Poem-A-Day: Dede Fox

A few months ago I was invited to become a member of the Board of Directors for Mutabilis Press, a publisher of poetry, and of course I jumped at the chance! I’ve long been an admirer of their anthologies and have had the pleasure of being published in some of them over the years. This year I’m including some of the Mutabilis Press poets in the Poem-A-Day series for National Poetry Month. Today is the first.

This poem by Dede Fox reminds me of the precarious balance I observe on the daily, as a parent of two teenagers (even saying that wracks my nerves) and as a high school teacher. I want so very much for my children, my own and the ones I teach. I want so much for the world to be an excellent place for them (even if it’s a wreck with, as the poet Maggie Smith suggests, good bones). I want so much for them to find their passions, and for those passions to contribute in beautiful ways to the world. I want so much for them to be unburdened enough to enjoy their youth but responsible enough to recognize it’s okay that youth doesn’t last forever, because good choices make for a much better other side of age.

I want so much.

 

Hide and Seek

She posts photos:
her dreadlocks through stages
in the dying process—
brown to blonde to purple,
lips stained dark blue,
emaciated torso in a black T-shirt,
feet in stiletto platforms

her favorite animals:
red-feathered chickens playing
follow-the-leader across hardscrabble soil,
turtles that she’s saved from 18-wheelers
crossing country highways,
dogs, cats, donkeys, fish, horses,
a bearded dragon with a human name,
all squatting at her dead grandmother’s
house with the girl and a boyfriend,
so young that he hides his age
behind a bushy beard and glasses

She sketches:
faceless teens with the words
“don’t let your light go out,”
or “I hope that one day you see me
for who I am
and not who you want me to be,”
but people who love her
at nineteen know her —
no GED, no job,
no driver’s license,
a frightened child
playing grown-up,
hiding out,
allowing her promise
to dim in the settling dust.

Only she can’t see
her unlimited talent,
wasted until she ignites it,
accepts responsibility
for lighting her own world.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Dede Fox is the 2017-2022 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Texas. For four years she mentored writers as the NEA/DOJ Artist-in-Residence at the Bryan Federal Prison Camp for Women and currently works with Houston’s Writers in the Schools at Texas Children’s Hospital. THE TREASURE IN THE TINY BLUE TIN, her first novel, was listed in 2010 BEST JEWISH BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS.  Dede’s poetry collections include CONFESSIONS OF A JEWISH TEXAN and POSTCARDS HOME. “Chapultepec Park,” winner of the Christina Sergeyevna Award at the Austin International Poetry Festival, served as catalyst for ON WINGS OF SILENCE, her novel-in-verse published in 2019.

Poem-A-Day: Heather Lyn

I recently read Till the Tide, a fantastic anthology of mermaid-themed poetry from Sundress Publications. Some of the poets featured there were so gracious as to allow me to share their poems with you this month.

The first of those is Heather Lyn. I really appreciate the way she combines tragedy and magical thinking with sharp humor and nostalgia. Didn’t you love those magazine quizzes when you were an adolescent and thought those writers must have really, really understood you? Didn’t you wish those magazines had offered you some way to actually escape the gritty, fraught reality of being a teenager? Maybe that’s just me.

 

How to Tell if You’re a Mermaid: A Quiz

You drowned one day:
.     a.  when you fell off a dock
.     b.  at your abusive lover’s house
.     c.  and you think he may have pushed you,
        but it doesn’t change the fact —
.     d.  you inhaled sharp salt that pierced
        your nostrils and weighted
        down your lungs

He didn’t save you because:
.     a.  he was busy getting drunk
.     b.  he wanted you to die
   c.  it made him feel like a man to push you
        with one hand while holding a beer in the other
.     d.  he knew his slurred cuss would be the last sound
.          you’d ever hear

You didn’t fight it since:
.     a. 
you had nothing to live for
.     b.  the water embraced you
        in a way you had forgotten
   c.  you’re a Pisces and always felt
.          water was your home
.     d.  all of the above

You came to love it when:
.     a. 
the world went black
        though your eyes were
        wide open
   b.  your body became a sodden shell
.     c.  you became a mermaid for submitting
.          to the sea
.     d.  A and C only

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Heather Lyn received her Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from Young Harris College in the mountains of North Georgia. Lyn was published in YHC’s literary magazine The Corn Creek Review multiple times. She has self-published a supernatural mystery novel and earned second place in the Agnes Scott Writer’s Festival Contest for her one-act play. Lyn has also been featured in the Voices Project, a horror anthology, and multiple poem anthologies. Her poems have been featured in Crabfat Magazine.

