Friday, April 19, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 18: Elegy For Innocence

Write an elegy of your own, one in which the abstraction of sadness is communicated not through abstract words, but physical detail. This may not be a “fun” prompt, but loss is one of the most universal and human experiences, and some of the world’s most moving art is an effort to understand and deal with it.

I'm not sure this fits an abstraction of sadness, but disillusionment is sort of a loss in its own way, something that one could grieve over when you realise something integral and precious is gone for good. It's as good as a cluster headache would permit today, anyhow.


                you believed in heroes when you were five

                 there was Mighty Isis with her tiara and white mini dress soaring through the air and the magical amulet that guaranteed superpowers to defeat evil except that you didn’t know that evil didn’t come with recognizable Fu Manchu mustaches bushy sideburns and bad 70s clothes but much closer to home words cloaked in your grandaunt’s cheap flowered polyester each overly bright artificial bloom bearing a caption she hung onto your 12 year old shoulders 

                captions like your thighs are chunky but that’s all right you’re good at hiding all your fat in your ass so you’ll look splendid in a cheongsam because you need a round ass to wear one words gussied up in concerned skirts and demure slacks telling Mom you watch that girl of yours she’s running around with boys words planted firmly in the bedrock of assuming you're already a little slut but you’re 11 you’re 11 years old and you don’t know that you’ve already been  marked and condemned you don’t even know that boys are dangerous creatures that should be kept far far away

much later you discover that magical amulets aren’t real that there’s no talisman against classmates dismantling your name making fun of you or that girl your best friend who bullied you into lying for her to teachers and left you with the fallouts that got you punished and you never thought that this could be wrong because you were best friends and protecting her was important 

you didn’t know she was soft sawdust in a brittle shell until the day you stood up to her (her face crumpled like used tissue tears leaking out of her eyes like a plastic bag full of water with holes stabbed into it not long after that she moved and you never saw her again)

you never knew that you were cracked a glass jar with the heart weeping out of you like black tears not until you lay against the lulling rhythm of someone else's heart you reached for your own and found

black hollow black hole
blip blip blip the machinery turns 
blip blip warning battery running low

there are no heroes at forty-five

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 17: The Bones Speak

Write a poem that presents a scene from an unusual point of view. 

I decided I'd just start with Day 17, and catch up with my remaining three missing days along the way so I would feel a lot less stressed out. Sharon Olds happens to be one of my favourite poets, and while I love her featured poem, there is one I love even more: The Pact. It bristles with tension and darkness and a foreboding sense of disaster, even horror.

A few years ago I was privileged to take a introductory course in Forensic Anthropology with the amazing Dr. Sue Black, and one of the things that stays vividly in memory is just how much is written on the bones of the dead, despite all efforts by killers and murderers to hide the traces. I used that as a jumping-off point for today's prompt. It's not entirely satisfactory,'s written at least!


She always wore long sleeves 
On the hottest of days.
Nothing to see here, she always said
Don't worry. I'm fine.

The X-rays tell a different tale:
Of old fractures, of injuries
Hidden beneath layers of flesh and fear.

Stripped of skin, defleshed to mere skeleton
Her life lays bare on a cold metal slab
Exposed like dead-white maggots
Fat, wriggling, reluctantly pulled out
From hollow eye sockets full of hell.

A chip here. A groove there.
Violence records itself in bone.
We can be read by those
Who decipher death
Who study the language of cruelty.
We do not give up our secrets easily.

Nothing to see here, she always said
We know
We know
The bones always know.

GloPoWriMo Day 13: The Oracle Casts Her Bones

Write a poem about something mysterious and spooky.

Today being a day totally devoid of inspiration, I paid another visit to the Oracle. She really made me work to get a message out of her, but it's better than a blank page (which is where I've been most of the day.)


blue eye to eternity
poison cup secrets
her manner liquid  
a baby born only wets its lips
then no life
flowering ice perfume
i listen for magic     
dog eats deer
her young devour god

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 12: The Writer Decides To Stop Writing For Good

Today, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem about a dull thing that you own, and why (and how) you love it. Alternatively, what would it mean to you to give away or destroy a significant object?

