JUST BOPPIN’ ALONG

Last week, my friend Muri introduced me to a poetry form called The Bop.  A Bop consists of three mono-rhymed stanzas.  Each is followed by a single-line refrain.  The first stanza is six lines and presents a problem. The second stanza is eight lines and expands on the problem.  The third stanza is six lines and documents the resolution (or failed attempt/s at resolution).

That said, The Bop is an ideal form to address daily life in 2020.  There are huge problems all around us.  But it’s the pesky little problems that seem to demand most of our attention—dead batteries, overdue books, mosquito bites, etc.  When COVID-19 became a threat, I made it a habit to flush, then wash my hands until the toilet stops running, which takes about 20 seconds.  This approach works well as long as the flapper valve closes properly.  I dread when it doesn’t because I might have to put my hand into the tank.  And even if I don’t, I’ll have to touch something that warrants another 20 seconds of handwashing.

COMMODIUS BOP

I wipe my mucky tush,
toss paper in and flush,
and hear the water rush,
a robust cleansing gush
Down goes all the mush
but trickling, unhushed

whooshes in my ears

I wait a minute more
Quit running, I implore
A hit-the-flush encore
is weaker than before
and still the filler roars
Jig-jiggles are ignored
A loud and clear call for
internal maneuvers

whooshes in my ears

Let the games begin!
With clank of porcelain,
lid lifted, hand plunged in
dodging chains and pins
reseats valve seal again
A sweet but fleeting win

whooshes in my ears

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OH MY GOD! REALLY?

On a cold day in February, as I sat at my desk balancing my checkbook, the phone rang.  I snatched it up.  “Hello??!!”  I’m sure the caller could sense my irritation.  I’ve been told I wear my heart on my vocal cords.

“Good afternoon!” the woman said.  “Is this Joan Harris?”

“Depends.  Who’s calling?”  I was poised to hang up if she launched into a spiel asking if I was the person who handled the family electric bill, or offering me a special cable TV promotion.

“This is Debe Dockins,” she said, “I’m calling from the headquarters of the Erma Bombeck Essay Contest to inform you that you’ve won first prize in the local humor division.”

I was so flabbergasted I almost dropped the phone.  I must have said “Oh my God!  Really?” about fifty-seven times as her congratulations and instructions floated in one ear and out the other.  I’d need to send them a bio and a “head shot.”  I’d need to confirm my address and fill out a tax form so they could send me the prize money.  I’d need to commit to reading my piece at an awards ceremony on April 1st and make hotel reservations for the days of the workshop.  My head was spinning.  She said they would send a confirmatory e-mail, thank the Lord, containing all the details.

After the shock wore off, I opened the email and set about the required tasks.  I was looking forward to being back in Dayton for a spell, reading for an appreciative audience, attending a delectable array of humor writing classes, reconnecting with old neighbors and friends, noshing at our sorely-missed favorite restaurants.  Of course, it all went down the toilet when Coronavirus came to town.  They’re shooting for new dates in October, but truthfully, anything could happen.

Without further ado, here is my prize-winning essay.  I have included a link below so you can read the other winning essays and runners up if you wish.  Pretty stiff competition.

    We need these in the Ladies dressing room!

SWIMSUIT ISSUES

I almost scrapped the idea of joining AquaRobics because it meant buying a swimsuit.  Why do dressing rooms have three-way mirrors that provide a panoramic view of every bulge on your personal landscape?  Wouldn’t it make more financial sense to install funhouse mirrors that stretch corpulent customers into five-foot-ten supermodels?  As it happens, I was able to bypass the cellulite confessional because, according to the retail calendar, summer is the off-season for swim-suits.  In January, they’re plentiful as flies in an outhouse but in July, you must shop online or make do with a Wonder Woman Halloween costume.

