Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.
The volunteers for January 2019 are Dale Champlin, Tricia Knoll, Georgia Pearle, ellie swensson, MMThompson, and Viviane Vives. Read their full bios here.
If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please fill out our application here and and warm up your pen! To read more about the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, including a complete list of our wonderful volunteer poets and to read their poems, please click here.
Day 19 / Day 19
Something Borrowed / by Dale Champlin
I promised myself to borrow a bit of summer,
wrapped it in a cabbage leaf and tucked it under my pillow.
Now in mid-January, I dream of the lawn in the dark
and feel cool grass tickle the backs of my knees. The night is tender.
Near my birdbath, under licorice sky, a cricket chorus
performs without ceasing—grass gives up its essence as dew.
Around a broken moon, starlight spatters into a tracery
of bears and swans, but I see only squares and pentagrams.
Raindrops as large as my mother’s pearls break free—
with the scent of petrichor bled straight from the veins of gods.
Parsley, mint, and lilies congregate under broad trees.
Devout rows of sunflowers, pole beans and raspberries
bud, bloom and fruit. Hollyhocks spire in tutus.
My heart soars with fireworks. Later—
I might fall asleep at the drive-in or neck
with my high school boyfriend as onscreen cars race
and rebels without causes play chicken. The loser’s
leather jacket catches on the door handle.
His car plunges off the cliff into the sea.
Someone always dies at the end.
When Forever is Over / by Tricia Knoll
Someone will confiscate his keys
as the warden develops dementia.
His prisoner will have a history
no one shares, having served as
many lives as she had, her last
moments counting unserved
None of the heavy bells will toll
for the fall of the last old-growth
bristlecone hidden in a cleft of rocks.
The man who wrote the entire Bible
on birch bark will request a root;
a museum curator will deny his request.
I don’t know what will happen
to the oceans, our blue planet.
Another afterwe are rushing.
Maybe this is about impatience
with all clichés of forever:
eternal winter, waiting
for Doomsday or the end
of child detention, hell freezing.
In my neck of the woods
I don’t see cows come home.
They don’t go very far in wind
chill well below zero.
Those twenty-five wild turkeys
who cluster up in the cornfields
until there is deep, deep snow –
then they separate like peppercorns
displaced on salt. What is their forever:
19. / by Viviane Vives
Arrived to Austin as an exile of herself;
entertainer, traveler. Burrow deep into her lake,
drink her springs, travels finally over.
She’s never been so spent; strangely,
he’s on her mind, lovely but almost repelling, last year
wanted to have coffee, play cards, talk photography,
two streets away; she’s drunk, last bottle of Saint Emilion,
dead inside; the timing, five AM, he finally kisses her.
Three sleepless days; futile but stubborn.The worst jail in a city of ten million. A boss-type, older, skinny, cold danger about her, in for forgery, decides to help her; not only because she is stunning, but because she is intelligent. They both are, they connect. She cuts her in front of the line, to the saving phone. She shudders to think what happens when you are not pretty and fit and if a felon with a little bit of raw power does not like you.
– “Please tell the story of the women here, one day.”
Day 18 / Day 18
Into the Void / by Dale Champlin
Shortly after surfing her scallop shell to the winter beach,
Venus reclines exhausted. She has arrived in Pacifica.
Her cupped left hand protects her pudendum. Since her birth,
the earth has barely begun a single revolution.
Breakers dally so softly they merely whisper—
or is that sand stretching to the horizon? Even
five obsidian crows cannot rouse her. They want
a taste of love. One by one they pluck at her eyelids.
Black angels, these demon birds rasp harsh calls, devil
her flesh, and scrape the air with razor-sharp wings.
What kind of world is this dark paradise,
where even a goddess has no choice but to be ravaged?
In the middle distance a line of telephone poles lists,
now obsolete, replaced by our voices pinging
from artificial moons—silvery and spherical—
unseen stars hovering above in daylight.
And the sand—smooth and still beneath our heroine—
doesn’t sift or alter but remains inflexible. A long-lost soldier
wearing his bloody uniform, ammunition spent,
returned from war, sees how love lies bleeding.
Walking on Water / by Tricia Knoll
Summer’s dream: wait for freeze
to grab hold of the pond.
Encourage safety: wait.
When the crackle ice on the edge,
a topography of thin, buffs up
to thick and underwater moans.
Scuffle through rice-snow drifted
where slush went solid
around someone else’s boot.
