Anatomy of a Fustercluck

Starling_Fustercluck

It’s thanks to crime scenes like this
that I sometimes dread people,
particularly the way they flock to orange pylons,
fluster in clumps like maimed birds,
and hatch out stories,
which are always either parboiled in half-truths,
or scrambled by hypocrisy. 

Take that camera-laden busy-body, for instance,
piqued there, barely disguising her hope
of spawning a murmuration—
donning her intrepidly purple polo,
she’s the self-declared ruler
of the pecking order that’s been bred into us
for the engendering of our chronicles:

Clearly, she knows how to swaddle her offspring
with ample pageantry
to ensure the stork’s swift delivery
of her inchoate prince.

Like Cronus, her Titan predecessor,
who swallowed up his own children
to thwart the prophecy of his time-driven demise,
she’s devouring a flood of raw peptides
from the sea-thick breeze
wafting right past the preoccupied deputy,
to sate her enduring appetite
for stone-cold lies.

Meanwhile, that blond-haired man
in the short shorts and flip-flops,
fixated on his faux-gold wristwatch,
has been pacing this whole time
on the cluster’s fringe,
completely cracked.

If you ask me,
he’s as guilty as the day is long.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Anatomy of a Fustercluck” won the Rattle Magazine January 2016 Ekphrastic Challenge, and appears in my forthcoming chapbook, THIS BEING DONE (Finishing Line Press, available for pre-publication order February 2018 — stay tuned for more information!!). I’ve been thinking a lot these days about crime scenes, guilt, and the fraught task of sorting out sensationalism from the horrors of reality… That’s all.

Confessional

Toilet-Paper-Art

     Today I used a piece of toilet paper
(ingenious how the squares are perforated)
           as a bookmark,

     to mark the beginning
of a story in a journal
           I pretended to mean to read soon.

      My own pretensions in the bathroom, I’d guess,
are no more elaborate than those of any other,
           but we prefer not to confess them,

     which is why confessionals nowadays tend to be
outfitted with porcelain & brass conveniences, & vanities
           of granite stacked with prayers, or leastways

     paperbacks (suggestive of prayerful reflection,
a well-regarded, liturgical means of bargaining one’s way out
           of bondage to repugnant functions),

     all to function as a colossal ruse—for truly,
we know no sleight-of-hand swipe performed (however
           adroitly the unrolled squares are wadded

     or folded), nor our most adroit illusions of luxury
contrived of bodacious poses over prodigal devices,
           can justify such unnatural exertions.

     Nature’s call is much like that of the cleric’s behind
his proverbial curtain—indeed, a loaded business
           we can’t but answer.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Who, me? Employ a fallacy of equivocation? NE-VER!

Ode to Sea Bunnies

“The cuddly-looking creatures come armed with ‘incredibly long copulatory spines,’” Ángel Valdés, Ph.D., sea slug expert in NatGeo Sea Bunnies

Adorable, uh, sea slugs...

Adorable, uh, sea slugs…

So small, you might’ve remained undetected!
You wonderful creatures possess verve and charm,
all sporting accessories sharply erected
 
(your cuteness-incarnate is quite unaffected)
and poised for the pointed delivery of sperm.
So small, you might’ve remained undetected,
 
surviving the eons as nature selected,
earning maximum bang for the buck…What’s the harm
if a parcel perchance has a part that’s erected?
 
Where kits are concerned, a caboodle’s expected…
You sweet marine emblems of Easter disarm
with spirit too bold to remain undetected,
 
though vitreous bodies—with vision obstructed
by airborne banalities, vague and infirm—
still pigeonhole widgets (however erected)
 
as watertight proof our souls should be deflected
from courses and aims that outdistance the norm…
Too large for this world to remain undetected,
you hold in your quivers my hope resurrected!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

An earlier incarnation of “Ode to Sea Bunnies” was published on this blog two years ago.

Instead

ctrl_alt_del_fixed_stein

‘if i decided to stop being a poet
what would i do instead?’     i asked
(my husband) the other night

the other night when it was late
it was too late to start cooking dinner
& the cattle dog who lives for order

requires order     & feels its lack
like her hackles feel static     she was pacing
between us     resorting to vocal admonishments

to higher-than-usual-pitched chortling     cajoling
someone to get with the program the other night
after gymnastics     & martial arts     & driving

driving in gridlock on multiple highways
after the shopping wasn’t done
after     & we were too hungry to cook dinner

after hunger became the side dish of the night
after my husband had worked all day
& beer number three hadn’t staved off his hunger

& hunger was a side dish     the kids snacked
on chips     & played redundant games on their phones
& the floor was unswept     the dog was anxious

her nails clicked on the unkempt floor
the cat meowed to be fed     the shopping wasn’t done
& so a can of tuna was cracked

the cat’s bowl was filled     & we gave the dog the juice
the dog lapped     then she went back to clicking
& minutes ticked another hour

while my fingers ticking on the keyboard
whooped up a frenzy of words on the screen
with hurricane intensity they swirled

they dispelled into wisps against cold fronts
& re-galvanized in isolated updrafts     but rained nothing
because meaning always slips drily away from the words

