Poem-A-Day: Christa Forster

Tonight I’m posting a poem by my dear friend and colleague Christa Forster. Sometimes it feels as if every part of our life is shifting and buckling around and beneath us, but I try to remember that even when it is, that part is temporary. What comes after can be something extraordinary.

A lot of people right now are worried, and legitimately so. Sometimes I am too. That’s okay.

I try to center myself, despite the shifting and buckling, by holding onto very precise images. Good things that matter. Things that bring joy. Recognizing that bad stuff isn’t permanent. Trying to avoid the maelstrom — which means sometimes staying away from my computer and phone for a while.

Be well. Be the bamboo. Know that all of this mess will go too.

 

Southern California, 2001

Rain won’t affect bamboo’s determination
to flower. The sand has no choice of where
it will blow, on what night, into which barrio,
whose eye. Nothing is certain. (To know this
truth is easy to know.) Say Hemingway
came here, 1941, to write ad copy for Ballantine Ale: Purity, Body, Flavor.
Ground buckles up in Los Angeles. June 29,
2001. The center of gravity shifts; the sleeping
shore slips. One thousand year old monzogranite falls
on a wild sheep. I saw one once, its big horn
jutting out of the ledge’s profile,
like an ampersand, misplaced.
Blink & it’s gone.

This poem was originally published at Zócalo Public Square.

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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!

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Christa Forster: Writer, Teacher, Performer whose goal is to make life more meaningful for herself and others through Education and Art. Follow her on Twitter @xtaforster.

Poem-A-Day: Melissa Stein

Tonight I’m featuring another poem from Till the Tide, an anthology of mermaid poetry published by Sundress.

I really love this poem by Melissa Stein in part because of its subject matter — the potential of intimacy to create change within a person — but also because it’s a pantoum, which is one of those old forms that feels like a puzzle and a gift and a marvel of the dexterity of language and meaning all at the same time.

In case you’ve not read or written one before, a pantoum is a poem whose entire lines repeat in an interlocking pattern across quatrains, and whose final stanza overlocks back again with the first.

Pantoum

Little girl, your veins are showing through
your skin again. And again I will ignore it.
I will lay you down in the ordinary clover
and resume sex, our routine conspiracy.

Your skin again and again, I will ignore it—
although I can barely stand its blue-pink flush—
and resume. Sex, our routine conspiracy,
tethers me to the slim bent weed of your body

although I can barely stand. Its blue-pink flush
of fish’s gills, albino snake’s pellucid scales
tether me. To the slim bent weed of your body,
an artist might attribute the vulnerable beauty

of fish’s gills, albino snakes’ pellucid scales . . .
I am your husband. I can’t see things the way
an artist might. Attributing “a vulnerable beauty”
is like a wry poem admiring its own cleverness.

I am your husband; I can’t see things the way
I did before I knew you. Now my life
is like a wry poem: admiring its own cleverness,
it alienates the one who reads. I can’t remember what

I did before I knew you, now. My life
a deconstructed text. What’s the point of writing that
alienates the one who reads? I can’t remember. What
can save us from seeing too much?

A deconstructed text—what? Is the point of writing that
our roles are judged irrelevant? Only love
can save us from seeing. Too much
rain has filled the mossy gutters; too many hours

our roles are judged: irrelevant. Only, love
returns me to this house at night, where
rain has filled the mossy gutters. Too many hours
spent feeling thunder rattle the iron bedframe

return me to this house at night, where
I’m like one treading water, mindless,
spent. Feeling thunder rattle the iron bedframe,
I mistake its tremble for my own—

I’m like one treading water, mindless
of the riptide, deadly current so strong
I mistake its tremble. For my own
long sweet strokes in the pale water

of the riptide—deadly current so strong—
pull me out to sea. And hold me
long, sweet. Stroke in the pale water
your mermaid’s flesh: you belong here tangled in sea-reeds.

Pull me out to sea and hold me,
little girl. Your veins are showing through
your mermaid’s flesh. You belong here. Tangled in sea-reeds,
I will lay you down in this extraordinary clover.

***

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!

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Melissa Stein is the author of the poetry collections Terrible blooms (Copper Canyon Press) and Rough Honey, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, Harvard Review, New England Review, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and others, and she’s received awards and fellowships from the NEA, Pushcart Prize, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She is a freelance editor in San Francisco. Find her online at melissastein.com.

Poem-a-Day: Michael Baldwin

Happy Easter to those of you celebrating it, and Happy Sunday In Early Spring if you aren’t. One thing I’ve noticed during our stay-at-home order is that more people than ever are hanging out on their front lawns and visiting, usually from a physical distance, with their neighbors. That is not a bad thing, generally, and I hope it continues even after all this pseudo-quarantine has ended.

