Poetry Lab: Week Three

Once more unto the breach.

Once more unto the breach.

            Greetings, all. For this Lab, we’ll take a look at Nautical Terms (and How Best to Love Them) and The Questions of Life Even the Dead Cannot Answer, both of which appear in my digital chapbook, “Pearl Dandy.” These poems face each other in the book and have certain similarities between them, including but not limited to their non-sequitur titles.


Nautical Terms (And How Best to Love Them)


On a lazy summer day

when your blood is barely flowing

and hope is still a flutter in your chest

you can choose to die a little

you can choose to live a lie

or you can carry on your dreaming in the sun


Life is all about the choices we make. I don’t know how you write your poems, but I always begin with the first line and let it lead me deeper into the idea of it. I have no plan, no subject matter, and no preconceived themes. I just write what flows into my mind and then—THEN, when I have that first thought on the page—I begin to think about what I will say next.

I’m uncertain what prompted the image of a lazy summer day, but the image continues into a body at rest (“blood is barely flowing”) and the pull of hope. In that moment, there are choices: to die, to live, to dream. What will you do? How will those choices effect your day? Or someone else’s day?


Are there pickles on that sandwich?

Do you think the stars have names?

Did you bring the ukulele?

Are you gay?


            Inquiry is always a choice. Our curiosity leads us into the good and bad of the world. It carries us into thoughtful dialogue, infuriating argument—into reconciliation or, perhaps, violent confrontation. Which of these questions would lead somewhere better? Which might lead to uncomfortable silence? Are there any that could lead to both?


On a sleepless winter night

when your blood is hot and bothered

and lust is still a freight train in your chest

you can choose to love a little

you can choose to die too soon

or you can carry on your killing in the dark


            And now, of course, the opposite of that lazy day—a restless night—a night of lust and longing. The line about “killing in the dark” is especially sexual, but “killing” can be used in many ways. “He just kills me,” one might say of a humorous friend. Or, “It’s killing me to have to wait on that promotion.” No one died of desire for a promotion or by waiting for confirmation of one. It’s hyperbole. So, what does “killing in the dark” mean to you?


Are those onions in your garden?

Want to catch some fireflies?

Did you bring the Armageddon?

Will you stay?


            Again with the questions. From the innocence of fireflies to the devastation of Armageddon, what will you bring into the world today? Will you stay or leave? Bless or curse someone? None of these musings have anything to do with nautical terms, which is precisely why I kept the nonsensical title. Why call it that? How will the title influence the reader? Would the poem read differently if the title was more traditional? Questions. Choices.

            And now a look at another odd little piece from "Pearl Dandy":


The Questions of Life That Even the Dead Cannot Answer


Do tigers eat their young

or do they send them off to school

where moth and flame repair

their intellect?


            I suppose the obvious answer is: neither. However, there are several things at play in this first question (again with the questions!) or stanza. Each stanza features a different animal as its subject matter, but they are just a metaphor for the real animals. In what world do moth and flame repair? Does schooling equal intellect? Is that always how it works?


Do lions know that lambs

are always sharpening their fangs…

their lust for blood the subject

of their prayers?


            The other three stanzas refer to at least marginally dangerous creatures. This stanza turns to lambs. This picture of fanged innocence and prayerful bloodlust should make us a bit uncomfortable.


Do jackals dream of sin

or is their sleep a holy rite…

their whine a supplication

for the kill?


            Sin and supplication. Holy rites. I don’t recall thinking much about the imagery as I wrote it. I was just letting my mind wander and question.


Do rhinos sell their souls

for a chance to change your faith,

impale your broken spirit

on their horns?


            This stanza may just be a sign that I read through the comments of too many Facebook arguments.

            That’s it for this time. Next week, we’ll examine more poetry. In the meantime, write more. Write now.

J. Patrick Lemarr


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