From the archives – Sonnet

April 3, 2016 – Sonnet

it may all be lost in a masquerade –
that’s what Benson used to say
in the song that criss-crossed
between jazz and rhythm & blues –

maybe the universe is a giant hologram –
two dimensions projected over a 3d space,
and we all live in a simulated lab
of our own making – or our enemy’s –

which would explain the gaps
and limitations that often present themselves
in our silent hopes and daydreams –

and all the chit-chat we engage in
about race and sex and intersectionality.
Stop, the love you save may be your own.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #21 #GloPoWriMo2020

Reflections on listening to a podcast about Afropessimism
(because the author’s book tour was cancelled)

Can I tell you something? A deep secret?
I am exhausted by your shallowness
And as of this morning at 7AM
I will no longer give a good goddamn
What you think about my talent and skill
As a bureaucrat. What about yours?
Where is your tact? Your sense of fairness?
Your appreciation for the art form?
I have a fairly good, if wicked notion
What you are thinking when you see my face –
My black face that does not apologize
When undermining your hypocrisy.
Fuck all this. I’m going to work TODAY.
Keep six feet away from me. Wash your hands.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #20 #GloPoWriMo2020 – a homemade thing

To my favorite Turkish librarian, Gozde Torun

A lovely homemade thing
From a far off distant land,
Woven with yarn and lace:
A cushion steadies my coffee cup
A pad where the mouse can rest.
How’d you know it’d be so useful?
A treasured gift of grace –
A token that holds a place –
Folded carefully in the liquor bar drawer
between the shot glasses and candles,
the napkins and cork replacements.
Woven with yarn and lace –
A lovely homemade thing,
From a far off distant land.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #17 – obsolete technologies

I am surrounded
By ancient sacred texts
Preserved on technologies
That no longer exist.

How will I extract
The wisdom they contain?

It might as well
Be stones, pebbles,
Grains of sand on the beach –

Objects on display
In an alien museum,
Words memorized
In a drunkened brain,
Recited by slobbering lips.

********************

Cairns, by John White Alexander. Library of Congress.

from the archives – another praise song – April 16, 2013

In the hustle and the bustle
as we go our chosen way;
in the winning and the losing
keeping score throughout the day –
in the seeking and the striving
as our plans oft go astray;
in the comings and the goings
and the things we do, and say –
in the kicking and the screaming
of war’s battles, of the fray;
in the plotting and the scheming
of our deep naivete –
Our pure love knows no decay.
Stay in my arms forever.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #16 – The best ever

Everything is infinitely praiseworthy
In its own unique and special way –
The sunrise, the sunset, filtered water’s
Taste, the coffee the water produces.

And even overlooked external things.
I’ve read so many perfect poems,
And heard so much wonderful music
During my limited sojourn on Earth.

Didn’t I grow up with Motown and Stax
And the Philadelphia Sound? And played
viola and recorder? And awoke
To my father’s recitation of verse

From the masters? And the coolest teachers
And mentors? And the best shipmates ever?

*************

From the archives – The day Prince died

The day Prince died (originally posted 04/23/2016)

When I heard the learn’d oceanographer
(it was Earth Day, and our shining Prince had fallen),
When the volume, velocity and variability
of data-rich information overwhelmed the deep,
When I examined the core skills of data management
(data is just an artifact, a document, an object witness),
When I listened to it, the oceanographer’s lecture
excited our minds, with much applause from the librarians.

After the talk we walked to Brookland Metro, the full moon
overhead brightly illuminating a city in mourning, darkened
by uncertainty (our Prince had fallen like the rain).
As we approached Foggy Bottom Station, I caught a faint whiff
of the swamp beneath us, the sound of the river beyond
slowly turning, emptying into the sea.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #8 – repeating a line from an ancient poem – celebrating two modern songwriters

From Odes of Pindar, Olympian II

For Bill Withers and John Prine

Ye hymns that rule the lyre,
What gods, what heroes shall we celebrate?
This week we lost two men I never met
But truly adored. Songwriters whose lyrics filled
My life, at various times, with sweetened thoughts
Transferred from their words and melodies.
Both served their countries first –
Non sibi sed patriae –
Both discovered in mid life they had a song
To sing, and thankfully, to share.
Both refused to sell out to the white ghost
Who peddles fame and fortune in exchange
For one’s soul. Bill Withers and John Prine.
Rest you both in peace down by life’s river.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #6 – Bosch’s Garden, an ekphrastic poem

(take the tour here: https://archief.ntr.nl/tuinderlusten/en.html)

My body is missing that uphill walk
Each day from the Metro to the Mecca.
Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights
affords me reprieve as I start the week.

The dragon tree – a plant that heals and dyes
A crimson red – is my first stop. I drink
Her blood and feel at once her curing power.
Reptiles seek terra firm where they can.

The owl is a nighttime bird of prey
Always watching, eyes wide open, spirit
Beast of the gods. A lion devours
A deer without compunction. His nature

Dictates relieving hunger pangs. So what?
A serpent wraps himself around a tree
That bears sweet fruit – tree of good and evil.
The pink fountain no doubt is feminine:

Her dotted eggs await incoming seed.
The darkened Moors below also await.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #4 – a recurrent nightmare

My nightmare is always the same –
I am working in a hot, noisy engine room
And I have to pee. But the watertight hatch,
For some reason, is closed and locked.
So I pee in the bilge. Then, when I go
To pump the bilge, the pump breaks –
So I have to fix the pump. But the parts
I need are on the other side of the hatch.
It’s a centrifugal pump with close clearances.
Who the hell came up with that design?
Soon it starts to stink (because I’m not
The only one peeing in the bilge – it could be
Worse. Let’s not even go there.)
My nightmare always ends unresolved.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #2 – The Ritual of Coffee

The prompt: a self-portrait poem in which you make a specific action a metaphor for your life

I measure the chilled, filtered water.
I grind the beans manually for consistency
Then place the coffee in the upper chamber.
I add three grains of Portuguese sea salt
(Because everything loves the sea
And the sea is in everything).
I turn the gas flame down low.
While I wait, I check my email.

When the pot gurgles and sputters
The coffee is ready to be served.
I add a teaspoon of raw honey (Trader
Joe’s is best) to dull the bitterness,
And one dollop of half and half
for presentation.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #1 – Chico, the African Grey, chained to his perch

The prompt for the first day of NaPoWriMo is to write a poem about a favorite bird. Poe comes to mind, and “Once upon a midnight dreary.” My effort is much shorter.

A parrot, an African Grey named Chico,
Lived in captivity in Amalia’s kitchen
For eight years before her death.

Still in the cage, twenty years later,
now chained to his perch, Chico continues
his life in the kitchen of his home
that has become a house museum.

I stood next to the cage and hummed
a few bars of Cancao do Mar.
Chico turned his head. He tugged at his chain.
Perhaps he recognized the tune.

Maybe he remembered Amalia singing
as she prepared bacalhau com natas
or frango cafriela in her kitchen.