(I am of course speaking about people who are not sick. For those who do need actual quarantine, please please please please please do stay inside and get well. Then we’ll happily see you out on the lawn!)

Today’s poem is from Mutabilis Press poet Michael Baldwin. (I think the tone goes a little beyond the usual pandemic intimacy.) It’s a marvelous rondel.

 

Night Upon the Lawn
                        Rondel

Night, now somnambulant on the lawn,
curries other senses to this scene.
The grass retains the redolence of green,
and the summer feel of softness like a faun.

Cricket cries enchant this ear they fall upon.
It could be hunger, love, or fear they mean,
when night is somnambulant on the lawn
and curries other senses to this scene.

The Moon has kissed the Earth and drawn
exhalant mists, luminous souls to sheen,
so you and I may in secret here convene.
I’ll know the touch and taste of you till dawn,
with night somnambulant on the lawn
to curry other senses to this scene.

***

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!

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Michael Baldwin is a native of Fort Worth, TX, and may be descended from the Lakota mystic warrior, Crazy Horse. He holds a BA in Political Science and Master’s degrees in Library Science and Public Administration. Now retired from a career as a library administrator and professor of American Government, Baldwin is published extensively in literary journals and anthologies. His poetry was featured on the national radio program The Romantic Hours, and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He won the Violet Newton Prize, 2000, for the poem, Love Drunk Lunar Eclipse, won the Eakin Manuscript award, 2011 for his poetry book, Scapes, and won the Morris Memorial Chapbook Award, 2012, for Counting Backward From Infinity. His book, The Quantum Uncertainty of Love (Shanti Arts Press, 2019) was a National Book Award nominee. Mr. Baldwin has also published a mystery thriller, Murder Music, and 4 collections of science-fiction short stories, a children’s science/adventure book, Space Cat, and a book of flash plays, A Few Bricks Shy Of A Chevrolet. Mr. Baldwin resides in Benbrook, TX. Visit his website: www.jmbaldwin.com

Poem-A-Day: Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld

Today we have another Mutabilis Press poet, Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld.

I really love the way this poem’s trades in metaphors about snow. I live in a place that doesn’t see much of it, but oh, how I love the snow. (Insert pithy knowing comment about how those two circumstances might be related.)

This poem also inspires me with its fortitude and strength.

 

Much Snow in a Warm Clime

The white mums are on the march again,
huge mounds that crowd out everything else.

The advice I got: Don’t cut them back.
They will break of their own weight,
a natural pruning. It is always warm here.
When I look out, though—winter or summer—
these bushes seem dressed
in the white blessings of snow.

“Seem,” I said. I am here unbroken.
Many snows crown my head. This weight
and too many natural prunings
bow me down.

***

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!

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Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld is a Texan again for the third time. Marjorie has been an SMU Press manuscript editor, SMU English instructor, and U.S. Navy missile analyst. She has led poetry therapy with forensic patients and created three websites to commemorate perished European Jewish communities. Marjorie’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals as well as online. Her poem “Angel” is in the revised edition of The Auschwitz Poems. Additionally, one poem appears in Patrick Dempsey’s book Babi Yar, along with Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s “Babi Yar.” The poet’s chapbook, Fringing the Garments, was published by Pecan Grove Press.

Poem-A-Day: Melissa Huckabay

Tonight I’m featuring a poem by Melissa Huckabay that speaks to the contradiction of Houston summers, and while it is not yet summer now, we have this same sense of limbo now under stay-at-home orders.

And my cats are my office patronuses, sometimes jumping onto my desk while I’m Zooming a class, prancing in the camera for my students. I think they like it? I know it greatly entertains me.

The first time I encountered the word ailuromancy was in Erin Morgenstern’s book The Night Circus, which you all should read as soon as you’ve finished reading Melissa’s wonderful poem.

 

Ailuromancy, or Divination Using Cats

When the cat washes her ears, it’s time for rain.
I hear the patter of child feet and

droplets, five-year-old boy-limbs rattling
against the walls and leaking roof.

In Houston summers, we have no choice:
Either it’s the hot, impudent sun,

stretching its arched back, each vertebra taking
more space, or it’s the rain wringing us

out, bathing our lazy, sultry afternoons
like a scorching washcloth or a cat’s rough tongue.

The jailed animal of the boy’s body must break free.

He is fearless—the sun might turn his shoulders
a willful red, he might pant like a

sweltering dog-mouth, but he will run with no thought
of banged shins or scarlet ears or wet shirts.

