February 25, 2011

Punctuation [jana]

Exclamation Point is a cheat—forcing emotion into words without conviction.
Question Mark is a fake—most of the time, it’s not really a question anymore.

The Comma, filling pauses, filing drama,
promiscuous as dandelion seed, scattered
by whatever breeze it is that drives the inner voice.

Apostrophe—a shortcut for those who can’t afford to wait for the “no”.
But O! Ampersand—herald of connection.

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February 22, 2011

Shovelosophy [judd]

“Shovel,” I say as we
Make our way
Throwing aside
White refuse
That will melt
If shoveled
Or not

“Shovel, among tools
You’re plain, simple
Ancient in origin
Never changing
Just handle and blade
My sweat the

“Shovel, unaltered
You’re a changer
All that you touch
Earth, manure, snow
Your purpose set
By changing

“Shovel, in Spring
We dig the dirt
For bulbs and seeds
In Fall we dig up
The food, fuel to
Shovel white

“Shovel, all is
Folly, said a king
Who never shoved
A shovel to build
His father’s temple
I agree in

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February 18, 2011

Write! [guest]

Can I write?
Can I write?
Please let me write!
It's what I need in my life,
to write, write, write.
I'll write a book if you'd let me.
I'd write poems especially.
I can't write right now, it's depressing.

(Part 2: The next day)

I need to write a poem to say something.
I need to make my poetry right.
Write like American Poetry.
Write like Foreign Poetry.
I can write poetry.
Writing my poetry gives me delight.
I need to make my poetry right tonight.
Write like activist poetry.
Write like parody poetry.
I make this poetry write.
Writing this poetry keeps my insights so tight.
I write this poetry for my LORD above.
I write this poetry to settle the demons that love,
to disrupt my rhyme.
Write like Gospel poetry.
Write like Open Mic/bar room poetry.
I write to get right.
Writing this seems to make some sense.
I have to write.
Write like Cowboy Poetry (yee haw)
Write like centuries-old poetry.
It is my right to write this poetry.
I'm writing this to bring true poetry back in my life.
I make poetry write.
Write like Dramatic poetry.
Write like Spoken Word/Slam Poetry.
Making any form seem right to me.
Because if I can write my poetry,
it makes me my poetry.

I'm currently a GED student that has developed a knack for writing. My writing has always been a joy to me and I have enjoyed it for almost 8 years now. ~ Josiah Koppenhaver

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February 17, 2011

St. Peter's [jenna]

A vast aggregate of humanity thronged the city, more varied than I'd ever seen anywhere: casual Americans like myself, svelte Italians, African nuns in simple white habits, flocks of Asians, Latin-praying French traditionalists, perky Germans, an enormous class of Chilean students in matching suits of dark blue, Hungarians in bright uniforms, the Swiss National Guard in even brighter ones. People speaking languages I couldn't recognize. And as always, the Romanian gypsies with their open containers.

In St. Peter's square, gathered under a sky that threatened rain, people from more countries and cultures than I could count packed themselves into chairs. The young girls in front of me spoke German. One of them had a chunk of her hair dyed pink. She dropped her lipstick, and said "Danke schoen" in a cheery voice when I handed it to her. I just smiled, unsure what the reply would have been in German. Russian or Spanish or French, I could have managed. But not German. The smile seemed to be enough.

Pigeons and gray jays kept a watch on the ground, ready to dive at dropped food. The rain held off. I scribbled in a notebook, whiling away the two-hour wait, pausing occasionally to stare half-seeing at the statues that lined the top of the colonnade, or at the enormous pillars of the basilica. Behind those pillars were doors, and behind the doors was St. Peter's.

I had hardly been able to get enough of the basilica. With my husband and his parents and friends, I'd climbed the five-hundred-and-some steps to the top of the cupola and later toured the excavations below the crypt. We had seen the Vatican museums, which culminate in the Sistine Chapel. We'd been to Mass a few times, where I whispered along with the Latin introit on All Saints' Day and listened in tears when several men sang an Italian hymn—the tune, at least, of which was Nearer, My God, To Thee.

My first entry into that church had been marked with tears. I'd walked through the doors, glanced to my right, and been immediately arrested by the sight of Michelangelo's Pietà. How do you not cry before that beautiful, heartbreaking image? Then I'd gone down the length of the church, stopped under the dome, and read the words written around that massive circle. Tv es Petrvs et svper hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam. Tibi dabo claves regni caelorvm. "...You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." The words blurred over as the end of that splendid verse came to mind: "...and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Those memories kept near me as I sat out in the piazza, under the still-threatening, still-withholding sky. The Swiss Guard walked around, stern and quiet, making sure the crowd stayed within the fenced areas. The Hungarian band played something brassy; a soprano sang something pretty. I didn't understand the words.

