Jorio: Terror of the Blank Page

Again the blank page
Taunts me, chin outthrust
Like a bar-room drunk.
‘Call yourself a writer?

‘What’s the matter? Scared,
Are you? Go on,
Stick one on me
Now. I dare you –

I know your type:
Talk the big game,
Always starting, never finishing,
Wanting to have written.

Time you got real:
You’ve never mastered me.
I’m stronger than you
And always will be.’

Something in me snaps –
Bam! – I let fly
With a Petrarchan sonnet
Right on the nose:

Up from the basement –
Pow! – a crunching shadorma
Straight to the jaw,
And the blood leaps:

Press home my attack
With an ABAB rhyme –
Wham! – it staggers back.
Gets ‘em every time.

It’s not done, jeering –
‘So where’s your novel:
Airport blockbuster, Times bestseller,
Five-book deal, movie rights?’

Go for the kill:
Unleash the double sestina –
Take that, left-right, one-two –
Snarling, ‘Want some more?’

The page spits teeth.
‘Nice try. But just
You wait. Tomorrow, I’ll
Be here again. Waiting.’

 
 

Where would I be without Ina? Well, I wouldn’t be here introducing my first jorio, that’s for sure. Having opened my eyes to the magic of shadorma already this week, she’s now got me into jorio – what my dear friend Christine over at journeyintopoetry calls ‘four-square poems’. Which they are: no rhyme scheme or metre, just four lines with four words per. (I’ve cheated ever-so-slightly in a couple of stanzas: in Word, hyphenated words count as one, and that works for me.)
We writers all know the terror of the blank page, and as someone who writes for money as well as for love, I experience it every day. It was a lot of fun taking one back with this piece, but I know it’s a fight I’ll face again. And again. N.

Shadorma: The last call

Please proceed
To gate number one.
Final call.
She kisses me, once. Sniffs. Smiles.
Don’t forget to write.

I promise.
She nods, wipes her eye.
Well. So long.
Turns. She’s gone.
I almost call after her:
Wait. I meant to say –

But say what?
Nothing is enough.
Not even
I love you.
Three words will not build a bridge
Across half a world.

Got to go.
I pick up my bag,
Try to breathe.
Find I can’t.
Walk to the plane, holding a
Gun to my own head.

 
 

Loving the shadorma. Thank you, Ina! N.

Italian sonnet: A Lover and His Lass

He parks the truck, then takes her by the hand.
They walk together round the field. The bright
March sun strikes silver from the sward; his white
Lambs, soft as new-baked loaves, awake the land
And hope within them. He shares all his grand
Schemes for the flock: she leans on him, the light
Of love strong in her eyes, and holds him tight,
Mind filled with home and children she’s got planned.
Does it occur to them that they may see
Their cloudless heaven ripped by sudden storm
Their high ideals hurled down and smashed like glass?
No thought of this. Not here, not now. They’re free
To dream. The sky is clear, the sun is warm
And smiling on the lover and his lass.

 
 

Tom Davis challenged me to write an Italian sonnet, so I have! This is a very ancient form, ‘invented’ by the Italian poet Petrarch: indeed, it’s often called the Petrarchan sonnet in his honour. I’ve never written one before, and now I know why. The rhyme scheme is complex: the first eight lines (the octave) are a non-negotiable ABBAABBA; the last six lines (the sestet) can be one of several patterns (I’ve gone with a traditional CDECDE) the only proviso being that (unlike the more familiar Shakespearian and Spenserian forms) it mustn’t end with a rhyming couplet. Sheesh.
Even here, though, I can’t let Shakespeare go entirely, having stolen my title from Much Ado About Nothing. I spotted the lover and lass in question while out on my bike this morning: I couldn’t actually hear what they were talking about, but that’s what artistic licence is for. N.

Shadorma: The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang

Hard black smoke
And the whistle’s shriek:
She’s comin’.
Palms grip guns,
Sweat runs, fired by dreams of gold.
A bored horse whinnies.

In first class
Whale-boned dames complain:
Lord, this heat.
How far now?
And whatever possessed you
To bring us out here?

The men point
Out of the windows.
Hell, woman –
Look at it.
One section is just the start.
Boy, have I got plans.

Brakes. A scream.
Masks and revolvers.
All of you:
On the floor.
Now. Ground-shaking shock. Smoke clears.
Hoofprints in the dust.

The bad guys
Have swapped their black hats
For dark suits,
Dynamite
For bonuses and bailouts.
But they’re still out there.

 
 

I’m indebted to the witty and wonderfully talented Ina for introducing me to the shadorma – a kind of Spanish haiku with a syllable count of 3, 5, 3, 3, 7 and 5. I love the laconic, economical style of Robert B Parker’s Cole and Hitch novels, and thought it would be fun to try rendering a classic (or do I mean cliched?) western scene as my first attempt at this highly constrained form. To see how it should be done, I recommend this one! N.

