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 nine volunteers for August 2015 are Karen Craigo, Meg Eden, Jen Fitzgerald, Chad Foret, Flavia Rocha Loures, Robert Okaji, Aline Soules, Katherine Barrett Swett, and Pamela Murray Winters. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with your offer, a brief bio, and three sample poems and warm up your pen!
Day 3 / Poems 3
Northern Song Coin / by Karen Craigo
It should ache to have
too much. Picture the lord,
bent from the weight of coins
he carried strung on his neck.
I’ve turned one in my hand,
looked through the center,
the square hole an idea of Earth,
spread out like a picnic cloth
within the sphere of heaven.
They would insert a rod
in the making, the edges
of the cast bronze smoothed.
Maybe all our money needs
a window so we can see clearly
the palm that receives it.
Take the man reaching up
from the sidewalk, and the dog
that sits beside him. The dog
knows something about worth,
has been offered a sandwich
by the one who had none.
Painting of Fuji / by Meg Eden
It’s begun to fall apart now, after all these years:
the snow on Mt. Fuji is cracking,
the bark of the mountain is leaving debris on my desk.
My husband thought it was an arts and crafts project
when I brought it home from my parents’ house:
a gift my grandfather saved for me, knowing how much
you love Japan, my mother said.
She’s held it for me, for my first house.
These sorts of things aren’t her responsibility anymore.
Maybe I can chuck it in a campus dumpster—no,
the ghosts aren’t worth it! Would someone take such a thing?
The forest is made of something once moss-like,
now black, dry and rough. It comes off, the trees
glued to it are broken in half and peeling off
like old stickers. On the ends, the picture trails off
to show the grizzly wood underneath.
What was he thinking, the man who made this piece?
Was this the souvenir trope in the 40s,
was this what every American going abroad bought
for their mantles back home—and how did they frame it?
My grandfather bought this picture. Maybe
he bought it with someone in mind. He spent
his money on this. I let it sit in my office.
It would be wrong to do otherwise.
Taos Pueblo / by Jen Fitzgerald
In your creation myth the blue lake
is god fissuring you into being.
There is dust and walls 5 feet thick—
curved like rib bones and rough
to the touch. In your creation myth
there is a violence, a cracking and
stretching till Rio Grande Gorge
thrusts its cliff sides to the sky
like outstretched arms. In your
creation myth there is reaching—
for a place far from the azure
of your birth. Youth is bold
enough to stare down death.
In our creation myth I am brave
with a memory long as the under-
ground labyrinth filtering rain
through rock and pouring an
endless mineral bath over backs
of new life rising from blue lake.
Come Let Me Hold Your Crying Close / by Chad Foret
“As the plump squirrel scampers
Across the roof of the corncrib,
The moon suddenly stands up in the darkness,
And I see that it is impossible to die.”
James Wright, “Today I Was Happy, So I Made This Poem”
Candlelight dinner in the junkyard dark.
They are in love, real love, like the body
loves the body, how only scabs can attest.
Some dogs bark a derelict epithalamium, &
they perspire in this fictive of violets. Past &
future squabble in keenly-plated cake crumbs.
This is the gentlest collision: rag, weight, heat,
no narrow vow corroborating regrets. The moon
is ashamed, & by that I mean no shadows dance,
& each kiss slams a door in the face of the secrets
of this universe. She laughs like an old maid amid
asphyxiation. “O, Moon, you negative bruise, you
tagalong light,” they go with gleeful toothlessness.
This is a little peace like a half-broken bird adjusts
in the air. They hoist the sun & the long, slow rust.
“I’d never guess our bodies are the place where all
the dead arrive—this heavenly mauve of Makers
met. What more do we need with crises to fuse?
We are the song that falls to its knees forever.”
Stars / by Flavia Rocha Loures
Oh my, I miss the stars
such heavy clouds
grey polluted skies
taint my heart
burn my eyes
Oh I yearn for the stars
all these city lights
have blinded me
the world’s out there
I cannot see
Oh my, I need the stars
seek out the moon
through outer space
flown into infinite’s
Oh I, I feed off stars
nourished by suns
with planets I twirl
in cosmic moves like
a little girl
Calvin Coolidge — Live or Memorex? / by Robert Okaji
(The title was sponsored by Ron Evans. For a $10 donation to Tupelo Press, sponsors can offer a title, and I’ll write the poem to accompany it.)
