Using the 30/30 prompt “susurration” to build on a recent moment with my daughter.
There Will Be Gentle Things
I miss normal
she whispered to me
as I rubbed a circle over
her back, some kind of
dial to move her toward
sleep, toward an even quieter
place than this darkened bedroom,
where the hard edges and jagged ridges
of the last year have dissolved into
only soft S sounds, the small swish
of two pages closing against one another.
Today I took inspiration from the Writer’s Digest prompt to write a poem with a “_________ Story” title, and the NaPoWriMo.net prompt from Juan Martinez. It asks you to think about a small habit you picked up from one of your parents, and then to write a piece that explores an early memory of your parent engaged in that habit, before shifting into writing about yourself engaging in the same habit.
She moved through the small space
too quickly for me to keep track of her hands,
mother magician with a whisk for a wand,
tea towel for a cape,
throwing the threadbare plaid cloth
over her shoulder with a flourish
when concentration was at its highest.
I feel it now too, the furrowed expression
of attentiveness on my face, a meditation almost,
kitchen work. Poring over a recipe, looking
for the unwritten instructions that will make
for a close imitation, if never as good as hers.
The way, I too, wipe my hands, then throw
the towel across my left shoulder, as though
the ritual will result in big reveal:
here she is! Again, all along.
Today I used the NaPoWriMo.net prompt calling for a poem that delves into the meaning of your first or last name. The example was this poem by Mark Wunderlich, appropriately titled “Wunderlich.” I went in a different direction, after finding some meanings of my surname, Mannix, here and here.
green field after a rainstorm,
the way the clouds cast shadows
over a treeless meadow.
Call the first blooming daisy
little monk, for the way it lifts its
face to the sky, gathers sun like faith.
Mark your place on a well-worn path
with the letter X, crossed sticks or the stems
of two dandelions, so when the next traveller
comes along, O' Mainichin or MacNeice,
they will see something familiar in the inscription,
knowledge that though the sounds may vary, over the
course of one life or generations, something simple
connects us to this place. Both as important and as plain
as a blue pen, signing us into history.
I am not sure what I wrote today even qualifies as a poem, but it was a fun to write. The NaPoWriMo.net prompt called for a poem in the form of a “to-do list.” The suggestion was to make it a “to-do list” of an unusual person or character. For example, what’s on the Tooth Fairy’s to-do list? Or on the to-do list of Genghis Khan? Of a housefly? The list can be a mix of extremely boring things and wild things. For some reason, the first character I thought of was The Mothman.
Mothman’s Friday To-Dos
Do 50 sit ups
Do 50 wing extensions
Clean coffee pot
Build bridge out of sugar cubes
Knock it down
File & paint claws
Gather doom for later harbingering
Remove thorns from feet
Today my poem took inspiration from the the League of Canadian Poets prompt to write a poem about what happens when you sleep, as well as today’s NaPoWriMo.net prompt modeled on the 1915 book Spoon River Anthologyby Edgar Lee Masters. It asked for a poem in the form of a monologue delivered by someone who is dead. Not a famous person, necessarily – perhaps a remembered acquaintance from your childhood. The monologue doesn’t have to be a recounting of the person’s whole life, but could be a fictional remembering of some important moment, or statement of purpose or philosophy, with any degree of drama thrown in. I chose to write from the perspective of a cousin who contracted encephalitis from a mosquito, and died several years later, long before I was born.
To call is it sleeping sickness implies a certain serenity
but I can tell you, from this side of my closed eyes,
it was never true. Before all that I was praised for my
black curls and round blue eyes, like a doll they’d say,
never getting old enough to be noted for my keen
math skills or the way I could run to the treehouse
faster than my brothers and climb the ladder like
a squirrel. I loved the colour yellow and the way
my mother’s carrot cake tasted ¬ best on my birthday.
I never had time for a real crush, or to really dream
about what I’d do when I finished school, but I do
know it would have been more than house and babies.
I do know I would have danced, even through the
reluctance and bone-ache of old age. I do know I
would have gone to the lake every summer,
stayed up for every sunset, shut my eyes to memorize the
way the crimson and pink, the streaks of orange
reflected on the water. Held the shades and shapes like a favourite
painting, in my heart and behind my eyes, so I’d always have
some place to go to in the dark.
I’m not posting my poem today, but am sharing the prompt because I think it has the potential to bring interesting results. I used the NaPoWriMo.net instruction borrowed from Holly Lyn Walrath to go to a book you love. Then, find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.
Mixing two prompts today: the first being “ambient light” and the second being a challenge to write a Robert Frost-inspired poem about a road not taken.
You Are Probably Telling This With a Sigh
Imagine, if you can, a man with the deepest voice you’ve ever heard
sitting at a strangely firelit table, intimate in an otherwise teeming bar,
looking at you in way you will remember 23 years later, on a random Wednesday,
while you’re folding a pair of your daughter’s leggings and waiting
for a second pot of coffee to finish brewing.
Imagine, if you had left that night, away from the strangely firelit table,
and ventured into something less sure. Perhaps deeply contenting.
Perhaps disastrous. Where you might sit again, 23 years later, across from a man,
running your finger around the rim of a coffee cup, counter-clockwise, in some
subconscious spell of time reversal.
Imagine, if there were only two roads, in a calm yellow wood,
and not the tangled many-paths of options, like an intricate burst of blood-vessels
pulsing life to places you can’t control, but might try to, or at least hope
to look all the way to the end of a shady track, beyond the protective undergrowth
to see not what but who is waiting.
I decided to take stock this morning and look back at what I wrote this month. 36 poems and 7 starts (that may turn into poems at some point). I even like 4 of them! Most of the poems I’ve gone on to publish in journals or anthologies have started from seeds planted during these poem-a-day challenges.
I recently submitted a revised version of my poetry manuscript, and the majority of poems in it also started from the monthly challenges I’ve completed in previous years. I realize prompts don’t work for every writer, but they have been an amazing motivator for me, and also help me explore writing in new forms or about different topics than I’m normally drawn to.
All of this to say, even in the midst of one of the most stressful and disorienting months I’ve ever experienced, poetry has been a respite. I know it always will be.
To anyone who has read or commented on my work this month, thank you! I am grateful. I always write for myself first, but it’s encouraging to know something I’ve created and shared resonates in some small way with someone else.
Next comes editing and revising. A different kind of fun! But not until June. The words need time to age and settle a bit. First I plan to read more of the poems others have created this month, and dig in to the MANY poetry books I’ve purchased in the last several weeks. I firmly believe every day is better with poetry, but never has that seemed truer than now.
My poem today is still in process, so instead I’m posting it as a photo poem. Today I used the NaPoWriMo prompt to write a poem based on a “walking archive.” What’s that? Well, it’s when you go on a walk and gather up interesting thing – a flower, a strange piece of bark, a rock. This then becomes your “walking archive” – the physical instantiation of your walk. Because of current quarantine circumstances, I did an “around the house” item retrieval instead. My written poem will also incorporate the Poetic Asides call to include the words bump; embrace; fixture; howl; lonely; resolve.