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 April 2020 are A. Anupama, Judith Berger, Lael Cassidy, Anthony Cicchino, Merrill Cole, Kathryne Gargano, Hannah Maggiora, Darby Price, Jen Town, and Riley Welch. 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!
Poem 2 / Day 2
Disinformation / by A. Anupama
From which birds have we
learned to speak?
Not from the parrot, which teaches us
sweetness of fruit
The word comes only when
we grip the branch.
The word is a bell
rung by a lovebird
in a cage.
I wanted to sing so I practiced
not a feather.
Have we written a song that means
I now pronounce you
a protected forest
to have and to hold
or a tweet that will turn our minds
Have we spoken like
a bird bearing its eyes on its tail?
Mendacious publication of
a guise for love in the whirring,
sows discord in the beak.
Will you help me discern
the new bird, the wild
wheeling raptor at noon?
Big Bird has an imaginary
Golden feathers deepen their color
in the desire season.
I learned to recognize propaganda and fake satire
from dragons pretending to be birds,
how about you?
I’m still trying to speak with you and give
the necessary evidence.
Weigh these words on a scale.
It spins like a busy bird feeder.
I’m your non-imaginary friend when
we speak our rooted language instead of these
Verify these words against the context:
a brook spilling non sequiturs
where the deer run.
*(borrowed phrases from webinar “Knowing the News: Media Literacy in the Age of COVID-19,” PEN America, 4/1/2020)
FOR THE TIMES / by Judith Berger
When the future lives behind you
it falls to the old ones to thwart winter.
Back in, Back in, the hags sweep,
brooms ticking in unison.
Each step backward ushers the cold
home to the mountain.
Whirlwinds of dust turn the elders to salt.
Field onions are restless.
Uneasy in pink, magnolias open
early and hard, worried the crows
will find and devour their children
before they ever fall to ground.
When the past is before you,
you are born with all the eggs
you need. The double purse of seeds
hangs snug inside your body.
Companioned by a cloud of birds,
you can safely ride the hedgerows
at twilight, and no horseman
will catch up.
The day will come when you’ll be old enough
to own and love the bloody moon,
the metal tang that spills like clockwork
through your hands.
And when you’re bold enough
to strike and split your nest of dreams
the oval shell will crack.
Damp and wrinkled words
will peck their way into your life,
eager to have their say.
Forth! Forth! they will croak,
voices raspy from the long silence.
And it will be up to you,
It will be up to you.
02 / by Lael Cassidy
since losing everything
I work to breathe
no impulse for inhale
the muscles of the rib cage
that would lift this mass of bones
the work is strenuous
and requiring of concentration
I must rally them
to get momentum
to load this machine with enough
oxygen to make optimism
so much oxygen
is required for that
Sweets and Other Heavy Foods / by Anthony Cicchino
We wait all year for this, the carnival
Let’s go! Don’t forget your wallet! Wear your comfy shoes!
But let’s discuss what makes it worth the wait
More waiting? Let’s go! We’ve been waiting all year!
The excitement? Ecstatic energy exposed? No, not quite . . .
What is it, then?
The lights? Lucid, ludicrous landscapes? Not for me . . .
Then what? Let’s go!
The personas? Pulsing, passionate people? Almost . . .
The indulgence? In food – yes! There it is!
The sweets of the carnival make it worth the wait.
Let’s go and get some.
Popcorn presents to me the dreams I’ve had to launch
In yellow-starred buckets, butter-stained, coming down
Funnel cakes spiral with sugar crystals
Reminiscent of morning dew
Corn dogs, battered up,
Take your pick of dip!
These foods and more allowing me to:
take solace in the smell
ritualize the taste
Overwhelm my senses
hear and feel the crunch
That these foods
Escape the presence of the carnival of my mind
Excuse me, sir, would you be so kind,
to wait for your food at the side of the booth?
