Poem-A-Day: Priscilla Frake

Tonight’s poem was originally published in the Mutabilis Press anthology Time-Slice: Houston Poetry 2005. Priscilla Frake, the poet, read it at the last reading I attended, and I knew immediately I wanted to include it in this year’s series.

***

Fire and Brimstone

I’m about to become translucent,
a permeable shadow. Prostrate,
I sprawl along the metal altar,
where acolytes regard my chest
with bored and painted eyes.
They shift me and prod me and draw
on my skin with indigo Sharpies,
connecting dots made days ago with needles.

My arms are pinned above my head,
my face averted, twisted down.
I’m in the crosshairs, unable to move,
afraid to scream. The machine
heaves over me, lowers,
caresses me with sub-atomic
fire: a buzzing vibrato with clicks.
It’s invisible, painless,
and damaging.

My part is done. I dress and leave.
Outside, I wave to the child who waits.
She is the Girl Who Comes
with her Pappy-Who-has-Cancer.
I am the Lady with the Hat.

***

Priscilla Frake is the author of Correspondence, a book of epistolary poems.  She has work in Verse DailyNimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Medical Literary MessengerCarbon Culture ReviewSpoon River Poetry Review, and The New Welsh Review. Her most recent online publications are in the latest editions of The Wayfarer and Canary. She lives in Sugar Land, where she is a studio jeweler. 
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Poem-A-Day: Vanessa Zimmer-Powell

Many years ago, when the incipient gentrification of Houston’s Montrose area was still rocking the neighborhood boat, my husband and I lived on the top floor of a duplex that had been built in 1936. The house next door to us, a single-story bungalow, had been recently and lovingly restored, and the young couple who rented it often came out and visited with the neighbors on their front stoop, in the shade of a grandfather oak whose canopy shaded their house, our front yard, and most of the wide street in front of us.

One day, the neighbors said they were moving out. They’d been given notice: the owners of their home had sold it to a developer named Ghods. About a month later, in the very early summer of 2001, I sat in my living room window and wrote poetry all day as I watched as a crew of day laborers bring the tree down. The neighbors hadn’t been gone more than a few days, and the house wasn’t slated to be razed for a while, but a city ordinance protecting Houston’s historical trees was about to go into effect, and so the developer wanted to get in there and saw the oak down before he could be prevented from doing so.

It took eleven men, armed with chainsaws and axes and chains and a pickup truck, eleven hours to hack the tree off its stump. They needed all those weapons, too, including the truck. Once they’d finally sawn through the base, they chained the trunk to the back bumper and spun the wheels for half an hour to budge the tree.

When the grandfather oak finally fell, it landed in the street with enough force that it shook my house, shook my chair on the second floor, shook me sitting next to the window writing shaky poetry. The destruction crew cheered that their herculean task was over.

Six adults could stand comfortably together on the tree stump. The next day they came back and chopped the tree into fireplace logs. They stacked the logs in the front yard; the stacks were taller than the abandoned house. All week people drove by, horrified, and left notes and flowers on the tree’s stump. Ghods was informed through these memorials that he had “committed a crime against the neighborhood.”

Less than a week after the logs and chopped canopy had been carted away, Tropical Storm Allison came through and dumped about three feet of water on Houston in a night. Ghods, the now-locally-infamous developer, had a hole-in-the-wall Persian rug shop on the commercial district on the outside of our neighborhood, and once the water drained away, people driving past his shop could see his soggy inventory, its colors running onto the strip center’s tiny parking lot, hanging on ad hoc drying racks in front of the open door. The next week he hung up a banner advertising a 90% off sale on Persian rugs. Schadenfreude-laden whispers of “Karma’s a bitch” might have been heard here and there.

On the lot next to our house, where that small 1930s bungalow had stood, Ghods erected a condo duplex. Three stories, garage underneath, no yard. It was the template for many such milquetoast houses which would come later, before people got creative with the architecture and tried to make the neighborhood artsy again. Ghods’ units were going for $600K apiece, which at that time was a small fortune, especially for the neighborhood. He had to move into one of the units because no one would buy them. And the city still penalized him over his antics: he was required to plant 300 trees, each a minimum of three inches in diameter, around Houston. One of them got planted in our front yard.

