Skies are Open (Blitz Poem)

Wide open spaces with

Wide skies

Skies of ocean blue

Skies wide open

Open and infinite

Open but untouchable

Untouchable nothing

Nothing but a feeling

Nothing in these hands

These hands full of sky

These hands for feeling

Feeling the emptiness of the heavens

Feeling the emptiness of my pockets

Pockets missing my money

Pockets with open holes

Holes tunneled for escape

Holes in pockets are portals

Portals to the land of lost things

Portals through which precious things slip

Slip away slip away

Slip away

Away to the great beyond

Away forever

Forever gone

Forever missing

Missing when needed

Missing opportunities

Opportunities for escape

Opportunities like ladders

Ladders with rungs of risks

Ladders with ropes of hope

Hope and risks to have and take

Hope holding

Holding faith in the climb itself

Holding on and letting go

Holding on and letting go

Go up the ladder that way

Go ahead let go grab higher

Higher up and out

Higher up to the open

Open sky

Open air

Air to breathe in

Air to breathe out

Out back in to the sky

Out back in to the open

Open sky

Open air

Sky…

air…

More information on the Blitz Poem can be found here: https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/poetic-asides/poetry-prompts/poetic-form-the-blitz-poem

Mad Man’s Love Song

mad man lost his head Ha ha

I want you to know

That I feel for you so.

I think you will see

in this picture of me

that I’ve lost my head

(though not really dead)

And that my affliction

Is actually addiction

To your smile,

To your style…

To your sweet scented hair

And wicked, wicked stare.

Driven insane

In my heart and my brain

I’ll take my knife

And take my life

If it means that you

Might love me too.

Class ring and other lost things

The last time I saw my class ring, it was in a jewelry box. The box sat stored in the attic of the apartment my ex-wife and I had shared the few tumultuous years in.

It was kiln-hot up there in the middle of summer 25 years ago. I was looking through my boxes of High School stuff – Prom mug with a garter stuffed inside, some papers with poetry fragments on them, and the wooden box that was given to me specifically to hold my class ring (and any other jewelry I might accumulate in the coming years – though I never have been one for jewelry).

I think I knew then that my past was gone, and that my future from where I was would take a similarly blurred trajectory, dissolving into the very dust particles that hung around me like tiny celestial bodies, waiting to be breathed in.

A few months’ worth of fights later, I took the boys and moved from there.

Years blurred by before I thought again about that stupid ring again. I don’t necessarily wish that I still had it, but I do feel its loss.

Other things from then are somewhere in that “great beyond of lost things” – the place that must look like a tremendous garbage pile of treasures, every cranny crammed with scraps of papers… with phone numbers, poems, and other long-lost items in their forever home with a jar of shark teeth, comforted by odd socks and stuffed animals.

Dig in that pile and I’m sure you’ll find my tarantula.

Observations of a School Teacher on a Warm September Day

 In the cemetery beyond the schoolyard
the old people bury their own.
They don't cry any more.
 
On the playground
the children laugh
and brush dirt from their knees.
 
Women place fat budded roses
on the coffin.
 
A blond boy sits at the top of the slide.
The sun warmed metal scalds his legs...
for a moment, his attention focuses
on the black mass of mourners
and his whole world is that funeral,
a curiosity.
 
A woman with a silver walker
wipes sweat from her forehead
with her dead husband's handkerchief.
 
The apple orchard on the hill
watches it all
and fattens its fruit.

An Ode to the Librarian

In her polyester slacks

she wanders the stacks

with authority – totalitarian.

 

She’ll hush your voice

and quash free choice

even though she’s an octogenarian!

 

She has a stare ice-cold

and a fire-filled scold –

beware, the ancient librarian!

 

The young ones will bleed

and be afraid to read

as a result of this authoritarian

 

and the children will tell

of the cruelty and smell

they suffered from this ancient librarian!

 

Long after we’re gone

she’ll still carry on

(she’s glad for a place to act scary in!)

 

She has a stare ice cold

and a fire-filled scold –

beware, the ancient librarian!

Still, I Revise (inspired by Maya Angelou)

I may write two thousand words

In a day – to my surprise.

I may love each word as I put it down

But still, like nature, I revise.

 

Does my discipline upset you?

Do you think it just comes easy?

‘cause it reads like I’ve got muses

Making writing cool and breezy?

 

Just like powerful water

In drips and waves and tides

Just like that tireless architect of shorelines-

Still, I revise.

 

Do you want to see me give up?

Let each word rest where it lies?

Store pen, paper and pencil away

Like a retired carpenter’s supplies?

 

You can criticize my craftings,

Each comment will fertilize

My self-seeding plants of passion

Whose flowers bear butterflies.

 

Does my obsessiveness annoy you?