Heather Lyn lives in the mountains of North Georgia and is always looking for ways to turn her chaotic life into material for books, poetry, stories, or embarrassing blogs. She is a self-published author and lives with her Australian Shepherd, Radley. You can keep up with her on Instagram @moon_musings_jewelry.

Poem-A-Day: Fady Joudah

My friend Fady is one of my favorite poets. He recently had a longish poem out in the Los Angeles Review of Books, and if you click on that link you can read it as well as listen to him reading it. I don’t think he expected how much traction this poem would find, but my guess is that’s just his humility. If you are interested in reading some of Fady’s very short poems, you should check out his book Textu (Copper Canyon Press), which were poems all initially composed on his phone as text messages, in a time when text messages were limited in length like tweets are.

CORONA RADIATA

The rats are invisible.
The bats are beautiful.
Here’s the livestock and fish market,
and there’s the institute for the biologic.
We’re ravenous. Our hunger travels
in fueled suitcases packed with desires.
The virus is real,
gave up its passport,
stops for no officer
save immunology’s guards
in epidemiology’s tribe.

For decades, millions die every year:
from TB, poverty and malnutrition, attrition,
pneumonia, diarrhea, millions the count
of Spain’s, England’s, or Italy’s population
annually wiped off the earth,
untouchables outside history,
and though their geography be
diverse, it’s short of total.

The pandemic is real.
If hospitals are overwhelmed,
the virus will add to the otherwise
preventable deaths and lawsuits.
Diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure,
our bread and butter,
colonoscopies, too,
and organ transplants
may be placed on hold:
people, there is no human system
for this sort of pandemonium
and there won’t be
unless echo is one.

But if so many die
in a single season,
what will happen to life insurance
firms? If one percent
of Americans die in one swoop,
what will become of grief?
What if rent and mortgages,
utility bills, phone and car payments,
student and small business loans
are waived for a month,
pardoned? What if CEOs
give up their salaries
for 8 weeks so that the faucet
drips the tub full
with buoyancy for all?

The virus is indebted to no one.
Distances close in on us.
The curve and the herd and this
much death on our soil.
Antibiotics, globulins, gloves, masks,
and numerator to denominator
as yin to yang, if we’re lucky,
when the virus returns
it will be wearing less imperial clothes.

Every 2 minutes a child dies of malaria.
Infomercial, how many minutes in a year?
Malaria lyses more than the blood of children
and their mothers. Extreme measures
against the virus should be taken.

This pandemic, one sorrow,
one love, this pandemic hangs
on a strand of the helical tongue.
This pandemic brings me back to eros.
And to hysteria’s translation
in the mind. Pleasure evolved
out of life inside life
wanting no more than life itself.

Then things got sweet,
complicated. Evolution
has some capitalist features
yet isn’t capitalist, and we know
what else evolution isn’t,
we’ve been unimaginative of late,
since we’ve run out of land
but not out of real estate:

the virus teases us
with the bliss to come
after detention is served.
To hold the estranged.
To touch strangers.
An ecstasy worth waiting for.

And our detention is the earth’s respite
from our jets and flues
and wireless energy.
A little rest, not for long.
So, extreme measures, why not?

Have you been displaced by war,
scattered by wind, tattered by abundance?
In the last fourteen days,
have you experienced the endemic flare up
like a bad knee, immobilizer bad,
a migraine in the dark?
Extreme measures,
healthcare a human right,
and infrastructure, infrastructure, people,
culling of militaries, monopolies,
but who’ll go first?

20 million Iraqis ravaged for generations.
20 million Syrians and 20 million Yemenis.
And the curable after excision
with clear margins. The virus doesn’t speak,
doesn’t want to be written,
doesn’t give voice to the voiceless
or pay low wages
to the lowly. And the looting,
always the looting. This kind of talk
is part of the problem not the solution.
Still as a friend said: amidst all this
uncertainty and concern
the camellia in my garden
is glorious and serene
in the knowledge of Spring.