Honestly, it wasn’t quite the same.

***

Live Oak

On Flowerdale
the bulldozers were busy last night
taking Mrs. Miller’s house,
her driveway,
the lake,
her neighbor’s car.

This morning I walked into silence,
found a missing block of houses,
a devoured acre of sidewalk.

On this street the developers are hungry;
I feel their breath.
They send my house letters—
woo her in front of me.

She will get a new school,
fancy streets,
the drainage will be better.

I cast my eyes downward,
fear Stepford houses.
Am I strong enough?

Should I tell her that she will die
stripped of her trees and flattened
in just a few hours?

I think to send her a picture
of “Live Oak,”
the new neighborhood
within the neighborhood
whose acres
have only one live tree.

***

Vanessa Zimmer-Powell is a Houston poet and Speech-Language Pathologist. She attended the University of Texas at Austin where she received a bachelor’s degree in English, and a Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Poetry honors and awards include first place winner of the 2016 and 2017 Houston Poetry Fest ekphrastic competition, third place winner of the 2017 Friendswood Library ekphrastic poetry competition, Poetry Honors at the 2013 Austin Poetry Fest, and a 2013 Rick Steves haiku award. Her poetry has aired on the radio and has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Austin Poetry Fest anthologies; Avocet; Blue Hole; Bearing the Mask: Southwestern Persona Poems; Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review; Chaffey Review; Copperfield Review; Ekphrasis; Historical Feathers; Houston Poetry Fest Anthologies; San Pedro River Review; Texas Poetry Calendars; and Untamable City. In 2018 her poetry has appeared in Weaving the Terrain: 100-word Southwestern Poems and Echoes of the Cordiellera: Attitudes and Lattitudes Along the Great Divide. On the radio, her poetry has aired on KTRU, KPFT, Houston Public Media, and the Rick Steves radio program. Her chapbook, Woman Looks into an Eye, is published by Dancing Girl Press.

Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare

If you’ve read my National Poetry Month series before, you know that I like to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth- and deathday with one of his poems. This year it’s with one of my favorite of his sonnets, number 116. This poem has been read at many a literary wedding (mine included) and earned a well-deserved jolt of popularity after Emma Thompson’s utterly brilliant adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility came out in theaters.

Romantics everywhere, enjoy.

***

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
.     If this be error and upon me proved,
.     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

***

When looking for an image of Shakespeare, I found several, and one was even of a reasonably good-looking man, but there’s no guarantee it’s accurate. In fact, this engraving and the funerary monument on The Bard’s grave are the only two likenesses of him that can be verified as accurate. So.

William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 (baptized) – 23 April 1616) was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. You can learn more on his Wikipedia page, which is where I got the rest of this paragraph, because — like John Donne — Shakespeare is not in any realistic position to email me his bio.

Poem-A-Day: Marie Marshall

I always want to post a poem in April by Scotland-based Marie Marshall because she does such wonderful and thought-provoking work. She also defies description — as in she literally defies it, which you may glean from her unconventional bio below. Her poetry and poetic style evolve and seek to push formal boundaries. She also writes fiction and posts it at her blog from time to time and has a few books out.

Probably the less I say the better. I think she would appreciate your having the chance to parse out her work for yourself.

***

Today’s poem

 

 

“I was sevened and all
willowed-out, left and
bereft, reeling, punch-

loved; take an honest
hour to tour me; thumb
my spine, read what’s

implied by the rises &
falls, find where scars
crisscross to deviate.”

High over Spitzbergen
it moved from aurora to
real morning, the song
of dying stars, the roll
and the tumble chasing
birds – all the cries and
clattering wingbeats, a
rite of drunken daytime
– a knife in a nightside.

The poet had no spare
change for the beggar,
offered him verses in

coin stead; in reply he
refused a jingle about
grandma and her re-use

of plastic bags, made a
demand for the harder
currency, broken word.

