What do You Wish?

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~~a ringelrime~~

What do you wish to persuade me of
with your shaking fist and your tattered glove?
If, in the choice we all have to be happy or right,
I choose ease, turn away from the fright
of the critical masses who disbelieve love,

seeing things as they are, never looking above
or through, like a snivel-nosed bully will shove
me into the nearest fight. What do you wish

in your hope to be wrong? Will you prove
by your twitching that a scavenger outwits the dove
who’s indifferent to death? Are you scared of night
or the coming dawn? Confusion is blind to the bright
and ecstatic arrival of love. What do you wish?

~~~

Ringelrime is the German term for a wrap-around rondeau, in which the introductory half-line “rounds off” the poem in subsequent stanzas.

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

Basic Training for the Oracle of Delphi

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oracle of delphi

~~a villanelle~~

Do you recall the lessons of Delphi
when they trained us to sit as oracle?
Ignore the stink, the side, and gimlet eye,

the ageless priestess warned. The more you try
to please, the less the vapours will supply.
Do you recall the lessons of Delphi?

To know yourself as selves, to multiply,
slip free and clear from every manacle,
ignore the stink, the side, and gimlet eye.

Who shame, exclude, clamour against, or cry
to gods, cannot perceive the miracle.
Do you recall the lessons of Delphi,

trusting all that lives has a time set by,
free and whole, without pain or debacle?
Ignore the stink, the side, and gimlet eye

so Apollo, through you, can prophecy
and reflect anew the historical.
Do you recall the lessons of Delphi?
Ignore the stink, the side, and gimlet eye.

~~~

I’d been thinking about the phrase “gimlet eye” recently but never really knew the meaning of gimlet, apart from a drink made of lime juice and gin. Turns out, it’s also a tool with a cross handle, grooved shank, and screw point. The gimlet eye bores holes through its object of attention, a variation on the age-old evil eye. Given the skill of ancient Greek sculptors, I have no reason to disbelieve they had their own version of gimlets.

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

To the Captain of Doom, a Pantoum

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I’m bidding farewell to the dinghy of angst
with its patches and puncture holes
grommets and slipknots of conflated doubt
sticky, entangled by world wide webs

with its patches and puncture holes
tooting dystopic and off-pitch arrhythmias
sticky, entangled by world wide webs,
the captain of doom seeks only to sink me

tooting dystopic and off-pitch arrhythmias
might catch me a penny in a beggar’s cup.
The captain of doom seeks only to sink me,
distract me from seeing my fleet coming in,

might catch me a penny in a beggar’s cup.
Grommets and slipknots of conflated doubt
distract me from seeing my fleet coming in.
I’m bidding farewell to the dinghy of angst!

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2016
The beautiful watercolour comes from
Boats Paintings Gallery at http://www.jenniferbranch.com

sun gods

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Demise or springing forth? The election
rests between my eyes, a pale slender line,
a point before the fork. One direction
leads, the other shoves, preference purely mine.

A head of steam worked up requires constant
shoveling of coal. The gnashing protest
to end this, end that feels more evident
of worth than laying what I hate, to rest.

I should have guessed. There’s gold in every glint.
Each momentary impulse holds the key
to buoyancy. Why gnaw the bone of skint
when marrow’s all been sucked from memory?

The sun gods that we were, we are again
when skirting light between affairs of men.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

Rhapsody in the Rain

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rhapsody in rain 2 Angst & Agony blogspot

