Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | April 5, 2014

When Magic Leaves Our Lives

This poem is unlike anything I’ve ever written—before or since. The fables we loved as children disappear when maturity hits us.

                       Fables

Published in Elk River Review, Fall `91

“Pan, pan is dead.”

                             E.B. Browning

Had I not heard the dirge’s tune,

sung upon the death of Pan,

then I could hear a lilting flute

chasing through each April breeze.

Had I not seen the funeral bier,

topped with a silent shepherd’s pipe;

flashes of dogwood white I see,

while walking in dark pines at dusk,

-skirts of a laughing wood-nymph

running to a moonlight dance.

 

But I felt Earth’s grinding moan,

trembling through the Grecian Isles,

and knew Olympus’ deities,

-unhoused,

wandered in darkness as vagrants,

that night when Great Pan died.

 

My hand, I knew then, would never feel

the water-sleek tentative touch

of a Naiad’s brief and playful kiss,

as I dipped my arm in a haunted pool.

 

Sacred groves no longer stand:

storied oaks, once proud and strong,

where wood-nymphs danced and Dryads lived,

bow down their heads to the chainsaw song.

TD 4/91

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | March 29, 2014

For Vietnam Veterans’ Day

I wrote this in the time I was dealing with some painful memories. With this bit of poetry I began seriously writing.  Vietnam Veterans were still routinely dismissed with barely-concealed nastiness. The refrain, “Soldiers should not make their own monuments,” has its roots in the fact that, in fact, soldiers and their supporters paid for The Wall. In a way, that makes the memorial more faithful to its reason for being.

The Wall

 

For the Vietnam Veterans of America
I. Roll Call

Arrayed in perfect ranks and files,
row on row,
gleaming metal and polished black,
sharp straight edges cutting the wind,
they stand
in static silent formation.
Only their nameplates speak…
a voiceless babble of American families,
no other speaks, or spoke, for them.

Soldiers should not make their own monuments.

Away from this place of silence,
this place of unheard voices,
(where a limp flower hangs,
pushed into a crevice of the black stone),
the nation erected proper monuments of heroism:
sinewy white marble demigods with laurels;
or helmeted bronze men, thrusting a flagpole upright.

These recall brass band parades,
bright red roses, gleefully flung into city streets
beneath gleaming, triumphant boots; V-Day kisses, tears of victory, of joy;
these, …in memoriam…in appreciation… are proper.
These tell sufficient truth.

Soldiers should not make their own monuments.

II. Personnel Files

Teachers filled their childish ears
with the rattle of musketry,
— Valley Forge, San Juan Hill,
and, yes, Antietam, Gettysburg, Atlanta, they believed. Believed nostalgic fathers, wistful uncles;
— grand visions of Over the top… over there,
Pearl Harbor infamy:
steaming Sands of Iwo Jima, Okinawa’s steel typhoon;
—Inchon landings and The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
Victory, heroism, glory.
“Glory, glory, hallelujah…” they believed
in “Duty, honor, country,”
with the Faith of Our Fathers,

and on silver Paths of Glory,
blazed into thousands of sunsets;
-on insubstantial contrails,
Blowing in the Wind evaporating in the heat,
leaving no track home.

III. Separation

Believing, they went…
then losing belief,
fought
- or, just endured
and changed.
Some died, most returned;

many to the silent muster of this wall;
more to await honors
from fathers who could not hear,
and children who would not listen;
making their own hollow parades in shabby fatigues,
down almost-empty streets.

These have made their own monument,
a prostrate memorial in black stone.

Soldiers should not make their own monuments.

 

 

 

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | January 31, 2014

Poem to Commemorate Tet of 1968

 I’ve been away from the blog for a couple of weeks, but remembering Tet, forty-six years ago, brought me back.  I’ll be posting more frequently soon.

 

             VETERAN’S DAY

 

The windows of my winter room face south,

days move in cyclic patterns,

shadows and light,

against the distant wall.

 

First touches of late dawn

dimly light flowers on the wallpaper

past curved green steel

at the foot of my bed.

 

Large petals, once bright

as the floral pattern of Mother’s dress,

vivid in the black and white snapshot

that shows her smiling,

holding a child that once was me.

 

Tiny wildflowers I can see in midmorning,

illuminate spring-day memories in green light;

a lake of blue forget-me-nots

the patchwork quilt, our private island,

and afternoon–infinity.