I don't know if writing would be considered an object, but it's certainly significant to me in more ways than one. Stopping it entirely (which I was doing before GloPo siren-song'd me into writing some more) was...definitely on par with some very unpleasant experiences I've had in the past.


i stopped the words
tore them apart
                half-formed letters
                spelling a thought
                poised on the edge
                of the brain
                ready to spill
                into my arms
                my fingers
                onto paper

i ripped the words
from my being
flung them away
trampled them

                they rose
                a body of ghosts
                a rumal
                around my throat
                and strangled me
                to death

*The rumal is an item of clothing similar to a scarf or bandana, and was used by the Thuggee gangs of India to strangle their victims to death.

GloPoWriMo Day 11: Deviant

Write a poem of origin. Where are you from? Not just geographically, but emotionally, physically, spiritually? Maybe you are from Vikings and the sea and diet coke and angry gulls in parking lots. Maybe you are from gentle hills and angry mothers and dust disappearing down an unpaved road. And having come from there, where are you now?

Another difficult one to write. My ancestors are from mainland China - I still have family in a small village in Guangzhou, but I've never met any of them even though my father has. I'm non-conventional by any standards, Asian ones in particular - might have something do with the fact that I'm part Hakka, part Cantonese (both Hakka and Cantonese women were well-known for independent streaks, out-spokenness, and putting the fear of heaven and earth into anyone who was unlucky enough to draw their ire.)


The ancient beauties of China are dolls:
                tranquil as the landscapes of Suzhou
                elegant as the calligraphy of Zhao Meng Fu
                graceful and virtuous as little darting swallows.

I am no doll but a weapon in exile:
                a rough dao ready for battle
                fire and fury and iron in my blood
                singing through my veins.

Somewhere between my grandfather’s voyage from China 
                to Malaysia and my eventual birth
                the blueprint for ‘classic Chinese woman’ was misplaced:
                willow-slender frame, alasbaster-pale, drooping-delicate
                obedient, filial, devoted, refined, restrained.

Instead the chaos and flames of the Warring States
                lick hungry just beneath my skin
                Hua Mu Lan biding her time to be reborn
                Every strike and stab of the longsword in my hands.

(‘She reminds me so much of you,’ my mother said, between
                awkward pauses over a trans-Atlantic call many years ago after
                she watched Disney’s Mulan: the only way she could tell me
                she understood what burned behind the doll-face masking
                twenty-four years of a misfit’s rage.)

*Zhao Meng Fu was a famous Chinese calligrapher whose work is held to be a prime example of beautiful writing in several different scripts.

**A dao is one of the 4 traditional ancient Chinese weapons - a curved blade, somewhat like a sabre, and used extensively in battle.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 10: The Furriness of Rain

Write a poem that starts from a regional phrase, particularly one to describe a weather phenomenon. 

This was another difficult write (can you see a pattern emerging here?) In the end, I used a phrase that we use to describe a drizzle - '
毛毛雨', or, furry rain, and let the piece run its course because I was way too tired from work to think of any other more interesting / better phrases.


when it drizzles we say下毛毛雨, xia(1) mao(2) mao(2) yu(3) which means furry rain is falling and as a child i used to wonder why: until i grew older and realised that fur envelops - fur is soft - fur is temporary amnesia from cold -

furry rain softens the hard edges of the world - falls gentle on the skin like yearned-for-unrequited touch – soaks through hair clothing skin earth – a first but not final intimacy –

unlike you father

the rain slips off my skin easier than the marks of  your words nailed heavy onto my bones

Saturday, April 13, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 9: Laundry List

Write your own Sei Shonagon-style list of “things.” What things? Well, that’s for you to decide!

I couldn't think of a proper list, so resorted to the 'look around, take the first thing you see to your right' approach. Which happened to be my laundry basket, so laundry it is.


Uniqlo Relaco ¾ loose pants, four pairs (navy, grey stripes, olive green, white sakura-on-yellow)

Akemi bedsheets, two (blue seashells, white streptococci on black)

Assorted underwear (nude and black except for one zig-zag white-on-dusky rose bikini bottom, relic of a rebellious wish for colour and sunshine against skin)

Socks (black, colourful, tweedy, running threadbare at heels and toes)

Uniqlo tunics and tops (Basquiat, Keith Haring, plain grey, black – work-ready, ubiquitous, effortless)

Lingering scraps of resentment in pockets, caught on hooks and eyes, snagged onto linings

Gossamer depression, fine as spider-lace (so light at times you barely know it’s there)

Thick burlap-brooding depression (extinguishes everything like an asbestos fire blanket)

