Category Archives: Poetry

#384: Poem on April 10, 2021

I’ve developed a couple of new habits this April for National Poetry Writing Month. Mostly, with only one exception, I’ve been writing little preambles, you know, introductory remarks, before each day’s poem. I’m introducing the prompt I followed, or explaining why I ignored the prompt, or how I manipulated the prompt toward my own devices. And sometimes, I don’t know, it’s like clearing the throat, I just need to ramble a little bit about this or that, whether there’s any connection to the poem I’ve written or am about to write or not. The other new habit I’ve developed is that I’m not giving my poems titles, instead, I’m just marking them by the date they were written for Napowrimo. I love titles, so that’s an unusual move for me. I don’t know exactly why I’m doing it, but, like a lot of habits, good or bad, I’m going to keep doing it. For continuity’s sake. Yeah, that’s it. Without further ado, inspired a little by today’s prompt on the Napowrimo website, here’s a list of things in my junk drawer to be sung to the tune of “Do You Realize” by The Flaming Lips. Speaking of titles, “Junk Drawer.” That’s a pretty good one. It’d also make a good name for a band. There’s a poet out there, I forget his name, who wrote several poems, or maybe one long one, that consisted of nothing but ideas he had for band names. Pretty great. Okay, everybody sing along. “Do You Realize.”

Poem on April 10

One, two, three, four–

Do you need this?
These two sunglass pairs you never wear?
Do you need this?
I think that thing’s a glue gun there.

Do you need this?
That Wild Roots distillery patch?
Do you need this?
That mini-plug to RCA adaptor?
And instead of saving all of those earbuds
You could throw them out into the curbside trash.
It’s hard to know when you used them last.
You realize this drawer won’t empty itself;
It’s just another thing you probably will never do.

Do you need this?
Ah-ah-ah!

Do you need this?
Those two service pins you got for years of work?
And instead of wearing them proudly on your shirt,
you could toss them into the recycling bin.
It’s hard to justify a ten-year service pin.
You realize that switch plate has to go
but you’ll keep the pipe that was a gift from your bro.


Do you need this?
That gum ball there will never be chewed.
Do you need this?

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#383: Poem on April 9, 2021

Poem on April 9

Things to do:
Shovel shit out of the back yard.
Empty the poop bucket.
Mow the lawn again.
Avoid dying.
Attempt three more
days without alcohol.
Decide.
Finish teaching
the school year
in still another mode
that’s never before
been attempted
in the history of your
school. Be best.
Decide again.
Find a way to remove
that stain. Purge.
Acquire new music.
Unlearn everything.
Meditate again.
Ride that stupid bike.
Know that you cannot
change them if they do
not want to change.
It’s not personal.
Decide.
Ask yourself,
is this important
or is that more
important than this.
Either live without
or do the damn thing
and be satisfied
either way. Decide.
Love that ambiguity.
Take risks safely or
do something stupid.
Stop imagining
another life.
Go ahead, imagine it.
Love better.
Eat well.
Convince 9th graders
that e. e. cummings
is the shit and
don’t confuse
being with unbeing.
Finish the laundry again.
Fold the laundry.
Tell your son three days
in a row to put away
his clothes, then stop
telling him. Decide.
Have fun growing old.
Check out those crazy birds.
Make sure you get back
to the ocean, and soon.
Notice what’s missing
from your to-do list and
cross everything off
except for those things.
Begin again.







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#382: Poem on April 8, 2021

The prompt for today was to write a monologue from the p.o.v. of a deceased person, in the style, say, or at least inspired by, Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. That’s a pretty good idea. But my heart’s not in it–my computer was shut down and I was trapped in the study with dogs while my partner taught a piano lesson in the living room. Away from the prompt and finding myself going back to a physical notebook, I picked up a pen and wrote about last night’s dream. It’s rare that I remember dreams vividly–especially all through the next day, so I thought this one might be worth recording.

