Monday, April 30, 2012

A new home for Penguin Poems

Penguin Poems is moving to a new home on WordPress.  This old url will remain as a full archive of poems posted up through April 2012.  If you have enjoyed my writing, I hope you'll come find me in my new spot.  Follow me - and share what you find.  It's always great to hear from you!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Death in the pot

It's been a rough week in the neighborhood.  We had a grade-school kid collapse on our lawn after experimenting with synthetic marijuana.  Then a spate of gang-related graffiti, including some of the most disturbing racial threats I have seen.  What really set me back in the end was the way none of this even phased me.  I just carried on as if things were normal.  Which I guess they are.  No outrage, no compassion.  Just a kind of jaded indifference.  I don't like to think this the is person I am becoming.  Something has to change in this neighborhood - and maybe it's me  Maybe you can connect with this, in some way.  Anyway, I wrote this bop as I reflected on the experience of these days. 

He couldn’t have been more than twelve years old,
face down on our lawn, strung out on K-2.
Out of nowhere there were three police cars
blocking the street, soon joined by a fire truck
and a white ambulance.  Then came the crowd,
the shouts, the knowing looks, the same old dance.

Something has to change in this neighborhood.

Overnight there was fresh graffiti sprayed
on our neighbors’ garage – a racial slur
with a threat.  The City sent a young man
to take photos.  He hardly said a word.
It all just felt so completely normal:
cops on our lawn, the n-word three feet tall.
It wasn’t until my son said to me,
“I’m scared to be outside,” that it hit me:

Something has to change in this neighborhood.

Suddenly I’m angry.  Seething at the
drug pushers, slum lords, smug politicians,
most of all, myself – for falling asleep,
dulled by twenty years in one place, until
I don’t blink when a kid might be dying
on my doorstep.  There is death in the pot.

Something has to change in this neighborhood.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Coming through in the clutch - Live Video

Here's a true (ish) story - performed live at Elkhart's b on the River, in March 2012.  My mother was present for the show, so I couldn't resist.  She's an amazing woman!

Independence Day

Got off on a mental tangent this weekend, thinking about a "Doomsday" poetry prompt from Robert Lee Brewer, and wondering how my Amish neighbors might handle an alien invasion...

After the Fourth of July holiday,
there are no famous landmarks left standing.
The Golden Gate Bridge, The Eiffel Tower,
Big Ben, The White House – none of them survive.

But here in town, no one knows much about
all that. At the Village Inn, plain-dressed men
eat heaping plates of scrapple and head cheese
and joke in low German about tourists,

while girls in coverings and tennis shoes
giggle about ketchup and the panties
they got at the U.P. Mall. No one looks
twice at the thing sitting in the corner.

When all you wear is dark pants and blue shirts
everyone else looks like an alien.
You love your enemies, and sympathize
with all who sing: “This world is not my home.”

Outside in the parking lot, the horses
make strange at the iridescent saucer
hitched awkwardly to the post between them
swishing their tails to keep the flies at bay.

When Amos Yoder’s barn is vaporized
the Amish refuse to retaliate.
Instead, volunteers come from miles around
and raise a brand new building by milking time.

This pattern is repeated for a week
until the invaders give up and leave.
At the Village Inn, they are serving pie,
and there are no planes flying overhead.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Something worth saving (the Octain Refrain)

Before you start to save my soul
from hell, it’s hardly worth it yet.
There so much life I want to get

to, if you’d spare the time. My goal
is this: to take a week to break
the rules. And laugh. I want to roll

back here, sky-high on being whole,
before you start to save my soul.

. . . . .

Sometime last year, I ran into the poetic work of Luke Prater.  He writes a great blog under the title WordSalad.  Well worth your time checking him out.  The Octain Refrain is one of Luke's creations, and I find it a fascinating form within which to write. 

It has eight lines, arranged as two tercets followed by a couplet.  Each line has eight syllables, normally in iambic or trochaic meter (but it's also OK just to count syllables if you prefer).  The last line is a repeat of the first line, as much as possible.

The rhyme scheme is as follows:
a-c/c-a  [note the middle line here has a mid-line rhyme:c-c]

 or, alternatively


A bit confusing just to read the rubric.  Probably easier to read a couple of examples to see how it works in practice.  The poem I started this post with is an Octain Refrain.  Here's a link to another, by poet Beth Winter.  Why not try an Octain Refrain yourself?  And drop me, or Luke, a note to say how you get on!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How we got to Vegas

(a quatern)

Looking back on it, we might have
thought twice before bringing a kid
blessed with agoraphobia
thirteen hours to the Grand Canyon.

It just never occurred to us.
Looking back on it, we might have
noticed the first signs of distress
when he stopped in the parking lot

at the South Rim and turned around,
striding away from the view, not
looking back at it. We might have
forced him to stay, but why go there?

Nature’s overrated, I said.
Let’s go to Vegas. So we did.
Did we have the best time ever?
Looking back on it, we might have!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When the well has run dry

When the well has run dry
it comes without warning.
The tongue swells in your cheek,
thick and livid, so that
your words no longer speak.

When the well has run dry,
you curse Providence for
this damming of the source
of such early growth. You
rail. Yet it is, of course,

when the well has run dry
that the real work begins.
This is the place you give
yourself to the long task
of learning how to live

when the well has run dry,
the daily love affair
with hardy words you kiss
into unlikely soil
to bloom up from the dust.

Monday, March 19, 2012


The Summer of Love,
I bit my baby-sitter.
She was beautiful.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The most important day of your life - VIDEO

Video from a recent performance - the World Cup wedding epic: "The most important day of your life."  Enjoy!

New school

He didn’t want to go to school that day
The kids were scary, he hated lunch
And the custodian was mean.
At last, his mother told him
The first day is the worst
But it’s a nice place
And besides that
You’re a fine