You Don’t Refuse to Breathe / by Merrill Cole
I’m looking at this new plague and I’m thinking
about David Wojnarowicz and how in the last plague
it mattered so much to be queer and the pathos
of your family hating you and the pathos
that the government was always happy to let you die
but how in this plague though the marginalized
will surely suffer the most it won’t be
a gay thing and it won’t be about my identity
and whoever dies might not be your secret lover but
your grandpa or great-grandmother or that snotty kid
who always looked at you funny when you walked
down the street yeah it got him too though
it wasn’t supposed to but it did and it wasn’t
supposed to bring people together but people
are trying so hard on video conference crappy Zoom
or whatever but that’s not being together that’s a more
exquisite sense of your own isolation and how you can’t
march on the street like you did thirty years ago
and didn’t that feel good although people
were still dying and yeah they’re going to die again and
soon and I think about the Black Death and how the one
who was singing in the morning would manifest
foul pustules in the afternoon and be dead by nightfall
but no novel coronavirus doesn’t work that way
you could kill twenty people before you have a clue
that something might be wrong and yeah
in that way it’s like HIV but there’s no part of this
quarantine this holding back that could in any way
be related to fun it’s like Frank O’Hara said
you don’t refuse to breathe do you
in the wing of french paintings a little girl imagines a great love affair / by Kathryne Gargano
after Louis Le Nain’s Allégorie de la Victoire (1635)
beneath her left breast, a portrait of the holy
family / hung over the fireplace of a patron
until she became a widow & her husband,
no longer a shadow in the cavernous room,
no longer counting the rosary in a wing-
backed chair, cannot complain—this will be
a self portrait, victory over the garden / over
intrigue or perhaps she simply desires to see
herself, eyes soft over the body of another
woman, without despair—
Windsong / by Hannah Maggiora
(After listening to Armando Garcia Davila
read his poem “The Great Wind”)
the great wind
large river of separation
alba there are no words
no tomorrow for tomorrow
only the present
No one knocks on the door
sonata of moonlight
my bed tonight will be warmed by
my body only
listen to me escuchame
take my hand
simply and quietly listen to me
conviction of security
if I could
in our language
ancestors known to the wind
In the Scrape / by Darby Price
In a kitchen in the country,
a woman sets down her mug.
Nothing else on the counter
but questions. Nothing in the air
but the silence
of six children trying
not to worry her.
At her husband’s
grave, she laid a fistful
of asters beneath his name
and touched her fingers
to her chest. She thinks
about so little now
she isn’t sure it’s grief.
She’s thinking what to do when
in the yard outside, a killdeer
starts to cry. The woman watches
as she drags a wing akimbo.
She knows that somewhere
in the tall grass, the chicks
have learned that silence
is a shield. How love means
drawing the vicious world
toward you. The woman
picks up her mug. Listens
for the creak of tiny feet
on the wooden floor upstairs.
The News is Grim / by Jen Town
As in dire
and not as in fairy tale—though,
mulling it over,
it might as well be
the story of a journey
that ends in a beheading
or the death of a witch
or becoming the flotsam
washed away by a wave.
So many different way to end
and the ending is always the same.
Let’s put the girl in her red cloak
in a shoe box turned on its side
and let’s assemble a woods
around her. Make it a forest.
It grows until she’s a splash of red
like a drop of blood
on the forest floor. She’s
a shadow hunted by a shadow.
She doesn’t know it yet—
to her this is just a walk
that ends in lunch. Meanwhile
the forest learns to loom—
it shoots up out of the box.
It eats the room around it.
It eats your house in which
you are reading this.
It is all you can see.
The girl is gone. The shadow
of the wolf is gone.
The whole world is looming.
A loom is an instrument to join
can’t take on weaving and all
that signifies. To add one thread
is to add a universe of stories.
But now you are gone and I am gone
and what’s left is the trees
so thick they cut off the light
to the floor, which is now ground—
a bed of soft
needles where once the wolf
curled up to sleep.
Open Ended Questions / by Riley Welch
The color of the asphalt dampened from grey to black,
as it does when it rains
or when someone spills their open beer off the sidewalk.
There are few things I can see from the window.
We have no patio, and I often regret this.
We did try to get one,
but we were beat by another couple.
They submitted their application from states away, having never seen the apartment.
I submitted mine from Texas,
but I was only vacationing.
The empty apartment seemed so small,
but filled with my things it feels bigger. Which surprises me.
I am often surprised I am allowed to live places.
Surprised that I have, in fact, created a life for myself.
Surprised that sometimes, when I pull the cast iron out of the oven,
I forget that its handle will be hot.
