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


Meet Writer C. J. Prince

C.J. Prince, Author and Poet

The first thing I thought when I met C. J. about two years ago was “Who are you and how do I get to know you more?”  Love at first sight you might say.  Her colorful personality, bubbling energy and big smile are completely addicting.

This August she released her new poetry book “Mother, May I”.   Reviews are already out:

“A brilliant, intricately woven rendition of stigmas, family rules, love and pain that stains the soul.”  ~Una Bruhns, Poet, Creative Writer, Vancouver, BC, Canada

“…In this autobiographical collection abounding in images from BB guns to drowned kittens, the shadow cast by her mother, “born too early for the age of Aquarius,” inhabits the pages either as a bodily presence, a memory, or as a ghost who is “not here” but “everywhere…” ~Paul Fisher, Bellingham, Washington, author of Rumors of Shore


Congratulations on the release of your new poetry book “Mother, May I”.  What’s it about?

“Mother, May I?” is a selection of poems that primarily reveal the relationship between myself and my mother.  I had no intention of writing it but discovered after a number of years that there were many mother poems, enough for a poetry book.  Some of the poems are not obvious, written in second or third person.

 C. J., you seem to overflow with inspiration.  I’m curious, what does your writing process look like?

My writing is a glass of water on a hot day.  I gulp down words.  The Muse comes with pitchers full and without regard for my lifestyle.  Her words flood my mind while I’m teaching Tai Chi and I turn aside and write for never will she allow them again unless she is honored.  She wakes me in the middle of the night.  She especially likes to ride along the lake.  I keep a notebook open to a blank page so I can scribble a few lines at a stop light.

 You write about domestic, psychological subjects, deep stuff.  Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?

“Mother, May I?” deals with factual situations as perceived by a child and remembered as an adult.  I think anyone who had a difficult relationship with her mother will identify on some level.  The specifics may not be the same but the concepts exist.  There is only one answer, self-forgiveness and self-love.  Then forgiving and loving others is easy.

When people ask what I write about, I laugh and say “Sex and death.”  Pretty much that and everything in between.

My next novel, working title “Stepping Up”, deals with women’s issues of abuse and how one woman finds the courage to heal herself and recover.

Oh—what would I never write about?  Never say never.  I like reading mysteries and thought about writing one.  Then I asked myself if I really wanted to spend all that time on something gruesome.  No.  What I’d probably never write about is necrophilia.

Mother May I v3a (1)
Mother, May I? -that’s C.J. on the cover!

Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?

I’ve always said my favorite author is the one I’m reading.  Having reviewed books on for years, I discover that I’m a tad pickier now than that. Plus I’ve been in several excellent book groups in Bellingham and that adds to my ability to discern.

Currently I am in a head space to avoid literary and deep works.  So I read mysteries lite. I’m on the 26th Hamish Macbeth book by M. C. Beaton.  Knowing I’m coming to the end of the series, I started reading the alphabet mysteries by Sue Grafton, set in Santa Teresa, modeled on my home town of Santa Barbara.  Plus I read poetry every night before I go to sleep.  Have been captured by Billy Collins lately.

 What is your background in the arts?

My grandmother was an artist.  She taught me to draw when I was a child sitting at her pink Formica kitchen table waiting for chocolate chip cookies to come out of the oven.  I didn’t have an art class until 7th grade.  I was too insecure in high school and college to take art.  Then I took life drawing and oil and acrylic studies at various colleges and universities as I moved around.  I now paint in oil, work with photography, which I did study in college, and mixed media.  I have five spinning wheels, four looms and endless knitting needles.  There is no limit.  I’m learning how to needle felt.  Have a great design in my mind.  Now to make it into a reality.

 What are you up to when you’re not writing?

I teach Yang Style Tai Chi, 24, 48, 37 and 108 forms plus Qigong in Sudden Valley.  I also teach seated Tai Chi to memory care residents at Highgate Senior Living in Bellingham.  I’m learning more and more vegan recipes and love to cook.  I walk my two Papillons.  I garden.  I am a compulsive knitter.  Last winter I was on a hat binge, creating the perfect hat for my son.  It took perhaps a dozen before we found the comfortable combination for him.  It was great fun.  Mostly I knit socks in my default mode.  My grandmother taught me to knit when I was four.  I’ve had four needles in my hands ever since.

I facilitate two practice writing groups and attend one writing critique group.  Some say writing is a solitary practice.  That first flush of words, direct from the lips of the Muse, are mostly received in private.  After that it takes a village to create a book.

I usually read at Village Books open mic on the last Monday of the month and at Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theatre on the second Wednesday of the month.  I am pleased with the new venue in Sudden Valley called Creekside Open Mic on the third Wednesdays of the month.  I’m looking forward to World Peace Poets on September 19, 2014.

pastel portrait by sue hill
Pastel portrait by Sue Hill

What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

If you want to write, write.  Too many people think the first words on paper have to be publishable.  Think of it as a Buddhist practice.  Write 10,000 times, publish once.

Bellingham is a mecca for creative people.  There are many writing groups.  Go for it.  Everyone has a unique vision of the world, a personal perception that no one else can duplicate.  Just do it.  Write now.  Check out my Facebook page “Writing Prompts.”

Keep a journal.  Write a poem a day for National Poetry Month in April.  Write a post card a day with Postcard Poetry Fest in August.  Write.

 What are you working on now? What is your next project?

I mentioned the novel.  I have three more hiding away that need high revision but “Stepping Up” will be the next one.  But my immediate focus is to gather up stacks of poems and find some way to assemble them into my next book.  My current natural format seems to be poetry.  If I write a cool sentence, I pull it apart and let it tumble into a poem.  Next month I will publish “Canvas Angels,” a novel under its own cover.  It is currently available in “Catching My Breath,” three novels, three authors, three women, one town.

There is something about the precision, the minute detail that calls up the pollen of a flower or the breath of midnight, only a poem captures essence.


Purchase “Mother, May I?” on Amazon here.

To learn more about C. J. and get in contact with her please visit her sites:

C.J. Prince’s Blog on WordPress