Thursday, August 16, 2018

WIP: The Last Six Years

Between life and work taking turns to make me a punching bag, it's been a while since I've sat down to write anything at all. No mood, no inspiration...I guess they count as excuses, but my head's been full of all the stuff I need to do, with hardly any space for the stuff I want to do or write.

And then tonight, during choir rehearsals, our music director gave us a beautiful arrangement of 'In My Life', by the Beatles, and suddenly I'm back in Virginia, with this song playing in the while my oldest friend from university is picking me up to go back to his place in Richmond. After his sudden death five years ago, I've never been able to bring myself to listen to it. 

Hearing it tonight though, loosened something in the tightly curled mass of stressbrain.

I miss you, Brian. I hope you can read this, wherever you are now.



someone punches the ‘Clock Out’ button on one of the punch clocks of the universe and suddenly I’m the one who’s growing older now and you

aren’t. Didn’t. Frozen right at the moment your hand reached for the bathroom tap and the machinery holding your heart together



and now it’s just me the crazy cat lady looking over at the hypothetical lawn where the kids were supposed to play where you were supposed to chase them off and instead there’s just the shadow of a deck chair where you were supposed to sit

(grumpyoldmen do that you said and you laughed rubbing your bald head ((a bald you deliberately chose by shaving rather than let middle age take its tribute)) maybe we’ll be neighbours you the crazy cat lady and me the neighbourhood grump)

the sky is full of clouds today and one of them is like a white puffly smokewraith of a spritecat slinkslinking in the azure she drifted for a little then dissipated into feathery cottontufts just as i thought of you

i hope she rubs against your ankles i hope
you stoop to pet her and feel the vibration of her purrs travel up your fingertips into your bones translating all the things i never said all the years of your absence into one universal sound the sound of tears the sound of rain

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

NaPoWriMo Day 30: Georgia O'Keeffe Paints Watercolours, 1974

Prompt: Write a poem that engages with a strange and fascinating fact. It could be an odd piece of history, an unusual bit of art trivia, or something just plain weird.

LAST HURDLE OF THE MILE. Day 30! Finally! 

Lists and lists of trivia later, what caught my attention was Georgia O'Keeffe losing much of her eyesight in 1972, due to macular degeneration. One of the striking things I came across in some quick research about this condition was that it can result in blurred vision, and also no vision in the center of vision field. Also, a grid of straight lines may appear wavy, and parts of the grid may appear blank. 

My SO gave me the very interesting science fact that butterflies see in UV light, and a little poking around dug up that this was actually known in 1965, and that the 'how' was nailed down by Helen Ghiradella in the 1970s - right about the time when O'Keeffe lost her sight, and was continuing to paint with watercolours.

So I experimented too. Hahahahaha. 

I incorporated some of O'Keeffe's comments on one of her most radical abstract pieces, 'Light Coming on the Plains', in the poem.


dawn is an   e  b                l o
                             b and  f      w of light
it comes and goes for a while   ( dis  app  ea   ring  h
                                                                                     o )
                                        before it comes
light is a b l ur  ring  a dis  a pp  ea  ring  a ring
dawn is colours bleedingintotheiredges
Hol             loW           Cen      trE

                                                            a      e
butterflies dance in ultraviolet w     v    s  and cu  r
                                                                      i n

the lines in my mind are straight
in my eyes they dis  app   e  a r  come and go for a wh i le
  is a  w     y    g    ri  d


NaPoWriMo Day 29: Cypress

Prompt: Today, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem based on the Plath Poetry Project’s calendar. Simply pick a poem from the calendar, and then write a poem that responds or engages with your chosen Plath poem in some way.

Sylvia Plath must be laughing at me right now; I'd only just responded to 'Lady Lazarus' on Day 27, and now whee, I get to do it again! I picked 'Elm' for my poem this time, and used one of her phrases ('Diminished and flat') as well as allusions to some of her imagery for a more concrete link.

Like Plath herself, I've struggled with depression for a while, so 'Elm' was particularly resonant. The response, if it's a response at all, came in images linked in bizarre ways, so I just wrote everything down without pausing to analyze where it all came from. I still don't know. 


Root. Tap root.
Tap tap tap, goes the root, deep dark thing
Plunging beneath light’s reach, snaking down

The original crooked man’s crooked mile
Sucking up blackness and brimstone, fire
Burning slow in the veins.

I am a spider’s web of filament fronds
Transporting blood through the world’s most complex
Delivery circuit, each blood cell containing a tiny

Fragment of hell.
Filament sunsets red as heated wires.
The moon is a great white murder eye

Pitilessly watching. Diminished and flat
I am clubbed to pieces, a skinned fur seal
Doll-broken on the floor.

Shhhh. Don’t speak.
The littlest shriek
Brings down the wrath of God.

Monday, April 30, 2018

NaPoWriMo Day 28: Geneva, NY - Elizabeth Blackwell To Her Sister Emily

Prompt: Draft a prose poem in the form/style of a postcard.

