Secrets to a Happy Life

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~~a Petrarchan sonnet~~

On a wide variety of topics
ranging in breadth, diversity, and scope
from hopes and dreams of a modern zygote
to climate trends in Belizean tropics;
from last year’s indie top pick biopics
to Hittite methodologies for grope
as practiced by a hundred lusty popes,
I could spew a font of vague specifics,
work us up a head of steam, but no, thanks.
These days, I spend all coming revenue
on nourishing my limbic streams with joy,
ignore the creaking politics of cranks
who think resentment somehow clears the view.
To love, to learn, these hold my full employ.

~~~

The Petrarchan sonnet, despite the name, was not created by Petrarch, but by Renaissance poets who enjoyed composing in Italian. The structure is octave and sestet: eight lines to introduce the problem or premise, and six for the solution. The rhyme scheme ABBAABBA CDECDE has a different feel from Shakespearean. I’ll need to write a few more before I can explain that difference in words.

© Elaine Stirling, 2019
Image: Lisa Bobechko

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Two Zero One Nine, Do You Read Me?

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~~a glosa~~

We stand on the far promontory of centuries!
What is the use of looking behind us
since our task is to smash
the mysterious portals of the impossible?

“Futuristic Manifesto”, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
~~~ 

Everything’s progression. You and me,
we’re both respective tips of blades
made sharp—or dull— by “Father looked
at life like this, and mother that, so I…” 
And if we die sans heirs, we all still
influence. Creation grinds our vagaries
to dust beneath my feet and frees
me from the appetite to disagree.
Keep up or don’t. Like Etruscan sentries,
we stand on the far promontory of centuries,

contributing with earthy bits and pieces
to terroir that grows a wine particular
to you, I find abrasive or a sickly sweet,
and yet, I’ll creep at night to taste again, in case
I missed some subtlety, and by a single peep
my concave/convex lens adjusts. It grinds us
into sharper focus or like plates tectonic
grates and makes distinct new continents:
Pangaea, panacea, panegyrics, all blinds us.
What is the use of looking behind us

if dread and praise have lock stepped 
so that nothing good I say to you
is heard, and every unintended slight
cuts to the bone? We’ve split apart 
and there’s a fact that oceans of affinity
will never trouble to correct. You dot, I dash,
we are a code no more in vogue, a set
of peeves like kitchen knives whose history
provokes no interest, even less of cash.
Since our task is to smash, 

as far as I can tell, the misbelievers
of their woebegotten truths so there’ll be
less of them, it stands to reason that by leaving you
to tilt your mills and me to grind my axes,
some third construct of our selves will
circumlocute to an axis made more plausible,
dare I say fun, with extra-sensate lubricants.
Meanwhile, the new year, like a chariot, rolls in,
its wheels, friction-free, making audible
the mysterious portals of the impossible.

~~~ 

Filippo Marinetti (1876-1944) was a poet and founder of the Italian Futurist movement. His work is brash and energetic and crackles with outrage. If Marinetti were alive today, social media would be all over him, and we’d be making or breaking friendships based on our alliance. Love it or loathe it, Post-modernism, too, will be history one day.

The image comes from a deck of inspirational cards called Art Oracles. This glosa proves to me they work. 

© Elaine Stirling, 2018

A Habit of Living

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~~a glosa~~

To perceive you so exalted
does not impede my boldness;
that there resides no certain deity
upon the arrogant sole of thought.

—“My Divine Lysis”, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

I’ve made a habit of living
in beautiful places
of the mind, eschewing
bored walks in favour
of weathered planks along
a beach. I have been faulted,
as have you, for over-stretching
what is plausible and then go slack,
however much I wanted
to perceive you so exalted.

For a time, it seemed,
we held each other’s fondest
hopes like plover’s eggs,
my palm in yours, so trusting.
Life outgrows itself. I grew,
but you took coldness
as your guide, descending
to a squalor that, by living low
proves wrongly that I love you less
does not impede my boldness

in these words I write
expecting you might stumble
in this season to a glorified
and kinder reason.
Sweet decay of all that’s ill-
conceived by gravity
will one day rise again
in freshening your pessimistic arc
some god will tip and know with levity
that there resides no certain deity

for certainty, as every dancing
angel knows is diamond tipped,
a needle, while your camel’s eye
toward bleak and arid one day
must allow for rain and joy and hopes
for humankind. That’s all we’ve got
for now, my love. Fare well. I long
for you to hear the bells I ring,
conceding what you’ve wrought
upon the arrogant sole of thought.

