Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.
To read more about the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, including a complete list of our wonderful volunteer poets and to read their poems, please click here.
The eight volunteers for July 2015 are Alexandra Beers, C.W. Emerson, Sara Femenella, Tobey Kaplan, Kathleen McCoy, Juan Morales, Carrie Nassif, and Kenneth Wagner. Read their full bios by clicking here.
Please follow their work (by clicking “Follow” on the bottom of the page), and feel free to acknowledge their generosity and creativity with a show of your admiration and support by donating on their behalf to Tupelo Press. (Click here to donate, scroll down to the form at the bottom, and put a contributor’s name in the “honor” field.) Just imagine what a challenge it is to write 30 new poems in 30 days!
If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please contact email@example.com with your offer, a brief bio, and three sample poems and warm up your pen!
Day 4 / Poems 4
What a Dog Knows of Independence Day / by Alexandra Beers
He wakes at the usual time and eats the same breakfast scooped to a dish, then dumps. Sniffing is the only other option.
A guy on the beach gives treats and throws him a ball, then says, “Well, another 4th and we’re still not rid of that black Obama. What’s left to do?”
I try pulling the dog away, but he is smitten. Anything for kibble and a jump in the surf. His liberty is limited, his forgiveness constant.
Today is another day of ignoring those who do not give him what he wants, and loving up to those who do. He does not have the chance nor the inclination to discern.
This celebration includes meat and competition and fireworks at the end, booming us back to the life we eek out while we can. Change is not on the radar.
The dog has loyally waited while our ideas of freedom have evolved– freedom to speak and defend, to come and go, to have and to hold.
I shall walk upon the beach and face the man with the ball. He is free to hate today, I am free to listen. The dog is only free enough to run when I release him.
Amaryllis / by C.W. Emerson
I passed a restless night, caught in a space
between peace and its counterpart,
suspended between daylight
and the surfeit of night’s mysteries.
In the morning, I woke as usual,
one dog perched on my hip,
the other pushing her head against my chin.
I had the sudden thought,
When did it become my job to do the undoable?
The imprint of my dreams was warm as fresh wax;
dream-tasks had multiplied through the night—
the very essence of the self
seemed to hang on solving insoluble questions.
The particulars were unimportant;
random figures from childhood,
voicing their instructions through old-fashioned telephones.
Even as I received them, I felt a sense of futility.
And the fear upon awakening:
Am I living my life this way?
For years as a child I had not spoken.
They called it selective, a word containing
elective, the implication clear. But what part
does choice play, what does free will
mean to a child?
The many years of speaking and listening
had long ago compensated
for the muted time, one sense dulled,
the others heightened.
A debt of some kind had been repaid.
But in the dream, I was once again silenced,
this time by the prospect of failure
and loss of agency.
The fear when I woke was palpable.
It came in questioning
the urge, the need
to do what cannot be done.
July 4, New York / by Sara Femenella
When the citizenship dwarfed the American
We celebrated with meat, beer and sex
Fireworks igniting our summered haze
You were taking all the anagrams literally
As if every one was a perfectly formed
Theory of life-after-death, what you thought meant
Luck I think meant communism so I gave you
All my history books, renamed all the highways and rivers
When the climate changed for good
When we started wearing exotic furs and leaving
Our IDs at home, I was summoned
To attend the pain in my leg a gnawing thing, while you
Busied yourself unravelling papers over the villages
The clocks are eating away at the picturesque abyss
The cops are asking questions, as we are tending to our desires
Like a French Narrative with cigarettes and a rumpled white bed
Maybe we met in a hotel lobby, maybe it was a cafe
We’re still getting our story straight, if we were ever
Where we said we were
I am writing you a love letter
Complete with the Top 40 Countdown, bombings in the Middle East
And a picture of my breasts
plan B at Carmel Valley Lodge / by Tobey Kaplan
in the trash an empty packet of morning after pill
as one might guess after sex you’re not sure
if you want that little spermatozoa to take so to speak
to make something happen
and instructive perhaps to make sure in many instances
having a back up job opportunity any alternative move we call plan B
if whatever you’ve preferred to take place doesn’t
I could say I often prefer not to plan ahead
and let the contingencies present themselves
unnerved and breathing
last year we got to the place we had reserved for the holiday weekend
just to find that the a room allowing dogs was taken
as my request a few weeks earlier via some crappy booking site
and subsequent phone call was ignored
so we had to pay extra but we were in town closer to the beach
today we’re in the Valley the morning sun driving out the fog
at night crickets and birds flutter as I walk around brushes smashed oranges
all garden dried scrubby weeds no use in this California drought
last night before sunset I took a short swim trying to remember how long
it has been since I made my less than graceful glide through water
as most who know me know I cannot run anymore
anything of the earth or universe its own openness no concerns
or frustrations the meal prepared with flax seeds and beets
chopped kale banana avocado almonds and walnuts
what will enable us to live that long healthy life
our walk to the village a drive to the beach
The Democracy of John Elway / by Juan Morales
Ft. Collins, Colorado
Back in college days, way after the Cold War,
five guys, who couldn’t afford curtains
rented out a house,
and pinned the massive USSR flag
on the living room wall for everyone to see.
