Wednesday, November 30, 2016


This doesn't really count as an outside challenge, but I have been going through my old, discarded writings lately, and I found an idea I had for product placement in works of literature. I also had (perhaps separately) the idea for "antivertisements" - poems discouraging people from buying products. I put the ideas together and tried executing two of these -- one for Axe in the style of Sylvia Plath, and one for Taco Bell in the style of Jane Austen.

To be fair, though, even the most disgusting description of a Taco Bell taco makes me hungry.

And now, for your post-Thanksgiving pleasure:

Taco Bell
by Jane Austen

A Scene from Chapter 1:

"Love does more to stir a young girl's heart than money. An old girl, now...that's a different matter entirely," Mr. Dimpsey noted as he poured several packets of Fire Sauce into his first beef taco of the evening.  No one could accuse Mr. Dimpsey of being overly delicate in either his eating habits or his addresses to Mrs. Dimpsey.  Mrs, Dimpsey, in spite of years of close observation of Mr. Dimpsey's manners, was always amazed both by his sharp remarks and by the distressing amount of tacos he could consume in any meal.
"Mr. Dimpsey, please!  I am an old girl to you, I suppose, but I haven't a heart for myself anymore.  My only heart is for my daughter, who does not seem to have been favored with this indispensable organ of her own."
"Mother, if you'll pardon me, I must protest.  My heart is quite real, though it is light and airy as a cinnamon twist."

"Yes, my daughter, as light and airy, and with the same consistency - that of a butterfly wing," said Mrs. Dimpsey.
Mr. Dimpsey finished his first taco in two bites and was already in the midst of his second as he chided Diana, his only daughter. 

"I dare say, Diana, your heart could break as quickly as a crunchy taco shell at the first bite of a solid man with any appetite about him.  You won't stand a chance unless you toughen up, like a crunchy taco that has been at rest under a heating lamp for several days, in a delicious lukewarm pallor that ferments and enhances the flavor of the beef mixture inside." 
"Well anyway, father, I haven't the slightest notion of entertaining any gentlemen this summer.  Although if I did, I dare say we would occasionally exchange these dull plain tacos for a cheesy steaktang and applesauce burrito, which you know to be a favorite of mine."
Mr. Dimpsey chuckled as he swallowed his fifth taco.  "This is quite so, Diana.  And I tell you, we shall have such burritos in a fortnight when the young Mr. Whicklesby, our new neighbor, joins us for a late night snack, as I have thusly and this very afternoon invited him to do!"

An Ad for Axe Deodorant by Sylvia Plath

To my partner
In death and other devilry--
You know too well the old

Miasma theory of disease and how
Your mist of hawk blood
Infected me.
Make a model of me.
You have a multitude of muses
Just as there are many scents of Axe,

from Dank Leopard, to Farting Melon,
to Packed Sand Hard Enough for Camels
to Traverse Into The Center

Of My Heart Which Is Sick
With Your Scent.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First Graders and Fractions

My most recent poem challenge comes from my friend Kathleen, a fabulous first grade teacher who loves her students and spends ample time and money on her class prep.  Her challenge to me was:

"Fractions!  Must include 1/4, 1/2, 1/3, and 1 whole and be appropriate for 1st graders!" 

I was excited by the idea of fractions. My first thought was to go abstract and write stuff like "the sky is 1/2 of your soul, which is one whole biscuit," or something of the sort of nonsense I enjoy, but I remembered the spirit of the challenge -- to educate the youth about fractions. Not to confuse them. Interestingly, this was difficult to do without resorting to a narrative about how Adam's friend wants to share an apple with him, so he has to divide it into two, then three, then four slices.

Actually, that would have been an interesting Biblical allusion. But again, my goal was to educate...about fractions...not confuse the kids theologically. 

So here is what I came up with:


Look outside -
do you see the ants
walking in the scoop of ice cream
you dropped on the sidewalk?

Guess how many ants are there,
stomping around in chocolate chips.

Let's say there are 100 ants.
Do you think they might like an apple?
If you put an apple slice
beside the scoop of ice cream
and half the ants move
to the crisp fruit,
how many ants would move?
Yes. 50.
1/2 of 100 is 50.

