Tag Archives: color

ekphrasis again

here’s an ode to henri rousseau, the jungle painter who never left paris.


The Dream, Henri Rousseau 1910

Rousseau Relives the Jungle
You follow the soothsayer shadow with her lute
and cobra boa through the season of tiger lilies—
she is an anti-Eve hip-swaying down the black paths
of Paradise, fanned by murky hands of leaf-gloom.
These are the visions that haunt you:
apes among the tangerines, a reticulated sky
of palms and coral sun, the leer of alligator grass
and the blush of the lotus like each kiss-kernel of love
you left in her neck—Oh Henri, awake from your stupor,
your periwinkle daze. Come back to us from the gardens,
the Edens labyrinthine beneath your lids—your trance
is a planar place falling flat on the canvas, but we feel
the stir of teal and linseed on your palette, the rush
of flight you took over the hurricane’s eye. You are
a golden beast prowling indigo thickets, ambushing
the antelope and biting deep into the heavy humid
of flesh and blood, leaving scars nestled in the clavicle.
Your surprise blooms in the gesso wash unfurling
thick as a dream from your brush and lingers
like the drift of jasmine on an electric breeze.

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another quick one

Still Life

On the desk you left a dry orange: a crumbled rind
and sour insides acidic to the touch, sugar drying
in curled traces on the wood-grain. I think you wanted
to paint it—capture some juicy drops in oil and turpentine.
But the sunlight glowing in those citrus cells called
much louder than the transfer of sleek, pebbled skin
and stringy carpels onto dead, dry canvas. You abandoned
the project for the sear of summer heat on shimmering
waxy leaves, the cool darkness of shaded
tree bark grafted and re-grafted to shape the perfect
green-black stock, the pleasing bite bursting
pulpy and seeded over your lips—
sometimes a life is not meant to be still and set
aside for examining, pictured from afar. Sometimes
it must be consumed.

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sexy sestinas.

If I thought pantoums were hard, sestinas were even worse. But I kinda like what came out of this form. I had a general idea of a childhood memory in mind, but I let the form dictate the narrative more than I let the narrative drive the creation of the piece. I just kinda chose 6 words that felt key to capturing the premise of my idea and let the sestina do the rest of the work. For some reason I feel like the main idea of my stanzas just got repeated and rephrased a lot; the narrative doesn’t feel like it moves forward here. Maybe it’s just my tendency to think that six stanzas is a little too long for such a repetitive form, but ahh well….
I’ll probably try another one to see what I come up with, but this was my first shot:

Stargazing Sestina

The navy drapes of night are serrated with pines.
The dark seas of the lawn fall away in the steps of our father.
We throw bottle caps from the cliff edge, where the flames
of lake-waves lick with silvered tongues, fluttering open
and shut, black and white, crumbling the moon-path empty
of city lights and motorboat buzzes—only the tentative step of stars.

The flashlight sweeps the black expanse, seeking stars,
tracing the lines and constellated shapes stroking the pines.
Every point is like an unstrung pearl caught in an empty
milk cloud, wheeling away in latitudes our father
traces in the ink-freckles of star charts and graphs, open
planes of paper his fingers traced, every figure a flame.

Cassiopeia untwists on ivory wires of flame
as our fingers pace the polar spaces between her stars.
Cygnus and Aquila circle the rim of the Milky Way with open
arms while Lyra and Pisces sulk on the horizon we chase to the pines.
Our hearts race the twilit passages, only called back by our father’s
voice. There is never enough time to run. We empty

ourselves of childhood screeches and screams. We empty
ourselves of the frustration of never reaching those pinpricks of flame.
Could we ever know the planispheres, the worlds our father
built with words and lightbeams? We think the stars
are small dinner plates spinning over the black-toothed pines,
and we tinkle and turn mess kit forks reaching for them, mouths open.

In the wolf-track patterned folds of flannel, the hunger opens
our insides wide as the night, stellar veins painted against our empty
ribs. Beyond dreams, we build sledges and swords from whippy limbs of pine
to beat back Ursa Major and Minor, their teeth like rings of flame—
and then the celestial vision breaks. We know they’re only stars,
maybe planets and frozen rock rotating, according to our father.