It bathed the room and the whole street in revolution red.
The hammer and sickle almost flinched
at the rock that smashed through the giant window
and the attached note that told them,
“Communism sucks, John Elway Rules!”
what I thought was love had to be put down / by Carrie Nassif
when the rumbling when the restless wind boils at the trees
a scrap of corn husk like a whittled fear may scrabble across the road
like a lizard
the treacherous the adrenaline the tremoring through
that mighty the sobbing the puncture wound afternoon
on the long drive out
he finally leaned his beautiful his broad head on my saline neck
my crumpled shoulder his/my heavy love humming his breathtaking
his own release
The Pursuit of Happiness / by Kenneth Wagner
to follow with hostile intent
you will drag feet ragged across
shrapnel coated roads
to acquire .. obtain .. procure
your instinctual thrum knows
antipathy and revulsion and there
is no breath worth the past
your deep knowledge of
the day after Thanksgiving
not the significance of April 19th
or corners of a child’s heart
is an awakening you cannot buy
so you shadow the air
you career and you hunt always
catching continuous empty
you can’t pursue
blithe .. so .. happy
took its place and has sent
you addle-brained after
a momentary synapse misfire
what our forefather’s meant was
luck .. you have the right to luck
but instead the saddle you sit atop
rides a never quenched thirst
that infuses your being with
the ever unanswerable question
. . . . . . . what about me
Please scroll down past the comment form to read previous days’ poems.
Day 3 / Poems 3
After a Screening of “Love & Mercy” / by Alexandra Beers
Before there was love actually there was this song
carefully crafted to include something for everyone in its demanding repeat– God only knows the agony he poured in.
What I know is that I cannot close my eyes now without those sleigh bells
and that constant chorus reminding me
not of the love in my life but of the music in his head
the swelling of sadness he heard all at once the way artists do,
the way a photographer sees an image, or a poem gets handed from somewhere with the note: here you go, now do something with it.
I may not always love you, but long as there are stars above you,
you never need to doubt it, I’ll make you so sure about it…
Walking home you said, “My father would’ve loved that movie. He knew all about Brian Wilson.”
He loved the early rockers but especially noticed the guys who fell,
the ones for whom the star’s life was too much or who crumbled under loss.
The music was your soundtrack as he drove you to his apartment, as he ran all those miles before everyone else, fighting towards relevance.
You played the Beach Boys to him in his coma, filling the troubled head.
If you should ever leave me, well, life will still go on, believe me,
the world could show nothing to me, so what good would living do me?
He would’ve loved the film of a life and music saved.
Body / by C.W. Emerson
The body is a map
of what proceeds it—
it is both a map
and the territory it signifies.
The lines of the map are drawn
in cuts and sutures,
by psyche and steel.
It writes its history
in words without words,
in bruised flesh
and burled bone.
My body is the map
of woodlands and lake-lands,
white with winter,
umber in autumn,
red with native blood.
My body is singular
in its ruthlessness,
and multiple in the dreams
by which it is driven.
This is the dream
it is dreaming now:
it is melting
in the sun’s rays,
and gasping for breath
in the planet’s toxic air.
