ONE LOVE POEM, MANY FORMS

In honor of Valentine’s Day, my poetry group did a writing exercise wherein each person contributed a phrase about the source of love.
A few days after the meeting, our fearless leader Steve arranged
the phrases (verbatim) into a poem which he sent to us via email:

They say that love is never lost, so why can’t I find it?
Love comes from love
Innate, hard-wired unless over-written by Fortune or Fate
a cookie pan
Love–divine–like birds, always there, even in winter
When in the midst of pouring rain, a smile warms the day

He challenged us to re-work it if we wished.  Woo-hoo!  A batch of free verse phrases crying out for structure, a form…  This sounds like a job for JustJoan!  But what form would I use?  Which one would do justice to this wide variety of ideas and images?  Naturally occurring rhymes were scarce, so I began with syllabic forms: eintou, cinquain, haiku, and diminished hexaverse.  I figured I’d hit on the right one sooner or later.
I got lucky on my first try, but kept on going.  Perhaps one of the other forms would work better.  What I found, to my surprise, is that they all worked.  Emboldened, I decided to try a couple forms with rhyme and refrain:  lai and rondelet.  With a few synonyms and a touch of creative license, these also worked.  I added an acrostic for good measure.  You guessed it, it worked.  I’d always believed that words suggested their own poetic form, but maybe verse in search of an outlet finds one in whatever form it is offered.  Without further ado, poems about love:

Eintou Septet
7 lines
Syllables 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 6 / 4 / 2

LOVE IS
constant
like winter birds
warm smiles on rainy days
divine, innate, subject to Fate
never lost, hard to find
on cookie pans
from love

 

Cinquain
5 lines,
Syllables 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 2

LOVE
Warm smiles
Birds in winter
Never lost, hard to find
Divine, Innate, on cookie pans
From Love

 

Haiku
3 lines
Syllables 5 / 7 / 5

HAIKU
Love is never lost
Found in smiles, birds, gods, the self
and on cookie pans

 

Diminished Hexaverse
5 stanzas, first stanza has 5 lines, each 5 syllables, second has 4 lines, each 4 syllables, third has 3 lines, each 3 syllables, fourth has 2 lines, each 2 syllables, fifth has 1 line, 1 syllable

LOVE

Around and within
Like birds, always there
even in winter
A smile that warms us
on a rainy day

Innate, and yet
subject to Fate
The divine yield
of cookie pans

Never lost
but sometimes
hard to find

Love is
born of

Love

 

Lai
9 lines with rhyme scheme a / a / b / a / a / b / a / a / b.
a lines have 5 syllables, b lines have 2 syllables

LOVE IS
The Divine revealed
Within us concealed
Innate
A cookie pan’s yield
A pouring-rain-shield
Smile-shaped
A Lost-Found ordeal
A spin of the wheel
of Fate

 

Rondelet
7 lines with rhyme/refrain scheme A / b / A / a / b / b / A.
Refrain (A) is 4 syllables, all other lines are 8 syllables, all lines written in dimeter

SOURCE OF LOVE
Love comes from love
and warming smiles on rainy days
Love comes from love
and cookie pans, and God above
Within us all, subject to Fate
It’s never lost but just misplaced
Love comes from love

 

Acrostic
The first letters of each line spell something related to the poem

LOVE
They say that love is never lost so
How come I can’t find it?
Even in winter it is there, like birds
Smiles that warm us in the midst
Of pouring rain. Divine. Innate.
Unless overwritten by Fortune or Fate
Really, it is borne on cookie pans
Chocolate Chip Love, Oatmeal Love
Ephemeral and yet, everlasting

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IN A MIDWEST MINUTE

Ready for a new and intriguing form?

The EINTOU SEPTET is an African-American poetry form with seven lines adhering to the following syllable count:  2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 6 / 4 / 2.

One recent afternoon, it began to rain.  The air, chilled by a brisk north wind, dropped from just above freezing to just below in less than sixty seconds as the plummeting droplets shimmied in the chaotic current.  The result?

PRESTI-DIGI-PRECIPITATION

With the
deftness of a
magician, the wind waves
a sheet of sparkling sleet over
the rain; when he whisks it
away, ta-daaaa!
Snowflakes!

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PRECIOUS OR PRECOCIOUS?

