I Feel Happy Like This

Too much expressiveness–
it’s not a bad thing,
surely not. It’s what we
do, keeps us cerebral,
even principled.

I can’t help liking you,
mythical that we are,
capable of anything. Maybe
we make each other less
down-hearted, more real.

Isn’t life very strange?
The shape of things come
upon us, we’ve learned to
discern–that’s our task–
to witness, to listen.

Prompt:

I just listened to someone say to show up for work, that’s what we writers do. Everyday or every other day. William Stafford used to wake up at 4AM everyday to write. And not everything you write is fodder for eternity, and that’s ok. It’s expression that matters. Why does it matter? Because it keeps you grounded somehow. Real. Less fake. Because in the real world we keep up appearances. In writing, in fiction, we show our true faces. Isn’t that ironic? Like someone said today, Irene takes the best videos, but god, that sounded ironical, like so artificial. So in writing, ask yourself, is it the real thing? Or are you saying something trite? So today, it’s just me showing up for work. You try doing that and see if anything happens, ok?

What Are You Dreaming?

Are you still enthralled?
Or weary of my heroics?
I am all earnest now,
not just trying to knock you
off my feet, you know.

I’m overly dramatic,
at least in my writing.
It’s got to be, with a little
voyeuristic pleasure,
irreverently romantic.

There’s this thought I have.
That with all life’s predatory
antics, which I loathe,
will there be peace? Peace
then I give to you.

Sad when people get eclipsed
out, you and I too, will
just fly out of the house.
Good thing too. Then what?
It must’ve been a dream.

Prompt:

Sometimes I feel that I’m just a steward. You are too. What are you given stewardship of? Would that be duties that you carry out? Each in our world do we carry on performing acts of stewardship. This too, this writing stuff. I don’t even know why I do it. Does it even matter? But because it happens so naturally for me, I feel I’m just going with the flow. Then the wind changes direction, as it must, and the flow goes elsewhere. I’ll have to go then. One more month. So for today, think about the question of stewardship.

What Shape You’d See Clearly

Something you’ve not had
you’d have no concept of
and yet you’d still let
fingers stitch the yarn,
needle through until it’d
swell into a mound.

Does it take sheer guts,
or memory, you’d ask?

It’s called memory but even
deeper, the shape of your
soul probably. Faint yet
emphatic, so these twitching
fingers is not an act,
they’re tracing ghosts.

Coming into presence,
manifold absence blooms,
leaves you there open and
wasted, and elegant–
what shape you’d see
clearly when it comes.

And then becomes quiet,
still as the hills.

Prompt:

We’d launch our current issue earlier this year in March. So it’s coming to five months now. In case you’d forgotten, the theme is “Sweet Sorrow”. So yea. You’ve got about a month left to submit, till the closure on 25 August. It’d be our final thematic issue. In case you didn’t know, there’s a sister site which provides prompts. It’s called Red Wolf Poems. I really like the synergy that comes from process and journalling, I’ll probably continue with that even if at a glacial pace. So if you wrote to the prompts over at that site, then your poem might cross over to the journal. I’d like to keep the focus on process. So when it’s over, it’s not really over. Haha. What’s the saying? It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. I mean, if you can still remember how sweet it was, it’s not really over is it? Could it be even sweeter in the recollection? Because it’d have percolated through the fog of those years? Wow this really gets me in a mood.

Qu’est ce que la Chanson?

Are we impregnable, a fortress?
In wells of darkness do we lie,
half truths to beguile,
bat shit crazy, mired in
pretensions? Hard to tell?
Stories we sell?

Is it all a revelry, even when
sitting in a train or a bus,
the connoisseurs we are,
even a foolish thing,
or a soliloquy, something to
which we’d say, aaah.

Qui est-ce? C’est Tessa.
Back to back we locked arms
with the Eiffel Tower backlit
in the background. Half truth?
Above the hum of voices,
an old French song–

La vie en rose, my dear.

