Tag Archives: a poem a day

#369: Some Kind of Hymn

Photo on 4-25-20 at 10.44 AM

(after James Schuyler and for Cresslyn Clay)

Moss grows on the roofs of the garage and the woodshed
and the weather is shitty, again. This April, it’s unseasonably
warm and dry with spells that go on for days of rain
and clouds, gray spells. We’re in the middle of one of those.
We sit at home this Saturday and try to think
of things to do. She shops on-line for a bedroom rug
and I look at Schuyler’s poem in awe and frustration
and the dogs whine and complain and we keep telling
them to shut up. The boy sleeps in late, a habit he’s developed,
or a practice at which he’s become a consummate pro.
I’m drinking my second cup of coffee and I’m not hung over.
I have an idea of doing some field recordings in the back
yard mostly to capture the sounds of birds; I could get
audio samples of birds almost anywhere these days but
for some reason I’d like to record my own birds. I think
about spinning Apple Venus (Volume One) again today
as a kind of tonic or some kind of hymn against the shitty
weather and even shittier times. Andy sings “Just like a mad
dog you’re chasing your tail in a circle” and that about sums
it up for many of us, for all of us, to some degree or another.
The boy stirs and his mother grills up the rest of the pancakes.
She keeps calling up the stairs, “Come on, let’s go” to roust him
down to the breakfast table. It’s noon. These pancakes have
blueberries in them, and they’re paleo, for what that’s worth.
He finally comes down and I sit with him while he eats his
pancakes and he tells me about a video game he thinks I’d like
called “Stanley’s Parable.” In a rare father-son teaching moment,
I ask him if he knows what a parable is. He does not. So I tell
him about Jesus and Socrates and all of a sudden he’s expressing
a keen interest in the ancient greeks and I had no idea.
I brush my teeth before I finish that last cup of coffee, and,
while, as I say, toothpaste and coffee are complimentary,
by now the brown stuff inside my Shakespeare Insult mug
is cold. I’m not drinking that. “Thou art a boil, a plague sore.”
That’s fitting. It’s nearly impossible to think of any of the bard’s
greatest insults and not be able to apply them immediately to that
imbecile in the White House, “an infinite and endless liar, an hourly
promise breaker.” I quote not from memory, but from my mug.
It’s my favorite mug, just behind my Composition Notebook mug,
a gift given to me, I think for no occasion, by my teacher friend
Cresslyn, whose birthday is today. I’ve said these are shitty times,
and yet, I am happy, happy for friends like Cresslyn, for time to write
poems after Schuyler, wide long poems instead of the long skinny
poems I usually write, for the kindness of people in my life, like
Cresslyn. Others come to mind, but she’s in the forefront, in part,
because it’s her birthday, and in part, because she is so kind.
I miss her. I mean, I miss being in the same building, the same
room with her, in our school, collaborating in person, sharing
stories about our students, walking all the way across the building
for a quick visit to say hello or ask a question. For now, we have to
be satisfied with looking at each other on computer screens.
There’s a caravan of cars driving by her house this morning,
honking, singing happy birthday, perhaps, heads out the window.
I’m happy for that. The sunshine is peaking through the clouds
and we may be able to walk the dogs. Schuyler’s poem takes a half
an hour to read out loud but I don’t want to write a poem
that takes a half an hour to read, just like yesterday, I’m not writing
about fruit. To say that the sun fruited the trees with leaves–
that’s the best I can do this afternoon. And there’s a hummingbird’s
nest inside the tree right above the hammock. Did this ever happen to you?
What do you want that you can’t have? How do we make whole
what has been scattered or broken? What’s the reason for this
laughter, these tears? Have I made the right choices, Saturday,
this one? The boy’s upstairs now, practicing his rudimental snare
and my wife’s phone is chirping in the other room, like some bird
robot. The dogs stir. This can’t go on forever.


Postscript: In case you are wondering about the inspiration for the poem, here’s a link to Schuyler’s “Hymn to Life,” and here is the prompt from Hoa Nguyen’s website.

  • Bring your perspective and verbs back to the present tense, even when addressing memory

  • Seek the “unforced flow of words”

  • Introduce all of the things that you might ordinarily deem incidental or too small for consideration

  • Include quoted speech (overheard, announced, in dialogue, as song lyrics)

  • Build your lines with associative accumulation (parataxis), move with your attentions

  • Introduce a swerve or observation that serves as interjection, non-sequitur

  • Include at least four colours

  • Animate the landscape or nearby object, imbue it with expressiveness of action or address

  • Include perceptions of the weather without, perceptions of weather within

  • Use a noun as verb that is typically not used that way (anthimeria): “white freaked with red”

  • Introduce the occasional 3- and 4-word sentence.

  • “Let’s make a list”: include a list of things you love

  • Did you remember to ask questions?

