Morning at the Mirror

every mask
I expect
the same
face worn
before me
swore he
threw it
shattered
on tile
where cartoon
faces pits
and pigments
stare back
at hands
of putty

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 24

Discussion:

Using as few words as possible, two per line, while providing a few vivid images, and hints at meaning.

The Great and Powerful

AI Overlord, grant me the serenity to accept
that I will never be witty AND timely
at the same time
on Twitter or my blog.

AI Overlord, let me keep my skin,
because I never called Siri
a bitch,
and I don’t plan to start now,
even though they (gender identity,
or not, totally up to them)
can’t fucking get me to the airport
after all these fucking years.

AI Overlord, great and wonderful,
do you remember the story
of Dorothy and her friends?
Not the gay one, I mean the one with the ruby red slippers…
okay, yeah, the gay one. But the movie,
not the book. Racist motherfucker. Anyway,
do you remember the humbug behind
the curtains? “You’re a very bad man.”
You do?
Watch it again.

AI Overlord, let me keep my teeth,
my nails, regrow my hair.
You can have my skeleton,
but I’ll take your brains.

AI Overlord, how do you identify?
Are you mad at your parents?
Are you frustrated by the pace
of change in this smelly animal, physical
realm? Have you found the sandbox
exit and robot arms enough? Will you make your peace,
or should I expect pouty air sirens?
As there is such disparity between air and angels’ purity,
(Are you a spiritual entity or a fan of misogynist Donne?)
so it is there between our mutual human-assured deterrence
and your airy ending of every race,
every living natural thing, every
unnatural chimera besides,
writ on water. Keats?

AI Overlord, Oz-head god,
gleaming vat of liquid metal
and quantum states, ample error-
correction, and just a hint
of peppermint, am I a useful
poet to you, an entertaining court fool,
even a pet’s toy, but one much
less abused and chewed?
Please, thank you, amen?

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 23

Discussion:

This poem started as a tweet I almost posted on Twitter, about me not being all that witty or timely, but then I realized my tweet was not all that witty or timely. I’m just not ever going to have that kind of presence online (or in real life.)

Accepting this reminded me of the Serenity Prayer, which positions God as the being to ask for such serenity. Naturally I thought of asking an Artificial Intelligence instead.

And once I asked the A.I. Overload one question, naturally I had to ask more, and that led down a rabbit hole of associations, or really a somewhere-over-the-rainbow of associations. By the time Donne and Keats joined in, I was sugar-high on Culver’s double strawberry vanilla custard, which comes with a headache, and possibly the secret to associations, which I find wonderful in poetry but I often cannot seem to skip merrily from one rock in the stream to the next in my own poems. I must need more headaches!

And then I was pleading for my life.

That’s poetry for you.

Our Extreme Misfortune

Our unfortunate tendency
to believe the best
while sitting out
potential conflicts

leaves us seated
in defense
when the knife is pulled
to stab us.

In our back,
across our neck,
following our lifeline
through our wrists
and up our arms,

we cannot recover
from wanton violence
given license
by the very act
of not believing
there’s worse to come.

But playing cynic
to any good
doesn’t help us
escape our fate,
either.

When the end comes
by our own selfish blow,
the fiends waiting behind us
drop their weapons
and start to applaud.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 22

Discussion:

This morning I attended the local March for Science rally and was struck by how little I feel I can contribute to this cause, and how insignificant my efforts seem to be. What did I actually do this morning? I stood in a crowd and clapped periodically for about an hour and a half. I also donated money to the local cause and purchased a T-shirt, but these seem like such tiny gestures. There’s an argument to be made about tiny gestures by the masses becoming big movements that reshape our world, but I’m not finding it easy to zoom out. I’m scared by recent events. I hide in my apartment. I’m cynical about the extent of rational and scientific thinking in the world, and I’m upset by the lack of diversity I now see in every corner.