Catalog dot.coms offer hundreds of swimsuits modeled by lanky teenagers.  You wade and click, wade and click, comparing features and trying to imagine what the suit would look like on an older, flabbier person.  They need to create a Midlife section where you can narrow your search by figure flaw, like Jelly Belly or Butt Requiring its own ZIP Code.  Or by remedy, such as Compress it with a Spandex Panel, Hide it Under a Skirt, or Draw Attention from it by Using Bright Colors on the Opposite Half of the Suit.

I ordered a navy swim dress with tiny white polka-dots.  It skimmed over my figure flaws as promised and seemed quite perfect, until I got in the water.  Submerged, the skirt had a mind of its own.  It floated at armpit level, twisting and tangling.  Doing AquaRobics was like wrestling with an umbrella in a monsoon.  After class, the sodden skirt sagged to my ankles, having somehow grown three feet while I was in the pool.  So I exchanged the swim dress for a color block tank designed to divert attention from my behind, a goal it achieved each time a shoulder strap abandoned its post and allowed a breast to escape.  I traded in the tank for a 97% Spandex racer-back suit.  The top is snug as a mammogram machine and the material in the tummy control panel could be used for building levees.  It performed commendably in the water – no tangles, sags, or peek-a-boobs.

“How’s the new suit working out?” a classmate asked.

“This one’s a keeper,” I replied.  When I hit the showers a few minutes later, I realized truer words had never been spoken.  My body heat had vacuum-sealed the wet Spandex to my torso and although the wide, X-shaped straps had gone on with ease, their removal would have flummoxed Houdini himself.  After ten minutes of contortions and tug-of-war, I heard a loud pop and the swimsuit surrendered.

The bad news?  I’ll have to buy a new suit.  The good news?  By the time I finish therapy for my dislocated shoulder, they’ll be back in season.

ERMA BOMBECK ESSAY CONTEST WINNERS

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SHIT STORM SESTINA

The sestina is a complicated poetry form, one that gives my bud Muri hives.  I don’t blame her.  A sestina has six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoi.  The same six words are the end words of the lines in each stanza, but they appear in a different order each time, as set forth by the rules of the form.  They show up in a prescribed order in the envoi as well.  I wrote my first sestina during a poetry workshop.  The words (witch, field, guide, fire, violet, and shit-storm) were contributed by the students in the class.  How does a person use “shit-storm” seven times in one poem?  You’re about to find out.  That workshop was five years ago.  I’ve kept in touch with the instructor, Dr. Woodward Martin, and recently had the pleasure of hearing him read at a Zoom poetry event.

MEDICS IN TRAINING  

Instructing new recruits was a sergeant everyone called The Witch.
She was ill-tempered but would teach us how to survive in the field.
She handed each of us a spiral-bound combat readiness guide.
Being prepared would prevent unfortunate trials by fire.
For instance, CPR was best learned BEFORE your buddy turned violet
and you found yourself in the middle of a shit-storm.

And eventually it was going to happen, the shit-storm.
It was inevitable in the world of combat, said The Witch.
I may have begun hyperventilating, my fingers were turning violet.
She pointed this out, asked what remedy we’d use in the field.
Every pair of eyes looked down, flipping through pages rapid-fire,
searching for redemption in the little spiral-bound guide

Breathing into a paper bag will help, advised the guide.
Rebreathing CO2 should calm the anxious and dizzy shit-storm.
Commit it to memory, she said, many hyperventilate under fire,
and if you don’t have a paper bag, any kind will do.  The Witch
reminded us that medical supplies are often lacking in the field.
One has to make do when fingers begin to tingle and turn violet.

I had never before thought of it as an ugly color, violet,
but it usually meant something ominous, according to the guide.
Not like the pretty patches of wildflowers that dotted our field,
but mottling and cyanosis and bruises and dead tissue, a shit-storm
of potentially life-threatening ailments.  Just as The Witch
opened her mouth to speak, an alarm rang out – Fire!  Fire!  Fire!