What if you knew ants
like to swim in soda,
and you poured a soda river
in a crack in the sidewalk
beside the ice cream and the apple?
What if you also knew some ants
like chicken nuggets,
and you put one
(with ketchup)
on the ground beside the ice cream,
the apple, the soda river?

Then the hundred ants might have a meeting,
and the queen might say,
"We need to divide and eat!
1/4 of us will eat fruit,
1/4 of us will eat ice cream,
1/4 of us will eat soda,
1/4 of us will eat the nugget!"

Then how many ants would go hiking
on the solid apple?
How many ants would ski
in the ice cream?
How many ants would dive
into the soda river?
How many ants would go climbing
the chicken nugget?

You're right - the answer to all is 25.
1/4 of 100 is 25.
But what if you took back
the nugget, and forced the ants to live
with just three snacks?
How many ants would live on each
if the ants divided evenly?
33 and 1/3 ants would live in apple.
33 and 1/3 ants would live in soda.
33 and 1/3 ants would live in ice cream.
1/3 of 100 is 33 and 1/3.

And you are one whole kid,
and you can eat more
than a hundred hungry ants.
Kathleen's characteristically encouraging review:
"Your poem is amazing! I love it! Such a clear visual!"

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Offending Adam and The Cresset

I have been meaning to say that I have recently (well, since my last remote update) had poems published in--

The Offending Adam, an amazing online journal, where Ryan Winet wrote a really beautiful intro to my poems:

The Cresset, an amazing Lutheran print journal:

I'm also open for challenges again!  You can't wait until you're on entirely stable ground to write poems, right?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Box of Jars

I've been moving around a bit lately and taking on some life challenges, and so it's been a while since I've taken on a poem challenge.  Feel free to email me to stump me further!

In the meantime, I have some poems at the online magazine Box of Jars, a publication whose previous issues I've admired quite a bit.

Here you go!

Dream Where Paul Simon Was My Boyfriend

Empty House

What About the Word Abyss?

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Cyborg Story

This challenge is from my law school buddy Albert Wang.  While many of our classmates were freaking out about moot court, Albert and I were doing stuff like this.

Albert's challenge (in the form of a story):

It is the near future. There is a man who, after a horrific accident, has his entire body replaced by machine. His face, his hands, his legs, his heart - everything has been replaced by metal, circuits and silicone.

Well - nearly his entire body.  His brain - or at least parts of his brain matter, have been preserved.

Despite his technologically advanced body, he ends up taking a job as a laborer in a factory for the mass production of [insert your own product here].  The man intellectually knows something is wrong about the life he is leading, but because the sense of "wrongness" manifests only in a vague, neutral numb feeling, he does not bother to think of doing anything else outside of the routine programmed into him.

This all changes when one day, he sees a little girl and boy sneak into the factory. It is a dangerous factory, no place for children, but this does not bother him.  Rather he is just driven out of curiosity to follow the children, who have taken advantage of the lack of security at this factory.

As children are prone to do, they find themselves to the most dangerous part of the assembly line.  The watching cyborg man is overcome by a weird impulse as he sees the children unknowingly head towards a grisly fate... he charges forward and throws his body into the critical part of the machine, so as to prevent the children's death... only it is too late... 

The cyborg man awakens in a hospital to hear the bad news of the children's deaths. His previous mechanical body had been crushed, and he finds that it is replaced by a newer, more humbler mold. However, the critical piece, the heart, did not have readily available replacement... and instead, the doctors were forced to replace his mechanical heart with the hearts of both children, which somehow had been preserved in the accident.  His new hearts give him sensations he had long forgotten from his previous life before becoming a cyborg, but also the wholly new experience of having the youthful hearts of two young, innocent, curious children... the cyborg, once emotionless, is overwhelmed with feelings of grief, gratitude, and everything in between.  He is now entirely machine, as before, save for his heart, which are those of a young girl and boy.

Write a poem about this, however you want.
The poem:

The Saving Machine

Before you had this bag
of fat and sighs,
you were lighter.

When you break and engineers
remake you,
they'll salvage just
three pieces of your mind
to fit in a computer suit.
Then and now, you know
life is a matter
of pacing, lifting the pieces
of other machines that resemble
and reassemble terrific minerals.
Your body
of light bulbs
...where are you shining that
If you try to sacrifice your second
body to save a boy and girl
from dying in the teeth
of more dangerous machines,
you still won't escape your mind.

