Those Who Ply the Tidal Stream*

By the shores of the Nanticoke
where the pines touch heaven every day
and ancient spirits dance by the light
of a cheddar moon,

there lives a plant called prickly pear.
Taking root, it claims the shore as fertile ground
and blooms a flower to match the full moon’s
candled hue.

Full bodied beauty, yet somehow delicate:
Don’t step on it. The thorns will give a mighty bite.
It has not lived this long by cringing
from unfriendly elements

and yet  there is a sense of nurturing
as if the hand of God is never distant
from this paradise overlooked by time,
a place unblemished by asp or Eve.

Mothered by the Chesapeake, it grows
towards that mighty Bay, a habitat
for threatened plants and animals, species
that have survived both calm and storm.

Tidewaters flow as icy clear as the day
His hand created them.  Though war once tinged
them red with blood, the ancient river
has washed their pain away

leaving the shoreline pristine again
for sun worshipers, watermen, the spirit
of the old Algonquin and the spreading roots
of the prolific prickly pear.

*The Nanticoke River, flowing quietly on the lower Delmarva peninsula, remains largely unchanged by the passage of time and still offers glimpses of the Chesapeake Bay as once inhabited by the Nanticoke Indians and discovered by Captain John Smith. The name Nanticoke translates to “those who ply the tidal stream”.

The Play’s the Thing

“With these my hands, by time’s grey hand defiled,
I’ll speak my praise – thy verse leaves me beguiled!”
W.S. /rr

I beg, make haste; the crime must be avenged!
The ghost has seen its duty to accuse.
O, fie due process!, let it be impinged!
The execution will not be recused.

What waiting grave proclaims a warming trend,
unless of course, the destination’s hell?
Lethal poison befits the brutal end,
A mix and switch, by his own hand he fell.

The play’s the thing, you lawless resolute,
Must it be midnight ere your lines do speak?
It is in your power to heal the mute,
The protagonist was not mad, nor weak.

Now, even with the mousetrap set and sprung,
The jury does defer ’til song is sung.


Man or Ape

between being a militant pacifist
or a boring reactionary
I read the news and weep.

has little to do with it;
the dinner conversations
are always heated.

attentive to detail, there are nit pickers
in my history, necks stiff
from keeping their eye on the ball.

blinded by the light, we get down
but we seldom get it right
in this half-jungle tundra

of sinew
and synapse
and a fleeting emotion
that would bring a tear to your eye.



The Oulipians
when writing
practice constraint

They say
Break it down

One syllable
non complex
Words that are rawboned
and bare to the core.

The kind
that stare you down.

And yet
who insist on one syllable

ask for
that’s two isn’t It?

And their name
That’s three.

(That’s four)
I think it can’t be done.

But then I think
of love

trust, sun, warm,
truth, song, notes,
motes (it’s time to dust)

I think
that constraint
and impossibility

might be
no more than
rein and myth.

Oulipo is based on constraint. It can be taken to the ridiculous. One syllable words are just one form of Oulipo. For instance,  take a poem, preferably your own, that you love (or hate, as the case may be) and look up each noun, then count 7 down (7 nouns that is) and replace each noun with the 7th after it in Websters (or whatever dictionary you choose). Then rework the poem to make sense of it with the new nouns.

They say we will find freedom in constraint, and maybe so.  I don’t know. I haven’t yet, but I’ve been having fun. Obviously my muse has flown and I’m gasping for air here. 

Below are a few facts I found about Oulipo.

OuLiPo, the “Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle” or “Workshop for Potential Literature,” was co-founded in Paris the early 1960’s by mathematician and writer Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais. Oulipian writers impose constraints that must be satisfied to complete a text, constraints ranging across all levels of composition, from elements of plot or structure down to rules regarding letters. The informing idea behind this work is that constraints engender creativity: textual constraints challenge and thereby free the imagination of the writer, and force a linguistic system and/or literary genre out of its habitual mode of functioning. . Famous Oulipian texts include Queneau’s Cent Mille Millard de Poemes.


Queneau’s poems

Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes is derived from a set of ten basic sonnets. In his book, published in 1961, they are printed on card with each line on a separated strip, like a heads-bodies-and-legs book. All ten sonnets have the same rhyme scheme and employ the same rhyme sounds. As a result, any line from a sonnet can be combined with any from the other nine, giving 1014 (= 100,000,000,000,000) different poems. Working twenty-four hours a day, it would you take some 140,000,000 years to read them all. (but who would want to? s.m.z.)


Stars in her Hair for Janis Joplin

The Daily Texan ran a profile of her in the issue dated July 27, 1962 headlined “She Dares To Be Different.” The article began, “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi’s to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her Autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”

Long curls tangled in abandon,
she raced barefoot through the fields
picking wildflowers for the table,
berries for cobblers, or just gathering
sun rays to feed the freckles
sprinkled over her nose.

She wove chains of daisies
and wore them in her hair,
but that was in the summer. Months
of sun slip by; innocence is lost
in little things.  The beautiful
blue sky

and there a hawk  and there
a sparrow. Her face tilted, worshiping
the sun. She saw the feathers falling,
and something like a chill wind
said this is living
and this is dying

She wove her daisy chains
until winter spent the wildflowers
with its will. She was too young
to know that spring would come
and they would bloom again,
so she caught the stars

at midnight and wore them in her hair
though no one saw them…Just her
and the moon streaming in the window.
Alone there with songs to sing
and dreams to dream, she must have thought
this is living — and this is dying.