Poem on April 8

Last night I dreamed
I was drinking a beer.
I was fully aware
that I was five days shy
of my goal of 100 days
without alcohol
and part of me
was ashamed
and another part
of me just
didn’t care.
I want to be high
on something,
I said, and, not
being one for smoking
or other kinds of
chemical amusement,
I was drinking a beer.
It wasn’t even a good beer.
And something else
was wrong. I was at
a writer’s conference
at which no one
was writing. The people
I met there didn’t know
the first thing about it.
I was in the wrong place
or in the wrong time
and I was drinking a beer.
I think the dream was
a sign that I should go
the full 100 days
without alcohol.
Before that day arrives,
on the eve of that day,
I will dream of a tumbler
of whiskey, and I will
be some place, any place,
really, where people know
who they are and
exactly why they’re
writing or drinking
and it might even be
the same reason.

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#381: Poem on April 7, 2021

 1/1/2/3/5/8. These are the syllable counts for a six line poem called a Fib, named after the first six numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. And I am writing one of these for today’s poem, a prompt courtesy of the Napowrimo website. Correction: I am writing two of those, one forwards, then one backwards, to make one slightly longer mirrored Fib. This visual has nothing to do with the poem, but is an example, one of billions, of the Fibonacci sequence, or the Golden Ratio, at work in the natural world.

Poem on April 7

My
son
purchased
a phone app
that measures and scores
the quality and quantity
of his night-time sleeping patterns.
It even records
sounds he makes
like speech,
sleep
talk.

And I find that I have much more to say about this subject but not enough stomach to write another poem. He’s pretty excited about his sleep app. For two school days in a row, he has been able to wake himself, without any prodding from the parental units, and get himself out of bed in plenty of time for school. This is nothing short of miraculous. The app, he believes, is working some serious magic on his experience with sleep, qualitatively and quantitatively. And this morning, he plays me a recording the app made in the middle of the night, an incident, apparently, of sleep talking. We are amused. Clearly his voice. Clearly he is speaking. The words, however, are incomprehensible, not because he wasn’t articulating, but because whatever he was articulating could not be considered “words,” at least not in English, and they weren’t Spanish either. So this wondrous new phone app is capturing our son immersed in his own dream language. Speaking in tongues. That’s all. Technology. For me, the jury is out on whether this application, in the long run, will benefit the boy, or whether he’s just been taken on a $30 ride. I will let you know next April when his subscription automatically renews.

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#380: Poem on April 6, 2021

I’ve been in the habit of writing these little preambles before the poem of the day. Today, the preamble will be necessarily short, as the following, I hope, speaks for itself. I didn’t like the prompt for today, so invented my own out of desperation and some inexplicable afternoon blues, and it was, simply, to write something by hand. I’ve provided photographic evidence, but, out of courtesy, I typed up a revision afterwards.

Poem on April 6

The last time I wrote
in a physical notebook
it was November and
I was taking notes on
a discussion about a
book I was writing.
Some writer friends
were telling me what
they thought, how they
reacted, if and when they
were moved, which moments
stood out, how I might
experiment with form,
and I took notes on
what they said.
After that, in this notebook,
nothing: some names
and times, related, I think,
to the only conferences
this year between
parents and teachers,
and then, mysteriously,
a phone number, on
a page all by itself, a
number without a name
or any other identifying
marker.

This afternoon,
in a kind of lethargic fog
unlike anything I’ve experienced
since I stopped drinking,
I struggled; I didn’t know what
to do with myself, pacing
around the house like an idiot,
trying to avoid my phone,
longing to be outside, but
longing also for a task,
something to do. And then
I remembered, almost begrudgingly,
that I had set myself
the goal of writing 30 poems
in 30 days.

Let’s go outside, I said, into
the backyard, where earlier
the kids next door could be
heard reenacting Lord of the Flies,
and let’s write a poem in a physical
notebook, no technology, a draft
of a poem in pen on paper
inside of the notebook we’ve
neglected since November.
Yeah, let’s get that done. In our
shitty mood for no reason,
with our dogs, in our chair, on
the new patio, using what has become,
after years and years of disuse,
an almost indecipherable scrawl,
we will write a poem for
April 6, 2021. And we will feel
better somehow,
as if something we were currently
doing made a difference.