Hike around the rim
of the hockey rink and let the lake
lure you to its center stillness
within the window eyes of cabins,
far from smoke fanned from chimneys,
where weak sun pierces low snow-clouds.
Move like a boat upheld to both ride
the surface and sense the deep.
Be as small as the lake says you are,
a dot smack in the middle of vast,
a sigh’s silence inside a hooded coat,
a part to play as numbing cold
foreshadows ways of walk-on’s.
Daughter / by Georgia Pearle
Those days in the red house,
I’d take you to the back yard where
I’d watch you climb the abandoned
chicken coop. We had little else
to do, couldn’t afford even gas
for the car to take us somewhere.
The freedom of days, then, with you,
when all I had to do was narrate
and name every bit of world
in your view: the quick snake
in the garden, the orb weaver
with her web by the window—
in the beginning there was
a woman, a small girl, a story or two.
January 18th: part 1 / by ellie swensson
echo of snowfall in the city
a skyscape rounded to grey
expectant and peaceful in wait
alleys amplified to wonder
frost feather to a fingertip laced through
the wet of afterthought across the glass
the heavy exhale of the pavement
risen to expand and bathe each passerby
black slick and salted
boot licked, brandished
winterborn and southernbred,
my eyes will never adjust to this
and my mouth will always gasp seconds of this air
piercing as it passes
this fierce majesty to awe and adore
A force of kindness / by MMThompson
For Tyrone M.
Kindness is in short supply
Which makes our mission in relief
Reminding us that outward anger
Covers underlying grief
The velvet midnight winter brings
The shadow extended ever far
Accentuates the glistening
Of distant yet persistent stars
The thickest of the solid ice
Still Insulates below – so life
Can prepare now for springs return
When all the frozen bubbles seem
Ready surface – poised to rise
Release a collective breath – and try
To fill the air to be a force
Of kindness, once in short supply
18. / by Viviane Vives
Fuck Wells Fargo
Austin trapped her deep into her lake,
she has to get rid of a million things,
put a few thousand books in storage,
place the dog, prep their child,
to make sense of his own lost world;
(he looks at the Ikea blackboard:
chess club and nine hours of ballet
he is a boy for fuck’s sake, but it helps.)
Kafkaesque bastards came to punish them
for their visions of benevolent, fruitful worlds,
for rearing children in freedom; impeccable creative lives;
now caged inside a senseless joke, a parallel universe,
falling hard on her while she walks barefoot the puddles
of Hyde Park into the mud of Elizabeth Ney;
yes, just the other day, when it was almost cold
during the summer, but also before, in 2008.
She dropped to the floor hiding from the street,
crying behind the red and yellow cabinets.
Custom made. All went. He became at large,
The Architect has left the building.
her husband at the airport,
he turned around once again,
kissed her one last time,
disappeared, a preoccupied ghost
behind the glass doors. On this side,
her mind shattered a little.
Al least she has finally stopped calling Wells Fargo every day,
obstinate monologue, cold executive-snake on speaker phone,
keeps working, her laments and her worst Gypsy curses, dumb rain.
– “Fuck Austin, fuck Wells Fargo, and fuck UT.”
Day 17 / Day 17
The Lacemaker / by Dale Champlin
In slow time, clocks here on earth
tick less often than clocks in Heaven.
Far from gravity’s pull, seconds spread
out, taking their time like calm snowfall.
As you rush headlong into the New Year
you might feel your body reel and turn—
you may become overwhelmed
by the brilliance of the Universe.
In all this whiteness, as pleasurable
as a field of Queen Anne’s lace, frost
sparkles. Handfuls of diamonds
coat your lawn and driveway.
After it snows, nothing is as tawdry
as it used to be. Even your house glistens
like a birthday cake. Sundogs bracket a glacial sun.
Mare’s tails and ice fog whiten blue sky.
In this climate of unpredictability, nothing
is the same as it was last year. Astronomers
are mind-boggled by each new discovery.
Cosmic flares brighten and fade—
and when feathery ice crystals alight
on your face, each bite a miniature seizure,
what can you surmise but that you
are being quickened by God?
The Artists’ Contributions to Winter / by Tricia Knoll
Slush balls fall soot-black from wheels.
The plow pile at the shopping center
is twice as tall as I am. The dogs plan
to turn the snow yellow. The wind shook
off the twig-lining white. The old snow
men and women have settled in
as cycloptic corpses, sort of upright
because they froze that way.