Deferred dreams, fibres pulped into ragged washi-like fragments that stick to everything and anything (impossible to get off)

Strands of cat fur twisted up with strands of hair twisted up with woolly-fuzz cat purrs

Misshapen lint rolls of sleep, fluff-teased and nebulous at the edges

Jagged sparks of stress static-electricity crackling everywhere

Film of tiredness over everything (slightly gritty, pernicious as cat fur and dust, won't wash out)

Elusive filaments of happiness (but happiness is a filament coated with diamond dust, it cuts through almost everything)

Friday, April 12, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 8: The Knightly Art of Combat

I'm a HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) practitioner, studying German longsword with occasional forays into rapier and side-sword. Tonight, we were revising concepts and terms for a level assessment next week, and the subject of fühlen, or 'feeling', came up. It also found its way into my technical jargon poem for the night, since I was way too tired to do more than grab the first thing that swam into my run-over brain and try and write something out of it.


It’s all in the fühlen, my longsword instructor tells us.
Fühlen - feeling. The first thing you learn, the last thing you master.
Two swords clash - when steel meets steel
You know: whether to press in, whether to disengage
How to counter, how not to counter, will you be vor or will you be indes
Steel transmits intent, a metallic telepath which only experience
Can teach you to read.

Here we are, bandying invisible word-shaped swords:
A stab forward  You never listen to what I tell you -
A quick feint – If you didn’t always nag I wouldn’t shut off all the time
In the clash, words against words in a bind
It’s fühlen which dictates the next move:
To be vor might cause injury to one party
In indes, no one has the superior attack

I disengage.
There is too much at stake.
I lay down my arms and call truce
For us to find common ground.

**Vor: German, meaning ‘before’, a longsword term denoting first initiative for the attack, taking the offense.
***Indes: German, meaning ‘in between’ where an action is executed the same time as the opponent’s action and neither fighter has the offensive or strong attack.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 7: Anniversary, Or, The Love Song of the Shy Girl in Apartment Q3

Write a poem of gifts and joy. What would you give yourself, if you could have anything? What would you give someone else?

I finally knuckled down and visited the Oracle (look Kerfe, Jane, and Merril! I AM FINALLY VISITING THE ORACLE!) because I absolutely had no hooks or inspiration whatsoever to start with beyond the first line.

I'm not sure it fits the theme of gifts and joy - well, there's gifts, the joy may be a little less easy to spot, but it was definitely interesting! (which means more visits to the Oracle in future I think...)


The moon is a slip of orange smile
          in a dark sky - brilliant as cake
Desire’s a moist pie with perfume
          sweet as candy - an open eye of
          salt-ferocious need -
          champagne fire - a vast universe
          of slow stars
You are smoke-dazzled fever
          cooled only by porcelain-touch
My broken boy I’d give you worlds -
          heaven – hell – the language
          of butterfly wings – sea wave
          susurration secrets –
          the whorls of my fingertips
          against your skin
          will have to suffice
(Don’t you know – they contain
          my world – in their touch
          lies all of me)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 6: A Wish For Kitty Mao

Today, write a poem that emphasizes the power of “if,” of the woulds and coulds and shoulds of the world.

Miss Kitty Surname Mao, aka Kitty Mao, is our community stray cat who adopted me almost a year ago, and has since wormed her way into being an indispensable part of my life. I am thoroughly under those little grubby white paws, and no regrets either. I had a difficult time writing anything tonight, and I just went with the first thing that came to mind regarding ifs, woulds, shoulds, or coulds.


sundipped moondripped
streak of light made substance
fur-clothed silent-toed
whisker-length-world marked presence

dart dart dart
otter-sleek lionheart
carve the air
starlight-dappled silver-fair

if time stood still for only one
let it be you
your coat imprinted by morning sun
paw-scattered dew
weaving your shape in air as you run

but time must pass
like mist like rain
let me fade
but you remain


Tuesday, April 09, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 5: The Inquisition Priest In A Crisis Of Faith During Delirious Sickness

Write a poem that incorporates at least one of the following: (1) the villanelle form, (2) lines taken from an outside text, and/or (3) phrases that oppose each other in some way. 

This was one painful slog of a write, mostly because I've been down with cluster headaches and a ton of work, and I haven't had enough of a clear head to write anything beyond my name (and misspelling it, at that.)

For my opposing texts, I decided to use the Prayer of St. Francis and Bohemian Rhapsody. The result first villanelle, with a decidedly cussed and slightly psychedelic outlook.


