Category Archives: Poetry

Moonlight and the Macheïde — Notes

Background Notes for Moonlight and the Macheïde

We’re tempting at getting the plug pulled on us again. He doesn’t like being written about. (And we’ve been reprimanded for writing about her even when we weren’t.)

Blame Sara again. Like so many others we write here these days in collaboration, this spins off notes and early drafts she left for us. Let him frown at what Sara saw, but her song will still carry on, whether in her own solo pieces or in these she asked us to join her in writing.

The macheïde — “son of battle,” — is a phoenix, with a bit of a twist. He repeatedly dies in battle, to be reborn new and better, cleansed of imperfection by the experience of death and rebirth, returning yet again to the war. Moonlight is the life force of the mother in all her mystery and glory. In their experience of death and rebirth, they are locked in eternal dance, an embrace that no magic can break.

The form emerged from some experiments Sara was working with in her own drafts. She wanted the rhyme and meter to act like a reflection of the cycles of death and rebirth, like the rippled mirror of moonlight on a lake.

There’s much more that could be said, since aside from its own independent truth in the myth, this does have a personal reality behind it. None of that needs to be known in order to understand what we mean to say. Not that there’s anything needing hidden — we do not believe in deception, even as a poetic device. Just, although there’s more that could be said, there’s nothing more that must be said.

— Maggie, for Sheila, with thanks to Sara


Make Believe — Notes

Background Notes for Make Believe

We only recently figured out that with the administrator permissions Sara left us in our collaborative community, that allows us to designate her the primary author of any of our collaborations.

As will frequently now be the case. We won’t go back to correct any of the past ones posted before we knew that, since we gave credit on each poem itself. With a rare exception here and there, her notes and poem fragments remain very much alive in our shared work. As she very urgently wished we would do.

“Make believe,” she told us, with that cheeky smile that spoke of a boundless joy and love. She shrugged off detractors who might characterize it as pretense or falsehood. To her, “making a belief” was equivalent to creation itself.

This poem reflects her instruction and notes to that effect. Along with sharing from all (except one, still on temporary leave of absence) of us.

In one of her favorite forms, the ghazal, a form she felt to be highly suited to collaborative writing.

Always loving you, Sara, always.

Found Out — Notes

Background Notes for Found Out

Yes, this one is.

Hint: If any we’ve written say anything that would be untrue about you, that should be a rather solid indication we’re not writing it about you, no matter how bad your worst presumptions might get. We’ve always spoken and written the truth of you, even when we’ve been attacked by others and left hanging alone for doing so. If it ain’t true about you, it wasn’t written about you, period.

Same thing goes with even the moment turned by this poem itself – believe only the best of it, without reading into it any unintended bad. Like, start with the solid truth stated in our final line, and hold the whole rest of the poem up to the standard of that truth. At worst, we are mourning the loss that there will be those who will only find out the truth about you after they have killed off the life they had through you. (And no, even that is only aimed at those it is true about, not at you or those you love.)

We’ve been ordered off, so we’re not even supposed to be standing up for you or showing you we do still love you or even giving any sign we’ve ever known you. Even a poem such as this may be as unwelcome as when I myself last stood up for your dignity and integrity, only to get blasted for doing so. But Sara’s notes that provided the central image for this poem argued for never silencing the voice of our friendship, so . . . .

Respecting the demands that have been made of us, we can’t promise we’ll ever speak this truth aloud ever again. But we will never forget the truth of it, and will hold it in love every day through our lives and the lives of our children. And nothing we ever say, write, do or believe will ever deny this one nor go another way.

As indicated, Sara’s notes provided the image and pages of background notes to this poem. All the rest except for one of us agreed with and contributed to the poem. The one who was not involved would have only made it more intensely devoted to your beauty, had he not taken what we hope to be a temporary hiatus from our collaborations.

— Maggie, for all of us

This, That, the Other — Notes

Background Notes for This, That, the Other

Based on one of the hundreds of ovillejo fragments Sara left in her notebooks, with her encouraging us to freely continue to collaborate with her after the fact.

This one was her speaking to her own muse. In some moments, lost in embrace. In other moments, half mocking at the inevitable loss. Seeing her own poetry – her “this, that, and the other” – crossing serious intention with casual accident.

Maggie helped immensely on this. I wrote out the scraps from Sara’s notes as coherent as I could. But this ovillejo poetry form – a favorite of Sara’s – is way beyond my ability. She also did the formatting like how Sara would have done it.

– David

Closer — Notes

Background Notes for Closer

So, we don’t write background to every poem we post. When we do, usually it’s for our own reasons, almost always because a poem we’ve done is part of a larger effort we’re working on, so our notes are reminders, place markers, projectors for where we see it going.

This background note has an extra edge to it. A coerced edge. In honor and respect for the man we were writing about, we make this one exception. It won’t be done again.

