Max Only Prays About Sunflowers (Prose Poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

The trouble with Max’s supper time prayers isn’t that he babbles on as the pagans do (he doesn’t,) and it isn’t that they don’t adhere to the A.C.T.S. format (They don’t.)

It’s that he only prays about sunflowers. In the springtime, we understood. His folded hands still silty from the peat pot he posited in the thawing ground. Only natural that he’d ask:

God, help my sunflowers to grow.

Endearing, at first. But night after night, he’d forgo the blessing of food in favor of praying for the germination of his sunflowers.

Spring time passed. He’d sown and reaped and those heliotropic heads were held almost as high as his own. And night after night, the same prayer:

God, thank you for the sunflowers. Amen.

Cute as it was rudimentary. By day 60, we grew concerned. Is he just phoning it in, to God? Should we be encouraging him to stake out a little further?

“What will you pray about when the sunflowers die, Buddy?”

Max considers this. The next night he prays:

Dear God, thank you for the sunflowers. Help them not to die. And if they do die, bring them back to life. In Jesus name, amen.

I smirk and sigh and worry what it’ll do to his faith when the sunflowers inevitably die.

It’s fall. The sunflowers stalks have bowed and collapsed under their drooping, dead heads. On the entire arrangement, there’s no yellow or green to speak of.

Undeterred, Max prays:

Dear God, thank you for my sunflowers. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Weeks pass. He’s still thanking God for sunflowers that haven’t existed for over a month. As I squeeze my eyes and start to tell Max that the sunflowers are dead, I see the Spirit glide in through the open kitchen window.

He’s come to warn me of the stupidity of chiding a child of three-years-old on how many times he ought to thank his Creator for sunflowers.

And then, I think I see on Max’s hand, palm-side up as if to heaven, he’d mustered up two, tiny, bouncing yellow seeds. Shaking. Not from an unsure hand but because the tectonic plates beneath his feet was unbuckling. The earth itself upending to throw itself into the sea.

Or else, to resurrect a dozen sunflowers in Indianapolis, by special request of the God who never tires: Not of making them. Not of hearing about them.  

Dylan Quincy is a Middle West Icon

(by Daniel R. Jones)

i.

When I first met Dylan Quincy, he had ice in his veins,
in the literal and proverbial sense.

On his one arm, he had a punk-y chick with a blunt-cut,
clad in black, lacquered nails and Doc Marten boots.
He held her like a grudge.

On his other arm, he had track marks.

Dylan told me to not postulate on the dissolution of ego, because the ego loved such talk.

He talked of transcendence, as if
car notes and
dirty dishes and
unread notifications:
the ballast bags of everyday life
didn’t exist.

Dylan wanted to— like Jesus—feel the power go out from him.
But given that—unlike Jesus—he cared very little who touched him.

If I relaxed my gaze, I’d get a bit cock-eyed
and his philosophy came into focus;
like some human-shaped magic eye puzzle.

His life was a burnt offering. So what if it was a slow burn?

ii. 

Without a lung full of flower, Dylan’s thoughts bumped up against one another like railway cars,
the link
              and pin coupler never quite
      aligning.

He couldn’t connect one to the other in a way that formed a coherent
                                                                     train
                                                                     of
                                                                   thought.

Dylan liked that the DSM-5 calls it a ‘hypomanic episode.’ 

“Because it really does feel like an episode of some action thriller,” he’d say.

“The boring parts of life all stripped away;
my every action imbued with a sense of meaning,
distilled seven times over;
the minutiae of everyday life
left on the cutting room floor.

Life in mania is the way it’s meant to be seen.
No fluff.
The Director’s Cut.”

He ended his homily with “Such a life is deeply satisfying.”

That lie the lone tarnish on his otherwise silver tongue.



iii.

Dylan Quincy once told me a koan disguised as joke:

Jim Morrison had a spray bottle of LSD-25 in one hand and a rag in the other. He was spritzing the acid on a sliding glass door, wiping it down every few sprays. Aldous Huxley happened to be passing by, and he asked Jim what he was up to.

“I’m cleaning the Doors of Perception,” he answered.