Moonbeams and shooting stars are just cosmic radiation to our father.
He traverses the galaxy only in photon blinks. But we see novae opening
spectral wings against the cerulean tablecloth spread with stars,
motes of stellar dust swirling on the lake mirror, filling empty
black water-gloss with galaxy myths and meteor flames.
The magic slips from his eyes like ghosts ducking into the pines.

Because his steps light the yard, we don’t mourn our father’s emptiness.
We open his astronomer’s books, hunger ever aflame
for the spin of his dead stars, our secret worlds lingering over the pines.

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this was a play with language

OK, so the next prompt for class was a list poem, and I really had to rack my brain for a good place full of stuff to rattle off. As we’re in the full swing of autumn, I’ve been frequenting the Farmer’s Market quite a bit. So much is always going on there I had no problem spinning a monster list of the action without going into too much depth about its significance. Instead, I had a lot of fun with the words themselves. Hope ya like. And get out to some kind of market this fall, before they’re all gone.

The Market

The Market

Flagship galleons of tent-poles and beams
sail on October breezes in happy exhalations
of dried chilies and garlic roots on frayed twine,
chai tea and roasted coffee beans, musty sourdough,
barbeque fresh from the grill, and heavy heaps
of zinnia breath and humming mums. The cacophony

of cardboard-and-marker sale-signs boast their wares:
okra and heirloom tomatoes bursting from summer-song
vines, raging red apples and bruised-knee beets,
waving green hands of arugula, cabbage and kale,
kohlrabi and paw-paw fronds, dusty gems of pear,
persimmon, potato, pumpkin and squash, sassafras roots
and sweet corn cobs, peeling-newspaper onion bulbs
and golden vats of heat-spun honey—all hoisted
into awed palms scuffed with Indiana clay, their bodies
heavy and solid in each pound by bountiful pound. And then

the riffing ribbons of banjo, bass and mandolin
bouncing the beat of stepping dancer-soles on
pine platforms that bump rhythms with each
board-bending stomp, turning and tapping,
thumping, strumming. With them dance the parade
of pound-hounds pacing and prancing on burgundy
brick bike-paths: great dane, mastiff, chihuahua,
mutt, mutt, mutt—all trailing Technicolor streams
of leashes and leads their owners tow taut against
wild paws and drooling jowls, canine eyes darting
everywhere, warping and whirling with the aimless
dawdlers, diving buyers and curious passers-by.

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PAAAISE

Praise poems were the prompt this week. I’m really happy with this one…maybe because it’s so upbeat? It’s also subject matter for which I will always sing my praises…frogs.

Peepers

Blessed be the Indian summer, the frost forgotten
for one last bloom of feverish fall air. Blessed

be the choked and shuffled refuse scattered on these
boggy banks, bleached of their greenery for acidic

yellows and cider browns. In this swill of summered
fall, blessed be the pop and patter, the evening crescendo

of love tuning and turning in amphibious throats
like the squeaky spiraling of a screw in wood,

like the keening jingle of olive-drab, gelatin bells
that breathe and shift with the ephemeral shores

of the sunset-stained marsh. Blessed be that writhing
of notes in those bugle-cheeks, whose chimes earn

names worthy of their songs: pinkletinks, tinkletoes,
pinkwinks. But beneath the mud-slicks lies bladed

the promise of a winter that presses peeper-husks
under barks and briars, frozen, but only just,

as life taps the softest touch into lycra peeper-hides.
Blessed be those cruciform patterns on lily-backs, the mark

of seasons crashing into themselves: dancing
leaves and shivering buds set to a sporadic semaphore,

a tentative chirrup I chase with muddied palms,
both asking and answering: Yes…Yes?

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Really really rough stuff

So, last week we were up in the mountains, and I wanted to try to capture some of those peaks on paper. Unfortunately, I feel like my midwest words were too small to capture them in all their depth, but this is what I came up with. Maybe if I gave it more time, let the images stew a little longer, I can edit this and make it better. Not great, but better.