***

Poem-A-Day: Christy Cobb

This is a short poem from Christy Cobb, a woman I met this spring in a poetry workshop. I really loved it when she read it in class, and she was kind enough to let me include it in this year’s series. I especially like how, in this poem, she uses spare, impactful language. There’s both a seriousness and an undertone of wry humor in the way this poem is constructed that just knocks me out. It actually reminds me of one of my favorite-ever poems, “Moses” by Lucille Clifton, in the way it uses economical language and packs a wallop at the end.

***

Roses & Hemlock

Oh, the spiteful snide shit
I say to you
And the silver-tounged saccharine shit
You say to me
Could grow a garden
Both beautiful and deadly

***

Christy Cobb is a Louisiana native living in Texas. She is an educator who sometimes writes poetry.

Poem-A-Day: John Donne

First, let me apologize for not posting a Poem-A-Day yesterday or last night. I fully intended to, but we had a birthday party for our aforementioned newly minted teenager last night, and it ran a bit longer than expected, and I was already wrecked from this week at work, so I just sort of forgot and went to bed before I could post. Oops.

So today, I will post TWO Poems-A-Day! Yes, you read that correctly —  a bonus poem is your reward for suffering through my error. I’ll post one this morning and another one later today so they don’t crowd up on each other.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time — or if you just follow along every April — you know that I’m a big fan of the poetry of John Donne. He writes about love in an extremely frank way: not with the formality one might expect of the Seventeenth Century, nor with the reservedness one might expect of someone who later became a priest. His thoughts on the matter are raw and passionate and earnest and — occasionally — mischievous. I also like that Donne’s language requires the reader to wrestle with it just a bit. It’s not like Gerard Manly Hopkins or anything, but you do have to be thinking while you read Donne’s work if you want to get anything out of it.

His love poetry is not the only work of his I like, of course; “Holy Sonnet X” is maybe one of my favorite poems in the entire historical pageant of literature. Today I’m sharing with you one of his love poems, though. It’s a poem that embraces the ferocity of desire within the limits of propriety. If you’d like to read an incisive critical analysis of it, click here.

***

The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best;

Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string;

So to’ intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As ’twixt two equal armies fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
Were gone out) hung ’twixt her and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refin’d
That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,

He (though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
And part far purer than he came.

This ecstasy doth unperplex,
We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
We see we saw not what did move;

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
And makes both one, each this and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.

We then, who are this new soul, know
Of what we are compos’d and made,
For th’ atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.

But O alas, so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They are ours, though they are not we; we are
The intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses’ force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven’s influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot which makes us man,

So must pure lovers’ souls descend
T’ affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal’d may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we’are to bodies gone.

***

Since Donne couldn’t provide me with an author bio himself, I snagged this from Wikipedia:

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor, especially compared to that of his contemporaries.

Poem-A-Day: More BSPs

Every year the library at my school has a Book Spine Poetry contest during April; I’m the judge. Every year I’m delighted and amazed at the incredible creations our students and faculty come up with.

This year we had a 1st Place winner and an Honorable Mention at the faculty level. They’ve given me permission to share theirs with you.

The Honorable Mention went to a BSP by Kate Lambert, who made a poignant comment on the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey — the effects of which are still being felt by many, many people in our city and in our school community.

dark water rising / leave no one behind / homegoing / hopeless / we are not ourselves

And the 1st Place winning Book Spine Poem goes to Harlan Howe, not only because it’s really good, but also because it is the longest BSP I’ve ever seen that was still coherent and cohesive. You don’t normally see ones nearly this long still be making any sense by the end.

things I can’t forget / a shattered peace / when / the last librarian / reached / the book thief / after relentless pursuit / the battle / nothing less than war / return to me / one thing stolen / before she ignites / the ground beneath her feet

If you have any book spine poems — they really are easier than they seem like they should be — just go to a bookshelf and start picking out phrases randomly until something catches — please feel free to post them in the comments below or send them to me.