The prompt today asked for a “good for nothing” poem. I thought of all those things poets write about over and over again, which — to me — doesn’t mean they’re not worth writing about. Rather, aren’t we all just trying and trying to write them right?
Don’t let them tell you the moon is good for nothing. Its full, shining face used up, like any actress over 40. Don’t let them tell you that birdsong is Top 40, overplayed and boring, background din. Don’t let them tell you the rain is washed up. That the strange coziness of cloud cover, the way the petrichor freshens not just the air, but the feeling you’ve been carrying for weeks, is not something worth documenting —if not for history, then for your own hardening heart. Don’t let them tell you the flowers have been overwritten, their unexpected colours and fragile petals as common as a definite article. Don’t let them tell you every good ode to the sun has already been written. They’ve forgotten to appreciate morning, the very fact of it. How can anyone who makes light of the sun call herself a poet?
Today’s prompt asked for a “What I meant to say” poem. I recycled/added to an older poem I had started, because it seemed to fit the prompt quite nicely.
No one ever believes the unwatched candle will burn down the house. Or things not said can turn to tumours. In his garden, knees to the dirt, the sting of thistle on his thumb, he remembers why he started that kiss all those years ago. Remembers the why, not the kiss itself. Heat beneath her maroon sweater, but not her tongue. Something festers. Some things fester for the better, he used to think. Last he heard, she was living in California. He wonders if she’s growing anything other than older.
Today’s prompt asked for a letter to the world. I wanted to write a beautiful love poem to the earth, but what came out today was not my solitary voice, but a cynical chorus heard all around — one that reads so much like a rejection letter.
Dear world, thank you for sharing your work with us. While we have enjoyed exploring your great wonders — the ones we love to take photos of, and the mysterious ones we can only tickle the edges of when we are deeply dreaming, or have just fallen in love — we regret to inform you that we have not chosen to include you in our forthcoming preservation anthology. Members of our collective take into consideration many factors when deciding what is worth protecting, including whether or not it serves a particular hobby of our sons’, how much it strokes our ego, and how much profit we might lose were we to deem this particular part worth saving. As you can imagine, we have to make some very tough choices, and many stunning creatures, or life-sustaining elements, such as air or water, are often left out. Please trust us when we say this is no reflection on your work, but rather an indication of our own moral bankruptcy. We acknowledge that in many ways, your work is what allows us to continue, and we thank you for that. Best of luck in your sustainability pursuits.
The prompt today asked for a poem titled “Stranger________.” My mind went on a bit of a meandering trip, and strange or not, I decided to follow.
Stranger days I do not recall. The newspaper’s running a story about ten waitresses working at ten different restaurants who have won the lottery this month, and five women on my block had healthy babies this week . The hares, too, have multiplied. Twenty-five count on my lawn this morning, and they’ve lost their fear of people. My daughter walked right up to one, placed a red velvet ribbon around its neck, then leaned in close to hear it whispering. She told me it’s all part of the change, and soon we’ll know, my daughter said. Any other day I’d credit her imagination, but stranger days I do not recall. Every plant in my house bloomed overnight, and the air outside smells of cinnamon. At the grocery store, every piece of fruit felt plump, perfect and unblemished. And all the shoppers broke into “Good Vibrations” at the exact same time. The harmonies were perfect. I didn’t even know I knew the words, but they knew me. And we sang ourselves out en mass into the parking lot, all knowing exactly how long to hold the final note. An older woman began laughing when we were done, and I laughed too when I caught her soft brown eye. We all laughed for what felt like a year, but the sun never set, so it might have been just a minute. Ahhh, she sighed, like you do when you’re spent from the best belly laugh. Have you ever felt so happy? What is it, the rapture? I don’t know, I replied, and I really didn’t, but it was the strangest thing — soon I was floating out of my shoes, unbuttoning my blouse, grinning as I flew up, up, up, with all the women, completely unencumbered.
The prompt today asked for a sonnet or traditional poem, or a non-traditional or anti-sonnet poem. I adore a good sonnet, but abhor trying to write one. I started thinking about the actual movement of “anti-poetry,” a category most prose poems probably fit into in one way or another. The anti-poet extraordinaire, Parra, was a bit before my time, but maybe some of his “rules” work here. And if not, well, they’re meant to be broken.
There’s a technique to anti-poetry. A skill I haven’t learned. Rules to follow to break the rules. It’s quite confusing, really. But I understand the need. It can seem highfalutin, untouchable, off-limits. Poetry is not luxury, it’s nourishing words for the masses. Do you agree, reader? I am asking you, directly, because the rules say the anti-poet can do that. There’s no metaphor here, so don’t bother peering between the lines. What you see is what you get. And just like in life, sometimes a cliché works. Don’t avoid them like the plague. There’s a time and a place, Parra might say. But this does seem quite bloated. Too many lines, so little rhymes.