Prompt:

As a literature major I’d read a novel and go, ah, there’s the metaphor of breaking in and getting out. Indeed the protagonist, it occurred to me, keeps doing that and it’s like I imagine the novelist, in this case Iris Murdoch, is staging it as a central trope. The trope of imprisonment. At the beginning he is being thrown out of an apartment (read, “forced to vacate”). Then he is being literally imprisoned in another apartment he agreed to house-sit. Later he tries to enter the apartment and ends up at the fire escape eavesdropping before making a dramatic getaway when the neighbors called the police. He tries and succeeds in entering the apartment of a man whom he says this novel is about. He also tries and succeeds in gaining entry to the man’s film set. And later had to escape it dramatically. Towards the end he tries and succeeds in gaining entry to a hospital at night, and succeeds in getting away with that man in tow. There is also a dream-like quality because he seems to summon up whoever he wishes to meet, or appears at a pub at the exact time a telegram is being delivered to him. I mean, coincidences. The object of his pursuit, a lady called Anna, is really in love in with the man he says the novel is about. That’s the final denouement. So you know, the theme of the novel is the illusions that we have, that imprison us. Think about it. All the great novels (and lesser known ones) have this theme. Great Expectations. Pride and Prejudice. The Catcher In The Rye. You name it. At the end the hero/heroine matures. When this happens the world feels unreal.

Here’s a quote from the novel I was talking about, Under The Net.

“All work and all love, the search for wealth and fame, the search for truth, life itself, are made up of moments which pass and become nothing. Yet through this shaft of nothings we drive onward with that miraculous vitality that creates our precarious habitations in the past and the future. So we live; a spirit that broods and hovers over the continual death of time, the lost meaning, the unrecaptured moment, the unremembered face, until the final chop chop that ends all our moments and plunges that spirit back into the void from which it came.”

Poignant right?

So yea, write about illusions. Or perhaps not even that way, but how the ordinary gets transmogrified when we become truly conscious.

Tessa, You Made A Difference

Now hold my drooping head.
Go on telling me things.
In that way life continues
to be piquant, sometimes
even sacred, a strange
olfactory sensation.

In that way do we begin
to be conspiratorial.
In the disquieting silence
where no one knew nor cared
there’s mystery and power.
You made a difference.

Even if life’s discontinuous.
And all other threads get
broken, and we’re called
to bury the damn hatchet,
there’s a light reflecting
off the glassy stillness.

Prompt:

Whaddaya know, it’s mid July. June’s pretty much wedding season. And the holiday season’s not quite over is it? Frankly the past year(s) have been illuminating. In terms of friendships, life, love, writing, whatever. And no it’s not quite over yet. Coz we’re not done living yet. I watched a Ted talk yesterday. The guy talked about human needs. The need for certainty. Sure. The need for uncertainty. Err yes, because life gets boring otherwise. The need to feel significant. Wahoo. The need for connection and love. Connection, yes. Love, too scary. I’ll leave you with a quote from Vladimir Nabokov: “At eighty-five…he saw his decline as a ripening and an apotheosis.” Hope you’re inspired to write already.

Tessa, This Is The Noise I Make

Stroking you, my eyes glazed over
the dream. So easy to drown in
gravity and sadness. Sins. Name
them? Too many! Mostly how to
overcome the anguish that comes;
friends who’d come and go like rain.

I’d like to know, and learn and
believe. Too many half-circles.
All the people crossed hands,
joined randomly, and then taking
a lifetime to untangle the mess,
to make a big, complete circle.

Is there a method to madness?
Through the labyrinth, through
the looking glass. So that we won’t
go home empty-handed, our hearts
become full. Now why do you look
at me, eyes round as saucers?

Prompt:

Now that you’re nearer to the end of life, does it seem like things have come full circle? Or does it seem like it takes a lifetime to untangle the mess that attends to most lives? Or maybe you’ve satisfied your work goals and you’re now looking at other ways of self-fulfilment? I mean, there’s got to be new growth at every stage of life, am I right? Or do you believe in renunciation? Or if not that, then to simplify your lifestyle? You tell me, I’m curious to know. Whatever it is, your life isn’t really settled, or is it? What have you settled and what have you not? Do you feel smug because you’ve got it all figured out? Try to answer this in a poem.

Tessa, What Are We Desperately Seeking?

Tessa, they’d said you
labor at what you love,
that would be a world
which had everything,
it would be true.

You remember how it was,
each scene shift needing
new props and so really
once set up, the characters
you meet appear randomly.

Of course you’re hung over
but even if you’d remember,
the old pattern of life would
have given you the slip, left
a hollow in your stomach.

Then since you’re no psychic,
you’d begin to see another
story outline, whatever reason
it came to be you’d fill up,
even put on a gilt coronet.