Far and near
the virus becomes our alibi
to obey more in sickness and in wealth.
Far and near the virus awakens
in us a responsibility
to others who will not die
our deaths, nor we theirs,
though we might, but must direct
our urgency to the elderly, our ancestors
who are and aren’t our ancestors.
And to the compromised.
The virus won’t spare the poor
or the young or anyone
with architecture primed for ruin.

This August the quarantine on small joys
should lift. Fifteen years ago this August,
I came back from Darfur
to Hurricane Katrina: it was mostly
Anderson Cooper on TV.
In Gaza the virus breaches
the siege as document of science
and will not exit. Israel offers
to track the virus on cellphones
of the infected, a treasure trove.

Does economy lament? Is it an individual
or a corporation? Can it repent?
Can capital grow catatonic
or speak Chinese?
What is avarice with God or without?
Let’s not say the virus is blaming the patient.
Lacking objectivity these words
don’t dismiss progress, the sample size,
who’ll analyze the data,
or who’ll get the bailout?

Without people there’s no power over the people.
How much for a mosquito net?
Three a year per person
if the swamp isn’t drained
and heaven’s mouth isn’t shut?
During the carving of the Panama Canal.
During penicillin fungating
in shrapnelled limbs.
During smallpox and sex.
What if a pandemic kills
far fewer than other non-pandemic ailments?

The panic’s in the pan,
and vaccines are real.
An organism lives to reproduce
its servant, master, and host.
We’re all equally small.
And after survival,
which shall not be pyrrhic
if measures are enforced,
surveillance will multiply,
careers will be made,
grants will be granted,
a depression aborted, attenuated,
and a call to papers:
spend a penny, save a dime,
invest a nickel, make a quarter.

The birth rate exceeds the mortal wound.
Our overlords will return us to our dreams of forgetting.
And our lords,
who aren’t in heaven,
give us this day
and lead us not
but deliver us
and the pulverized,
if they’re still warm,
if light enough for the breeze.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

photo credit Cybele Knowles

Fady Joudah is a practicing physician. His most recent poetry collection is Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance, and his forthcoming one is Tethered to Stars, both from Milkweed Editions.

Poem-A-Day: Kobayashi Issa

Today I found myself writing a script for a video I need to make this weekend to include in my school’s distance learning repertory of art instruction. My lesson needed to be fairly quick and highly accessible to all skill levels of Creative Writing. I decided to do a lesson on haiku, which sometimes appear simple but are actually as complex as they are lovely.

This wonderful and famous poem by Kobayashi Issa — one of Japan’s most celebrated poets and considered one of the four great Japanese masters of haiku — is in my mind tonight because right now the entire world is in a challenging state, many of the people running the show (at least here in the U.S.) are not well suited to the task, and anxiety is understandably high. We are in for a couple of very bumpy weeks, to put it mildly.

But despite all of this, tonight I learned how to arrange the technology to host an online dance party for a few friends, and it was a really good, really necessary time. This juxtaposition of turmoil and grace reminds me of Issa’s haiku, translated here by Robert Hass.

In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
gazing at flowers.

I hope tonight you are somewhere safe and in stable health.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), also known as Kobayashi Yataro and Kobayashi Nobuyuki, was born in Kashiwabara, Shinanao province. He eventually took the pen name Issa, which means “cup of tea” or, according to poet Robert Hass, “a single bubble in steeping tea.”

Issa’s father was a farmer. His mother died when he was young, and he was raised by his grandmother. His father remarried, and Issa did not get along well with his stepmother or stepbrother, eventually becoming involved in disputes over his father’s property. When Issa was 14, he left home to study haiku in Edo. He spent years traveling and working until returning to Kashiwabara in the early 1810s. In Kashiwabara, his life was marked by sorrow— the death of his first wife and three children, an unsuccessful second marriage, the burning down of his house, and a third marriage.

Issa’s haiku are as attentive to the small creatures of the world—mosquitoes, bats, cats—as they are tinged with sorrow and an awareness of the nuances of human behavior. In addition to haiku, Issa wrote pieces that intertwined prose and poetry, including Journal of My Father’s Last Days and The Year of My Life.

(Biographical information respectfully quoted from the Poetry Foundation.)

Poem-A-Day: Mirabai (India)

I often enjoy fragments of ancient verse. My friend Nicole gave me the book Mala of the Heart a few years ago, and it is filled with completely wonderful poetry meditations. I like to feature them sometimes in this series.