& escapes like sly prey into the woods     because
the words bravely give chase     but they were never cut out for this hunt
& they get lost     & hungry

they go hungry like an injured wolf separated from its pack
like a cattle dog lacking order     & teenagers not-talking on phones
like groceries that can’t shop for themselves

like the cat settling for tuna
well     not like that
like clacking keyboards churning up dry storms

like computer screens adrift
at the mercy of tidal waves of hunters
& peckers     & especially delete-ers

        like a poet who can’t do anything instead

like the shift key     & the alt key
like the fourth beer needs to be the ctrl + alt + delete keys
like delete is a kind of key

                        they go hungry

        like a husband

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

 

I scratched the first draft of this baby out on the back of a flyer I’d grabbed at random in a cafe, where I was killing time before I needed to pick up my kids from their respective classes (this was just about a week ago). Anyway, you may or may not find it interesting that I later discovered I’d been writing on an advertisement for an employment agency, with the caption, “Looking for a job that makes a difference?”  

How’s that for irony?

GISHWHES Highlights

My daughter, Cameren, is a wise, wonderful 15 year-old. By insisting that our family participate in GISHWHES, a world-wide week of shenanigans, she not only gave me the gift of new-found appreciation for my husband and kids’ beautiful, generous hearts, many and varied talents, creativity, problem-solving prowess, and potential for spontaneity–but she also restored my faith in the essential goodness of human beings, and made me feel hopeful for the future.

As we embarked on the week-long scavenger hunt, I was terrified of being faced with impossible and/or ridiculous tasks that would impinge on my life, and I had no capacity to envision whether or how my participation in the event might actually matter. Then, somehow, things just began to unfold, and I was suddenly in the thick of the sheer magic we were making in collaboration with our teammates from all over the U.S.  In one week, our 15-member team completed and submitted upwards of 75 items, including acts of kindness throughout our communities, and raising funds to house, clothe, and provide medical care for Syrian refugee families in dire circumstances (see previous post).

And so, I hope you’ll enjoy seeing just a fraction of the wild and wonderful items we completed in our hunt:

032Create a Vision Board from items found in magazines to represent the things you want more of in your life that can’t be bought or sold.

This item took me about 30 hours over the course of 3 days to complete. Dimensions:  18″ x 24″

 

039b

There’s a lot of hype in the news that undocumented “illegal aliens” are stealing jobs from citizens and overflowing from our hospitals and prisons, but what we should really be concerned about is the burden created by aliens from outer space. Capture a photo depicting this scourge on society, and caption it with a message that emphasizes how aliens are a drain on our civic infrastructure.

This item specified that the space alien costume must be “impeccable” — and it just so happens that we proudly harbor a fugitive, fully-functional, life-sized Dalek (meticulously crafted by my husband, Mike, and operated by my daughter, Cameren). Having a  wonderful neighbor who is a police officer with a penchant for the theatrical, was icing on the cake… 

 

006

Have a child under the age of 6 draw your family’s portrait. Then take an actual family portrait in which you make whatever contortions necessary to recreate the drawing.

For this item, we thank my 5 year-old nephew, Corban, for his inspired rendering replete with labels (for most of us). Cameren is on the top left, my husband, Mike, is seated in front of her, my son, Matthew, is seated beside Mike, and I am the speck in the back. Corban also included an additional family member named, “Sir,” who he said is “the one who tells you what to find in the scavenger hunt.” We figured that “Sir” must in fact be the Grand Master/Brain Child of GISHWHES, Misha Collins, and so my daughter’s best friend, Sadie, wore a Misha mask and posed with us. Since GISHWHES is a (mostly) family-friendly event, posing in the nude (as we were drawn) was not really an option, so we decided to pose in the color we’d been drawn in…

I’d like mention a few other highlights that come to mind, the photos for which I don’t have access to at the moment:

Drone Battle: Cameren and Sadie faced off with my son’s Quad-Copter (which resembled a giant mosquito hawk in the photo) while dressed in battle armor made entirely of kitchen items, featuring a turkey baster and a rolling pin.

Create a Coin worth a Half Penny out of actual metal to commemorate the 7th anniversary of Misha Collins’ on-off affair with the Queen of England. Mike machined an aluminum medallion, and etched the recognizable visages of Misha and the Queen with Ferrous Oxide… This was his plan B, and it worked like a charm.

Depict the fairy tale, Trumpunzel, in an illustration. Cameren showcased her artistic genius and knack for subtlety.  

Badminton Match in a Mall Food Court. Yes, with a net, racquets, and sporting our “tennis whites.” In her badminton debut, Cam deftly served the birdie over the net and into her friend’s frozen yogurt cup!

