Daily April poem: ottava rima


Pass old cornstalks, the sukkah's sad debris.
The wetland's dull, dead stalks washed out by snow
but some stems gleam with red. What vibrancy,
the gold-as-tinsel fronds of the willow.
Grey pussywillows' pearls, woodsy jewelry
against this backdrop where no leaves yet grow.
Happy are we who make Your house our home!
Birdsong fills this robin's-egg-blue dome.



Monday's prompt at NaPoWriMo invited us to experiment with ottava rima, an Italian verse form which usually appears, in English, as eight-line stanzas in iambic pentameter with an a/b/a/b/a/b/c/c rhyme scheme. I wrote mine on a short afternoon break from work before Hebrew school on Monday. I stepped outside the synagogue and sat with my laptop in the small gazebo, and the poem arose out of what I observed in the small wetland behind the shul.

The penultimate line is a reference to the ashrei prayer, which begins "Happy are they who dwell in Your house." (I first blogged about that prayer here in 2004, and did so again in 2007.) Traditionally Jews daven the ashrei three times a day, one of those times being mincha, the short afternoon prayer service. (Writing this poem became my mincha for Monday.)


Daily April poem: declarative sentences capped with a question


Our son stands in the doorway in bear pyjamas.
A soft blue teddy peeks from under his arm.
His cheeks are scaly with the night's dried snot.
He clambers into our bed and squirms onto my pillow.
This smile, sweet as strawberries, is just for me.

He cups my face with his grubby palm.
I brush his hair back from his forehead.
Small feet probe my ribs, testing boundaries.
Soon he is poking my mouth, covering my eyes.
Deep breath: I roll to sitting, I enfold in my robe.

We pad down the stairs holding hands.
Unzip the blanket sleeper, yank the nighttime diaper.
Our struggle for dominance evokes the Nature Channel.
I manage to aim his feet into sweatpants and socks.
I yield and relinquish my hopes of a clean shirt.

Finally I reach the Promised Land.
The refrigerator hums its quiet song.
Clean pots weigh down the dish drainer.
I stand in the middle of the floor, waiting.
Does a watched coffee pot refuse to boil?



Sunday's NaPoWriMo prompt invited us to write poems in which each line is a short declarative sentence, and the final line is a question. In response to that prompt, I wrote this poem on Sunday morning, sipping coffee while our son watched cartoons. I have two versions of it: one where the poem is all one long stanza, and another where the poem is broken into 5-line stanzas. I think I like this version better, but I'm still not sure.

There's a way in which this is a sequel to the Toddler House poems I was writing a while back -- and a way in which those were the next chapter of the weekly mother poems I wrote during my first year of motherhood.

I spent some of last week proofreading the digital galleys of Waiting to Unfold, due out from Phoenicia Publishing in a few weeks. I'm so grateful now to have those poems -- and to have a publisher who's excited about bringing them into the world. Anyway: stay tuned for more intel on that collection!


Daily April poem: valley


Tiny trebuchet, sized
for dolls or possibly hobbits,
chucked eggs halfway down the hill.

We counterpoised our second try
with free weights, strong enough
to loft pumpkins.

For a finale we pondered
air cannons to send buckets of paint
soaring into the valley

strangers waking to find
their houses garbed in unfamiliar
technicolor dreamcoats, but

by then we were building
round Mongolian dwellings
out of sticks and string instead.

What the neighbors thought
as gers sprouted like slow mushrooms
atop our hill, we'll never know

as they'll never know
how lucky they are we got bored
and let their house stay blue.



This was written to the 30/30 prompt "valley."

We never really intended to build the air cannon, but it made for fun conversations. (And yes, this is the kind of thing our circle of friends does for fun when we get together -- we make things. For a few years, there were trebuchets.)

Ger is the Mongolian word for what most of us know as a yurt. Starting in 2004, we built one in our backyard every winter with friends for many years. Last year we got one from Mongolia, which has replaced the various iterations we built. (For more on that: Loving the ger, May 2012.)


Daily April poem: a cinquain



atop the pine:
you sing that liquid tune
my mother's mother used to love.
Don't stop.



