Thursday, December 09, 2010

Above us, Below us, Behind us, Ahead of us

I recently read this poem by Ted Kooser:

Flying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

I'm astonished at his comparison of a dying galaxy with a snowflake falling on water. That juxtaposition of something so huge with something so small wouldn't have occurred to me, but it works so well, doesn't it? And the image acts as a vehicle for so many ideas too: how small we are, how everything is connected, how even 'death' can be beautiful. I'm sure there are more.

My poetry prompt is to write a poem, not using the 'Above/Below' structure that Kooser uses, but 'Behind/Ahead' instead. So, you can talk about the past/future, or something more concrete like the sea and the mountains, or something closer to you like the kitchen and the bedroom. It's up to you.

BUT your poem can only be 8 lines long, the same length as Kooser's, and it should compare, or juxtapose, two things that we might not expect to see connected.

Write well.


Glenn Buttkus said...

Free Ride

Mother’s headstone seems so small
and insignificant, so alone beneath
the Sea Tac flight paths,
but I do adore the fact
that she can grab a free ride
a hundred times a day, rocketing
from death’s dominion to Phoenix
to warm her beautiful bones.

Glenn Buttkus

December 2010

Lynne Rees said...

Glen, this is lovely, particularly the last line. And there's an irony in the title that's both funny and moving. Thank you for posting this.

bandit said...

Thank you Ms. Rees:

I owe you one

the tiniest squeal of a glass ornament turning on its axis

every so often, automobile's hissing past on wet streets below

a humming, as of tinnitus, after all media turned off for the night

the blood in my veins, the rage in my heart, smoke curling in the lungs, uncertain in my gut

the needy and the crying I can do nothing about

i owe it all - or nothing - clock ticking on the mantel, striking on the hour

if I were only quiet, if only it were quiet

(not sure about formatting or line breaks)

Lynne Rees said...

Hi bandit: squeal and hissing are great verb choices here as they reinforce the emotional theme that emerges further on. I quite like the structure... the spaces between the lines like silence, emptiness. The only thing I'd suggest is to match the syntax in the last line, so 'if I were only quiet, if it were only quiet' (rather than 'if only it') as, for me, that repetition adds a gravity.

Anonymous said...

Not Shut Up

I’m marking time with Billie
next cage down, as he butts
his head in his crazy guy way, teeth
all chattering like castanets.
I’m Top Dogg,
Death Row Record's
hip-hopping gangsta rapper
swaggering the night away.

bandit said...

The syntax choice was intentional, experimental, perhaps to avoid...uh, uh, cliche? A stylistic choice. Your point is taken.
I lost a line, from my handwritten scrawl, to draft in mail, (I'll learn to do Word, I intend to return to school)to copy to you. That was fortunate, 'cause it was sophmoric, for lack of a better word. To fulfill the assignment, what if the last line (# 8) were/was:


bandit said...

Oh, and the line spaces were to accomodate the narrow comment space afforded us. Otherwise, I was afraid it would look like "The Blob".

Hey! The previous glitches in posting seem to have cleared up. Great!

bandit said...

Hi, foster_catherine,

This is a really cool scenario - I just wish it were longer to better establish the scene, add detail and emotional reference and the sheer joy of good read.
May I note, please, that the internal structure (adjectives) of the line 'hip-hopping gangsta rapper' seems redundant to my ear? Maybe it's the brevity of the piece that does that? I thought a great rhythm was established in the lines - wish there were more. There it is, just before I'm Topp Dogg'; an abrupt change, 'causr I want to know more about Billie, and more information to who Topp Dogg is. Granted; how much can you do in eight lines?

Ha! the word verification is hearlot. I " hear a lot " going on between the lines! Ya feel me?

Anonymous said...

Hello Bandit.
Thanks for your comments. My contribution is a stanza from a longer poem about how guys on Death Row survive their incarceration. Death Row records is an African American record label and Top Dogg a member of the group. I read your poem several times and liked the juxtaposition of outside noise and the sounds within you.

Martin Cordrey said...


Once I shot a rabbit, a baby
rabbit right between the eyes.
BANG! Dead.
Very nearly got mother too.
No one feels relaxed talking
of stillborns at dinner parties,
so they prattle on, how cold
it is for this time of season.

gautami tripathy said...


broken breath, I left it
shivering on the stairs
icicles as its innards
burnt by frost
now see fire
engulfing dirt
my aorta can take it
while I bleed happiness

dsnake1 said...

Hi Ms Rees

inspired by your prompt:


once, we picked wild fruits off trees
our adolescent hearts neither fear heights nor ants,
or if it's edible, spitting out pits like bullets,
watching clouds morphing from warriors to bunnies in the blue sky.

today at the supermarket i am undecided,
we have fruits from Malaysia and China and Chile and
but is it cheaper elsewhere, will it mess with my gastritis?
the checkout queue is long, the faces are long, i will come back later.


Supposed to be 8 lines, but it looks like a mess :)

Or if you would like a look at my blog at



y said...

ahead, a clogged
bathtub. behind me,
a solution. we are so much
alike after all – one pot
of tea to calm my
nerves, two pots
of boiling water
to clear your drain

daisy said...

Sea Shift

I take off my watch, see last summer's sunshine
printed on my arm. I am still the small girl
dreamily trailing a net along the plashy sealine,
crooning a tuneless song, ribbed sand on my soles,
as a fossil shell is imprinted on rock.
Future, unknowable, shifts like the sea,
may dandle me, toss me treasure or wrack,
will overwhelm me. The dead, like seabirds, throng round me.

Lynne Rees said...

Hello - I think I say this everytime I post a 'short' poem prompt... but the poems are strong. It seems that if we give ourselves boundaries we have to compress what we want to say, search for the best words - short poems can be like pressure cookers. Of course there are wonderful long poems too, I'm not denying that. Perhaps I'm just talking about a personal bias here? So I will post a longer poem next time.

Just a word on the narrow comments box that squishes the poems - not to worry because when I receive the email notifications the line structure is intact, so I do see poems as you intend them to look.

Now, a few more comments:

@ bandit: your suggestion for the extra line 'husshhh' - I prefer the poem without it. Ending on the word 'quiet' is, for me, powerful and understated.

@ catherine: Not Shut Up - It's a strong opening stanza for a longer poem. The character of the narrator really comes through.

@ Martin: this is shocking, not in a negative sense, but in the way the poem makes me sit up when I read the 2nd part. I wonder if the two parts aren't quite pulled together yet? I took the first few lines as someone talking at the dinner party? Perhaps you need another couple/few lines to make this feel as one whole poem. I'm sure it can be done.

@ gautami: melted - I like all the different images but I'm having a problem making them all work together. I wondered if a short poem would be better off working with two contrasts - so perhaps the fire and ice, and rework the end to avoid bringing in the bleeding?

@dsnake1: fruits - nice movement between fearlessness/confidence and fearfulness/uncertainty. I think I'd like to see the first stanza all in the past tense, and perhaps you could cut 'or if it's edible' to reinforce that confidence of youth?

@ y: this says a lot about two in a short space. Wonderfully suggestive. I'm not quite sure about the line breaks in the first line. Do you need to break the image of the 'clogged bathtub'?

@ daisy: Sea Shift - Lovely nostalgic tone to the poem, and I like how you use image of the tanline to shift from past to present. The only thing I'd suggest would be to cut 'will overwhelm me'. You have the images in the previous line working very well, so perhaps you don't need any further qualification. I love the last sentence, and would like to see it on a line of its own. A wonderful combination of celebration and loss.

Thank you, all, for sharing your poems.