I found this vintage postcard while doing research for inspiration, got curious and looked up Geneva, NY. It turns out that quite a few well-known people have either lived in, or passed through, Geneva - among them Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, who was the first woman in the United States to be awarded a medical degree. She studied at Geneva Medical College (now known as Hobart College), and went on to blaze a trail, both in the field of women in medicine, and in her commitment to social reform.

More about her remarkable story can be found here.  I used her story as a springboard for the prompt, in the form of a fictional postcard / letter to her younger sister Emily (who became the 3rd woman in the US to receive a medical degree).


Rain makes me think of Bristol, of Wilson Street, your dear old rag dolly leaking stuffing, your shrill demands of  Lizzie make her well! Back then all it took was a needle, thread, and patience. Now in this place, I am become the thread, squeezed through a needle’s eye and stretched into a shape not my own. I am a foot in a sea of eyes, feeling my way through the days. Where the men say, We can, I cannot – I must. The streets are wet black ribbons slick with dreams, under a phosphorous moon. I feel an overwhelming urge to run downstairs into the rain and roll in the puddles until I am drenched, black dress dripping and draggled. I want to go to sleep feeling the weight of dreams drying on my bare skin, to wake in the morning and put on the hopes which have soaked, with the rain, into my garments.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

NaPoWriMo Day 27: Queen of Swords

Prompt:  Following Lauren Hunter’s practice of relying on tarot cards to generate ideas for poems, we challenge you to pick a card (any card) from this online guide to the tarot, and then to write a poem inspired either by the card or by the images or ideas that are associated with it.

More playing catch up (the end may be in sight, but my sanity might be approaching zero too). As a swordswoman, it's not surprising I was drawn to the suit of swords!

I know there is a traditional tarot design for all the cards, but when I was hunting about for inspiration, I found this lovely piece by Danielle Meder, and her sketch of the Queen of Swords definitely grabbed me (because in general I wear black by default, and I've outfits that look exactly like that, stilettos and all, and it's so me, even down to the sitting.)

Artist: Danielle Meder

There's a nicely detailed description of the Queen of Swords here. And because the first thing I thought of when gathering ideas for today was a line from Sylvia Plath's 'Lady Lazarus' (I eat men like air), I decided to structure the piece in a similar form. 


Lady Lazarus’ sister
Has black hair, not red.
A sword

Issued from her mouth
At birth –
When I got older

They took it from me.
Broke it.
Gave me dolls with daisies instead –

So I buried them:
Chubby plastic bodies
Chaste, pink, and plump

With expectations.
Strewed daisy petals
Over their graves.

Sharpened my tongue
To cut like a longsword
Pierce like a dagger

Turned my broken weapon
Into words, edges
Slicing the page.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

NaPoWriMo Day 26: Etymology

Prompt: write a poem that includes images that engage all five senses.

I combined today's prompt with the SEAPoWriMo prompt, which was about reclamation - of words and phrases that are commonly used with a negative connotation. Not precisely on topic for that, but then I don't think it's precisely on topic here either.

It also turned out to be one of the most challenging pieces I've written, and required a complete overhaul both for lineation and for clarity. It's long (I hate writing long poems!) and it deals with many aspects of the languages spoken here in Malaysia, as well as the connotations that words can have.

Popo = Cantonese for maternal grandmother
Taugeh = Hokkien for mung bean sprouts
Taukwa = A type of firm Chinese beancurd
Mee goreng = Fried noodles
Kopitiam = A small Malaysian eatery, usually with various hawker food stalls in it.



I am the same word
       in different languages
       given different meaning
       by tonality and intent.

The boy on the street leers at me.
Ah moi[*], wei ah moi. 
2-tone whistle from pursed lips.
A bird call. Mockingbird call.     
. 妹子. Moi zhai [1].
Ngi keh moi leh? my Hakka popo asks my mother.
. Mui[2], xiu sam ah, my sister says.
Jiak moi[3], my Hokkien friend invites.

I am daughter
I am sister
I am a bowl of soft congee
           slurped and swallowed.


Her father fries mee goreng at a kopitiam.
Kelinga mee, they called it in the past
       a hybrid of fried yellow noodles
       with spicy sweet potato gravy.

       Yellow noodles, a handful
           of slippery ancestral strands
           from his father and
           South Indian grandfather

       Taugeh grown from
            the labour and sweat
            of building a nation
            that paves its  roads
            with the burnt stones
            of his ancestors’ dreams

       Chilli paste pungent
            with the bite and scorch
            of derogatory names
            and relentless sun

         Taukwa. Cuttlefish gravy.
         Sweet potato gravy.
         Fat teardrops. Potatoes.

         His wife’s hands slicing
              stars and ingredients
              into her wide metal tray
              hoping to birth a comet

         His love for his daughter
               a perfect boiled egg
               on her plate each morning
               while the rest he cuts up
               for garnish

Kelinga[4]. Kalinga[5].

