NaPoWriMo 2016

April 1, 2016

the part of the brain
that writes needs
a long walk at dawn –

preferably along a water body
still or flowing
to a distant unseen destination

and the legs need walking –
to stimulate the circulation,
quicken the heart beat pace

April 2, 2016

I pray my poems will re-emerge
in anonymity. There, in the future
is a place for thoughts they represent.

The present tense has potholes
and pitfalls, detoured roads
with false and dark dead ends.

Let the words alone be immortal.
No name need remain attached,
an empty burden, a shadow, and a cloud.

April 3, 2016

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.

April 4, 2016

A month, we say, is cruel
because of its weather, or the people
who die or were born in it.
But any period of time is an arbitrary
thing, a measuring convenience,
a man-made object. And weather
is temporary, ending as soon as it begins.
And birth is an opportunity for life,
a new chance, and hope. And death –
opportunity’s end, a shut door, an echo.

April 5, 2016

I am black and semi-retired. Though a country boy,
I live in a city that is not my home or hometown.
I hate its noises and the smell of machinery
on subway platforms that live deep in the bowels
of the underground. So I ride the bus. Because I found
my voice years ago I am not invisible, notwithstanding
my own delusions of invisibility. In a divisive political year
I vote both ways (maybe three ways, maybe four)
and dare anybody to tell me I am wrong. I took a long
walk today, south to Georgetown and west to Dupont
Circle and there is plenty of ink left in my fountain pen.
This might be stream of consciousness, and if I don’t
run out of gas, it might make it to a 14-line poem,
or it might shape shift itself into a short story.

April 6, 2016

Line 1: narrate action, include at least two nouns
Line 2: ask a question without using “I”
Line 3: make a statement without saying “I”
Line 4: now say “I” in another statement
Line 5: use a fragment
Line 6: narrate another action, include one of the nouns from line 1
Line 7: ask a question using “I”
Line 8: use a fragment that
Line 9: spills into the next line
Line 10: now say “I” and include the other noun from line 1
Line 11: answer your first question
Line 12: make a statement that is in total opposition to line 3
Line 13: combine phrases from lines 5 and 8 here
Line 14: answer your second question

I started this sonnet, impromptu poem –
what was its object, and what its subject?
Agency is slippery, talk is cheap,
and I am crossing, passing betwixt, between
these worlds of witty words and lines and thoughts.
This sonnet started writing me, reversed
the action. Could I soon avert the doom?
The richochet effect, the final blow
avoided me and landed somewhere else.
The poem became the essence I conceived
and I, at once, its object and its aim.
It acted on me as it wrote itself:
these worlds of words contained the richochet –
the harm absorbed, apart, within its walls.

April 7, 2016

Impromptu #7 10th line of 14 14-line poems from 2015-2016

He didn’t speak, but his eyes spoke volumes
of the solitary bird – and sipped my coffee –
it’s just a distraction, a diversion,
and a black dress is just a fashion statement
causing all kinds of trouble,
for a different, enlightened way.
He says, “all that flattery and inspiration,”
majestic, protective, persevering –
whatever works for them, expresses
unconsciousness – out of body,
like trees, that can shelter you in a storm –
abandoned, left behind to testify.
Why do we need to create
a short poetic phrase and a malaise?

April 8, 2016

Today I attended a writing workshop, Writing Salon, at the National Gallery of Art, #NGAWritingSalon. The subject, The Multilayered Narrative, focused on Jan Steen’s painting, Dancing Couple (picture below). the-dancing-couple-1663.jpg

We responded to these three prompts:
1) capture the story of the couple from the point of view of a character in the painting (I chose the viola player);
2) tell the story from the perspective of two characters in conversation (I chose the man and woman standing on the far left); and
3) symbolism in Steen’s art (I focused in my poem on the child blowing bubbles, the empty barrel, and the viola player).

