Friday, January 17, 2014

How do we know it's the end? A party game for writers

This series of poems was written by a group of Nerissa's writers at the Big Yellow at a party in December. Everyone wrote a question and its appropriate answer. Then the questions and answers were matched at random, jumbled, and handed out again to new people. So every writer in the room got a question and answer that didn't necessarily go together, like a yellow polka-dot sock and a purple striped sock. But serendipitiously -- magically -- the power of poetry seemed to bring the mismatched questions and answers together again, in a way that looped over and around and through what we usually think of as logic.

With the mismatched question and answer as a prompt, each writer spent ten minutes writing a poem. 

Each poem begins with the question and answer that the individual poet happened to pull from the jumble at random. A line of asterisks shows when a new question/answer/poem begins.

The title of the collection is arbitrary and apt. The identities of the poets are a gleeful secret.

--Anne Lindley, blog concierge


Do you believe in dragons?

     By the lengthening of days, by the sound of birds in the dying sun.

Dying dragons in the sun --
Dying tie-dye socks for fun.
Rubberbanded footsie socks,
Drying on the sun-baked rocks.
Dragons like to dress up neat
In rainbow colored fuzzy feet.
Tie-dye knee-highs, blue and red
Dragons love the Grateful Dead.


What color are God’s underwear?

Implicitly, I do

Quite often, through peepholes,
peek at the angels as they go about
their business. Yes, you thought celestial
beings -- seraphim, cherubim, and the like
had no need of privies or outhouses…
but how little we know of the laws
and customs of supralunar planes -- As to what color
the underwear of God might be -- ah,
that is a daring question for a mere mortal
to pose to an archangel -- let alone the
Supreme Being, but did you never think
fondly of a rainbow-colored teddy, or
a sky-colored brassiere in size
Double Z? Beyond that I dare not go,
for the flimflammery of the heavenly host’s
intimate wear is not disclosed to mere mortals
And you must whisper of these things
at your own risk only on the occasion of
the solstice or during the passage of an
especially celebrated comet or a
meteor exploding in Russian steppes,
mirrored by the cameras mounted on Russian dashboards


What does it mean to be a writer?

Pink, of course.

A splash of color that bleeds the paper.
With inspiration from a muse or the source
Words trample a clean, white sheet
it gets messy, scratches, arrows
exclamation points
A thought emerges, the pen
catches it, its ink
creates lines, dots,
curves, squiggles
Which are translated into
sounds, words, phrases, a sentence
A writer paints with words
Scenes, moods, capturing a moment
a kiss,
a struggle
a death
a sunset, which
is pink, of course.


How do I choose?

To tell the truth and find beauty in it

The point is not to choose.
To be what you are --
that is where truth
and beauty
Choosing an answer
means not choosing another
and why
do I have to be
only one?
If there was only
one answer
there wouldn’t be
any need
for the question.
The point is not to choose
because then
you resist
the tiny box
they want you to live inside.


What will it be like on Tuesday, when I have to clean out the storage locker which has my father’s things?

By holding my breath.

Breathe in.
At the door.

Breathe out.
Turn the handle.
Breathe in.
The memories.

Breathe out.

The grief.
Breath in
The favorite sweater
The oak desk drawers
The leather watch band.

Breathe out
The tie I gave him for Christmas
The gloves he used to shovel snow
His father’s cuff links.
Breathe in
The laughter
The joy
The peace.

Breathe out
The frustration
The misunderstanding
The emptiness.

Breathe in.
Reach for the knob.
Breathe out.
Open the door.

Breathe in.
The spirit.
Hold my breath.
Lock the door.

Breathe out.


Why do we make things so complicated

It will be a long and harrowing day, which will force me to look at decades of his beautiful handwritten notes

This long and harrowing day
is not long and harrowing enough
to look at decades
of his
beautiful handwritten notes
I will make an adventure out of
long and harrowing
finding a way to stretch time
and take apart the meaning of
in all its configurations
as a noun
as a verb
as a word
as a beautifully handwritten note
but wait…
the long and harrowing day
will force me to look at his beautiful handwritten notes
why force?
why can the long and harrowing day
nudge me to look
convince me to look
compel me to look
strangle me to look
prod me to look
with a cattle prod
a cattle prod to look at his
beautifully handwritten notes.
a decade of them.


How do you define unmooring?

to prove that we are worth the struggle

Why must I prove
that I am worth
the struggle? Is not
my hard labor enough?
My constant care? 

