About My Mind Freeze

I wish chance had not operated
and heaven exists, so there be no parody
filled with becoming bourgeoisie
some of whom are said to be
in servitude of God–really I’m hoping for
an orange kind of mandala,
or some medieval cross,
or recipocral karma.

Really chance is God. How he rose up
in the guise of a garuda,
swift of martial prowess,
charged with electricity–
would you be a talisman
or at the very least
a mnemonic to our sacred origins
within our mother’s womb.

Here I drink whiskey
as an opiate, asking aren’t I irreplaceable,
asking in self-defense,
while my love languished,
primal and mossy, moldy, leafy
as tobacco, in some sepulchral memory–
if language be the currency, exchanging,
falling into penumbra.

Prompt:

What is the state of your mind? Is it related to your body? Guess so. If so then those peeps with beautiful bodies would have beautiful minds, and vice versa. No? Yes, mind and body’s related. I think a lot of the time it’s body over mind. Guess if your body is ailing in some way you’d not feel so good huh? If you have a killer bod, you’d be over the moon most of the time? Awkward pause. My job’s only to ask the questions okay? When we are not rigor mortis, and are functioning relatively okay, we ought to induce in ourselves a state of bliss. That’s mind over body. Maybe these two take turns to dominate each other? Really it should be mind over body, because the mind transcends every effing thing. Anyway this train of thought has me feeling macabre, morbid and what-have-you. It’s also due to this poem I read too. Read it and respond to it in some way.

Suddenly the worlds of death and substance seem to pause
in their mechanical obedience to the rules of time

And tension: we, the holders of Philosophy’s new Bibles,
look away from everything we know corrodes, and speak

Pentecostally, if cautiously of the Plan of Man, the engines
of his mind’s consistency, the freedom from delay his towers

Know, forever rising from cartographies of hope!
But the ghost which Yeats would revel in will not be sent

Out naked on the roads for punishment–no element
may carry life’s prefigured comical audacity

Beyond its blood-veiled site: nothing waiting on this moment
or this pen will freeze the spirit to a mind-free shape.

Peter Porter, “No Heaven Cold Enough”

Shout Out To the Okapis

Bare of knowledge, is this how to live?
So what about that stunt–we desire
those apples, intrinsic to disposition
so there’s nothing ersatz about living
apple to mouth, nothing flaccid about
our utterly strange preoccupations.

It’s barely daylight here.

I opened another book of poems sounding
a clarion call. So am I talking to myself?
Each morning I reassemble the pieces.
They are porous. And iterating. Have I
come to the end? Only to repeat?

What about all the anteaters,
the armadillos, the okapis? Shall I look to
nature to instruct on the ways of creating
the strange and the beautiful?
To exorcize all disbelief?
To fall on our knees and prostrate
our souls? To work the loom?

To write yet another poem?

Prompt:

Another day, another poem? Today I feel rather Sisyphean about it. Is it a curse or a blessing to write? Soon enough April will dawn on us and that always brings to mind Eliot’s lines:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering 5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Isn’t it easier to be forgetful? To not put in any effort or the minimal effort? Whereas spring asks that we awaken from slumber. See the parallel here?
And is that why National Poetry Writing Month falls in April? We’re seasonal creatures. Life is seasonal. We cycle back. We repeat. Write a poem that has something repetitious or seasonal about it.

Getting A Move On

I climbed onto the roof tiles
and be the roofwalker.
This too is in my almanac,
as well as ploughing the soil,
and watching for spears.

You wonder at my sweet deception,
my dark and secret plumage.
I blazed through nothingness
and lit up the cemetery,
scouring lints of grass.

The world is well with you,
my love, so we’d dwell within
all places, peopled, listening,
as chickens roamed the yard and
houses lined up like matchboxes.