  • Include a hemistich line: a line made-up of two halves, of equivalent beats, hinged on a silent beat (caesura): “The world is all cut-outs then—and slip or step steadily down”

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#368: It’s Friday

It’s Friday
at the end
of the second
weirdest teaching
week in history
and I’m not
going to write
a poem about
a piece of fruit.
In my resistance
to writing about
fruit, in addition
to a number
of diversions
today, I almost
neglected to write
a poem at all.
My impulse
today was to make
music, and I
fumbled my way
through that and
had some fun and
almost wrote a song.
That felt good.
Almost writing
a song today
felt better than
almost teaching
a class, which I
was a great distance
from doing,
and this, almost
writing a poem
about not wanting
to write a poem
about fruit–
that feels pretty
good too.



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#346: I Drove Through the Desert and Back Over a Mountain to Get Home


I drove for three hours, through the desert and back over a mountain, to get home. Listening to XTC the whole way, I felt every twenty minutes or so tears of gratitude welling up, which I staved off, because I was driving at sixty-five miles per hour and singing along to every single song, neither activity conducive to weeping, even though I felt like weeping, even though I kind of wanted it.

I drove through the desert and back over the mountain to get home. Sometimes, you feel luckier than you deserve, you feel somehow unworthy of this kind of life, even with its bullshit struggles, even with its blights; these are your bullshit struggles and your blights, your insecurities and idiosyncratic hang-ups and disappointments, but you still feel lucky. You think about the people you love in your life and you want to cry for that richness. And you think about these strangers you just spent a weekend with, and you feel love for them too, and privileged and honored to know and serve them, and that makes you want to cry.

I drove through the desert and back over the mountain to get home, and I felt that way, stupid and lucky, flawed and happy, unworthy and honored, in awe and full of wonder for this life, on the verge of tears, while Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding sang to and with me, and every sign I saw along the drive said the same thing: You are here.

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#343: The Steampunks of Spring

Steampunk Art by Brenda Adams

The Steampunks of Spring

Two octopuses sit on the window sill
sporting their top hats and flight goggles,
little works of art made mostly from
recycled odds and ends, scrap
leather, gears, watch parts, wheels,
lucite grapes, steel wire, old jewelry, junk.
Behind them, through the glass,
Spring arrives. The oaks are alive
with squawking crows and
the chirps of the small bird, finch,
robin, blue jay, warbler. Any
evening now the crickets will
begin their buzzing. Mowers
and blowers are constantly busy,
the smell of cut grass is everywhere,
any day now the oaks will leaf,
and I have octopuses on the sill,
the steampunks of spring.

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#342: G is for Gully-Whumper

You’re going to hear a real gully-whumper
right about now. If you weren’t such a gulpin
you’d have a chance of seeing right through
the gum. In my life, I have never heard such
gummation. Go ahead and pour yourself some
guinea red, loosen yourself before the gumball machine
comes down the gravel drive. Don’t give me
any of that gumfudgeon, you gummy. They’re
after you, all right. It doesn’t take a gumshoe
to figure out your under the gun, on the gun, so
you better jump the gun, ride the gun or else
get the gun sooner or later. I’d be smoking some
gungeon right about now, if I were you.
I’d guarandamntee it, I would, I would.

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#341: This Animal, This Dog.

Say the word animal.
Look at this dog.
It doesn’t seem right
somehow. The word
animal simultaneously
not sufficient and too
much. This creature
seems to rise above
the distinction, as you
talk to it and feel for it,
pick up after it and
play with it as if it
were a human child.
And yet, a lion is an
animal. Giraffes are
animals, and for some
reason, you, most of us,
have forgotten or
have never actually
believed that people
are also animals.
You are an animal.
This animal is you.
And even if you didn’t
choose, even if the dog
just kind of landed
on your lap, so to speak,
even if you believe that
life would be so much
simpler and easier
without the demands
on you of caring for
this animal, your heart
melts when you look
at this face, you squirm
with joy in response
to her kisses, a tongue
in your ear, nibbles on
your fingers, and you
know no sweeter
sensation than burying
your face in the clean,
sweet fur of her coat.
This animal, this dog.

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#340: Skylarking


It’s 1986, the winter
after our wedding and we’re
living in a shack. Seriously,
I’m not a tall guy and I can
stand in the living room
and place my hands flat
on the ceiling. It’s the holiday
season and I’ve just bought
XTC’s “Skylarking,” which
I listen to from start to finish
over and over and over again,
sitting on our cheap-ass
rattan settee from Pier One
Imports, headphones blasting.
It’s cold outside but Andy sings
of Summer’s Cauldron, Colin sings
about adolescent sex, the birds
chirp and the keyboards thrum
and Super Supergirl comes on
and I’m on fire like I’ve never
been about how good a good
pop song can be in the hands
of master songwriters. And
Rundgren’s production, his
attempt to make them sound
American and their response
to sound more English than ever,
so perfectly wrong and beautiful.
The strings of 1,000 Umbrellas
sing to me under Andy’s
woeful lament of joyful misery
as The Season’s Cycle moves
round and round. Side two
finds me right where I am,
newly married, schooling
unfinished, worrying about
whether I can Earn Enough
For Us after our Big Wedding Day.
My mind blown by the
perfect fusion of rock,
jazz, and big idea in The Man
Who Sailed Around His Soul,
and finally, a pop song
gives me words to express
my budding atheism and I am
grateful beyond all account.
Poor and happy, hopeful,
this record gives me 14 songs
to sing for the rest of my life
and I am still singing them,
will keep singing them
in my Dying, while Colin
croons along in this great
Sacrificial Bonfire of existence.