My mother always
wanted me to be a
nurse. I got dizzy
whenever I had a
blood test, and didn’t
like getting close to

But whatever else I became
over the years, she
questioned it. She was
ready, always, with
other careers for me.
Physician’s assistant, stock
broker, lawyer, and again,
-- always -- nurse.
There is no doubt
that her death left
me terribly unmoored,
and her doubts I will
always faithfully carry in
my life’s backpack.

Dare I suggest now
that I am more free?
Will such a thought
anger her spirit? Or
does she, in the greater
wisdom attained, wish
me that freedom?


How can it be that I am a daughter of a mother of 91 years old?

To abandon, to fear, to flail, to be swept backwards through Class 5 rapids, and, perchance, to arrive

After flailing through the Class-5 rapids
of fear and abandonment
We approach the falls
Do we go over together
in the wooden barrel of
the mother-daughter bond
Or on the eve of your 91st year
Can we turn the river backwards?
No, we cannot stop the river
But we can learn to float
And allow each other to crawl out on opposite banks


When will we arrive at where we need to be?

So many decades, moments and hours have passed since my birth.

So many decades,
moments and hours since my birth
And the yearing opens its great maw --
The black want shades at everything
And a simple act of joy is like
constructing the pyramids
Packing bags -- shuffling --
Dodging acid rain
When my chest expands
I am found dead
Drowned the naked hop
If I ask you, will you listen to me?
Will you pick up the things I’ve
left scattered as rubbish --
Get in the car and drive with eyes closed
When will we arrive at where
we need to be?


Do you believe in rock n roll?

When we rest from yearning to change

Once you raised your fist
Amid the beer and piss-soaked
The hurl of a shout --
The fracking of the octave --
The purity of your howl --
Delivered against the concrete walls
Walls that sweat even when you are
not there. Even when you fade to black.

Now you raise your wrist
Burned from reaching too hastily into the oven
It does not hurt, which means it will
You shake it down, like an inconvenient dog --

A dog who was just doing what dogs do!
(Another time, you would have welcomed her.)

Your wrist shows up the next day
With a dome, hiding the drama
In six months, the pink will fade to white.


Is shame useful? Really? Ever?

Yes, I believe in magic, in God, in monogamy, in delight, in the laws of physics, in lemon-scented hair of little girls.

Shame is the great wall in you.
In me.
Shame holds the world at bay, covers our mouths, and
Prevents us from sharing
the flaws that make us worthwhile.
There is a part of you that still believes in magic
and I want to meet him.


What is home?

Yes, if you change your behavior and feel proud.

What is home you asked me
I couldn’t answer, so I held you instead
I let your heartbeat knock against me
An unanswered question -- or a signpost
Marking the way toward something infinite
or toward ourselves

What is home I asked you
You threaded your fingers through mine and sighed
There is an answer you told me
But caught it against your soft slow smile
And I didn’t understand

What is home
I spun my way through the question
Brushing up against a familiar unknowing
What is home? I close my eyes and listen
To the steady knocking of the signpost I almost missed
What is home? I purse my lips around the answer
Making my way to something infinite -- to myself


Is there life after the butterfly?

It is where you find peace and rest.

The Argument from Design

Nature has deemed the ideal
is not real
A whim of philosophy
With no correlate out there
In leaf, branch, twig, trunk
and soil
Only one in one hundred becomes
a butterfly
The other ninety-nine consumed
By others too numerous to count
And they in twos chewed into a fine debris
By microscopic creatures too fine
for us to see
They teem invisibly.


Where have the red squirrels gone? Did they lose the war against the grey squirrels?

It depends upon the logic of the flower she chose.

Until I saw a black squirrel
I thought it was a myth
An illustration in a picture book
It ran under my car.
I swerved, avoiding nothing
Corrected my course
And wondered if I had
Imagined the whole thing.


Where have all the red squirrels gone? Did they lose the war with the grey squirrels?

For a while the reddies were doing well but the grey squirrels were more numerous and eventually prevailed.

What of all the wars
that go unremarked? We Americans
still stand to attention when the
blue and the grey are mentioned,
at the scars still
unhealed. The haves turn to
avoid the have nots. Red
Sox Nation calls Jacoby traitor.
Sides, always sides, being
claimed...until the spiraling
dialectic of history insists on
humanity’s humanity,
and we remember brother against
brother, parent against child,
neighbor against neighbor. And we
sigh, and, if the day’s balance

tilts toward hope, reach out to
the proffered hand, feel its pulsing
heat in our own, and squeeze.

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