Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Daily, Prompted Poet Writes!

I received a great literary Christmas gift among many this year. This one was an offer to include in my daily writing practice an idea suggested by someone else, a launching pass (appropriate for a rocket kid). So today, having a minor stomach bug and needing to rest, I decided to try one and challenge a friend to join me.

This is the prompt for December 26:
You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine (Thich Nhat HanH). Choose a type of fruit and write a poem about how the universe does and doesn't resemble the cosmos.

The Universe, Like Tangerines

Every year they sell cuties in  mesh bags
and I think of the fishnet stockinged leg
that formed a lamp set in the window
in A Christmas Story, which always occupies
two hours of my every Christmas.
The universe is a lot like a fishnet calf
made into a lamp that illuminates
your bad taste to the neighborhood,
in that the universe too is full of bad taste,
bitter with sweet, olives with double pits,
and the fact that butterflies only live for a day.
Fishnet because, as we know, matter is mostly porous,
and we are mostly air, and there is no air in space.
So there. And because some butterflies
are the color of tangerines, this universe seems less fair
than a universe of concentric circles
where love radiates outward from every act
in perfect echoes like rings from a dropped stone
and water would, ideally, be the color orange.
Oh wait—maybe the universe is like that.
But not like tangerines.

Rachel Dacus

Monday, December 23, 2013

Missing my dad at Christmas (which he hated)

Why do I think so much of my late father, our family Grinch, at this season? Because I always suspected his way of loving the holiday, as a Jew who celebrated it to please his family, was to grumble his way into the whole joyously chaotic event. This poems, from my first book, Earth Lessons, celebrates the frictions that ultimately became a gift.


Up my nose, between my teeth, tiny bullets
of sand flew thick and fast. I lay down
lost in wild howling on a dirt road
in Baja California. A dim dream,
my parents shouting as I was tucked
under the sky’s fierce blanket.

As quickly as it arose, the storm died.
I ran back to our car, oasis in blinding dunes.
Our voices swooped over the expanse like gulls.
Unrelenting sand glittered like a snowfield.
Christmas week in San Felipe.
Why did you wander away? -- they said.
I shot back -- Why did you bring us
to a vacation on the moon?

In the front seat, my parents' disapproving silence.
My younger brother and I 
stared out windows rolled up
against poverty and dust. Windowless
houses, children without clothes. A desolate
Mexican town and beyond, the beach --
aquamarine water ringed by rock spires.
Burning sun and sand
from horizon to horizon.

We tumbled out and filled the void
with a fight. My father’s voice boomed,
a train freighted with spit consonants
that hurtled at my mother as she sat
blowing up air mattresses.
My brother scampered away. Behind a dune, /
Dad's rasping breath and rhythmic cursing
as he pounded tent pegs.
His tent, his family: enemies.

My brother rolled in, a small wave bearing shells,
only to be brushed aside, flotsam.
My father saw me and exploded
into blue-word jazz. Control those kids --
he ordered my mother, his hammer.
Obedient, she fell -- Fill this pail.
The ritual smacked so hard I saw
my family’s outline -- them.
I stood at the surf, tears mingling
with the wind’s gritty lace.

A week of sand stuck to sweaty skin,
crunched between teeth, rubbing me red.
A torture I learned to shape
into wet mounds, sand forts, sand doll houses.
A week amid the dunes
learning to imitate sand --  answering
threat by being limp and malleable
or wild and grating.

Fishing rod propped in a spike,
my father drank tequila and sang
Louis Armstrong songs on New Year's Eve,
capering in the surf. Alarms in me
squealed shrill as the fishing line
that raced unnoticed through his reel.
Giggling, he fell asleep on the sand.
In the morning we walked down the beach,
peering into tidepools. He reached down
and scooped up a dark blob, /
handed me a tiny, squirming octopus.
The water baby slithered in my hand -- velvet-wet
exchange of softness in this hard expanse.
A gift fished out of murky depths,
and released to float
in the years of silence between us.