P&W Prompt: Golden Shovel

Shhhhh….don’t say it too loudly, but I think I’ve actually just caught up with Poets & Writers Magazine’s weekly prompt series, The Time is Now.  Let’s hurry up and get to it before they send me an email with yet another prompt.

Ahem.  CLEARLY I wrote that several weeks ago (when I thought I was going to actually catch up) and then promptly traipsed off in the direction of spring break and forgot all about it.  Nonetheless, poetry marches on.  Here’s the prompt from March 7th:

If you read, in order, the last word of each line in Terrance Hayes’s poem “The Golden Shovel,” you would find them to be the words of Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool,” the inspiration for Hayes’s poem. Select one or more lines from a poem you admire, and write your own “Golden Shovel” poem. Use each word from the source text in its original order for the last word in each line of your new poem. When you are finished, the end-words of your poem should trace out the origin poem. Be sure to add a note crediting the poet whose line(s) you’ve used. Browse through more Brooks-inspired poems in The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks (University of Arkansas Press, 2017).


I chose Sharon Olds’ “The Pope’s Penis” for my inspiration.  Here’s the first and only draft:



–with thanks to Sharon Olds and “The Pope’s Penis”

When the only other choice is to cry, I say laugh at it,

laugh, despite the notion that life itself hangs

in the balance.  The doctor says cancer, so dig deep,

breathe through the catch and laugh right in

his face, his serious, did-you-hear-me face, his

tumor-the-size-of-an-egg face while he disrobes

you, though fully clothed.  Penises have always been a

source of pain.  My husband’s ego was so delicate

he had to stick his in every willing vagina, like a clapper

in a bell waiting to be gonged. I imagine they laughed at

my silly ignorance: denial become achievement. The

way I managed to keep my head held up, my center

from collapsing in on itself is truly a miracle of

epic proportions.  It’s what we do.  There is a

kind of reservoir in we women, an inverted bell

brimming with courage or stupidity, (who can tell it

apart?) that keeps our feet on the ground, that moves

our arms and legs, plasters a smile across our faces when

the shit hits the fan, when our breathing stops, when he

says words like affair or cancer.  Somehow, the mind moves

to details: call a therapist, call a doctor, call a friend, a

god?  Let’s not bring God into this, his holiness is ghostly

in this hour of need, besides, he never brought me a fish

though I was starving and alone, my heart shattered in

a million tiny slivers.  Of course, we know it’s not always a

diagnosis or confession.  One time it was a man with a halo

encircling his brow, machines beeping in a bed made of

hospital grade cotton and regret, not even 30 pieces of silver

for a death that threatened to drown me, decisions like seaweed

strangling a wrist, an ankle, pulling me deeper into the

sea’s bed.  Back then I ran my fingers through his hair,

told the doctors to turn off machines and left, swaying

in the pull of a tide that would surround me and take you in

pieces, bit by bit, out to sea.  Today, we discuss the

daily report: he’s pissing blood again, the days are so dark

though spring threatens, I ate a pan of brownies and

we laugh, because what else is there to do? We know the

drill, or so we claim, and change the subject to the heat

down here in Texas where I live, where I am, and

where you are not.  I remember, after the affair, you at

home, on the phone with me night after night:

I broke in front of you, disintegrating pixels on a screen, while

you sat and bore witness.  I imagine you watching his

deep and labored breathing, the heavy flutter of his eyes,

that hard wall that surrounds your heart so you can sleep,

so you can stand under the weight of it, the weight of it

all.  There’s no way around bringing God into it.  He stands

spectral, where I want to stand: next to you, holding you up.

More than a thousand miles away, I watch you lean in,

take strength from a secret well and offer praise,

making me think of what’s between us, think of

men and laughter and the ever present shroud of God.




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