~~~

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695) was an outspoken mystic and scholar who lived in New Spain, present-day Mexico. The form of this poem, a glosa, honours a quatrain excerpted from her work. Glosas were popular in medieval Spain, and I’ve been in love with them for about eight years now. I wrote an entire book of glosas, which you can find here if you’re interested.

A note on her title: Lysis is defined as disintegration and decline. Assigning divinity to what might be perceived as negative speaks volumes, I believe, for de la Cruz’s worldview. Here is the selected quatrain in its original:

Que mirarte tan alta,
no impide a mi denuedo;
que no hay deidad segura
al altivo volar del pensamiento.

Merry Christmas, all!

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2018
Translation of Sor Juana de la Cruz, “La Divina Lysis” by Elaine Stirling
Image of Leuty Lighthouse: photographer unknown

Good Day for a Flow Tale

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I love the sound of the sea, so one day
my friend and me set out on a small boat
from the brook near his house. I heard him say
I think this is the way, if we can float

and not look back, just go, dare I say flow,
to where the slow speeds up a bit, we might
come to a bend or fork, I do not know
for sure, but who does? This may well prove us right—

—or wrong. Life, as they say, can be a song
you sing out loud or just a ton of work.
My friend was not the type to think for long
on thoughts he did not like. He was no shirk.