 

Hard light of noon,

cold this late in the year,

brings out the stain,

(too far for me to touch again)

that seeped from inside and spread,

dark as old blood on a sidewalk

in Saigon’s Street of Flowers,

at Tet: The Year of the Monkey.

 

Long slanting light of winter evening,

(sliding quickly now, across the far wall)

glows red like nights of neon, there,

where slender black-haired girls

sold their flowers, wrapped in cheapest paper,

cut off in morning, shriveled by noon.

(I had not known roses could be garish;

gladiolus, tawdry.)

 

The open door sucks up terminal light,

as into a black hole

until night drops like a collapsing tent,

a phantom weight where my legs once lay.

 

Mercury vapor lamps outside glow blue;

like parachute flares that began with a pop

then hung and fell,

swinging in metronomic quiet,

provoking quick machinegun spatters,

-tracers burning like quick meteors

into awful silence-

and moving shadows of winter’s skinny limbs

bounce their wind-dancing mockery

across flat, empty blankets.

 

Still,

here,

only the cycling turn

spinning this vast wheel of darkness and light

touches me now

-since that hard, high flash:

truncating pain

that tied this shell as souls are tied,

over curving junctures of black and white,

yin and yang,

lying in detritus of yesterdays

-waiting with the rest for dawn.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | November 10, 2013

Poem for Veteran’s Day

This poem was written when a friend, Dr. Sue Walker, challenged me—in a phone conversation—to write a poem about wallpaper.

I imagined a disabled veteran lying in his bed watching the changing of light and progress of the seasons.  This is from the chapbook, Finding The Way Home. The title is Veteran’s Day.

 

The windows of my winter room face south,
days move in cyclic patterns,
shadows and light,
against the distant wall.

First touches of late dawn
dimly light flowers on the wallpaper
past curved green steel
at the foot of my bed.

Large petals, once bright
as the floral pattern of Mother’s dress,
vivid in the black and white snapshot
that shows her smiling,
holding a child that once was me.

Tiny wildflowers I can see in midmorning,
illuminate spring-day memories in green light;
a lake of blue forget-me-nots
the patchwork quilt, our private island,
and afternoon–infinity.

Hard light of noon,
cold this late in the year,
brings out the stain,
(too far for me to touch again)
that seeped from inside and spread,
dark as old blood on a sidewalk
in Saigon’s Street of Flowers,
at Tet: The Year of the Monkey.

Long slanting light of winter evening,
(sliding quickly now, across the far wall)
glows red like nights of neon, there,
where slender black-haired girls
sold their flowers, wrapped in cheapest paper,
cut off in morning, shriveled by noon.
(I had not known roses could be garish;
gladiolus, tawdry.)

The open door sucks up terminal light,
as into a black hole
until night drops like a collapsing tent,
a phantom weight where my legs once lay.

Mercury vapor lamps outside glow blue;
like parachute flares that began with a pop
then hung and fell,
swinging in metronomic quiet,
provoking quick machinegun spatters,
-tracers burning like quick meteors
into awful silence-
and moving shadows of winter’s skinny limbs
bounce their wind-dancing mockery
across flat, empty blankets.

Still,
here,
only the cycling turn
spinning this vast wheel of darkness and light
touches me now
-since that hard, high flash:
truncating pain
that tied this shell as souls are tied,
over curving junctures of black and white,
yin and yang,
lying in detritus of yesterdays
-waiting with the rest for dawn.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | November 2, 2013

Caution for Poets in Fall: Autumn Caveat

I posted this a year ago, but now that it’s November, here it is again:

Autumn Caveat

It’s mornings like this;
The stingy sun trying to hold back
Even the warmth of its reflection,
-Flashing cold fire In the lake.
When November leaves drop in sudden gusts,
Like a red and yellow flock of birds
Swooping at once to ground.
Or, even nights:
When winds reach wet hands
To take you spinning with random paper
Down back street gutters, under straining bridges
To clogged rivers.
It’s this:
The time of year, along with spring,
When poets must take care
Not to sing the same old songs
Stolen from tribal memory.

Thomas Rowe Drinkard

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | October 25, 2013

What is “Voice” in Fiction Writing

In a writers group, recently, the question arose about the definition of “voice” for a fiction writer.  The subject intrigued me, so I asked several writers/poets to give me their thoughts on the subject.  Here,  in alphabetical order—by author—are their thoughts.