The Lizard King finished his chore. The door was perfectly clean; there were no streak marks at all. In fact, it was so transparent that you couldn’t tell the door was there at all. Just then, William Blake passed the two, and ran headlong into the glass door, bumping his nose and injuring himself in the process.

He cursed at Jim Morrison. 

“Why are you angry?” Morrison retorted, “I was cleansing the Doors of Perception, that I might see the infinite.”

“Perhaps you should’ve left a streak mark,” Huxley responded. “That way, you never forget you’re inside.”

I told Dylan I didn’t understand.

“Then you do!” he said. “If you don’t get it, you understand it perfectly. Glad to see you know you’re inside.”

iiii.

Still, there were times when it seemed he almost broke through.

Such as Golden Hour on that lush spring evening,
when Dylan and I hoofed it fourteen blocks to get to his favorite public park.

At the first scent of lilac, we remembered we were eternal.

He had me on his wavelength when he turned and said, like a benediction:

“In April, every loamy, dew-drenched field is holy ground. Oh, God, forgive us the times we neglect to take our sandals off.”

His life was a drink offering. So what if it was a slow leak?


iiiii.

What called him up today, so many years after his memory finally faded?
Perhaps it’s just survivor’s guilt in our ceaseless spiritual war.

Not so hard to sell a soul that’s never been used.

When I last saw Dylan, he had one shot
                                       liquor bottles strewn about his feet
like discarded cups of communion.

An eyeless Samson, slumped
against what wasn’t
a load-bearing
pillar.

Didn’t anyone tell you Dylan? 

Too much Keurouac is like vinegar to your soul.

When you get the message, you hang up the phone.

You can lose the title of “Seeker.”

It happens when you’d rather seek than find.

When you fall in love with the questions,
to the detriment of the answers.

No burnt offering,
no drink offering,
just the smoldering embers of
“the fire in your belly.”

From rotgut,
not from zeal.

Now Accepting Submissions!

It is with great satisfaction that I announce that I’m looking to enact “Phase Two” of this website’s ultimate goal: creating and showcasing alluring, emotionally-poignant, intellectually-stimulating pieces of art, all for the glory of God.

Thus far, Bez & Co. has featured my own writing with the occasional post which features the work of another artist. In keeping with my initial purpose for this website, however, I’d like to branch out and feature the writing and artwork of other like-minded creatives who long to glorify Jesus Christ through their craft.

Toward that end, I will be conducting a “dry run” at an online, quarterly journal. Our inaugural issue will be out Winter 2021. It has been my pleasure to build a steady readership throughout the course of the last two years. I’ve enjoyed conversations with many of you, and I feel confident in saying that the creative potential of those I’ve interacted with is significant. It’s my earnest desire to celebrate and promote the work of Christ-following creatives.

Since this is my first go-round, I will be holding open submission from July 1, 2020 to October 31, 2020. At least initially, publication will be online-only. We are not able to compensate contributors at this time, but the long-term goal is certainly to pay contributors.

If you are interested, please check out the Submission Guidelines! In order to familiarize yourself with my ethos, the content of this website, and what Bez & Co. is all about, feel free to peruse past work and check out the About Bez & Co page.

Thank you and good luck!

Talking Shop: The Prose Poem

Almost no creative-writing form is more “en vogue” right now than the prose poem. And why not? The prose poem is a tantalizing, versatile format that combines (ideally) the lyricism and conventions of poetry and applies them to a format that best resembles prose on the page.

There are no line breaks, rhyme, or strict meter involved; just paragraphs on a page.

It seems that the literati have flocked to this medium..and rightfully so! There is endless potential to utilize new rhetorical and artistic tricks with the relatively new format. 

Still, the form is not without its dangers. 

I’ve noticed an increasing trend toward “bad” prose poems. As of late. I suppose with the invention of any new form, it can be expected that writers will abuse it on a long enough timeline. The problem with bad prose poems–and there are truly some horrendous ones out there–all stem from a writer’s misunderstanding of what the prose poem’s purpose is.

