Category Archives: NaPoWriMo

Purgatory, Kentucky (done?)

It got to where I couldn’t see a way
ahead except for dying. So I went.
Or, so I came. Just where, I couldn’t say.
It’s odd. Some kind of grass, or cane, all bent
this way and that, slick at the root,
and spiky sharp half the time, black as coal,
but soft enough to lie down in, some spots.
I’d have slept more, but my dreams are full
of nasty animals and dead presidents.
I got attacked by a whole fleet of armadillos
in a river. An armada. Is that what you call it?
Abraham Lincoln himself chopping wood. “Hello
Mr. Penny Man,” I said. He spoke not a word.
But this ain’t Hell. Of that I am assured.

This ain’t hell. Of that I am assured.
Would there be moderately cold beer or
would they let me keep my truck if torture
was on the agenda for now and ever after?
You might say yes, but I think not. No way.
I will admit that I have odd dreams.
But nothing scary, really. Nothing mean.
Just weird. Like a really long nap in the middle of the day.
There’s not much else to do. I could reflect
on all my trials and tribulations, the error
of my ways, but where would be the profit in that?
The wicked queen’s mistake was looking in the mirror.
She couldn’t rest in her own head and let
the young ones be the ones to stew and fret.

The young ones are the ones who stew and fret,
yes, even here they do. I tell them to relax,
but I do recall what it was like, to be fraught
with longing for a certain someone’s kiss,
the way a particular set of hard calluses
could raise a wave of shivers on my skin,
then one touch later heat me up fast,
so hot for more, I would do anything….
There is no profit in that kind of thought.
The man whose hands I speak of is not here.
I’ve grown restless all the sudden, not
full of life, I wouldn’t say, just bored.
Turns out I dislike it, this world without end.
The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.

The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.
I tell you if I’d known I’d have my truck
on this side of, well, whatever side I’m on,
I’d have done myself in sooner. Just my luck
the ignition switch is still a fussy thing
which I guess means this isn’t heaven.
I never really minded when it wouldn’t start,
just took the time to admire my good old Ford,
Bought it new in ’72, Grabber Blue,
What was there me and my girl couldn’t do?
My favorite thing I ever hauled? An outhouse
that my Mama did NOT want me to take away.
“When your crazy cousin Vernon visits,
I like to have a quiet place to pray.”

I like to have a quiet place to pray,
and sitting, waiting, in my truck, well that’s
about as quiet as it ever gets
because the radio died in ’88.
When a radio dies where does its music go?
They say sound waves never really go away.
I don’t understand everything I know
about that. I guess I believe that sound’s a wave.
I guess I believe there are tiny bones in my ear,
a hammer and an anvil and a horseshoe? Is that right?
I wonder if they’ll be taking questions there.
I wonder if it’s always kind of twilight.
There’s the ferry now—I guess it’s time
I got myself in gear and got in line.

I got myself in gear and got in line
but wow, this line’s not moving. Not at all.
Then suddenly I’m hearing “Begin the Beguine”
a song I didn’t even know I knew. There’s a swell
of trumpets and what is that? An oboe? I don’t know.
And now a woman in a cape has stopped
by my truck. She’s a nun. So I guess it’s not a cape.
She says she’s a Beguine. Go with the flow
is what I’m thinking. There. We’re moving some.
The nun is in my truck. She sings along
to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” I only hum.
I never could remember all the words to a song.
And now we’re going slow again, so slow
we might be backing up. I just don’t know.

We might be backing up. I just don’t know
if I’m alive or dead, asleep, awake–
but then, my whole life (a hundred years ago)
has been like that, blurry on the day-to-day
and sharp, in focus, only now and then.
Is that depression? Or is it being dumb
about what matters? I kind of drift along
a lot. My favorite thing was being at home,
just doing nothing, which is why my house is a mess.
Or was a mess. I’m sure it’s still a mess.
I’m the only one who ever cleaned.
But if I’m dead, what’s home? That’s what I mean.
There’s really nothing left to do but pray.
It’s gotten to where I cannot see the way.

_____

I began writing this crown of sonnets in April of 2013, as part of National Poetry Month, and NaPoWriMo.  I’m slow.  I would remember it every now and then and add a sonnet to it.

It’s a curious project–it began as a challenge sonnet when I was on my way to Manitowoc to do a reading.  I can’t remember all the parts of the challenge, though I think Abraham Lincoln was in it, and I definitely remember my friend Becky asking that I include Boyd Crowder’s hair.

Walton_Goggins_March_19,_2014_(cropped)

This is Walton Goggins, who played Boyd Crowder on Justified. On the show, I think Boyd used more hair product. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Because I loved Justified so much, putting Boyd in the poem opened all sorts of possibilities. I immediately heard the voice of Mags Bennett, played by the amazing Margo Martindale (one of the best villains with one of the best story arcs in all of tv land, ever). That’s why it was Purgatory, Kentucky.