Last night fell below zero. Moisture
seeped into the glassed-in porch
from the simmer of the curried stew.
Window frost: ferns and feathers,
morning’s impermanence. Outside,
yard-long icicles twist in spirals,
narwhal tusks of glass.
Low-slung sun shimmers them;
sundown leaves them hanging.
A certain satisfaction lingers
at my stomped-down path
that curves gently
to where cottontails
dash tracks in the night
January 17th / by ellie swensson
An ode to the tender boys:
with soft eyes, sharp jaw, and agile tongue.
How you stand on that back wall so well.
How you make poppies of pocketed fists.
How you dip low in shadow and smile shameless come sunrise.
How y’all got my number before you even ask it.
I flirt with the false assurance
of safety in your hands,
lean to you with vigor, and don’t fear
regret in the ways I used to.
There will be misgivings,
but damn if you don’t make it worth the while.
You’re the weakness I wear proud and
solicitous into every crowded room where queer is an open call.
Lindy / by MMThompson
My four pawed muse
My brindle pup
She melts my heart
By looking up
A treeing hound
So glad she’s found
A gal like me….
17. / by Viviane Vives
hundreds of objects by the crooked
condemned vegetable garden,
clothes fainted over the low fence
smell of her thyme plant keeps her company
improvised urban plot, Irish style, continuos, fertile,
crude, crying her absence, her descent,
the hell of death, father, in Barcelona
strong scent, sustaining, wasted
Another betrayal, mind in Australia
and he wanted the thyme plant,
said so many things like that,
an idiot savant to another. Aspergers for sure.
They stood together looking at the plant,
loving it. He would kill it or give it away,
owned barely anything, no furniture, yes a bike,
a skateboard, not a computer or a car,
looks, feels, from another epoch,
“dollies” away on his skateboard,
waves and smiles, proud of himself
it all could be a silent movie.
He even shoots in thirty-five, the little shit.
Guessing his exposures. Sound familiar?
Like her, a camera always hanging from her neck,
loving many, living, and then leaving, everywhere:
Madrid, Ibiza, Barcelona, Paris, Capri, New York,
an awkward railroad apartment in Chelsea,
Los “Angueles. (Letterman’s) then Venice Beach,
film people–not owning a thing that can not be flicked
into a dumpster or given away, prepare to board the next plane.
How dare he throw it all back to her face?
Even down to dating “older. Same fucking manias,
she can’t breath if she thinks too long about it.
She’s paying for it all, now, like an idiot, not that savant,
moored at Austin’s lake shores for years,
the gypsy in her lives on, ringing her ankle bells,
making her exhale.
Day 16 / Day 16
January Junkyard / by Dale Champlin
What can I say about the sixteenth of January
that hasn’t been said thousands of times before?
When I think about the snowfields of my childhood
I remember tough going, how I would break through
the sharp crust and plunge into the soft under-part
up to my kneecap—just a few ice crystals sifting
past my rubber boot-top to my waterlogged socks.
I will point out childhood ¬landmarks. Teasel fields,
every sharp bristle limned with a strip of snowflakes.
In Pioneer Cemetery, tombstones sheltered beneath
snow pillows and ice haloed angels blew trumpets
into tinsel clouds. Blue sky reflected on pale blue
hillsides—dips and hollows blushed lavender.
We kids, skating on a shallow pond, last summer’s
swimming hole, peered through transparent ice,
to see leaves and sticks drifted to the bottom.
In small woodlots tree trunks rose like jagged pillars.
Branches dumped their loads of snow with a whump.
Black crows sifted by on wing-startled air.
In sheer silk-chiffon daylight I would call one
or another friend to come and explore the junkyard.
In January, rust, wheel and chrome shape-shifted—
transformed into a white comforter-covered playground.
Red foxes tiptoed through the aisles only to disappear,
we and they, wild animals living in the moment.
Poetry That Matters / by Tricia Knoll
It’s deep winter here. If days are getting longer, I can’t
tell. Out the window naked maples pitchfork the sky:
survival’s stand like scissors and wait. I notice two nests,
tumbled-up leaf-messes though I haven’t seen a squirrel
in weeks. A few tracks during a thaw. A month ago.
Gray squirrels, mice, a mink, a bobcat, two does,
red fox, flying squirrels, cottontails, coyote rambles over ice.
I have no idea whether any of them freeze to death.
Local frogs turn their blood to anti-freeze.
Their pond froze rock-solid weeks ago.
The ice fishermen set up shanties
on larger ponds to make pickled pickerel.