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#379: Poem on April 5, 2021

So 8 p.m. rolls around and I’m suddenly apoplectic: I haven’t written a poem! My god, I haven’t written a poem! Fortunately, no one witnesses this tizzy. My wife and son are at rehearsal. I’m home alone. Only the dogs see the tantrum. I feverishly check the Napowrimo site. Nope. I’m not doing that. Expediency is the operative word tonight. Oh, happy day, short-term memory kicks back in and I realize that yesterday, after I had written volume 2 of the vaccination poem, I had a leisurely Sunday afternoon to get started on something new–something that I had saved as a draft even. All is not lost.

Today’s poem was inspired by a former student of mine, who is now an English teacher in my district, a human being that I am super proud of, but who posted a joke on Facebook the other day somewhat at my expense. That deserves a poem:

Poem on April 5

A former student of mine
who is now a friend on Facebook,
posts a question in which I am tagged:
Is Jarmer still ghosting students
in the comment section of the report card?

Apparently, John, (we will call
him “John”) is sore, some twenty plus years
later, feels slighted because, despite the ‘A’
and no tardiness or absences in my class,
I select not one comment about him
for his report card, not even #8:
a pleasure to have in class.

I’m sure he thought it would be a
fun little post and that I’d be a good
sport about it–and it was, and I am.,
especially because in the end
he compliments me, is probably not
really at all butt-hurt by my neglect.
However, I feel somewhat called out,
because, yes, I’m still ghosting students
in the comment section of their report cards.
He is correct, this “John.”

I would like to go on record
as saying that John was a pleasure
to have in class. And most every single
one of those students earning A’s
were a pleasure, even if I never said so,
never filled in the bubble for #8, or now,
selected it from a drop-down menu.
#8 has always been #8.

And it’s not that only ‘A’ students
are a pleasure to have in class.
I am pleased to have any kid in class
so long as they can be nice, and
most kids know how to do this.
So then you end up saying that
everyone is a pleasure to have
in class and you might as well say
nothing at all.

And ultimately, students know,
don’t they, if they are a pleasure
or a pain, and nobody needs to tell
them that. Even their parents, especially
their parents, already know. So the only
comments I give are the ones that explain
the low grade or the failing grade
because this might be useful information.
#52: Assignments are missing.
#47: Absences have effected work/grade.
#57: Student does not complete assignments.
Nevertheless, they were all a pleasure to have in class.

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#378: Poem on April 4, 2021

Happy Easter, friends, and happy 4th day of April, the 4th day of National Poetry Writing Month. Easter’s not a huge deal in my household. There’s candy around the house, an egg here or there, usually plastic, and filled with, you guessed it, candy. The real eggs are in the fridge and they are white or brown, as eggs are, completely in their natural element. Perhaps, for me, the most significant kind of Easter observance over the last 8 years has been the writing of a poem. Sometimes it’s Easter related, sometimes not. This year, the Napowrimo website sent us a link to a twitter account called “Liminal Spaces,” and from there it was suggested we could write a poem about one of those images. I checked them out. Many of them are super cool-but what was most interesting to me about the prompt was not the imagery from twitter, but this word all by itself. Liminal. Easter, I suppose, is a holiday in which the liminal could be celebrated. If you’re a Christian, the connection is an obvious one. If you are not, then the task becomes finding elements of the liminal in your own experience, in your own mind-life. That’s where we’re going today in my second poem about the COVID-19 vaccination.

Poem on April 4, 2021

As I have said,
and it’s worth repeating,
I’ve had my shots.
Twice I have stood
with hundreds of thousands
of people moving through a line,
like a fast moving concert queue,
or like a long line for some strange
kind of amusement ride,
a palpable feeling in the crowd
of sharing some pivotal experience,
one for which a little trepidation
is operative, yeah, because
no one really loves an injection,
but at the same time,
an overpowering awe for the
enormity of it all, the historic
nature of it, the profundity.
Hell yeah, it’s profound.
Everyone’s trying to be stoic,
but it’s easy to see behind those
serious faces (eyes, really,
because everyone is masked),
and maybe one thinks it can be seen
because one feels it bubbling up
inside: a tsunami of gratitude.
Especially as I snaked my way
through the second time, smiling
under my mask what must have been
the stupidest of grins, I felt on the verge
of tears. And when I arrived
at my ultimate destination
and sat down next to my administering
nurse, she seemed holy somehow,
and I loved her.
This is a liminal space.
If there ever was a threshold
between this place and that,
before and after,
then and not yet,
this was it, and I was
happy to be there.