Poem 1 / Day 1
Seven golden trees / by A. Anupama
She says she already knows what prank she will play,
as a black cat sneaks out from under the heart.
It runs out the back door to the hillside.
We follow. Our own speech and thought
are already quick as the wind and could keep up,
but we want to be surprised.
Quick scramble up the basaltic crown
and then we see our memories sorted into two hills:
one to keep and one to rewrite.
curling past the mind’s point.
Only some of home is left
says her friend who has been packing
to move to a new house while everyone
shelters in place. They gaze at the village from the summit,
naming the families they know by tracing the streets by heart,
their eyes moving in straight lines across the landscape.
Only some of the river is left
because of abrading ocean tongue,
confused cloud-face, and moon memory
interfering, playing their own pranks.
Will you look forward to how-about-never,
and look back to where we left the treeline.
Look back to where your mother is following
at a distance from which everything looks like a prank.
Look to the roofs where those who are sheltering in place
cannot travel to attend beloveds’ funerals.
Shortcut, look to our hearts.
She switched the labels
so that we have taken the wrong treats.
And now that we have touched
we cannot trade.
The valley in its magnolia bangles, forsythia anklets,
dances in place.
WILD TWIN / by Judith Berger
I didn’t wish to become
a stranger to myself.
But suddenly I was hungry
and the need to know
what the oak had witnessed,
to learn how to be
lit up from inside.
There was no help for it.
I covered the mirrors,
thrust my knife in the dirt
and hid the door-key
under the philodendron.
For days I wandered
amongst poles of scraggy bark,
warmed myself in hollows
thick with matted leaves
till all my hair was untrimmed,
curls twisted like a hibernaculum
My thoughts grew long,
longer, and finally dropped
their blooms. Leafless
but not loveless,
I knew again the pelt of me,
stopped stopping me.
I became brown
and full of my ancestors’
faces, their feelings wet
upon my cheeks,
their dreams hard
on the anvil of my brow.
Then came time
to leave the antler bones
behind, to let the forest
swallow my libations.
I did take home
those whispered conversations
between myself and the wind,
the wind and the fox,
the fox and the butterfly,
the butterfly and my ancestors.
And just this morning
the nectar of their hopes
dropped onto the wide horizon
of my tongue, still sweet,
adrift / by Lael Cassidy
we are adrift
on the sea
there is only
the random wake
that pushes and pulls
and the clang of the bell
high on the mast
in the rain
it doesn’t matter
where we are
we just wait
for the random day
when we can moor
who can see land?
the distance is
all the time
it’s so much more
than six feet
Setting the Stage for Nostalgia / by Anthony Cicchino
The carnival, the broken lights, the darkness of it all
How painful, vile, and deadening – how great it was – the fall
The booths are empty, the stages cleared, the silence it surrounds
As I attempt to revive this memory, and alley-way between two towns
A cyclone of oblivion – a concoction of bitter regret –
I drink it daily in my nostalgia, a way to pay my debt
To you, and the carnival, teaching suffering and love
A vision of a raven now, but once it was a dove
Suddenly I remember; suddenly I see the eyes
The memory has been granted like a festival-won prize
An empty field I stand in, one that once was filled with tents
Then: feathers, rides, and food and fun; Now: grass and rocks and fence
This carnival, the flashing lights the magic of it all
How pure and calm and perfect – how great before the fall
Remembrance begins creeping back as ivy on a wall
Let us go relive this memory: let us walk before we crawl
Fish Magic / by Merrill Cole
after Paul Klee
A little clown in the corner
rolls the ocean out. I am green
and the fish swim through me, alongside
a bouquet that seems thrown to no one.
The fish don’t acknowledge me, but you
see the clock suspended underwater,
my hand tethered to my torso,
waving at you like a pink balloon
on a black string, my two faces
also tied together, three eyes in all,
watching everything. My femme lips
blow another pink balloon,
the butch face smiling more sedately.
Soon, a few flowers begin swimming
around the fish, up to you,
moons and planets in the mix, or are they
bouncy ball red, sun yellow, blue balloons
set free? Maybe at the surface, maybe
on the bottom, a knife stands upright
like an excitement of sea grass.