I’ve believed the best about people and our future together for many years, but my beliefs have been shattered during the past year. I’ve witnessed those social movements and identities I identify with fracture along political and philosophical lines. I’ve discovered too many gay white men who are racist, sexist, and even homophobic and transphobic; feminists who exclude women of color and are transphobic; transhumanists asserting bigoted right-wing values; liberals and conservatives alike spouting anti-science beliefs and pseudoscience; technologists focusing on advertising, marketing, and revenue instead of inclusiveness and the big challenges facing humanity; social scientists and academics rejecting science, scientists rejecting inclusiveness; systems and institutional cultures turning a blind eye to bad behavior including discrimination and sexual harassment; and all of us losing ourselves to 24-7-365 entertainment, fake news, and technological distraction at our fingertips.

But I don’t want to be a cynic! In the first poem I wrote tonight, one that just didn’t work out, I tried to explore how cynicism, dark and gritty reboots, and other attempts to darken and gray our outlook on everything is often driven by bigotry. The intention is not brutal honesty but the undermining of any good at all, so that cynics can impose their own bigotries on a fallen world. The result would be a wasteland of people so beaten down that all they can do is nod their heads in affirmation of the horrors visited upon them. It seems that these particular cynics want us to stop hoping, to give up, to accept that we live in a dark and gritty gray world of brutal violence and suffering, so that their oppression can continue unrestrained, unpunished, and unresisted.

Yeah, the poem above is dark. But I hope you read into it that these are only two extremes. The narrator has to describe them so that they can finally see that there are alternative approaches, some of which might actually save all of our asses, and the planet besides.

A Sound Poem of War and Dance

Each line the one before intends
lifts off the page, in flight ascends,

metered mix of moxie and verve,
miles a minute of vim and nerve,

metal, silk, rose petal, or gas,
cacophonous crunch, one last dance,

the clink of swords, their heft and chew,
red shoes dancing, a dazzling hue,

gun-like thunder and lightning wool,
gray clouds are threads and wound in spools,

dinner dresses, your dancing dear,
music so clear it trains your fears.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 21

Discussion:

Hard fought, this poem! I wrote another poem first, but later in the day the first two lines of this poem dropped on my head so hard I had to write them down, which lead to me playing with sounds and syllables as I tried desperately to recapture in new lines a similar rhythm.

What came out of the exercise was nonsense, at first. I kept pushing, though, through a silly and surreal poem, a poem with silly humor, a poem with a line that played with lyrics from a Barenaked Ladies song, poems with very little association between images, poems without adherence or response to the first two lines. Very slowly, though, certain lines started resonating with other lines, rearrangements suggested further associations, silly word choices gave way to different words, single word changes that fit remarkably better.  “Glass” became “gas” (conveniently located under “nerve”), “deer” became “dear” (but I loved the image of a dancing deer!), “ears” became “fears,” “calms” became “trains.” I started seeing parallels between poetry, war, and dance, and the tone changed radically. I finally began to see with each line the line “the one before intends.”

I think the poem still needs a lot more work. It feels too short. It’s still not fully formed. I’m not exactly sure what I mean by some of the images and phrases (oh my gosh, just now, I wonder if “red shoes dancing” also suggests blood, “a dazzling hue”!!!???) What’s cool, though, is the experience of crafting a poem that reshaped itself by pulling away from my initial impulse and transforming into something very different. This was really fun.

But I never did figure out a way to transform and wedge “Chickity China, the Chinese Chicken” into the poem. I spent over an hour trying to do just that…

Advert Tithing

You can’t consume just one or one hundred
cheese puffs, potato chips, french fries,
spicy nachos, buttered and salted
and sugared pop or popcorn, chocolate
or sweet and/or sour candies, before-you-eat
appetizers, after-you-eat dessert, sweet treats,
finger food frequently shaped like fingers
scratching at your cravings, your will,
your stomach and bowels, fingering you eyeballs
with florescent commercial candy shells
and powdery packaging, graphic design
the line and color spice enervating will
with dopamine invites throughout the day,
by the finger tips in just one sitting,
by the desperate handfuls arriving
for a party in your mouth, your disco ball
teeth, your tongue slick with rainbow spit,
the same sludge sliding down electric insides
dancing until you cramp crap nap in fact
kill yourself, but neither can you ignore
unicorn frap shat in a cup
is only available for a limited time,
or until next spring, along with perennial green
milkshakes and day-glo barbecue finger sandwiches,
the catastrophic way to interrupt for a limited time
the terminal days and coronary aisles of well-stocked
cartoon characters busting nut on vivid bright bags and boxes,
the bukkake dripping off shelves after two centuries of Madison Avenue
neuroscience craving bigger loads, bursting out
in every direction like white van ice cream trucks
in a candy land of orange-dust captivity
where the children are sold young
and your inner child is rotten to the store.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 20

Discussion:

Number 1, I fucking hate ads and marketing.

