A Fool’s Gift

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Holy Fool Surrounded by Pilgrims (1872) by Vasily Perov

You delight in tales,
not history or achievements,
in parables ancient and abstract.
Your ways are bloodless.

Fearing nothing but God
and your own human heart,
you are no mere jester,
no sophisticated mime,
or vulgar clown.

The face of a fool is intimate,
not subtle, not philosophical.
You are gifted, though, and deft
at unraveling mystery and depth,
at exchanging rhetoric for art.

{This poem was inspired by the dVerse prompt which asks us to:

Write a poem using the word clown or a word – real or created – with clown as the root.

I am not at all a fan of clowns. I find them quite frightening.

Some poets decided to go the horror route with this prompt. Some went political. (Clowns and politicians just go hand in hand don’t they?)

Mine went a different direction. The Fool fits loosely under the clown category. I have always been intrigued by the archetype of the Fool, and in particular the Holy Fool.

There are many representations of the Fool throughout literature. Shakespeare’s plays feature these types of characters. There’s a Fool card in the tarot. And of course there were many saints who were honored with the title within the Eastern Orthodox Church. (In the Western Church we have St. Francis of Assisi as an example.)

The Holy Fool was known to do outrageous (and occasionally humorous) acts. Many had colorful or controversial pasts.

The concept of the Holy Fool is based, in part, on scriptures such as:

God chooses “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Here are a two great reads on the subject:

The Holy Fool (at Image Journal)

St. Simeon the Holy Fool (at Ship of Fools)

There are so many manifestations of the Fool. It’s a fascinating subject.}

The Stone Tree

My naked feet pressed the wet blades flat and smooth. Grass is always coldest in the shadow of the Stone Tree. I dreamt about her. Mother told us that anyone who cut that tree would find a treasure inside.

Last night I was a sparrow circling above the forest. I caught a bright flash of white and silver like starlight. I knew I could find that place again in the morning.

After lessons, I drew a picture of her. Her bright limbs reaching for me through thick gray clouds. I wept because I could never be certain that those arms would be able to reach me here in the darkest part of the world.

When I found her, I lay down in the soft moss beside her and slept.

These memories were left here with the trees.

{Some short fiction for the dVerse Prosery prompt. 

It’s meant to encourage poetry writers to try some fiction.  I don’t think fiction is my cup of tea, but the prompts are meant to expand our creativity by taking us outside of our comfort zones.

This prompt asked us to incorporate a line of poetry: “These memories were left here with the trees.” It is taken from a poem by the new US poet laureate, Joy Harjo. Her complete poem is here.

You are only given a few days to write it. Most people write theirs on the first day of the prompt! I like to revise what I write a few times before I post… and after I post… and three years later… I am always revising what I write. I see what’s missing and I add it (or not), especially with fiction.

Poetry is a little different. Because a poem is such a small piece of writing, I usually get the sense that it is complete.  

To be honest, I am certain that I am a poet, not a fiction writer. But these short fiction prompts can be fun to try, and maybe they will help me to develop as a poet too.

I got the idea for the piece of fiction above from a poem I wrote the other day. The prompt asked us to write in prose, so I turned my poem into a piece of short fiction.

I think the poem I wrote also deserves to see the light of day… so I will share it:

The Stone Tree

It’s been so long.
My insides,
like the trees
of ancient times,
are petrified.

I can count
ring upon ring
upon ring,
of gold, but I
am not that old.

No spirit will call
my bone white branches home,
or chew my silver leaves
When I weep, even
when I sigh,

always the smallest,
nearest creatures die,
and, unlike my evergreen
memory, decompose.

Healed

A child is standing in a gilded church
staring at the backs of strangers
all crowded together
in heavy winter coats,
hands by their sides,
until they make the sign of peace.

She silently mouths the words
to the hymn she knows by heart,
but is too shy to sing aloud–
We hold a treasure, not made of gold…
She is thinking about school,
about a girl in her class
with bright, orange-gold hair.

“It’s red, not orange!” the girl snaps,
and shows off her new necklace
from Hawaii. And the child wonders
why she can’t have hair like that–
like the color of volcanic fire.
Why is her own hair so brown?

The voice behind her is a tenor.
The priest is wearing purple–
the color of royalty.
The gold felt banner by the altar reads: Celebrate!
Her hair is brown like the pews,
like the soft, leather kneelers.

Earthen vessels…She mouths the words.
Her hair is the color of earth,
the color of the ceramic jug
in the corner of the basement
covered with dust and daddy long legs.
Wealth untold…the hymn says.

“I am not worthy,” speaks the congregation in unison.
And for one moment, the child feels worthy.
Because none are worthy.
And she joins in this time, on cue,
“But only say the word…
and I shall be healed.”

[Communion, from The Hours of Catherine Cleves]
{Linking to dVerse for open link night. The final words of this (autobiographical) poem are a bit strange, unless you’re a Catholic. Here is a good explanation. Here is a link to the hymn, Earthen Vessels: https://youtu.be/IAZhIw49ULc }

Shelter Cat {a rubaiyat}

A cat is curled and sleeping. His clipped ear 
shows. “That’s how we know,” a volunteer 
explained. (It’s all the information we gain)
In his new home he dreams about the year—

twitching, crying out, remembering rain.
His sunny lanai is serene. Then hurricane.
A neighbor child hoots and screeches. Fast
and blatantly brash. It’s her domain.