“It is the style or the way if you will, someone writes.”
Marion Dollar, writer and newspaper columnist

“To me, voice is a signature. Word usage, the air inspired by your narrative. I’ve always looked at is as being comparable to style.”
J.M. Kelley, author of Daddy’s Girl and Almost Magic

“The Author’s voice is the overall effect of the tale, or series. After all, the author is God in the pages they write. They hold full control over the weather, lives, and what gets told.”
M.R. Mathais, award winning author of The Wardstone Trilogy

“In prose ‘voice’ is what the writer says as he comments, sets scenes, and describes his characters.  It is his own distinct fingerprint made up of vocabulary, word choice and emphasis, patterns of stopping and starting sentences.”
Sue Scalf, author of nine books of poetry, her latest book is Almost Home.

“Giving voice to a fictional narrator is an acquired skill that can be polished with intelligent practice.
Not so the author’s voice, which is expression of mind and soul. It develops, as the writer surrenders to his mandate, as naturally as acorn becomes oak.”
Russ Tate, who writes when he can’t help himself

“The importance of voice is its ability to add complex visual imagery to the written word. It determines if a reader is pulled into the scene or simply a passive observer.”
Tom Temple, author of Cheese Grits, Stories to Nourish the Southern Soul.

If you, readers of this blog, have a definition of “voice” in fiction writing, let us know with your comments.

 

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | October 22, 2013

Prologue to “Overload”

The news today about certain people “demonstrating,” outside Busch Stadium makes the following something to grin about.   The book is, in the words of one reviewer, “[There is a…frighteningly real possibility of something just like this happening in the United States…” Larry Enright, author of Four Years from Home.

Terrorists are coming into the U.S. across our Southern Borders.   The atrocity that happened in the Kenyan shopping mall, could happen here.  The book has such an incident in the early pages.

Prologue to Overload -
Rastus Wright screamed, spittle flying and dripping down his red plaid shirt.
His yells nearly drowned out the higher-pitched, frenzied yelping of his daughter.
Wright’s mouth, gaped wide with yelling, showed missing teeth and the yellow of the remaining few. He wore loose, dark-blue denim trousers. The frayed cuffs dragged the muddy cemetery earth at the heels of his hiking boots.
He carried a professionally printed sign, two by three feet reading, in six-inch tall black letters, “GOD WILL PUNISH QUEERS!” His daughter’s placard of the same size read, “BODIES OF DEAD SOLDIERS ARE LOVELY SIGHTS!”
Wright’s hollering echoed across the open ground, louder than one would expect from a bandy-legged man standing about five-seven.  His narrow chest contrasted with a belly poking out like half a basketball, stretching the bottom buttonholes on his shirt. He wore a blue baseball cap so dirty the original product or company advertised was illegible.  His hair was yellow-gray and hung in a greasy ponytail four or five inches below his shirt collar. His short beard dripped with drool.
“Filthy warmongers! Your miserable deaths are payback for the country’s fags in power! More are gonna die! The Lord will take them!”
A crowd of mourners stood around an open grave, about a hundred yards away, trying to ignore him.  An American Flag covered the coffin, held suspended by nylon straps over a gaping mouth of dark red earth, waiting to receive the vault at the funeral’s end.

Wright’s daughter, Cora, a short, doughy woman with a ruddy round face and oily brown hair, told the Texas State Trooper, in an adenoidal complaining voice, through snuffling and rubbing her nose on a well-used hanky—her memory of what happened next.
“Daddy was just a’ standing and testifying to them sinners over at the grave. He leaned backwards and drew in a breath to preach louder, and his head blew up.  His ponytail landed about five feet over yonder. Somebody shot him in the mouth.”
The Trooper grimaced.
“Did you see anyone with a weapon?” He said.
“Them soldiers over by the grave have guns”
She pointed her quivering double chins to where the funeral group hadn’t dispersed.
“Yes, Ma’am they do.  Those are honor guard soldiers.  Their rifles will only fire blanks. We’re currently checking their weapons and interviewing people who were around the grave.  Now, Ma’am, did you see anyone with a weapon pointing toward your father?  Could you tell where the shot could have come from?” the trooper said.
“Naw, daddy was just preachin’ to them sinners.  We gotta stay a ways away from their graves now.  New law.  He was witnessin’ real loud so they could hear what the Lord meant for them,” she paused, “…then his head blowed up.”
“Thank you, Ma’am, I’ll get back in touch with you when we have some leads on the perpetrator,” the trooper said.
He touched the brim of his “Smokey Bear” hat, turned away and marched back to the State Patrol cruiser.  The grim line of his mouth almost hurt. Laughter bubbled behind clenched teeth.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | October 20, 2013