Prompt:

How do you guys get inspired to write? Unlike in my callow youth, where the desire to write corresponds with some dire relationship issue, these days, I write at the drop of a hat. Well, a metaphorical hat. I get influenced a lot by what I read. Say, I read a line that references the sun as spectator. Then I read another line about Erica Jong. Or whoever. Then I kind of put the two together. Strange bedfellows but that’s how art works I think. Anyway, that’s how quirky it is. And unpredictable, this writing stuff. I like it a lot. I like how the unexpected comes together. How slices of life make it into a poem too. Yea your real life. Those of you who do this stuff, alright, you “either get involved/or go play with yourself.” I’m still reading Julio Cortazar, so yes my poem borrows from one of his poem titles, “Get A Move On”. So the prompt is to put together two or more different things in your poem, get slices of life in between, and turn it into something else. On that note, I quote from the final stanza of Cortazar’s poem (which he apparently wrote in Nairobi in 1976):

“This is turning into something else,
it’s time to fasten the seatbelt:
turbulence.”

My Blue, Dying Voice

It wasn’t time yet.
We had gone ahead to the chapel,
into God’s vault,
where saints and martyrs
had ascended to heaven
baptizing the leaden air.

What stirring sermons?
Come, move my heart! Animate as
music does, or legitimate light,
or this raiment of song
which drapes my soul
like a secret manuscript.

I am an apprentice to
this craft, which is an inner voice
blue and dying, and own,
and do not own, swinging it
like a lantern, as one
who’s lost in thought.

Prompt:

Hey guys, it’s World Poetry Day. So have you steeped yourself in a poem? Have you written a poem? Is there time enough left? I almost did not. But pulled up my socks
at the last minute.

Poetry has power, has it not? It is prized because it articulates our soul, our collective soul and individual souls. It is soulful. What are we but souls, you tell me? And if we’re souls, then there’s the overhanging question–what is the afterlife? What is God? It’s all our hearts bleed about. Then there’s love, but that’s a whole other story. Or is it?

I’ll leave you to read a poem then, if you didn’t manage to write a poem…about the afterlife or whatever. It’s from a book of poems I’m currently reading by an amazing Argentinian poet.

Dream On Fearlessly, Friend
by Julio Cortazar

Our heart would have little left if we took away its poor
hand-held night where it plays at having a home,
food, hot water,
and a movie Sundays.
We have to leave it its little vegetable garden,
since we took away its angels, those gilded paintings,
and most of the books it liked,
and the satisfaction of believing in something.
We cut the hair of its grief,
trimmed the nails of its feasts, the eyelashes of its dreams,
we toughened it, made it good and funky,
so the cat won’t eat it
and the ladies from Accion Catolica
won’t come looking for it in between prayers.
So that’s that: its aches
won’t even send a goodbye card,
we fashioned it in the image of its time and it knows as
much.

Fair enough, but leave it a little
of what’s left over when we tie
our well-shined everyday shoes;
a little starlit square, some colored pencils,
and that pleasure in stooping to get a good look at a toad
or a blade of grass
for no reason, for the pleasure of it,

at precisely the moment of Hiroshima
or the government in Bonn
or the Viet Minh offensive
in Vietnam.

I Grieve, Said An Uxorious Man

I remember losing my way, and
finding a way, with alacrity,
or slowness, like now, and then only
to lose it, and on and on this became
the way of things, as if some impertinence
of nature had taken hold of me,
and I colluded somehow

in the banal, being part of the divine,
if there is a plan, a grand plan
to it all, and not some overpowering
indifference. I grew strangely
retrospect. So language became a salvation,
my quantum leap into consciousness,
not mere daily politenesses.

I read a book about an uxorious man.
It’s not much about ballooning,
as an adventure, that front section,
but grief, its recidivism.
I don’t much know–my loves are alive.
But I know it’s part of the planning,
flowering of the yet invisible.

Prompt:

The theme of our current issue is…grief. Here’s what Julian Barnes said about it:

“Early in life, the world divides crudely into those who have had sex and those who haven’t. Later, into those who have known love, and those who haven’t. Later still–at least, if we are lucky (or, on the other hand, unlucky)–it divides into those who have endured grief, and those who haven’t. These divisions are absolute; they are tropics we cross.”

If life is a maturation process, then these are tropics we cross. I could think of another one: parenting. These crossings are into another continent.