Invocation for Reality, Abstract / by Sara Femenella
Of distance, first in feet, then in inches
Of shame, centuries moving between us
I am recovering from your abrupt happening
Beside me, the skein of our mistakes, of our humbling
Of the wine and flock
Of the marveling
In my dreams of topiary gardens and marble angels
I lose you in conjecture, measured by your savagery
I grant us permission, pollinate our undoing
I count backwards from vertebrae to phalange
Of the body, a priori
Of the finite, stuttered by what we are calling on
another cup of coffee / by Tobey Kaplan
another dog greeting and thanks to my eyes
and the lovely gardens I loved this morning
drought resistant drought tolerant .. vibrant blooming strong
thanks to the neighbors and thanks to garbage collectors
also I appreciate cars and mathematics
opera and seashore .. marriages and singularity
poetry comes easy for some and others the wrestling
between the lines
perhaps it’s rhythm and vocabulary
a quartet of composition memory imagination
along with what flows into the gutter
and you can find ingredients
the suggestions associations
playful flow philosophical ambitions
after that morning walk
one time after a rain in the hills
I found a swarm of termites winged ants their wings
the peel of shells flakes of paint scatter glitter incandescent in the wind
I love forgetting the one or two reasons for everything
each day a reason for meeting the person I’m supposed to be
unknowable impulse of the deal the fact
often an oooops .. and a lucky dance
here’s to the gift of gab
you will let the poem discover
Community / by Kathleen McCoy
after Community by Corita Kent, 1982
“We are either going to become a community or we are going to die.”—Barbara Ward
From inside a cavern’s black mouth
sky, sun, distant mountains stand
distinct in their right colors, yet
merge so mountains’ blue, sun’s
maize, sky’s coral form segments
of purple, brown, deep green, converge
to resemble you and you and you
and me when, at close of another day
of bold strokes and vague threats, posters,
op-eds, black-and-whiting the right of all
to love, to be distinct and yet together, at last,
despite the raucous blare, nature’s brightness
catches us and we, breathless, beating,
begin to see the spectrum of light, simply
rainbows where our auras touch.
To Dream in Spanish / Juan Morales
Practice as an adult with phone calls
to mama y papa. You volunteer to teach
ICE detainees in the jail every Tuesday.
You finally take trips
to the motherland and the fatherland
as a tourist ironically surrounded
by family. Describe your life
back in America with sentences
as simple as charades
laced with wrong syntax and cognates.
Give yourself credit when people ask if
you speak it. Don’t worry about
your white boy accent. Say yes
instead of the long answer
about not being raised on Spanish
and how you heard
your parents talking it together like secrets.
It’s okay to fry your brain,
code switching each day in a country
that is not yours.
You won’t catch every phrase. Let go.
Fall into the dreams, en sueño,
heavy as rivers overflowing
with accents and tildes,
when you forget you don’t speak Spanish
only for the night.
the wax/wane of our rain / by Carrie Nassif
a frictive and a humid updraft a thundering tailspin a green gallop anted up and called
the smug contentment of contempt a hornet nest a swingset discovery the bare the naked
the first angsty stings of spring
sweet-pickled and simmering
the stones we’d hoarded all stacks of crawdad regrets all flat speckled pebbles we’d spin skipping across rippling sky-bound reflections now plunked now swallowed now
heat-prickled and smooth sleeping
lowslung spiderwebs weave these wildflfowered these cloverful these fallow fields
this dew-strung this sweetgrass allure to burst to blossom all swallows and swooping
all thistles all worn cards worth keeping
Looking Across a Dark River / by Kenneth Wagner
Moose…Indian – Thoreau’s last words
It could have been any stream or lake he was looking over
not just Walden or the Concord. He sat outside with his sister
as a small breeze from early May rustled the apple blossom buds
and dusted up the dried mud from New England’s fifth season.
If Alcott hadn’t come over to celebrate John Brown and sneezed
in Henry’s general direction, we would have known more about
pine sap, willow and the solitude of volunteer seeds.
But Alcott sneezed, and Henry died two years later.
Two months after Alcott.
In his last days he had trouble seeing and his speech
had become a strained whisper. A friend came by
and asked Henry where he was looking,
“You seem near the brink of the dark river, what
do you see?”