Like a nesting mother bird:

This twig, this phrase, this chapter –

I may replace each word.

 

I will write, re-read, re-write it

Until it blurs before my eyes,

And then let it age down in the cellar,

Some day, uncork and sip it, still, I’ll revise.

 

To make a symphony of a haiku

I revise

To strike fears and draw tears from in you

I revise

To make each character as real to you as your mother

To make this imagined detail more important than another

 

To be precise, concise and clear

I revise

With my pencil sharpened as a spear

I revise

To say that which has not yet been said

I’ll revise until my arm falls dead –

I revise

I revise

I revise!

Cut from a dissected poem:

A poet is

 

a child with an empty notebook —

Each word a brittle, fat, carpenter ant

Crawling away as soon as it occurs to her,

Impossible to keep

unless she kills it –

Mashing it into her notebook

Into some cubist rendering of death:

 

Black thorax and mandible in the same space,

The juicy abdomen oozes from the dark question mark

She can’t allow the others to carry it off,

away into their own dark hole-

Feeding its corpse to the young.

haiku: The more I learned, the less I felt I understood

I wrote over 300 haiku a few years ago. One, two, sometimes three per day. It was always more than simple syllable counting – more than the slapdash, willy-nilly, “anything goes” short form poetry.

I forged ahead through the forests of words visually plucking word twigs, bugs, leaves, and animals I glimpsed living in the woods I lived near (or drove past in order to get to work each morning). Often I’d stare out the window, studying details until a poem leaped from a branch onto my paper.

I’d spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour arranging these word snips and images into what seemed to make sense in a 5-7-5 scheme.

I embraced it so much, I got the Japanese characters for “haiku” tattooed on my left fore-arm. Seriously. It’s my only tattoo.

Haiku have rules. I had rules. Rules, I believed, that were what a haiku was “supposed to be” along with my understanding of writing techniques for keeping things “tight” (which included mantras like no redundanciesno adverbs, and be specific).

The constraints for haiku, as I understood them, was as follows:

1.       Must be precise imagery

2.       Must convey a paradox/contrast (bigness accentuated by smallness)

3.       Must have NO people (including personal pronouns)

4.       Must be 5-7-5 syllables

5.       Must have NO punctuation stops or pauses

6.       Must have no title

Each day I’d spend mental energy “looking” for a haiku. I was looking for (and finding) beauty and wonder in the tiniest details from the first daffodil chutes pushing through crusty snow to the apples in a bony-handed orchard that they old trees refused to drop as late as March in a harsh winter.

I found myself, through focusing on these intense singular images, able to travel back to that exact moment when re-reading them later. The more I wrote, the more challenging it became to not repeat previous work – and the struggle between seeking meaning and expressing feeling was sometimes too much to bear, and I’d put a few lines away awhile to come back to with a clearer head and perhaps a riper heart.

Despite occasional setbacks, I felt I had built up a collection worth curating and revising. I had a Tumblr blog with a growing list of followers – over 150 at the peak of posting. I was getting mediocre feedback. Two to three “likes” per poem, with a rare one getting ten or twelve – and those usually had an accompanying photo and/or struck people as “funny”

I stopped posting and deleted the blog because I decided to enter some contests (the first several had guidelines forbidding submission of poems posted online), and part of that process included doing more research on the form, its history, contemporary haiku,  and reading “past winners” and collections of new haiku. I paid for membership in the Haiku Society of America, I printed pages and pages of critical essays and theories about haiku.

The more I learned, the less I felt I understood.

The word that comes to mind when I started looking closely at the contemporary craft as well as the history is disenfranchisement. Loads of “winners’ and successfully published and acclaimed traditional and contemporary haiku broke some of the rules I had been constraining myself with for this entire time.

There were loads of haiku with people, and many only expressed sentiment and no imagery at all. Cheap aphorisms. And syllables? Pshaw! So many had the “wrong” number of syllables – and there were many sources that explained that the anglicized phonetics of the haiku simply don’t match the way rhythm is in Japanese.

So, frustrated, I stopped dropping that old bucket down the haiku well. The pulleys have rusted a bit, and the rope has grown threadbare.  I lost confidence in what I had written, and I was uncertain if my haiku were anywhere “good enough” for the contemporary scene.

I wrote a few where I had altered my rule to 5-7-5 “or fewer” – and was ok with that because some of the clunkiness of a few of the lines smoothed out. Without the blog posts and the direct audience of a few followers, my motivation went into other projects – and I haven’t written on for months now.

Sure, I’ve written many other things – short stories, essays, 80 pages of a historical novel…and to be honest, I feel the haiku “spirit” in everything I write. And I don’t think I’m done with haiku. I think that my main audience needs to be ME. My rules, my style, my poems – from from my eyes, my ears, my fingers, all my parts, physical or otherwise.