And of course, what is grief but the work of memory? Even if sometimes it tries to obliterate it, the weight has only shifted elsewhere.

Julian Barnes had lost his wife, a literary agent, in 2008 to brain tumor. He had married her in 1979.

He said, “It took a while, but I remember the moment–or rather, the suddenly arriving argument–which made it less likely that I would kill myself. I realised that, insofar as she was alive at all, she was alive in my memory. Of course, she remained powerfully in other people’s minds as well; but I was her principal rememberer. If she was anywhere, she was within me, internalized. This was normal–and irrefutable–that I could not kill myself because then I would also be killing her. She would die a second time, my lustrous memories of her fading as the bathwater turned red. So it was, in the end (or, at least, for the time being), simply decided. As was the broader, but related, question: how am I to live? I must live as she would have wanted me to.” (Julian Barnes, Levels of Life, 2013)

Do you have a story about grieving?

Said One Groundling To Another

As the wind turned southerly,
the poems sprung like magnolias,
looming larger than life,
below the full moon.

Said one groundling to another,
don’t judge me. We want mystery,
and magic; in the dark
grew exalted and rueful.

All this aura, the luscious scent,
sent me levitating, my love,
vestigial, souls homing toward
you, turning westerly.

Prompt:

The other day I turned my head and there against the night sky was the full moon. It shocked me a little. And you know guys, where the expression “lunatic” comes from. It’s a mystery really. Why madness? Why the moon? Is it that each soul has a path to follow, and that’s where the meaning of one’s life lies? And what about love? Is it a kind of madness that would give us answers? And the answer is: we don’t know; we feel. That’s kind of the stuff that affairs of the heart are made of isn’t it? Said one Englishman in Paris, who had fell hook, line and sinker for a French actress, knowing his comrades too sought out such maidens but thought that “they would return home and marry Englishwomen of good family for whom the practicalities of the heart were no more complicated and mysterious than the practicalities of the kitchen garden.” (Julian Barnes, Levels of Life) Aren’t we all entranced and repelled both?

The Ceremony
by Julio Cortozar

I took off your clothes amid trembling and tears
on a bed that was open to infinity,
and if I had no pity on your protests
nor on your begging nor your flushed face,

I was a potter at the dawn of time,
inside the clay I could feel being born
the slow ritual risk of the live flame,
the mythic return to flowers and to the source.

You wove in my arms the rustling locks
of time’s hair linked like a chain
to its eternally recurring fire;

I don’t know what you saw through your complaint,
I saw eagles and moss, I had become
that side of the mirror where the serpent sings.

Of course it all turns to ashes in the end. Englishwoman or Frenchwoman, regardless. Write a moony poem of course.

Whose Hand Is This, Asks Harold

I vaguely recalled the godowns,
the white looming ghosts as
we cascaded down the river,
and the hand of my father,
oh my father.

The bumboats brought them–
firewood, charcoal, spices, rubber,
so Harold wrote–godowns owned by
Guthrie & Co., Caldbeck’s, and
McAlister, and Chinese companies
with undecipherable lettering.

At the padang, the lawn between
cricket club and recreation club,
friendly football matches, or rugby,
or cricket, and people placing bets.
All-around street food–mee siam,
rojak, say bak with rice.

Harold sat across the north bank
seeing Old Parliament House,
summoning the ghosts of bygone
food stalls for office workers,
postmen cycling with bundles of
letters to different offices.

You’d read someone’s narratives thinking
whether they be borrowings, or anarchistic
journalling. Or even a cookbook with
hybrid ingredients as part of your
heritage. Let facts speak or mingle
with myth, the journaler decides.

Let no man’s feathers be ruffled
(though it may be), as what crusade
this be for but memory? As the wind
blows through the yellow footnotes,
let one be not too tight-lipped,
risk nothing, oh losing it all.