It has been brought to our attention (by a lurker whose own hateful selfish agenda casts strong doubts as to the integrity of his criticism) that wild allegations have been circulated about some secret hidden meaning of this poem, apparently based on distorted interpretations designed to malign our work and the applause it intended. Any who have bothered to actually read the source text on which the poem is based should know better, even without knowing our honoree and his mission.

Then again, we ourselves in our poem opine that even those whom our honoree worked to serve would doubtless never appreciate what he’d done. So perhaps it ought be no surprise that those untouched by his service would understand even less. But does that give anyone liberty to distort the truth? Bad enough when someone who doesn’t know the facts speaks out against it out of ignorance. But when someone does know what the truth is, then persists in ignoring that truth and replaces it with a malicious misreading meant only for ill, that is destructively deceitful. And to what end? This was a straightforward poem not meant to bear the burden of unintended private interpretations fashioned for irrelevant private agendas.

So, a few clarifications that ought be unnecessary to anyone bothering to take the time to read the background document quoted for the poem. First, the poem is directed to and about the authors of the recent measure taken for U.S. pension plans. For the one particular author cited in the document as the primary author, but taking him as symbol for the entire team of authors with whom he worked, if not for the entire group of warriors fighting to defend the rights of common workers. As speaking of the President in some senses inherently refers to the entire country he represents, as speaking of any particular poet in some senses inherently refers to the poet as an ideal, as speaking of an orphaned child in some senses inherently refers to any motherless child. But those extensions move outward in the same line cast by the poem – the actuary serving the interests of the common worker, extending out to the model and the ideal within which that man has served. There is no intention in our poem, nor do we appreciate nor condone – that his experience or action as represented in this poem be misrepresented as conveying some hidden message in some entirely different melodrama. When a reader makes up some other fiction about what our honoree did and wrote here, or about what it meant, at least don’t put those false words in our mouths. Those are someone else’s lies, not even remotely connected to the facts we’re writing about.

“Nice try” refers to the source document itself, to the decision it represents, to the action it adopted, to the future it envisions. We ourselves don’t understand it. But we were at least patient enough to sit through a private lecture from him about it. So as near as we can figure, this was a carefully targeted holding action, pending something broader and more permanent. Something more to be done, for which he did help pave the way by helping to formulate the questions that would need to be answered. But something which he knows he himself won’t be around to celebrate. And from what we hear in his own sad summary, we can’t say “good job,” but instead can only praise him as we’ve done. He can already see the end that will come after his own departure, so at best has only delayed an inevitable defeat of gigantic proportions.

“Those who thought they had you” points to the mercenaries he used to work among, who most likely thought he might be their champion, imagined he would inject their cynical objectives into this effort. Those ex-colleagues and their clients undoubtedly will fail to see this action for what it is. But again, we refer only to that particular document and the action it took. Or in any metaphoric extension, likewise to the model of a protective measure taken by any comparable advocate and how such actions are all too often mistaken by those charged with the very responsibility entailed. Again, “Those who thought” refers either specifically to this one man’s ex-colleagues or generally to the model of an advocate who action is not well understood by the very ones empowered to carry things through. No other specific individual or group should read their own private misrepresentations into our poem.

“They’ll resurrect your dragon” is our prediction (reflecting his own) that after he’s left the field of battle over pension fairness, all the progress he (and others he worked with to protect the interests of the common worker) had fought for would be re-fought, perhaps even reversed. Again, we refer specifically to nondiscrimination in U.S. pensions, or generally only to the model and ideal of fairness for ordinary people, something you’d think need not being re-fought over and over, yet somehow is. Any other private interpretations are false.

“They don’t  discriminate” is what they (same “they” as earlier pointed out) claim. If that were so, then even this temporary measure would never have been needed. Rather, they would have freely been given permission to do as they please. Which of course would not have protected the rights of common workers at all. What follows the dash in that sentence in our poem would take an entire essay in and of itself. It’s our best attempt at placing this one document into the context of our honoree’s entire career of long-standing advocacy for the rights and privileges of the common worker. As we state in the poem’s next sentence, this is what we gather from what he’s tried to explain to us, together with what we do know of his whole life and career. Once again, all this is directed at his life’s work on pension nondiscrimination, as well as to the model of a warrior fighting for normal folk. No other secret interpretations intended, period.

“A friend is known by whom his word defends.” He’ll retire soon, with this to be the final document to bear his name. When and after he does depart, he will always be known as a friend of what he calls the NHCE, a “non-highly compensated employee.” As we have repeatedly felt we have had to emphasize in these background notes, that and that alone is the specific meaning intended here. Of course, the generalization is a truth that can be said of any friend, but we mean no specific individual nor any particular group other than as we have made clear by our very clear source reference. Any other specific interpretation is not ours, and it’s a lie to call any other meaning ours.