And here is the poem in draft:

Let the good times roll

a soft breeze floats in tune with the music
of the viola and flute. The dancers,
the couples are so happy and carefree –
there is food and drink enough to sustain
them all. But how long will the music last?
Caged birds look sadder than the musicians
who continue to sing. The music plays on,
but the bubbles being blown may soon burst.
When the minstrels stop & the food runs out
and the candles burn down to a flicker,
will the music die softly in the breeze?
Pay the musicians! All drinks on the house!
Will the barrels stay empty or be still?

April 9, 2016

Unfinished

“We must be ‘in love’ before we can understand the mysteries of vision.” -HD

Words are not many, not enough to say,
to write, to speak, to paint on cloth
the thoughts, intense and magnified, of loss.
Sudden, irreparable. Loss. The pain,
our newest journey, is our present need.
Reconciliation with the absence,
now acute, now chronic, is a far road,
a distant path unmarked, perhaps un-walked
before. But we begin. Baby steps. One
by one. Our choices constricted, our motion
chained, the path is poorly illuminated.
Show us a sign! Lead us to the new light!
Let’s hold each other, gently, through the storm.

April 10, 2016

Reminiscences on my parents’ 61st anniversary

We eat Chinese food on Fridays, mostly,
fish makes it sort of Catholic, partly,
and having it on Fridays is Islamic
and Jewish, maybe. Truth is we are not
religious at all. We have made peace
with our choices and our burial preferences
are listed in our wills. I do regret
my youthful indiscretions, the time I snuck
off my boat on a duty day, the night
I spent with a girl who turned out to be
a drug dealer could have been my last,
not for drugs, mind you, let’s be clear.
A cute, sweet girl, a Georgia peach,
a country girl my mother would have loved.

April 11, 2016

Still life

my ideal still life painting would contain
a non-microwave safe cup and saucer,
a piece of ripened fruit, a wind up watch
with a leather band, and a book, hardbound,
with several bookmarks and tabs. On a desk.
And maybe reading glasses, depending
on the reader’s (and the painter’s) needs.
I’d stare at that canvas, and wonder
if he (or she) drank tea or coffee, hot
or lukewarm like I like it. I’d wonder
does the book have poetry inside it,
the bookmarks and tabs for his (her) favorite
passages. I’d hang it beside my wife’s
painting of the river ferry crossing.

Introduction: Sonnet Crown

If it’s April, it’s NaPoWriMo, that is, National Poetry Writing Month, a month when poetry devotees (like me and many of you) commit to writing at least one poem per day. There are several blogs, sites, etc., that offer daily prompts, and folks are free to go off on their own and write “as the spirit leads them,” as my mother would say.

This year I have been pretty much in the latter category, drawing inspiration from things, events, happenings in the immediate environment. As it happens, early in the month I attended three events that have had a huge impact on my April writing. The first one was a writing salon at a local art gallery, a short, three hour “class,” that looked at one piece of art from various perspectives and encouraged attendees to write about the experience. The second was a poetry reading at a local library by three sonnet writers, who read and spoke about the “sonnet” craft. The third was a lunch time exhibition talk about a single piece of art, which became the basis for my daily poetry submissions.

So, to ease your suspense, I’ll cut right to the chase. I decided to try my hand at a “crown of sonnets,” also called a “corona.” All the sonnet writers I saw at the reading talked about it! Then, I decided to base each unique sonnet on a piece of art, implementing the tools we used in the writing salon. Finally, I decided to use as the art work a series of paintings used as illustrations for poetry, and the exhibition talk I attended provided such an example, a series of paintings by the famed Harlem Renaissance painter, Aaron Douglas, used to illustrate James Weldon Johnson’s “God’s Trombones, Seven Negro Sermons in Verse,” one of which was on exhibit. You can find the original, in electronic edition with illustrations, here.

OK. Here is the thing about a corona. The final line of each poem becomes the first line of each succeeding poem, and the first line of the first, the final line of the last. Additionally, I tried as closely as possible to make each final line align with a line from the actual original poetry that the art work illustrated. Finally, because the example I saw in exhibition was the illustration for the final poem in the series, I worked my way through the original poems from back to front, giving the whole thing a slightly different twist.