Prompt:

Hello poets! I’m so happy to see the ones who practice writing poems submitting. And nailing them down. How does one nail them down? I mean, a poem is kind of an assembly line, and you choose what to assemble. Only it isn’t a McDonald’s assembly line, so each one carries with it a uniqueness of perspective. But as with an assembly line you need to give your reader, your client, a takeaway. What does the reader take away? I’m reading poems where there isn’t a sense of a takeaway. Yea you have assembly but you end up with a crumbling takeaway that flakes to nothing. So try again, will ya? Think about what you take away in this powerful poem by Argentinian poet, Julio Cortazar.

To A God Unknown

Whoever you are
don’t come.
The seeds are mixed with tiger’s teeth,
an endless fire pours down on the helmets,
nobody knows when the grimacing will stop,
the erosion of a time in pieces.

Obeying you we have fallen.

–The tower went up straight, the women
wore bells on their ankles, we enjoyed
strong fragrant wine. New routes
opened like thighs to the happy greed,
to the insatiable holds of the ships. Glory!
The tower defied all caution,
like a strategists’ celebration
it was its own reward.
Gold, time, destinies,
thought, treaties, violent caresses,
agonies, races, tributes,
they rolled like dice, with their fiery points.

Whoever you are, don’t come.
The record is legend to these timid eyes
with their focal and bifocal, polaroid, nonglare glasses,
to these hands coated with cold cream.
Obeying you we have fallen.

–The stubborn professors make ratlike faces,
they vomit up Gorgias, pathos, amphictyoies and Duns
    Scotus,
councils, canons, syringes, skalds, trivets,
how tranquil is the life, the rights of man, Ossian,
Ramon Lull, Pico, Farinata, Mio Cid, the comb
for combing Melisendra’s hair.
That’s how it is: preserve the legacies, worship you in your
    works,
eternalize you, the lightning flash.
Turn your living rage into a precept,
codify your free laughter.
Whoever you are
don’t come.

–The whiteface fiction dangles from its monkey,
the alarm clock gets us out of bed on time.
Come at two o’clock, come at four,
too bad we have so many commitments.
Who killed Cock Robin? Because he didn’t use
deodorant, yes ma’am.

As for the rest, the H-bomb, the musical comb,
detergents, the electric violin
lighten the passing time. The waiting room
isn’t so bad: it’s carpeted.
–Consolations, young anthropologist? Supplied:
you see them, you try them on and you take them away.
The tower went straight up,
but we have Dramamine.

Whoever you are
don’t come.
We’d dump you, garbage, made
in our nylon and orlon
image, Jahweh, oh my God.

It’s an assembly alright, but it’s very powerful discourse isn’t it? Whichever discourse you decide on, let your assembled poem give a clear takeaway. What? That “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”? What? Think about what a line like “The waiting room/isn’t so bad: it’s carpeted” says. Why does it sing with irony? Does yours sing? And of course, the repetition, “Whoever you are don’t come”, said so many different ways now. So yea, assembled poem, clear takeaway, said so many different ways.

Harold’s Confession

This was what Harold wrote:
I was born at Lorong Silat. As I was growing up, we stayed at Race Course Road, and later removed to Kempas Road. After some time as my father could not afford to pay the rent we removed to 35 Joo Chiat Place, Telok Kurau, till I got married in 1951.

Of course we’re deeply ingrained
in our geography. Of course, my dear,
so if ever we found ourselves some place
else we’d have to pinch ourselves,
see if we’re only dreaming.

The sun’s luminosity dazzled me
as I came out of a brief illness.
All the body’s work. The mind’s
taking it all in with a grain of salt.
I reached for his pages and found,
firmly anchored, Harold’s confession.

Misgivings about a self not
entirely known to oneself.
How does one help oneself–
is that the question? And you,
being dear to your father,
that was what touched me.

And what of the future?
It was already known, how lucid
Harold was, the day before he died.
How humdrum life was. Granddaughter,
Celine, came to visit. And how reverent
life’s meant to be, and rigorous too.

Prompt:

The thing about vintage stuff is that they die. I’m thinking about one of those old school coffeeshops that I’d go for dim sum and congee, and reading that it’d be closing end of the month. You know how it is. The people get old. There’s no one who’ll take over the business. So each generation that dies off carries off with it a trade that, if it doesn’t get passed on, die. It’s poignant really. Used to be that the generations passed it on. No longer. I really like my old coffeeshops.
In somewhat the same vein, I’m sharing with you a poem by an Argentinian poet called “The Future”.