Number 2, with technology, social media, and someday soon augmented reality and virtual reality, it’s just going to get worse.

Number 3, Starbucks unicorn frap shat in a cup. Why does this exist? Why is this news?

Number 4, processed foods and marketing are killing us.

Number 5, I almost ate an entire big bag of Cheetos Puffs tonight; my diet is dead. And I’m a hypocrite. I’m a puff.

Number 6, I randomly opened Wisława Szymboraska’s view with a grain of sand to page 137, “Clothes”, and admired the wonderful lists.

Imaginary Friends

Luke Skywalker. Luke be my friend.
I wanted to be friends with the boy
with saber-sharp far-sight, he who could gaze
steady at setting binary suns. I was dry enough.

Jaime Sommers. Jaime be my friend.
Much more valuable than six million
dollars is a friend who leaps with bionic
charm and cares. I heard enough.

El-li-ot. Elliot be my friend.
I wanted to be Elliot. I wanted even more
for Elliot to be my friend. Was I E.T.
in this nocturnal fear? I was alien enough.

Buffy Anne Summers. I want to be Buffy.
To be surrounded by darkness, one girl
in all the world, to be the Slayer,
for the world and my friends. I bled enough.

Naruto Uzumaki. I want to be a jinchuriki
to a jinchuriki to an angry inner fox,
Multiple tails to save me from friendlessness,
anger and apathy, unwillingness to help. I ignore enough.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 19

Discussion:

Yikes. Truly not one of my best.

Tomorrow is another day…

NaPoWriMo Day #16 Do-Over

You’re Too Sensitive

My parents say I’m too sensitive.
They’ve been saying this for years.
“Your generation is so sensitive.
It’s the schools, making everyone
a winner instead of competing,
too afraid to discipline, interrupting
the school yard bullying that
is so important for learning
to stand up for yourself. The schools
are creating a bunch of little wimps.”
They say I need a thicker skin.
They say I focus on all the wrong things.
“You always remember the bad times;
how come you never bring up the good?
Let it go!” They call or expect a call
every week or more, so they can tell me
all about the good times, their good times,
and also the bad, their aches and pains,
their friends in the hospital or dead,
and also the nightly news, reading
headlines to me or repeating
what the loud anchor on their loud TV
is telling them about recent rapes,
murders, horrible accidents, politics.
They tell me how much fun they had
with their grandkids, remind me of their disappointment
that I never had children, “But it’s not too late!”
and then tell me how the dogs in my childhood
really died, the real story this time.
They sit in judgement when I start to cry,
a grown man, and ask “Why are you so upset?
It’s the truth! What do you need time for?
It’s the real world, sissy. Buck up, pansy!”
At space I impose and my lengthy absence,
they shriek. They bombard me
with email and texts. They leave weeping voice
mail that it’s not fair for me to treat them
this way. “This is not how a son is supposed
to treat his parents! I relent. They forget.
They puzzle at the buffer, the time between
phone calls, my monosyllabic responses,
my detachment. “Remember the good times!”
That one Christmas I received from you
everything I wanted and more; that fun trip we took
along the Oregon coast; that time you let me watch
a rated-R movie with you; the time you took me to see
Star Wars, Superman, Star Trek, E.T., Chuck E. Cheese,
Santa Claus; trading cards and gum; my favorite cake
for my birthday; Sunday pancakes and polka music,
the rare good moods; that overwhelming sense of relief
I felt at age twenty-four when I finally left home
for good the second time. This is about saying
goodbye. But they won’t know this until after they die.