When I was a child, I loved staying at Grandma’s house.  I packed my suitcase and lugged it up the creaky stairway to the alcove bedroom with the framed print of the alley cat whose huge eyes glowed in the dark.  Crisp morning breezes carried the sweetness of lilacs and bird song through the open window.  Grandma didn’t play with us so much as let us tag along as she did her chores.  We clamored to help gather fallen apples for a pie, knead bread, or feed laundry through her old-fashioned wringer.  She never cut us a break when we played games.
It didn’t matter if you were six or sixteen, if you misspelled a word in Scrabble, she would challenge you and you would lose your turn.  She had the patience of Job, fielding our questions all day without a trace of irritation.  When I pointed to a ceramic jar on the bathroom counter and asked what ‘Chopper Hopper’ meant, she told me choppers were teeth and a hopper was a place to keep them.  “C’mon, Grandma, you can’t put teeth in a jar!” I said, certain she was pulling my leg.  I about flipped when she opened it and showed me Grandpa’s dentures.  At bath time, I told her I didn’t want my hair shampooed; I had sounded out the words on the bottle and was convinced that a product called ‘Hurr-ible Essence’ would smell bad.  Her rosary resided in an elegant plastic box whose lid was a statuette of the Holy Family.  Across the front it said, “The family that prays together, stays together,” which
I solemnly repeated every time I retrieved it for her.  My fascination with reading everything in her house must have driven her bananas.

GRANDMA MARGARET
(Elegy in Ghazal)

Her gentle brown eyes lit up just for me, my grandma
Her hugs were warm and soft and bosomy, my grandma

She stoked the basement woodstove, did her gardening
in a proper dress and hose—always a lady, my grandma

She turned every chore into fun: chopping up vegetables,
making beds or bread, hanging out laundry, my grandma

In card and Scrabble games, she did not pander to us kids;
she played hard, made us beat her honestly, my grandma

She churned out snickerdoodles and homemade noodles
and jars of tiny pickles, as sweet as could be, my grandma

She knew a mourning dove’s cry, made snapdragons talk,
shook down fruit for us from her apple tree, my grandma

When I tossed a Nerf ball in the toilet, talked too much, or
toppled a houseplant, she never grew angry, my grandma

On her Singer, she sewed clothing and puppets and quilts,
and hundreds of pairs of mittens for charity, my grandma

She even made me a black baby doll, hair done up in braids
Provider of my first lesson in racial diversity, my grandma

Each night, she prayed for world peace and those in need,
counting Hail Marys on her worn rosary beads, my grandma

I’m fifty and childless and live in sweatpants and sneakers,
but inside, where it counts, I shall one day be my grandma

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BEAUTY AND THE ARCTIC BEAST

As the Polar Vortex blew through the northern US and Canada, it did lots of ugly things.  Furnaces struggled, unable to keep pace with the chill. Car batteries gave up the ghost. Intrepid outdoorsmen got frost-bite and ass bruises.  But it also delivered the season’s fluffiest snow, air-brushing it into nooks and crannies in impressive drifts, swirls, and arcs.  One screen on our bay window, raised in autumn and forgotten, was hovering at half-mast when the storm hit.

The poem is a VERS BEAUCOUP; click on link for the rules of the form.

POLAR VORTEX SAND ART

By Winter’s hand, sparkling bands of flurries land
in a grand curve between the window and screen,
surreal scene, framed but fleeting, fast-retreating
snow tears greeting the low-slung rays of midday

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ALL IS CALM, ALL IS BRIGHT

For most of the year, I’m perfectly happy with shadows and darkness.  But the approach of winter solstice awakens in me an almost primal need for illumination, as evidenced by my recent household projects.

Setting up our life-sized crèche, powered by six extension cords:

Installing the Lego lighting kit in my little VW Bus.
Oooooh!  Ahhhhh!
Headlights, tail lights, signal lights, and overhead cabin lights:

Decorating my lime tree with a garland of twinkling stars:

Writing another Lanturne:

NOEL
Light
Shining
Luminous
In the Manger
Christ

 

But light can be metaphorical as well as literal.  I drove out to Dollar General yesterday to buy some non-perishable items for our Little Free Pantry.  I had already shopped there three times during the week and accumulated three coupons for $5 off a $25 order, all redeemable 22 Dec 18, not to be combined with any other coupon or offer.  I pushed my cart through the grocery aisles tossing in beans, vegetables, fruits, canned meats, pastas, sauce, macaroni and cheese, and jars of peanut butter.  Then some holiday items: cinnamon, ginger and vanilla, poultry seasoning, Stove Top stuffing, cranberry sauce, cookie mixes, frosting and sprinkles, hot chocolate and marshmallows.  I knew I had gone way over budget and briefly considered putting all the frivolous items back, but a voice inside assured me that I would be able to afford everything.

