Last Day! Maybe that’s why I had high school on my mind…sort of feel like I used to at the end of a school year — happy it’s over, but a little sad to be leaving the daily comfort/routine/adventure/terror/awkwardness. Today’s prompt called for a “bygone” poem, which fit nicely with my nostalgia. Though, I think what I actually wrote is a “boygone” poem.
There was a boy I needed. Flannel shirt, black glasses, skinnier than his walk and taller than my dad. A boy who kept jack-in-the-boxing into my life, even though he went to a school way across town. A rich kid, probably, but I didn’t hold it against him. He liked drama. He liked Stone Temple Pilots. He liked rye and coke. He liked Anne Rice. This seemed like enough. We danced to Madonna’s ‘Rain’ and said we both hated it, but it’s gilded now. When I hear it, I can still feel the heat of his hand on my lower back, the smell of his Speed Stick, and the prickle in the place I wanted him to kiss.
Today’s prompt asked for a response poem, perhaps to something in the news, or a previously penned poem from this month. So many of my poems have already been responses to headlines, but today I saw a photo of a sand sculpture from the Karavali Utsav sand sculpture exhibition (link here) that inspired something. Maybe a response poem, maybe an ekphrastic piece.
World Peace is carved into the sand, with Gandhi’s hooded, hopeful eyes, looking out through his round frames. An award-winning sculpture, as much for the craft as the idea. Care and detail evident in each clean cut and smooth line. I’ve never built more than simple castles, from blunt pail shapes. Never etched more than imperfect square windows, or added detail beyond a flag made from a stick and a leaf. I’ve never considered the message of the medium, tenuous sand. Moved with the whim of water or wind. Or done in by a heavy foot, tired of the display. Threatened by the allure. I’ve focused too long on the fragility. Overlooked the composition, a billion tiny rocks as old as the world. Each grain a small word in a developing story.
Today’s prompt asked for a “love” or “anti-love” poem, or a mashup.
It’s been a hard year to love. With every headline, a thickening of the skin, a shell forming around a once hopeful heart. So, necessity has invented new passions. Balms, for myself and my kids. Dance parties to pop songs I used to hate. More time reading — escaping into fairy lands, fantastic realms, places where the heroines discover the light, no matter how dark the journey. I look at old photos with new eyes. My cousin, gone now, but beaming then, so near the end. The radiant smile everyone mentions in their tributes. My baby niece smirking in her sleep, not just contentment, but happiness that she is here. Existence itself a marvel. A photo of my daughters on my sister’s lap, summer sun making them all squint. Determination engraved on their faces, like a monument to great change ahead.
Today the prompt pushed for a (blank) of (blank) poem. About the same time I started to write, I saw that Dictionary.com announced their 2017 word of the year as “complicit.” It made me wonder what other recent “word of the year” choices had been, so I went back to 2010 and incorporated them into the poem. I think it came out a bit clunky, but it was a fun experiment. List of words and year below.
This year it’s complicit, and haven’t we all been? Not crimes — we’re good citizens. Pay our taxes. Don’t steal, or kill, or grab what we shouldn’t. But wrongdoing? Certainly. We’re all guilty. The difference, maybe, is a desire to change, but not so much that we tergiversate because then we’ll all just be in a bluster, spinning in our own indecision. It’s probably wrong to want it all — personal privacy, public exposure. Stripped and flayed. Secrets open like wounds. It’s part of our identity to take comfort in what we know, mistrust what we don’t. But xenophobia? It’s a learned fear. An unreasonable one. And I keep thinking of a word on my daughter’s French spelling test this week: étranger. Stranger. A noun and an adjective. Word of the year in a world I thought I understood, at least en petit peu. But I am guilty too, complicit and complacent. Je ne suis pas d’ici.
* Words of the year as named by Dictionary.com: Complicit (2017); Xenophobia (2016); Identity (2015); Exposure (2014); Privacy (2013); Bluster (2012); Tergiversate (2011); Change (2010)
Today’s prompt asked for a “shine” poem. Took snips of inspiration from seasonal lights and Pink Floyd.
We put up Christmas lights yesterday. A first for us. Another change made for our girls. A way to make their faces glow like they do when we’re out driving after dark, and they compete to see who can shout it first, ‘Look at that one!’ pointing to every glittering tree. Every light-trimmed gable. I smile, even though I don’t feel it the same way they do. Think of that Pink Floyd song and wonder, do I actually remember being young? Shining like the sun. Maybe a diamond, until I reached for the secret too soon. Innocence, yes it glows. We all need a reminder sometimes. A shimmer in the cold night.
Today’s prompt asked for a “remix” of another poem written during this month’s chapbook challenge. I chose my Day 5 poem, “self-destruct” and worked it over with a different beat.
Are there reasons to be hopeful? The countdown on the self-destruct has sped up. We’re expecting the warning alarm any day. Tonight, after the ocean went quiet and all the music stopped in Helsinki, we listened for the siren in the distance. We listened between the worried mutterings of the people, and through the optimistic Eureka! of someone who thought he’d figured out how to bring hope back. You’re not listening hard enough, he said, or you’ve forgotten how to do it right. Just put your ear here. And he held a purring cat to a microphone. Those magic vibrations, right in the 20 to 140 Hz range. Reminding us there’s comfort, power in the smallest of affections.
Today’s prompt called for a “how I’ll be remembered” poem. I found it incredibly hard, and I’m not even sure what I wrote answers the prompt, but it is an exercise I’d like to come back to.
If, in the liminal space between here and there (if there is a there), I have a choice, I think I’ll go to my funeral. I’ll stand at the back, maybe naked as the day I was born, or wearing whatever I died in. But if I have a choice in that too, I’ll be in my favourite grey sweater and the best fitting pair of jeans. Tall black boots, and dangly earrings. I won’t count heads, or make note of anyone absent, and I won’t look for tears, drooped shoulders — outward signs of heavy hearts. I’ve already learned grief is immeasurable. Invisible. But I will listen. Not for the hope of praise or plaudits. But for memories, I’ve either forgotten or never realized I’d been a part of. For the gift of meeting a self I never even knew existed.
Today’s prompt called for a “preface” poem. That needs no introduction.
Let me preface this by saying I am writing this near the end. Sometimes it’s easier to see the before when you’re already at the after. I usually prefer procrastination to preparation, but it’s true that there are days when you just gotta start, even if you realize later what you thought was introduction was really the story itself. Bore to the middle to find the origin. In media res, then get to the rest. Am I convincing you it works to forge on, whole hog like my Mom used to say, before you know where you’re going? This has no conclusion, but let me preface that by saying, the best bits of life are often unmapped, unmoored and wide open ended.
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 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.