Man in the mirror

Who is this man? I knew him once, I swear,
But though he seems familiar, I can’t place
Him. Did we meet out on the road somewhere,
Drink beer, load hay, play music, ride bikes, chase
Loose cows (or ladies)? Something in his face
Speaks of things as they were long lives ago;
Of half-forgotten dreams and days of grace.
He’s lithe and quick; makes me feel stiff and slow,
Set in my ways. The world is his to go
And conquer still, while duty, age and fear
Have vanquished me. We could be friends, I know,
But time is short: some day, he’ll disappear
And leave the mere remembrance of his light
Until it, too, is taken by the night.

 
 

A Spenserian sonnet – my first! – in response to a beautiful example given to us by the wonderful Tom Davis over at fourwindowspress. The rhyme scheme is a challenge, but it feels good to stretch myself again. Thank you for the inspiration, Tom – in this, as in so many other things. N.

In the west

A halfway kind of being in a nowhere kind of town.
In all my wild imaginings I never dreamed that I
Would end up as this desk-bound, mortgaged, soft suburban guy.
And so I let my thoughts take off and float like thistledown
Across the great grey ocean, hazy plain and mountain crest
To where my dreams lie hidden
            In the west.

No mansion waits there for me: just a strong, plain house of wood
And river-stone. A saddle barn and round corrals outside
And from the porch an eagle’s view across the Great Divide;
A life I was not born to, but I’d learn it if I could
For my heart’s surely bidden
            By the west

I saw it, touched and tasted it so many years ago;
Life called me back, but something deep dug in, and stayed out there.
What happened to that younger self, who walked without a care?
A man I half recall, but if I met I’d scarcely know,
Whose path and mine diverged in ways I never could have guessed.
Were those my finest hours
            In the west?

One day I’ll pack a suitcase, buy a ticket, catch a plane
Cross sea and seven time-zones, leave this unplanned place behind,
Saddle up the buckskin pony who’s been waiting in my mind
And take the lonely trail. Down in the dust I’ll leave my pain
And from all my endless striving I will find a lasting rest
In green grass and fair flowers
            In the west.

 
 

I’ve been reading Robert Service’s Songs of a Sourdough and wanted to try writing something in similar vein. In particular, I wanted to play around with a refrain line, even though it sounds a bit quaint these days. I enjoy finding the space within strict rhyme and metrical schemes: another symptom of my need for boundaries, and even stronger urge to kick against them! N.

Monday blues

To hope is to believe there’s something more
Than this; a higher state worth striving for
And, longed-for long enough, will come. But I
Have seen enough of life to hear the lie
In shrill assurances of better days
Ahead. No; Fate contrives a thousand ways
To pin us where we are, whatever we
May think or do, attempt, aspire to be.
To hope is to persuade ourselves that things
Could work out as we’d want them to. Truth brings
No comfort, merely vinegars the pain
And taints the smiling dawn with threat of rain.
All I have learned in years of wishful thought
Is that we’re Fortune’s chattels, cheaply bought
And sold upon her whim. So this is it:
Where, what and how, I cannot change one bit.
I’m sorry, Hope, it’s over. Though we tried
So hard, I know that I belong beside
Your sister, dull Acceptance; plain, it’s true,
But honest. You’ll see: I’ll get over you.

 
 

Feeling a bit Monday-ish this morning. But this too shall pass. N.

Not selling out

They say there’s no
Dollar so low
Someone won’t stoop to pick ‘er up.
And that may well
Be true. But it sure as hell
Ain’t me.
I am not that man –
Never was
Or will be.

I’d rather keep hold
Of a single bright penny
Honestly earned
Than a hat-full of gold.
Better not have any
Than get greedy fingers burned.

Nothing wrong with money
But you can keep your funny
Business to yourself; I’m not your guy.
Got to put food on the table
But a man should still be able
To walk tall, look himself straight in the eye.

I’m going to show your little deals
A shiny pair of heels,
Take that straight and narrow road I’ve always trod.
Call me a fool: you may be right
But I will sleep sound tonight.
A few bucks down, but in the black with God.

 
 

As a freelancer, I’m sometimes forced to be less choosy than I’d like to be about the kinds of projects I take on. That doesn’t mean I’ll do anything, at any price. Sometimes, I’ve paid a high financial price for turning down work that didn’t sit right with my principles (which some would say are a luxury anyone in business, and especially freelancers, can’t afford these days). But at the risk of sounding sanctimonious, I’d rather be poor and clean than filthy rich. Luckily for me, my family feels the same way.