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#377: Poem on April 3, 2021

I must say that the prompt for the day on NaPoWriMo left me feeling uninspired. Actually, it was not a bad idea, something about making yourself a deck of cards, a “personal universe deck,” and drawing cards from it to inspire a poem. It just seemed too labor-intensive for me today. So I will be reaching into the reserves already filed away in the personal universe deck that is my brain. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the vaccination experience. So that’s where I’m headed today. I’ve captured only a small part of it here. Could be the start of a series. IDK.

Poem on April 3

I’ve had my shots.
Both of them.
The first one hurt
going in and my arm
was sore for a day.
The second one
was astonishingly
painless, but later
the chills came,
the creep, the fog,
the overpowering
desire to sleep.
I missed a work day
for that one, was able
before the effects
plunged me into a stupor
to forge an elaborate
interactive slideshow
my students could
do in my absence.
Down for the count,
as they say. And most
everyone says it, to
some degree, that
they were down
for the count.
A small price, yes,
for the security,
the peace of mind,
the near assurance
that you will be safe.
Nothing changes, really,
in the short run:
I’m still wearing the mask
when I go out, still
keeping my distance;
I might be safe but
other’s might not be,
so we carry that
with us wherever we
go. We long for a
social exchange
between vaccinated
friends, when we may
not have to mask,
and we might even
be able to touch one
another. I don’t miss
handshakes, really,
but I could sure use
a hug from someone
who is not my wife
or my son or the dogs.

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#376: Poem on April 2, 2021

Happy 2nd of April, friends, and the second day of National Poetry Month. The sun is out. And after a full day of looking at a computer screen, teaching kids and grading their work from a distance, and spewing imaginary lectures to recalcitrant seniors in IB English, I had to take a break. I sat outside in the back yard holding what I would like to say was a cherished notebook but in reality was a stupid smart phone, and with today’s prompt from Napowrimo in my head, I began using voice-to-text to compose a poem. You can’t tell the microphone to make a line break–I mean, you can, but the phrase “make a line break” would be scattered all over your poem. So I ended up with a nice block of text that I could turn, and have turned, into lines–once I got back behind a computer screen. We must suffer, at least a little bit, for our art. Without further ado, here’s the NaPoWriMo prompt:

“In the world of well-known poems, maybe there’s no gem quite so hoary as Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem about your own road not taken – about a choice of yours that has “made all the difference,” and what might have happened had you made a different choice.”

And here’s the poem:

Poem on April 2

I could have had a career managing a
7-Eleven. No kidding. I could have
lived out of a van and toured as a musician
all year round. Maybe, I could have
been a rock star.
I could have never married.
I could have waited to get married
until I was an adult,
or at least, more of one.
I could have become a father
before I was an adult,
or at least, less of one.
I could have chosen not to be a father.
One large swerving or even
a small tiny move along the way
and my son may never have been born
or some other kid may have been born
in his stead. Some accident, or some
significant nudge this way or that
might have changed
everything and I would never
have known the difference.
Two roads diverged in a wood.
I could have taken the road less traveled,
the rougher one, the rockier, the riskier one,
but in actual fact, it never occurred to me
that I was choosing between roads.
There seemed to be one road
and I was just going down that road.
Nietzsche said that free will is an error.
My choices, even the bad ones,
even the utterly stupid choices I have made,
everything I have done or did not do
brought me right here. And again,
Nietzsche might have said that
I could not have acted otherwise.
And, I’ll be damned, I think:
he would have been right, again.

