Local Laureate

So last Tuesday, one of my lesbian friends, who teaches 5th grade science at a nearby school, texted me for a poem that she could read at the school assembly. They have been doing a poem a week, and she had asked if she could do something for Pride, which has just kicked off in Boston. I said sure.

I spent two days writing, working on a sestina, my favorite form, since it would give me a way to look at the idea of pride over the years, which would be educational and supportive for the kids, and also reflect some things I’ve been learning from my friends and other queer role models from over the years.

So this is what I wrote.

What We Mean, Now, By Pride

a sestina

 

Years ago, people always said that pride

Was bad, that it and humility were night and day,

That proud people thought only of themselves.

Being proud meant being vain, and that was a no-no.

It meant that you loved only the person in the mirror.

For centuries, folks used “pride” in that sense.

 

And if you think about it, that probably made sense.

Ancient Greek playwrights warned of the perils of pride,

How heroes saw themselves as gods in their mirrors

And overestimated themselves on the day

Of battle. That’s a good way to get killed, no

Doubt about it. Heroes need to know themselves

 

Accurately, what they can do and be. Knowing yourself

Can be difficult. We change as we grow, gaining a sense

Of who we are and who we might become. To know

Who you are is wisdom. To accept who you are is pride,

The good kind of pride, the one that says, “Today

I will be myself in earnest! When I look in the mirror

 

I will see the good I can do, and those who see me will mirror

That goodness back.” Sometimes we change one self

For another, learning to be better and love better every day.

And it’s true: there will be dark, rainy days. There’s no sense

Denying that. There will always be days it’s hard to feel pride

Or joy or accomplishment: this is a fact we know.

 

So we must stand up, let the rain run off us, take no

Notice of those who cannot see us as we see ourselves mirrored

Back. We stand tall, proud of our good selves and our good pride,

Proud to be who we are, love who we love, and accept the self

That God or the universe gave us, with a clear sense

That we will give our gifts to the world, now and someday

 

In the future, when we’ve dreamed and worked our way to a day

When everyone is accepted for who they are, with no

Exceptions. This is not a utopian dream in any sense.

Change happens; the world expands, and then mirrors

Become kinder to those who look at themselves

And smile because they finally know this pride.

 

Let us begin this work today, start by looking in the mirror

Accepting what we know, accepting our truest self

And our sense, finally, of deep and lasting pride.

 

I sent it to my friend and she expressed shock that I had written the poem. She had expected me to send her some good gay poem I knew about or found online. But because I knew that she had read my poetry in the past, it never occurred to me that she had meant anything other than that I should write one.

Today was the assembly. Afterwards she sent me a text saying, “I want to thank you for putting the time in and writing that beautiful poem about Pride. It was a huge success….! I even heard there were some tears.”

Success.

Happy Pride Month!

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Writing Prompt #1: Challenge Accepted

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The Legend of Sir Chester Nutt

(or, Thank God for Karma, She’s Less of a Bitch than We Thought)

 

One day in your car for a whirl,

You swerved to avoid a squirrel.

He swore on his life

That he’d make it right,

Then he went off to train with the girls.

 

Xena taught him to use a sword,

And Wonder Woman her golden cord.

And he trained his might

To become overnight

The squirrel who quite loudly roared.

 

Then one night you are held up with knives

And you rightfully fear for your life.

You squirm and you struggle

With this frightful big muggle

And then suddenly, that squirrel arrives.

 

He’s a great sight for you where you cower

Defeating your foe with great power!

With a whack and a thrust,

He’s the hero to trust,

Defending you in your dark hour.

Narratives for Survival #3

hangg_heemskerck

The first line of this poem comes from a poem by Trumbull Stickney. It got stuck in my head the other day, and since I was working on an oratorio or possibly musical about the Hanging Gardens allegedly built by Nebuchadnezzar, I thought I would play around with the ideas some more, and because I am a glutton for punishment, use blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) to do it. If you are going to go classical antiquities, after all, go all the way.

 

“Be still. The Hanging Gardens were a dream,”

Just as Eden was a paradise

Where animals could frolic, never die,

And trees provided all the fruit for all

The hungry mouths who had not yet learned pain.

Such dreams are necessary for our hearts

To learn the blueprint of a truer world.

 

When Babylon, the center of the world,

Was young and shining in the desert sun,

The emperor, it’s said, once came upon

His consort, Amytis, just lingering

Alone and staring eastward toward her home

In far-off Persia–fair, beloved, and green–

And in that moment knew what pity was.

 

A moment only. (Though that moment was

Enshrined in history. Three thousand years

Have passed and carried with them this one tale,

The birthing of a wonder of the world.

We know such men as emperors do not

Amass empires in order to appease

The heartsick longings of a simple girl,

 

However regal her paternal price

In dowered lands.) A moment later, he

Envisioned legacy, his glorious name

Forever linked to this vast garden, tiered,

Wild, green and flower-blazoned (built by slaves

In exile, sons of Israel of old),

And fountains blossoming to ward off heat.

