Prose poem: Smells Like Winning

Photo by Takemaru Hirai on Unsplash

In the winter of 2018-19, I walked by a cemetery and crematorium to catch my bus.  Dragging my knuckles home after an unsatisfying day, uphill no less, pass the body markers of others, and the rush of evening traffic. —These are moments poets DREAM of!  I am thankful for the times we walk among metaphors.

With a 45 minute wait for the bus, I recorded memory of my migration “Smells Like Winning” in the form of what I call Spoken Free Verse. It is a writing exercise; the challenge is to compose a prose poem in a ONE take recording.  Below is the transcript, the audio file deleted.  In October 2018, while recovering from a bike accident I posted some of the free verse transcripts and the original audio.  The poem “Smells Like Winning” seemed too dark and I was hesitant to share that side of me at the time.  Please, don’t be frightened, remember some pungent truths are blown away simply by the scent of a cinnamon candle.

Smells like winning

It’s seven minutes after five and I’m sitting at the 540 bus stop on Woburn.  Its a loud, busy road connecting Alabama and Lakeway. The UPS and Post Office trucks clank by with chains on to help maneuver around the back roads that still have ice and snow. I have a 45 minutes wait for the next bus. The sun is setting somewhere behind me. Dusk officially starts.

Looking down I notice the heel of the black winter hose gave out today, a Thursday.  It couldn’t hold itself together for another day. I imagine it was that hard strut from the fax machine that did it in.  Friday marks the end of my first week; a new job with a new bus schedule. 

If I wanted to, I could walk up the hill past the cemetery and crematorium to the bus on Lakeway, takes 26 minutes.  If I did want to walk there it shaves 15 minutes off my commute home. But I don’t want to. Yesterday I did that, walked up the hill to Lakeway.  Hiked up that sidewalk with bumpy ice-slush and old snow beside the rushing cars set out like hunting dogs that haven’t eaten in weeks seeking a sniff of a fox. 

Yesterday I walked up the hill.  I noticed forgotten gravestones deep into the tall trees where the lawnmower can’t reach.  The stones are small, dark, gray, crumbling. A noisy creek snakes around the bottom of a ravine.  I stop to listen. The crematorium comes into view by the stoplight. Stagnant cold air holds a blue haze over the building, but there is no smell of wood burning.  The contemporary style building sits on the busy corner of Lakeway and Woburn. It took me a while to remember what they do there. I keep walking faithfully towards my bus stop thinking about the smoke as I get closer.  As I walked into and under it, around the traffic light, hairpin to the left 

My eyes weep in the wind.
I worked hard this week.
Rebuilding my life.
Breathing hard up this steep hill.
Taking in the smoke of the ones who lived before
filling my lungs with foreign moments

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Spoken Free Verse: The Middle Seat

Photo credit: “Mural” Jackson Pollock,1943, (University of Iowa Museum of Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim 1959.6 / © 2009 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / ARS, NY) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/decoding-jackson-pollock

As I recover from a concussion ( please visit my Go Fund Me to learn more ) I thought this week was a good time to explore the audio files I have accumulated on my phone over the year.  Often inspiration strikes when I am away from a pen and paper and I can’t type the words quick enough into a note.  Recording observations as RAW audio free verse poems are satisfying for me.  Background sounds are incorporated into the piece which, I think, adds to the impromptu performance.  Also, there is a desirable amount of light pressure to form a creative thought in one take.

The fifth poem I offer up for this project is a desolate poem with the working title “The Middle Seat” recorded August 27, 2018, one and a half months before my bike accident.  Riding the 1 bus through town it stops at the YWCA, then travels by The Lighthouse Mission before it comes to my stop, the plywood mill off Roeder.  Every day there are people in crisis on this bus.  It gets to you after a while.  At times it scares me.  I fear that, if I’m not careful, I could become homeless.  Sitting in the middle of the bus one afternoon, I witnessed a rare perspective between the hopeful and the hopeless.  I’m stunned.

I recommend listening to the audio file while reading the poem.  I open Google links in Music Player for Google Drive.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1UHw3dogZno8Ev9pJlxORq2mAW09HCMrp

 

The Middle Seat

by Shannon P. Laws

 

I take the 1 downtown
my nose is bombarded by the scents of the 1
I smell an overwhelming perfume of mental illness, poverty and piss

I hear the voices of hope
three women in the front of the bus
discuss low-income housing
it’s options, what they’re like
how much they ask for
Two of the ladies are working to get out of the women’s shelter
and one has
one has gone into low-income housing
she’s made that next step out of that poverty
and they talk
and their voices have hope
I hear it
also, its riddled with pain
but they smile
and they share information

Five people behind me reek
of vomit and piss and liquor
as if they haven’t bathed in weeks
or maybe just since yesterday
I can’t tell
Bad breath
Everything they have is dirty
everything they touch is dirty
their bodies are dirty
These are people still on the streets

and there I am in the middle of them
It feels like I’m sitting on the edge of a knife

I could be
at a moments notice
in one incident
one health care thing
one accident
I could be on either side of this fence
but I take the 1 to go to my job at the sawmill
it’s depressed right now
work is slowing
we’re building up our stock
There are rumors we are building
up the stock right now to burn it

I’m drinking coffee and a breakfast cookie
sitting by myself in the break room
My body bombarded by the sound of the
machines pounding wood

 

 

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Rant: Judged Conversation Overheard on the Bus in August

 

Judged Conversation Overheard on the Bus in August

by Shannon P. Laws

 

The sidewalk on Magnolia sticks to my shoes
Maple Tree sap bleeds from the high branches
It’s not enough to stop me
I have a bus to catch

It’s early morning-cold. Crisp air flies in from open slit of bus windows in position for the promised afternoon heat. Wednesday morning in August and downtown is quiet.  Half the town seems closed. Most are somewhere enjoying the last days of summer.  Anywhere else but downtown Bellingham. Only the sounds of a traffic light clicking green and a seagull. The gull stands like a superhero on the top southeast corner of Mount Baker Apartments
barking orders
waking us up
sounding reveille
few listen

Two ladies get on the bus.
They don’t live here.
I know it.

They are the only known tourist on the 3

Oh good, they are sitting behind me
She must be a grandmother
“Are you warm enough?”
The other perhaps a daughter
“Yes, I have my LL Bean on”
They don’t know
what’s coming

Then, it starts—

For 25 years I’ve been getting a mammogram every two years because my mother had breast cancer.

She continues to talk about cancer the way old people talk about cancer
the same way middle-aged people talk about the weather
the same way younger people talk about nothing in particular

The list of what’s wrong with grandma’s body rattles off like the description of a 2001 Dodge Durango I am forced to read:

There’s a new growth of cataract in my left eye, arthritis in the knees effecting my suspension, my liver is having problems, might be backed up.  Recent scans show no blockage in the arteries.  Hips replaced.  Doctor recommends a colon flush.  Hypertension makes me jerk to the left from time to time.  Engine still strong. Overall I’m in good shape

“For sale $500 obo”