prose poems

The designated survivor

 

Image result for baby in wicker basket

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It is as if you had arrived in a brown basket on a porch near St. Paul, a piece of bonnet poking out the one side and a wintry mix coming down. You couldn’t help but look up, mouth an O, but all you could see were four sets of dark eyes staring back down, blinking. Or more like a great tumbledown from a brilliant sun to a duller one, the fall through space across a frigid crosshatching of having-all-but-given-up-on-yourself and for what: a guest room with a busted lock and a Princess phone?

Discernment

Sign

A golden eagle glides

down a mountainside & midair

drops the oily serpent

she has been holding in her talons.

This is God telling us to worship the unseen.

A young man with black eyes removes his two shoes,

throws them into the street,

& gets down on his knees.

This is God saying that our fear will be our death.

A husband beats his bride because

she will not sleep in their bed.

This is God telling us our dark thoughts

will create a dark world for our children.

A moth beats its wings against a backdoor screen

& plummets to the pavement, exhausted:

There is no way in or out.

This is not God speaking.

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Montana 1948: a novel

readingSome years ago, I taught a literature course in which, among other works, we read Montana 1948, a powerful novel by Larry Watson. The book sparked interesting class discussions over a period of several weeks, though none more intriguing — to me at least — than the one that took place after I found myself reminding students we were talking about a work of fiction, which meant the story, though written in the first person, was not true.

One student, a very quiet young man who always sat in the way back, seemed not to have understood that the book was entirely spun out of sugar and air until he heard my jolting reminder. When my words registered with him, he looked as though I had punched him low and hard. Because he had all along believed the story to be true, he said he felt betrayed — so much so that he told us he would never again read another novel. Other students said they also felt bamboozled, though no one else vowed to give up on fiction for good.

Even when I was a very young and inexperienced writer of fiction and poetry, I often got twisted around this idea of truth-telling and wondered what it actually meant for me to be an honest writer of made-up stories and poems. Over time, I have come to think that truth-telling is any writer’s true north and that sensitive readers will know an honest piece of writing, no matter the genre, by the way it makes them feel. Judging by the student responses in my class, I’d say Larry Watson’s compass needle was stuck on “N” all the while he was writing Montana 1948.

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About the dramatic monologue

For many years I have been fascinated by the use of a technique in poetry known as the “dramatic monologue.” Though he certainly wasn’t the first to use this technique (or form), Victorian poet Robert Browning perfected it in such poems as “Porphyria’s Lover” (a favorite) and “My Last Duchess.” Later, T.S. Eliot used the form in his famous poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (another favorite), and John Berryman used it in his “Dream Songs.” Poems that incorporate dramatic monologue — also known as persona poems — typically make use of one “character” through whom the poem is spoken or delivered. Because a poem using this technique is often in the first person, it is tempting to conclude that the poem’s narrator and the poet are one and the same. But don’t be fooled! Writing this type of poem allows the writer to adopt the “voice” of the character and to inhabit him or her from the inside out (as an actor might). And, because there is no overt commentary about or analysis of the character given within the poem itself, it is left to the reader to decide the poem’s meaning and power by paying close attention to what the often “unreliable narrator” says — or doesn’t say. Of my recent poetry, “Tripping then falling” is a dramatic monologue — as is “and said,” along with “The Other Mary” — but other poems posted on this blog also make use of the technique. If you want to find all of my poems in one place, click here or on the “poems” tab at the top of the homepage.

Tripping then falling

alice-falling

1. night

In the fever dream I mean to write a love poem,

an ode really, but without any edges,

and begin to think how I can sardine together

tender words you would have wanted to hear:

loverdarlingsweetheartdear

(as a woman might call to a sailor tossed over the bow)

or try and imagine a blue-black ocean crashing waves

of churning conch pearls onto the brown sand and

burying you knee deep in abalone shell.

2. dawn

Hearing the laughter of a Siren from another dark sea

I look up just as she touches your mouth with a fingertip and

whispers something saucy enough to make you

grab hold her hips and quick swim away from me.

3. day

In the morning dream I awaken

belly down on a bed of cracked earth

and somehow know that our hot-dim world

has been without rain and bright light for years.

Off to the right stands a ramshackle cottage

where we once lived with our young children —

well kept then, our cottage —

with the front window kicked out across its middle and

looking like a row of jagged teeth.

Just inside sits our long table,

now made of red hickory,

where we ate a last meal together, the twins,

as you may recall,

spooning sweet potato pie onto the good plates

while two flickering honey candles dripped wax

on the turkey platter and our kind but unlovely

Charlotte, your dear girl,

quietly carved her first name into my sideboard.

4. and down

At some point I notice the basement door

and am eager to remember what else we left behind

so slowly descend the wooden stairs though

cannot see much of anything and

missing the bottom step altogether

fall forward into the silent wide open.

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and said,

2-41

“Sit over there on the sofa no dear the white one but mind

where you put your feet and leave the coat unbuttoned yes

very pretty like a red painting or a two-line poem pity,

death, because I didn’t know your eyes would be dark

and deep like the sea outside or think

those delicate wrists would be pulsing with so much life

the wife was a brown rodent fat as a field

you know I might have finished her myself but

she died before I had that pleasure ha so

stand up and turn very slowly now

pour me a little wine before I come kiss

those lips of yours they beckon and how.”

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Where’s the music? And the poetry?

If you’ve been enjoying the music/dance videos and are wondering where they went — wonder no more! They’re all in one place: just go to the tabs at the top of the home page, and click on “music/dance.” The poetry is all in one place, too. Simply click on the “prose/poems” tab, which is to the left of “music/dance.”