Friday, September 17, 2010

CombatWords for September 17, 2010: Atonement

CombatWords for September 17, 2010: Atonement

Is there such a thing as genuine atonement? Can one truly apologize, unless God's involved? Must there be a cosmic arbiter to verify that the scales have been equalized and the transgression undone? Must the wronged party accept atonement if the transgressor is to atone? Some people are bitter and don't forgive, but does that matter if the wrongdoing serves as catalyst for greater acts of love and kindness by the transgressor? Or is karma bunk? Do the cavemen have it right? Never apologize, never explain?

Combat Expiration: Midnight PST; Sunday, September 19, 2010

Critique Expiration: Midnight PST; Monday, September 20, 2010

Bonuses: 7pm PST, 9/17/2010: +3, 11pm PST, 9/17/2010: +2, 3am PST, 9/18/2010: +1

Penalties: 4am PST, 9/19/2010: -1; 8am PST, 9/19/2010: -2

Prize: Winner gets to select next week's topic.

The Rules:

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  1. We Tell Lies

    She told me that she wanted love
    stricken from my poetic lexicon;
    it is a lie after all
    but then again poets are liars.
    Dreamers that distill language
    down to its purest form,
    in a vain effort
    to sip 90 proof metaphors
    for truth and passion.

    I used to write love notes
    on the fogged mirror
    of her bathroom
    on my way out in the morning.
    She would sing
    full throat in the shower,
    sweet songs of joy and hope
    that stuck in my head
    as I walked out the door.
    I suppose the singing stopped
    when she finally realized I was gone.

    She asked me if any of it was true
    and I looked past her
    and nodded platitudes,
    one more lie couldn’t hurt.
    “I’m sorry I hurt you”
    fell to the floor with her tears
    as I composed a new love note in my head.

  2. This is my favorite poem of yours to date SMG. Very slick.

  3. Excellent, I dig it. The form moves from a metaphysical commentary to a personal revelation and I think it demonstrates quite effectively that the narrator may have been a bit too self-involved for that relationship to work. Am I an asshole if I feel like I connected with this? :)

  4. If right and wrong are subjective
    is an apology ever a lie?

    There are twisted reflections in a drinking glass
    sitting dirty upon the oak kitchen table,
    mere feet from the steel sink
    that could wash it clean.

    There's a conversation for two overheard by the neighbors
    who pretend to tend gardens though doors slam and tires screech.
    Next, window shades fall throughout the newly silent house
    until screaming becomes audible from outside
    as flowers are planted where flowers once died.

    Penance in a motel near a liquor store
    and a 5 AM phone call through cracked voices.
    Let's make a bet; who will back down first?

    A hug with flowers and a kiss, "I missed you..."
    Until life is unbalanced again.
    I'll keep tending to my garden.

  5. In Search of the Night Jew

    “Someday the Jew will be known as a sandwich,”
    Graveyards await the messiah, my friend.
    Maybe he came, but nobody could greet him.
    Even more likely, they caught him and jailed
    Prince of the peace everlasting. “Extinction's
    Fine,” you had told me, “first, let me die.” You were
    Always precocious: arrested and murdered
    Ages ago, while my Jewish remains
    Thrust near the limit, through starlight—I'm searching,
    Always at night, for survivors, Minyan's
    Not at all possible. Noah the Night Jew
    Rides through the cosmos as well, I am sure
    Someday we'll meet and confess what we've witnessed:
    Nuclear explosions and atheist sorrow.

  6. That's heavy. I wish my knowledge of history could enhance this (I know very little of history). Still, I get a very dark, apocalyptic sense from this poem, as if asking if atonement can ever be achieved for history's most dire atrocity. Very good last line, the plosives on the C and P followed by the sibilance of the end of the line. Very emphatic when spoken.


    When the alley you pass every day
    has already become
    a balding testament to the fact
    that you are not broken
    on the inside
    When the lone candy wrapper
    bathing in colorless autumn light is
    crumpled just right on the kitchen
    table; when the last
    string of steam has curled from the cup
    carelessly left on the floor next
    to the yellow sofa,
    when all of this happens, and you stand up
    and say:

    'We were determined, but so naive,
    we were proud of being young, our
    (here you will pause dramatically)
    existed to be used, we didn't know
    what we know now'.... and so on

    When you say this, I will stand up
    and agree
    that we had something going
    that the eternal question of
    who was fucking who
    and that I'm incredibly goddamn
    fucking sorry that I wasn't the attentive
    friend you needed on saturday mornings,
    that yes, I apologize about the car or
    the dress or the dog or whatever
    and that I miss your cunt