It seems too damned cold for tiny buds
to appear on the nodes of branches, but they do.
My slow cooker turns out hearty soups
I taste and stir, salt, taste and stir.
I suspect much will survive. That I might.
I am not so hopeful for children in Yemen.
The poem that stirs that pot – to feed them,
save them – has not been written.
Grace / by Georgia Pearle
You can’t remember the nights so tepid
we could see mosquitoes cloud around
the streetlights outside with the mayflies.
It was one of those when your father called
in a full sob, throat thick with apologies.
I listened, blankly. I had learned by then
to listen flatly, take only enough meaning
to prove I hadn’t not been listening—
And that night, like every night, I rocked
you, singing wretch like me, hardly hearing
myself singing, listening with that same
faraway flatness to the second-hand.
January 16th / by ellie swensson
Bathed in a terra cotta kind of wet,
the one that deepens dark and damp in the dish,
this vessel marked as plenty,
as proclamation of satiate.
The slight kiss of velvet nose
comes turnkey to my attentions.
These are tender moments
of toes curled under and fingers
threading the water as legends
wound in that foreign ice that called
you home so many summer days,
that tugged you tether
as a siren, sure but absent
of threat. She said, “return, boy,”
and you do often in ritual.
You take me with you some
days, in palms giving, in lit candles,
in the scent of your upper lip traced
Original skyscrapers / by MMThompson
Perpetual cloud combers,
Survivors of cold winters,
Providers of shade shelters.
Promoters of seasons,
Collectors of sun.
Original skyscrapers a
16. / by Viviane Vives
I hold my crystal and my ring in the palm of my hand, over my heart. I’ve cried so much I no longer feel my belly, my legs, my mouth, my eyelids.
The world is dark gray. My gaze low, my hair dirty, my belly empty. Candle drops spread over the stone wall, dull and worn, cold, with rigor mortis, the candles in the window that did not bring you, the messenger tree that did not find you.
The sky falls over the house, the world comes undone over the new roof. Everything is what has not been these months, what will not be. Rushing down the canyon, under the cold wind.
The morning’s winter dew and the singing cardinal in the bush, with his being so deeply red, will they survive the loss of our bellies separated from each other? There is a space in the wind that does not know how to part from you, yet it must.
The sea drops over my head. I look like a crazy bird stupidly floating up and down the gray, cold, heartless waves. I will survive this even if I do not care. This is my silent and dark, my tenderness, and I didn’t know that loneliness can also be made of velvet.
The rain will stop, the heat will come, the storm will not leave a memory, I’ll scratch my own back, indolent, swaying on the hammock, over the garden, I’ll close my eyes, no longer think of you.
Before, you photographed schizophrenic neighbors, the terminally ill, and our dogs; now, her dogs, this fat bitch. I did not ask for much. I waited one day and another in my stone house with my heart in my hands. And you did not come. And that is that. There will not be dancing of water skyward. No abandonment. There will not be.
Faltabas. No matter, Los Angeles swallowed you yesterday, me, twenty years ago. Crazy black hole, sanatorium for ten million people. You were the last loco to arrive. You hit your head, you tell me. Erased The Most Important Thing.
I talk to people at the bar. I’m not really me, swallowed by “Los Angueles,” it ate half of me then, today you ate the rest, only my shadow remains. My shadow is dying, drinks Argentinian wine, watches Barça finally lose. My shadow twirls on the bar stool, smiles, tells stories to unsuspecting couples. My shadow vomits on the sidewalk, then goes get my son.
My shadow sleeps in my bed, doesn’t think about anything. Frightened by the storm, my dog climbs in with me, he is surprised to not find me, my dog does not like my shadow. The storm moves away. I’m going to pee and sleep. I’ll swaddle my shadow, a night without dreams, no sound but the storm that leaves.
My shadow and I can’t sleep, we walk, give me a stick, to Santiago’s path; the road Michelle took carrying her dead child, John his dead Narda, on their backs. I carry you dead, a fluttering moth tangled in my eyelashes.
Dirty kid. It was your smile that dirtied everything. Not even this crazy rain cleans. Filthy world, we will not paint it with our bodies, we can’t keep up. I want to keep up.
You wear a silver ring on your finger. I take off mine, marry my shadow. On my finger, a deep hole, an ugly twisted vein. All will pass. Old age accelerating. I, floating.
To Read Our January 2019 Poets’ First 15 Days of Poetry, Click Here!