We made an orderly exit and stood watching as the fire
trucks pulled up, sirens screaming, to investigate the gray-violet
smoke rising from the building.  We realized The Witch
had begun to hyperventilate.  No one needed to consult the guide.
Armed with our new knowledge, we were ready for the shit-storm.
A recruit pulled a paper lunch bag from the pocket of his field

jacket, delighted that he was properly equipped to field
the emergency.  He had her breathe into the bag as the fire
raged on, the flames consuming the roof and sending a shit storm
of ashes swirling through the air.  He took her arm to guide
her to a bench, where normal color returned to her once-violet
fingertips.  Once she recovered her composure, The Witch

seemed not so much a witch as a human like us, a field
medic and leader and guide.  I heard she married one of the fire-
men, named her daughter Violet, and still loves a good shit storm.

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HAVEN’T A SQUARE TO SPARE?

My favorite toilet paper meme so far is this one:

I used to spin that baby like I was on Wheel of Fortune.
Now I do it like I’m cracking a safe.

While everyone else is freaking about the TP shortage, I’m coming up with solutions.  My alternatives are normal, everyday things you’ll find around the house.  They range from flushable and washable to cosmo-politan and unconventional, even S&M if you don’t mind it a bit rough.  You’re welcome.  Now stay in, stay safe, and stay clean and dry.

PS:  I learned a new trick – how to do footnotes!

THE A-Z GUIDE TO
TP ALTERNATIVES

All types of wipes[1]
Brown grocery bags
Catalogs
Dust cloths
Euro-style bidet
Feminine products
Garden hose bidet
Handkerchiefs
Incontinence pads
Junk mail
Kleenex
Lone socks
Magazines
Napkins
Old newspapers
Paper towels
Quasi-TP[2]
Rags
Shop towels
Tissue paper
Unwashed undies
Vagabond items[3]
Washcloths
X-mas wrap
Yellow Pages
Zero waste methods[4]

[1] Baby, personal, flushable, hygienic, moist towelettes, Shittens
[2] Perforated paper on a roll that is 1-ply, recycled, or RV-safe
[3] Listed items that have wandered into your garage, car, treehouse, greenhouse, she-shed, storm cellar, camper, boat, summer cabin, etc.
[4] Shake-shake and Drip-dry (pee only)

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IS CHEWING REALLY NECESSARY?

Today’s response to MURI’S 2020 CHALLENGE FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.  Like the 2019 challenge, this consists of 13 prompts, one for each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in April. They can be completed in any order.  If you are interested in participating, click on the above link for the prompts and posting guidelines.

Prompt #13 is “Get extra points and bragging rights by writing a poem using the following words – basil, candle, ink, tub, bread, lace.”

A strange grouping of words, no doubt… They painted a picture in my mind of a long soak in a clawfoot tub with a few tealights burning, the window open, lace curtains fluttering in the breeze.  On the vanity lies
a longhand letter half-tucked into a matching envelope.  But the bread did not materialize.  Neither did the basil.  Even if they had, how would
I write a poem about a scenario I know zilch about?  I can’t sit still long enough to enjoy a bath and neither of my bathrooms have a window, not to mention nobody in their right mind brings a treasured piece of correspondence into a space full of puddles and poo molecules.

Writer’s rule #1 is “Write what you know.”  When one of my crowns fell out, I had a story to tell.  But how would I get all the compulsory words to fit?  Poets are masterful at finding ways to break the rules while still operating within them.  They might even throw in a rhyme scheme just for shits and grins.

Yuge thanks to Muri for hosting this NPM challenge and providing the prompts.  I don’t know which was more fun, writing my own poems or reading the other submissions.

UH-OH

An upper crown
fell out of place
and left behind
an empty space

A jack-o-lantern
sans the candle
chewing things
it cannot handle

A trap for dough
and basil shreds
from Italian subs
on crusty bread

Off to Drug Mart
I boldly went
for a jar of DIY
tooth cement

The fix felt weird
My bite was off
It proved no match
for dental floss

The options suck
A vexing wobble?
Or a tender stub
to mollycoddle?

I’m on the brink
Should I endure it?
Or have an expert
resecure it?