When the little white car drove out along the colonnade, several thousand people moved as one to stand on their chairs.

The German girls prattled, excited, peering around. I stepped carefully onto my seat, hoping I wouldn't fall and make dominoes of my row-mates, and turned to follow the car's progress. I am not much of a celebrity watcher—I might read tabloid covers in a checkout line, but mostly out of boredom or admiration for the beautiful faces. This was different.

Cameras were everywhere around me, flashing, probably catching a blurry head of thick brown hair in one corner as Pope Benedict XVI came near. The old man in the white robe stood holding to his safety rail, waving, dark circles under his eyes. The car carried him within a few yards of us and rolled slowly on around the piazza. At last it drove halfway up the terrace and stopped.

Once settled under the canopy, he prayed. He gave a little homily in Italian, and a short version in English—then French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and last, a Polish speaker read out a translated copy. The pope blessed a number of couples who had been married in the last year, and then the audience was over and the crowd began to thin, the jays still hoping for a little free food, the Chilean students standing about in clusters.

Lou and I went down the Borgo Pio—far enough down to escape the overpriced shops at the front—and ordered cappucini. We drank them slowly, talking over the trip and everything we'd loved.

We would leave St. Peter's for good a day later. My final thought, while trying to keep the tears back one last time, would be it helps to know it's there. Art and the sacred, working together. An image of unity amid diversity, greater than any I've ever found. And on the altars, the same beloved sacrifice found in the farthest and the poorest corners of the world—and in my own church, back at home.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

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February 15, 2011

Deep Soil [liz]

Deep below the ground
Rock turned hot, swims and stirs
It moves, and so do I

A row of roses, planted, watered
Fed by what once was,
Uprooted, forgotten, waiting for the outcome
No water, no soil—neglected

Picked back up, not yet dead
Set down in new earth
Watered, but the shock takes time
Watered and still waiting
Green appears and soon a bud,
The flower blooms, a rose

It is our story
Planted in good soil
Uprooted and waiting
Replanted, watered

Sun brings forth a rose.

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February 11, 2011

Nostalgia from Across the Room [jacob]

My grandpa lived in a one-story house on a quiet street in Florissant, Missouri—part of North County, St. Louis, and closer to the city than where I grew up. Still, his house, his street were just that: quiet. I think my Grandpa Block, my mom’s dad, prefers to keep things that way. He tries not to impose. We didn’t visit him at his house too often—not as often as Grandma and Grandpa Alagna (Mom’s mom and stepdad) or Grandma and Grandpa Feld (my dad’s parents)—but I remember his house, in flashes, senses, and colors. I remember his house in feelings.

His lawn was well-kept, stiff blades of bright green grass like a giant crew cut, with a paper birch tree, shining white, planted in the center of the front yard. The first tree I’d ever climbed. I can recall visits with my brothers and cousins, playing tag, chasing each other around the yard: racing around the pale concrete bench, hopping on the footpath of circular stones placed around the bushes, and shimmying up the great white tree, accidentally scraping off shavings of bark. It peeled off so easily I had always thought the tree was ancient.

Around back there was a beige shed next to a concrete birdhouse and a small, modest garden in the back left corner, near the fence. After his heart surgery, my brothers and I took turns pulling Grandpa’s old bag-mower out of that shed and trimming his tidy yard. There was a large wooden porch with a grill. In high school I helped sand and stain it, after Grandpa had moved out and my parents had bought the house to rent out for supplementary income.

His house had a distinct smell, not malodorous, but distinct, recognizable. It was the same scent of his car, of his clothes; it was the scent of Grandpa Block. As a kid I had subconsciously attributed the smell to my great grandma, who used to live there before she died when I was in fourth grade. Although I remember her, I do not remember her well: she was kind, restricted in movement, and I felt a little uneasy around her, but I was obliged to greet her and bid her goodbye each time we visited. After she bid us goodbye, the scent remained, and I knew it did not belong to her.