For the fifth day of National Poetry Month, the folks at NaPoWriMo challenged us to write a cinquain. So I wrote this poem on Friday, but am only posting it today, since on Friday I posted a poem derived from a 30/30 prompt instead.

A cinquain is a tightly-constrained form. It has five lines. The first line has two syllables (one of which is accented), the second line four syllables (and two accents), the third line six syllables (three accents), the fourth line eight syllables (four accents), and the fifth line two syllables (and one accent) again.

Mine was inspired by the cardinal I've been seeing when I arrive at the synagogue in the mornings. Cornell tells me that these are year-round birds both here and where I grew up. Lately he's been perched at the top of one of the trees near our building, singing lustily when I arrive at work. I love that these brilliant birds, which were a part of my south Texas childhood, live here in New England too.

Napo2013button1ETA: Now available in my chapbook April Daily.

Daily April poem: named after a spaceship

A Series of Unlikely Explanations

I expected invisible ink.
The walls are prettier this way.
It wasn't me, it was a ghost
who followed us from Houston.
Look, mom, turtles!
Haven't you been wanting to repaint?
We've been practicing calligraphy
at preschool and this was my homework.
This is a memorial wall
for the stuffed animals I've lost.
Those aren't scribbles, it's a fresco.
Someday you'll peel away this wallboard
and sell it to MASS MoCA
to hang alongside the LeWitts.

I'm playing with two different sets of poetry prompts this month -- 30/30 and NaPoWriMo -- and I also wrote a poem this week which wasn't to any prompt. As a result, I'm posting some poems here a few days after they're written.

The day four prompt at NaPoWriMo was to write a poem to fit an unusual title -- one of the fantastical spaceship names used by science fiction writer Iain M. Banks (who recently announced that he has terminal cancer, sorry to say.) I love his ship names; I chose this one.

The ensuing poem was partially inspired by my own son, and partially by the delightful Honest Toddler. (Thankfully our son has not yet gotten the notion of scrawling on the walls; here's hoping he isn't secretly reading this blog.)


Daily April poem: Word to the Wise


here: click on the X
to close the browser window,
clap the clamshell laptop shut

resist the twitching impulse
to open up Facebook
in search of one more pellet

remember that in public spaces
the comments are a hive
of stinging wasps

take three deep breaths
all the way to your diaphragm
lower your clenched shoulders

steep your mind's tofu
in a gentle bath of poetry
seasoned with psalms

savor all five tastes
with no danger of sickness
in the hard drive or the heart



This was written for the "sometimes you have to walk away" prompt at 30x30. If you're interested in other people's responses to the prompt, you can check out each day's submissions by clicking on each prompt link, here.

The idea that the mind is like tofu, and takes on the flavor of whatever it steeps in, is one I first heard from Rabbi Jeff Roth, who attributed it to Reb Zalman.

And, of course, others are writing to the daily prompts at NaPoWriMo. (I did attempt their sea chanty prompt, but wasn't happy enough with the results to share them here, so -- you get another 30/30-inspired poem instead!)


Daily April poem: out of luck


April does the cha-cha
with my expectations.

I'm ready to pop champagne
and declare the glacier

in front of the garage
melted for the season

when I wake
inside a snow globe again.

Pity the robins,
returned too soon

and forced to squabble
with the angry chickadees

for scarce barstools
at the birsdseed diner.

Fortunate worms, granted
a temporary reprieve.



The third 30x30 poem prompt was "out of luck."

Yesterday morning we enjoyed a bit of spring snow, and I couldn't help wondering -- as I do every year -- what becomes of the robins who return to New England before the snow has entirely relinquished us. This poem arose out of that wondering.

If you're interested in other people's responses to these prompts, you can check out each day's submissions by clicking on each prompt link, here. Feedback is always welcome!

NaPoWriMo 2013

Daily April poem: on the couch


You're pale against the red velour
and where your moose pyjamas gape
your belly is jaundiced
the curry-powder yellow of betadine.

They promised you a popsicle,
pressed a berry-scented mask
to your struggling face
and then you woke

to uncooperative legs and tender tummy,
a tube biting your hand like a snake
and monitor cables streaming
from your skinny ribcage.

Now you lie limp as the blanket
draped over your knees.
When you try to move, confusion
blooms: why does it hurt?