 

 

O What Do We Know About Peace?

With a nod to the late, great W. H. Auden,
and in tribute to a father’s gentle courage:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkM-SDNoI_8

#PoetsforPeace

Some say it is a fragrant lily
Opened in the morning sun.
Some think it grows in heather fields
Where yearling mule deer run.
I asked the politicians
If its measures might increase,
But they just sent more troops to war.
O what do we know about peace?

Does it taste like dates and honey,
Or like sausages on sticks?
Can you pay for it with money,
Or build it a house with bricks?
Does it make us feel protected,
Like a blanket made of fleece?
Must its pockets be inspected?
O what do we know about peace?

Whenever people disagree,
They claim they’re striving for it.
When sipping from a cup of tea,
Most folks will just ignore it;
The great philosophers have said
We’ll know it when we see it,
And surely as our blood is red,
We ought to fight to free it.

Does it soar like an osprey on steroids,
Or light up the night like the moon?
Could we grab it by flexing our deltoids,
Or float to it on a pontoon?
Does it live all alone on an island,
Or blow where it will on the breeze?
Would it last for a week without broadband?
O what do we know about peace?

I scoured beneath the kitchen sink,
And checked the freezer, too;
I tried to find the missing link
By emptying my shoe.
I followed all the pirates’ maps
That pointed to their loot,
But everywhere X marked the spot,
Its chest was destitute.

Will it come for a visit on Tuesday,
As I’m getting out of the bath?
Will I see it drive by on the freeway,
Or picking up stones in my path?
Does it come with a license to carry?
Can it truly cause terror to cease?
Is a lack of it hereditary?
O what do we know about peace?

When our children are witness to bloodshed,
And murder’s a matter of course,
Should we strap on a nuclear warhead,
Or say: mais nous avons des fleurs*?
Although hate multiplies like a cancer,
et partout, le méchant existe**,
Can’t we comfort a child with an answer?
O what do we know about peace?

*but we have flowers
**and everywhere, the bad guy exists

 

Confessional

“Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes
on Thee
And I’ll forgive Thy great big
one on me.”     Robert Frost

Toilet-Paper-Art

Today I used a piece of toilet paper––
so ingenious how the squares are perforated––
as a bookmark.

I marked the beginning
of a story in a journal
I pretended to mean to read soon.

My pretensions in the bathroom
are no more elaborate, I’d guess, than those of any other,
so why don’t we confess them, even to ourselves?

Confessionals are outfitted nowadays
with porcelain appliances, brass fixtures,
marble vanities with stacks of prayers in paperback––

(we futilely pray no one presumes these rituals
of bargaining our way out of bondage
to repugnant functions)––

to function as the ultimate ruse.
For no sleight-of-hand swipe performed
(however carefully) with unrolled, folded squares,

nor the most careful illusions of luxury
contrived of bodacious poses above prodigal devices,
will lessen the strain of such unnatural squatting.

Nature will still call from night’s drawn curtain,
beckoning us to the primal business

of dangling truth.

bidet kitty

Difference

Artwork by Cameren Harper @CamHarpArt

Artwork by Cameren Harper
@CamHarpArt

“I’m a Black Puerto Rican,
Yes I am,
Making some peanut butter and some jam…” (Composed by Marcus P., circa 1981, age 10)

My childhood was marked by our knowing moments
that brought us to our bedroom windows at night
to speak silently across the darkness
with our faces, various antics, flashlights,
and disappearing & reappearing acts.

I was eight years old
when his family moved in,
when the boy my age toed the weeds on my front lawn,
as I watched him from my bedroom window.

Because he was black,
my first memory of seeing Marcus
has been misshapen by a lifetime
spent enslaved by the vernacular
of the prevailing collective.

Subtexts of color for a child
are still primal, unchained.
Whatever difference signified
in that commuter tract neighborhood,
we forged a bond
that was soon cemented in familiarity.

I loved how his hair sprung back like a sponge,
& how his mother groomed him
with Johnson’s Baby Oil & Q-Tips.
I loved his height, his scent,
his lanky, strong, athletic arms,
catching his blazing pitches,
& how we proudly wore matching t-shirts
with our names and baseball jersey numbers
that our moms made with iron-on decals.

Even more, I loved his infectious laugh,
his smart, brow-raising impressions
of Mighty Mouse, Woody Woodpecker,
Speedy Gonzales, and Foghorn Leghorn’s failures
to thwart his young chicken hawk nemesis,
that routinely had us both in teary,
asthmatic hysterics,
sputtering milk out of our noses.

I know my mind’s eye
has since learned to see the conjured rift
between black & white;

I perceive a difference
that even my love
because it is love
won’t deny,
though my heart tries to remember
from a place beyond sight.

I was eight years old
when the boy my age scattered dandelion seeds
outside my bedroom window––
when unsullied, my roots trembled,
& love sprang up
& leaned toward his sun.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

http://@stephanielharp1