 

Herodotus recorded measurements–

How high the walls, how tall the topmost tree–

But archaeologists, who deal in truth,

The truth that lies in layers of dirt on dirt,

Tell us Herodotus did not see truth

The way we do, that history back then

Was story first and only afterward

 

A thing of facts. The poet was not wrong:

The Hanging Gardens were a dream. It’s true.

But then, what does it mean that this green dream

Has filled the sleeping minds of women, men,

A thousand generations sharing these

Wild, verdant tendrils of this single dream?

Through this, a need is answered, so be still.

San San, Revisited

Okay, so I am trying the form from yesterday for myself. I think that it is fair to say that I won’t be doing too many of these anytime soon. It’s a lovely little form, but it is hard to say anything much in eight lines with such a strict rhyme scheme and the need to repeat the image three times–I think I only managed two. Still it’s always worth trying new things.

images

It is the essence of the candle to provide light:

Gently calling, out of the shadows, structure,

The table you step around, the chair you sit

In. So the candle, even though it is not bright,

Protects you, enables you not to injure

Yourself, bumble around in the darkness,

Walk right into the table or even hit

The chair. This is how humble candles bless.

Cascading Home

ABWinter_web

I learned about this form of poetry, the Cascade, from Kat Myrman. With a three-line stanza, and capital letters representing repeated lines, the form is ABC deA fgB hiC. (I have also seen this done where the repeating line is the first line of the following stanzas rather than the last, now that I think of it.) Naturally, I chose a seven-line stanza because I am a bloody showoff. Don’t go there, people, or at least not without stretching out first.

 

Home is the place where you write your name

In the dust and it remains your name,

Your dust, your cat’s pawprints telling the tale

Of small peregrinations, domestic pilgrimages.

All the books are yours. You have read them all.

You make your way from room to room in the dark

And as day recedes, your bed embraces you.

 

In other places, you wander, a stranger

Unremarked and nameless, a cipher

To those you pass by, who do not think

To wonder about your loves and dislikes.

They have their own shopping lists of worries.

Out in the world, you are ever nameless.

Home is the place where you write your name.

 

The geography of naming is such that

Your name points the way back to your birth

Or rebirth. Tell me who you are and I will

Point you toward the river whose water runs

Through your veins, calling itself blood.

Drop your name down a well or toss it

In the dust and it remains your name.

 

The story of your life would require volumes

Or a skilled raconteur with a very long string

Tied end to end and woven into itself,

A cat’s cradle of intention, obstacle, outcome,

And the serendipities that every life engenders.

Come to the window. Trace out your tale in

Your dust, your cat’s pawprints telling the tale,

 

Which would include a heroic company of friends,

Sister travelers, the wise one, the warriors,

A ring to find, a cup to destroy, some evil

To overcome, and now and then a resting place

Like this homely place, a place to pause between

The small battles and the long weariness

Of small peregrinations, domestic pilgrimages.

 

Returning home to your bed, your armchair,

Your cat sleeping on all the notes you took

On your travels, you settle in almost as if

You had never left. But now you see it

Anew: You have chosen every picture that hangs

On the walls. You have sat in every chair.

All the books are yours. You have read them all.

 

All of it is as familiar as your own hands:

Small and compact peasant hands that belie

The spectacles and teeming brain, the sword

Hanging over the fireplace. You can lay your hand

On any book you want at a moment’s notice,

Predict the pattern of new spring leaves in the window.

You make your way from room to room in the dark.

 

At dawn, both sun and cat pat your face,

Clamoring for your attention. As the sun passes

Overhead, the light turns this way and that,

Caressing doors and bookcases, chairs and the cat

Who stretches out in the bright patch of carpet.

In the afternoon, he ambles over to welcome you back.

And as day recedes, your bed embraces you.

 

Art by Laura Wilder.

Readers Reply with Hue and Cry!

In response to my little rant the other day about rhyme, I received the following poems, the first from 10000hoursleft (also known as Mek):

After looking up the meaning of profundity
I came to the conclusion you’d likely be
Lumping me in
Oh for my sin
With those in the 98 per cent
Who keep aiming for ascent
To the lofty heights of the minority
To be a 2 percenter my priority
Joys of creative expression
Need not get a mention
Now, I’ll have to stop rhyming

 

And the second from Mike Allegra over at heylookawriterfellow:

Master sculptor, bearing chisel,
Paused his work so he could wizzle.
And so the marble had to wait,
For sculptor to evacuate.

5135_A-Sculptor-BW2

(Drops mic and strides purposefully toward the exit.)

 

So I offer here as an apology a sloppy English sonnet. It’s got the rhyme scheme, but I dropped that whole iambic pentameter thing because I am tired after a long day’s work, and iambic pentameter would just be too much on an empty stomach at 7:41 pm.

Apology

I pick up the mic dropped there by Mike

And scanned the sky for ascended Mek.

They used dread rhyme in a way I like

Unlike those whose Yules get decked.

You see, the Food Network is to blame

For my Poetry Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Their December hacks of Clement Moore

Send me screaming to the border.

It seems that rhyme may perhaps have uses

For getting the poet’s ideas across.

It’s not just used by silly gooses;

Sometimes its users are just the boss!

So I will try to embrace the rhyme,

But please, Lord, please, not all the time.