Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Day Five ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2017


Day Five . . . five shalt thou count; neither shall thou cease counting at four, nor shall thou proceed on to six, at least not till the morrow, until the cock shall once more crow to the heavens.

Maureen Thorson’s NaPoWriMo prompt: "write a poem . . . about a slice of the natural world that you have personally experienced and optimally, one that you have experienced often. Try to incorporate specific details while also stating why you find the chosen place or plant/animal meaningful."

Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem-a-Day prompt: "pick an element (like from the periodic table), make it the title of your poem (or part of the title), and then, write the poem. Anything goes from hydrogen to oganesson."

I imagine Maureen envisioned autobiographical poems arising from her natural-world prompt, but Robert's element prompt pushed me in a science-fiction direction, to a speaker whose personal experience with the natural, a wide-ranging experience, is out of this world.

Eaters of Hydrogen

I’ve been a solar astronomer since 1995
so I’ve been around the sun a lot. Really,
we’ve all been around the sun many times,
as many as the years you’ve been on Earth.

Depending on how many orbits that is for you,
you might think you’ve seen everything under
the sun, as they say. Or in my case, on or near
the sun. Well, today, I saw something so crazy

no one’s ever witnessed anything like it before.
Have you seen pelicans fishing? They swoop
down and scoop up a beakful of ocean,
netting a fish or some other sea creature.

Today, the instruments and also the big scope
caught something humongous at the edge
of the sun's photosphere, where nothing has any
business being. A colossal, gigantic structure,

10 times bigger than Jupiter, on the order
of 700,000 km . . . about 100 Earths lined up!
“Structure” is a misleading word, because
this thing was flexible, like an eel or snake.

It was longer than your typical prominence
on the sun’s surface, and it was swimming!
Unaffected by the sun’s gravity. Or heat.
It had to have originated out in deep space.

We’ve never seen anything like it. You know
the pelicans I mentioned before? The front end
of this monster had a mouth like a pelican,
with a maw as big as 10 earths. And it was

dipping its jaw into the sun and out again.
All we can figure out is that it must be
feeding, consuming the sun’s hydrogen.
It’s like a gargantuan sea serpent or dragon.

A leviathan as long as the radius of the sun.
A real Bakunawa eating more than the moon.
What do we do if this behemoth turns toward Earth?
And are there more star-eaters out there, hunting?

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

The Bakunawa is a Philippine dragon that, according to myth, eats the moon so that people must bang pots together and make lots of noise to scare the Bakunawa into regurgitating the moon. A myth that arose probably to explain lunar eclipses.

Alan's poem today also mines both prompts, his natural setting described with meticulous verve and detail, with the scent of brimstone always hanging over the scene, if only in fancy.

Taste of Sulfur

Good natured enough, my cousin
who has only my last name in common,
our being about a generation apart
because our grandparents had children
over the course of twenty-five years,
almost understood when I told him
I was hoping to find an old well
in the west pasture, where the soil
years ago got exhausted from my uncle’s
refusal to rotate crops, sweet potatoes
being so profitable for a change, where a cedar stood
near a broken foundation of a house
long gone even when I was a boy.
I had mapped the spot in my mind
for about four years, hoping for a chance
to find that place with that awful water.
The covered well, a lip of stone
like a small foundation itself, had a port
just larger than a coffee can in diameter,
and its hopeful lid was made of cedar, too,
like a mossy wheel when I knew it.
My grandfather kept a narrow bucket, left
upside down, on a post near the stone, a nail
to hold a galvanized dipper. We lowered
the bucket, ballasted with a small slab of slate,
with a bristly rope, hand over hand, until we felt
it touch the water yards below, and listened for the spill
over the bucket lid, lifting hand over hand again.
It smelled—my other grandfather, the profane one,
would sometimes claim that something “smelled like Hell,’
and I of course had learned that brimstone is sulfur,
but I knew this water was not from there,
and it does not occur to me even now that a well
for water reaches down for the infernal.

I had brought along with me a bottle of water
my cousin offered me, August pressing hot and hard,
and I had no pretensions that the old bucket or dipper
would still be there, much less the rope, which would
have been picked and worn to flayed fibers by now.
I couldn’t tell the distance—how often I had walked
those fields in memory, how present of mind I was
to realize that my perception of size would be different
from what it was, the world’s changing with every year,
but I saw at last a southern corner of the remaining
foundation, honeysuckle braided thick over it.
The locust post stood nearby, weathered grey
but still as upright as it ever was, a rusty nail’s nub
having left a brown stain a scant inch on one side.
The stone lip looked just the same. I couldn’t wait
to touch it, like seeing someone I had missed for years
and wanting to pat a shoulder. I sat, refreshed,
and reached behind to grasp the lid
that was not there. My fingers traced the well’s dry rim,
and I turned to see how my hand could span
its circumference. I leant to peek into it
but could see nothing and then realized
I smelled nothing, either, no rotten egg
scent I had braced myself to stand.
I looked for the slate ballast stone
but could not find it; there was gravel
near the well; I dropped some in and heard
no splash. The years had cost the well,
and I felt parched, but as I opened
my bottle of water, I made a gesture
I don’t understand, an overwhelming
decision to empty the bottle into the well,
jerking it upside-down and not hearing water
touch anything inside, a few drops falling
onto the stone lip, quick to evaporate
as I brushed them with my fingertips.

—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

Amazing poem, Alan. Wonderful, especially in that unexplainable and yet-so-true gesture at the end.


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Ingat, everyone.   


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