So Long, NaPoWriMo

blue chicago 2

National Poetry Writing Month is at an end. My inspiration for today’s poem is a prompt from April 26th, which challenged us to respond to an “almanac questionnaire” and write a poem based on our responses.

Almanac – Spring 2020

by Jan Brown

The mayor is angry again, and her ire
will not land lightly on the masses–
those uncivilized civilians
who amass in the sunless park
sans social distance. How very long
it has taken us to come together!

And what a sense of timing.

Our bungalows stand proud
behind rows of crocus, indestructible hosta
and evergreen shrubs. Down the street,
an American shorthair hunts
for the missing betta fish
who committed suicide overnight.

Was his bowl too small, or was he
just a badass jumper?

Our elderly neighbor also passed
last night. She used to sew
dresses for proms and quinceaneras,
fantasy laden gowns for hopeful girls.
But there are no celebrations now.
No dream dresses this year.

This year, she crafted face masks
from the sparkly scraps of the past.

No one believes in Prince Charming
anymore. No man can save us
except Dr. Fauci.

Across the berm, freight cars stand
silent sentry, but do not stop the artist
who plies his trade across the stranded steel.
They pause, perhaps with stocks of PPE
more valuable than gold. I wonder
if the painter senses precious cargo.

Or do they carry caskets assembled
in haste by overwhelmed carpenters,
artisans, factory technicians, precision
robots, worn out and weary?

Sunday drives alone–sixty miles
to fields of corn and soybeans
exuding rays of quixotic hope,
longing to be transformed into fuel
or exported to faraway kitchen tables
and faceless factories.

Will we really need more ethanol to fuel
Sunday drives on lonely highways?

Dusk falls with a silvered mist, nearly
indistinguishable from our dreary day
were it not for a sliver of moon.
Police disburse anti-social non-distancers
to the various communities,
corners and crevices whence they came.

Hoping they can be drunk and disordered
at home like the rest of us.

Home. Once a haven.
Will anyone ever sleep again?
Ironically, we warm to cool blue
nightlights–TV pictures of a skyline
grateful to those who
keep it lit.

Looking for peace, hope
and love wherever
we can find it.

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#LightItBlue – Landmarks lit in honor of essential workers

#LightItBlue – Slide show of Chicago buildings lit to honor essential workers

NaPoWriMo Day 14

puddle janrae on pixabay haiga

Today’s NaPoWriMo challenge is to contemplate our “inspirations and forebears.” In the art of haiku, the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho is widely viewed as the original master, inspiration and forebear.

In 1686, he wrote a haiku that became instantly famous, and remains so to this day. It has been variously translated, but this seems to be an accepted version:

the old pond
a frog jumps in
the sound of water

Some translations have the last line as “the splash of water” or even “plop!” which I actually like best, because it makes me smile.

Basho’s ability to capture a single moment was brilliant and distinctive. His twin talents of writing and teaching drew people in. At his cottage, he hosted contests and renga gatherings–poetry parties (yes, poetry parties!) held for the purpose of writing collaborative, linked poems.

He took long journeys, walking hundreds of miles on four separate trips over the last ten years of his life, either alone or with a student/apprentice. In one of his travel journals, “The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel,” he wrote that his mind “knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore, hangs on to it more or less blindly.”

As he grew older he grew more frail and reclusive. (I can relate to that.) After his last journey, he wrote:

falling sick on a journey
my dream goes wandering
over a field of dried grass

My photo haiga is intended to reflect the spirit of these two haiku of the master Basho, albeit updated, in my own voice and reflecting on my own life. I hope I have succeeded in paying homage.

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Image by janrye from Pixabay

This artist has many photographs and masterful artistic manipulations posted on Pixabay. Click on his name to see them all.

Happy Easter!

clouds copy

Today I will fill my day with joy, overcome my isolation and revel in God’s love.

Later, over dinner and bolstered by a glass of wine, I plan to (re)watch a recording of Jesus Christ Superstar from my local PBS station. It’s the 2018 live broadcast version with John Legend as Jesus, Sarah Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, Alice Cooper as King Herod and the most marvelously magnificent Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas.

Just before dawn this morning, I watched Cardinal Cupich of the Chicago Archdiocese give his Easter Message on YouTube. Later, I watched/heard the Easter service at the Washington National Cathedral. I especially enjoyed the virtual orchestra and choir, as well as the very comforting sermon of Bishop Michael Curry. The National Cathedral is also streaming a previously recorded performance of Handel’s Messiah as I write this. How lovely to write about Easter while listening to The Messiah!

