Friday, November 9, 2012

October Mission: Display Art and Perform Poetry at The Haunting Muse

Part 2 of our September-October Missions.


I submitted the following poems for the poetry slam (see September mission).  50 people from the church and the community showed up. My first poem, Halloween Lament, was literally one of the worst performances of anything in my life. It was supposed to have a fast rhythm, almost like a rap. I had a suspicion that I was going to have trouble with it during the actual performance, because every time I practiced I missed a word or a line. The moment of truth came. I started well enough, though I missed a couple words that I hadn’t missed yet in practice. Tip of the bloody iceberg. I totally blanked about three times. The last time I blanked, it was probably a solid 15 seconds of me standing up there trying for the life of me to think of anything but the bright lights (never noticed them before) and the confused looks that met my gaze in the audience.  I didn’t have my manuscript with me, so I was “S.O.-friggin’-L”. At the beginning I had dedicated the poem to myself as a joke, ‘cept now it wasn’t funny. I reached up to the mic and softly declared, “Now you see why I dedicated it to myself.” Made sense at the time. But it did the trick, and reset my thoughts long enough to remember my lines. I finished strong, but the poem was designed to end abruptly, and apparently many in the audience just thought I forgot the words again. Ah well…you win some, I lose some.

The second poem was a blast and was well liked. I introduced it by holding up my manuscript and saying, “This one is dedicated to my wife, who warned me that I needed to bring my script with me just in case I forgot the words. I love you honey!” That loosened people up, and everyone was laughing the rest of the time. I brought an old, gnarled stick up with me—the kind that you feel might give you a disease if someone hit you with it—and wielded it through the air as I read. Many compliments followed after the event. One guy said he was an artist and it inspired him to create again. Really? A zombie-killer poem? But art inspires art.

Overall, I had a great time and was glad I took the risk. Even the failure of the first poem is fun to look back on as horror-story to tell others (Matt gave me comfort by saying, “Don’t worry, we didn’t feel sorry for you”). The poems were fun to write, practice, and perform (mostly). I believe art is history in one of its most authentic and unfiltered forms. The art and the poems are now relics of ourselves that we can look back on and understand who we are at this time in our lives. And being forced to display and perform our creations helped us to take our projects seriously, because we knew that we would be judged by the display/performance of our art—ourselves—in the span of a few brief moments by our audience. It took courage and hard work, and it was worth it.

Halloween Lament
/Tell me that you’ve /seen it, /tell me that you /noticed.
It’s /following-you-a/round wrapping-you- /up in cold /mist.
Yeah /something in the /heavy air is /changing /quick
Dropping /down, moving /in, mantling /mortar and /brick.
See, I /know what this /is, I’ve /heard it be/fore
Sounds-like /moaning winds and /groaning limbs and /creaking of /doors.
It /smells like the /rain, the leaves, and /muggy /graveyards
And /wakes a thousand, /should-be-sleeping, /still-warm /war scars.
It’s that /autumn weather /air, those /Halloween /scares;
Makes you /want to howl at /moons, makes you /want to /dare.
But now /one thing’s /missing that I /can’t ig/nore
Nothing’s /haunting me like /yesterday; no /ghosts, no /more.
And /I can’t help but /feel the loss; no /ghosts, no /more.
And /maybe this might /be my cross; no /ghosts no /more.
I re/member when things /freaked me out, and it /didn’t take /much,
Stories /that my friends made /up…would /exorcise my /lunch,
/Stories ‘bout some /lost demon playing /tricks to pass his /time,
/Stories in mud, /dripping with blood, /crawling-all-over-with-/Devil-knows-what.
And I’d /always see these /monsters staring /back at /me
Safely /on the other /side of /my t/v,
From be/hind the /glass, they’re not /all that /bad;
Making /friendly with “what /lurks beneath” was /all I /had.
But /they’re not /here, those /spirits /legion,
And /wanting them more /here than there might /be my /sin.
‘Cause now-I-/know there’s nothing/ spiritual be/hind the/ door
And nothing /lives beneath the /floor; No /ghosts, no /more.
The /closet’s full of /empty-clothes; No /ghosts, no /more
Just-a-/hollow moon, and /quiet room; No /Ghosts, no /more.
You /know what’s /worse than /thinking you’re a/lone
And /finding out there’s /someone else be/hind you in your /home?--
It’s /thinking that a/nother soul is /so close /by
But /finding out there’s /nothing real but-the/ tears that you /cry.
And the /more you grow, the/ more you know, the /spells are /broke
Hallo/ween, Christmas/Easter and the /mirror become a /joke
‘Cause there’s /nothing hidden /there that can’t/ float in-a-bowl of /cereal
(They say your /stomach and the /food you eat are /build-a-god /material.)
Have you /ever wished for /something strange to /turn out /true
Even /though-it-was danger/ous and might end /turning on /you?
We /want a story that /thrills us, be it /fiction or /lore;
But /all we hear is /history; no /ghosts, no /more.
Our /own voices /echoing; no /ghosts, no /more.
Our /own breath is /smothering; no /ghosts no /more.
/All the smart /people, say they /don’t believe in /ghosts.
They bray, “I /don’t believe, I /don’t believe, I /don’t believe in /ghosts, I…
/Can’t believe, I /can’t believe, I /can’t believe in /jokes, (Be…
/Near me God, be /near me God, be /near me when I /croak.)”
So /bring it on, your /Christmas songs; /Bring it on, your /Easter throngs,
Bring on all the /faith-and-science that /proves your skeleton /wrong
But /all I see is /our great need that /more than us is /true
All your /“hows” are just /hoaxes, hiding /places for /you.
/Give-me an unknown /something… /next to your known /nothing.
Man, the /things we sell our /souls to!—We barter /blood for straw-/stuffing .
Hark, /who’s goes /there? Oh, /you’re just /me, …you’re
/Just my shadow, /just my shape; No /Ghosts, no /more             
Just /me the biggest /fake; No /Ghosts, no /more
Just my /own flimsy /life at stake; No /Ghosts, no /more.
And /I don’t think I /want to face…

