My daughter has a book of Irish folklore, and in it is a marvelous description of a ballybog, a type of very ugly fairy who does nothing. Ballybogs can’t speak or move much; their arms and legs are terribly skinny and useless. They have no necks. They smell terrible. Most sources I read to corroborate said ballybogs really don’t do anything to anyone. But one source says in a somewhat patronizing way that they can make people stray or be a little late. I mean, compared to most of Irish mythology, that’s just sad. So many figures are fierce or vengeful or at least incredibly protective of their space. But the ballybog…just not much going on there. As such, I am drawn to them. If I did any drawing, I’d make some kind of graphic novel about a ballybog.
The other source for today is a conversation that went on in my workplace during which someone referred to other workers–publicly–as dead wood. I immediately cringed and tried to imagine how terrible it would feel to be termed “dead wood.” But the ballybog is all about the dead wood. It’s his beat, making sure the bog continues in its slow decay. Maybe we can rebrand the ballybog as the patron fairy of steady yet unrecognized workers. Here’s “Dead Wood.”
I don’t love the idea that there are certain emotions that are only allotted to parents. But at the same time, I know in my own life that I have experienced feelings since having my daughter that I hadn’t had before. Today’s poem is about my desire to protect my daughter from everything she must learn about this messed up world. I have never felt more helpless than when she came to me and asked if the Holocaust was real and if she would be safe from the bad people. I reassured her and spoke in love, but I also wanted to skip ahead a few years and get her to the point when she could just tell the world to fuck off. So there. Here’s “Men in History.” You may choose to read “men” in the old-fashioned way wherein we pretend “men” means “people,” but that would be wrong. I meant men.
Do you get the poem-a-day from the Academy of American Poets? You should. Yesterday’s poem was “Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup”. My poem is a sort of response, but not a rebuttal. Amy Gerstler is a great, very successful poet! But I read the poem and felt, as I so often do, that I’m not quite erudite or sophisticated enough to be in the poetry world. I read a lot of true crime. I bought a Weird Al album today under the guise that it’s for my daughter. I eat fruit cocktail even now, when I should be at an organic farmer’s market. Part of my sense of alienation is insecurity, but a good portion is also class-based. Recently I was attempting to pawn off a bottle of wine to anyone at work, and as I went down the hall, my co-workers invariably said, “Oh, I only drink red.” I thought Dammit. I have been doing wine wrong, too. I’m fairly sure someone will come into my office someday and quietly pull down all my diplomas and hand me a bus pass so I can get back to Michigan before deer season. In the mean time, though, I write poetry about feeling like I’m not fancy enough to write poetry. Now or soon, you can click here to read “Glistening is a Nutrient” .
Today I was inspired by a couple of things I’m reading. The first is Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis, edited by Patrick Henry. A colleague of mine, Richard Middleton-Kaplan, wrote a powerful chapter about the myth of passivity, and in it one survivor describes herself as feeling like she was “under orders to live.” There were other phrases that caught my eye, like “loose talk.” But mostly I got stuck on the idea of being under orders to live; I thought about how it sounds almost resentful, as though she would otherwise take a different route. Sometimes I realize how my family has placed me under orders to live, how I am obligated to take care of my life because of my love for them. And that brought me to another equally powerful read, Stay by Jennifer Michael Hecht, one of my favorite writers. It’s all about the argument against suicide. Sometimes life is a task, an order, a form of resistance in itself. So today’s poem, “As Far As I Go,” may seem bleak, but I prefer to see it as a testament to how we keep each other anchored.
Today our shared prompt for the project was the idea of a response to something else–another poem, an image, whatever. My poem ended up taking on the motif of the religious call and response, specifically in this case related to how the confirmation process was supposed to work for a young girl. The piece is semi-autobiographical, but like most of my work there’s no one-to-one correspondence between life and the poem. I will admit to having had great hopes for some type of magical feeling when I was baptized and realizing that I was, in fact, just wet. I was looking through confirmation liturgy for the Methodist church, and while it’s all quite staid and lovely (as one would expect from the Methodists), the sections with the fill-in-the-blanks for names seemed just rather funny. Here’s “May the Holy Spirit Work Within [Name]”. Common theme I’m seeing emerging: I have very high, irrational expectations of pretty much everything. I suppose the inevitable disappointment is good for poetry, though…
Like many people, I have trouble understanding the seemingly endless push for war. At the same time, the stories about the Ebola are heartbreaking. Today I started writing about my constant concern that writing is an indulgence, a luxury that it is almost useless in any real way. Think of Detroit, having to consider selling off its art to pay the bills, and think of how ridiculous it would be to preserve art at the expense of peoples’ lives. So I write instead of volunteering somewhere to work for peace or to educate people about preventing Ebola. In fairness, I have to ask myself how much space poetry takes up in my bunker. Here’s “What We Need for Survival.” If it’s not up yet, it will be soon.
For today, my poem was inspired by this article from the Guardian about the Rosetta space probe. I started out with something about the Rosetta name but ended up with a poem more focused on the role of wonder. I love science, and typically science and poetry dovetail nicely in my work. But there was something so terribly clumsy about describing the comet as shaped like a potato versus a rubber duck. I mean, let’s do better, people. Comets themselves have always occupied a special place in my individual as well as humanity’s collective imagination, so I applied the idea of decoding (Rosetta) to the pursuit of the comet. They’re going to hold a naming contest, apparently, but for now the site where Rosetta will try to land is simply called Site J. Here’s the poem….
Today’s poem is called “Visit the Irish Wake Tent.” My folks went to an Irish music festival this weekend, and they were telling me all about the wake tent, which sounded more or less like a Disney/Epcot version of Ireland. The writeup on the website boasted fun for the whole family. I admire the Irish ability to laugh at inappropriate times, then veer abruptly into total tragedy. Wanna hear a joke? The odds are 50/50 that the punchline will be depressing. Maybe higher. The ritual of the wake is itself fascinating, but the idea that you would pay admission to pretend you’re at a funeral seems just bizarre. That said, if I had to buy a ticket to a pretend funeral, I’d go Irish. Or New Orleans. Most certainly not Midwest Methodist; their funerals are dry and jello-packed. Check out the poem, and please consider sponsoring my poetry marathon!
We’ve suddenly moved into very fall-like weather here, the kind of days that make me want to sit on the couch and watch a Lions game. But alas, I can’t deal with football anymore for many, many reasons that are better explored somewhere on a sports blog. And on a different topic, I had been considering what we expect from each other and why–when there is so much suffering as a result of these expectations–do we keep expecting so much? Repeated low-level injuries, my friend. I should leave my brain to the brain bank. Here’s “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: A Case Study.”
Today’s poem is really the result of my 9/11 residue. On that day, as you can read below, my 9/11/14 poem focused on something completely different. But the day for me, as for everyone, was still wearing the cloak of 13 years ago. I saw some colleagues in the mail room and we began telling the stories of where we had been on 9/11/01. I told my story again and was struck by how unimportant it was–and how much I wanted to make it matter. Over the last several years, I have tried to focus on how I listen as much as how I communicate. So I used this mixture of thoughts and ideas to make my resolution that I would let others’ stories have the words mine had used. The poem should be up soon: “Where I Was When it Happened.”