That next morning – again outside with his sister
he saw the images among the birch
and pine trees, hiding behind rocks maybe
eating sweet sapling leaves. Another
breeze came to sweep him up and he said
Now comes good sailing.
then a short while later with the sun still trying
to warm the morning air, he saw what he said.
No mystery to his words, just the facts in this last
vision of earth, answering the question as he sailed across.
Day 2 / Poems 2
Lean In / by Alexandra Beers
My yoga teacher says move into pain
embrace the discomfort in the margins
which is where my quads want to remain–
forgotten, forgiven, allowed to rest.
Up and down city staircases they climb
lifting too-heavy bags, gripping these toes
over the dog’s gate, into subway grime
swiftly past the man waking to his hungry day.
There is much to avoid. Her voice persists.
I breathe into the ache to find what’s there
noticing the years of grit I’ve employed
and find that these aging limbs are blessed–
They bend and sway yet keep working. I stay.
Present– engaged– I do not look away.
MRI / by C.W. Emerson
My father calls with good news,
a clear MRI, progress continues.
I file the news away and forget
to return the call.
How does one make meaning
of the mind’s trickery,
the elegant solutions to feeling
as if feeling was
a malady to be cured?
Who did the boy in the 70’s photo
grow up to be?—
a healer, a charlatan,
a muse, an extension
of some family illness?
In the way I have walked
through my days,
what I believed I could bear
is something yet to be known,
or perhaps, to feel . . .
Liturgy of Mind Over Matter / by Sara Femenella
If you want something badly enough—
Communal prayer in furtive muttering
Congregation of one
I am crass in this synoptic rhetoric
Steeped in my body’s own version
Stained with sensorial pleasure
Stained with want
I want my startled anger, ripping apart the in-between hours
I want the life inside me, raw and stinging like a fuse
I want the burden of this light, this bioluminescence advancing on the darkness
I want to stay right here, in this hushed and glowing here, I pledge
Mouth of my mouth, lung of my lung
If there is nothing after this, then I will take this nothing like a battle
Burnished with nothing, radiant with nothing
I will owe nothing, I will give nothing
Reading / by Tobey Kaplan
I can’t read at night
maybe that’s why I no longer remember my dreams
friction and disagreement if I want to keep the light on
in bed while you need to sleep
so I go to Gotham Scandal Chicago Fire
those entertaining dramas of violent fictional conflicts
or I walk the neighborhood where the cats rub and roll
and two young men ask me about their lost terrier dog Isis
who escaped the yard earlier . scared of the explosive echoes
our neighbors setting off dynamite sticks or
if I could remember my dream
I would sketch it out .. bookshelves . rooms . houses . cabinets
bridges and phones .. fuzzy conversations skipping over waves
like coming home from a concert so late
falling asleep with the light on
in each other’s arms
Newgrange / by Kathleen McCoy
A loaf, risen from soil and white quartz
a thousand years before Stonehenge was hewn
beneath countless candles in the sky
gleams, round green mound
of rendezvous for earth and sky
which, like star-crossed lovers, prefer to meet
in the openness of dark, deep in a cairn beneath
heaven’s light. Marvel how we called their genius
pagan who saw much more than we;
who knew the dead, like all
our secrets of love and loss, must be kept in the silent
darkness of the deep in an inner chamber where we measure
our steps, bringing our light with us; that when the year
grows darkest, when earth’s heartbeat quiets under snow,
when her fruits have shriveled
as the marrow of our days and sky mirrors
the darkness of the secret self we share,
on the shortest, darkest day of the year when our sight
grows dim as midnight beneath
a cloudy, moonless sky—
only then, if we’ve arranged our stones just right, a single
slit in time’s stone wall will focus sun’s bright beam,
transfiguring pride and desire the way
a loaf baked by the gods with a core
of sun inside it, when tasted,
illuminates, expunging fear and doubt. These,
our ancestors, knew that such light as cannot be housed
must be, that we are bound to construct, for our own
forgetfulness, for the children of our forgetfulness,
a deep green mound of hope, to protect it
with necklace-stones of earth
where we must forever keep
our own bones ready.
Zombie Ghazal / by Juan Morales
We are the mass of undead, growing with each bite,
infected on voodoo, viruses, consumerism, and raw hunger for your flesh.