Just Get a Stick
You know, I never really understood how a zombie epidemic could get started
Because the first converts would be summarily dispatched.
But let’s suppose their efforts at evangelizing
Were better than ours,
And the whole world became zombie-infested.
What would you do?
What would you do?
That was totally rhetorical.
Please don’t ruin my moment.
I’ll tell you what to do!
Get a stick.
Get a big stick.
That’s all you need.
I’m serious.
Just a stick.
Wipe that smirk off your face.
See, I don’t care if it’s just me
Against a whole gaggle of zombies.
‘Cause zombies are stupid, man.
As stupid as all-get-out.
They can barely walk—most of the time one foot is COMPLETELY worthless.
They can’t see very well because the cataracts are starting to set in.
And….they have terrible hygiene.
But that last one’s beside the point.
Just walk up to ‘em,
With that big stick firmly in both hands
and just kindly…
“Rest in pieces.”
Now, you’ll want to wrap some good padded tape around the handle of your stick.
Blisters are not a joke during a zomb-pocolypse.
Get something for comfort AND style.
You want a good grip.
Get some of that tennis racket tape.
It comes in a variety of colors.
Preferably pick a different color than your living allies
So you know which stick is yours.
Like those charms you put on wine glasses.
It’s just common courtesy.
One of those strings to loop from your stick to your wrist
Might also be nice
Just in case you go berserk and lose your grip.
See, if you drop it,
Just reach down,
Get a good hold of it again,
And get back to doing what you love most.
I mean, it doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Back in the olden days,
I imagine people without this technology
Lost their weapons all the time.
That little loop…
A handy little invention
That takes just a second to put on,
And you’re saved
From having to go and pick up your stick.
I learned this from playing racquetball,
They have those little loops at the end of the racquets.
Saves lives.
Now, when you’re swinging that stick around
And the bodily fluids are flying everywhere
Do not, DO NOT
Get that stuff in your mouth.
I see this all the time in shows like The Walking Dead.
I’m going to be honest with you
…it’s disgusting.
There’s no sense in that.
Look, you have to retain some sense of dignity
In these turbulent times.
You can’t just splash around in another man’s bile!
Don’t do that.
Why would you do that?
You some kind of Philistine or something?
Please don’t do that.
So, when everyone’s found a stick
And bagged themselves a few zombies
Put ‘em up.
Put the sticks up.
Cause, man, we want to get things back to normal.
And I don’t care what you do with them.
Get a museum for the sticks with the most notches—
I mean, I don’t care what you do with them.
But, man, put ‘em up.
Cause the last thing we need is another war on our hands.


From the start of the show until it was my turn to read, I was on a roller coaster of emotion, nauseousness, and uncontrollably fast heart beats. I've read in public before and haven't been half as nervous. I can only guess that the extra pressure existed because I was revealing something that I created to a group of 99% strangers. 

I had decided before the night of the reading that the whole thing was really pretty silly... adults reading poetry to each other, and I had come up with a way to show that I wasn't taking the thing too seriously. Unfortunately, I had underestimated the seriousness of everyone else. So I started out by saying, "I'd like everyone to know, that before tonight... this poem... resided... in my soul." Feeling nervous didn't help me deliver this in a whimsical way... in fact, it was taken as though I truly believed what I just said. To my relief, my wife knows my humor and from the back of the audience gave a hearty laugh. For some reason, though, I responded with, "That wasn't a joke", even though it clearly was. Oh well, I went on to tell another joke, ("If you're not accustomed to pure... unadulterated... BEAUTIFUL poetry... then I suggest you cover you ears or leave the room") , that people got this time, and went on with my reading. 

I think the reading went well, as it was just a reading from my paper, and afterwards I got a few compliments on the poem. One of the readers came and told me that in my intro, he had believed me. That made me laugh. On a side note, I really wish Chris had done his "Big stick" poem first, because it turns out that laughing did a lot to loosen me up and make me less nervous. In the end it was a fun event, and what actually stuck with me the most was that many of the readers had taken it seriously, and had put their hearts into their works. It was a pretty moving experience at parts. Here is my poem, below, which I wrote over a couple of days. As you'll see, I did this sort of back and forth pattern, describing the actions of two children on the first line, and then alternating with a description of a ruined castle. Enjoy!

Ethereal Hide-and-Seek

Laughter off stone walls
A kingdom lost to countless years

Light footfalls on granite steps
A fortress once but now a playground

Smiles on bright young faces
This dilapidated keep sits almost alone

Vestments untouched by time
Long echoing corridors end in darkness

Siblings hard at play
Portals lined with crumbling arches

Stalking along the battlements
Hundreds of rooms left with no care

Brother knows she is near
Tables and chairs with no earthly keepers

Sister stays very quiet
Tall columns still bearing their weight

He sees a glowing foot
Ancient tapestries hang ruined and torn

She knows it’s soon
Moss creeps down the wasted dungeon’s walls

Brother jumps to her
Brick and mortar lose to time and weather

Sister shrieks with joy
The drawbridge has only its skeleton intact

The game starts anew
The sun falls behind old hills again and again and again

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