They say the wind in Alvarado bypasses closed doors, slips through
book-laden walls and plate glass and into your dreams where it circles
and accumulates, whirling, whirling, steadily gaining force, gathering
loose pages and errant thoughts and memories too combustible to
burn, ignoring time’s compression and the gravity of dying suns, forever
counting, talking, thinking, looking up and out between the long nights.
unable to sleep . . . . . . he opens a window . . . . . . daring the wind
The 30th President of the United States breathes and writes at the junction
of an invisible house and a wheat field in Alvarado, in the guise of a
74-year old haiku poet. No longer the solemn ass, Cal laughs and speaks
and observes his two birthdays, recalling Harding’s scandals and Dorothy
Parker’s “How can they tell?” with equal relish. Sometimes he dresses
in tails and top hat, and speaks in 17-syllable phrases. Sometimes.
spitting out sake . . . . . . in the shadow’s glare . . . . . . death forestalled
Alvarado’s laureate is leaving it all behind – the presidency, the books,
the kolaches – catching the next breeze out of town, a silver-tongued
dust devil riding the word, spewing puns all the way to Arizona. But
buried in a waterproof box near Oswald’s grave, 314 cassette tapes
capable of shattering crystal carry his voice further than their unwound
lengths, whirring incessantly, celebrating life, praising the long wind.
standing in the sun . . . . . . wisdom blows by . . . . . . no questions today
Perception of Time / by Aline Soules
You might want to come now
medical euphemism for ‘the end is near’.
I arrive at the hospital to find
Mother has gone into Cheyne-Stokes.
thirty second pause
a rest so long that I wonder
if she’s already gone, but she gasps
and the cycle repeats.
until she takes another breath.
I sing to her. ‘ I saw three ships come sailing in
on Christmas day in the morning.’
I look in her eyes. Can she hear?
I hold her cold hand, feel her icy feet
She’s dying from the outside in
her face white, her body
unable to move
a minute and a half
Her head jerks back on the pillow
her legs judder to full length
‘Pray, wither sailed those ships all three
on Christmas day in the morning.’
Stuff / by Katherine Barrett Swett
Why do I have four typewriters reserved
against calamities that I’ll outlive
and have to write about? I’m pretty sure
that I’ll be dead, but they will still survive
with no one left to write. I’m pretty sure
My dinky plastic sharpeners once shaved
pencils long lost. I’m absolutely sure
I’ve stuff I long to toss that I once craved.
The worst part of the object fallacy:
to try preserving you in things you’ve left.
If I had none of it, none of the pelf,
–old word good only for a rhyme, bereft
of quickening sense or easy intimacy—
would I remember better you yourself?
Nose Job / by Pamela Murray Winters
Rauschenberg and Johns considered him “swish.”
People remade themselves back then, but more subtly.
Andy began wearing the platinum shock coiffure
in his 20s, to surprise people with his youth. Andy
excised a single letter, a whole syllable, a slice of Byzantine.
And rhinoplasty, round to sharp: an extravagance, or
his first use of an aesthetic assistant? His earliest
controversy: rejection from a swank juried show
for his painting of a goonish child, finger in nostril,
called The Lord Gave Me My Face, But I Can Pick
My Own Nose. Rauschenberg and Johns made their moves
in secret. Andy Warhol’s commercial work paid the rent
and the surgeon. In bed alone at 20, what faces
did Andy dream of making? Was his sleep troubled
by narrow breath, the cirri and nimbi in his head?
Please scroll down past the comment form to read the previous days’ poems.
Day 2 / Poems 2
May I Take Your / by Karen Craigo
When the Klan came,
the diner was packed,
and famished, all of us
trying to be nice.
Big rally that day,
and I’d carried a sign: Hate
not welcome here. Cops
kept a lawn between us.
I flashed what I’d drawn
on my order pad: swastika
X’d out in red. Everything else,
I did it the same, built salads
the way I’d want them, refilled
drinks, brought food
hot and on time.
Tips were good that night
and I used them. Fin
of a grand wizard or five
from a farmer will buy
the same dozen eggs,
and both give you back
a little change.
Crofton Elegy / by Meg Eden
Route three had a gas station and some farms.
One of those farms was the Cheney’s.
My dad saved some of the beams, as many as he
could fit in the back of his truck.
There was that old antique store on the corner,
which had been closed for years, and every time
we drove by I’d look in the windows, trying
to see what was inside. I could see things stacked
up against the windows: chair legs, tables
(was that a doll in the back?). Above, rooms
we assumed were living quarters. Now it’s a Wawa’s.
There are two McDonald’s on this road now.
