centos (improvised poems)
A cento is a poem composed of lines written by others:
the term comes from the latin word for "patchwork garment."
At a no river twice performance, we track the lines that have connected words or ideas from one poem to the next.
We assemble the lines into a cento at the conclusion
of a round of reading.
Kind of a meta-poem of the reading. A verbal collage.
A motley thing. The poem the audience made.
We'll even send it to you afterwards...
Here are a few recent centos...
I Made Out With A Sweet Vermouth
I can remember the sign of the cross
like riding a bike –
cleaning house to music
and wiggles between sofa cushions.
Sometimes bikes collide,
because what’s the fun of being Barbie,
a pig rooting truffles, the relentless
plague of flies—you can’t soak hams
long enough, cornmeal and pork bones,
it could have been any day,
it had to be this one.
I swear to God, this
chromatic communion my husband
sang in Sunday School—wondering
who will call first?
Phoenixville Cento #1
Remembered From an Earlier Landscape
To love jigsaw puzzles, you have to love trouble,
forever revising one's map of the world,
the soft and small and easily preyed upon
like spindly plants feeling shame. As a kid,
I once identified a copperhead
by looking it straight in the eye—
the cast skin leaving an empty husk—
lord of the soft lash, sharp straw, you scar
so many fish with your kisses—my claim
is tenuous at best. Hands and knees
in the dirt, razor to my neck, my own path
under the sun's dismissive gaze. Monday
grew into Tuesday, the search for new sensations
turns up the naked body of a woman
beneath the surface, love. The stars will soon
shine down, the sea so close, what she longs for,
casting a line in the sea-sprayed afternoon.
Bedminster Cento #2
Shhh, God said, when Eve
held the apple out—
poison or no, chartreuse walnuts
on buttonwood street, stiff
sheets newly folded—
you can learn a lot about people,
maybe kindred, kooks of a moment
ago, sideshow freaks jammed
into a jar—Adam proposes,
takes the old viola, rests
in a tree, what seems like
a thousand cranes pass, mourning doves
under cover, enclosed
like a houseboat, access to the pill,
some blood on a wire,
the exquisite itch
Phoenixville Cento #2
You Can Try
Whatever measure offered
goes up, unraveling
bonfires, the road lingering
everywhere, the original
thrill, the naked body—
drink deep. Your taproot,
rabbit cages shattered,
letting go, a luscious ache.
The thing about work is
you try to feel it keenly,
in everybody’s shoes.
Chestnut Hill #1 11/16/18
Springsteen on the Turntable
Your best answer silence.
Baby, this is my church: the deep
significance of sharp-edged things,
a clawed tear in our venture.
Eyes dart, mirror to mirror—
a scarlet berry.
When others ask what color,
ask if she knew, shoot a wide
red-lipsticked “woo hoo”
to anyone passing by.
The Waterbound Leaps
How much I am like you,
down to the chiseled bone,
the last thing I ever want,
pockets tucked with hours
of devotion, who listened and fixed
yellow daisy bouquets, starched
rebellion, the harshness—
smack this marriage, clearing
the day’s lesson of inauspicious
tire tracks, half-lowered goldfinch
in the purple thistle, such grating
fills the air, sway and swish, silk
feathers paint my stiletto heels,
hold still in the radio-fed black—
the fact of her goes on.
Chestnut Hill #2
She Resting, He Guarding
So what's the chance this clutch will end
deep in some poet's wine dark Atlantic?
The cuttlefish has three hearts, but no ink,
black as smoke from a poet's inkwell,
small, clear blown glass muddies the waters,
the trout of tumblebrook, its tangy blood,
yellow wings, streaks of onyx and cobalt--
a bad decision to stand thunderstruck, trees
parking the silver drape, its wisteria hysteria,
chandelier, white compote, purple goblet
of sparks, prisms unsmothered by cherry,
unpunctured by tooth--time for an aged provolone.
