I did it!
Today’s prompt was a translation poem. I took a translation class a few years ago and still have some books from Mariangela Gualtieri, an Italian poet who I considered for my project but didn’t end up using. I pulled out Bestia di Gioia and flipped through it to see if I’d find anything of interest. I ended up choosing a page and a half from “Un Niente Piu Grande” and began doing a literal translation when the imagery made me think of Atlas, and then Sisyphus and Prometheus, too. I can’t say if this was supposed to be a part of Gualtieri’s poem. Once I was finished with the literal translation, I rearranged and reworded lines to create a poem about these three mythological characters. Some of Gualtieri’s text is still in there, but a lot of it is new.
This mountain is steep, but I must
power through. This stone can conquer anything.
It conquers me daily. The slightest tremor
and my progress comes to pieces.
The path to love smells like smoke,
and the world has taken me prisoner.
At night I dream of running, crying
to all who will listen than I am here.
I would set down the weight amassed
on my profound shoulders and bid farewell
to the sun at dawn. The world falls
off its axis, unbalanced from time.
We are pinned between history and repetition
but we feel for a loophole, a crack
that might open wide if we push together,
if we use our considerable strength.
If you’re interested in the original Italian:
Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was an “I remember” poem. I read an article about Ariel Winter’s breast reduction on Jezebel today, and the discussion in the comments brought back so many memories of having my own reduction/augmentation combo more than a decade ago. If I keep working with this poem, I will probably get rid of the “I remember” framework.
Remembering My Breasts
I remember the stars and stripes t-shirt purposefully torn at the neck and the power of ripping it just a little lower each time.
I remember looking down at it and seeing myself.
I remember hiding a silicone breast in my bedside drawer, contraband like the vibrator I keep there now (also silicone).
I remember doctors, especially the white-haired one who was the only man to ever touch my chest.
I remember lying.
I remember the list of all the ways I might die.
I remember the surgical bra that always smelled of iron and undissolved stitches and someone else’s flannel shirt.
I remember finally trading those in for a halter dress.
I remember shame.
I remember warning Nicole about the scars, lines and circles on pale breast.
I remember her saying she barely saw them.
I remember calling her a liar.
But I don’t remember where or when, just that I never told Elizabeth about scars or silicone and she didn’t ask, just put her mouth on the puckered skin and sucked.
I took a lot of whacks at the backwards story prompt, apparently. This one is inspired by Princesses Behaving Badly, a book I’ve been reading bit by bit. Most of the details are based on a short excerpt about Princess Louise, but I’ve borrowed a little from the princesses in her section of the book.
She sold her story last, because it was all she had.
She sold every last sock. Every undergarment
and every over. Her simplest things. Perfume.
Her furs. Her jewels. You can’t live
on love alone. Everyone told her that.
In Paris, wit h her lover, she spent everything
but love. They ran to Paris together in the dark.
He eventually came to her bedroom. He came
to her window. He wrote her letters.
They looked at each other across her husband’s court.
Her husband, who had a lover. Her husband,
who didn’t love her. She scowled the whole wedding through.
He was too old, had too much beard. She was given
no choice. Her father listened to no one but himself.
She told her father she’d never marry. Her mother
only listened to her horses. She told her mother
she’d never marry. What a spirited child, Louise.
My first attempt at the backwards story prompt. I was interested by how a backwards story makes things seem so much more tragic for the villain. So here is Snow White’s Evil Queen.
Except the witch, everyone in the kingdom was happy.
At the wedding, they all laughed at her anguish,
all tears and burning flesh. It hurt less
when she danced, so she danced.
They fastened the iron shoes tight around her ankles,
chains like ribbons. They roasted the soles
over the fire. She deserved to be punished, that was
the agreement. She’d committed so many crimes.
She’s poisoned a trusting girl for the third time.
She was driven mad. She ate the heart of a stag
when her huntsman brought it. She ordered him
to do what he did best. She was less beautiful
than she’d once been. She was only a stepmother
because she was beautiful.
Today’s prompt involved telling a story backwards. I messed around with several options on my way home tonight, but once I got home I pulled out my Hans Christian Andersen book and wrote down some of the most intriguing final (or close to final) lines from his stories. The italicized lines are the borrowed ones, and I built each little poem-let from the quote without taking the story it came from into consideration.