The shark that took him flipped our boat, then spat
him out. We swam to shore, and that was that!

~~~

One of my favourite improv games is to play a scene or tell a story in words of only one syllable. This is a sonnet written in the same spirit.

© Elaine Stirling, 2018

Good Old Saint Lav

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In a house at the end of Liberty Lane
lives a man named Lavender Mudge.
When I was a girl my grandmother asked me
to bring him a plateful of fudge.
He’s not always friendly with children, she said,
but it’s only because he is old.
We should always be kind to our neighbours, she said,
for kindness is dearer than gold.

So I took him the plateful and knocked on his door,
expecting an ogre or worse.
He invited me in to his trim little house;
over tea, he read me some verse
from a book that he slammed. This is trash, he said.
I’d expect nothing more from a ring-a-ding.
Not quite the description he used, then he said,
but you’re just a kid. You don’t know anything.

Today in the house at Liberty Lane,
there still lives a man named Lavender Mudge.
He doesn’t come out much, has little to say,
but this morning, I brought him some fudge.
There’s really no hope for the world, he said,
over tea that tasted like sludge.
But don’t look at me! I warned them, he said,
good old Lav of Perpetual Grudge.

Author’s note: This ditty is a shameless attempt to emulate Rudyard Kipling’s rollicking narrative poem called “The Egg-Shell”. A friend posted it on Facebook this morning, and I was immediately agog. If you’re curious, look it up. You’ll see what I mean. For all Kipling’s flaws (and we’ve all got ‘em), when he was on fire, he was genius.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2018
Image of Crooked Man by Ken Lamug

The Drawing Near

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~~a glosa~~

You mingle with eagles,
you are as harmonious as tigers;
with this the flowers are sipped,
and we are a little happier here.

—“Canto Florida” (Xochicuicatl)

You there, yes, you! The one with sadness
in your eyes. I couldn’t help but notice
from my plot here in the Recoleta
that your pockets bulge with trinkets
from the merchants of oblivion. You scrape
the ground and wake us ancient regals
with your wailing, going on about the end
of times as if to garbage scrabbling
you were reduced like urban sea gulls.
You mingle with eagles!

Rise and fall, yadda-yadda, we’ve lived it
all and prophesied with bones and fecund
vines. Your sciences are different, but
you, like us, allow the god of gravity
to smother, then you grumble, whine,
all prissy—you could crackle! Fires
burn white-hot, consume with joy
the oxygen that races in. A life full-lived
uplifts the lied-upon above the liars.
You are as harmonious as tigers

and as dangerous as you allow
yourself to be amidst the grave
and colourless. Millennia, we’ve met
at crossroads, you en route to birth
and us to flower song. With gladness
from your tongue, you lightly tripped,
“Fear not, rejoice!” and so we did,
the newly dead. We dance with you
today, sing bright and sugar lipped;
with this the flowers are sipped,

dear princesses and princes, you’re
the rainbow oscillation, a continuum
to us who momentarily reside this side
of new creation. Whenever you are laughing
and orgasming, you catch glimpses of
the 8-shaped path but then forget. If you could hear
your physicists the moment they transpose
from mass to energy, you’d never mourn
again. See all that lives as the drawing near,
and we are a little happier here.

Happy Day of the Dead, 2018!

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2018
Author’s note: The translation of “Canto Florida” comes from In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature—Pre-Colombian to the Present, Miguel Leon-Portilla and Earl Shorris.

Infinity Pool

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There’s a pool in the sea in the middle
of my ocean, punch line to a riddle
writ from turbulent emotion where I
contemplate with mer-folk the Great Big Why.

Playing fool, I might take up a fiddle
with the notion that my tara-diddle
wit will soothe like aloe lotion, or try
battering opinions like a deep fish fry.

From there, of course, I fly from the griddle
to the coals where every eager kid’ll
go until she questions: for this I die?
Nope! Joy is here, not in the by and by.

Better to bask in this infinity;
we’ve salt enough to sink no enemy.

© Elaine Stirling, 2018

A Day for Reading Lorca

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~~a Sonnet Redoublé~~

It’s been years since I composed one of these insanely long forms. The sonnet redoublé, also known as a crown of sonnets, consists of 14 interconnected poems, 14 lines each, concluding with a 15th, the “crown”. With all except the final sonnet, a traditional rhyme scheme is used. I chose Shakespearean (ababcdcdefefgg) because you only have to rhyme the toughest words once.

Redoublés are fun for two reasons. First, they circle round like a daisy chain. The last line of each sonnet becomes the opening line of the next, all the way to the 14th, which ends with the first line of poem #1. Then, you incorporate all the first lines to create the 15th, the crown sonnet, which hopefully makes some kind of esoteric sense. Or not.

If you’ve spent time at my blog, you’ll know I’m partial to form poetry, especially glosas. The medieval Spanish form allows me to pay homage to a poet by selecting a favourite quatrain and expanding it in a kind of mind meld to 16 lines.

To honour Federico Garcia Lorca’s life and body of work, I wanted something more intricate. This crown of sonnets, 210 lines, I dedicate to him.

I

Today’s a good day for reading Lorca.
The rivers are clogged with expectation,
and my biodegradable fork, a
feeble idea, dissolved. Tarnation
is the new black, have you heard? Eternal
cycling from, we’re all going to die, to fie,
what yonder star retweets me? Diurnal,
rusty-winged moths with double tiger eye
know better than to rub their dust on sills.
True nature leaves no trace repeatable,
and yet again is what we crave, more thrills
that shrink with every curséd syllable.
I’ve unknowns still uncounted to deploy,
surprises by the wayside to enjoy.

II

Surprises by the wayside to enjoy
fly past the inert bullet of I know.
Familiarity’s a prick, a ploy
that hardens like cement. It cannot flow
beyond itself. Sure, the satisfaction
of a sour belch is undeniable,
but does it need an audience? Action
from the gut will prove most reliable
when whispered to the heart. A bitter tongue,
first cousin to a slaver’s whip, derives
her pleasure from reduction, calling dumb
whoever disagrees and thus, survives.
The kind of thinking once called critical
has desiccated to the cynical.

III

Has desiccated to the cynical
like coconut in shreds improved our lot?
Sometimes a whinery of comical
produces half-digestible merlot,
but if I’ve tried your viewpoint thrice and spat,
your cherry nose and cardboard undertones
won’t spur me to explore your discount rack.
I’ll find a Spanish poet with good bones
and practice conjugations of to be
until I can distinguish who I am
from who I tried to be. Not hard to see
in darkened rooms I know, but where’s the glam?
Too many friends I’ve lost to hopelessness,
a most unprofitable business.

IV

A most unprofitable business
seems a peculiar thing to follow, yet
every moment spent deploring, I miss
another vital chance to grow my net.
