The prompt today, a two-for-Tuesday, asked for either a construction or deconstruction poem. I was recently reading about an octopus city, so I built on that.
At the bottom of a warm Australian bay, the octopuses build. The call it Octlantis, and if the reports are true, even Plato would approve. Clam and scallop shells, collected and molded into shelter. A city of cephalopods, side by side, communicating by changing colours. The how, answered with observation and collected data, articles like the one I read now. We’re nothing if not curious, all the big-brained creatures. But it’s the why that evades me, and the marine biologists too. So long seen as the loner, do octopuses need? More than just shelter, safety —do they need each other? What if utopia is as simple as a common goal, a construction project? Linked arms, in arms, in arms.
Today’s prompt asked for a “What I learned” poem. I suppose what I wrote is almost a found poem, discovered in dire tids and interesting bits on my morning email check and headline browse.
The morning has barely broken, and already the internet enlightens me. Word of the day, ballooning, not blowing air and twisting latex into animal shapes, but the work of a spider, when it throws out lines of gossamer, snags the breeze and sails on silk strands. Is there a name for the spot a spider lands? I try to invent one while I read more headlines: These popular toys could be putting your child in danger. Maybe the spot is called a cushion. Hate crimes in the United States have increased to a point not seen in recent history. Or the target. Charles Manson, murderous cult leader, dead at 83. Perhaps it’s just called safety. Impact of Arctic climate change being felt farther south, scientists say. It’s surely not Arcadia, but I’ll call it that anyway.
Today’s prompt called for an “abundance” poem. Since it’s been winter for weeks where I live, I was immediately reminded of the abundance of snow. By January, I will surely be sick of it. But for now I can still appreciate the beauty.
If there’s a distinction between an abundance, and too much, I cannot find it in this snow. It’s been going since yesterday, lazy tufts of cotton white, falling, falling, falling. It’s making me lazy too, my limbs soft but heavy as I ready myself for bed. How many hours did I spend today just watching it meander and puff? Top each fence post with a rounded white cap. Sugar coat the branches of the fir tree — the one the original owners of this house told us they planted the week they moved in. Our street, normally quiet, has been even more so today. The snow covered sidewalk unmarred, the road branded with the intentions of only a few passing cars. Everything is softened with the blessing of snow. Even the biting wind has been hushed by the lullaby.
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?