In December, 2014, I posted a two-part series of translations of the Argentine poet, Olga Orozco. Leafing through a binder, I discovered two of my translations not yet posted. Here is one of them.

~~~

Rhapsody in the Rain
by Olga Orozco,
translated from the Spanish

Now
from your now you will be seeing
under this same rain the rains of the deluge
and those who washed their shamed roses of Chaldea
or the ones wrung out from the druid altar to the gallows
and who went to whisper over a hostile tomb in thorny Patagonia,
and also the blues, the prodigious storytellers,
the ones who promised you a miracle when you were still visible.
Such an inventory of rain in the embalmed archives of History!
More, what do rains matter?
It would be the same if you saw dynasties of sunsets, medals, or bonfires.
I only want to say that you are a witness of all places,
a guest of time before the repertoire of memory and of oracle,
and that each place is a meeting place like the end of a tree-lined avenue.
But these steps of yours, vacillating, under the frequent feet of rain
move me even more than your lamentations in the endless corridor
or your old message for today, found between books.
You would gamble these broken words for your name trembling in glass,
all the salt of the earth would place a bet
on your coming to fight for me against the legionnaires of shadows,
or your trying to find the blue bottlefly that buzzes with death,
or your paying an exorbitant price to embrace narcissus and poppies
—the vibration most intimate of any season—
always bordering the precipices to the ends of the earth,
always at the point of falling into the bonfire,
without remission and without breath.
And nevertheless you have seen the miserable reverse of every trauma,
you know like no one else the intrigue of error that was walled up with my pride,
my dark pettiness.
You would like to keep secret the inoccultable imperfection with the shine of a slash,
turn my channeled footsteps toward applause and certainty,
correct the reach of my eyes,
the temper of my species.
Do I not hear you spin and spin between the gusts of water cleansing every fault?
And do you not intend perhaps to reveal to me with your melody the skies
you already know?
You will achieve again the yielding of this night to dawn
insisting on remaining, like before, on wringing yourself over there beyond the walls,
there, where we share only ephemeral gains and infinite loss,
changes in the margins that obscure vision,
even while the rain falls.

© Elaine Stirling, copyright translation, 2014
Image: Photographer unknown

Against the Grain

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You who seek
to open my mind
to correct and inflame
with your hammers
of right, wrong
of left, right
of outrage and shame
I offer in kind
in return
for your use
of my name
and my time
these few lines:

You are driving
a nail, nothing more,
in the wood
of the shade
of a tree
that has long since
been felled
for the heat
of a fire
whose warmth
fueled the mind
of a child
who yearned
to speak,
then to learn
how to read
and to write,
and with all
of her might
tried to love
the defeated
the ostracized
insecure, blamed—
though her efforts
fell flat.

Try as she might
she couldn’t combat
the woes
of her elders
or those of
the world
though she took on
their grain, in hopes
of some gain,
of their twisted
and angry
and hopeless
refrain
while the call
to be joyful
in spite of the lack
of the love
of the ones
she adored
fell behind
and behind…

and her branches
grew out
and her roots
plunged
deep
and she caught
in the breeze
of her leaves
now and then
the faint notion
that chances for joy
bright and new
were her right
crossed the sky
every day
if she’d only
look up and away
from the grain
she’d picked up,
but with each
repetition
of justification,
each time
she agreed
to the tedious
thump of a sounding
board for the bored
and defensive
her choices
and chances
for new joy
diminished.

The sway
of her branches
grew rigid
and stiff
the flow
of her sap
thickened and
slowed, the continuous
threat of a snap
whether cold
or of temper
with each passing
night, pulled her in
turned her old
insecure, she felt
blamed and defeated.
I grow here alone
in this forest of pain,
what’s the point?
What became
of the sapling
I was? Mercy me,
of this pitiful game
I have learned
I have played
way too much.

So retracted was she
so embittered and sad
this once promising tree
that she could not perceive
the first swing of the axe,
nor the next nor the last
until she was felled
chopped to logs, slowly
feeding the fire whose
warmth fills the mind
of this child who yearns…

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

Studio of the Mind

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Yesterday, while sketching rough lines for the poem you’re about to read, I was pondering the strange nature of blogs. Oceantics has been up and running since September 2012. I’ve posted 476 poems, more or less. What began as something like a dare, then a showcase, has settled into my favourite phase yet, a studio. I post poems here. I try stuff out. The most grindingly awful, I have the freedom to delete. Most, though, have stayed. I’m more in love than ever with the craft of poetry, particularly the privilege of the glosa. Someday, in the ethers, wherever we go after this, I want to bear hug the Spanish courtier who developed this awesome form. I kid you not—the glosa transcends time/space and lets you party with any poet who ever lived.

In the following glosa, I have refracted the poet’s lines to create new end words. Hope Mirrlees won’t mind; she was a great rule breaker. Scarcely known now, Hope was the author of Lud o’ the Mist, a book that inspired some of today’s most successful fantasy novelists, including Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett. Fyfield Books has published her collected poems, from which the following quatrain has been borrowed.
~~~
…a weight of glory so immense / as to appal and freeze
the mortal sense is true in poetry as well
as true in fact. / It can occur both after
and before / the one unchangeable and strict event.

—from “A Portrait of the Second Eve Painted in Pompeian Red” by Hope Mirrlees

What have you seen today?
The blind man at the caravanserai inquires.
Murder, theft, I say, endless dunes,
monotony. A date pit cracks my tooth.
I wake. It was a dream, though I still feel
the grit behind my lids. My world, by degrees,
creeps in: laptop, tablet, ipod, phone. I can’t
leave well enough alone. Popping time-released
gel caps, my shoulders ache with strange dis-ease,
a weight of glory so immense as to appal and freeze.

He reappears in scrubs, pushing
a mop outside the ICU. What have you
seen today? A kind soul, I say, paid this
forward, a venti low-fat caramel latte…
unexpected funds. Guess I’m sort of shallow.
He shakes his head. There is a smell
to presence that you mask and hold at bay,
a musk enticing as a wedding night you chase
and lose and crave what you could once foretell.
The mortal sense is true in poetry as well.