Inside, the house was small, simple. Through the front door was an L-shaped grouping of rooms: the dining-room-turned-office at the base of the L and the living room to the left, stemming toward the back of the house. The dim, little office to the right—a room I scarcely remember being in—had a desk and lamp, probably a bookshelf. A sort of half wall (decorated with family pictures and porcelain figures of Catholicism: saints and Marys and angels) separated it from the kitchen—a room which removed any doubt that the house was not built in the ‘70s. In a “Partridge Family” yellow, orange, and brown motif, the phony linoleum tile floor matched perfectly the floral pattern of the wallpaper—all which coordinated with the faded yellow appliances and brown counters and cupboards. A round, wood table sat in the center of the tiny room with thick, brown-upholstered, rolling chairs around it. Grandpa always had a gallon jug of lemon Gatorade in his refrigerator. I recall drinking it sometimes, out of brightly colored, thick-plastic cups. The first time I ever tried Gatorade was at his house; it didn’t taste as much like Kool-Aid as I’d hoped.

At the right of the kitchen were two doors (one to the garage and one to the basement) placed so close together that opening the door from the garage had the potential to knock a hapless grandchild down the stairs—a design flaw to be sure, but a manageable one. Our parents and aunts constantly monitored the space, yelling for us to slow down and be careful and watch out. Still six grandchildren sprinted down the stairs like maniacs, inventing games and playing with the ping pong table or the miniature basketball hoop—like the type found in arcades: fully equipped with a safety net, a scoreboard, sound effects, and ten tiny basketballs just waiting to be shot (or hurled at one another). I remember disassembling the net, when Grandpa moved out, and giving it away.

Most of my time spent there as a kid was in the living room (the vertical portion of the L). I remember the brown carpet and the burgundy recliner in the corner by the window, eventually replaced by a faded blue one to match the couch against the far left wall, which faced the tiny television set. Toward the back of room was a closet near the hallway that had toys in it; my brothers and I would bring them out into the room and play while the grownups talked. I remember a toy aircraft carrier and handful of planes—all of which ended up at our house—and Lincoln Logs. Grandpa Block’s house was the only place I’d ever played with Lincoln Logs. It wasn’t until after years of playing with them that I first read the container and realized that they were not called “Linkin’ Logs.” That may have been my first recognition of a pun.

Down the hallway, past the closet, was a bathroom on the left, bedecked in various shades of pink: pink tile floor, pink wallpaper, pink shower, pink shower curtain, pink toilet, pink sink, and so on. It wasn’t bright, blinding pink, but something softer, and inviting. Though it always struck me as slightly funny that my grandpa would have an all pink bathroom, now I think that it was probably my great grandma’s idea. Anyway, I had always liked that bathroom.

Further back at the end of the hall was Grandpa’s bedroom to the left and an additional bedroom to the right, which had been converted into many other things over the years—the most recent of which was essentially a combined office and storage room, but I have little memory of either the bedroom or the “multipurpose” room, as a kid. When Grandpa moved the first time, into an apartment to live closer to his then girlfriend, Dee, I was in high school; my brothers and I helped my parents take apart his bed, remove the mirror from his dresser, march the furniture out of my grandpa’s house. Stacks of boxes filled the room across the hall, each weighted with Grandpa’s belongings; one-by-one, we marched them out of the house.

Grandpa lives in my parents’ house now, with my mom and dad and two of my brothers. He has the entire basement to himself and doesn’t come up all that often, usually to do the chores my brothers should be doing: washing the dishes or walking the dog. It seems he only leaves the house to ride his bike or go to early morning Mass. He greets me warmly when I come home from college, tells me I look healthy, and then retreats back down the stairs. Usually praying or watching old movies on TV. Still trying not to impose.

In the two years that he’s lived with my parents, I’ve found myself curious about him, more than I ever was as a kid, discovering little details in every interaction and regretting that I hadn’t been so interested before. I might have known that he never attended college, or that he used to play baseball as a kid—and that he was apparently quite good—that he is incredibly kind and prays often, devoted to God out of a love I now admire. I’ve seen firsthand that he cries openly, though silently, during emotional parts of sappy movies, and I’ve screamed with laughter at his comicality, playing games around the dining room table with our family.

And he laughed, too.

He laughs heartily.

He laughs silently.