And I know full well you won’t be there.
You won’t be in the street, in the hum that buzzes
from the arc lamps at night, nor in the gesture
of selecting from the menu, nor in the smile
that lightens people packed into the subway,
nor in the borrowed books, nor in the see-you-tomorrow.

You won’t be in my dreams,
in my words’ first destination,
nor will you be in a telephone number
or in the color of a pair of gloves or a blouse.
I’ll get angry, love, without it being on account of you,
and I’ll buy chocolates but not for you,
I’ll stop at the corner you’ll never come to,
and I’ll say that words that are said
and I’ll eat the things that are eaten
and I’ll dream the dreams that are dreamed
and I know full well you won’t be there,
nor here inside, in the prison where I will hold you,
nor there outside, in this river of streets and bridges.
You won’t be there at all, you won’t even be a memory,
and when I think of you I’ll be thinking a thought
that’s obscurely trying to recall you.

by Julio Cortazar, translated by Stephen Kessler

Hope you’re inspired to write something.

Harold Gives An Account Of His Children

Of course I read the timeline,
almost well-versed with it by now.
The promised enjoyment did come,
by way of the children,
all nine of them.

Marie Rose came second. Harold named
her after his mom. Bright in school
but gave it up to work for what use was
schooling to a girl? With his commentary
on each of his children, Harold was no
mere pedant, but a progenitor.
The litmus test of his stories–
each one of them branching off
in work and marriage.

Charles was born at home.
The midwife arrived to his crying,
with the cord wound round his neck.
She disentangled it and cleaned him.
You must have eaten a lot of jackfruit,
she said to Harold’s wife, that’s why
the baby was covered with fruit sap.
Why, that is true, Josephine said,
there’s more of the fruit in the fridge.
Midwife gladly brought some home.

Some stories lend themselves to
the telling. Some would say, racy,
but there’s nothing but lightness
here. The darkness of course was
everywhere around, and paramount.

Prompt:

In looking at your storyline, you might want to include births. Every life begins with a birth. A lot of stories begin with “I was born on (this date).” They normally don’t say “I died on (this date)” unless it’s a posthumous narrator. So I’m suggesting to you to write a birth story. Whose birth story? You get to decide, since you’re the omniscient narrator. Or the other option is to think of the beginning of stories. How does one begin? Here’s one example from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which is an all-time favorite story of mine.

“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”

Include some kind of genealogy detail if you feel like it.

In case you missed it, please check my previous post. You know, so I don’t have to repeat myself. Search Prompt 244.

Harold Loves His Mom Very Much

My eyes began to glaze over.
I’d stared dumbly. Except for
the spirited part–when Harold
said my mom, Rose, had died two
days after my twelve birthday.
It was lockjaw that killed her.

On his birthday he’d returned
from school, to a new football
and a jigsaw puzzle from mom.
Guess that’s why Harold played
football till a leg injury ended
his sport. He became arthritic.

A book of crossword puzzles
to dither away his old age
as slowly as ever–odd but
his own way of remembering–no
need to be sage for figuring out,
retrieving the irretrievable.

Prompt:

So I read that Tommy Page died. Apparently suicide at age 46. I’d been listening to his cheesy love songs. Hey I’ve nothing against cheesy love songs. Maybe it’s even a secret pleasure? His hits are “I’ll Be Your Everything”, “Paintings On My Mind”, “A Shoulder To Cry On”, among others. On a different note, I also read a poem by Elizabeth Bishop called “Insomnia”.

The moon in the bureau mirror
looks out a million miles
(and perhaps with pride, at herself,
but she never, never smiles)
far and away beyond sleep, or
perhaps she’s a daytime sleeper.

By the Universe deserted,
she’d tell it to go to hell,
and she’d find a body of water,
or a mirror, on which to dwell.
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well

into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.

In your poem write about remembering and like the moon, “find a body of water, or a mirror, on which to dwell.”