Quotes are from the following stories in the Tiina Nunnally translation (2004): Auntie Toothache, The Sweethearts, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Flying Trunk, and The Marsh King’s Daughter.
Everything Ends Up in the Bin
Why, you wouldn’t even recognize her if you met her in the trash bin
She stopped being of any use long ago.
She was too old now to have more.
She’d borne nothing but daughters.
The king had long since given up hope.
But their wedding, how beautiful.
The girl, plucked from nothing.
But all that was left of the dancer was the spangle, and that had been burned black as coal
There were no bones in the smoldering.
The house, totally destroyed.
Some say they saw her dancing among the flames.
Some say they saw her strike a match.
All she wanted was to stretch her legs.
This house was nothing but a prison.
She is still waiting, while he roams the world telling stories
At least it’s a good excuse to stay herself.
She’s beginning to think she doesn’t mind the alone.
She cried for him, but a few days shorter than proper.
By the time the sun set, she knew.
He wasn’t there, and on their wedding day.
The princess made such a lovely bride.
Her body sank into the dust
There isn’t supposed to be a happy end for a girl alone.
She knew what she was doing.
She was far too cold for a woman like her.
She’d turned down every suitor unseen.
Her father selected the very best men.
Her mother talked to horses.
Today’s feminist fairytale is about consent and the fear of saying no to men. I used Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans. Elisa, the main character, is tasked with saving her brothers and must endure physical pain and the inability to speak until she does. During her silence, a king marries her and then nearly has her executed when he learns that she’s sneaking off to weave the shirts that will return her brothers to human form.
Vow of Silence
I couldn’t say no,
I don’t want to marry you because I couldn’t speak
and anyway, who would listen to a girl
with hands rough from weaving
nettles. The cloth is dyed with my blood.
The nettles I have chosen but not the crown.
I couldn’t say no,
I’m not betraying you because I couldn’t speak
and anyway, who would believe a girl
who didn’t want to be queen, who slipped
under the moon to labor like a servant.
The nettles I have chosen but not the crown.
I couldn’t say no,
I’m not a witch because I couldn’t speak
and anyway, who would be swayed by a girl
who walked to the fire, hands still worrying
nettles into someone else’s salvation.
My family I have chosen but not myself.
I am the earthbound, the unfree, the savior
by default. As my brothers become themselves
again I don’t speak to welcome them, to tell
my story, claim my innocence. Never
will I be me again and so I scream it.
Poems 23 and 24
I wanted to work with a story about transformation in response to recent political happenings. I found myself drawn to the ending of Out of Oz. In the scene that is the climax of the novel, a witch performs a spell that returns all who are under some sort of transformation and disguise into their true selves. There are some unintended consequences that end up driving a wedge between the main character and her lover. The fact that Rain and Tip ended up going their separate ways is probably the part of the book that disappointed me the most.
To Call the Lost Forward
“They stole glances at each other, the green girl and the queen of Oz. Those forgotten called forward, against their wishes, into themselves.”
—Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire
One incantation and we’re both laid bare, the maps
of our bodies changed, landmarks gone.
You are beautiful and I, I don’t know quite what
I am, only that I’m not what you bargained for.
This skin is unmistakable.
This skin makes me my grandmother, all the loathing and love of her.
This skin has always been there on the inside but now it’s turned out, painful.
This skin bears the burns from your fingerprints on its surface even though it is unlike anything you’ve ever touched.
This skin is sticky with you though nothing will ever be the same.
This skin will never feel you again.
This skin may never feel anything but the sting of night air.
This skin doesn’t feel like mine, so I pull my hair over my face, curtain myself away for just one last breath as me, alone.
When the shock clears I realize this
is who I am, this is why for years I felt the itchings
of something not right. Now everything fits me
but you. I love you still, I would hold you to this new body,
curve into you, show you every inch of me. But your shock
is disappointment, you yearn to back away. You will go
and mourn me and I will be alone, myself
but alone. Don’t you see these eyes, still the ones you looked to,
these hands that touched you, these lips?
I don’t dare speak with this new voice, don’t call
when you turn away. I watch you, I love you just a few moments
longer. Tonight I’ll sleep off our goodbye,
tomorrow begin anew.