Sunday, April 5, 2020

Day Five ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2020

Maureen Thorson’s NaPoWriMo prompt today is drawn from “Twenty Little Poetry Projects” by Jim Simmerman. This is a list off 20 things to do in one poem, for example,

  Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
Make a non-human object say or do something human.

Go to today's NaPoWriMo page for the full list. Different online sources about the Simmerman approach say one should start with #1 and end with #20 but range freely among the rest, trying of course to do all.

Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem-a-Day prompt: “write a moment poem. The moment could be this very moment in time. Or pick a moment from your past and dive into it. It could be a huge moment or event in your life (or the life of another). Or you could share a small, private moment — like a walk at night or solitary adventure.”

My contribution today is quite a departure from my usual wont, because of the wonky Simmerman dicta. Although this piece is basically an exercise, there may eventually be a real poem from this.

The Front Door

was a surfboard speeding forward through the years
except when it slammed, stopping time like granite
if not for the glass pane in the door, which let in
the city lights, the fog like gray cotton, screeching
brakes, my friend Hart’s house across Parnassus St.
The door didn’t stop time . . . my mom came in and
said, “Hart died, Vin, I’m sorry to have to tell you.”
The night before, running from the cops, Hart had
driven off a cliff at Land’s End. A joyride with
a friend. Fuck fuck fuck. I could have stopped it
when I was on the N Judah streetcar and saw Hart
with a coat hanger breaking into a VW a month before.
I could have got off, said, “What are you up to,
Hart? Give it a break, buddy. Let’s go get a coke.”
But the moment was past. Green and tan streetcar
of rescue and possibility kept on, the steel wheels
skirling on the tracks, twisting time into ribbons.
I imagined Hart would stop stealing cars, throw down
the screwdriver. But that Vince, he didn’t get off
the streetcar and confront his friend. There was
always time. Sometime I’ll do it, I’ll say to Hart,
“Will you stop?” But that future day was stillborn.
The taste of silver on the eyes, 9-volt batteries
on the tongue, fingertips on the hot iron smelling
like burnt toast. That logic was no damn logic. Nada.
The KFRC record on my dresser, that album I had
borrowed from Hart last year, said, “What you gonna
do now, pendejo?” I imagined myself at that cliff
where Hart died, spinning that borrowed record into
the sunset air, where it would sail forever, surfing
to heaven and the future years Hart would never have.
But I didn’t do that. I didn’t get off that streetcar.
Moment past. Surfboard crashed. Front door closed.

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

I have been trying to write that thing for some 30-40 years. Until today I thought that it would be a short story but it never would work out before. Today the reversals and weirdnesses of the Simmerman algorithm broke that block.

About his poem today, Alan wrote me, "Vince, I am just not feeling the love from those prompts today, and one of them is even recycled, so I offer something I care about." So Alan is the first to go rogue this April! Though this poem may count as a "moment" poem.

