nrt centos (community made 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...
NEW CENTOs from our March 15 and February 8, 2023 readings on Zoom
A Knowing Ghost
is like an aging magician,
a clothier's magic print
wheeled out in a cardboard box,
squeaking like shoes do
at the sound of danger,
like glass spiraling back,
wine-dark and salt-plastered,
a creeping ocean of pebbles
and chiseled bone. You and I,
here and there, always.
This is how it goes:
a snap, close to the bone
a soft slap of cupped hand
a breath of pearled satin
Now is like a bird unmoving,
no breath in, no breath
out, silence, stilled,
silence, drum, silence.
Later is like holding a child
dying, brought back to life--
her deckled body shearing
pinkly into nothing.
3/15/23. via Zoom
These secrets, a box with no escape latch,
the libraries of our lives, husbands
and wives, all disappointing Pandora ---
living in an exposed brick basement
after paradise, the other mothers
on the dark shore sitting together.
They seem like good mothers, loved
by such a god, whistling while they punch
their timecards, stirring in dance --- but you should
have heard them sing at their clotheslines,
spilling secrets at the touch of their hands,
rougher in late winter, all around us.
2/8/23 via zoom
dear daughter, is that you know I'm lying
when I say how how far away to stand
when the music plays, when the sun shows
the years lost in shy starlings, stupid
in their deference, in sitting with close friends.
What comes when we count all the confetti,
all the stars like stepped-on slugs? We gaze
upward to the brilliant expanse.
1/11/23 via zoom
What are your imperfections? I begin
to answer, I am a half-pecked book,
a moment in the hell of a yellow-lit
office. I am an orchestral heart
pedaled hard and water-toughened.
Pull until smoke curls from the cracks
in your pink pantsuit, swirling the partly-
lit nave. I am barely sentient.
I am a hundred feet of water stirred
by a branch. I am a songbird serenading
the snow, unmoving, a body cleaning
itself. Let's not forget what I am---
the shift in the air. I am imperfect.
You know me. I am back and thirsty.
By nature, I am poison, a bone-white perch
in bark-skinned branches, no wrists,
no ankles, only pursed lips, strawberry-
strange like a landscape of caution, bare skin
of my throat waiting. This darkened room,
the dark hollow of kitchen in the cleaver
of my skull, the crash of the sea,
the dangerous love we learn while dying,
just an hour or two before we know
it's all right. We are the same. Or we were,
once, poets agonizing over a clean page,
writing a seating about a hummingbird,
Like a coat left in snow,
like bad housekeeping,
your face, a vacuum bag
undone, disfigured, twisting
in torment, the sins of your exes
chained together like spun daisies,
human just for a moment—
then the axe brought down
to drink its fill of stars
from the roof of the sky.
Given a choice between
love and life, suburban hearts
stay behind, woeful-waisted
mothers grasping to woo
and to be cooed to.
9/21/22. Fergie's Pub
See, in shock, the function is sifting
rather than crumbling, is facing
our own formless shit, we muddy gods
who know only enough about walking
on silt to vanish into smoky spotlights,
our old-fashioned barstools empty. Tell me
about the weather. Are you blue, too?
9/21/22. Fergie's Pub
Through the Windshield
and gone, rain-lapsed into dream-blur, an exile
from everything, this love that steals us, makes
us slink away into an idling cab--
gone, not the name it preferred to go by
as a child, but its given name, the name
the doctor repeated, his hand humming
down to kiss your underside. This moment,
we mourn the immensity of this love,
its loss, deep and old-fashioned, barging head-
first outside to find us, a screen door wedged
by a branch, a wayward rhododendron
flowering in blue.
5/11/22 via zoom
Rain, Silver, Tongue cento#2 from same lines
An idling steals you, slinks into rain-blur,
gone the dream-lapsed love.
Everything else an exile. Name it.
Children? Marshmallow? Not clear.
Heels side-by-side, hum a constellation
of kisses—star, moon, star—a kind of eerie
vulgarity, the underside of love.
Mourn the immensity, the deep
vastness of old-fashioned blue found
wedged inside the flowering rhododendron.
Come out the screen door, own that moment
when her deep voice cheered you on.
5/11/22 via zoom
The Worm is Implied
Who knew we would start with blueberries at the opera?