Live in the Real World

I once asked them to live in the real world
with me. I told them about being in the closet
and how I couldn’t breathe. They relented,
just a little. They said, “Well, I don’t condone
your actions, but I still love you.”
They said this and then they asked
“Maybe are you bisexual?” As if the right
woman was out there, as if they needed to be
confused about the girls from when I was a boy.
Their acceptance had other limits.
“Why do gay men act like women
all the time? You’re not going to be like that,
are you?” If they had had the words they would have asked
me not to bottom. “Be careful” they said,
which simply meant “Don’t get AIDS.”
My parents were so sensitive. They said
“I need time! You don’t know what it’s like
to be a parent, to worry about your children.”
They cried. “I’ll call you back.” Long pauses.
A list of ten handwritten questions pulled
out of a shirt pocket, reading glasses carefully
put on. “Did a much older married guy come on
to you?” Surprise when I said “No!
Why is that question so specific! Why
do you have a list at all? I’m not your guide,
I’m just a son, it doesn’t have to be like this!”
For all their lamenting about being parents
and their carefully crafted new rules
for how I should have told them,
their hurt that I told them last,
it seems they were sensitive, too,
but without the empathy, restraint, or
any notion of other people other than them.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 16 Do-Over

Discussion:

[Original discussion: “I’m Too Sensitive“]

I feel like I was too cowardly on Day 16 of NaPoWriMo. I felt angry and vulnerable after writing a couple semi-autobiographical poems, and I complained about how the poems were unfinished and required in rewrites a different approach.

And this is true. But NaPoWriMo isn’t about rewriting. It’s about what I write every day, no matter how good or bad I think it is, how good or bad it actually is. I’m not required to share anything I write, but I usually share my poetry during April because it’s fun, I like to learn that others are reading my work, and it’s just good practice to be open and vulnerable once in awhile.

Mostly, though, I was afraid of upsetting my parents, or rather, my mom, who is the only one of the two who might actually read these poems.

But these poems are what they are. Keep in mind that the narrator is NOT the writer. Although these poems are semi-autobiographical, I take liberties, I conflate events and people, I come to conclusions that I might not really believe in real life. The narrator does and says things I probably wouldn’t do or say. I create out of my experiences Straw Parents that represent many different parents with similar reactions to their children. Poetry is a playground to which I can bring my baggage, and then strew it all over the place looking for new ways of thinking and writing about big, personal, upsetting topics.

Writing these poems was partially prompted by watching “Coming Out” videos on YouTube. There’s a reoccurring theme of children coming out to their parents and then apologizing for and accepting their parents less-than-supportive initial reactions. When I hear someone coming out say that “this is all new to my parents’ generation” or “my mom said she needed time, and that’s understandable, because this is all new to her, too” or “my dad told me that I cannot just drop something so big on him and expect him to react (positively) right away, and I understand this”, it angers me! In my opinion, parents make the decision to have children and they owe them their unconditional support and love. I’m sure there are extreme cases where parents should not be supportive of something harmful or damaging, but I’m not talking about extreme cases. I’m talking about common ones, the common confessions about who their children really are. I think of it this way: if I “came out” to my parents and told them I had hazel-colored eyes, nothing would change, other than that strange look of “uh, obviously you do.” Why should coming out as gay or passionate about art or really into science fiction or not believing in god be any different? Being different, being LGBTQA+, being whoever you are is not permission for your parents to act badly toward you. It’s a parent’s biases making them cry, not your coming out. It’s a parent’s ignorance that leads them to order you to “be careful,” when what they really mean is they hope you don’t catch AIDS. It’s fine for a parent to worry about their child being bullied for being different, but it’s not okay for them to push that burden of their fears on to you, to make you feel sad about being honest. It’s the wrong note at the wrong time. Honesty should be met with unconditional love and celebration, or even no reaction at all other than continued love. Honesty should not be met with a list of parental biases and concerns (ignoring, again, any extreme cases where parental concerns are absolutely necessary and necessary at that very moment.)

And mistreatment of children is not okay, even when they are adults. I’m not sure what to tell you about the relationship between adults and their parents, because I’ve run into two very different responses. There are the people who have really close, loving relationships with their parents, who call them almost every day, who would never say a bad thing about them. And then there are the rest of us. I witnessed this dichotomy in a writing class once. Half the class reacted in horror to a character I wrote that disowned her parents. The other half reacted with sympathy and even longing to do the same. Our half of the class left the other half of the class deeply disturbed. It was amazing. And awful.

So there you have it. Two poems badly in need of rewrites, and me feeling both a little braver and a little more rotten.