In the beginning, you will be slow to understand we’re dead,
giving no resistance to our teeth punctured into your flesh.
We don’t sleep. We wander our old work and school haunts,
watching the world rot by, until we smell your sweat, your flesh.
We are slower than you think
until you stumble or trip yourself up, offering up your flesh.
Our adrenaline is switched off, and we keep coming
even when guns and knives defend your fragile flesh.
Hobble us. Part us into pieces until you learn our brains must die
with no mercy. We only think about your flesh.
Toward the end, you will grow wiry but strong
and never trust anything or anyone else to protect your flesh.
If we can eat you, we will. If we wound you, we will welcome you, Zombie,
once you’ve turned to the same rotting, undead flesh.
tatterdemalion / by Carrie Nassif
pulchritude sure, as a word, it’s meant to be
pretty but it puckers my mouth grating like a rusted mechanical contraption a
concocted beauty a potion a brew
like some white trash meth
make it from drain-o or acetone or fertilizer or rat poison either way
it will swiss cheese your brain that glamourous itchy high all glossy and
smelling of fashion magazines
too skinny and everyone airbrushed and having some
careful or your face’ll stay like that so tight you can’t squeeze the feelings out
numb like dental work like
a mask of your face you’re wearing it wrong
even though her face is ugly he said that Baywatch girl is hot she looks like sex
and the other guy said he’d light himself on fire if it was approved if it was passed
but when it did he was all
it was metaphorical only a quote from a song from the bible you guys now c’mon he had paraphrased it he said no trace of irony in his drawl
how this one politician swears we were all going to hell he rails against the damned
all the harder to quelsh his own weakness and the harder he did it the harder he wanted it the harder it got the harder it got not to do
it was all over the news
how even a soundbite can be too much if the voice is ignorant enough maybe they
should bloviate it out their own asses
all that privilege that sneering hate a belch a burp and eructation
ugly on the inside doesn’t stay there long
if we want to connect those dots we’ll have to show our work
to leave the lines and wear them fine and thin
shouldn’t it leave a mark upon us shouldn’t time take a bite from our hides
the sweetest fruits are a little bruised are flesh for the seeds for the pits for the new life dormant within
you guys this isn’t metaphorical so let me be a mess a
ragged dilapidated street urchin a weedy an unwanted a tattered dandelion
someday let me be truly
my decaying self stubborn and unyielding gathered in handfuls by the innocent
let me be
Trust Issues / by Kenneth Wagner
“Ready!” he replied.
After – there was no way he’d let his father stand behind him – thankful
the house was small enough keep his back to the corners at all times.
Then there was the endless mental loop of having to carry his own sacrificial wood
and wondering why the servants and the ass got to stay at camp and live.
So who could blame him when he flinched at the dinner table
every time his father carved the roasted meat.
Who could blame him when he threw up a little
after he was told his mother was also his aunt.
Then there was continual gut-punch when the story was told to friends
and neighbors – their shock deepening his humiliation – the quiet
“I’m so sorry”, mouthed to him as daddy recounted the moment
when the angel appeared, “I would have, you know – but they stopped me.”
which triggered the anger that it was a messenger not even God Himself
who showed up to save him. Then finally the burning fear every sunrise –
the image stamped forever on his heart – of his father
with blade raised, wild-eyed and screaming,
Day 1 / Poems 1
Try Me / by Alexandra Beers
On the lush lawn of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
three grown-ups loll and giggle and tease.
Two wear yarmulkes and heavy shoes
one’s in a skirt that’s awkward for lolling
and hair so thick I wonder how many gave their tresses
so she could hide her own.
They are posing for one another. An expensive-looking camera
is passed between them. Laughter is captured.
Are they trying out JDate? Or whatever is the more serious site
for seeking soul mates who barely reveal skin?
Aren’t they supposed to let others make matches? Or wait for thunderbolts to strike?
I am about as limited as I think they are. I am being a schnook.
Maybe two are married and the other’s the brother
and they are preparing for a flattering profile in an online magazine.
Nah— now they’re leaning against a tree, one after the other,
futzing with fabric and making love to the camera
with their eyes with their smiles anything to say
Try me. This is not all you get.