Sample from “Devil’s Blade”

devilsBlade_coverFollowing is the beginning of Chapter 2 of Devil’s Blade. The protagonist, Malacca Longwood—an NYPD homicide detective—has returned to his apartment after a long day. The shade of his maternal grandmother is there.

~~~~~~~~~

CHAPTER 2

After we filled out the redundant paperwork, the office clock showed a little after 5 AM.  I left a message on my boss’ voicemail telling him that I’d be in about mid-morning or later.  I needed sleep, if possible after what I’d seen, and a shower.  I headed to my apartment on John Street in the beginnings of the morning traffic on streets slick from an early morning shower.
Before the door to my apartment was fully open, I knew someone was there—or had been.  I don’t smoke and don’t allow anyone to smoke in my apartment.  The scent was faint, but unmistakable.
I slammed the door, rattled the deadbolts and chain but actually left them unlocked in case I had to get back out very quickly.  Easing my .45 out of its holster at the small of my back and releasing the safety, I shed my suit jacket. All senses were focused, blood thumping in my ears, trying to locate evidence of someone still there, one of the mob thugs I’d helped send away, for instance.
Nothing but rancid cigarette stench.
I felt a little sheepish, later, thinking that I must’ve looked like some “B” grade Hollywood screenwriter’s version of cop checking the place out as I moved through each doorway. I even checked behind shower curtains, in closets and in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, leading each step with the .45.
Hey, you never know.
Feeling a little foolish and quite a bit relieved, I relaxed a bit, feeling the exhaustion again as I picked up my jacket from the floor and locked the door. Turning back into the apartment, I walked through the door into my bedroom, which I’d just checked and saw who’d been smoking.
It hadn’t been a mobbed-up thug whose smoke had fouled the air, it was her.  It could only have been one person, smoking those damned nasty Picayune cigarettes, I finally realized.  She was the woman who had kept and sheltered me for my first five years and obviously never quit loving me.
Marie Clapion, or as many in New Orleans would have called her, Madame Marie.  I had always called her Mama Marie.
She sat in the big leather recliner in the corner of my bedroom, kicked-back, with a lighted cigarette dangling from her right hand.  Tonight she wore a dark turquoise turban-like cloth in a spiral on her head, and her usual long, white linen ceremonial dress.  Her feet were bare. They were a little darker than her face, a true café au lait, on top than on the bone-hard callused bottoms.
I stood there in a sort of suspended animation as she took a long drag on the foul cigarette, then half-turned to her right and blew the smoke toward the closed window.  Her black eyes glittered, squinting back sidewise at me through the haze she’d created, as if they reflected ritual bonfires.  She seemed to draw all of me into their depths.
Madame Marie Duminy Clapion, Mama Marie, watching me from the chair, died when I was eleven years old.  I wept at her elaborate, ritual funeral in New Orleans—twenty-two years ago.
She flicked the butt away toward the middle of the room, but instead of dropping to the carpet it vanished.
She enjoyed doing things like that—always had—her tricks had caught my attention when I was a child, and still did.
Usually, when Mama Marie—or more accurately, the shade of Mama Marie—came to visit, she spoke but didn’t respond to questions or comments. I believe that Mama Marie always hears, but sometimes doesn’t choose to answer.
Now, I sat on the edge of my bed and watched her. She looked away as if I wasn’t there, out through the open drapes into the beginning dawn. Her left leg was hanging over the edge of the chair. Her left bare foot and right hand beat time to the slow, insistent rhythm of music only she could hear.
She stopped, and turned completely, facing me, dark eyes softening as she left the dance behind.
“You up agin’ a bad ‘un here, Honey.  This man you lookin’ for is just plain evil—crazy, too.  Watch everythin’ real close. You gotta catch him ‘fore he kills a bunch more people. You’ll see when you face him—he’s cold as a copperhead. Watch him close, now. Watch ever’ little thing he do. You gotta stay calm, too, jus’ like I taught you when you was a chile.”  She spoke quietly, her mouth a flat grim line and a hard glint in anthracite eyes. She began to fade slowly into transparency and was gone.
The smell of Picayune cigarettes faded more slowly than her shade, or maybe it was just the memories, awakened by the smell.
Yes, I’ll watch him but first I have to find him. Those thoughts were my last before I collapsed on the bed without undressing.

 

 

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | October 16, 2013

Poetry about Another Work of Art

There’s an obscure (to me, at least) term for poetry about another work of art.  Keat’s Ode on A Grecian Urn is probably the most famous example of that genre.