But as I wrote it, I was less and less sure of Mags’ voice in the poem, or the need to have her narrate, so I’ve revised a lot of that out of it.

It doesn’t have much to do with Kentucky at this point, so I’ll probably change the title. It could be Purgatory, Illinois.  The outhouse portion happened in Southern Illinois, which is itself sort of a blurry place, not entirely southern, not entirely midwestern…  I actually like the sound of Purgatory, Illinois.

In any case, I believe the draft is done, and that means that I’ve now written four crowns–“Mothering God” was the first, and then “Each Other’s Anodyne,” and then “Mobius Strip of a Man,” and then this one.  I’m now working on a heroic crown of sonnets about my back surgery at the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children (it’s not called that anymore).  I actually have this vague memory of writing another crown of sonnets, but surely I’d remember it clearly if I done it, right?

Faithless Delegate, Brokered Heart

Being a battleground state is exhausting.
My red counties, my blue counties,
my precincts, my wards–they spar and spit
at each other, they tally slights, they want revenge.

The answer to Rodney King’s question is simply we can’t
get along. We don’t even all
get to vote, and still the turnout is huger
than it has been since the early 70s. But

when it comes right down to the chad of it,
my brain and all my good habits
don’t stand a fucking chance against
the power of illogic. This panic attack

is a faithless delegate on the convention floor,
voting for whomever he pleases,
my heart littered with campaign trash. I won’t
demand a recount. I just want everything quiet again.

FullSizeRender-4

Leaving the French Quarter

New Orleans, sexy tuba, shiny and hot,
I love your blackened bologna, your powdered sugar kiss,
but this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

I’ve rubbed fat blisters on both my feet
rambling the Vieux Carre. Such sweet excess,
New Orleans! You’re a sexy tuba, shiny and hot,

redirecting traffic so the music doesn’t stop.
I love every one of your Marsalises.
This is not my life. I’m glad it’s not,

but watching a finger of fog pointing at the top
of the St. Louis Cathedral, I know I will miss
New Orleans, sexy tuba, shiny and hot,

whose sweaty kiss gives my hair ringlet-
driven waves and curls, which I love, but this—
this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

There’s music everywhere. Even the drinks
sound like songs. Contessa. Sazerac. O absinthe!
O New Orleans, sexy too muchness, already hot—
this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

 

_____

This was my first time at the conference for the Popular Culture Association–it was pretty great. I heard a lot of really good poetry & was so happy to meet new poets and talk poetry.  Went to good panels–I have such smart colleagues in the UW Colleges!  And of course I enjoyed the food and beverage and music aspect.

 

Let me say a little more about the Blackened Bologna.  It was a house special at Evangeline, and I would recommend the restaurant and the dish, invented by an old friend of mine, Jim O’Shea.  We hung out in Carbondale about a million years ago (well, 30+) and haven’t seen each other since, but thanks to Facebook, I knew he was a chef in NOLA, so I made a point of going to Evangeline & I’m glad I did. I talked all my UW Colleges peeps and some new friends into coming along, and everyone’s food was good.  I could NOT resist ordering the Blackened Bologna–too hilarious.  But it actually tasted really good, and if you’re having nostalgic thoughts of friend balonie curling up in the pan, forget that–this is a serious hunk o’ meat.

 

But, even though I had an awesome time, I am happy, happy, happy to be going home to my family and to Wisco, even though there are budget cuts looming like a thunderhead, and even though everything is still early-spring cold and raw and brown and gray.

The funniest thing was every one of us was wearing black the morning we got these.  Rookie mistake!

The funniest thing was every one of us was wearing black the morning we got these. Rookie mistake!

The Contessa from the French 75--now I now what to do with all the rhubarb that SHOULD be coming up soon in Wisco!

The Contessa from the French 75–now I now what to do with all the rhubarb that SHOULD be coming up soon in Wisco!

A sazerac from the Mahogany Bar.

A sazerac from the Mahogany Bar.

I got to see the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet--phenomenal!

I got to see the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet–phenomenal!

Best use of flamingos award.

Best use of flamingos award.

The river this morning.

The river this morning.

Fog coming in off the river.

Fog coming in off the river.

Purgatory, Kentucky (4/7)

The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.
I tell you if I’d known I’d have my truck
on this side of, well, whatever side I’m on,
I’d have done myself in sooner. Just my luck
the ignition switch is still a fussy thing
which I guess means this isn’t heaven.
I never really minded when it wouldn’t start,
just took the time to admire my good old Ford,
Bought it new in ’72, Grabber Blue,
What was there me and my girl couldn’t do?
My favorite thing I ever hauled? An outhouse
that my Mama did NOT want me to take away.
“When your crazy cousin Vernon visits,
I like to have a quiet place to pray.”
_____
Keeping at it, might finish this crown of sonnets during National Poetry Month, just three more to go (but only two more days in April). (The others are in the category “Purgatory,Kentucky” and I’ll put them all together when I write #7). But it’s fun,even if I don’t finish in April, and I’m happy to have written another “car sonnet,” which is one of the big drivers of traffic on my blog, people Googling “car sonnets.” Hope this counts, even though it’s a truck. (NOTE: I no longer write sonnets whilst driving–now when I say “car sonnet” it means a sonnet with vehicular subject matter.)