I am a made instrument. Leave me to die
caught in doubt-faith despair-hope.
Lord you think you can stop me, spit in my eye?

Injury. Pardon. Will you let me go? Try - 
I do not seek to be understood.
I am a made instrument. Leave me to die.

Look up to the skies. You will never (why)
never ever let me go. Too late. My time has come.
Lord you think you can stop me, spit in my eye.

In a silhouetto of dying high
we are born. We seek to be consoled.
I am a made instrument. Leave me to die.

Where there is darkness Beelzebub is a landslide
A devil, put aside for me, for me, for me!
I am a made instrument. Leave me to die.
Lord you think you can stop me? Spit in my eye.

Friday, April 05, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 4: Sticks Stones Bones

Today, we’d like to challenge you to write your own sad poem, but one that, like Teicher’s, achieves sadness through simplicity. Playing with the sonnet form may help you – its very compactness can compel you to be straightforward, using plain, small words.

I wanted to attempt a sonnet, but after a 5-hour orchestra and choir rehearsal, the brain wasn't being cooperative so what came out was this. Not quite what I wanted, and doesn't exactly fit compact, but it'll have to do til I regrow some brain cells after tonight.



words brittle as dry sticks
carved onto stones we’ve 
hurled at each other
until bones 
under the assault

my mouth opens
only darkness rushes out
stay stay stay
empty word balloons

you turn 
you walk away


setting the great
eye of a moon
between us
like a duenna

GloPoWriMo Day 3: Martin

Write something that involves a story or action that unfolds over an appreciable length of time. Perhaps, as you do, you can focus on imagery, or sound, or emotional content (or all three!)


When you visit we’ll go to New York, you said.
I don’t mind driving out once in a while
Especially if it’s to see one of my favourite redheads.

How were we to know that you lived on borrowed time?
I’m the one who grew older
And you - frozen in stasis the moment your fragile body
Stopped its worn-out clock, gears snapping like matches  
You didn’t.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 2: Taking Up Space

Write a poem that similarly resists closure by ending on a question, inviting the reader to continue the process of reading (and, in some ways, writing) the poem even after the poem ends.


I realise that I am afraid of taking up space
Forty minutes into a three-hour train journey
After my male seatmate casually spills his thigh
Into my space and onto half my seat.

The angry discomfort makes me shrink:
A slug sprinkled with salt.
I am a sheet of paper origami-folded again and again
Reduced, transformed to accommodate.

I have been taught to be small
To diminish in the face of violation
I have been taught to disappear.

A woman is a guerrilla: she shapes her own space
Where none is allotted.

But how does a woman shape space for herself
In a world where she’s told
To take up less room mentally and physically
To cut herself down to a thin wedge
Barely holding the air open to breathe?

My seatmate’s thigh is still in my seat.
I push back. Settle into the space deliberately.
Rinse, repeat. Finally he moves.
Small victories.

How many more times must I cut the air open
To carve out a permanent space
That will hold the full sum of me?

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

GloPoWriMo 2019 Day 1: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

For our first (optional) prompt, let’s take our cue from O’Neil’s poem, and write poems that provide the reader with instructions on how to do something.

I don't know if this counts as instruction. Perhaps a signpost? Too much Marie Kondo on the brain maybe...


Let go of what doesn’t serve you any more, declares Marie.  
Things change: You may have outgrown it.

Keep only what brings you joy.
Evaluate as often as needed.

She evaluates the acquisitions of twenty-five years:

A stylish house. Stylish uncomfortable furniture.
A closet full of unstylish matron clothes and maiden dreams
Both policed by a mother-in-law whose word is indeed law
Whose son bows to each unreasonable demand.
Two children who treat her with contempt
Haranguing her just like father, like grandmother.
A tamed life: a subjugated sparrow
Clipped wings, bound beak, derision-hobbled feet.

Let go of what doesn’t serve you any more, declares Marie.

Keep only what brings you joy.
Twenty-five years of enforced long hair, shorn on the salon floor.
She turns from her husband’s shell-shocked face
Her mother-in-law’s hysterical bleat-threats
Pausing only to say, “He’s all yours now. Good luck hiring a maid!”
Before she walks out the door for good.
Suitcase in hand, the unaccustomed lightness of her new short hair
Lifts her steps until she floats above the sidewalk.
This, she thinks, this brings joy. This is joy.