The following poem is semi-autobiographical.  The guards wouldn’t, of course, let me physically handle an ancient jade carving in the Taiwan museum, so I imagined holding it to make the poetry more direct.

In the poem, musical terminology is frequently used to describe the jade carving, so words, sights, touch and sounds are incorporated.

The terracotta army, of course, exists in China.

Trio in Jade

“…O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
                   Yeats: Among School Children

I

His biography was never written
but I know a part of his life.
I have held it,
in both hands.

An etude in green,
cool against the flesh,
and, again to the eyes.
Verdant triple chromatics
in ancient jade.

In the unformed rock,
he saw counterpoints of color,
rhythms of texture
possibilities.
He infused himself
into the precious lumpy chunk.

From a vision of wit and elegance
emerged a celery stalk
with a single grasshopper
nibbling the leaves.

Ribs spring and curve upward,
carved from the milky, airy green
like a pale stain of grass
on the back of a court lady’s delicate hand.

Unheard melodies
sing in the clarity of line and
sweep in precise veins
bursting  to exuberant spray
of succulent leaves.
darker down the scale
stippled with pale citrine
along feathered edges.

Silently chewing,
the almost-emerald insect
-poised to leap with fat, folded thighs,
or fly on translucent wings
centers my senses.

Stroking soothing stone
-as a drowsy emperor in evening’s quiet-
my fingers sense the unknown artist’s music,
thrill,
reaching through deeps of time
to an unimagined man.

II

The T’ang Emperor,
Ch’in Shih Huang Tie,
awash in stiff embroidered silks,
ruled the “pivotal Kingdom”
with grim and jealous power.

Enriching mystics and charlatans
in his search for the islands of immortality,
he dispatched imperial fleets,
riding low in the sea,
heavy with rich tribute
payment for the miraculous elixir of eternal life;
-ships that sailed forever into the dawn.

Dogged scholarship
and meticulous archeology
may brush away the mythic dust
and recover despotic artifacts.
Records of the imperial splendor,
and regiments of his terracotta army:
-helmeted warriors and arch-necked horses
standing dour guard
for more than two millennia
-over a looted grave.

III

The nameless artisan of jade
no doubt a vassal of the nobility
or a slave unknown past his mortality
-lives.
His jade sang in my hands
just as Beethoven’s Archduke
sings to me from the next room.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | October 13, 2013

Backstory for Sequels and Series

While working on the second book in a new trilogy—the book to follow Warrior’s Psalm, I carefully considered how much backstory should be included.  A product of those thoughts follows:

As an author begins work on the second (or third book) featuring the same protagonists and maybe even some of the same antagonists, a question that must be answered is; how much backstory.

A couple of thoughts: First, is the new book a sequel or is it an inextricable part of a larger story? If that is the case,  the amount of backstory on the principal characters can be minimal.  The author can assume that readers have already been introduced to the main actors and need only a reminder to strengthen the narrative flow. For example, in Suzanne Collins’ second book of The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, the author deftly reminds readers of the principal protagonists and antagonists and the setting in which the tale takes place.  She does this lightly enough, interspersing background information into the current story, that a person who went immediately from reading the first book wouldn’t become bored when beginning the second.

Another instance in which the author is writing an ongoing series featuring the same character(s) is what may be called a series. Two of my favorites are the Travis McGee series by the late, great, John D. MacDonald. The series started in 1964 and concluded in 1985. Although McGee is the protagonist in all the books, each story can stand alone.  There are a couple of secondary characters, such as Meyer—the intellectual sidekick—who, along with a woman named, “Chookie,” show up in more than one of the books. In each case, the masterful MacDonald introduces, or reintroduces, the character without redundancy.

If the second book is to be a vital component of a specified grouping, such as a trilogy, backstory of characters—other than the principal protagonist—can be handled lightly.

If the second book in a series is simply continuing the adventures (or misadventures) of one individual, the author must be aware that the reader may not have read the first tale. More backstory is required for all the characters.

An author who has found a protagonist whose exploits demand a second book, owes it to his or her readers to be certain to maintain their interest and loyalty.

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