Despite the risks
of COVID’s scare,
I guess I’ll brave
the dental chair

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YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO HOME BUT YOU CAN’T STAY HERE

Today’s response to MURI’S 2020 CHALLENGE FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.  Like the 2019 challenge, this consists of 13 prompts, one for each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in April. They can be completed in any order.  If you are interested in participating, click on the above link for the prompts and posting guidelines.

Prompt #11 is “Write an acrostic poem using a word to describe your worst enemy.”

Menopause hit me like a ton of bricks.  Fat cells gathered for a family reunion in the space between my armpits and knees.  When the party was over, I couldn’t get them to leave so I let them hang around.  I fed them cheese manicotti and Pringles.  I encouraged them to be fruitful and multiply.  “Size doesn’t matter” became my mantra, along with its pants tag cousin “16 is the new 14.”  But those extra pounds caused a lot of old friends to turn on me.  Suddenly, everything felt tighter—elastic waistbands, t-shirts, armchairs, the space between my car and the garage wall, my chest when I walked a couple blocks with the dog.  There were more and more things to avoid—fitting rooms, swimsuits, photos that showed my chins, high school reunions, rickety lawn chairs, Spanx garments capable of suffocation or entrapment.

When I resolved to lose weight, the cosmos used every trick in the book to try and stop me.  NOOM proved too technologically challenging.  The local gym was pricey and required an extra pair of shoes, ones that had never set foot in the outside world.  Nine days after I joined, they shut down due to Coronavirus.  The same week, the nurse called with my lab results; I was to decrease my thyroid medication, which would make my mission even more difficult.  The grocery store ran out of low-fat mayo and multi-grain flatbread.  But the more the universe thwarted me, the more determined I became.  I counted calories, swore off snacking, and upped the daily dog walk to a mile.  I crocheted to keep my hands busy.  Over a period of six weeks, my afghan grew and I shrank.  Not so much that I’d blow away in a strong wind, but my enemy is not as formidable as he once was.  I’m on the road to victory!

IN THE REARVIEW

Worrying about BP, diabetes, heart attacks
Every year, buying new jeans in a larger size
Insecurity, avoiding mirrors, dodging selfies
Going toe-to-toe with the fridge and losing
Hating the scale with its big black numbers
Trying to squeeeeze into a shrinking world

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PARDON MY FRENCH

Today’s response to MURI’S 2020 CHALLENGE FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.  Like the 2019 challenge, this consists of 13 prompts, one for each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in April. They can be completed in any order.  If you are interested in participating, click on the above link for the prompts and posting guidelines.

Prompt #8 is “Use these words in a poem – rice, mice, nice.”

Three rhyming words, perfect for a Vers Beaucoup.  Very French.  Which sparked a memory of a passage in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris.  The author, an American who resides in France part-time, tells of an appointment with his French dentist.  The TV is always tuned to the French travel channel.  This day, a family in Africa has discovered a burrow of mice.  David turns away to answer the assistant’s question and turns back to find the family eating mouse-kebabs they’ve grilled over a campfire.  Unable to keep it to himself, he interrupts the dental proceedings, struggling with his limited vocabulary to convey what he has just seen, “Ils ont mange des souris en brochette!” (“They ate mice on skewers!”)  Without blinking an eye, the dentist replies, “Ah, oui?”  (“Oh yeah?”)

I’m not that cosmopolitan.  I have never eaten mice or any other kind of vermin, and thanks to the association of Coronavirus with “alternative meats” in the press, I probably never will.  So don’t get all grossed out, the poem is 100% make-believe.  The photo is from Google Images but the paper plate looks oddly familiar.  I think I may have the same ones.

WHO’S UP FOR TAKE-OUT?

When I’m in the mood for street food, I know a dude
who peddles barbecued mice with a side of fried rice
for a nice price.  No more bat, his sales fell flat when
WHO’s Fat Cats found them liable for the viral spiral

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RIPENING, OR LACK THEREOF

Today’s response to MURI’S 2020 CHALLENGE FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.  Like the 2019 challenge, this consists of 13 prompts, one for each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in April. They can be completed in any order.  If you are interested in participating, click on the above link for the prompts and posting guidelines.

