War Paint – Poem

War Paint

My sister never washed her face at night.
My grandmother smoothed cold cream
over hers in dutiful faith the makeup
would slide off like dirt on a screendoor
during rain. When I was twelve my father
grew a silver beard, unmatched
to his coal gray hair. My sister’s eyes
always rimmed in black, balls of tar
in the corners like that
of the family cat. Grandmother’s face
smeared with Vaseline – she must
have collected particles of dust in the creases
during sleep. Father shaving it off
when he saw himself in the Christmas pictures
that year. My mother never loved
the mirror, expressed disgust at its faces as if
she were opening the door to discover
the visitor, an enemy neighbor.

Trees – Poem

Trees

At a lakehouse in Brownsville owned
by my father’s company. It had a bow-limbed tree
we climbed easily. A gravel driveway
ground like bones beneath our soles.
And bunkbeds where we fought for the top.
Where my sister in the upper bunk stuck
a tape recorder out the window
into the branches during a lightning storm.
Next day she played it back and swore
there were angry voices whispering
in the tinny wind, made us listen
over and again until convinced. Angry
in that way a whisper can be louder
than a shout. The way mothers threaten
with their teeth set
together. We sat on the floor for hours
trying to decipher what they say.

More at We Write Poems

Departure – New Videopoem

This is partly in response to the weekly prompt at We Write Poems, but I’d been toying with it for at least a month already. The poem text is below the video, as well as process notes.

Departure

When the nurses wheeled you away
on the shuddering gurney, your simple body
steering down the corridor, your toes
pointing back at me like a little constellation

of stars, you gestured a goodbye
I didn’t recognize until later, and it was like
you’d already died, and I’d missed my chance
to honor that soft instant of your disappearance,

like a pilgrim slipping over a dark border.
And I realized I’d spent my life in avoidance
of such moments, never traveled with you
to the airport, or stood on a porchfront waving,

or looked in the rearview mirror while you stood
on a porchfront, waving. And that now
I’m more than halfway through my life,
and perhaps have done the most I can

of sweeping aside the crawling hours
forward towards conclusion, the end
not what I expected – no black bag of bones,
no hissing river spitting on an empty shore –

just a dusty shelf where your photographs
are stored, a dog-eared ottoman where I rest
my feet when I get home alone at the ebb
of another gentle, merciless afternoon.

Notes: My limitations – no decent video camera with which to film my own footage, my lack of decent video editing software, my iPhone Voice Changer app as my only source of recording audio – are starting to effect my level of satisfaction with the final product. Perhaps it’s time to get down to business and commit to learning new things, but for now, please forgive the highly pixielated spots in the video and go with the concept of it.

Finding the footage for this one was a bit of a bear, as it always is at the Internet Archives because their method of categorizing and organizing material doesn’t work with my brain. I found the video of Saunders dancing first, and “Romance Sentimentale” came along a few days later. Once I had those two pieces it was just a matter of splicing them together. Music was another matter, as I changed my mind twice when putting the visuals together, then two more times when I layered the poem audio over that.

Recording the audio was time-consuming, because this is a longer poem than I normally take on; as always I created the video first then fit the poem to the footage, and then recorded my reading in one take while watching the visuals to fit the poem into them. That doesn’t sound too hard until you screw up ten or fifteen times, or read the whole poem before realizing you forgot to hit ‘record.’ I’ve found that splicing together different readings or sections sounds uneven, so I always start completely over when I screw up. EVEN SO – I realized this morning I left out an entire line. It’s in the text, but I tried to splice it into the audio and it sounded out of place, so that line is just gone for now. It works without it anyway, even though I’d prefer it stay in there – I just wasn’t up to recording the whole poem again.

Self Portrait – New Poem

This is in response to Joseph Harker’s prompt at We Write Poems. The prompt was to try and capture a moment in a poem, and I thought immediately of my self-portraiture, as it is literally a captured moment on (digital) film. The poem went waaay out there, but I think it still speaks to the prompt.

Self Portrait

I am convicted
in what I do
and pleading
for conceit I want

to tell you
about it. It’s easier
to show. You don’t know
I am blind
to the mirror. I like
what I see. So begins

this poem. When faced
with story, editing
is necessary. Entire lines
to be removed. To know what
leaves out. To choose.

What is necessary but
the beautiful. Reflect
what is separate yet.

Single dimension. Denomination.
Domination of one
over other. Why can’t I be
an image always?

I lay them out like a count
of damaged furniture after the flood.
Wrung to dry, like laundry
on a wire –

intimates exposed. Indelicates out
where they should. A teacher

once told me a poem should end
with a moment of surprise
followed by of course.

I want to end
like that. A row of expressions
in a line of story. Every one
an exclamation.

Prison Hounds – New Videopoem

So, here’s my two ideas for prompts for We Write Poems.