J. P. Russell Climbs over the Railing at the Pinnacle Overlook
at the Cumberland Gap, and the World Holds Its Breath

On a Saturday morning in June during the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival,
A handful of writers of varying experience prepared for hiking
In the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
As a ritual cleansing,
Meeting before the majority of their fellow attendees managed to rise from their sleep,
Having kept long watch the night before through song, stories, and beverage.
Tony Maxwell, local educator and political activist, part owner of a beloved coffee shop
            I have spoken of before, arrived in a twenty-passenger van far too long for the trip
            we intended to make, our planned destination,
My friend, Tony, reminding me that I have liked just about every Tony of my personal
Tony Henderson, my maternal grandfather who, to placate a skittish newlywed bride,
            vowed to abandon his mandolin playing for more earnest spiritual pursuits,
Tony Hayes, my red-headed, gap-toothed buddy in the first grade, so shy he could
            hardly introduce himself to our first grade teacher, Mrs. Sharon Trimble, the
            prettiest woman either of us had ever seen before who was not on television,
Tony Johnson, my distant cousin who just recently lost his bid to become the
            superintendent of education for Morgan County, Alabama, where he had to run
            of course as a Republican by default because Democrats are no longer welcome
            in parts of north Alabama,
Tony Earley, my classmate at the University of Alabama whose talent inspired and
            exasperated us, earnest goofus as he was,
Unlike the Bonnies I have known in their self-indulgence, of which I will name only one,
            he being dead,
Bonnie James, my older cousin who worked as band director at my high school,
Who, during the 1976 Christmas parade paced beside the trumpet players and yelled at
            them, “Blow, you sons of bitches, blow!” when they did not manage celestial,
            earsplitting sounds during our martial renditions of “Hark! The Herald Angels
            Sing,” “Joy to the World,” and “Jingle Bells,”
Who began stewing at the beginning of the parade when he learned our staging position
            behind a horse-drawn wagon driven by a local appliance salesman dressed as
            Santa and displaying the latest Maytag washers and driers between his two
            children dressed as elves,
Who insisted we keep our eyes dead level without regard to the hazards of marching
            behind four horses not wearing containment bags,
And here, Tony Maxwell, who took great care in weaving the too-long vehicle up the
            hairpin twists to the Pinnacle Overlook,
Cajoled by his passengers joking of rangers with radar guns and measuring tapes behind
            every blind curve,
Tony Maxwell, who has had more mishaps in taking groups to the Pinnacle Overlook
            than most would endure,
Whose honors student scratched her name in the newly painted Civil War cannon
            mounted near the Pinnacle, prompting the Park Service to remove the
            installation and place signs explaining the removal,
Whose elementary students walked the path only to remember the oversized bloomers
            streaming from a branch arching over them like a welcoming banner,
Whose other batch of elementary students climbed on the hillside above the lookout and
            attempted to dislodge a boulder to see if it could roll down into the town of
            Cumberland Gap,
Patient, generous Tony Maxwell, who without speaking it relishes the relief he expects
            from carrying a vanload of grown-up writers to a point of resonant beauty and
Who without speaking it feels comfort in so many familiar friends,
Who without speaking it could not feel the peril to come from such an unlikely source as
            a trucker cap belonging to Ron Houchin,
Ron Houchin, whose very physicality expresses intensity, lean and concentrated, veiny,
            almost every natural color bled out from him except his irises and the corners of
            his mouth,
Ron Houchin, whose verse expresses intensity, lean and concentrated,
Ron Houchin, whose clothing always bears a skull on it somewhere, screen-printed on a
            T-shirt, mounted on a belt buckle, pinned on a badge, or, in this case, embossed
            on a trucker cap,
Presented as if it were graffiti on a railroad car, surrounded by neon colors contrasting a
            drab gray background,
Flanked by illegible block letters,
A clenched, stylized skull, impersonal glyph, near punctuation,
A memento mori between dashes,
Blown from his head and then instantly dropped twelve feet below him onto a boulder
            the size of an overturned VW Beetle,
Dismissed by him in a customary stoicism as if the loss meant nothing,
Prompting, nevertheless, J. P. Russell, an intern at the writers event, to volunteer to
            climb over the railing and fetch the cap,
Prompting, in turn, my series of reflexes,
Sympathy for Ron Houchin, who had lost his cap,
Empathy for Tony Maxwell, who must have felt that here, again, was a catastrophe in
            the making likely to result in his being banned from the park for life,
Wonder for Darnell Arnoult, director of the writing festival, whose influence wins such
            loyalty from interns that physical limitation means nothing to them as they will
            flock to do whatever they sense her bidding might be,
Impatience for J. P. Russell, who embodied the anti-Houchin—my God, I am just now
            seeing it, the color in his hair, his tan, his optimism of cargo shorts and multi-
            color Madras shirts, his expansive gestures and backleaning posture—willing to
            climb over a chest-high railing and lower himself onto a precarious stone of
            undetermined purchase to fetch a cap whose like sells for about seven dollars in
            just about any gas station/convenience store/travel mart between here and
And my saying, “Please, don’t do it,” and turning aside, certain that everybody’s good
            influence would prevent J. P. from climbing over the rail,
Only to take a couple of steps, turn, and discover that he had already retrieved Ron’s
Returning to the van, we took a side path where, across the sidewalk, the park had
            painted a dividing line between two states, only yards from where we had stood
            to see a natural boundary between one political entity represented by pastures,
            schools, and small towns and another represented by retail depletion and
            mountaintop removal.

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

Wow, that's quite a story. Love the Whitmanesque lineation. Thanks, Alan.

And thanks to you readers for checking out our work. Stay well, all. Stay home. If you must venture out, wear a mask or other face cover in order to protect others.

Friends, won’t you comment, please? Love to know what you’re thinking. To comment, look for a red line below that starts Posted by, then click once on the word comments in that line. If you don’t find the word “comments” in that line, then look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. Thanks!

Ingat, everyone.   

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Bruce Niedt said...

Wow and wow! I feel like I just sat in on a City Lights reading. Two fabulous poems from you and Alan. Glad that you were finally able to write that tribute to your friend - freewheeling, amusing and touching all at once. Bravo. Come visit my page now!

Bruce Niedt said...

P.S. Oh, you already did! [blushes]

Vince Gotera said...

Thanks, Bruce.

Alan, meet Bruce, who is posting daily poems at his blog Orangepeel.

Thomas Alan Holmes said...

Bruce, thank you for your kind comments. I have been working lately under the realization that I may not see some of the real folks in this poem for some months to come, and that notion weighs heavy. I have to take whatever consolation I can in conjuring memory.

Bruce Niedt said...

Well, nice to "meet" you, Alan, and again, great poem.

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