Enough chat. I have posted the whole crown of sonnets on my poetry blog here. Please check it out and let me know what you think.

April 12, 2016 – The Judgment Day

It’s more than just a painting or a poem –
or even a sonnet for a painting
(we’d be so vain to suggest!). The story
is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The judgment day is what we seek, and fear.
In no hurry to pay for our misdeeds,
give us reparations now for insults,
moral crimes against us, past and present.

There is a discrimination – between
the sinners and the saved, darkness dwellers,
those who see the light. Salvation’s shining
ray uplifts the soul; lightning bolts reveal
the lumps of lead the wicked thought were pots
of earthly gold. And time shall be no more.

April 13, 2016 – Let My People Go

Of earthly gold. And time shall be no more.
I ride the steeds of war, my spear sharpened
to kill my brother at Pharaoh’s command.
But there’s a light that pierces all the waves,
the rage of hate, and separates our thoughts
from the darkened state of eternal war.

Go up, Moses, tell old Pharaoh to go.
We no longer need his tricks and trinkets,
his crutches enabled our servitude.
Tell Pharaoh he needs us – we don’t need him.
Without us, he, his army cease to be.
Give old Pharaoh the 4-1-1. We’re done.
No more blues, no more weeping over me.
The groans of my people have filled my ears.

April 14, 2016 – The Crucifixion

The groans of my people have filled my ears.
A line of folks awaits the lynching tree
behind our dear, sweet Jesus. Simon bears
the cross for him, climbs up the rugged road.
Sweet Jesus. Nails go through his hands, his feet –
the soldier’s spear pierces him. Mary weeps,
we weep when we think about how he died.

I tremble. My turn’s next. The rope is loose
around my neck. The crowd screams, “Crucify!”
We bear the cross. We die on Calvary.
The soldiers stare, do nothing. The thorny crown,
the purple robe mock. Sweet Jesus. Betrayed.
The traitor’s bitter kiss, its passion lost –
the sweat like drops of blood upon his brow.

April 15, 2016 – Noah Built the Ark

The sweat like drops of blood upon his brow.
“He is working so hard to build that boat,
He’s gonna give himself a heart attack!”
His wife would say. Year after passing year
he worked on the Ark, rain or shine, hot, cold,
through periods of ridicule, self doubt –
building, preaching.
Legend says he gathered
two of every living creature before
he sealed the hatch. Then the raining began.
Forty days. The rising waters lifted
the Ark off its blocks – sent it underway.
For one year they sailed. Sea without a shore.
Then God gave Noah a sign – a Rainbow –
it won’t be water, but fire – next time.

April 16, 2016 – Go Down Death – A Funeral Sermon

It won’t be water, but fire – next time.
The universe was expanding faster
than we thought, the distance the death angel
had to travel, longer, his flight angle
trajectory, steeper, than allowed for
in previous calculations. A bright
star steered him to the house of Caroline,
our sister, to commence her journey home.

Death didn’t say a word. She saw Death come
like a falling star, our Caroline. No fear
was in her heart. Death took her in his arms
like a baby, comforted her, placed her
on his horse securely for the ride.
And she whispered to us: I’m going home.

April 17, 2016 – The Prodigal Son

And she whispered to us: I’m going home.
The young man traveled down the easy road
to Babylon. New clothes, new dancing friends,
new drinking dens and gambling games to play,
and women – flowery scents intoxicate
the mind. Oh the women of Babylon!

But his luck ran out – good times disappeared
and he found himself stripped of everything
good fortune gave him. Soon he cast his lot
among the beasts, the scavengers, the swine
who thrived on leftovers, things tossed aside –
with beggars in the mire of Babylon.
Then, in disgust, he made the journey home.
Young man — your arms too short to box with God.

April 18, 2016 – The Creation

Young man – your arms too short to box with God.
Invisible hand transversed time’s flow
and made a world to cure his loneliness.
A thousand worlds. But that was not enough.
There was a need to correspond, to speak,
to apprehend what thoughts the space contained
his hands had wrought. So God created man.