Heat / by C.W. Emerson
This week on the mountain,
a couple died, at least she did,
the airlift futile, wasted.
The morning heat shimmied
and gleamed, inviting the innocent
to climb higher; safe, it said,
to follow the trail, chiding
them for their foreign pallor.
Out here there are fields
of chipped stone for sale,
crushed to dust, laid like sod,
good money for drought terrain.
The drains run dry, the skies
blow soot from the Big Bear Fire.
Thank god pools of saltwater rise,
recirculate, and dampen the night.
It wasn’t their weakness
defeating them; they just
didn’t know the way.
Hell, every day by three
the heat takes me down.
Out here, men are boys
and boys are boys; here
we blond and we darken.
Here I crave red meat and spice,
bookstores, matinées, early-
bird specials, swamp-cooled bars
where flash-flood warnings
scorch the big-screen chill.
Outside, monsoon clouds bloom
and gather. The boys are out
at the pool, still working.
July 1, New York / by Sara Femenella
The daughter pauses in the departure’s
Posthaste, there is a silence there
A place where light forgives darkness
A place where night falls kindly across the face
She has filled out all the forms with her name and dates
Waited on all the lines, filed single file through revolving doors
But the last reverie of something forgotten
For example, something scattered by an elegiac wind
What’s interesting is there is no
Such thing as a dial tone anymore
Tabula Rasa a sharp human fluttering
On the other end of the line
The daughter has measured distance
With language, a pilgrimage that originates
In the throat like a bird troubling there
Language a ruse in the scale of bodies
Proximity simply proximity: mouth to skin
July 1 / by Tobey Kaplan
at night there’s fireworks getting shot off for no reason
other than those who have them must like the sound
must get admiration from those other
kids and adults their neighbors who let it happen
in our neighborhood we don’t like them much
our dog will not go out amid the booms
I have to walk by myself . . admiring
the quiet stars and the heat
animals who invade our yard
and under the house that opossum who grew up under our stairs
eating cat food .. still around stealing her kibble
wretched and stubborn
those habits we embrace
at night lodged in the asphalt cracks two pennies
one’s heads . . one’s tail
Through a Glass, Darkly / by Kathleen McCoy
The rafter-nested sparrow once again
interrupts my absorption in scrubbing honey
and marinara from bowl and fork as she hunts,
each feather twitching, alert, fret
reserved for humans near her brood. Her head,
feet, wings rise, creating inconstant-eternal wind—
what pi is to the pointlessness of random numbers,
what Segovia’s play of fret and string is to the tone-deaf waif.
She opens her beak of bounty—emanations of luscious
worm tumble into ravenous red caverns of desire.
I herd the cats away from the window, then turn to it again.
Through the silent separation of our dwellings
shadowed in sparkling glass
we stand in mysterium tremendum.
I Didn’t Go to the Protest / by Juan Morales
Because I was hopeful for a future Friday when the country
would fill with rainbows for all 50 states, drowning out
the chants that God Hates…
and the clueless politicians who call these
the darkest days in our nation
when it’s too bright not to celebrate.
Because I couldn’t believe Westboro Baptist Church would really show
their signs damning us all to hell in Pueblo back in December.
Someone talked about parking them in
at their hotel and the snowstorm with a high of seven degrees.
I saw 800 hundred people on the Facebook invite already telling them
our town is not as backwards as everyone thinks
and our county clerk wasn’t going to stop issuing marriage licenses for anyone.
Because I had errands on the other side of town and
I had to get back to work, I shouldn’t say
“we” sent them on their way with no satisfaction.
I wasn’t there to see their defeated leader
ending her TV interview with a shrug and “whatever”
before they gave up and drove away,
but I promise to be braver next time and
join the final tally of four hundred strong
that bundles against the cold
and against the outnumbered bigots who hate…
too many halves to stay / by Carrie Nassif
–after Edward Hopper’s “Room in New York”
the window ledge a black frame of night sits solid damp
seals the edges between us
the light can’t decide if it is saffron or celery or ochre scrubbed with celadon
it has only one ear
he is a landscape an instrument she is tempted to tune
he leans in as he leans
she is a polished pebble is she sighs his upholstery the empty table between them and even
that oak paneled door