You'll wake up again, remade
with the hearts of those you saved
in your new body, which is soft
and indistinct as painted fire.

What is your best
and highest use?

In your first life,
you were childish.
In your second life,
you made and saved.
In your third,
you felt the pop pop pop
of the prophet's hermaphroditic heart.
Where can you escape?
Albert's review:
INTERESTING (note I am writing this poem review while inebriated).

I'll be honest, for whatever reason, I was offended by the first stanza (or whatever it's called).  I feel like whatever was alluded to in this first three lines was wholly an invention of you, and not connected to the prompt I gave you. And so, I excised the first 3 lines from my reading.

I really enjoy the rest of the poem. I gave you a very weird, somewhat specific premise, and I feel like you internalized it and sought out the emotional truth of what I was presenting.  I gave you the coming of creation of a mechanical man, a man forged and re-forged out of modern and future life, and you distilled it into the essence of  the struggle we face as humans today.

You inserted religion - no, I would say spirituality - into the poem. The "prophet's hermaphroditic heart". As the prompt patron of this poem, I feel like you presented to me challenges that I had not anticipated.  I told you that the mechanical man found himself reborn with the heart of two childs, one boy one girl.... and you found the truth in this premise which I had not realized, that there was a purpose to this experience of his.  The man, the mechanical man -- does he become less human with each surgery, or more? 

Sure, there are certain parts (even words) I don't like. For instance, the word "computer" should not be in this poem.  "Light bulbs" I'm also not a fan of.  Aside from these word choices though, you were on point in identifying an underlying dilemma to everything here.

You put the word "saved" in your title, and in the body of the poem a couple times.  Naturally it made me think of your Christian background (maybe not fair, but I know you), and I wonder if the religious connotations associated with this word fit with this poem and prompt. I think they do, though I didn't mean it to.

You mention that the mechanical man tried saving the children from "more dangerous machines".  I really like this. Not sure why, but the adding of depth to the dangerous scale of machines I think adds to this poem.

Okay. back to more drinking. Thanks for the poem!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


My friend John from law school is now an insurance defense lawyer, and naturally, his poem challenge to me was to write about insurance defense.  The thing about people who work in industries related to injury and death (as we both do) is that (I think) it can be a way of trying to gain mastery over one's fears about death.  If you can put a price on something, it doesn't seem so scary.  (I mean, to most people.  It hasn't helped me, but then, my level of angst is usually resistant to coping mechanisms.)

So here is my poem about how insurance can be comforting.

Insurance Defense

Something awful could happen, you say,
but hasn't it?

English children when the plague came
made rhymes to turn their pustules
into playthings.
Like that, some of us face pain
armed with columns of equations,
hieroglyphic fences to pen
disfigurement and death.

If we were truthful
ministers of anguish,
we'd have to be more brutal.
The inflamed nerves of the world
stretch farther than rivers
and are harder to navigate at night.
The safest thing to do
is name your price.

Here is John's hilarious lawyer-impression review:

Overall this is a great attempt at exploring the theme I requested: insurance defense.  However, this poem speaks to the difficulty and reality of allegedly negligent acts, not just insurance defense.  This poem is from the Plaintiff's perspective and, by reason of that biased perspective, I believe it is misnamed.  It should be personal injury or law or something of that sort.  This poem speaks to the bottom of all personal injury law (and really most legal questions, limbs lost or not):  In the midst of pain, suffering, amazingly tragic circumstances and the issues that occur, there is the bottom line.  Obviously, the bottom line is not necessarily the exclusive purview of insurance defense.  Both sides in a case in law are concerned with money.  Of course, I think that insurance defense is the rational side of that tortious coin.   As a member of the insurance defense side of the bar, I don't in any way think of my clients as "ministers of anguish," rather "ministers of reason," but that argument is for court.  In short, the purported description of insurance defense lawyers and their clients is harsh, especially in light of the gruesome and brutish world of law, but I come from the defense perspective.  Lastly, I don't think insurance defense has anything to do with plagues as in the second stanza.  I think most commercial general liability policies would exclude that under the force majeure exclusion.   In other words, plagues aren't generally covered.  In short, a good although biased effort.  It should be noted that in no way is this review a statement or opinion of the law and is not intended as legal advice.