In Grandpa’s old house, in the living room, on the wall just above the couch, hung a painting of which, although it was always present, I only have one distinct memory. My parents had bought the house by this time, so it was mostly empty. My mom was around somewhere cleaning, but I was in the living room standing about where the TV had been, staring at this painting: a rainy day in Paris, France, early 20th Century. A dreary street sparsely populated by umbrella-toting passersby, casually strolling about the Arc de Triomphe. A vivid image, clear from my position. As I approached the painting, however, the streetlights and umbrellas and little, Parisian pedestrians became thick blobs and ridges and rough brushstrokes, wholly indistinguishable from what they had been from across the room.

“That’s amazing,” I said to my mom, passing through the room.

“What?” she replied, halting in transit, gripping a sponge with one latex-gloved hand and some spray bottle of cleaning agent in the other.

“This painting: when you look at it from a distance, it looks so perfect and true-to-life, like it could be a photograph, but the closer you get, the details become blurry and you can’t tell what they are anymore. But,” I mused, “in a sense, it sort of becomes a painting again. You can see all the technique, dots, and mixtures. You know what you’re really looking at from close up.”

Mom nodded and smiled, “Pretty neat, huh?” and continued to the back of the house.

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February 8, 2011

This Is the End of a Beautiful Relationship [sean]

Someday, the sun will start to go down
And then another winter will begin to set in;
And the Autumn leaves will fall down assisted
By the smell of lightning as the dawn grows dim.
In that day, I will look down at your shoes,
As you look across and rest your knowing stare on mine,

Knowing that the rain of last fall is growing older,
Of course, with time, the memories are growing colder.

A part inside of me is crushed and crumpled up like paper,
The awkward sentences make everything strangely beautiful.
There is a feeling that comes in Autumn, but a little later
Changes colour, and then is carried away with the leaves.

On the patio, two lovers are dancing, encircled by lanterns and spice;
As he pulls away, she follows him in, and he follows her in, and it's reversal again.
There is, here, the lightest kiss on the forehead and on the neck,
But the record stops and the hands stumble, and then fall down again.

The heat on my face; it bleeds away in exchange for something cool.
Light dancing on my glasses-frames goes red and falls into the night.
What the car ride fails to soothe is a quiet ache that gives a whisper,
Tucks in its chin, and pulls up every word from every single fight.
Now that Summer's gone, it's Autumn, beckoning to Winter "come on."
Spring is just a forgotten memory of some hopeful misty morning,
Now replaced with a chill and a warning (a chill and a warning).

Some years ago I ran with the wind and climbed the apple trees;
But today I discovered that something had changed, and I hate poetry.

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February 4, 2011

Childhood [tony]

If childhood had a voice she would scream
screaming so loud that she was silent to the ones nearby
hidden by the walls of this hell hole of a home
where the walls crumble and the windows shatter
because of all the hatred buried in the plaster
and fake facial expressions stained within the glass
a childhood so heartless,
wandering in circles trying to find something you're blind to is impossible
feet blistering, they themselves know that Journey has made his mark
but her mind is clueless to the pain, she's putting herself through
with the slightest hope that she might find this abandoning love
to never know what love is, to find something you know nothing about

as Journey does best stripping her down to her core
wondering where it is, his mind becomes in cloud with smoke of confusion
I've stripped you bare, it is not here, where are you hiding it
hiding what... The Love that I have not found, why do you want this Love so bad
because, I am Journey my name itself has searched far and wide
I've stripped millions bare and have not found it yet

here I stand dismantled in despair stripped to my core
trusting you of all things
letting you place my feet on this path you so call the way
shame on you

something has changed
I feel... joy,love and truth
I've found it, it's been here all along
having to confront you on my own
childhood had a heart, and it was found

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February 1, 2011

Frozen Hallowed Ground [justin]

6am. Morning coffee. Apple butter on rye toast.

Rex pulls back the canvas from the door frame and heads out ahead of the others. Pete turns off the kerosene heater and prepares the pull-wagon while Tom gathers the tools.

6 foot ladder, measuring rope. Gasoline. Wooden matches. Shovels and a pickax.

The sun is up but hasn’t crested over the mountains yet. The valley is still and radiant with the virgin snow reflecting any ambient light it can gather. The hamlet smells of cedar and cypress smoke which pours out from the chimneys of the thirty or so houses.

Brick and mortar, outside. Dim glow, inside.

Rex passes St. Jude’s Church of the Resurrection where he and Maggie were married about 5 years prior. The building tries to make eye contact with him, but Rex continues with his vision elsewhere and burrows his thick, worn hands deeper into his pockets. The snow has a thin layer of ice on it that breaks as treaded upon. Rex thinks to himself how it sounds as though the land is exhaling with each step, and wonders why it would hold its breath for so long.