From dust and clay he shaped the human form,
then breathed into his mouth the breath of life.
And man became what God intended him
to be, a maker of his own image.
Then plants grew near him, symbiotically,
providing food and warmth – to each – in turn.
And man became a living soul. Amen.

April 19, 2016 – Listen Lord – A Prayer

And man became a living soul. Amen.
We lift our prayers, our noble thoughts to Thee,
our source of strength and creativity.
These words, these phrases – our meditation,
we presently petition at your throne.
But listen, Lord, just between you and me,
things ain’t so right down here. The folks you left
in charge have gone astray – the golden calf
is all they seek, an idol that they made
with their own hands. Keep us in your light, Lord,
on the righteous path. Forgive the sinners,
languishing in Babylon. Take pity
on the poets and artists who fall short.
It’s more than just a painting or a poem.

April 20, 2016

words

I love the Portuguese word –
concretizar –
to make concrete
a thing, anything,
that is abstract –

just seems to have
so many applications,
so many concrete applications,
to everyday life –
(though Mrs. Nimmo said
to never use a word
to define itself)

bet there are some
really good words
in German, too –
compound nouns and such –
but I never studied it.

April 21, 2016

The thing, the event that occurs,
and its depiction, later, in literature,
is not always an identity,
mathematically speaking.

The latter may be
an aggregation or a product,
a derivative, or backwards,
a definite integral
of the original deed.

I struggle with this poem’s identity:
mainstream; avant-garde; quiet
and contained; a cup running over.

April 22, 2016

I left college, joined the Navy,
went to Great Lakes to learn
how to become a machinist’s mate –
pumps, valves, condensers,
generators, heat exchangers, rust,
crud in high pressure piping.
Propulsion engineering.

Nuke school. Orlando. Classes 8 hours.
Homework 6 hours. In between,
Star Trek, Kung Fu, Navy chow.

My first boat sent me to a school
to learn metrology, measuring and
calibration. Standards. Pressure gages,
pressure switches, thermostats,
thermometers. Bow to stern.

My second boat sent me to a course
to become a submarine QA inspector.
Quality assurance on subsafe systems.
Deep submergence. Lots of paper.
Tons of paperwork. Save the ship.

At my enlistment’s end, my boat
put me in for a commissioning
program. College. summa cum laude.
Tallahassee. Newport. Mayport. Then
I learned how to swim with sharks.

April 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 antelope),
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, the full moon
overhead brightly illuminating a city in mourning, darkened
by uncertainty (our Prince had fallen like the rain),
And approaching Foggy Bottom, I caught a faint whiff
of the swamp beneath us, the sound of the river beyond
slowly turning, emptying into the sea.

April 24, 2016

Let’s be clear.
The winners want this world
to be the only one.
They don’t need a heaven,
a nirvana, a promised land,
a garden with black-eyed virgins
after martyrdom.

The winners want this world
to last forever and a day,
no disruption, no inherent degradation
in the plan/to the plan that keeps them
in charge, the religion that justifies,
the philosophy that rationalizes,
the mathematics that computes
their equations.

Let’s be clear, again.
At length, soon or late,
things unravel. Entropy rules,
permanence becomes impermanent,
time folds back on itself –
like Prince says, his music
for the future written in the past
and stored in a vault – a chess game
that anybody can learn to play and win.

April 25, 2016

Out of the night that covers me –
moonlight eclipsed, starlight diffused
through the clouds and the fog

Despite the darkened streets,
I know 7-ll is just ahead
and open early for coffee and donuts

Although “they” say a donut
is the worst thing you can eat –
all that sugar – no nutritive value –

Deep fried, and the half smokes
are even worse. But natural cigarettes
are safer because they have no chemicals –

We go there anyway – and hope,
at least, the ATM is working

“A people who free themselves from foreign domination will be free culturally only if, without complexes and without underestimating the importance of positive accretions from the oppressor and other cultures, they return to the upward paths of their own culture, which is nourished by the living reality of its environment, and which negates both harmful influences and any kind of subjection to foreign culture. Thus, it may be seen that if imperialist domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture.” — Amilcar Cabral

 

April 26, 2016

life is so much more like
Parks and Recreation than
Madame Secretary.
So don’t get it twisted
when you pull the curtain.