I remember when going to church, all that went past
the trailers: fields. I remember the trailers
along the road, one with a pink doll in the window.
it looked like something from Ah! Real Monsters, or maybe a Clefairy,
some pink blob of a creature. There were old Sears homes
lined up, with dogs chained in the front. One person
had a pet goat. Now, those houses are torn down
for high class townhouses. I have to think
to try to remember what things looked like. I don’t think
anyone took photos of those sorts of things, but I remember.
Barefoot, Red Rock, Solo / by Jen Fitzgerald
Altitude like ache and rushing blood
as to the temple or through the gorge.
To rise is not to ascend. But descent
is plummet, is a place the mind drags
the body through, over rocks worn
round by water, under skies pulling
lengths of cloud to the horizon.
I walked through many passageways,
melded entry and exit in infinite
succession, in return pristine state—
attempted. Believed there were
states to return to, believed there
was a version of myself worth saving.
4th With Wife & Gulf / by Chad Foret
“Why, look here, one night
When I was drunk,
A bulk tree got in my way.
[. . .]
You may not believe this, but
It turned into a slender woman.
Stop nagging me. I know
What I just said.
It turned into a slender woman.
James Wright, “Blue Teal’s Mother”
I. Fishing by Moonlight
Sunset crazed at the end of the island: an iris seduced epileptically up,
glare in the sweat of a fieldworker’s back, or diamonds
cascading from some assassinated hand.
I haven’t caught a fish all weekend, so I
suppose I drowned a bunch of living things
to no true end, like charring an orchard to roast
a newt, the Gulf a strange altar where the sacrifice resides.
Aloha light—fireworks display, the delicate aggression
& orchestrated massacre of blackness—distraction.
Surf-fishing is the opposite of swordplay,
blade of the moon a sustained disassembly,
tunas beached in traces, tiger shark-serrated,
sclera billowing red like thunderclouds of gore.
The ghosts of crabs tear sand like coins.
“This lure will ruin well,” swore Local.
His kindness helped me shred
the cheek of a hardhead cat, chain
its hunger to ascension.
Sheepshead frenzied by barnacle chum,
or sunburned children sucking hookahs?
Rastafarian says his Word was here first.
You bait a shrimp to the rhythm of its natural shape,
or through the cloud in its mind as its mandibles stiffen,
& a rusted vessel’s bones sink like some neglected s’more.
This is near where my parrain first taught me to fish,
to eradicate the shame of the bait completely, &
now I can’t look at a knot without weeping.
I went over water where Katrina took the camp.
Somebody else had built there. James is still
sitting atop that pier’s destruction, body
aloft, legs underneath, enlightened.
Waterbugs spread on the slime-covered wood—
wait. I’m mistaken. That’s the essence of shadow.
II. Fishing in Moonlight
Like a Japanese businessman loosens his tie
in Aokigahara when finances’ sour
(too damn deep a green),
the menhaden sway into seine & shag,
the opposite of oyasute.
Maybe trout, in a rage, rip moronic
imitations we have doodled into plastic
like we might a funeral caricaturist.
I thought the crabs in the bucket
were pork rinds frying.
Coonass gossip on a busted truck-
bed, Cajun skin sunned
so red it seems infected, inside out.
They Toodeloo! & bow.
The pogies stare up, uselessly small.
The fisherman’s crosseyed patience,
the way the irises kiss, has alone led
some women to suffer his manhood.
The sword is our loveliest violence,
a severance coalescent its lexicon.
Wines overloaded with arsenic
coming in with the tide like
immolated rolling pins.
“We’re so alone when we drown, & noisy!
Our waters would boil if burdened with humor.
In this, our reddest moment: deducible brilliance.”
(The beachcomber’s wisdom topples with bourbon.)
The seasonal explosions illuminate her loveliness,
the long, dark grin of the shore growing shallow,
the waves like a woman’s bangs rising as she falls,
& the crabs less transparent than her tailbone hair.
Orange bikers swollenly neck above Olde English,
a tattoo of a needle in the eye of a camel.
Light’s departing splendidly,
need to rise, which is to say
we’re magically gone,
my how my wife
just stands in the surf,
a romance of excrements.
She is the Sun’s next excuse.
Fenix / by Flavia Rocha Loures
I take a deep breath
inhale every last bit of hope
my lungs can store
I borrow blue from the skies
green from the oceans and
color over countless red stains
I pool an invisible chord and
fashion a smile
pull your hair up
for there’s much work to do
sweat and tears will nourish the land
a runoff of new beginnings
bound to replenish aquifers
reconnect wetlands and streams
and lost souls
strive to rebuild we shall
that which our forbearers
In the aftermath of a tragedy
hope is all that remains,
like the ashes of the Fenix.
