PAD day 3: “The Problem with Easter” (+ notes on process)

It’s not a trend that will continue, but the comment counts at Poetic Asides have been lower each day as I get around to posting there: on day 1, my comment was somewhere in the 860s; yesterday it was in the 300s; and today I’m in the 180s.

Mind, if I was smart and patient, I’d wait until later in the day (or even a day or two) to post these, since I invariably find small improvements to make a few hours later. However, I think part of what’s uncorked my March-dormant mojo (more on that at my own blog, in a bit) is making a point of making this a less-pressure exercise: because I’m acknowledging online that these are day-of drafts, and because I’m letting myself be okay with spending not too much time on them before moving on (I’m allocating to myself just thirty minutes on them, with the option to indulge in more only if the spirit so moves), and because the prompts (and, today, the title) are set by someone else, the “must make this as good as everything everyone’s read before by me” demon has slunk back to its swamp for the time being.

The downside, of course, is that posting them online disqualifies them from most paying markets, so to get more circulation for them, I’ll have to get serious at some point about compiling a manuscript (something that stopped being a near-future goal several years ago). However, saying even that is definitely putting the hansom ahead of the horses – let’s first see how many more of the challenges I manage to rise to.

Here’s today’s effort (already with two edits since the initial posting). The prompt was to title a poem with “The Problem with _______” and then write it:

The Problem with Easter

Five years ago, Vera mourned aloud,
“How hard can it be to find a hot cross bun?”
She’d scoured the local supermarkets, and
the only ones she’d found resembled
spongy cardboard with shriveled raisins.
The bakeries here require advance orders,
plus they charge more than she wanted to pay.
“Story of our lives,” Milton said. “You’d think
we’d know by now that what’s worth wanting
is going to cost more than what’s easy to get.”
Most of the time, I think of myself
as a pretty smart cookie, but this morning
as I pushed open the door to Marché,
I suddenly remembered my father’s birthday
is just six days away. This year
he would have become sixty-eight. Such days
were not a big deal in my family, nor
were any other holidays, and I doubt
he ever tasted a hot cross bun during his life,
and I doubt even more that he truly believed
in eternal life, deathbed conversion be damned.
It gave my aunt comfort, but it made my mom mad
enough to complain, “Too much Bible!”
as I tried to arrange a service to serve
the memory of who he’d wanted to be.
Mom never forgave me for wasting good money
on the pointlessness of a funeral. Two Sundays
before she died, she made me promise
I wouldn’t run obituaries or accept memorials –
vows I knew I would break as I made them.
When I was a girl, I adored the antique tales
of love and truth transcending all odds:
The hero doesn’t stab to death the dragon
housing the heart of his cursed true love.
The beauty twines her arms around the beast.
The harp avenges the silenced sister. I still
believe in a “happy ever after” of sorts, but one
that is stained and crumpled and patched
with the scraps of ill-colored sails. My altar
is the table at which we gather round
to knead today’s bread so that it may rise,
the only multiplication my fingers can clasp.

Part of how Mary and I became blog-friends years ago was our mutual interest in the nitty-gritty of making stuff, and it seems to interest some of my other readers as well, so here’s the DVD extra on how this poem got to its current state:

–> I peeked at the prompt first thing this morning after checking my e-mail and scanned some of the comments already posted. (This was useful, as it instantly eliminated some of the options I might have otherwise considered.) Pondered variations such as “the problem with love,” “the problem with holidays,” “the problem with babies,” “the problem with kittens,” “the problem with manga,” etc., as I drove the dog to Miss Kitty’s (a local groomer — I don’t know what Abby rolled in two days ago, but it was foul, and some of it hardened in her fur, and there’s a point where it just becomes more prudent to let the pros deal with it).

–> Took a wrong exit on my way to something else, and realized I’d forgotten a bunch of other things at home, and my body was giving me some strong “need protein NOW” signals, so I decided to stop at Marche for breakfast.

–> Noticed a sign on one of the windows listing a couple of April dates, which unexpectedly jolted me into thinking, “Oh, April 9 is in just a few days.”

–> Ordered a latte and corned beef hash, scanned a newspaper, and then opened my planner to organize my thoughts:

From things that make me happy

[Click the image to view it up close.]

–> Realized where the poem was heading. Took out my laptop and started a Word document.

–> Typed through the latte and hash. Wasn’t done when the waiter brought the check, so I ordered a slice of chocolate-blood orange strata and kept going.

–> Finished the poem halfway through the strata (as the waiter warned, it was really rich, so it made for slow eating. Marché tends to be impossibly crowded during weekends, so it was startling to be able to linger there this morning — there was only one other table occupied when I first arrived). Started a “welcome back, mojo!” post for my personal blog.

For what it’s worth, the poem is more autobiography than not: “Vera” is a stand-in for a relative who did in fact lament the difficulty of finding hot cross buns some years ago (something I remembered recently, because my favorite bakery is offering them via special order this year. Said bakery is Jewish-owned — there’s a mezuzah at the entrance, and everything in the cases is dairy kosher, as far as I can tell — so yeah, the fact that I can get both hamentaschen and hot cross buns there is probably a poem I might write some other time). “Milton” is one of my alter egos. Everything after “Most of the time” is direct from life — and while I didn’t cast it in these specific words before breakfast today, it’s stuff that’s simmered within various levels of my consciousness for the better part of a decade — and, at times over the past month, boiling back into a furious boil, since I’ve had to relive it parts of it while organizing my parents’ papers for the estate tax returns.

Which is a long way of saying, sometimes what a prompt does is to kick a poem up out of the depths that had mined and tumbled it from a long ways back. (And that is a half-heated metaphor to cook into poetry some other day, so that’s enough from me here, for now.)

4 thoughts on “PAD day 3: “The Problem with Easter” (+ notes on process)

  1. I was going to ask you to please tell me more about the harp and the silenced sister because I hear a poem brewing (for me) in even those few words but then I realized that I hear a poem brewing and it should steep and tomorow I will write and see where it goes.

  2. I’m catching up on all our posts. I love this one. It’s so fun to see behind the scenes of poems, especially new ones. And I do love this poem, even though it’s made me crave hot cross buns!

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