Chestnut Hill #3 3/22/19
Aphrodite: Yellow Hair, White Shag, SeaFoam
And Odysseus, lover of hog-witch and sea-bitch
lured away into my waters, swimming some nights in the weedless cold, frozen,
curled up, nails smooth and opalescent,
fingers in the saltbox.
His name is what was left when all the better words,
were taken, his penis, put in a pail of water
at the door.
We tell each other stories to get through the day,
evenings urge the neighbors to their front porches.
Eyes rove the world beneath their lids,
magnetized in a glass case, a glass eye gone
to ash in a grease fire, the apple cheeked puppet
weeping, all green souls elating into night.
Chestnut Hill #4 3/22/19
The Original Flaw
is fear-- of being the first
to enter, deep in every door lock
due to some defect of songbirds
in gum trees and the turkey vulture
cleanup crew, food and fellowship
that is mostly blood and some peacock,
that after centuries of loss,
we are undone, like potted ferns
or shit like this-- the way
fruit in the trash is like
lipstick stains, the way I curl
my lips and paint them red.
Bucks County Community College #2
Cherry on a Sundae
Pamplemousse, at first, and rhubarb
pie-- new sensations, the naked
body dancing, to rise like a carp,
greener, iridescent green,
and all that remains is clarity,
brisk, bright sky cracked
back, black as crows cawing
to be calm, sky and wait.
Stay still, bird, Breathe.
Farley's Bookshop #2
Bent to Earth
The number of stars climbing toward mercy--
we all have somewhere to be,
like fathers moving quietly in other lives,
better scripted, in bright pink deck chairs
laid against the wall. Just our luck--
a collossal sneer, like growling and snapping
monsters we can prove
by sighting the rare and suburban.
Bucks County Community College #1
Through the Crannies of the Shop
Her blown-pink kisses tremble
and silver, slender alabaster,
you swore you'd never suffer
birth, fluid and murderous,
ice-blue, crinkling at the corners
black slips asleep like lambs,
youth-drunk, the mingled stench
of smelling salts, mirror-river
emptying my eyes.
Farley's Bookshop #1
Life is Radiant
Take beauty— flirting in the white-hot sun,
caution always loses in a contest
with bare skin— the heft of its calling.
I sat on the polished pew and swung my legs,
my husband sang, you ran into the burning,
breathed deeply the fullness of a moon
particular to each odd night, trying
to shake the painted stallion. Not my idea,
sneaking cigarettes in the bio lab,
so praise the god of cloned wheat fields,
the dog heavy on the end of the bed.
Pretend you don’t wish for languor and lust.
June 15, 2019 The Ice House Bethlehem, PA
Think About the Bomb
Think about the bomb, the stench of birth,
she said she wanted to adopt,
understanding the ache.
I want to name this bright day.
Every day a new snowflake,
a bird not moving; losing time.
We play the daydream game,
how to need me. Get lost.
You are not who you say you are.
Bootlaces hold you up.
In a moment, someone reinvents a man,
voices fall into shadow.
You’re the real.
June 15, 2019 The Ice House, Bethlehem, PA
Like rain pissing down from a ruined sky,
this last dance with our fathers--nature wraps,
its graphite bells ringing their needle-jazz,
these poems nothing more than water, songs
from the dark lagoon, their hauntings all bad
housekeepers far away from housekeeping,
green stains on our elbows, mud on our backs--
this relentless plague of flies. There is that.
July 14, 2019 Clay on Main Oley, Pa
He doesn't care, either, for the upholstery.
The flowers go on blooming,
as from an overturned white rowboat,
but we barely advance, our shoulders
collapsing, the final chord released
in the nape of our necks. It's crowded here,
so many -- pink and silver, chubby,
cartoonish, clinking into one another,
getting ready for bed, a dearth
of dominance, though someone is in charge.
The fastest way to a man's heart?
Straight through the third and fourth rib.
July 14, 2019 Clay on Main, Oley, Pa