Just one register was open.  The clerk was hesitant to let me divide my order into three piles and use all three coupons, but she relented when I explained the food would be donated to charity.  Checking out took a while.  The line grew longer and the customers behind me grew antsy.  As the clerk scanned the final pile of groceries, a man in the line leaned toward me, held out his credit card and said, “This is the card you’ll want to use for that, Miss.”  It was the most expensive of the three piles, well over $50.  I asked if he was sure.  “Positive,” he smiled.  He’d overheard enough to figure out what I was doing and wanted to help.  The rest of the customers nodded approvingly, their irritation forgotten.  Greetings and blessings were exchanged and afterward, we parted ways, each of us touched by the glow of goodwill, carrying it like a torch into the cold, gray afternoon.

Merry Christmas!  May you all be bearers of the light.

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A FAMILIAR ROUTINE?

Cats are an effective deterrent for all kinds of evil spirits:
demons, spooks, hobgoblins, ghouls, phantasms, specters,
wraiths, hellions, banshees, revenants, even those dreaded
Fahrvergremlins.  They haint afraid of no ghosts!

WATCH CAT 
(sevenling)

In corners
In the pantry
On the basement stairs

She hisses
She hackles
She claws the empty air

Performing her daily exorcize

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WHEN TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT

A friend of mine recently arranged a reunion for her family.  She is in her 50’s and has not seen some of her aunts, uncles, and cousins since childhood.  My own story is similar.  I went to college, got married, and moved away.  Funerals were the only time we got together, one aunt remarked.  So she took it upon herself to plan a reunion, a cook-out at the state park.  Now, before you read what happened and get all judgy, I’d like to make two statements in my own defense:  At the time, I was slightly nearsighted (20/30, or maybe 20/40) and I was not wearing my glasses.  Also, the pavilion where ‘my people’ were located wasn’t one of the ones readily visible from the parking lot.  So, here goes:

THE BEAN SALAD PEOPLE

We hadn’t gotten together in years
unless funerals count,
so we made plans for a family reunion
at the state park.

Nobody under the picnic pavilions
looked familiar to me,
but we had been away a long time
and people change.

I spotted my mom tending the grill,
her backside anyway—
wispy brown hair, polyester shorts
that came to her knees.

I grabbed the bean salad I’d made
and on the way over,
my husband and I were intercepted
by a fat, jolly lady.

She took the bean salad from me.
“This looks delicious!”
she gushed, setting it on the table.
She pulled us into a hug.

I couldn’t place her… a great-aunt?
One I’d never met?
She said to load up our plates and
make ourselves at home.

I walked toward the grill instead
to say hello to mom,
but it wasn’t mom, just some lady
shooing flies with her spatula.

I knew the answer to my question
before I even asked it.
“Is this the Nieset family reunion?”
She shook her head.

Hubby’s bemused glare said it all:
Jesus H. Christ, Joan,
you don’t even know your own family?
WHAT?  THE?  HELL?

I went back to get the bean salad.
A few scoops were missing.
“Leaving so soon?  You just got here!”
The jolly lady again.

“I goofed,” I said, my cheeks burning.
“Wrong pavilion.”
“Couldn’t you at least stay for a photo?”
She was persistent.

Dumbfounded, we agreed, and they
gathered around us,
everyone smiling and saying “cheese”
as the camera flashed.

After she’s gone, Jolly Lady’s children
will peruse her albums,
wondering who we are and how the heck
we ended up in their photo.

They’ll check the scrawled notation
on the reverse side and
where our names should be, it will say
The Bean Salad People.