Creation knows no negative; it flows
in one direction, forward, shucking all
that won’t keep up. To willing hearts, it shows
in fleeting increments the secret call
that all of us, devoid of guilt and blame,
do not give up at death. The Spaniard wrote:
But all must know I did not die. No shame
accompanied his hope. On this I dote.
My sonnet crown is scarce a third complete,
but I must rest. I will return, replete.

V

But I must rest. I will return, replete,
replenished. Thoreau promised, Emerson
and Franklin too, to bring new versions sweet
wherein the joyful carries on, person
after person—short lives, long, tragical
or magical, tyrannical or—wait!
Systems of belief? Problematical.
Oh, how I’d love to give it you to straight,
cite another thousand who believe—no!
I walked that serpent road to no avail,
convinced myself your interest, at first so
keen, was proof. Of what? We’re doomed to fail?
The only thing we’re doomed to is belief.
The content’s up to you, not me. Relief!

VI

The content’s up to you, not me. Relief
is like the speck at every tunnel’s end
of light, a nose above deep water. Grief
will have its way when dying kin or friend
departs, but must I make it resident?
If so, says who? Chronic anger, too,
corrodes my limbic ease. No president
or premier ever will climb up my flue.
Attention’s far too valuable to waste
on creatures, sods, and views opposed my ken.
The moral high ground is a mash of paste
& sticks & stones that hurt but never bend.
And while I miss your flash of smile and wit,
This fishy brain too many times has bit.

VII

This fishy brain too many times has bit
the barbéd hooks that hang from riverbanks.
Some worms, I must admit, give quite a hit,
though I am oft too generous with thanks.
If thus far you have traveled, friend, advice
I freely give. Who quickly notes a flaw
but never compliments is built of ice
and will not tolerate, for long, your thaw.
There is great industry in victimhood,
and martyrdom still holds a sway, but way
beyond these glaciated pools lie good
the likes of which you cannot see today.
You need not die to enter Paradise.
Behold your hand. No other holds the dice.

VIII

Behold your hand. No other holds the dice.
A guidebook with the odds you’ll get at birth:
polarities of DNA and vice,
exposure to the best of life or worst;
but life is not a sentence, it’s a poem
not a crap shoot but a house that favours
you within a vast hemispheric dome
like Hagia Sophia of flavours,
scents & friendships for your select choosing.
What hems me in are not the rules. My thoughts
can soar beyond what is to cruising
heights and imagine floating garden plots.
Like the ancients did in Xochimilco,
I will see the best and let my will go.

IX

I will see the best and let my will go
deep or sideways, lose myself in crowds or
stand on stage alone and feel the lights blow
out, like at the Globe. If I’m wanting more,
then more is right. It’s all so simple when
I surrender belief that there’s a pie
with slices growing skinnier. A pen
well wrought can grind to crumbs the fattest lie.
I am no child of adverse circumstance,
nor are you. I will not lord my pity
over equals. I’d rather learn their dance
and feel the broken tiles of their city.
I see the witty brightness in your eyes,
assured that tragedy’s a thin disguise.

X

Assured that tragedy’s a thin disguise,
I’m tempted toward Shakespearean or rock
bands from the 70s. Oh, how life flies
in the face of stubbornness! So much schlock
around debates and conversations. You,
dear Lorca, walked into the worst of them.
Did they who pulled the triggers first review
their stance on right humanity? We hem,
rebut, we haw; the loudest of us seem
to win, step up to podiums and grin,
behold the size of me! A nasty dream,
it is upon us. How else to begin
this day? This day. There is no other way.
Such past as merits keeps the worst at bay.

XI

Such past as merits keeps the worst at bay,
so do not scratch it up again. A bored
and empty mind will crave its dimshit say.
God knows, Facebook posts work like a toy sword.
I love the meme: is it true? Is it kind?
Is it necessary? Two out of three
IS bad, sour belcher! Are you mean—or blind?
Restraint, like all good things, is also free.
Enough of me. Poetic roads run long
sometimes, and tedium gets in the way.
Ennui creeps into clockworks with a bong
upside the head and does not go away—
or so it seems. I want the wildest dreams
and will not cease my poking at new schemes.

XII

And will not cease my poking at new schemes.
Like all good children everywhere, I want
and want the better and the more it seems
I let them in, they come. No need to haunt
the hollow halls of other people’s fears.
Projection is a curious thing. Doc Jung,
he knew the value of a shadow. Weres
and vampires, real or not, know how to bung
a body electric. Does one suck it
up, the stupid arrogance of power-
hungry maniacs, or take the full bit
in one’s mouth? Horse feathers! I’ll seize this hour
and ride it how I like—slow walk, canter,
maybe gallop for the thrill. Such banter…

XIII

Maybe gallop for the thrill, such banter,
self-indulgence, long live the metaphor!
Will this crown of fucking sonnets ever
find a door?! I’m crawling, Rico! This floor
of azulejo tiles reverberates
with the music of your plays and poems.
Where’er you fell, you are not there; the gaits
of Andalusian lovers are your home.
With varieties of tongue, you’re jambing
truths to anyone with ears, belly, heart.
Dactyls, trochees, or Anglo iambing,
you do it all with verve. You help me start
with duende and from there it’s anywhere;
I feel your words like raindrops in my hair.

XIV

I feel your words like raindrops in my hair
of fabled storylands that flow through blood.
Uncorking bottles stored in caves and lairs.
I want to hold a fistful of the mud
tramped down by boots marching to a bugle
played by a black-haired youth whose eye you caught,
and catch the lust that is never frugal,
for what is passion but a sweet onslaught
of atomic dance, unseeable to
all but lover and beloved who trust
and won’t adhere to webs of reason’s glue?
I shall begin. This moment, here, I must.
Diving new depths like a mother orca,
today’s a good day for reading Lorca.

XV – The Crown

Today’s a good day for reading Lorca
surprises by the wayside. To enjoy
has desiccated to the cynical,
a most unprofitable business,
but I must rest. I will return, replete.
The content’s up to you, not me. Relief,
this fishy brain too many times has bit.
Behold your hand. No other holds the dice.
I will see the best and let my will go,
assured that tragedy’s a thin disguise.
Such past as merits keeps the worst at bay
and will not cease my poking at new schemes.
Maybe gallop for the thrill, such banter—
I feel your words like raindrops in my hair.

© Elaine Stirling, 2018

Montague & Capulet, a Status Update

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In universes parallel to this
unfair Verona where my love and I
through civil strife paid dear for our first kiss
exists a turbulence that draws us nigh.

A means deemed social summons Romeo
whose spirit lives undimmed. (No tragedy survives
the grave. This foremost must ye firmly know.)
“Make haste, sweet Jules, for here potential thrives!”

Through streets of vast Cybernia we tread
with buoyant step, engaging as our mood
arises with a range of lemon heads
whose visages are comical and crude.

The sad folk who divide we shan’t extol,
for death and love, you overthrow the troll.

