P&W Prompt 6: Memphis Blues

**I’m slightly behind on the P&W prompts – this is the sixth which should have, technically, been posted last week. I have no excuse for such behavior except to say that my closets are completely, beautifully, and happily organized! I’ll try to get caught up by doing the 7th prompt this week as well.

This week’s Poets & Writers prompt:

Choose a poem that you’ve written and rewrite it in its reverse, making the last line the first, etc. Revise this version, creating a new poem.

I figure: what better poem to put through yet another revision than Memphis Blues? So, I went in search of the 47 versions I had of the poem to realize that it was one of the many (including my entire, more than 200 page, dissertation) items that were lost in the computer crash of ’09. That crash, by the way and completely as an aside, led to my switching – forever and ever, amen – to a mac. I may, in fact, write a post dedicated to my teenage crushing all over some awesomeness that is my macbook.

But that’s another story.

I did manage to locate a hard copy of one of the many versions of Memphis Blues. So, who knows? Maybe this prompt will actually create a poem I feel worthy of calling “finished” (whatever that means). Here it is:

Memphis Blues

The newscaster says Tennessee’s a little different as we drift
past the Bellevue Baptist colossus, variant son of vengeance,
looming dark over the broken-bricked converted window shop
churches that stand erect, rubbled testaments to grace.

Mottled light keeps time, paces down stained-glass panes,
falling on low pews, the orange-tinted modification of white
dropping heavy on a soft, plump boy who sings of the whale,
of the observation of sin: transparency’s companion.

And this is the practice of shedding antique and cankerous life:
a lady’s pink flamingo chemise shifts up, exposed white belly,
she dumps a few coins: a quarter, two nickels, into a trumpet case,
snaps pictures of the man’s silver horn held to his lips, the music

a sincere pleading with the departing white speck of peace spiraling
just off plumb, spiraling just off center and around the bend.

So, let’s see what happens when we reverse it (minus stanza breaks and end punctuation):

just off plumb, spiraling just off center and around the bend
a sincere pleading with the departing white speck of peace sprialing
snaps pictures of the man’s silver horn held to his lips, the music
she dumps a few coins: a quarter, two nickels, into a trumpet case
a lady’s pink flamingo chemise shifts up, exposed white belly
and this is the practice of shedding antique and cankerous life
of the observation of sin: transparency’s companion
dropping heavy on a soft, plump boy who sings of the whale
falling on low pews, the orange-tinted modification of white
mottled light keeps time, paces down stained-glass panes
churches that stand erect, rubbled testaments to grace
looming dark over the broken-bricked converted window shop
past the Bellevue Baptist colossus, variant son of vengeance
the newscaster says Tennessee’s a little different as we drift.

This, obviously, changed the entire narrative line of the poem. I was forced to deal with “something” being “just off plumb” at the poem’s opening – and so that led me to connect a different scene to the one already existing. As you can see, this is quite a different poem (and apropos for the long and ridiculous history of this poem). Though I was able to keep some of the language and imagery of the original, what we have here is, really, a completely new poem.

Memphis Blues

When we lived on the grungy side of Memphis
in a hundred-year-old house too big for just us,
we liked to park our car in that lot with the neon sign
that read: Parking Is Fun, because it was cheap

and because we agreed. We’d wander downtown,
have smokes and strings of martinis at a hip little joint
owned by one of my student’s mothers. Newly minted,
we felt each other out, dancing around conversations

about if and when we should have children. I remember
you twisting your hands, your nervous smile, the way we left
the bar, just off plumb, spiraling just off center
and rounded the bed to our car. In that now or never

moment, drunk on our recklessness, you took me
in the front seat, on the third level of the parking garage.
The next weekend, we walked Beale Street, followed
the bleating of a trumpet and wondered what we had done.

There was no way of knowing the years of struggle ahead,
the way our love making would be consumed
by calendars and pills, crying jags and bitter words.
We were lost in possibility while we watched a woman snap

pictures of a street-corner musician, his silver horn held
to his lips and laughed at her pink flamingo blouse
shifting up, exposing her white belly, imagining my own
growing quietly beneath the neon-glare of our church, a glare

that dropped heavy on a soft, plump boy who sang on the corner,
like the light that sometimes falls on low pews, keeping time,
pacing down stained-glass panes in the churches that pebble
the downtown of our city: rubbled testaments to hope—

there was no way of knowing in this dark shadow, we drifted.

****

I enjoyed this prompt. It was a good deal more challenging than the ones that ask you to find some random words and make a poem out of them. Well…that might not be completely true. It was, at least, more interesting than the other. What can you do with an old poem in reverse?

5 thoughts on “P&W Prompt 6: Memphis Blues

  1. Hi Gabriel,

    The universe works in mysterious ways. I liked the first posted version of “Memphis Blues”; however, I felt something vital was missing. The new poem that grew of out of the exercise blew me away. Loved it!

    By the way, I remember the “Parking is Fun” lot in Memphis. We always parked there even if it meant a hike to Beale Street. Returning to the parking garage in the wee hours of the morning to find our car usually ended with spontaeous dancing with no cares about the security cameras.

    Cheers!

    • Thanks, Cindy. I have fond memories of that parking garage too – it’s the one we always park in, even though, as you say, it’s a fair hike to Beale Street from there. The new poem still needs a bit of work, but I agree that it’s closer. I’m glad you enjoyed it 😉

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