750words Feb 12 2015 ~ Ellen Bass & Me & Two Odes

Because I’m stuck I’m writing words not mine to establish a pattern of sound and rhythm. The initial words belong to Ellen Bass, the poem is:

Ode to the God of Atheists

The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake
or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you
bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns,
or buy gold leaf or stained-glass windows.
It won’t insist you fast or twist
the shape of your sexual hunger.
There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it.
You don’t have to veil your face for it
or bloody your knees.
You don’t have to sing.

The plums bloom extravagantly,
the dolphins stitch sky to sea.
Each pebble and fern, pond and fish
is yours whether or not you believe.

When fog is ripped away
just as a rust-red shadow slides across the moon,
the god of atheists isn’t rewarding you
for waking in the middle of the night
and shivering barefoot in the field.

This god is not moved by the musk
of incense or bowls of oranges,
the mask brushed with cochineal,
polished rib of the lion.
Eat the macerated leaves
of the sacred plant. Dance
till the stars blur to a spangly river.
Rain, if it comes, will come.
This god loves the virus as much as the child.

*

So, the above is the Ellen Bass poem. Now to come up with an appropriate subject other than the god of atheists … and not a god. I think I’ll run with a house. The house of (what?) … The house of love? The house of death? The house of loneliness? The house of happiness?

The House of Happiness

The house of happiness will make your face ache
and drum songs on your sternum. It’s not like the house
of sad, of lonely, of broken,
or wooded with coffins satin-lined.
It makes no promises nor expects
cartoon hearts to float from your eyes.
There are no window curtains, no locks on its doors.
You don’t have to knock your knuckles raw
or ring bloody bells.
You do need to step in.

The rooms are organza,
the decor is vanilla ice cream.
Each sofa and lamp, bed and bowl
is an apple or bon-bon treat.

When day becomes evening,
when lavender spokes wheel the dome of sky,
the house of happiness won’t begrudge you
for walking the shores of midnight, or returning
with sand-glittered feet.

This house welcomes what falls away,
the silica shine of journeys,
the nacre-blushed debris,
totems of chocolate.
Sleep the dreamed sleep
of lambs curled against ewes. Laugh
till stones burble songs down high mountains.
Tears, if they come, will spring.
This house welcomes you, welcomes every lost one.

*

Ok. It’s done. Unedited, but done for the moment–these words replacing a master poet’s words. Ellen Bass is fantastic. Not to be trifled with, not to be matched. Ode to the God of Atheists is a poem found in Like a Beggar — a book full of exquisite work. An apology seems in order:

Dear Ellen,
Forgive me for trespassing, wandering onto your property, taking the paths you’ve created and redecorating your lovely garden of words with different bouquets. Without permission or invitation, I’ve spent time with a blanket thrown down in your forest. Will it help if I mention Prayer, the poem gracing the back cover of Like a Beggar? The opening line: “Once I wore a dress liquid as vodka.” (Who can resist wanting more?) Will it help if I encourage every reader of this flimsy blog of mine to buy Like a Beggar? Such a feast, this book. Such a feast.

I have no excuse for my actions here, other than a desire to improve my skills as a wordsmith. Who better to follow than you? (Yes, Mary Oliver … but her books are not within reach at the moment.)

Respectfully, lynn

*

It’s a thing I do, this imitation of other writers. I’m never certain about the right or wrong of my efforts. I don’t want or mean to plagiarize. I try not to directly repeat the words of others. It’s the rhythm, the sounds, the abrupt change of directions, the use of similes and metaphors, adjectives, adverbs, etc. that I go for–or the absence of same. It’s the syllables, the beat, the simplicity or complexity of syntax, the story arc, the movement from A to B to C, the assonance, alliteration, the esses and efs and hisses, the magic of words a maestra has spellbound me with–and I just can’t seem to stop reaching for that.

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750words Jan 29 2015 — Days like All Night Cantinas

The first month of 2015 is almost a done deal. Two days remain after this one closes its door at midnight. What if days aren’t what they seem and are, instead, like all-night cantinas—with swinging doors and no locks? Wind or a light breeze moves the doors, sets hinges in motion to squeak conversations and remind the folks anchored on chairs and bar stools that things are still in motion: tumbleweeds rolling from somewhere to somewhere else, prairie dogs tidying their underground rooms and possibly tunneling with thoughts of adding an east wing to their domiciles, caterpillars sleeping all cozy within their white cocoons while wings make their way into being and dreams of flight become real.

What if days didn’t end and the dark and light shades of a span of time were nothing more than shadows like the shadows trees along a highway through the forest cast across passengers in a car, across the car itself? Answer: This would still be Day One.

Instead, we move through time and notch its surface with dates by way of numbers and when the numbers reach a particular point—thirty-one for January—we restart the counting with a new governing name. February stands in line, waiting to carry its notches, while March cowers out there, collecting courage for its debut.

Imagination’s a wondrous tool! Depending upon where a mind wants to travel, it can reshape all manner of things. For instance, carving months into branches—each branch the governor (or mayor, if you will) of a town of leaves. The leaves into days, the trees into years, the hundred-branched trees into centuries. Forests, orchards, jungles—all those branches, trunks, roots, and leaves—living and dying, rotting and sprouting again through the course of a long, unending, singular day of light and shadow.

Think about it.