I watch the squinting cat—dreading the heat,
praying for rain, but not too much.

She closes painted-yellow eyes and buries
her nose in fur. The sky is blue, unforgiving,

so I opt, for now, for wily shins,
restless legs ricocheting, the hum of a TV,

the dim living room’s solid, closed door.

***

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!

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Melissa Huckabay is a Houston-area teacher, poet, fiction writer, and playwright. Her poetry has been featured in Remembered Arts Journal and The Inkling, and her short plays have appeared on several stages in Houston. A University of Texas at Austin honors graduate, Melissa has taught high-school and middle-school English and also worked as a writer in residence for Writers in the Schools. Before becoming a teacher, Melissa was an award-winning journalist and public-relations writer. When she’s not writing, Melissa is a mom, an actress, and a musician who believes in the power of the arts to change the world.

Poem-A-Day: Justin Jamail

If the name on this post sounds familiar, it’s because today’s poem is by my cousin Justin. He lives in New Jersey and works in New York; that should give you significant context for this very recent poem of his. In other news, I love his work not just because it is good, but also because he and I are fairly unique together in a very large family.

This Federal Bower, Misprision

Dieting through the Wednesday we made
of the weekend, constrained by the constraints
of another’s delays, and misprision!  I have made
a dog glad at least and am not a little pleased
at not being pleased that none are better lied
to or fled.  Friends, who I may never meet again,
spring or ramble through a scentless expanse
one is almost tempted to refer to as a universe
before considering that even expanse enthrones
screens with perspectives, just phone light on
the dial of the day.

***

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!

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photo by Amber Reed

Justin Jamail is the author of Exchangeable Bonds (2018, Hanging Loose Press) and has published poems and commentary in many journals and online publications. He is the General Counsel of The New York Botanical Garden. He studied poetry at Columbia University and the UMass Amherst MFA program. He grew up in Houston, TX and now lives in Montclair, NJ.

Poem-A-Day: Kat Gilbert

Tonight I’m featuring another Mutabilis Press poet, Kat Gilbert. I love the way this poem focuses on the beauty in a situation whose subtext is laced with darkness, and in the way it celebrates a small and simple object for its tremendous importance. The poem pretends to be straightforward, but its depth cannot be concealed.

 

What Does Love Look Like?

My mom taught me
how to draw a heart for the first time
in the dirt outside the Max stop.
All the while, busy shoppers walked by, stalled
by our day’s homeschool lesson.

Her own heart was broken as she shepherded
my brother and me from errand to errand
on foot—a necessity even if it was raining
and her head was pounding
for the fourth day in a row—a dull roar
at this crossroad.

Still, she bent down to join
two curved lines in the middle with her forefinger,
over and over again so we could see
what love looks like.

***

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!

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Kat Gilbert is a student-teacher in the Portland Public School district. She teaches Language Arts and is studying at Portland State University. Kat grew up in NE Portland, OR and so the city and the many surrounding natural trails around it color her world. When she moved to the city from San Antonio, TX the city had changed a lot but thankfully some important places are the same. When she isn’t teaching, writing is her priority. She began writing poetry while studying in Ireland with Washington’s 2007 Poet Laureate, Samuel Green and Poetry Ireland/Friends Provident National Poetry Competition winner, Tony Curtis. She then received her B.A. in English from Seattle University.

Poem-A-Day: Mary Wemple

Mary Wemple is another Mutabilis Press poet. I knew her when we were in college — not as well as I’d have liked — because her older sister and I were classmates. But I knew her well enough to recognize her by a different name many years later and want to get to know her again.

Mary is not just a capable poet, as her poem “White Horse” below will demonstrate, but also an accomplished visual artist. One thing I love about this poem is that it inhabits a sort of liminal space between despair and dream, between nostalgia and hindsight.

 

White Horse

He stands in the kitchen
quiet, waiting
ribs showing.

It occurs to me
that he’s starving
and I should let him in the backyard.
It’s my childhood home.
Everything bad began here.

He does not eat the grass.
He darts back and forth
along the fence
graceful,
despondent.

Behind him
in the distance,
cleared land,
a stable.

This poem was published by the Austin International Poetry Festival in 2015.

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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!

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Mary Wemple is a poet, artist and creator of Words & Art, a reading and workshop series inspired by the art in Houston. She holds degrees in English and Studio Art from the University of Houston and an MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. Her poetry has been published in DiVerseCity 2015, Houston Poetry Fest 2005, 2009, 2014, Harbinger Asylum and she was featured in the 2014 Words Around Town! poetry tour lineup. Her art has been shown at the Inman gallery, DiverseWorks and Lawndale Art Center.

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!

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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.