Maybe it’s easiest to start by definition by negation. I can pretty quickly compile a short list of what prose poems aren’t or at least shouldn’t be:

1. Prose poems aren’t an easy excuse to avoid line breaks. Some poets eschew fixed forms in favor of free-verse just because they don’t want to be bothered with learning meter and scansion. Similarly, some writers take an undisciplined approach with prose poems–choosing the form simply because they don’t want to put any thought or work into how a poem should be broken up. What’s easier? Learning the power of enjambment, intentional ambiguity, and double-meanings through line breaks–seeing them as a poetic device in and of themselves, or just slopping the words onto the page in neat little paragraphs? Obviously, the latter. But just as free-verse doesn’t mean a poem is allowed to be without meter and rhythm, so a prose-poem must have intentional thought “baked in.”

2. Prose poems aren’t flowery sounding prose passages. Sprinkling a little alteration atop a narrative description does not a prose poem make. Too often, writers fall in love with a short prose-y passage they write, and rather than fleshing it out into a full short story or poem, they slap the moniker of “prose poem” on top and call it good. A prose poem needs to be able to stand on its own two feet. It must “work” as a creative writing piece unto itself.

3. Prose poems aren’t a novelty for the sake of novelty. This is, perhaps, the most important of the three, and it’s the heart of what I’m getting at with my previous two points, anyways. “Form follows function,” as the popular architectural maxim states. Which is to say, a prose poems format should serve the content of the poem. It should somehow make it better. The format of “prose poem” is just one piece of the writing that must work with all the rest to create the intended effect in the reader.

A few examples of how this can work come to mind:

1. Some prose wants to be poetry and some poetry wants to be prose. A prose poem operates in that margin, creating tension. Conversely,  as a former classmate once pointed out to me, some pieces seem to have “dual citizenship” in multiple formats (a prose poem can simultaneously be creative nonfiction piece, for example.) 

2. A prose poem can create a “breathless” quality that the writer might be trying to achieve. Coupled with some stream-of-conscious content, the prose poem can come at you “all at once” accentuated by its lack of line breaks.

3. Prose poems can couple well with experimental writing styles. I’ve read successful prose poems structured as numbered lists, “found” poems, and even a nutritional label. The possibilities and combinations are endless.

The crux of the issue is this: a good prose poem is intentional. There are reasons why the writer chose to use that form versus another. If you want to ensure that you’re crafting quality prose poems, consider whether it serves the material or is simply a wonky embellishment.

Melancholic Magician (prose poem)

There once was a man with melancholy. A magician, in fact. A failed magician, in many respects, but a magician, nonetheless.

This sad magician sat, every day, with quill in hand at a writing desk, every day convinced that if he were to write down the perfect words, set in the exact order, it’d create a sort of magic rune which could cure him of the chronic anhedonia which plagued him.

At times, he got close. The incantation he set to paper was maybe a word off, when he read it aloud. So he’d tinker with the syntax and diction for a couple weeks, swapping the order of a couple words here; substituting a synonym there.

And those near misses sustained him, staving away his melancholy for a little while.

But because the respite was short-lived, he threw out the would-be healing spells and started fresh, hoping to one day cure his ailment.

On certain days, he’d leave his writing desk, exploring the world outside the four-walls of his study. 

For what if the incantation involved words I haven’t yet learned? he wondered. Signifiers for objects I may not yet know exist?

And the magician aged and his hidebound journals piled up, in the pursuit of the perfect words, set in perfect order.

And you’ve probably guessed, Dear Reader, that this magician is most every poet; that the magician is the writer scrawling on the other end of the page you’re now reading.

This poem, or whatever you call it, is, itself, an attempt at that magic rune.

Fevered Ream (Prose Poem)

[Note: the following poem was originally published in the Quarterly Speculative Poetry Magazine Eye to the Telescope on Oct. 15, 2016.]

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Against a heat-lightning veneer of 130-thread count you slip from your die-cast sarcophagus comatose to ghost, soul tethered to body like a dangling tooth a child is not willing to yank; 

don’t know that you’re dead so your soul lingers in room 607 of St. Vincent’s Hospital like it’s got nothing better to do, lifting out of body, settling back in, tossing and turning in a hospital-standard twin-size adjustable.

