Many happy returns! That’s what we wish
someone each year. Birthdays return, as do
anniversaries of all sorts. Today
it’s my nephew’s birthday—not one like any
in the past, when the whole family used
to gather for one of the first barbecues
of the season, and we’d share a big cake
at the end. But it won’t be so this time,
it’s one of many things that won’t return
this year—in times of social distancing,
there is not much to celebrate, is there?
As Deor, the old scop, said, This will pass,
and for once, we shan’t wish it to return.
Note: today’s prompt from napowrimo.net was: “write a poem about something that returns.”
So this is the end of another National/Global Poetry Writing Month! I wish to thank all the readers who have been following my blog over these strange thirty days of lockdown poetry writing and reading.
You white and fluffy cloud of fur,
cuddliest of all cuddly things,
as soft as the softest soft toy,
faithful, but also jealous friend,
piteous beggar for a treat,
runner faster than a greyhound,
barking to play with people
and never to scare them away,
unrelenting lizard hunter,
never posing for a picture
if not for your fur-dresser,
still a puppy, though 9 years old:
heart and soul of this family,
life would not be the same without
you, Lola, never quite the same.
Note: today’s prompt from napowrimo.net was: “write a paean to the stalwart hero of your household: your pet.”
A poet friend says
she can’t write about the present situation,
and I see her point; she says
she may need some more time,
she’ll face the topic later, at a distance—
which sounds ironic, doesn’t it? Well, I
had also thought, at first, two months ago,
I’d hardly ever find a way to speak,
to spell out how unutterably
strange and new, and disconcerting,
and unheard of my new life was proving
in the times of a pandemic,
or how worried I might be…
But when you can’t leave home, and if you do,
you’ll wear a mask and avoid people,
then rush back home and change your clothes,
and wash your hands, and your first thought
is, Am I still safe?—
and when the house turns into a school
by day, two teachers and a student
meeting more teachers and students
behind their screens? And when you start
to wonder when or if you’ll travel
again, and when the phone rings,
and they tell you one you know
is ill, and when you turn on the TV
and all you hear is numbers,
and what you see is people
wearing face masks, or maps
marked in red—Is there
anything different you can
think about? Can you escape
any reference at all
to this surreal, yet real dystopia
when you sit down to write?
Note: today’s prompt from napowrimo.net was borrowed from the Emily Dickinson Museum; you may read it here. But I have written enough about memories this month, and I had already made up my mind about my theme for today—in any case, another theme that I have not been able to avoid this month.
Among books of all sorts I have just found
a little comic book from 1965;
it was not mine, I was still a toddler,
I’d find it on a stall a few years later.
The price, set in a currency my daughter
has never seen, would be ridiculous
today: about two cents—
inside the cover, a toy police van
is advertised, while inside the back flap
an ad offers a mail course in boxing.
You’d recognise the hero on the cover:
it’s Superman, but that was not his name
in Italy then, it was Nembo Kid—
English was still an exotic language
few would understand, and no one would laugh
when other characters called the big man
a kid. Seeing it again, this morning,
I smiled and thought with fondness
of the naïve young nation of my childhood,
of myself as a child reading comics
in translation, dreaming of a future
with robots, superheroes, flying cars—
dreams have changed, readings have changed, I have changed,
and my future, now my present is like
my precious comic book: its currency
extinct, its pages yellowed and brittle.
Note: today’s prompt from napowrimo.net was: “write a poetic review of something that isn’t normally reviewed.” I did not follow the prompt literally, but I took it as a starting point.
The sun will rise at eleven minutes past six
tomorrow morning and set at five past eight.
The crescent moon will complete its first quarter
three days after tomorrow. The sky will be clear,
by day and by night, and the air will be scented
with blossoms—it’s spring!—and kitchen smells,
and for the first time I will go out, tomorrow,
sporting my blue face mask and matching latex gloves,
and I will take it all in: houses and gardens,
all the streets I had almost forgotten—maybe
I will see and recognise some masked face, at a distance,
and wave hello and be waved back, and I will think
life may—slowly, mind you, but still—go back to normal,
when we were a living community of people,
sharing spaces outside, and we will start to claim
our common spaces back, tired of our long, forced privacy.