  8. The Dentist’s Lament

    Hello dear brother,
    by your silence, I gather
    that you still persist in clinging to this grudge.
    I know you think I drove our mother to her stroke
    when I got busted for possession of cocaine.
    I don’t deny that she collapsed
    when she heard I lost the practice,
    but you really must believe me when I say I’m not to blame.
    My old ex-patients still say I was the best,
    that they barely felt a thing when I would drill a cavity,
    that root canals would hardly even register
    and not just on account of the high levels
    of novocaine I administered,
    but because my touch was so delicate
    in regards to all things dental.
    I do admit however that it may seem that whenever
    I applied myself to matters more familial
    I had a tendency to fumble, found my efforts to connect
    a touch ham-fisted rather than gentle,
    and thus I dedicated myself to meditating
    upon my mistakes, among them
    my predilection to self-medicate.
    True, I could have visited the home
    more than once or twice.
    But no matter how much I apologize,
    you refuse to recognize
    my genuine contrition. You criticize me
    for my neglect, ignore the sincerity of my penitence.
    How long will you continue to eulogize the crone?
    She’s long gone, nothing but a box of bones.
    And besides, have you forgotten who sprung for the stone?
    Beneath that lid I’m sure her skull retains
    that chipped and yellowed grin.
    But I give up trying to extract even a shred
    of sympathy from you, bound as you are in your shroud
    of petulance and grief.
    I’m through trying to convince you of my innocence.
    It’s worse than pulling teeth.

  9. Atonement

    For the ripe sun
    that sears the cornflower
    sky, for the gray cat
    on the sidewalk, leg lifted,
    pink tongue that washes
    its white tufted thigh, for
    each tiny petal clustered and hung
    like grapes on the pale green
    wisteria vine, for the musk
    of motor oil burning outside
    this walled garden,
    for the shade of the porch,
    the breeze, cool water,
    ham sandwich with the crusts
    carefully removed,
    I have done nothing, nothing
    to deserve this day
    or any other,
    how many prayers must I say
    to atone for this bounty,
    bless me father for I have sinned
    and sinned and sinned

  10. @Steven M Grant:
    Love notes in fog: +1
    90 proof metaphors: +1

    Last line fell flat: -1

    Misc: Great imagery. Needs to go farther than it does imo.

    +2 -1 = +1

  11. Pro:
    “as flowers are planted where flowers once died.” +1
    “Penance in a motel near a liquor store
    and a 5 AM phone call through cracked voices.
    Let's make a bet; who will back down first? “ +1

    Doesn't need first stanza: -1
    Ending stanza is too pat: -1

    Misc: This one's streaked w/ bold moves & serious flaws. I think a revision will produce a good poem. The trick imo is to go one step beyond what everybody else is thinking. Drag that reader one step beyond where their instincts expect it to go & plunge your knife in their heart. Then this will be killer.

    +2 -2 = 0

  12. @forpuck:

    Stanza 1: +1
    Stanza 2: +1
    Arc of thought & syntax as one sentence: +1

    Wrong note to finish with; should reverse the order of the last 6 lines. I think there's more punch that way. -1

    Misc: Missing a semicolon on line 5.

    +3 -1 = +2

  13. @rtoady:

    Tooth metaphors: +1
    Cadence is effectively used to add heft to important lines: +1
    Clear, linear narrative. The tone is anesthetic and the narrator drills into his brother. +1


    Misc: Maybe it could use some tightening, but I didn't see any flaws. My doubts vanished on the last line. Good mimesis.

    +3 – 0 = +3

  14. @Valerie

    I loved the way the details moved the poem into a self-indictment. +1
    Excellent imagery: +1
    The first 15 lines are really beautiful. You were in the zone. +1

    The turn is effective, but pat. Can't you use an object to turn the narrative perspective, just as you used them to build up to a point of guilt? -1

    Misc: Resolve your turn and this will be truly epic, rather than thwarted epic.

    +3 -1 = +2

  15. Let me say this right now and get it off my chest; Blogger's set up, with just one ongoing thread, makes commenting on individual pieces a royal pain in the fucking ass.

    @SMG: This poem feels like each of the three stanzas is a separate poem, the first of which is kind of promising, the second of which I absolutely love, and the third of which I'm not crazy about. I would consider dropping the first stanza despite its potential -how many more of these navel-gazing New Yorkeresque poems about poems do we really need, anyhow?- as well as the useless last stanza, and concentrate on the second, which, while it doesn't feel complete to me yet, is great as it stands. I think you just need to add a few more lines; or perhaps even another stanza continuing that train of thought in some way; I'm not sure how, you can figure it out yourself.