Repeating words again and again. Outcast.
”Play elsewhere”, they tell young enthusiast.
From carpet austere, cat listens. Places one
mushroom colored paw over his ears at last.

But now is the soft sound of day being done.
All the leaves have fallen, red as the sun.
Grass grown. Engines down. Darkness begun,
waking the cat and the night in unison.

{The rubaiyat is a lovely and challenging form. I learned quite a bit about its origins and about Fitzgerald’s work (a translation with a unique beauty of its own) which popularized it. I am looking forward to reading it in its entirety in the near future. Linking to dVerse.}

Bee at Dawn {a sonnet}

We worked all night, under white-roofed hood,
praying for sun-ripened blooms to bear
fruit forbidden by sullen shadow’s stare.
We who woke to partly cloudy understood
(in part), knowing we were the ones who could.
Day by day, stepping toward our dogged fear,
toward a sweet, petaled puppeteer,
year after pre-dawn year (none yielding as it should).

So I step toward sunlit morning, stubborn
in my own way, cold and soberly clutching
last night’s vigil, last year’s vacuous words to warn.
And with new prayers, I begin again to cling
and crawl, placing word after word on pages torn–
a busy bee, bumbling free, flying from a honeyed thing.

{We’ve been challenged to write a sonnet at dVerse this month and to try using enjambment. I chose the Petrarchan sonnet form. I’m glad we have been given several weeks to write and edit it. I wrote the first version about a week ago. This revision is quite different than my original. I started this poem with just one word– sullen. It just sounded right to me. And then came the words of the turn or volta– So I step toward sunlit morning. The rest of the poem took shape as I wrote it. The form actually helped me. I don’t think it would ever have gone in the direction it did without the constraints of the form.}

Curtain

When I sit at my kitchen table
on a cold morning, the white
of the window curtain
crisp-ironed, pleated,
pure and clean,
warms me. And I think
about the day ahead.
Whatsoever happens,
this morning’s light
on bright linen shines
in my mind like polished silver.
There is work to be done.
There is wonder to behold.

{I love ordinary things. They’re my favorite to write about. I’m so glad dVerse offered this prompt.}

Gray {a haibun}

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Weekday mornings are cold. I need to trick myself into exposing skin to air. I am mindful. Every inch of me is aware. Warm. Quiet. Still.

Behind the closed blinds, there is gray light. I tell myself it’s good to be comfortable. I allow myself to be absorbed. I can close my eyes. But when the gray light brightens, it’s over. That’s the time the cats want their breakfast. Life calls.

The kitchen is in shadow and the floor is cool. I stoop to open the cupboard beneath the window. The cats run into the farthest corner of the dark cupboard as I scoop the food. I fill a mug of water for my coffee. I leave the cupboard door open so they can run out. Cat noses are soon buried in bowls. And while I wait for my water to heat I water the basil plant. Every day I turn it just a little so that all the leaves have a chance to face the sun.

I almost stumble–
two beggar cats underfoot,
a good gray morning

{It took me a few days to find the right moment to write about this topic. I have mixed feelings about mornings lately. This haibun is for the Good Morning! dVerse prompt.}

Galilee {a villanelle}

The gulls are fighting over clams in cakes.
Among the yawning cracks of rocks, we walk
as delicate as dreams when one awakes.

Chowder in our bellies, stomach aches,
we’re locals who will want to stroll and talk.
The gulls are fighting over clams in cakes.

We watch the widowed, white-capped wave that breaks.
At Galilee extends an arm of rock
as delicate as dreams when one awakes.

A cloud of witnesses surrounds us now and takes
some photos of the greedy, gathered flock.
The gulls are fighting over clams in cakes.

The bolder the gulls become, the fewer mistakes,
taking possession, eyes like steel and chalk,
as delicate as dreams when one awakes.

Crumbs of pity, for orphaned gulls’ sakes,
are tossed by innocent tourists. We locals mock.
The gulls are fighting over clams in cakes
as delicate as dreams when one awakes.

{This is my first attempt at a villanelle. It was inspired by a memory of feeding clam cakes to seagulls at Galilee, in Rhode Island, my home state.

It was also inspired by a recent reading of Psalm 73 (which I believe to be a beautiful Psalm, and which is one of my favorites, despite its imprecatory tone).

Finally, it was indirectly inspired by one of my favorite stories from childhood—Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach.

I am linking to dVerse for their monthly form challenge.}

Smile

Some small creatures, like moths,
are born the color of bark or dead leaves,
so they can eat or avoid being eaten.
How honest is that?

It’s no different
than the way a strategically placed mirror
can make a room seem bigger.
Or how deception and survival align
when I must smile and say I’m fine.

{the dVerse prompt which inspired this poem is the word mirror}

Pay Attention

The voice is ancient and familiar,
belonging to school days,
bouncing off the walls of the gym
like end-of-day announcements
from the principal,
or the bright ping
of a red, rubber four-square ball
entering your zone
when you’re looking the other way.

{Almost a quadrille. I’m counting the hyphenated words as a single word. I knowww …that’s breaking the rules a little, but it’s a poem not algebra, so I hope I’m forgiven. Inspired by a fun prompt from dVerse.}