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WHAT’S GONE AND WHAT ISN’T

My father passed away on June 24th.  When death strikes somebody near and dear to our hearts, it’s a wake-up call, a siren song urging us
to make the most of the hours we have left.  I’m pushing fifty. What’s done is done. Certain windows of opportunity have closed. The roads not taken are destined to remain so.  What we’ve surrendered might never be recovered.  Yet, all is not lost.  Each of us carries, in a secret pocket deep inside, an insurance policy made of neglected hopes and dreams, waiting to be cashed in.  Desires that, with time and nurture, might enrich our lives, bring us joy, and set us on the path to purpose and fulfillment.  What is it that you long to do?  What are you waiting for?  Life is a limited-time offer!

LOST

Under each public roof
there’s a box or a drawer
of things we’ve misplaced
and return looking for

But childhoods foreshortened
and innocence lost
are among precious items
you won’t come across

No good advice spurned
or time carelessly squandered
inhabit dark corners
where car-less keys wander

No vanished virginity,
old flames, or lost loves
court bohemian scarves
and forlorn single gloves

No obsolete friends
will be spotted consorting
with vagabond wallets
and cellular orphans

No scandalized ethics
or compromised trusts
wear google-eyed sunglasses
covered in dust

No frittered good health
or sharp minds gone astray
jostle musty umbrellas
from past rainy days

But ignored inner selves
and raw talents untamed
and sweet dreams once forsaken
might yet be reclaimed

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DUMP ‘EM INTO THE ZEN BLENDER

Remember the old Reese’s commercial where the guy with the peanut butter slams into the guy with the chocolate and something brilliant is born?  A while back, I selected two favorite books from my bookshelf, Maybe, Maybe Not  by Robert Fulghum and Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls  by David Sedaris.  I collected five random phrases from each and arranged them into a ‘found’ poem, alternating their distinct voices in what became an intriguing, almost philosophical discourse.

THE SOUND OF
TWO MASTERS YAPPING

Ten minutes later,
I was back and we picked up
where we had left off

I did not intend
to lose him to promotion

“Gentlemen, you will remember
that you sent us to the great king,”
I told them,

but I felt uncomfortable
and sidelined by what I knew
of left-wing politics

and a fog of anxious dread
began rising
out of my spiritual swamp

Was he the bravest of them all
or wasn’t he?

A displaced person literally
does not know which way is up,
because there is no true north

I remembered experiencing
the same disquieting sensation,

however, I couldn’t give up;
too much was on the line

“It’s your loss,” I called,
and a great cloud of steam
issued from my mouth

(The regular type is Fulghum, and the italics are Sedaris.)

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POETRY IN 10 NOT-SO-EASY STEPS

On the heels of last week’s poem about processes, I have to wonder who first came up with the idea of mapping them out.  Like, writing down a recipe or the rules for playing a game or basic instructions for assembling furniture from IKEA.  All of these are good, helpful things, but once we got going, we couldn’t seem to stop.  Like toddlers who can’t resist sticking things in electrical outlets, scientists (and middle managers) can’t resist sticking things into equations and flowcharts, where they’re boiled down, logically explained, objectively measured, improved upon, and turned into a boring PowerPoint presentation.

One of our poetry class assignments was to define our poesy process (the method we use to create poems).  I wrote a paragraph every week on this topic.  In it, I offered specifics about each piece, where the idea had come from and how I’d developed it, but no general rule or magic formula ever emerged.  Years later, the “explanation” of my process became its own poem, a Ghazal:

HOW A POEM HAPPENS

A memory or feeling or notion strikes me, igniting the words.
Muses storm inside my head; a bolt of lightning, The Words!

I take down dictation as from a faucet splurting and gushing,
pen racing to keep up; in my slapdash handwriting, the words

I look at them, climb inside of them—seeing, hearing, feeling;
searching for a common theme underlying, uniting the words

I type, cut and paste, rearrange phrases, shuffle them around,
restoring order to the chaos and somehow, righting the words

They choose a form—sestina or sonnet, limerick or free verse
I guide and slide them into it, finessing, not fighting the words

They coalesce into a poem, a fragile but complete work of art
I read it aloud, ears alert for glitches while reciting the words

Revision, my relentless quest for the perfect among the good,
is well-meaning but a bit overzealous, often smiting the words

I stop myself tossing them into the trash, where they belong.
After a walk or a nap, they’re brilliant and exciting, the words

I wield my thesaurus, more gently this time, until fit and flow
merge into music; I chant it to myself, delighting in the words

Instruments of the Great Creator, my hands, my pen, my voice
God’s Gracious Gift gives back to Him, wellspring of the words

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