Next Line, Please

Red Eyes and Blue Moons

By David Lehman | March 19, 2019
Mac Runner/Flickr
Mac Runner/Flickr

I love being proved right—by you, dear NLP regulars and welcome newcomers, who take whatever prompt I contrive and run with it, showing off the marvels of the imagination, which a linguistic trick can trigger. This week, the idea was to write a poem exploring the primary and secondary meanings of such two-word phrases as “red eye,” “blue moon,” “working stiff,” and “grass widow.”

Steve Bellin-Oka’s “Red Eye” won deserved praise from discerning readers:

Bright crimson smear in the sclera. Over-
flow of a miniature river’s cataracts into the ovoid pool
of black pupil, blue iris, and lens. I almost never look
at my face in a mirror: so someone asks, what
happened to your eye
? What hasn’t. Violent sneeze,
burst vessels. Once I abraded the cornea when by mistake
I rubbed sand into it. Maybe I was trying to make
glass. On the all-night flight from Vancouver to Baltimore
where you lay dying, I took a window seat so I
could both see and not see, hologram of the reading light
fixed above the jet wing. In Polaroids of us at the beach
as kids, our eyes burn red as coal embers, as unchecked fever

Donald LaBranche complimented the “classic” opening line. Angela Ball praised “hologram of the reading light.” Diana Ferraro spoke for me when she wrote, “I like very much the almost medical, precise descriptions that create a cold distance, then slowly build into all the meanings of red eyes until we fall into the painful abyss of the unexpected.”

Sharing first-place honors is Christine Rhein, whose “Working Stiff” is the soliloquy of a man wearing a “man bun” (ugh) and “Armani suits” (nice work if you can get it):

I’m serious. Fourteen hours a day. My neck, shoulders hurting.
My laptop heating up. Like business. I own a mall, a dance club,
three coffee shops. And on paydays, we all chat—my employees
able to buy the hippest clothes, great bodies, expensive hair—the
that bounces when they walk. For myself—it’s a man bun, six-pack
Armani suits—in Second Life, Kona Karl raking in the lindens, and
designing logos for the coffee cups, bikinis for the dancers. To top all
I’m getting married soon. But hey—don’t tell my wife. She thinks I’m
just playing “some stupid game.” She’d never understand Kona Karl
needing a tuxedo, a honeymoon. Or the 55,000 lindens—260 bucks
I’ve spent on special animation, making sure that, yeah, I’ll be
magic on my wedding night. And on any night when my bride,
shows up, logged-in, to shake cocktails, fill the hot tub in the beach
she picked out for us—the mortgage, like in real life, costing me

“Blue Moon” attracted many contenders, as I guess I should have expected, with the Rodgers and Hart song in my head. Patricia Wallace scored with her poem of that title:

I like the moon, the way she hangs around
when everyone else has split, sick of my caterwauling,
my complaints, my sorry love life. Sometimes she’ll slip in
an extra appearance at the bar and shine her full attention
on our conversation. We talk about dark sides and tattoos,
joke about the gossip: the black-out nights, how secretly
she’s a man, the dog-eared rumors people spin out drunk
with daylight, wanting to be hip and clever by claiming
we’re looney. She says she gets the blues from wildfires
and volcanos. Been there. I know the feeling,
Once in a blue moon, if she’s had a few too many,
I’ll walk her to the corner, lift her to a lamppost and watch her drift
into a dawn sky. There’s that little tidal tug as she disappears.

I liked the surprises (“secretly / she’s a man”) and puns (“looney”), and can identify with a writer who has the blues even on nights when the moon is perfectly white.

Capitalizing on the unusual terms used to keep score in tennis, where “love” equals zero, Allen King contributes what Linda Marie Hilton characterizes as the “beautifully succinct” “Love-Love”:

Watching tennis
on t.v.
she turned
and asked,
“What’s love?”
Boy did
that make
me think.

The two-words-per-line strategy pays off. The title of Allen’s “On Hold (Hold On)” is terrific, and the poem would be even stronger if he cut the second stanza and substituted the opening gambits of a conversation that keeps getting interrupted:

“Hold on, I’m on hold,” he told me.

So, wait, let me get this straight:
You want me to hold on and wait
for the person making you wait;
The guy who put you on hold
gets to put me on hold, too?

“Alright, go ahead,” he said,
so I started to say what I needed to say—

“Hold on,” he said to me as he was taken off hold.
“Go ahead,” he said to the guy who put us there.

Someone walks up and starts talking to me.
“Hold on,” I say.

Diana Ferraro’s “Grass Widow” is the portrait of an “illegitimate widow” in an old-fashioned tea room:

The misty comment from the near table reaches you
as you face your china cup with leaves that tell nothing.
Sitting alone in the old-fashioned tea room
you feel one of them, too.
Not in a mission on a far away colony,
neither exploring the moon nor in the war against ISIS,
he never married you, being married himself.
Can you, illegitimate widow, romp in the grass,
enjoy a truer lover, have a child out of wedlock,
be a free lass no strange, tearful gossip affects?
A straw man who takes the place of the traveler,
a Black Irish coming back home, his eyes greening with hope.
At the bottom of your cup, dark leaves look like a spider
as you read your inescapable solitude.

“He never married you, being married himself” could serve as the epigraph of a dozen poems.

My thanks for these and the many other excellent poems for which I do not have ample space. I will do my best to come up with a new poetry challenge next Tuesday.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Comments powered by Disqus