The fish float by unimpressed,
while strings hook the clock
to the blade, and the clown points out
the flower vase is an hourglass
emptying into right now.
once upon a time a little girl discovers a mermaid in the basement of the world’s last museum / by Kathryne Gargano
in the world’s last museum, roots break through the floor / branches wind around the waists
of marble statues & crisp red leaves canopy the front desk, where a woman used to sit & type &
smile at visitors / this way to the impressionists / that way to the landscapes & horses / down
the stairs & hang a left to find the restrooms / the photographs / a locked door. / birds make nests
in the suspended bones of a blue whale & little raccoon families choose the renaissance wing
as their home / dragging trash & ancient fabrics into their den / the hole in the ceiling drips a pond
at the base of their tree & moss patches the ground, little mushrooms, little weeds / the little girl
creeps around the foliage & fallen trunks / watchful / for the security guard / as she makes her way
toward the service elevator where she will descend to the basement / and in the dark will fumble
for the light switch / in a musty silent room where no things grow & only a flicker of artificial light
remains / a crackling / blinking / eyes in the dim glow like phosphorous & the little girl will draw
closer & closer still & a hand will touch the glass & a hand will touch the inside
of the glass / bubbles rising as they breathe together / creature & girl / girl & creature—
Corona Virus / by Hannah Maggiora
Resolved: refuse to buckle ‘neath fear’s shadow
Each square of TP = currency
People practice or don’t social distancing
Uncertainty echoes in community-craving vacuum
Reason #2 to isolate: remember God in the quiet of your own breath
Pandemic 1, People 0 ( still in rain delay)
Our penchant, our doom, framed as frazzled numbed living
Spanish Olympic-sized ice rink now a morgue
Everyone is everyone in one way or another
Gathering Place / by Darby Price
You prided yourself once on the way you could slip
through a crowd, exploiting slim spaces between slow-moving
bodies, a fistful of bottles held high.
Sometimes, a fizzling sparkler surprised the revelers aside
but mostly it was you, whipping up the Grand Staircase
in heeled boots, dodging around and through
with a bottle of Dom or Veuve or the gilded Ace of Spades
(which looks cheap when it warms, though you never
said so aloud). People then were an obstacle
to outmanuever. A nuisance. Now, in a body less nimble,
with knees that creak in protest, you think about crowds
with something like nostalgia, or grief.
At midnight, you stare from your window
and count how long it’s been
since the bars emptied out and the songs
of that many-celled organism drifted up to greet you.
You think of other crowds, too: the seventh
inning stretch. The encore applause.
The long wait in a nearly impossible line.
Children dolled up for the holidays in a park
dolled up for the holidays, their faces lit
with Who could have dreamed all this wonder?
How little you appreciated it before now,
that sea you once moved through with ease.
Now, you count the curtained lights of living rooms
that stretch along your block.
You wonder what they’re doing in there. If, like you,
they dream of the sea-roar of voices,
the heat of many shoulders pressed together,
the unfathomable glow of all those strangers’ faces.
Treasure / by Jen Town
I look everywhere but at the items scattered
all over the coffee table, the bookcase,
complacencies of the living room,
let’s call it. Let everything idle.
Let everything sink into itself,
half asleep. The air is asleep around me.
I’m asleep. I’m waiting for
the girl in the story who rides in
and wakes up all the objects
with her touch. It’s a love story
minus the prince, let’s say.
It’s a love story about a girl
and her possessions. She falls for
a dutch oven, a notebook,
a throw pillow that despite
its utter uselessness sings with color
against the burnt umber of the vinyl couch.
In the corner the dog sleeps
in her crate but not soundly, never soundly.
Call her name and one eye creaks open.
She can’t sleep through the construction
across the street—a new roof over
an old roof, piles of shingles that collect
on the sidewalk. The house has a hum—
what is it? Silence, in my experience,
is not the absence of noise.
It’s Morningtime / by Riley Welch
There’s a small mountain breeze that’s escaping from the outside to the inside,
through the cracked window by my dining table.
Envious of this free movement,
I want to close the window, but I do not.
I got a bit of wet coffee ground on the side of my pinky when I got the french press out this morning.
I hate when it’s put away dirty, but I was the last to use it.
I feel unable to take the blame for it today,
even though it can only be mine.
The mountain breeze oscillates between cool and warm–
it’s how I know it’s spring.
Some years I think it will never choose summer,
but somehow it always does.
I would love to always be so sure.