What has made me rethink this? Well, to start, I have this tattoo staring up at me all day, every day. More recently I came across a quote by Paul Valéry:

“A man is a poet if the difficulties inherent in his art provide him with ideas; he is not a poet if they deprive him of ideas.”

So, again, I choose to fight for my art – for my words from the dark caves inside me – my pen the small lantern illuminating the spaces where light doesn’t often go. My caves needn’t be tourist traps.

And so now I Iook out my window for a poem – pick up a pad of paper and one of my favorite pens, and get back to work being a poet.

The snow under the pine tree on the hillside takes me back to a moment three days ago. I finally trapped a red squirrel that had been scratching and chirping in my basement for months, and drove the frightened, fast-breathing tree climber a few miles away to a nice woody spot and trudged through the thigh-deep snow to release it near a grove of dark pine trees surrounded by that morning’s eight inches of lake-effect snow:

Cage door opens –

Red squirrel leaps

Into too-soft snow

Or

Wire prison opens –

Leaping squirrel swallowed

By too-soft snow

 

I’m not sure I love either one – but I like them both far more than the blank page that was there an hour ago.​ And, much like that little red squirrel – it feels good to let them free.

The search for motivation in the middle of a long run

How am I feeling? Hungry – that’s for sure. Some mornings the coffee wakes up my hunger more than my head. More than that,  I am also feeling frustrated with myself.

I’ve set out to write a book. I have the characters, the basic plot –  know the ending, I’ve done loads of research, it should practically write itself, right? Here’s the rub – it isn’t writing itself. In fact, it is in exactly the same place I left it two weeks ago, three sentences further than two weeks before that – or maybe a month.

So, what is my deal? This is the second time I’ve tried to do this book. I’m 80 pages in – which is no small feat. It’s a shipwreck story – and they’ve just left the dock. I have like four weeks of time to cover before te next major event – and then another two before they hit an iceberg. It’s not the titanic. When I mention details to some people, they are like, oh, like the titanic? And I’m like, no, this was fifty years before the titanic and it’s actually pretty different from the titanic.

And then I think things like, Maybe I should write it in vignettes. Maybe I should switch to first person, etc. since maybe my third person omniscient with limited focalizations is a bit too much of an old-timey style.

But this indecision isn’t what is my biggest barrier to writing. Quite clearly, my biggest barrier is myself. Let me explain – My planned writing routine should have me plugging along:

Each weekday I’m up at 4:30. Nobody else is up until 6 most days. Turn on a couple of lights, let Fonzi go pee in the yard, then Fifteen minute shower and prep while the coffee cools, drink half the cup. Computer on, MS Word Open, music playing, and I get a solid hour of writing time before ANY interruption.

Here’s my reality – with accelerated entropy as the weeks plough by:

Up at 4:30. Get Cozy on the couch with Fonzi until 5:15, essentially “snoozing” with my phone alarm. Bath and phone time until 6 – Words with Friends, Reddit, and Facebook. My computer stays in the bag – since by the time I’m ready to do any writing there’s “no time left” in the morning and I might as well fart around on my phone some more until 6:30 when it is time to start breakfast.

So, I bring my computer to school, figuring that with my schedule the way it is, I can have at least 40 to 80 minutes in each day that could be writing time. A solid plan, but it never works out. My computer bag often stays right where I set it down until I pick it up at the end of the day. I grade papers, I visit other teachers, I field student questions, there’s Twitter and Flickr and excuses aplenty. Often I’ll do some research and then print out papers I’ll stuff in my bag – and then not look at for days. Or weeks.

No writing. Just this pang of guilt that I’ve abandoned my characters. A worry that with this much time I’ll forget critical (or subtle) details that will make my story unravel. I’ve lost my momentum. That’s the worst thing that can happen when running an uphill marathon.

I started writing this figuring it would be the boost I needed – the re-focusing rally cry from my subconscious to defrag and reset – start over. Break time is up!

But thinking about where I’m at and where I’m going – I don’t know. I know I’m hungry. I know my laptop is hot on my lap, and Fonzi is warm by my side, and that all my characters are actually long-dead before they come close to that cursed iceberg in the sinister sea ahead of them.

But, as I often quote Robert Frost saying “The only way out is through” I need to forge on ahead. Not tomorrow, but TODAY. I think I’ll start by re-reading what I’ve got down so far and charting out characters’ connections and trajectories. When I need a break, I’ll do some grading.

For now, though, I need to start breakfast. Forty minutes of writing time this morning is more than I’ve done in weeks – and even though my story’s wordcount hasn’t changed, perhaps my attitude has and I’ll be back on track – headed for that iceberg with full sail on a cold sea.​