NaPoWriMo, Day 29: A Double Dactyl (But Not Really)

The Despot Queen of Soap

Rub a dub, scrub a dub,
Queen Ranavalona
bathed on her balcony,
wearing a hat.

Slaves washed her naked flesh
as a crowd cheered and clapped;
there was nothing she liked
better than that.



This is a crazy form. Nuts. Let’s look at the requirements: 1) It’s supposed to be about a person. 2) The first line should be a nonsense phrase. 3) There should be two four-line stanzas. 4) In each stanza, lines one through three have six syllables, and the fourth has four. 4) The two fourth lines rhyme with each other. 5) And … the six syllables in each line should follow a pattern where a stressed syllable is followed two that are unstressed, and then you do that again. 

I think I got everything but that last part. I just … I can’t hear syllables very well at all. There’s a reason why, after a test in elementary school to see which band instruments suited us best, I was advised to *please* not play percussion. 

Also, Queen Ranavalona I ruled in Madagascar in the 19th century. This book (which I’m reading for kicks, not for life coaching or etiquette tips) is where I got the detail about her proclivity for bathing while wearing a hat and while citizens dutifully cheered. Sounds like a fun gal, except for the slaves … and she also ordered a lot of people to be burned at the stake, boiled alive, or chucked off mountains. There’s always something, isn’t there?


NaPoWriMo, Day 28: Space

Snorkeling in Mexico

In a cave of chalk, the bats cling,
and some swoop. If you keep
your head down, you can

forget them; you can see yourself
clearly, chalk-gray hands and legs,
as if this is your real color, and
you’ve never seen it until now.

Your mask, your face in the water.
Look. There are tiny, colorless fish
darting through the one shaft of

dust-watered sun that lances down
from a hole in the roof of the cave
and unites everything, is the center,
the reason for all the life here.

Clearer than clear. Cleaner than clean.

At the edge, the mouth of the cave,
the people wait, your fellow tourists
who stepped out of the van, walked
down the farm path, like you, but
saw the bats and could not enter

this space, deep and cold, dark,
where you and your husband
drift in and out of the sun, until
you are no different from the fish.



NaPoWriMo, Day 27: A Nursery Rhyme or Clapping Game

Itty Bitty


Itty bitty
small and pretty
left the country
for the city

Rode there in
a moving truck,
Mama waved and
wished her luck

Itty bitty
small and pretty
left the country
for the city

Began to knit,
then to sew,
then to weave
both high and low

Itty bitty
small and pretty
left the country
for the city

Climbed the wall,
began to spin,
how many flies
came … right … IN?

five …


NaPoWriMo, Day 26: An Elegy

An Old Grief


I dance around the shape of loss,
these empty cups, these brittle bones;
sadness seeps into places I can’t name.

What is it when grief becomes
a slide across the sun, a scrim
so thick, the light diffuses,

footsteps down some other
hallway? What is the sound
when it’s all been said, when

there’s no more time for saying,
and life carries you like a little boat,
purposeful and aimless as a leaf? 


NaPoWriMo, Day 25: A Cento (Which Doesn’t Mean it Has 100 Lines)

How Long the Years Grow

Into the dangerous world I leapt,
like strings of broken lyres.

Again, when have I ever not loved?

I summon you now,
the happy genius of my household,
from a kingdom that bullies, and hectors, and swears.

And within the pane-lit windows,
the ghosts swarm.

Skin remembers how long the years grow.
Let’s ask a poet with no way of knowing:

Did I have to be born?

With many, many thanks to the following poets:

William BlakeThomas HardyDerek WalcottMay Sarton, William Carlos Williams, Philip Freneau, Bill Knott, Rae Armantrout, Naomi Shihab Nye, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Mattathias (as translated by David Rosenberg).

OK, putting in the links took longer than writing the poem …

A cento is a poem made entirely of lines borrowed from other poems. For mine, I went to and navigated to their index of poems appropriate for various holidays. I grabbed a line from one poem for each holiday listed there. I did this mostly in order, except that I flipped Chanukah and Christmas because the line I found for Chanukah was an especially killer ending, and I just didn’t like the poem as much without the flip in the last two lines. I also made a few changes to punctuation and such, where needed for sense.

I had fun with this. Was it … cento-riffic? Maybe. Maybe it was.

Oh, and also, P.S.: I forgot to say thank you, thank you here to Vince Gotera for featuring one of my poems from a few days back, on his blog, The Man with the Blue Guitar. I was honored and thrilled, and you should visit him posthaste!


NaPoWriMo, Day 24: A Lipogram (Which is Not a Poem about Fat)

My Stars

you wallow
in a sky
just past
my hair

I touch
I cry
I hold

do you
ask this:

what I am,
what words
I own, and

who follows,
who wants?

you know
I am solo,

a paramour,
a companion,
a buddy,
a pal.

no, nothing
but you.

but you,
my stars.

Note: A lipogram is a poem in which the poet avoids using a certain letter. The classic choice for English speakers is to avoid the letter “e,” so that’s what I did. Oh, also … I’m happily married and do have some other buddies and pals, too. The speaker here is not me — so, no need to worry … or recommend that I check out eHarmony. And finally … Eeeeeeeeeeee! That was fun.

OK, not quite finally … I’m linking to dVerse for its Open Link Night, which is every Tuesday. Thanks for the tip, Anna!


NaPoWriMo, Day 23: Let’s Get Ekphrastic

Phone Books in Strange Towns

thin, yellow
rustle between

hotel room
a guide to

where I am,
what businesses
prevail here,

where pizza
comes from
if I order it,

where to get
a car fixed
if I had one.

street names,
area code,

there are
white pages,

too; I scan
for last names:
do I know

anyone here?
does anyone
know me?

most times,
now, there is
no book

in the drawer
other than
the Bible,

the Mormon

have answers,
place them

like crumbs,
but no one
leaves me

the path
I most want
to follow.



OK, only sort of ekphrastic …. Truthfully, I don’t like ekphrastic poems much — either writing or reading. (But if you wrote one today, I’m sure it’s terrific.) There are some really great examples, some ekphrastic poems that really do work on their own. But all too often, the sense I get — again, both as a writer as a reader — is, “Ehh, you kind of had to be there.” The word is a problem, too: For some reason, “ekphrastic” has always sounded like a painful, gassy condition to me. So, I kind of thumbed my nose at today’s prompt … but I really do love to see a phone book when I travel on business. They’re not works of art, certainly, but I decided to celebrate them anyway.


NaPoWriMo, Day 22: Write about a Plant

Needles Interweaving

Fifteen Christmas trees later and
a crack opens up in the earth,
swallows them whole.

Scotch pine become Douglas fir,
Douglas to Fraser, not that big
a leap when everything is

changing so much, converging,
needles interweaving; everyone’s
Christmas is pretty much the same:

That was the year you got your
bike, wasn’t it? We all got bikes
that year or a different year, or

something else. We all have the
pictures, one tree or another,
some type of dog, maybe a cat,

a mother, a brother. None of 
these is as special as we thought;
it turns out that we were all

part of a set. But the trees were
real, at least as far as they knew,
seeded in rows like corn and then

cut, brought in to stand still and
bear witness, stunned, as we all
breathed that same stale air.




NaPoWriMo, Day 21: Hay(na)ku

An invented form: One word for the first line, two for the second, three for the third. And repeat, if desired. For anyone who’s ever been second (or third) best …



am not
your best girl

I am
the one who

with you
here, right now.

we go
to the dance?

am wearing
my best dress

I know
I am second

or third,
in your eyes.

bought me
a wrist corsage

I love
it even though

wilted and
was an afterthought,

last one
in the case.