Note: once more, I departed from today’s prompt from napowrimo.net, which suggested compiling an “Almanac Questionnaire”—to my horror, another long list. As I wrote yesterday, I have a big problem with long lists; though in this case it was not a list of instructions, it was long enough to make me a bit anxious all the same. But it reminded me of an old Italian TV programme, called Almanacco del giorno dopo, which used to come before the evening news every day when I was young. Tomorrow will actually be a “day after” for me, because after over 2 months of this lockdown, we will be able to move a little more freely in our towns, waiting for some more relief on the 4th of May.
I am not good with long lists of instructions,
I am IKEA’s faithful customer,
and grateful, too, because pictures are clear,
they stay on the page, they are so friendly,
with big crosses for what I shouldn’t do
and fingers showing where to focus next.
Life is already complex as it is:
why make it harder, and at a time like
this, when the days are long and warm, and one’s
lockdown routine starts making sense, at last—
I think the only kind of step-by-step
list I can read’s a recipe—with pictures…
Don’t ask too much: give me an Allen key,
and I’ll be as happy a man as one can be.
Note: today’s prompt from napowrimo.net was: “use a long poem by James Schuyler as a guidepost for your poem.” The actual, “borrowed” prompt comes from poet Hoa Nguyen, so there’s a link to it, too. Well, yes… interesting. And I do love Schuyler’s poem, though I think it took me less time to read Joyce’s Ulysses. But I have a big problem with long lists of instructions: I get stuck about halfway through, and I wish they had given me one of IKEA’s leaflets with pictures instead. I did start from James Schuyler’s title though.
This prompt’s a lemon
that makes me go bananas—
not giving a fig.
Note: today’s prompt from napowrimo.net was: “write about a particular fruit – your choice.” I hope no one will feel offended by my response, but over two months of lockdown have really begun to play with my mood.
There are two in Coronavirus,
plus one in Covid-19,
and there are two in lockdown,
which makes five:
O O O O O
O I’d’ve never thought—
O this seems so unreal—
O don’t forget your face mask—
O-nly one roll of paper left—
O when will this be over—
like the crown, or halo
of the infective virion.
O is also found in hope—
O we can find in our home—
O resides in positivity—
O lingers in coping—
O, short and effective, in “Stop!”
Note: today’s prompt from napowrimo.net was: “write a poem about a particular letter of the alphabet, or perhaps, the letters that form a short word.”
My friend said she’d be walking
down Wisconsin Avenue
to the river—and then back,
I suppose. With her fancy
home-sewn face mask,
a brightly coloured pattern
to make William Morris proud,
I can see her as she strolls
by the cherry trees in bloom,
at a distance from humans,
at ease among the blossoms.
Nature gives but also takes,
nature can be frightening,
but to nature we’ll return—
invariably—in search of
happiness and peace of mind.
Note: And now for something completely different… For the second day, I have not followed the day’s prompt from napowrimo.net, which was: “find an idiomatic phrase from a different language or culture, and use it as the jumping-off point for your poem.” It’s another old prompt I have never found very inspiring, and in the last week of this Poetry Month I want to feel a bit more relaxed. There are too many constraints in real life at the moment, I’m happy if I can avoid adding more.
Note: Note first today, because I find it important to explain what I decided to do. Today’s prompt from napowrimo.net was: “Find a poem in a language that you don’t know, and perform a “homophonic translation” on it.” This is an old one, and one I had already reacted to with mixed feelings in the past. I think all artists take their work seriously, and poets use words to say something that is important to them at that moment. Each language has its specific ways of communicating ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Reducing someone else’s work (and language) to a model for a comic mimicry of its sounds is something that would embarrass me. Utterly. Even if I can produce something innocuous, such as turning a big and kind tree into “a street of shops and smiles,” as in the example on napowrimo’s blog, I would be afraid of ruining another poet’s work completely, and spoiling its value.
A Word Is
A word’s a word: in my language and yours,
it is a word, it is not just a sound:
a word expresses what a human being
is thinking, what he wants, or how he feels;
if you don’t understand, then make an effort,
give it a chance, a word is always worth it:
a word’s a world, a word’s a stone, the Word
A word’s a dictionary entry:
one line to many pages of more words
that will explain how complex one word is;
formal, informal, elegant, or vulgar,
a word will always do its job, and well.
So when you hear a word that’s new to you,
do not dismiss it—learn what it can do.