Where deepest violence now blinds, imagination,
fierce desire rise and skip ahead. They’re carving
beyond tragedy new sites. The never searched,
no precedent or archives, is where those angels
of great scholarship assemble to assist, whispering,
Exchange your weary vehemence for rapture.
We’ll provide the evidence both spendable
and luscious. Let darker realms be as they are.
The ultra-rational cannot abide our laughter
as true in fact. It can occur both after

and the during, as your friend, whose Stage IV
illness took her, came to know in final breaths.
Grief angered and engulfed me, but worse,
I also saw, as if I’d grown a multitude of eyes,
more of rage’s like and weight rush in,
barbaric, howling, overwhelming, hell-sent—
until I heard her voice. Not so. You do not have to
breathe your last to know the only destination’s love.
Everyone is light refracted, pretending death, bent
and before the one unchangeable and strict event.

~~~
© Elaine Stirling, 2016
A note about the image: I don’t know which Pompeian red painting captured Hope Mirrlees’s imagination, but I like to think it might have been this one. A caption, borrowed from Mauricio Naya’s “Muralis” on Pinterest, states: A new study by Italy’s National Science Foundation (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche) has determined that the famous “Pompeian red,” the brilliant red coloring many of the famous frescoed walls of Pompeii, was actually ochre/yellow. According to the study, the yellow color was rendered intense red by the hot gasses emitted during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.

Tree on the Beach

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Writing the terzanelle a few days ago was so much fun, I thought I’d do it again. The climbing rhyme of the terza and the looping repetition of the villanelle function like a tiny drill bit in a tight space, a sort of poetic trepanning.

~~~

Standing as tall as a tree on the beach
in the cold with no hope of surviving
is mostly a matter of ease and reach.

A dash of aplomb with eyes toward thriving
beats being bummed by low expectation
in the cold with no hope of surviving.

Assigning the world your navigation
of feelings and hopes, it’s a mad trap that
beats being bummed by low expectation

until you’re so mired in all that is bad
your vigour is breached. The mutineering
of feelings and hopes—it’s a mad trap, that!

Giving less weight to mud, more to cheering
might be worth trying on days you’re down and
your vigour is breached. The mutineering

of grimness for joy is at our command,
a landlubber’s choice of loam, clay or sand.
Standing as tall as a tree on the beach
is mostly a matter of ease and reach.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

Homage to Think and Grow Rich

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~~a terzanelle~~

Have you heard tell of Napoleon Hill,
inspired when young by the kind man of steel?
Make your own peace with the great dollar bill.

Societal pressure taught Nap to feel
only contempt for the opulent rich.
Inspired when young by the kind man of steel,

he sensed in our hate a suspicious glitch
that suppressed and possessed, insisting on
only contempt for the opulent rich.

Nap traveled and listened to everyone
who’d thought and grown rich, not always by sweat
that suppressed and possessed, insisting on

the unvarnished truth, their secret of get.
He discovered therein a Silent Law.
Who’d thought and grown rich, not always by sweat

found an infinite well from which to draw.
He discovered therein a Silent Law.
Have you heard tell of Napoleon Hill?
Make your own peace with the great dollar bill.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

2016, the first 720 minutes

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~~a glosa~~

But then it does not matter. Strange how few,
after all’s said and done, the things that are
of moment. Few indeed! When I can make
of ten small words a rope to hang the world!

—from “Interim”, Edna St. Vincent Millay

The year is new. I have not found
a meme or dubious quotation yet to press
upon the friends I mostly haven’t met.
There’s been no sunset at this longitude,
only rise through which I slept and dreamed
of small regrets. I should get out and do,
but what? One friend is on a plane,
another has six horses to attend. The one
who’s dieting thinks she must lose a size or two,
but then it does not matter. Strange how few

the options seem when the calendar
is fresh, and life and death do not hang
in the balance. I could be content,
pursue new lines of thought, imagine
worlds that might have been, and could be still.
If I’m unfed, one day, by images of war,
infernos, floods, and raging politics,
would I be less a worthy citizen? Would my
withdrawal wound the Senate, leave a scar?
After all’s said and done, the things that are

would be such anyway, or could it be—
strange brew—that my continued
observation seeps like mustard gas
into habitual, low-lying banks of thought
where greenery and possibility once
flourished? Oh, give my head a shake!
Go play outside. Fresh air will do you good.
Inspiration didn’t come back then—I swam
in it, a dolphin, flippered, finned, with no mistake
of moment. Few indeed! When I can make

of this day a borderless idea that the planet
will outlive my worry, longevity’s irrelevant,
that those in little boots with flashing lights,
absorbed in making snowmen, are more
worthy of my admiration than the crumbling
antiquated systems that confused and whirled
me from frivolity to lockstep, then perhaps
I will have made some worthy contribution,
after all, an original pattern knit and purled
of ten small words, a rope to hang the world—

a bright infinity scarf to warm this good New Year!

Happy 2016!

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

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