Books Magazine

P&W Prompt 9: Spring Ritual

By Gabrielscala

This week’s Poets & Writers prompt:

Flip through the dictionary and randomly choose 10 words. Write a poem with each word in every other line.

Sigh. Yep. Here we go, another random word prompt. I chose 10 random words from the dictionary but opted to not do the “each word in every other line” part because that just seemed ridiculous to me. Instead, I just wrote a poem using the random words. What I decided to do when revising that first draft was to say “screw it” to the random words and just try to make it a good poem. And I think this overkill of random word prompts is actually getting me somewhere. The idea, always, is to start with the rules and then break them as quickly as possible. Being a rule follower (I am, I really am), I’ve historically tried to stick as close to the prompt as possible. This time, I didn’t. And maybe that’s the point.

At any rate, here are the 10 random words:

Falsetto; Gem; Intensive; Kite; Mark; Neat; Oleander; Panjabi; Sackful; Tanana

And here’s the first draft (untitled and without line breaks):

While I walk the gravel path that lines its way
from our backdoor to the Mississippi road we live
on, you sing your new song, your falsetto so smooth
on the phone it breaks my heart. Last week
we numbered the days you’ve been here
and there, I mark the calendar with Xs for days
gone: 293. The oleander is blooming in your absence.
I take pictures, send them by kite to you. You walk
the banks of the Tanana, Panjabi nuts by the sackful
on your arm, my words on paper, in your hand:
My mother is finally out of intensive care and Gem
keeps spilling her water dish, her wet paw prints
speckle the floors where I pace and await your visit.
There is no way to say how I need you, how yesterday
I grew tired of fighting with the dog and crumpled
to the floor over her refusal to leave the cats in peace,
how my voice echoes in the kitchen or how my arm
instinctively reaches for you some mornings when I am
dreaming of geese on our pond and how my heart falls
at the touch of your empty pillow. It’s been raining
for days and the tin on the barn door was ripped away
in the summer storm. I put it next to torn screens
and the tulip bulbs we always planned to plant. I put my heart
with these broken and neglected bits, toss soil from our earth
on them. I focus on what is whole and bury the shards.

From there, I decided to scrap the words (if necessary) and just go with the poem that seemed to be coming out. The ending is still not right (though I’ve re-written it at least 10 times) and the opening feels a little contrived to me as well. But I do think there’s something here. Also, I changed the name of the river because Panjabi refers to a language/people in India and the Tanana river is in Alaska. That didn’t really work – so I chose the name of another river in India for the sake of consistency in narrative. I also played around with sound in this poem – which may be left over from last week’s sonnet prompt. The one thing I do really like about this poem is the way sound is working in it (all those o and e sounds…very nice). As always, I’d love to see your own experiments! Here it is:

SPRING RITUAL

You call from 3,000 miles away to sing your new song. I listen
and walk the gravel path that lines its way from our door
to the Mississippi road we live on, your falsetto so smooth

in the morning light. There is no way to say how I need you,
how yesterday I grew tired of fighting with the dog and crumpled
to the floor over his refusal to leave the cats in peace, how I am

startled by the echo of my voice and by the coolness of your pillow,
empty though my hand instinctively seeks you there. Instead,
I tell you Buford keeps spilling his water dish, his wet paw prints

speckling the floors and how I dreamt of the geese on our pond
while the storm ripped the tin on the barn door. I put it next to the torn
screen and the tulip bulbs we always planned to plant. I put my heart

with these broken things, toss the dirt of our earth on top and send
pictures of oleander blooming in the yard. While you walk the banks
of the Gomati, Panjabi words by the sackful in your mouth, I carry
your words in my hand: focus on what is whole, bury the shards.


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