Finally, I watched the Easter service of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, which was so friendly and inspirational. In addition to the sermon, there were scripture readings and prayers from the pastors’ homes and hymns performed by a soloist and guitarist. Also, individual members and families recorded short messages and, in one case, a song with mother on piano, father on flute and young daughter as vocalist. So many smiling faces! They even video-recorded a “message” from three birds who were chirping very prettily from their perches (nests?) inside the letters of the word “Presbyterian” on the side of the church building.

I wish you all a Happy Easter, much love, beautiful music, and a safe, socially-distanced spring.

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 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

NaPoWriMo – Day 11

 

banner painnt

The Secret Meaning of Flowers

You offered to landscape
My yard—a new yard
A new house
Not yet a home
You chose yellow acacia
For friendship, you said
Only later did I discover
Its true meaning:
Secret love

Our first date
Led straight to my bed
You never left!
You added red
chrysanthemums
For love
But
I was not ready
To be loved

Over time, white snowdrops
And candytuft
For betrayal and heartbreak
You could have watered them
With your copious tears
Still, I remained untethered
You finally resolved
Your pain
Or so I thought

Herbs grew in the window
Fragrant basil and bay
For hatred and death
After a year, you imbued
A calm elegance
To the back garden
White chrysanthemums
For mourning
On top of my unmarked grave

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NaPoWriMo – covidku

I’ve missed a few days of NaPoWriMo. My muse had the sniffles, and I thought she might succumb to her symptoms if I didn’t spend all my energy taking care of her. Or maybe I was just lethargic. In really badass pain. Too tired to raise my head. All of the above.

Meanwhile, I and my kind have been writing haiku and senryu as we observe our place in human history vis-à-vis Covid-19. Some are calling our pithy poems covidku.

mona lisa
pandemic
taking off her mask
is the new first base

near extinct
spotted in its habitat
last pack of TP

ugly faded t-shirt—rockin’ DIY mask

oh, grocery deliverer
why hast thou
forsaken me

pandemic
they are sheltering together
must be love

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Photo: sumanley on pixabay.com

Forsaken

 

banner mercury

Thousands of years before Jesus’ crucifixion, His ancestor David wrote:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭22:1-2‬ ‭NIV

David’s pain is redolent throughout his Psalms, but it could not compare to the anguish of the cross. Jesus knew his role in history; he knew he had to die. But the gruesome manner of His death must have been a shock even to His fit, healthy system.

Christ’s wrists were nailed so that they carried the weight of his upper body and the bones would tear apart. His chest heaved forward, making it impossible for the lungs to continue working. His legs pulled downward onto the nails in his feet, searing flesh and bone. The guards pierced his side with a spear, then stuffed the wound with a vinegar-soaked cloth to intensify the pain. His burning lungs had breath for only one last utterance.

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) Mark 15:34

When so many humans are suffering, we are reminded that Jesus suffers with us. We also look forward to His good news.

I pray you all have good news in your future.

Amen.

NaPoWriMo Day 8

Welcome to National Poetry Writing Month, Day 8. Today’s challenge is to write a poem that uses a line from another poem as a “seed” for our new poem. I chose a line from a Sylvia Plath poem, THREE WOMEN: A Poem for Three Voices.

silhouette of the birds on branch

I Am Not Ready

by Jan Brown

I am not ready for anything to happen
the fat round birds of spring
are feasting on the seeds
amongst the grass blades
they tweet and trill and twitter
merrily returning
to their work-in-progress nests
frittering time and twigs and twine
content in ignorance
that anything is happening

I am not ready for anything to happen
the songbirds chirp and warble
but they cannot penetrate
this ringing in my ears
this sound of locusts swarming
how they consume the harvest-ready crops
across the finally fertile African plain
what will the humans have left to eat
the noisy swarm flies on to other countries
content with bellies full
(Do they have bellies?)

I am not ready for anything to happen
The sparrows perch upon the roof
and flutter wings as they converse
they cannot make up their minds
to go or to stay, to sing or be silent
they are not required to shelter-in-place
they are free to fly away from this plague
which, if it pierced their tender society,
would mean certain death

I am not ready for anything to happen
I do not want to be taken by this plague
while my house is a mess
Can you please wait until I clean and organize
my clutter? At least until I mop the floor?
I am not ready for anything to happen
there is a desperate feeling
that I am not finished, but finished with what
I do not know.  I only know that
I am not ready for anything to happen

The Way of Love – Pray

On “The Way of Love,” our Lenten devotional series, today’s theme is prayer. I thought of this flash fiction piece I wrote several years ago. Although fiction, I think it is a lesson in faith. I hope you enjoy it.

bw_beacham shopping cart

 — Photo by B. W. Beacham

Prayer

by Jan Brown

The Shoreline Mission Shelter was destroyed by the hurricane. I wept when I witnessed the first responders removing Father Paul’s lifeless body. Most of the residents survived. But they still hadn’t found Lanie. Only her shopping cart was there, upended on what was now the beach.