Here’s a 1972 Ford truck, Grabber Blue. This is pretty much my dream vehicle.

Ferry on Highway 169 somewhere in Kentucky (a Creative Commons shot from Edlitmus on Flickr)

Ferry on Highway 169 somewhere in Kentucky
(a Creative Commons shot from Edlitmus on Flickr)

It’s Hard to Teach When Gollum’s in Your Class

It’s hard to teach when Gollum’s in your class.
He’s not the ideal student by any stretch,
but he’ll blame you if he doesn’t pass.

He’s very disruptive, all that muttering “my precious”
and small group work with him is just a bitch.
It’s hard to teach when Gollum’s in your class

because even saying Sméagol when you take attendance,
even smiling when you really want to screech,
you can be sure that he’ll blame you if he doesn’t pass.

He misses class a lot. Just vanishes.
Then swears he was too there. It’s hard to teach
the earnest students when Gollum’s in your class,

but you owe it to the ones who are not treacherous,
the step by by step by steps, the clear approach.
That rat-like monkey will blame you if he doesn’t pass,

but don’t dumb things down. Just do your best.
Backwards design might save you in a hitch.
It’s hard to teach if Gollum’s in your class,
but don’t blame yourself if he shall not pass.

 

_____

If fish were learning outcomes, Gollum would get an A+.

If fish were learning outcomes, Gollum would get an A+.

_____
(photo by Larry and Linda on Flickr, Creative Commons)

(OH that last line–“He shall not pass” sounds so foreordained and the teacher in me keeps hoping, hoping that Gollum will pull it together and squeak out a decent grade. But how can I not play on “shall not pass?” Decisions, decisions…)

Purgatory, Kentucky (3/7)

The young ones priss around and stew and fret,
yes, even here they do. I tell them to relax,
but I do recall what it was like, all fraught
with longing for a certain someone’s kiss,
the way a particular set of hard calluses
could raise a wave of shivers on my skin,
and one touch later heat me up fast,
so hot for more, I would do anything….
There is no profit in that kind of thought.
The man whose hands I speak of is not here.
I’ve grown restless all the sudden, not
full of life, I wouldn’t say, just bored.
Turns out I dislike it, this world without end.
The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.

Ferry on Highway 169 somewhere in Kentucky (a Creative Commons shot from Edlitmus on Flickr)

Ferry on Highway 169 somewhere in Kentucky
(a Creative Commons shot from Edlitmus on Flickr)

___
For National Poetry Month, I’m trying to write a lot of poetry–I’ve given up on writing one every day, but still–trying to write a lot. I reviewed what I’d written last year and found Purgatory, Kentucky, which I’d TOTALLY forgotten about. So I decided I’d see if I could write a crown of sonnets. And I wrote #2 of 7 the other day. And now almost halfway around the crown with this one.

Purgatory, Kentucky (a crown of sonnets?)

Last April I wrote a fair bit towards the NaPoWriMo goal of writing a poem a day during National Poetry Month, including the sonnet called “Purgatory, Kentucky” in honor of and gratitude for doing a poetry reading at UW-Manitowoc.

This year, I’m shooting for writing a new one each day, or revising one. It’s 9:52 p.m. and I haven’t written a poem today yet.

Can I write a sonnet to follow the original “Purgatory, Kentucky” piece? Could I do a crown (7 sonnets where the last line of one is the first line of the next one, until you’ve done 7 and come full circle).

Less see:
_____

This ain’t hell. Of that I am assured.
Would there be apple pie corn whiskey or
this nice soft chair if I was to be tortured
for now and all time to come after?
You might say yes, but I think not. No way.
I will allow to having had odd dreams.
But nothing scary, really. Nothing mean.
Just weird. Like a long old nap in the middle of the day.
There’s not much else to do. I could reflect
on all my trials and tribulations, the error
of my ways, but where would be the profit in that?
The wicked queen’s mistake was looking in the mirror.
She couldn’t rest in her own head and let
the young ones priss around and stew and fret.

_____
Why yes, yes I can. Can write a sonnet before sleeping, anyway. We’ll see about the crown. And I do intend to do some revising this April. Just not tonight.

Here’s an image my beloved made for a poster for an event from a while back, Speak Easy Love Hard, which reminds me of the tone of these Purgatory, Kentucky poems:

slh