    First 2 lines: utter cheese. -1
    2nd stanza:
    fogged mirror etc +1
    very good narrative movement +1
    sincere-feeling emotional core +1
    3rd stanza:
    rushed feeling, complete mess -1

    Final score +1

    Love to see you rework this one.

  16. @Ruterger

    The narrative is a little choppy but actually serves to make what could be a cliched story more interesting. Overall I liked it though you blow it with the last line; the sentiment is fine but you need to word it better than this; inserting yourself suddenly into this narrative about these two people is too jarring.

    Drop the first stanza; doesn't work at all -1
    2nd stanza, very good as it stands +1
    "Penance in a motel near a liquor store" good, you infer just enough, very economically +1
    "5AM phone call through cracked voices" Is through the word you want here? It's confusing. -1
    Last line really needs work. -1

    Overall -1. Not bad, worth working on.

  17. @forpuck

    I keep going back and forth about how I feel about the end of this; maybe that's a good thing. I love the first stanza, great imagery, and feel the ending of the poem kind degenerates into an obvious joke, cheapening all that gorgeous squalor that came before it. Thinking about it, I think it might just be as simple as I don't think ending it with the word "cunt" works, soundwise or ideawise. It feels like you're trying too hard to shock, and you don't need to, the rambling energy that precedes it builds to a nice crescendo as it stands, and then you just deflate it with that one word. Maybe that's what you meant to do, but it reads as a lame cop-out to me, esp. because much of the rest of the poem works so well (with the exception of the 2nd stanza, where the sarcasm gets too heavy-handed. Though that's perhaps ok, since in general this is an ugly, mean-spirited piece. I don't intend that to be criticism, it's just the tone of the piece).

    Overall enjoyed +1
    candy wrapper/rising steam lines; lovely +2
    overly obvious sarcasm of 2nd stanza (we get it already) -1
    Great momentum of last stanza +1
    cunt; too jokey feeling of an end -1

    Score +2. Like I said, it's a mean little piece, but interesting. Tweak the ending and you're gold.

  18. @KW I'm assuming when I order a Jew on rye at Rose's Deli someday, there's going to be some fucking pastrami involved in there somewhere.
    Line made me laugh, anyways. +1
    Overall liked, very solid as usual +1
    Last line is terrible; the rhythm is all off, sounds like you rushed it. For shame. -1

    What is it with all the botched last lines here today? Of course, I'm a fine one to talk, ending with a lame punch line as I did. Good thing this isn't vaudeville; someone would give me the hook.


  19. @vv

    Lots of sandwiches here today too.

    I'm sure I could find something wrong with this if I tried hard; maybe all the sinneds at the end are a little much, but I don't really think so. All in all an excellent little poem, saved from any possible triteness by the great execution.

    Liked +1
    Attention to detail and color +2
    Risking (and overcoming) sentimentality in the interest in uncovering the actual emotion hidden beneath it +1

    A little gem. Kind of pisses me off, now that I think about it.

  20. Toady, you're right w/ the botched line, but I had 2 minutes left to post. Decided to risk it & get that extra clock bonus.

  21. @rToady and Khakjaan, After re-reading my stuff on the plane, I do agree that the end was off and that the word cunt is too heavy handed. I wanted to end on an obviously non-apologetic note, and I wrote quickly, but I've reworked it. I'll publish the modified version on the blog tomorrow (as I don't think that people re-publish edits in comments here). when it comes to the second stanza, that was (and you may be right that it doesn't work that well), fully intentional, with the overly heavy-handed sarcasm. It's a trap and I fell for it I guess. Thank you for the feedback!

  22. @forpuck well, that's the purpose of this game. The haste makes it exciting and gives us something to edit later.

    @toady I'll see if there's a way to use a different comment program, because I agree; the thread non-spooling sucks.

  23. @SMG, good work as usual but I feel like the first stanza isn't essential. The rest stands alone well.

    love notes on the fogged mirror, +1
    full throat, +1
    last stanza weaker than previous, -1

    Total +2

  24. @Ruterger, some good images. Think you can lose the first stanza and the rest does well enough on its own. I also think you could get rid of the narrative elements that give it continuity, let the reader deduce that, no need for sign posts. Just present the images. Good start.

  25. @KW, I feel insufficient to critique this one. All I can add is that I think you're killing yourself with meter here. You're like The Master from Doctor Who, with the incessant drumbeat in your head. :-P

  26. @forpuck, liked the images and agree about that last word maybe being overkill. The sentiment is appropriate, though, and I think you build up to it well enough.

  27. @toady, I have decided to dislike that last line after all. Maybe call the poem "Pulling Teeth" instead and stop being so stinking cute. I think you can probably prune this down a bit and have something better but as is, it's in good shape.