Three days later, they found part of the structure a mile away, half buried in the sand. And under the heavy wooden beams—Lanie! “Where’s Father Paul?” she said in a hoarse whisper. “I need to thank him. If he hadn’t stayed and prayed with me these past few days, I couldn’t have survived.”

NaPoWriMo 2020 – Day 5

Our prompt today is based on Jim Simmerman’s “Twenty Little Poetry Projects,” a set of twenty instructions to construct a fantastic poem. I’m not sure this poem is all that fantastic, but it was interesting to write. It reflects my current dystopian view of the world. Every day, I read the news and feel as though I am watching a poorly directed sci-fi movie, in which the starring actors are untalented amateurs. I wonder what the future holds.

bean jude joshua pix

Summer 2020

by Jan Brown

The cool streets of Chicago are as quiet as an old English village.

No offense to English villages. I love England. Except that my ancestors emigrated to the colonies 300 years ago to get as far away from England as they could.

Except for that, I love England. Nuthin’ but love for ya, Your Majesty.

On Michigan Avenue at Adams Street, the listless lions that guard the Art Institute are silent at night. Black wreaths surround their majestic necks in memoriam to the fallen.

In the heat of summer days, they prowl Grant Park to keep the baseball diamond empty and the band shell silent.

The lions are not enough.

Restless suburbanites drive to the city. They take family photos in Millennium Park to share with envious followers on Instagram. They stand in front of The Bean and snap each other’s reflections.

They stand only three feet away from the next clump of tourists. Chacun a son gou. Whatever floats your boat.

They’ve heard the stories. They don’t believe.

The Bean bends down and envelops them, gobbles them up.

Tourists and teenagers. Men and women. The Bean doesn’t discriminate.

Is it genetic engineering? Or just natural selection? Okay, artificial selection. Either way, the human race will improve if stupid people don’t wander among us, reproducing at will.

But…this is not how we imagined our species would evolve.

We are told to go nowhere. But fit humans are everywhere, walking, jogging, biking, skateboarding.

The joggers are persistent. They run half the length of the city, through once-busy streets and officially-closed walking paths. Once they run through “the wall,” they taste the sweetness of success, the saltiness of their sweat. They feel invincible.

Until they feel the sweat of the next jogger spray their bare skin. Their maskless face.

The Bowman and The Spearman come down from their granite pedestals at the entrance to Grant Park and gallop along the paths packed with walkers and joggers and bikers and skateboarders.

Their majestic horses rear up on back legs, challenging the nearness of invading humans.

The Bowman and The Spearman lived here long before the colonists. They lived in harmony with the land, cultivating and caring for it without need of ownership.

The colonists brought diseases, racism and cruelty. Centuries later, they are still bringing it.

Their horses don’t like to be crowded.

They will trample the dim-witted humans.

The cries of the fallen will pierce the silence. They will scream in electric colors that cover the jogging path in chaos.

Jan will perform triage, tagging each fallen jogger with plastic triangles: green, yellow or black.

She doesn’t like the black ones.

The ozone layer is melting over the city. If we venture out, we confront the smog, the plague or the angry icons of our disappearing culture.

Which will we choose?

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Image by Jude Joshua from Pixabay

The Way of Love – Worship

Jesus on Palm Sunday

Within our Lenten devotional series, the theme for today is Worship. Today is Palm Sunday, the day that the public worshipped Jesus most avidly, giving him a “red carpet” welcome to the city of Jerusalem. They had heard about his miracles and, as a result, he had become a local celebrity. His good works had gone viral!

This is a blog post I wrote for Palm Sunday back in 2012:

Palm Sunday, Facebook and the 99%

A week before Passover, Jesus came to the town of Bethany to visit with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha (his BFFs). A crowd gathered at Simon’s house nearby, where Martha served dinner. Simon was a Pharisee (one of the 1%), but also a follower of Jesus since being cured of his leprosy. However, the crowd was more interested in the miracle that Jesus performed for Lazarus, i.e., raising him from the dead after Lazarus had died and been buried for four days.

Simon, Lazarus, Martha and Mary had a great party with friends from all over the surrounding area, including Jerusalem. After the party, the numerous guests used word of mouth (remember that? it’s a kind of human communication that pre-dates Facebook and Instagram) to tell all of their friends, who told all of their friends, that Jesus would be coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. So, the next day, all of these “friends of friends” headed out to greet this great prophet and spiritual leader upon his entry to Jerusalem.

In the custom of the day, they paved the road with their cloaks and with the broad leaves of palm trees — kind of a red carpet (except not actually red). But this was something the 99% would normally do for the 1%, and that was not in line with Jesus’ way of life as a homeless, travelling preacher and material-free Son of God. So he rode in on a young donkey, to remain humble and to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
– 15 Zech. 9:9