Overwhelmed. Stubbornness. Horror.

Tom and Peter find Rex by the hillside, in the lonely part of a cemetery, staring at a poor man’s tombstone. Pete carefully and methodically measures out the plot and Tom pours gasoline first around its borders and then in its hub. Rex strikes a match on the side of the box and the flames quickly consume the snow and dead grass and for a brief moment flare up some green as the minerals in the dirt burn. The tundra is still frozen; if anything, the fire was memorial, something likened to a sacrament. “Guess we best get to work,” Pete mumbles.

1 meter wide, 2.4 long, 1.8 deep. 4.32 cubic meters. Concentration matters.

Folks tend to think it’s impossible to dig up a frozen grave site, when in reality it just takes 3 men who don’t mind sweating and being numb at the same time.

“May I ask what you boys are doing up here,” asks the would-be Sheriff who appears from nowhere.

Drunks. Lunatics. Grave robbers. Necrophiliacs.

“If you didn’t want anyone to notice you, you shouldn’t have set off that fire. My guess is that you’re looking for some gold or silver rings, maybe some heirlooms or such in the coffin below.”

“There’s no coffin below,” Rex said brashly.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We all fall. Down.

Rex reached inside his pocket and handed the Sheriff a tattered piece of paper.

“I own this plot, sir. This is my land. I will do with it what I want.” Tom continued piercing the earth while Pete shoveled it away.

“What are you planning on doing here then, son,” the Sheriff said while handing back the deed, “bury yourself?”

“That’s already been done. This is my wife’s plot. She died 3 years ago.”

“Sorry to hear that, but I thought you said there was no coffin in that ground?”

Tom was getting annoyed by the law man’s “listening” skills.

“I did, sir. This is her place, her head stone. But when she and a few others all got sick and died around the same time, folks panicked and thought it was pestilence and would spread if they didn’t do something. So they burned the bodies… it wasn’t even a ceremony… no prayers, no order… just, just a pile of fear set ablaze. That’s when I left, and, I assume, shortly before you came into town.”

“That’d be about right. So where’d you go?”

“Two mountains over, three counties removed in coal country… to stay with her family. These are her brothers, Peter and Thomas. I’m Rex and, if you don’t mind, we have a lot of digging to do before sunset.”

“Pleasure, I’m sure. Still doesn’t answer what exactly you’re doing this morning.”

Rex took a moment.

“Maggie used to grow flowers and I was able to take a few with me when I left and keep some semblance of them over the past few years. But this year was rough and they didn’t re-grow for some reason. All I have left is a red one that’s been holding on for some reason. We’ve come to dig up Maggie’s plot, displace the dirt and plant the last one in the heart of the earth. I think she’d like that.”

“So you traveled three days, in the middle of winter, to spend countless hours digging in order to plant a flower in a hole and then fill it back up? Excuse me son, but that’s stupid… downright pointless and dangerous if you ask me.”

Peter and Tom looked at each other and then Rex.

Indignation. Exasperation. Pity.

Rex’s lips moved while his teeth stayed locked together. “Life is never pointless amongst death, only misunderstood.”

The Sheriff squinted his eyes, bit the inside of his cheek, spit and said, “I’d best be on my way, boys. Stay out of trouble, you hear?”

Rex, Pete, and Tom worked the rest of the day, not stopping to eat or even talk. They all thought about Maggie and what she meant to them in different ways. She was a gem even when she was pissing them off. The labor together uncovered memories of her that they had once forgotten and though they would never say anything, they all knew that day that there were tears mixed with their sweat.

Once they were finished, all three stood at the edge of the open grave, watching their breath escape them, and stared at their emphatic toil. The white snow clothed the brown mud which gave way visually to the red heart at the core. If nothing else, at least for a few minutes, it was a work of art. But the brothers and husband knew it was more than that as well.

Tom opened his mouth like a false start to a conversation, licked his lips, cleared his throat and then spoke. “She was always like that, you know… it didn’t matter if she was around the crude or the pure, she stuck out and shined differently than everyone around her.”

They shoveled the dirt back into the fissure of the earth, with no remorse or even thought of futility, knowing they loved and honored Maggie the best they knew how. Patting one another on the back, they packed up their tools and went back to their tent, resting and warming up and plotting their course for the morrow.

6pm. Evening coffee. Apple butter on rye toast. Maggie’s favorite.

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