Stuck / by Robert Okaji
(The title was sponsored by Curtis Bausse. For a $10 donation, sponsors offer a title, and I’ll write the poem to it.)
As in yesterday’s light
pressed in a wildflower,
or its silhouette
embroidered in cotton
and mired in a basket
of discarded handkerchiefs
in a small town’s
second best junk shop.
Three days ago an oak’s
shattered branch pierced
my leather glove
and entered my left palm
painlessly, until I noticed
blood trickling down my
upraised arm, which
invoked the word stigma,
a mark of shame or scar
of carelessness borne of
a pointed instrument. Driving
to the next job and the one
after that and the next, I note
that the clouds pulse in time
with my throbbing hand,
that the cloth binding the wound
has fused with the blood and
scab, and that all my days
reconvene in a descending
spiral, slowly, ever
slower, heavy and dense,
but I drive on,
sweating the last gallon
of gas to squeeze the old Ford
towards one more job, one last
stop before we sputter in the mud,
unable, as always, to remove
myself before it’s too late.
Perception of Time / by Aline Soules
“It’s too nice to be indoors.”
Mother makes me put down
my book and go outside.
I bang on Christine’s door
but she’s been naughty
and can’t come out to play.
I try my friend Valerie
but she has to go to the dentist.
I go home and sit on the stoop.
Elbows on knees, chin in hands
I stare at an earwig crawling up
the stem of a seeding poppy.
It crawls into the seed bur
and disappears. What is it doing
Mother has gone to
the back yard to hang clothes
on the line. I sneak
into the house to look at the time.
It’s only been fifteen minutes.
Will it never be tea time?
Song / by Katherine Barrett Swett
Can you wait
for Queen Anne’s lace,
her orange face,
the meadow higher
than your knees,
Can you wait
till autumn comes,
the pears are ripe,
from the vines,
jeans and sweaters
on the line?
If you must,
can you wait
till winter leaves,
the snowdrops fall
Can you wait
Day 1 / Poems 1
What Change Is / by Karen Craigo
You offer a dollar
and get back chimes—
that’s what change is.
Didn’t you say
you wanted it—your life
a little static, job prospects
poor, and you feel poor, too,
what you get, gone
before you touch it.
Sometimes you walk
from room to room belled.
The silver in your pockets
But here is a poem
in praise of what’s left
and all the hands it has known:
beggar, banker, tooth fairy,
and a child at a counter, waiting
to be seen, as the coins go
warm in her palm.
My Father Shows Me Where to Get the Best Dirt. / by Meg Eden
He brings me out to the woods, where some old logs
have decayed, half in the ground, their bodies
like surrealist art sculptures.
My father reaches down and cups the dirt
in his palm: black
with the half-body of a worm
wringling between his fingers.
Chocolate for plants.
I get up close to sniff it:
this is the place I was born in.
this is the smell of the place I was born in.
LIke a seed, I was planted
in my father’s woods.
My father explains that this is the best potting soil you’ll find
that people pay big bucks for this stuff.
I take that to heart.
Every time I have something that needs planting,
I go into the woods to get the dirt. In the process,
I gain a colony of some new bug species.
All the while, my mother goes to the store
and buys bags of Miracle Grow.
I asked her once, why she bought
what we already have. She said
the bags were small and easy to carry.
I’ve learned to not ask. My father
has learned not to ask. My mother
buys plants that die because she forgets to water them.
Our Lady / by Jen Fitzgerald
They dress her in blue to bring the rain—
. . . . . . say she is central,
. . . . . . say Christ is in a casket on the side of St. Jerome’s—
. . . . . . been there since the Spanish dropped him off in 1500.
They stand her between idols—
. . . . . . say she is ancient,
. . . . . . change her gown to orange
. . . . . . for the harvest
. . . . . . and fix her gaze over hand-hewn pews.
They have no need for the forgiving god on conquest—
. . . . . . know that time roots
. . . . . . as corn stalks stretching wiry toes out
. . . . . . for the promised baptism.
Diagnosticisms / by Chad Foret
“My head’s burning off and I got a heart about to bust out of my ribs.”
. . . . Barry Hannah, “Love Too Long”
“Have we arrived at dark restoration,
the lack that creeps from rage to rage?”
The doctors set down stethoscopes,
morbidly nod at shadow’s inception.
“Blossom inversion’s the likely conclusion.
What’s life but lust’s depreciation?
(Our bedside manner’s darkly regarded.)”
“Your dirge may err on unbearably loud,
like a dumptruck reversing for seasons.”