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#339: A Poem for Easter


Jesus and the Easter Bunny walk into a bar.
Sugar ants invade the bathroom, are crawling
all over the toothpaste tube and toothbrushes.
They are not, necessarily, on friendly terms;
it goes almost without saying.
The bunny goes in for Steam Punk art,
likes Jesus and the Mary Chain, which the Son
of God finds amusing, and in the off season
dresses entirely in black. Jesus has read the
four gospels and has many questions.
Sugar ants are easily bored, and they appear
to materialize out of nowhere, are interested
in what Jesus is drinking, a Pinot Noir most
likely. One would be surprised how many
varieties of biting insects there are in the backyard
and in the bedroom. Jesus wonders if sugar ants
are biters. Decides not to look into that any further.
The Easter Bunny drinks Bourbon, neat. He’s
curious why Jesus has invited him. They’ve not
been on what you could call speaking terms.
Customarily, Jesus does not kill insects, but an
ant swims around in his glass and has drowned
by the time he fishes it out. This one does not bite.
Have you read them? Jesus asks. Read what?
The four Gospels. Can’t say that I have, says the Bunny.
Do you know how many immaculate conception
stories there are, across cultures, across the
millennia? And how many resurrections?
As the sugar ants pass him by, one by one,
The Bunny picks them up and puts them in
his mouth. I have not counted, he says to Jesus,
but I suspect there are as many as there are
sugar ants crossing the bar. Do you believe them?
I believe sugar ants, Jesus says. They’re as plain
as the nose on your face. How do they taste?
It’s not the season, he says, too early. And some
of these guys have a decidedly minty thing
going on, almost like they’ve been swimming
in toothpaste. I mean to say, it’s not that unusual,
Jesus says, my birth, my death, my rebirth, or
yours, yours, yours. And the ants go marching.



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#338: A Wannabe Nerd


He says, Do you remember that song by M.? That was 1979,
I say, and I was fifteen. Talk about, he said, pop music.
That’s the only thing I remember. Yeah, the only other thing
I can remember is shooby dooby doo wop. It was a kind of,
I say, spoken word thing, a nonsensical white boy rap
thing. A cool song but that guy, or that band, just vaporized.
Right? he says. You know, if you think about the other nerd
pop gems of ’79, I say, I can think of three right off the top of my
head that were so nerdy they came out the other end the
coolest thing ever: Devo’s Are We Not Men, Gary Numan’s
The Pleasure Principle, and Talking Heads’ Fear of Music.
Those bands were nerdy as fuck–they put nerd rock on the map.
This M. guy, I say, as you nod your head vigorously, was not
authentically nerdy, was a failed nerd, a wannabe nerd.

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#337: A Living Legend on Two Continents


Coincidentally, I have already written a poem this month that follows today’s suggestion from the napowrimo website, to write an abecedarian, a poem that uses the alphabet as  some key feature of its form. If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a linky-link. It turned out nicely, I think.

Since my intern Max is teaching the 9th graders today how to write a found poem, that’s what I have chosen today. Here’s how Barbara Drake defines a found poem: “The term found describes a text lifted out of some original context and arranged to give the appearance, form, or sound we associate with poetry. The found material is thrown into new, possibly amusing or ironic light by this rearrangement . . . Generally, one may not add words to, or otherwise unfairly distort, the original. The finder may, however, edit the original. He or she can, for example, add a title, or lineate the words on the page for emphasis or rhythm.” My text comes from the liner notes on the back cover of Slim Whitman’s Just for You album, and, I’ve taken some liberties with Drake’s definition, specifically, by changing all of this ad text into a first person lyric.

A Living Legend on Two Continents

I’ve heard him on t.v. I’ve
thrilled to the exclusive money
saving offer below, the magic
of this living legend, on two
continents, this special
treasury. Only he
can sing my cherished
number one record in England.
Not available anywhere else
in the entire U.S.A.
When my blue moon
turns to roses, there goes
my everything, somewhere
my love sails along my
happiness, rambling, more
than 1,400,000 sold on t.v.
Millions of Americans are
falling in love, beautifully,
tenderly, sweeping America
for more weeks than even Elvis,
and the words to most of the
songs are included free.
Old Time piano music never
sounded so good. Make the
world go away. Exclusive
8-track tapes, $9.98, the sweetest
music this side of heaven.
These are the 50 songs
I will always love.



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