A difference of one letter
       spanning the divide
       between a glorious kingdom
       and a derogatory taunt.


The walk from her father’s stall to the bus stop
       is 200 metres of narrow lane stretched out
       to 200 kilometres.

Ah moi, ah moi
The boys catcall and jeer at us
       mouths puckered  
       like wrinkled little anuses.

Beady gleaming eyes.
Rats’ eyes.

I want to spit HAM GAA CAAN [6]
       in ideograms of fire
       and pluck them from the air to hurl:
       a missile, a curse.

We are dead tigers, she and I, vanity kills
       stripped of our claws and teeth
       with knives forged from 


[*] Ah moi (n): Malaysian slang for ‘girl’.
      Context is all-important.

      The margin between ‘girl’ and ‘sex object’
              is a fine line 
not delineated 
              by the length of a skirt
              the dip of a neckline
              no matter what they say: 
              it’s all in the mind
[1] 妹子, moi4 zhai3 (n) Hakka: Daughter
      Ngi keh moi leh? : Where is your daughter?

      Where is the producer of heirs?
      Where is the iron warrior
       birthed from steel loins?
      The distinction is tonality
      and intent

[2] , mui2 (n) Cantonese: Younger sister
      Xiu sam ah: Be careful
      (but care is not always enough
       little sister
       be wise)

[3] , moi2 (n) Hokkien: Congee
      Jiak moi: Eat congee

      The sharing of a meal
       is community
       is love

[4] Kelinga: Said to derived
from ‘Kalinga’ (see [5]).

Formerly used to mean Indian
Tamil, or South Indian
Now a derogatory term
for Indians in Malaysia

[5] Kalinga:
Ancient Indian kingdom
in east-central India
corresponding to pre­sent-day
northern Telangana
northeastern Andhra Pradesh
most of Odisha and
parts of Madhya Pradesh

When did a noble kingdom
become a curse?

[6] , ham6 gaa1 caan2 (n) Cantonese:
May your whole family be dead
May your line wither, be barren
       as parched water holes
       and dead eye sockets

Friday, April 27, 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 25: May Be Hazardous To Your Health

Prompt: Write a poem that takes the form of a warning label . . . for yourself! 

Still in the process of catching up (I think I'm never ever going to catch up at this point). As for warning labels, I probably should have been plastered with them from birth, to be perfectly honest. Maybe I should print this one out and stick it on my forehead.


Take in small doses
       (her world runs at the speed of neutrinos
          thoughts racing behind her eyes like light
            shredding time in fistfuls to make room for more time)

Harmful if swallowed
       (a *swordswoman is never without a weapon
          words oscillate like over-wound springs in the cave of her throat
            trebuchet waiting to be launched in conversation)
Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound
      (only when friends, family, and students are involved
          otherwise it’s easier to knock them over sideways
            ‘woman’ is not a synonym for incompetent, helpless, or stupid)
May irritate eyes
       (get over yourself, resting bitch face is a thing
          looking pretty is not a requirement of life or intelligence
            will get up in your face if provoked. See * and **)

**Dangerous when provoked
       (see *
         reality runs on intersecting planes of books to stress ratio
            punctuated by felines, chocolate, and swords)

BEWARE! Non-Euclidean
       (disbelieves infinitely more than six possible things before breakfast
          world peace, pink elephants, no Infinity Wars spoilers
             catching up on poetry prompts
              a child that does not ask ARE WE THEEERE YET 
                every five minutes
                 in the car)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 24: Requiem Mass

Prompt: Write an elegy – a poem typically written in honor or memory of someone dead. But we’d like to challenge you to write an elegy that has a hopefulness to it.

This was another humdinger of a prompt, not because it was any form of esoteric, but because my month started out with way too many elegies for departed friends. I think my brain just didn't want to face writing yet another one, so it stopped working (that, and having to write a second poem for the SEAPoWriMo prompts is taxing my writerly stamina to the utmost.)

I ended up writing an elegy to old ghosts, and a dead past that needed to be laid to rest.


Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine
-- Introit of  traditional requiem mass

Twenty-five and terrified of the black hole you called a house
Which was really a trap where a monster in the wall lay in wait
With poison darts in the shape of words
Aiming at you whatever chance he could get
And you, a mermaid struggling in a net of his weaving
Believing you were only a dumb fish.

The sea rolls, swells. The years swallow themselves
And you are no longer a mermaid but Ariel on land
Dumb by choice for what you thought was love
But in reality was narcicissm twisted
To seem like love instead.

To exorcise ghosts, we lay the dead to rest
So I’m laying you to rest, twenty-five
Scatter your ashes for the winds to carry
To the four corners of the earth and beyond.
My tongue loosens, legs merging into scaled iridescence
Ariel returns to the buoyant sea.