You burn blue across an Elysian nebula hung high between the star of Bethlehem and another; a faint drawn route by an aura Luna moth seeking streetlight. You’re pouring pools of amber over aircraft contrails before clattering down, down: a blip on the Hubble as you land a far-cry from Mount Moriah and a scientist on the other end of the monitor blinks twice before uttering:

I saw one.

Convicted by the Sun (Prose Poem)

(after Job 12:7-9)

Ill-tempered and cross-grained. My key off its hook. I’m out through the breezeway. Into the throes of a weekday morning. My brain deplete of dopamine, I scan my surroundings, hoping to find the inconveniences that will justify my cantankerous mood. 

Instead, my eyes are met with a horizon dyed the color of mulberries. Two-century-old oaks applauding in glee. A glistening sunrise saying, “I told the truth each morning since I dawned upon Eden. You are the one out of sync here.” 

I saw a sparrow plucked from the page of a D.H. Lawrence poem. It chirped out Morse code, which, when decoded read, “No personal tragedy is ever so great that it buys you the right to be ungrateful.”

The sun, in swift rebuke, agreed: “The heavens declare the Glory of God. The flowers are clothed in splendor. The rocks themselves are crying out. So, who do you think you are? Who, exactly, do you think that you are?”

Ol’ Boy (Prose Poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Ol’ boy came by here not but a month ago and I poked my head out just to ask how he’s doing and he says, “I’m doin’, but I dunno how.”

Before you know it, he’s carrying on about how he got his newest scar: laid down his ‘cycle, maybe, or a southpaw caught him across the eye with a mean left hook outside the dive bar off Post and 23rd.

Ask him if he’s got a Kaw or a Yamaha and he’ll get offended, like. Says he spent his younger years under the hoods of Camaros and his daddy would rise out the grave and whip him good if he heard he wasn’t supporting American-made.

He’s got cheeks that look like sandpaper stretched tight and staked down like a tent. He has Ol’ Glory on one arm and the Stars and Bars on the other. If you’re a woman more’n likely he’ll put a rebel streak in you or at least make you feel a little more patriotic, provided you’re on all the right teams: GM and Coca-Cola and Bud Light and Copenhagen. If you aim to go along with him, remember trucks are meant to be lifted and not dropped, pledge allegiance to Ol’ Dixie and shoot Jack if you can’t stomach a shot of straight Diesel. Even if you don’t go along with him, you’ll get on fine, ’cause not a person alive doesn’t like ol’ boy.

Well anyway, he always did say he’d rather be the devil himself than one of his minions; but I’m thinking the jury must not have known him, must not have really known him, else they wouldn’t have convicted him, ’cause murderer or not, ol’ boy never did mean no harm.

Learning Not to Dance

Stepping from the dance floor, she asked me, who taught you to dance?

Who taught me to dance? No one, per se. No formal lessons, no wealth of experience to draw on. Truth is, you have to start dancing before you know how. You do know how, really.

What makes you sway when your song comes on, completely involuntarily, like it’s some function of your autonomic nervous systems, as innate as a pulse? You’d sync your heartbeat itself with the snare and hi-hats if it didn’t mean cardiac arrest for you.

Where’d you learn to syncopate your steps with your earbuds in—your left foot hitting the ground each time the bass drum strikes; your right foot when the tom is hit? No one taught you that. It’s intrinsic.

When it’s 72 and June and you’re cruising in your aught-two Malibu, why is it you roll the windows down, even though your A.C. works just fine? When you go to the grocery store, what makes you roll through the aisles using your shopping-cart like a scooter, despite being in your mid-twenties, relegating your day off to crossing out errands and picking up paper-towels?

Why is it that your affinity for sidewalk-chalk and swing sets never goes away, fully? Why, on cross-country drives, do you look at the tree line with a strange sense of yearning- to get off the grid and become drastically human?

How do you justify giving the guy by the side of the road fifty-cents bus fare? You know he’s scrounging just enough to buy a Forty.

Who, what, where, when, why, how did you learn to dance?

Though it’s a truth we so often forget, we, as Anglos, the chief offenders—you don’t learn to dance, sister.

You learn not to.