Tonight I’m thinking about this one by Mirabai.

 

Love, you have wrecked my body.
Keep doing
that.

I am more well with this deep ache
of missing
you
than content with the
physical wonders
you can pacify
us with.

 

We’re not supposed to say “social distance” anymore, but rather “physical distance.” And truthfully, that is more to the point. We must stay more than six feet apart, but we also must maintain our social connections to each other. One will help defeat the current pandemic, and the other will keep us sane.

This will work — these both will work — and they can be difficult, but the separation is also temporary. The better at it we are now, the more temporary the physical distancing is likely to be.

I wish you well.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Mirabai (Mira) (ca. 1498-1565, India) was born into a noble family in northern India. From an early age, she worshipped Krishna. During her marriage to a prominent crown prince, her husband’s family actively sought to stop Mirabai’s meditations and prayers to Krishna. Upon her husband’s death, she refused to throw herself on his funeral pyre, proclaiming she was wedded to Krishna. Mirabai became a wandering ascetic devoted to Giridhara, a manifestation of Krishna.

Biographical information borrowed with respect from Mala of the Heart, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt.

Monday Earworm: Garbage

Today is going to be our last earworm for a little while, because Wednesday is April 1st, and like every year for quite some time now, I’ll be doing a Poem-A-Day series here on the blog in honor of National Poetry Month here in the U.S. The daily poem is possibly the most loved series among this blog’s readership, and there’s some excellent stuff in the line-up again this year. I hope you’ll check in daily — or just subscribe — to get a dose of poetry. But I fully anticipate earworms coming back in May, and in the meantime if you need more music, just play some from the blog archives. Reply in the comments if you want me to host an online earworm dance party some time.

And honestly? I’m only kind of joking about that. Social distancing is hard on many people. My son likes to say this is the kind of national disaster he’s made for, because left to his devices he’d just play online video games with his friends all day every day anyway. And we are definitely lucky in our household because we have enough space for all of us to work or school from home without being in the same rooms with each other, my husband and I are stably and gainfully employed (knock on wood), and we have everything we truly need. We also have cats and daily human in-person interaction.

For my friends and family members and colleagues and everyone else out there who lives alone in an apartment with no pets and who may be starting to feel worn down by having interactions only via screen, I see you. Seriously, I will host a dance party from my laptop. Just say the word. I can’t guarantee it will help, but it might at least be funny.

(For what it’s worth, I’m also considering hosting an online reading in the not-too-distant future, so stay tuned for that.)

Also, if anyone would like a free copy of the 1st edition of Finis. to add to their reading list (or to put in their local Little Free Library) while they have some enforced downtime, I’m mailing them out to the continental U.S. right now. (I can’t do international mail at the moment due to pandemic closures, but if you want to get on the list for those as soon as things open up, just drop me a line.) Send me an email to forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com to get a book, and put “FINIS. giveaway” in the subject line. (I’ll be wanting to know where to send it to, as well, of course.) Look for more giveaways in the near future.

So, social distancing getting you down? Missing connection with people? I get it. I stood on my parents’ front lawn yesterday and had a conversation with them while they stood in their front doorway. I drove half an hour across town to do this, too. It’s hard, but it is temporary, and the more we adhere to the stay-in-place rules, the sooner it will be over.

Here is today’s earworm: “#1 Crush” by Garbage. The video contains footage from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which was, in some ways, both excellent and bonkers. But then, the play is also both excellent (in its artistry) and bonkers (in its tragic boneheadedness). And the song is such a mood. And also? It totally reminds me of Bas from Rainbow Rowell’s highly entertaining Carry On. (I recommend reading her Fangirl first, but you don’t have to.)

Stay safe. Stay home. Wash your hands. Listen to the scientists and doctors and nurses, and not (for Pete’s sake, NOT) the politicians. (That’s good advice always, by the way, not just now.)

And let me know about that dance party.

2019 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level

After I posted my 2019 Reading Year in Review, there were a couple of requests for me to give a ranking of the category romance novels I’d read according to their heat levels. For those who might be unfamiliar with that term, it essentially refers to the sensuality level or raciness of the story. While there are several different explanations for how to rate such things, Continue reading “2019 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level”