Finally, “‘anti-abuse'” (in the source quote) and “anti-abuse” (ending our poem) — anyone who knows the man would be aware of his life-long efforts helping and standing up for abused children, for victims of domestic abuse, even for abused animals. Yes, but we were careful to choose that particular quote from the source text and to end our poem on that note in recognition only of how central that specific principle was to this particular pension decision and to the future he’d mapped for pension fairness. Or again, more generally, to how important anti-abuse protections are to any such similar decision. But again, with no other specific individual or group, nor any other particular abuse or abuser, intended.

Any other attempt to misinterpret this poem as pointing either directly or indirectly to any other specific individual or group or act, even metaphorically, is abjectly uninformed. And if any such misinterpretation is made after being as informed as ought to have been obvious even without these notes, then any such distortion is unwarranted and malicious. Our poems speak of true facts, and our metaphors are created to reveal true meanings. Any other reading is a lie and is not our word.

An addition clarification about comment traffic to the poem: as ought be similarly obvious, “the one who ought most to have known” is of course the NHCE, the one he has fought his entire life and career to defend and help. Can anyone else who knows anything about his life and his work lay any claim to being “the one who ought most to have known”? On what basis, pray do tell? As with the poem itself, we intend no ambiguity nor alternative reading. There being absolutely nobody else who has reason to characterize any other individual or group as we’ve done, any other alternative private interpretation is not anything we’ve said or intended, and is false.

As to the authors collaborating on this poem. Maggie has been a friend of our honoree for the past decade. She has only a vague understanding of the particular pension action that is the backdrop to this poem, but knows the poem’s honoree well enough to appreciate the significance of this “closer,” this final battle in his life’s work. Sheila has been a friend of the poem’s honoree since his childhood, long enough to tell numerous stories of how from very early on, even before his career, he was well-known for standing up for the defenseless, the disenfranchised, the lost and abused, the weak, the friendless. Early in his career, she worked closely enough with him on the personal and spiritual sides of his life to actually have a fair understanding of how those sides have been reflected in the professional and technical principles underlying the poem’s pension situation.

We could almost have included Sara here as one of our collaborators post mortem, as she encouraged us to freely do with all she left unfinished. During her final months when our poem’s honoree and Sara were working together on her essays and visions, he was heavily engaged on the project that would eventually to this poem’s source document. So the two did talk about his own project, and some of her poetry fragments do explore themes reflected in his work – balance, fairness, protection of the ordinary person, caring, anti-abuse. As we continue to work through David respectfully collaborating with her as she requested, some of those poems may ultimately be completed and posted, as will then be acknowledged by indicating her as one of the co-authors. This poem Sara would have understood well enough to collaborate with us on, but in this instance only Maggie and Sheila co-authored the poem.

—Maggie, with Sheila

Want of a Good Word – Notes

Background Notes for Want of a Good Word

I’ve quoted the greatest king and most revered poet of the Jewish people. I could as easily have have quoted Jesus’ #1 disciple and the Catholic church’s first pope, who recalled Psalms in I Peter 3:10. Or Buddha or Confucius or Mohammad or Ghandi or any other spiritual leader.

Better still, I could point to our own faith and belief, from which the oldest laws find in the one central rule of life and love this: no ill will.

No excuse: one is not to respond to any hurt or evil with ill will, even to the point of death itself.

No selective treatment: one cannot hope to see life’s desire met and many days’ love known by favoring one with cheap sweet talk, while ignoring the psalms and the commandment and the rule for some other. Even for the enemy, love.

No ill word, period. Malice to none, no matter what. There are no exceptions. There is no other religion, no other way. Speak evil and deceit, and all hope of life and love is but an illusion, death within a poisoned death.

And it’s not deceitful or evil for me to believe so and say so. From even before the Psalms, the goddess and her god made it so. The only thing that the Psalms and the saints and any poems that follow along are doing is holding to its truth.

But this is no sermon to the one who doesn’t care to believe, nor is it argument against the one who doesn’t desire life or love long days. This is simply a background note to a poem I felt like writing.

— Maggie

Me, Stripped Down Ugly — Notes

Background Notes — Me, Stripped Down Ugly

Sending a poem through a condenser can be an excruciating process. The art of writing a poem is getting the words right, whether for rhyme or to fit meter or for a sestina’s teleutons, or to free the freest formed poem from excess weight. If a poem had the right words after the poet has already worked it through dozens of drafts, then how can a single word be eliminated, or how can any carefully selected adjective be converted to verb?

Yesterday I worked through multiple drafts before being satisfied enough to post one of my longest recent poems — Me, Ugly — as my first response to a WordPress Daily Post prompt at Daily Prompt: Shape Up or Ship Out. Then nipping right at that prompt’s heels comes the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Papa Says Get Economical. Now I do realize that the weekly writing challenge was not meant as a critique aimed specifically at my response to the preceding daily prompt. But this was an irresistible challenge.

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