#1) Add a visual to a poem that does not illustrate the poem, but rather, captures the mood. You visual does not have to be video, and you don’t have to record your voice like I did. It could just be a picture you post at the top of your poem. However, if you want to make a videopoem (and they’re hella fun to make) check out the Prelinger Archives, which is where I have gotten the visuals for my videopoems so far.

#2) It’s Halloween month, so why not try a creepy or scary poem? This one, “Prison Hounds,” is old, but I’ve been working with giving old poems new life through visuals and audio, and when I came across this old (so-called) scary movie called “Daughter of Horror” at the archives, I thought it might be a match. So pull out an old creepy poem or write a new one in honor of falling leaves, autumn colors, pumpkins, ghouls, witches – whatever floats your October boat.


If you can’t view it here, check it out on YouTube.

Prison Hounds

The prison runs the dogs
at dusk, and they sound like rust
on a chain-link gate, like sparks
from a blacksmith’s hammer.

When they are done the night
is heavy with disquiet, and we
are left to our own offenses,
to excavate our own sour bones.

Notes: The footage is from an excruciatingly bad ‘scary’ film I found in the Prelinger Archives written by John Parker called “Daughter of Horror.” The howling hounds I downloaded from iTunes and ran through the iPhone VoiceChanger app, because on its own the howling sounded too low and kinda dopey. Honestly, there is a prison right behind my neighborhood, and when they run the dogs there’s a much higher, keening sort of sound that I couldn’t get VoiceChanger to duplicate, so I went with an effect called “Haunting.” Then I recorded my voice with VoiceChanger as well, using an echo effect mostly to try and disguise the pops I made on “prison” and “quiet” (didn’t really work, but I timed everything else about the reading out so well I chose not to re-record. I’m far from a perfectionist.)

Over the Tracks – New Videopoem

Over the Tracks

In summer we’d pitch our wishes to the tracks,
toss pennies between the ties and wait for trains
to come and lift them off like bells snagged
to the bumpers of wedding cars, engineers waving
like lonely grooms. Fenced behind chain-link and weeds
they trumbled past, the faded words SOUTHERN PACIFIC LINES
and carman markings, fat chalk letters that crawled
over metal like hungry slugs. They didn’t stop
when you were sleeping, they kept coming, the hooking
and unhooking, the banging together, the scraping apart,
the coupling and uncoupling like desperate lovers.
They shook us awake, pronounced arrivals into air,
departures etched like fading smoke against sad sky.
Some days we’d climb the fence, find pennies splayed out
among the blades or tucked into gravel, knicked from the force
of their journey, melted from heat. It would happen
to our souls, too – once we were old enough
to know it just kept coming, old enough to understand
the trip to a line’s end on a Texas summer night.

Notes: The footage in the video is spliced together from various sources from the Prelinger Archives – promotional videos about rail lines, newsreels, and home movies. This started out with over three hours of possible footage to use, so the most daunting part of the task was sifting through it and deciding what to use. Once that was done I ran it through Movie Maker, downloaded the train sounds from iTunes, recorded my voice into my iPhone, and transferred it to my computer. I’m curious if other people record the poem first, or create the visuals before recording the reading. I’ve found it works better for me to create the video first, with the poem in mind of course, and with me playing the video back and reading the poem to myself for timing’s sake. But when it comes to putting it all together, I like to record my voice while viewing the actual, completed video. So for this one, I just played the video while I read the poem and timed myself accordingly.

Week 93 – New Poem

I actually managed to write to a prompt for the second time ever. And, I only had about an hour to write this the day before it was “due.” It was late, I’d interned all day, and I was tired, but I wrote it anyway. This is new for me, people. I used to believe I needed oodles of time & energy to write poetry. Now, to write good poetry, that’s probably true. But I managed to write something while tired, and under time constraint, that I don’t totally hate. So yay for me.

Week 93*

– Sunday

No money
in the offering. No one’s
offering. I pass
along.

– Monday

Offering a service
that no one
is buying. No more
a few dollars & I
am that number, a minus,
a blunder. Remainder of
subtraction
after subtraction

– Tuesday

In the refrigerator:
sauce
& garnish. Nothing
substantial. Zero
nutritional value. The making
of something from nothing

– Wednesday

The fuel gage E
like a three-
pronged fork
on its side, defeated
& stabbing at air.

– Thursday

The paper costs
money. Paper
for paper. Ink
for the printer. To
sadden the paper
with past. Smalled
to one page. Résumé.
Resume. Refused.

Refuse
in a cornered heap
of Others.

– Friday

The mailbox key
is stuck. Like a needle
on E. Envelopes stuffed
like yellow lettuce leaves
in a Styrofoam box. In-
sufficient.

– Saturday

Everything’s done. The phone
doesn’t ring. No one’s
offering. Cut
off. No more
extensions. I’ve been
disconnected

*93 weeks is the maximum allotment of unemployment assistance.

For the We Write Poems weekly prompt.