Prompt #5 is “Use the theme of ripening in a poem.”

Ripening is a word I associate with fruit and late summer.  Fat tomatoes from the garden, luscious melons from the farm market, peaches, pears, and apples straight from the orchard.  This time of year, fruit is found at grocery stores.  It’s picked before its prime in some faraway sunny place and cold-shipped to Ohio.  “Cuties” are generally good, and bananas and avocados will ripen reliably on the counter, but I steer clear of the other stuff.  In the pre-COVID-19 world, hubby would sometimes accompany me to the grocery and toss things into the cart when I wasn’t looking—Cocoa Puffs, Oreos, a six-pack of Negro Modela, and occasionally, fruit.  I can abide with kiddie cereal and cookies and beer.  Bad fruit?  No way.

The poem is a parody of This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams.

REJECTION

I have put back
the peaches
that were in
the grocery cart

and which
you were probably
thinking
would ripen

Forgive me
they were hopeless
so green
and so hard

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LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

Today’s response to MURI’S 2020 CHALLENGE FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.  Like the 2019 challenge, this consists of 13 prompts, one for each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in April. They can be completed in any order.  If you are interested in participating, click on the above link for the prompts and posting guidelines.

Prompt #4 is “Write a cascade poem.”

OK, Muri.  About what?  I guess that’s up to me.  As I scan the room for inspiration, my eyes alight on an overfull laundry basket containing an afghan that has been in progress for ten years or so.  Actually, it was a failed sweater that kind of cascaded into an afghan.  ‘The Beast’ has been relegated to my Unfinished Projects Closet a number of times.  (For more info on my UPC, click HERE.)  One of my Lenten resolutions was to work on it for an hour or so every day.  Having to stay in due to Coronavirus provided the necessary couch glue (a substance similar to writers’ chair glue) to get the job done.  I am on the homestretch now, pulling from the very last skein.  I should be finished by Easter.

CHANGE OF PLANS

Many rows of sweater unceremoniously unraveled
I exchanged my knitting needles for a crochet hook
Soon an oversized afghan shall rise from the ashes

Project Fair Isle began with 10 skeins of wooly yarn
and a novice’s zeal.  Result not as ‘fair’ as I’d hoped
Many rows of sweater unceremoniously unraveled

A gorgeous tangle of blues and greens and indigos
too itchy to wear, too pricey to waste.  What now?
I exchanged my knitting needles for a crochet hook

And crocheted a long row in the only stitch I know
doubled back and added 36 skeins found on E-Bay
Soon an oversized afghan shall rise from the ashes

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BUBBLE, BUBBLE, TOIL & TROUBLE

In response to MURI’S 2020 CHALLENGE FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.  Like the 2019 challenge, this consists of 13 prompts, one for each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in April. They can be completed in any order.  If you are interested in participating, click on the above link for the prompts and posting guidelines.

Prompt #2 is “Use the following words in a poem – willow, bird, tea.”  On my mind as I wrote my response was an article from last week’s New York Times wherein a nurse complained that the hospital she worked at was out of everything.  Not just ventilators and masks and gloves, but vital medications.  No sedatives for patients on ventilators.  No Tylenol for patients with fevers.  If hospitals cannot get their hands on Tylenol, what hope is there for the rest of us?  I pulled out a book I bought long ago, an encyclopedia of alternative medicine.  Mostly simple, common sense remedies—clove to soothe a toothache, ginger to calm an upset stomach, menthol and camphor to loosen chest congestion, honey and lemon to quiet a cough.  Roll your eyes if you want, but home remedies might be worth a shot when you’re suffering and there are no over-the-counter meds to be had.  Now’s the time to befriend that odd neighbor who knows about stuff like feverfew and St John’s wort.

AMATEUR HERBALIST

Our neighbor, a strange bird is she
grinding bark from a white willow tree
with mortar and pestle
then boiling the kettle
to brew some homemade “headache tea”

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