Prompt:

Life sometimes makes a clean sweep. So you’re forced to move on, invent new shapes. It’s kind of an upheaval. Things from the inside turned outward, so everybody’s demons came tumbling out. Anyway that’s kind of what’s on my mind due to local events. Haven’t you realized by now that there’s nowhere to hide, that eventually the truth will be out, people’s true colors will be revealed? Whatever fantasy are you living? That seemed to be the question. God holds up a huge mirror so that forces self-reflection, so either you see your faults or you go on pretending. Only you can’t pretend any longer. So write a poem that’s about change that comes from within.

The Remains Of The Day

Tessa, I’ve lost you.
Your paroxysms of laughter,
your bizarre humming,
your sheer appetite for,
you know, love.

I’ve closed the suitcase on
all that belonged to you.
What does he know?
He leaned weakly on me.
Both of us walled in.

Of course, I’d let you put up
my hair with bobby pins.
Let us recount what it was,
all our bantering, and then
quieting with restraint.

Prompt:

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day is said to be one of the most highly regarded post-war British novels. It was made famous by the movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. It is a quietly moving story about the stirrings of the human heart. What if the heart is misguided, by blind loyalty, for instance? Does it mean that the premise of one’s existence is being taken away? In the movie, Hopkins played to perfection the butler who served with utter devotion. But it is his relationship to the housekeeper, Miss Keaton, which is of interest. Suffice to say he never moved the relationship to the next level.

“Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

When he met Miss Keaton, now Mrs Benn, 20 years later, she seemed to be not happily married but reconciled with her married state. And he had the occasion to reflect on the life he had led. He didn’t actively regret those lost and misguided stuff on which his life was based though but set out to live out the rest of his days according to the mold he had cast for himself. Is it a worthy life? If he thinks so, so it was.

So hopefully this will make you reflect upon regrets and lost opportunities in a poem.

What’s It Like To Create

Trace a shadowy reminiscence
when your head isn’t spinning
so this could be your moment
creating. Outside the dark
traced by a clothes line
reminds me of other lives
so unlike mine.

What’s the force of words?
Does it have the power of
a hurricane? Even to uproot,
upturn, upend trees whose
roots have sunk so deep,
the earth would have to
roil and move.

As for God, who put all this
together, with majesty, what
was truly in his head, to
bend to creation? And we,
having to follow too, the
echoes, the feels, and not
commit a travesty?

Prompt:

I guess we marvel at technical brilliance. Like say, in writing a poem, do you try to layer on the sounds, the assonances, so that when one reads there’s a subtle musicality? Do you find end rhymes appealing to the ear, especially when one’s reading them aloud? It’s kind of satisfying too, if it’s not so predictable and hence awkward? I don’t really set musicality out as a goal, but sometimes I do it because it just feels satisfying, to just drop in the assonances. I hardly ever do end rhymes. I am more driven by the flow of thought and association. So often when I start a poem I hardly know what’s the end result. The end result often surprises me. What is really a criteria for me is that a poem’s thoughtful in a way that moves me. That’s feeling I reckon. Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, right, Wordsworth? Make us see a bit of that magic happening in your poem, where from the dark, as it were, a feeling or thought comes to the surface.

A Fleeting Beauty

I’m not even garrulous
yet we’ve told each other
the complete story,
filling up the gaps
whenever we’re called,
like a harvesting.

I said I like myself now,
all those pieces inside
interlocking like a grid,
a map of some city the like
of which I’d never known
till its yellowing.

Even so, the mystery
never leaves. The artist
draws, the bard sings,
the dancer taps feet–
they’re beside themselves
that fleeting beauty is all.

Prompt:

It’s already begun–the dying. I meant our parents’ generation. I went to two wakes today. One was that of a college mate’s dad. I read his children’s eulogies which celebrated his life story–a brilliant career as a brigadier-general, a trailblazer of his generation, and a doting dad. Of course life complicates things so there’s a whole other side of the story. And you know what? What redeems all of us in the end is the love that we gave. That’s what people remember you for. Because we’re each of us capable of doing harm to others whether or not we wanted to. Think of your enemies, or those who have done you wrong in some way. It’s hard but we’re called to let go of the hate, perhaps only at some end point, when the person is about to die. The other person who died was Buddhist, and briefly took care of my kids. I remained in gratitude for her care-giving. You could talk about life’s impermanence or its fleeting beauty in your poem as you think about your own life and/or the lives of others.