There would be chaos, of course. If time didn’t have markers, didn’t have clocks to chime minutes and hours, didn’t have calendars to X out the days and months and years—how would we know when we’d come of age to collect Social Security? Without a closing bell, how would the brokers know when to stop selling and buying? the bartender at the cantina know when to stop serving drinks? Without a buzzer of some sort, how would horses at the track know when to run? bees in the hive know when to fly out for honey? contestants on Jeopardy! know their time to offer a question was done? Plus all the schedules of subways, buses, submarines, hot air balloons, planes, trains, and space shuttles—where would they be without Stop and Go buttons?

Imagine the pile-up. All that singed silk from the hot air balloon draping a submarine’s coning tower on train tracks near Yellowstone where a buffalo paused to watch a United flight soar into a flock of Canadian honkers. Chaos? Oh yes indeed.

Of course the imaginative flow of my treatise on time has its flaws, is shot through with surrealistic bullets leaving holes an eighteen wheeler could drive through without a scrape. The one-long-and-continuous-day theory can’t hold up, not when the geese get in the way. And the buffalo. These creatures don’t name the incremental parts of time. Even if they could hold a knife in their talons or hooves and manage to score a notch in a metaphorical branch of time, they wouldn’t because what is and isn’t—is internalized. Doesn’t need names. And unnamed, needs no notches.

So what am I trying to say?

I guess it’s this: Sometimes I find myself where I don’t belong (like that damned submarine on a train track near Yellowstone) and can’t figure out how I landed there or how to get back to where I think (imagine) I belong. Other times I’m sure I’m exactly where I ought to be and, BAM! I get knocked right out of the sky. It doesn’t matter if we name time or not. It doesn’t matter if we trod upon a forest floor littered with fallen days or the simple leaves unable to hold onto (or be held by) a branch. The important thing is to be in it (the “it” being time) and drift with its current, whether that current be swift or slow. It’s all in a day’s journey. The rising up, the settling down. All I need do is listen, hear the squeak of this all-night cantina’s doors, dance when I can, continue to step inside this great woven basket with sand bags weighting the sides, watch the colorful stripes fill with hot air, the silk riffle out to sway, expand, carry me above the trees holding decades and eons of this singular day.

750words & The Moon Song

The coat she wears is special. The pockets are deep. Zippers and velcro closures protect the contents of the pockets. Collecting moonstones requires special pockets. Moon stones are what keep her from lifting off the face of the moon. The lighter she becomes, the more moon stones she must find and carefully drop into the carefully-carefully opened pockets to weight her to the moon’s surface. If she is sloppy or careless in the opening of the velcro and unzipping of the zipper, the stones collected and protected could jostle out or spill.

She has been on the moon for more seasons than she can remember. Nor does she remember how she came to be there or why she is alone or when she last tasted honey or bananas. She doesn’t know how she survives with no food, no water, no liquids of any kind. If only it would rain on the moon. But it won’t. There aren’t any clouds carrying moisture. There isn’t a system to provide climate changes.

It is only cold. And then colder.

There is only hard and harder.

The moon stones are waxy yellow with a tinge of rust-orange, the exact color of the moon dust and moon mountains and moon everything. Her pocketed coat is the same color. Her skin, too, is waxy yellow with a tinge of rust-orange. As is her hair. She believes her eyes are this color as well; even what used to be the whites of her eyes are the same so that anyone looking at her would see disk-shaped openings that seemed flat as copper coins. Can she see? Well, she must see, mustn’t she? How else would she be able to scour the moon’s surface for the moon stones she needs to stay on the moon’s surface? In fact, her vision must be truly fine as the stones are the same color as all else and not easily discernible. It’s not as if they, the stones, lay about on the surface of the moon dust. Often there’s only a dent in the dust signaling where a stone has sunk. A dust dimple to find. A dust dimple hiding a stone.

She’s no angel (as some may think), yet she breathes (or as the case may be–doesn’t breathe) in the same manner as all angels. She exists, not certain existence is all it’s cracked up to be with physical presence only half or a third of what it once was causing the coat with the special pockets to drag along, a good two feet of hem sweeping moon surface as she moves. The sleeves would drag as well if she didn’t continually roll back the cuffs to shorten them so they stay out of the way during moon stone collections. If the pockets weren’t as deep as the length of the coat itself, she would’ve run out of room a long time ago. She’s in danger of running out of room to store the stones as it is.

Quite suddenly she realizes there will come a time when she will disappear all together, when the coat with its stores of moon stones will be all that remains: a heap of pebbles the size of earth’s marbles in flattened oval shapes, not too dissimilar in shape to the appearance of the disks of her eyes.

It’s not a good realization.

Quite devastating, in fact. One can understand why she stopped, mid-stoop, from the task at hand.

She didn’t slump to the dust in that moment. The opposite occurred. Her spine straightened and her shoulders stiffened and her head came completely upright.

In every direction there was horizon. Like a rainbow one can never reach, the horizon’s bumpy line waited. Or appeared to. Mirage? Unreachable? This is the moment when her knees found the moon’s face, when her shoulders rounded, when her moon-dusted yellow hands found her moon-dusted face and coppery tears dampened the palms of her hands.

Did she sob? Make a sound? Speak? She may have. With no witness present, the answer is–and must remain–beyond knowing. But one can imagine her there and imagine a song from a place she no longer remembers making its way up from somewhere inside to rest in her throat a few minutes or possibly less than a heartbeat before finding the moonscape atmosphere. There would be words to the song known only to her and the words spilled forth to be taken into the dark and the light, rising—because no gravity was present to pin them down—as she pulled one arm free of its long, long sleeve, then the other, and the coat, heavy with moon stones, slipped from her shoulders and she, lighter than life, slipped away with the words and the melody.

[March 6, 2014 750words.com free-write]