“Then why’s my heart around old music? Warmth
is our holiest war. Everything’s aglow.
Suddenly, this sorrow is too stupendous,
Grand Isle’s blue mornings seem perfectly
suitable pyres—a failure of light
so softly becoming success.”
“Here’s a stack of mourning pamphlets—”
“I sense laughter’s wonderfully limited
omniscience, that deeply tempered cope, &
the eyes of forgiveness opening gently.
In a ramshackle park at the end
of LA, I swung high above the bar.
I fell on my guts, lost all my air.
I remember that limitlessness.
I once pissed myself while walking back by,
but falling’s just a gentler immortality.
I was the antithesis of disease.
Gentlemen, I weirdly long to see
the windows red with all my hours,
refineries needling an evening sky,
so kindly cram these copays up
the body’s oldest comedy.”
To be a godmother / by Flavia Rocha Loures
… and to be away
leaving the most colorful chunk
of one’s aching heart behind
just how fast
does he grow, this munchkin
yet our lives remain entwined
my nephew, more like the son
I’ve been otherwise denied
online, such delicious laughter
till I can be by your side
Scarecrow Remembers / by Robert Okaji
I recall nothing before my eyes captured
the horizon and the looped whorl of night’s
afterglow, the first crow-plumes
crossing from left to right, awakened to
everything but my history and what
preceded the morning. By midday
I had mastered the secret language of
corvids and learned to interpret the wind’s
folly. When the sun eased below the hills,
I divined the angle of declination and tilted
my head to true north, thinking this is my
calling, to point the way. But how few
of us bottle our life’s cause to sip as
needed. Later my dark friends whispered
the truth, and we laughed among the
rustling stalks as I pointed the way
not to the Alhambra or even Wichita,
but to the choicest kernels. Placed here
for one purpose, another claimed me.
I am the future without past, the present
decaying, tomorrow’s joke, impermanent
and shadowed. I am anomaly, risen.
Perception of Time / by Aline Soules
This is what I hope will be one of a series of poems on “the perception of time.” I write this as the first poem of a group of 30 to be written in August, 2015 as part of the 30/30 project. I have just given this a “number” at this point, although the numbers may change as I revise and see what I create over the month. — Aline
We’re going to take a train
to the seaside at Carnoustie.
My friend Christine and I
run outside with our pails
banging our spades on the sides.
Sun sparkles beckon.
We jump up and down, run back
in the house to stare at the clock.
It’s moved three minutes
since the last time we looked.
We have our swimming suits,
our pails, our spades. Our mothers’ bags
are filled with towels, a rug to sit on,
a thermos and a chittery bite
for after we swim.
What else do we need?
The train might leave without us.
The First Time I Smoked in 30 Years / by Katherine Barrett Swett
Walking home with my son,
twenty-one, a smoker,
I had, of course, begun
the day by nagging him to stop,
but then we’d had some wine
at dinner with my mother
whose Parliaments I used to steal—
the tripartite filter
imprinted on the tongue’s tip.
Every brand had a special feel.
My husband smoked camels;
you had to spit the tobacco out,
or pick it off your lip—
I tell my son none of this lore,
and he hands me a Marlboro.
They cost a dollar each now.
The wine, the hot June night,
the sidewalk underfoot, it tastes great.
I feel twenty. I could be
walking home with his father
Instead I’m with my son,
smoking my only cigarette
Now he’s twenty-two,
and he’s quit; I didn’t start again.
It was enough
to crush the years.
It was good; it was enough.
Sickbed Silver Factory, 1937 / by Pamela Murray Winters
The boy jerked, the boy ticced, exhibited
the grasping hand known as the milk sign.
They called it St. Vitus Dance. Julia
came home from prayer, hands bearing
faint scent of wax and the funny papers.
Andy loved the picture shows and pictures.
Andy, accursed, outcast at only nine,
wrote to cowboys and divas and army men.
Here’s a photo, colored up like a corpse:
To Andy Worhola From Shirley Temple.
The curls outshone by the alopecia of rouge.
This maquillage was Hollywood’s, not Andy’s.
Not yet. Movement, color, motherlove his tonics.
He was an artist already, already singular.
God and the holy mother knew this boy.
What do they do, these mothers of the strange?
Some children go lost. Some, dumped at the curb.
Some rename themselves, are smudged, are erased.
Sometimes one is given the keys, unlatches
everything, hurtles through doors into springtime.
One mother stands in a patterned room,
watching the thin curtains blow in, blow out.
One boy turns back, grabs her hand, maybe
slows a hairsbreadth, hopes she’ll run with him.