No one could have fished it out, the modest monster
searching, a clever beast fumbling in the harsh air,
listening, wheezing, crashing through the darkened
rectilinear gravity. Buoyant, the creature's arms
carrying us home like a goat, a calf watching itself
slide into straw. One door closes, and the other
stays closed, mixing the impossible weight of the Nile
with the stone at the bottom, marblequiet. We pass through
the water's edge stricken, worrying, pain softened
by the morning after. It carries our face where it will,
a whole life spent walking down some dazzled lane
no more than a wisp, no more above or below than air.
Who knew we would end in a field in Kansas?
Lit Life Conference 4/23/22
It Might, At Last
Be sufficient, a balanced love --
he, ex, me, ex, an equation
one falls prey to in half-sleep,
a dream we can't recall. Do not risk
a breath, its thread like stripping
hair, like nicked secrets, the surety
of death we cannot grasp. Pay attention --
here is beauty, sweet, green corn; here
is pain, a failed crop, bursting. Mornings
spent lifting our voices in green-lit
supplications, hosanna, hosanna, light
in darkness -- a muddy light, but imagine
if we just let our guard down, if we reached
for it, glinting in the give and take
of the tide. We may find something there --
a home we may not always see, but one
we can return to when our travels are done.
4/13/22 via zoom
Love Might (cento #2 from same lines)
Love might, at last, be a balanced equation,
sufficient, half-standing alongside
the dream of stripping death, the knick
of last breath, the waiting grasp
of beauty and the pain it remakes
like fields of green corn bursting
sweet hosanna to the green-lit morning.
Expect light when darkness falls.
Hope, though we may not see it.
Guard down, completely home,
we return when our travels are done—
briny, ruined, new, and soft as spiral
corridors of conch shells spreading silver—
the way the tide gives and takes.
4/13/22 via zoom
Not What You Thought You'd Be Reading
In eighth grade already, no longer fourth
grade girls at a lunch table, outcasts in yellow-white
dresses and daisy bouquets, the best
of every color. The elevator in my dream sprouts
like seeds scattered before a closed door, a sign
of emerging green and easy, a sign of growing
like we wish we could, marking the spots where breasts
will be, in the pits between arms and legs,
the bare animal of our bones working
in the sun, tiny scraps stripped from the spinal column,
letters in tiny script on squares of blackened paper
leaked from the pen, fingers on skin, a puzzle
of blotted scribbles, we scavenge this beauty
from the garden of our bodies, in desperate daylight,
a letter, written from a distance -- I love you.
3/9/22. via zoon
Already, This Is (variation on same lines)
Not what you thought you’d be reading: two outcasts
& a lunch table of fourth grade girls, yellow dresses,
yellow daisy bouquets, & the best parts of
your yellow-white mamma. Like the elevator
in dream, mushrooms sprouted from moist carpet
like these marigold seeds scattered and already
green— we could wish them away, beat their breasts
in the backyard, mark the spot our pit bull died
in my husband’s arms. Bury bones in the sun, strip
down any animal to squares of blackened letters,
tiny scraps of tiny script the pen leaked.
A puzzle of love letters from jail, scribbles
with a gloved finger you scavenged overnight.
Chaos and trespass. Beauty in a desperate garden.
3/9/22 via zoom
An Afternoon Flirting with Lapping Tide
I believe it is love, and let the ocean have me,
now that I'm done with the boy with dangerous curls
from white-hot America, a honeyed exit door
pulled outwards, a symphony too beautiful to leave.
Moonlight, a paper-necked boat down a long river,
carried on the smoke-soft current of the sky,
sifts the buttermesh, the silt, the silk, all three
worlds in one glance -- resuscitates me, rushes in
through my cottage door, the keys left hung
on the rack in the corner, keeping quiet there
in the summer dark, the purple of each other's bodies,
adoring the same moon -- be this. Let go. Let it in.
2/9/2022 via zoom
Silt and Shadow (variation on the same lines)
After flirting with the white-hot sun
and the boy with dangerous curls, I want
to stop moving and let the ocean have me.
America, now that I’m done with you,
all exit doors pull outwards, the world not
too beautiful to leave— the symphony,
the imperfect dancing, paper boats down a river
beneath moonlight, milksilver, smoke, ocean,
buttermilk sky—water is the finest mesh.
Silt, mud, silk, all three worlds in one glance
reveal with clarity the crime scene: keys left,
hung on the rack by the umbrella stand
quiet in the summerdark, same moon,
same earth, same purple shadow. Light tries
to reach you. Be this thrum of letting in.
2/9/2022 via zoom