~~~

Poems don’t appear often to me anymore, as I pursue different creative formats. So I’m grateful when sonnets come knocking in the company of iambs declaring boldly, “Here I am!” The meter, in this instance, could only be Shakespearean: abab cdcd efef gg.

© Elaine Stirling, 2018
The wonderful image comes from Pinterest, artist unknown.

Romance in the New Year

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~~a glosa~~

Give me your hand and we will dance;
give me your hand and you will love me.
Like a single flower we will be,
like a single flower, nothing more.

—“Give Me Your Hand” (“Dáme la Mano”) by Gabriela Mistral

I dreamed of a friend in an orange checkered suit,
garish, clashing patterns, layered shades of yolk.
He milled, a hydrant, awkward midst the artsy party crowd.
Mortified, I hissed: why are you here?
He brightened. I’ve looked everywhere!
I thought I’d lost my chance.
The places I frequent are thin in godless times;
to be Olympian, hope and patience teeter.
But enough of that. Do you like my pants?
Give me your hand and we will dance.

He drew the blinds and took me in his arms.
I do not know the steps, I whined, and shuffled stiff.
They’re easy, he replied, though I often wonder if
the laurels people hang on strife
and being an enduring wife or husband
have not muddied things a bit. You see,
I do not need a maid and trust
you’ve had enough of joyless handymen
who’d nail your freedom to a tree.
Give me your hand and you will love me.

In time, my limbs began to melt
and I misplaced embarrassment. He led,
not like a general or a cold front pushing through
but like the tall straight mast of a merchant
sailing ship, with goods fair traded
in his hold. I think that we shall be,
he whispered in my ear, a golden pair
well matched, unfolding like the petals
of a rose, unprecedent, named Liberty.
Like a single flower we will be.

We woke entangled in a king-size bed
in Tuscany beneath an arbour
woven with bay laurel and anemone.
It must be spring, I reasoned, peering
‘neath the sheets at what he’d brought.
A lot! We laughed from bed to floor
and rolled across to where our view
of self-created destiny was clear.
We’d risen, both, to all that we adore
like a single flower, and nothing more.

Happy New Year, one and all!

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2017
Image of Tuscan garden design by Tim Street-Porter
Translation of “Dame La Mano” by Elaine Stirling