Poetry is just streaming words –
nothing high brow about it –
painting is lines and shapes
splashed on canvas with a brush –
and dancing is shifting weight
from one foot to the other
in motion across a wooden floor.

If I were a strong wind I’d wrap
all around you – if a river,
I’d rise up to your knees –
if a song, I’d bounce tenderly
against your eardrums, until I
found my way into your inner heart.

More like Parks and Recreation,
less like Madame Secretary,
nothing like The Good Wife.
Life. Don’t get it twisted.

 

April 27, 2016

They say Prince enjoyed a good fado
and even traveled to Lisbon,
now and then, to bathe
in its mysterious, noble sound:

a music of sailors on long voyages
to unknown, distant places
far from their home country –
of women selling fish
down the winding streets
of Mouraria and Alfama,
singing prayer songs
for their lovers’ safe returns,
wailing blues songs
for a love forever lost.

Fado’s essence is its poetry –
the music follows, sets the stage,
and Prince was ok with that,
at least he played his guitar like he was.

From the words, the sounds emit,
and from the sounds, the music soon escapes –
a fleeting moment, pure, distilled.
And Prince soon slipped Earth’s surly bonds
and just as quickly scaled eternity
=====

They say Prince enjoyed a good fado and even traveled
to Lisbon to bathe in its mysterious, noble sound:
a music of sailors on long voyages to unknown, distant places
far from their home country – of women selling fish
down the winding streets of Mouraria and Alfama,
singing prayer songs for their lovers’ safe returns,
wailing blues songs for a love forever lost.

Fado’s essence is its poetry – the music follows,
sets the stage, and Prince was ok with that,
at least he played his guitar like he was.
From the words, the sounds emit, and from the sounds,
the music soon escapes – a fleeting moment, pure, distilled.
And Prince slipped Earth’s surly bonds
and just as quickly scaled eternity.

 

April 28, 2016

And everybody lived happily ever after
after the plants started sprouting again –
after the birds started singing again –
after all the poisoned debris was cleared
& destroyed buildings were repurposed –
after the hospital overcrowding was relieved
and the population cured of radioactive exposure –
after the clouded skies were cleared of floating ash
& the rivers & streams, of trails of chemical wastes –
after pandemonium & chaos ruled the streets –
after stores & shops were looted for food
& supplies, & drinking water – after the politicians
made the decisions & dropped the atom bombs as they
promised in their campaigns – once upon a time.

April 29, 2016

I never made it to Aleppo.
There was property there to inspect,
a perfect reason to take a day off
and drive up, get away from all
the random sameness of Damascus.
But we kept putting it off.

the first time I listened to Zooid
I could hear traces of Arkestra
wafting through – the juxtaposition
of high-pitched and low tones,
the improvised piano keeping the rhythm,
the pizzicato of the bass strings
gave it all away.

But we kept putting it off. Then,
we transferred back, still assuming
we’d return at some point and trek
up to Aleppo to see the remains
of an ancient civilization.

so when Threadgill said Sun Ra
was one of his important influences
it only confirmed my suspicions.
the remains of a former civilization.
Now it might be too late

April 30, 2016

A translation – Portuguese (thanks to Dona Maria’s verb book & help from my Filomena)

através das palavras arrumadas
que surgem de um espaço interior –
repelimos as fronteiras, os contornos
de caos, de desordem,
e preservamos um mundo –
um mundo à parte que escolhemos –
que reflete a nossa paz interior.

English (original, from postcard poetry month, 2014)

through ordered words
that arise from a space within –
we push back the outer margins
of chaos, of disorder,
and preserve a world –
a separate world we choose –
that reflects our inner peace.