The summer edition of Poetry Quarterly comes out in 5 days, and I got an offer to enter in their contest. I’m torn about entering or not, since I feel like all my summer work has been kind of disappointing so far, with all the skipped/unsatisfactory prompts to incomplete work…Man, I can’t wait to get back into a workshop setting next semester…

Mountain Song

Mountain man sat in his mountain house with his fraying
moccasins and his guitar with a broken string and joined
his songs with the applauding trees, spruce and fir rusting out
like junked cars as their lives snuff out. The peaks press
their slopes together, holding the last gasps of alpine white
in their polygon palms: snow caught in all the rocky grooves
and gaps. Twisted pines point up, up, where mountain man
wants to go with snarled but steady steps that grind into every
graveled lip of the switch backed path, as the wind sweeps
the air from his chest and his head blackens as the pressure
changes within him. In secret groves, glacial carpets seep
and crawl towards rivers so braided in their running
they seem to stampede from dreams, ocher and aqua threads
wild in their falling farther into the cliffs spotted
with cloud shadows and sun-ray strokes. Everywhere is blue,
iced and hazy, from the harsh summits settling in their memories
like teeth in a dog’s mouth to the cold swills of mountain lakes,
where the water is so clear what lies below snowmelt shores holds
no secrets, only crystalline songs of geology and change
which mountain man fingers into the ranges of his guitar frets,
struggling to harmonize with the rough bass of mountain beats.

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Dark Shift

So, the last poem I submitted to class was crap, and I refuse to post it here.
Meanwhile, the next poem I’m kind of proud of and will post it here.

Prompt: Write from the standpoint of a mythical creature.

In fact, I loved this prompt so much, I wrote two poems. Which do you think was more successful?

The first:

Quetzalcoatl

All my feather-scales stretched out, burning blades
of earth and sun, keeled and vaned in galaxies
of green and red. I brought you the Fifth Sun,
untied it from my chest and let it soar in swirls
of jade flames, writhing birds and morning
stars. With every breath I loved you, panting
my last laughter over you softly like the hiss
of scales over stone, like the scraping brush
of a plumed wing stroking your face. I sliced
the world in half as the wind and the dawn,
I made the soils move for you, I gave up
golden sheaths of maize and lapping tongues
of the Yucatán to you. When I came among you
with my serpent skin in torso curls and bicep
braids, cloaked in ocelot skins and conch-shell
chains. my children, I wanted you to break
the black mirror of Tezcatlipoca, the trickster,
the god of shadows and shame, of dark dreams
and demons. Gleeful among the ruins
of Chichén Itzá as I drowned, my twin danced
and dashed the rocks into themselves, sprinkling
plague over the waters of Tenochtitlan,
blinding you with the brilliant white gleaming
off the chest plate of conquistador kings. Fear not.
The world dies again, but I will embrace you and all
your broken bones, constricting you in my coils
as I make the world anew. In the flaring feathers
furling forth from my scaly sides, Tezcatlipoca and I
will turn again, the scorch of the Sixth Sun
whistling away from us into a resurrected sky.

The second:

The Djinn

It was our intent to run ourselves into darkness,
indistinct eraser-ash in the pages of your minds.
When the day came that Allah built up the walls
around paradise and sculpted man from clay, he also
swept up the scattered scraps of angel-light—smokeless
flame—and blew it into our shapes: we are the end
of all fires, black shadow skeletons, acrid tastes
of soured thought and tangled dreams. Be careful
where you step in the world, or where
the sparrow-shudders of your mind may lead.
In the wastes where the ashen sands turn over
in dustbin dervishes, or through murky forests,
where the spindle-spokes of needle trees loom
over you, or way out on ocean flat like Sahara land,
we wait for you. Like bad dogs, we attack
the black holes yawning open in your head,
the eddies and currents that course through you
in the depths of night. We are no one and no thing,
save the snatch of whispered doubt caught behind
your ears. We thrive free of form or physical
ground, but there is one thing we fear:
the day when our confidence grows too great,
and we look in the mirror to see your faces,
solid and human, forever knotted into our own.

All I write about anymore are Latin American and Middle Eastern culture references. Eh.

Anyways…probably going to up the volume of content, here. Could reeeeally reeeally use some feedback….
Stay classy, friends.

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