The prompt today asked for a city as the title of the poem. I have purposely been leaving my poems untitled for now, but jammed the necessary info in the first line instead.
Fredericton, New Brunswick’s Capital City. You see the sign announcing you’re there fifteen minutes before the edge of town breaks out of the woods. So many road trips in and out that you became familiar with the trick, but every time driving back, you’d feel that same strange mix of anticipation and annoyance. You are here, but you are not here yet. But then the turn off, the striated chunks of Canadian shield bordering the road as you drive past the car dealerships and fast food restaurants, the three-storey office buildings and that odd lighting store with too many bright chandeliers crowding its window — luxury and opulence so out of place in this straightforward town. The first time you came, you came to stay. To make it count, for your husband’s first big job and your baby’s first weeks of life. You had never even visited, never even seen the house you’d make a home for a year, yet when you pulled into the driveway and saw the old wooden steps and big picture window, you knew the place would fit. Like Cinderella’s slipper made of soft yarn instead of glass. The kind of house, the kind of city, where a family takes root. And how perfect, just across the street, a huge natural park with trees so tall and green, you forgot to miss the sky.
Today’s prompt was to write a “transformation” poem. What I ended up with is almost a found poem, inspired by the wisdom and optimism of my daughter.
On our way to art class, my daughter tells me she’ll paint a butterfly. It’s animal day, and though she thinks a butterfly is not really an animal in the same was as the zebra or pig her sister will surely paint, she thinks it will still count. Why do you like butterflies, I ask? Because of the change, she says. Metamorphosis, I offer, and she nods. Our change is slow, she explains, but so much the same. When she sees herself in baby photos, she recognizes the girl she knows now. We grow, she says, but a butterfly transforms. And I admit I had never considered the distinction. Who could ever look at the fat, furry caterpillar, crowded with legs and so bound to the ground, and expect it to sprout wings — ornate, delicate wings — and suddenly know how to soar? And later, when she shows me the painting, I note the bright hues of red and orange, the yellow body, and a small black face, cartoonish and human, smiling in the centre of the canvas. Your butterfly is happy, I say. Of course, she smiles back, what’s the point of changing if you don’t change into something better?
The prompt today asked for an “unlucky” poem. I started thinking about all my favourite bad luck sayings and symbols, and the poem just grew from there.
My grandpa used to say “You make your own luck.” A way to get us to work hard, stand up, fly right. I believed it, too. I wasn’t going to be one of those poor, unfortunate souls Ursula sang about in The Little Mermaid. I wasn’t putting my fate in the hands of a sea witch. I push my own luck. Deal my own hand. No deck-stacking, just a girl and her poor choices. The philosophers, they can debate the finer points. Epistemic luck, moral luck, and the reasons all our mouths taste a little bit sweeter when some bitter jerk gets his just desserts. If I make my own luck, do you make yours? Is it like a four-leaf clover pie, with only so many slices to go around? If the power is in both of our hands, whose fault is it that every day together is more black cats crossing, more stumbling under ladders? So much time wasted self-reflecting in this damn broken mirror.
Today’s prompt asked for a “going somewhere” poem. My brain went back to the future and I followed.
I woke up believing that time travel was possible, but only backward. A chunk of memory, pulled out and placed in a snow globe, but don’t shake it too hard. Does a memory darken when you view it too many times? Smudged, like a window at the zoo, because everyone wants to get nose-to-nose with a tiger. Visited too often, does a memory change, shift colours in certain lights, or curl at the edges? I woke up thinking of Marty McFly, going back — no, really, physically back — the precursor to his being. What a dangerous place to be, the before. Consequences of every possible outcome compressing your brain. You going somewhere? Yeah, whether we want to or not. And hey hey, just like Jay sings, I know all we’re doing is travelling without moving. The body doesn’t have to go to enjoy the slick hook, the synth-fueled ride. The mind catches the beat, dances us behind the curtain, into the dim-lit back room.
Today’s prompt called for a “(blank) if (blank)” poem. After reading the news today, I was pissed. And sad. You know, pretty much the same way most people have felt for the last year. The way many women have felt for much longer than that. So my “(blank) if (blank)” poem went here:
What if we believed the first one to speak up? To use her voice, even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. Even when it might cost her everything. Even if it might cost us something. What if we didn’t have to wait years for the truth to ooze out from the festering boil that no one wants to see or mention? What if my sister hadn’t been with me, that time on the London tube, when the man across from us reached into his pants, and I sat in suspended animation? We didn’t talk about it, after she grabbed my hand and pulled me up, away. After we rushed off at the next stop. She swore and I warbled some panicky giggle — one I still don’t fully understand — but then we were silent. Walking away. Walking to get tea. Walking to normal. What if it was no longer normal? I remember in geometry, the if A then B theorem. Or maybe it was X if and only if Y. If and only if why. Why does proof have to take so long and hurt so much?