And clustered like ghosts
in the back of my heart:
all of the children who won't
be fully recovered tomorrow

all the parents who've learned
to mask oxycodone with honey,
who shave their own heads bare
in powerless solidarity...

How does God bear it?
Maybe the same way we do.
The heart shatters, but keeps beating
just love, just love, just love.

The second 30x30 poem prompt was "on the couch." I immediately thought of our son on the couch when he was recuperating from (perfectly ordinary, unremarkable) hernia surgery. Then I thought of the recent tough news at Superman Sam (The post you didn't want to read), and of all of the kids who are recuperating -- or not recuperating -- from infinitely more terrifying medical adventures than ours. The reality that children suffer is almost more than the heart can bear. Of course, we ache, and then we keep on loving; and in that, I think we mirror God, the cosmic Parent Who does the same.

If you want to send a note to Sam, you can write to him at Sam Sommer, E584 / Children's Hospital of Wisconsin / P.O. Box 1997 / Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201-1997. Receiving notes, cards, etc (many featuring superheroes in some way) cheered him last time they were in the hospital for an extended stay.

On the 30 poems / 30 days front: some of us who are writing poems in response to these prompts are submitting them to the 30x30 website. If you're interested in other people's responses to these prompts, you can check out each day's submissions by clicking on each prompt link, here. And if you're interested in other folks who are attempting this same daily poem feat during National Poetry Month, don't miss NaPoWriMo, now in its tenth year!


Another morning-blessings poem


You bring my son's footfalls to my door
and shock me awake with his cold heels against my ribs.

You teach me to distinguish waking life from dreaming.
You press the wooden floor against the soles of my feet.

You slip my eyeglasses into my questing hand
and the world comes into focus again.

In the time before time You collected hydrogen and oxygen
into molecules which stream now from my showerhead.

You enfold me in this bathtowel.
You enliven me with coffee.

Every morning you remake me in your image
and free me to push back against my fears.

You are the balance that holds up my spine,
the light in my gritty, grateful eyes.

I drafted this prayer/poem while preparing for the National Poetry Month Shabbat service I'm leading at my shul this weekend. I'll be pairing each of our morning prayers with an English-language poem which will hopefully illuminate the prayer in some way. I was looking for a poem to go with the birchot ha-shachar (morning blessings, which Mishkan T'filah calls nisim she'b'chol yom, blessings for the miracles of each day.) So I wrote this one.

Then I decided that my outline featured too many of my own poems, and struck this one from the plan in favor of a terrific poem by Adam Sol. But I still like this variation on the round of morning blessings, so I'm sharing it here. If you actually daven it, I'd love to hear how / whether it works for you! I suspect the opening couplet may be too me-specific to be workable for anyone else, but if I'm wrong about that, let me know.

Also: if you like these, you might like my morning blessings poem cycle, which features variations on Elohai Neshama (the blessing for the soul), Asher Yatzar (the blessing for the body), Baruch she'amar (the blessing for God Who speaks the world into being), and Nishmat kol chai ("The breath of all life"), originally drafted around 2002-2004.

NaPoWriMo 2013

30/30 poem 1: from start to finish


Jewish math moves in multiples of seven:
six days of creation and then Shabbat
six years of farming, then the sabbatical
seven times seven years, then the jubilee
seven times seven days for the journey
between Pesach and Shavuot, freedom and revelation --
each day a facet which we polish
on this bright gem with 49 sides
and as we count we ascend slowly
to Sinai's dry foothills where we'll camp:
see thunder, hear shofar, await further instructions


The folks at the Word by Word festival are doing a 30 poems / 30 days challenge during April (National Poetry Month), and they're emailing out daily prompts. I can't promise that I'll write 30 poems this month (nor that I'll post all of them here, even if I do), but I figured I'd at least post the first one. The first prompt was from start to finish.

Since we're in the period of the Counting of the Omer, that was the start-to-finish which immediately came to mind. The Omer lasts for seven weeks, seven sets of seven days. As I wrote and revised, the poem took on the ad hoc form of seven words per line. Enjoy! (ETA: here are all of the poems written / submitted for this prompt...)

And another ETA: don't miss NaPoWriMo 2013 if daily April poems are your cup of tea!