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#375: Poem on April 1, 2021

Okay, first of all, happy National Poetry Month! Second of all, I feel just a little bit of shame that I have not posted a poem on this blog site since April 30th of 2020. I have, over the last seven years, been in the habit of celebrating National Poetry Month by writing a single poem on each day of April. In between the Aprils, I have, from time to time, continued the practice of posting poems here, you know, to keep things moving in the poetry department. 374 poems in all. But 2020 proved to be a dismal year for poetry, as it was dismal in many other ways as well, at least for me, at least until a very late kind of redemption that took place around November. I think I may have written one poem during all of the rest of 2020 after April–and for some reason, it didn’t end up on the site. Suffice it to say that things are a little rusty over here. I have, I suppose, been saving my poetry energy for other things, like writing about The Plague Year, like surviving said Plague Year, not only by remaining healthy, but by trying to keep my head above water in this brave new world of enforced Distance Learning and Teaching. I’ve been talking to myself, talking to a computer screen, talking to 9th graders’ junior high school pictures, all year long. It makes Jack a dull boy. So after this long preamble of excuses for not writing poetry, let’s dig in, shall we? See if we can recapture the spirit, get this poetry department back in order, open for business.

As always, it is my practice, at the beginning of each day in April, to visit the mighty NaPoWriMo website for inspiration. Every day in this lovely place there are things to read and consider and a prompt to get one started, if one needs a boost. The prompts are always optional–we wouldn’t want to make the compulsory poem-a-day feel any more compulsory than it already is by requiring people to write from a prompt. But I find these things helpful and often do take up the suggestion–especially if, instead of a subject matter suggestion, it’s a crafty one. You know, write a limerick–but write it about whatever you like–that sort of thing. Even as I write this I don’t know what I will do–but I will tell you what the prompt is, if you like, just to give you a feel for the thing. Here’s today’s prompt:

“Today, we’d like to challenge you to spend a few minutes looking for a piece of art that interests you in the online galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perhaps a floral collar from the tomb of Tutankhamen? Or a Tibetan cavalryman’s suit of armor? Or a gold-and-porcelain flute? After you’ve selected your piece, study the photographs and the accompanying text. And then – write a poem! Maybe about who you imagine making the piece, or using it. Or how it wound up in the museum? Or even the life of the person who wrote the text about the piece – perhaps the Met has a windowless basement full of graduate students churning out artwork descriptions – who knows?”

That was actually not the prompt from Day 1 of Napowrimo, but the early bird prompt from yesterday for those folks who, for some trick of the sun and the moon and the orbit of the Earth were already in April before the rest of us. I liked that prompt, and immediately I knew the piece of art I wanted to grab, one not found on any of those links. Do you want to see it? Here it is.

This is a piece by a Polish artist named Rafal Olbinsky. It appears to me that it was used to promote a performance of a work called “Don Carlos” by Verdi, but I know it, at least that part of it that begins above the tip of the naked guy’s sword, as the cover of a novel I am currently teaching, and have written about before here on the blog, called Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer, a super important practitioner of fabulist, fantastic, or speculative fiction from Argentina.

My god, it’s late. Way later than I wanted to be writing my first poem of the month. The day has been a kind of train wreck. There is a part of me that would like to just bail and cry April fools! But there’s the other part of me, the Catholic part, that insists that a poem gets written today come hell or high water. So I proceed. Trust me. Even in this moment, as I’m writing this, I have no clue about this poem–what it’s called, what it’s about, how it will look. I only know that somehow it will be inspired by the art above, maybe by the novel I’m teaching, and that it will happen on this screen underneath this paragraph.

Poem on April 1

I have a city growing
out of the back of my head.
It’s ancient, built of stone,
full of towers and spires
that reach, as long as I’m
looking at the ground,
to the sky, to the stars
and the blood red moon.
The city out of the back
of my head prefers this
orientation, reaching up
while I’m looking at the dirt.
But if I hold my head upright
and look full forward,
the city out of the
back of my head reaches
behind me, always following,
always trailing, like ghosts,
like memory, memory like ghosts,
ghost-like memory, a whole
city of things I cannot forget,
things I would not forget
even if it were possible.
As much or as best as I can,
I try to keep my eyes focused
ahead; I move my body forward,
try to see straight, while the city
out of the back of my head
continues to grow, building
itself larger than life in my wake.

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