Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Walking the Chupacabra": Spontaneous Writing Prompts from the Edge

I've always been a fan of writing prompts, but my all-time favorite ones come about spontaneously, when everyday language or a phrase overheard in a passing conversation, or a misread headline, goes just a bit astray.  Language-play disrupts my predictable patterns of thought, my internal editorial demon; it encourages wild and unique connections precisely because I am no longer in charge; instead, language is the boss.  

My wife and I are especially fond of word-play, puns, or even just a delicious combination of words that fall out of our mouths and stun us with synchronicity.  "That would make a great poem title," we often blurt out in the middle of such a conversation, "or a great name for a garage band," or "a porno flick title!"  

If a phrase would work for one or two of those things, we're tickled, but if it happens to score for all three, it's a verbal hat trick. 

This is the kind of word-weirdness that reminds us why we're together; nobody else is strange enough to tolerate, let alone enjoy and perpetuate, this reckless enjoyment of the English language.

For example, we recently, acquired a new member of the family, a rescue dog named, inexplicably, StevieNicks! (Margo insists that it's all one name, and the emphasis is on the second half, with a move to the upper register. Don't ask.)

StevieNicks! is a smallish (55 pounds - small to a woman whose past dogs have tipped the scales at 125 lbs), black German Shepherd/Mallinois mix with severe food allergies and the personality of a perpetually delighted puppy. At four years old, she still races around with a ping-pong ball trajectory, does not have a linear bone in her body; she’s on the skinny side, and a bit moth-eaten from hair loss (although two months worth of an allergy-free diet, antibiotics and great veterinary care are having a wonderful effect). She's got gigantic satellite dish ears, a loooong face, and Big Bad Wolf teeth.  She also has hip dysplasia, a Shepherd trait, so her gait is usually a graceful lope, but sometimes crow-hoppy in the back end when going uphill.  For her diminutive size, StevieNicks! has a tremendously scary, full-throated bark, and she's not afraid to use it.

Because of her ferocity, her scruffy appearance, her rangy legs, her sharp white teeth, her loooong snout, and her big bat ears, I started calling StevieNicks! "the chupacabra."  [If you need an explanation, follow that link.]  One morning last week, I asked Margo, "Are you walking the chupacabra?"

There was that beat of silence that happens when word-magic has been made.  We looked at each other.  Walking the Chupacabra.  "Ohhhh," I said, "that is a beautiful poem title. But I don't think it's mine. Hmmmm... I want someone to write it, though ..."

I ended up posting it on Facebook, to any poet/writer friends.  An offering, I said, to someone who felt the same strange electric thrill at the sound of those three words spoken together, but had more poetry mojo at the moment than me.

That's how this kind of poetry prompt works: it's not official, not given to you in a classroom or as an assignment.  It doesn't appear in a how-to book. It comes from the slippage of regular conversation, or a sign seen out of the corner of your eye; it comes from the blurry edges of standard language.  

The blur, the edges: that's where the magic happens.

Here are the three poems I received back from three people who felt it, and responded.  They let language take the reins, and then – like all good poets – stepped in with expertise and craft to support the initial spark.

My thanks to Minal, Ire’ne, and Margo!

(And yes, I think Walking the Chupacabra also works as garage band name and porno flick title - which just goes to show you that when something is awesome, it's truly unstoppable.)

El Chupacabra

We are walking the chupacabra
in the morning. Every morning
we check his Twitter to see what bile
he’s spewed, we check the orange rug
to see what we need to clean up,
put down, burn off, weep around.
We count the goats
to see if they are safe.
We clean the blood & tears
off our sustainable
bamboo floor. El chupacabra
hisses, rubs the thorns 
along his spine all over
the house, shredding 
the leather couch. Afternoons
he likes to lie in the sun,
tongue lolling as he licks up smog
from the breasts of the skies. 
This is when we sleep,
huddled up against the wall
through the rough comfort
of his snores. When the sun sets
el chupacabra runs
to the red horizon. 
We hear his howls
all night long, clamoring
for flesh.  We answer—
fire in our bowels, fire in our lungs,
fire in our hearts—for we are 
exploding with love for our people
through the long war
knowing one day we will prevail
& make the beast ours.


every morning we put the leash around his rough furred neck let him take the lead out the door and onto the sidewalk while the neighbors look askance at us we walk the chupacabra every morning or shall we say he consents to let us walk him and we walk on the balls of our feet here we are walking the chupacabra or shall we say walking the threat of violence walking the shadow of imminent death we walk on the balls of our feet and breathe rapidly ready to run should he decide to turn and maul us should he become unable to hold his hunger in check not hunger for flesh but hunger to see life spilled life burst life ended

we walk the chupacabra praying under our breaths hesitating when he stops to inspect a bush or a butterfly or a dog walking down the opposite side of the street though we never hesitate when he decides to change direction we speed our steps so quickly we almost trip over ourselves we walk the chupacabra until it is time to return home until he turns his eyes homewards and he waits while we open the lock on the door while we remove the leash while we set his water and food down on bowls on the floor and we sleep in this house this house where the chupacabra sleeps sleep with our eyes open in case he wakes sleep in this house guarded by the chupacabra

Walking the Chupacabra

We always walk at night (as though
darkness could hide her trembling anticipation).
She waits for me by the gate, breath hoary,
starlight glinting off daggered teeth.

Darkness hides her trembling anticipation.
Shadows shapeshift into monsters,
starlight glinting off daggered teeth
(what holds the ends of their leashes?)

Shadows shift shapes into monsters.
Every woman has a chupacabra locked away
or at the end of a leash she clings to -
perhaps we should arrange play dates.

Every woman has a chupacabra, locked away
in a midnight corner of her mind.
Perhaps I could arrange a playdate
with a woman willing to release hers.

In the indigo corners of a mind,
or on a hand-knotted living room rug,
a woman willing to release hers
is a treasure not to be discarded.

A hand-knotted living room rug
woven from rags by my grandmother
is a treasure not to be discarded,
a saddle blanket for her own chupacabra.

Woven from rags by my grandmother,
my chupacabra is never cold -
no saddle blanket for her,
black fur glistening in moonlight.

My chupacabra is never cold
waiting for me by the gate, breath hoary,
black fur glistening in the moonlight.  
We always walk at night.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"You Bring Out the Abalone In Me" Broadside Fundraiser for Turtle Girl

$10 (plus $3 shipping) 

What is this?! "You Bring Out the Abalone in Me" is my California Indian take on an gloriously incendiary poem by Latinx poet Sandra Cisneros, "You Bring Out the Mexican in Me."  It's presented on a glossy 11 x 17 broadside, signed by the poet, and suitable for framing and gift-giving!

A little history:  When I teach beginning poetry workshops, I often assign an "imitation" poem as our first piece; learning a good poem from the inside out is both a close-reading exercise, and a celebration of the original poem.  I've gotten some amazing student responses: "You Bring Out the Norwegian in Me" (complete with lefse), "You Bring Out the Thelma and Louise in Me," "You Bring Out the Rock-Climber in Me" and of course, "You Bring Out the Feminist in Me."  Sandra's poem lends itself to the kind of imitation that pushes young poets to claim their own identities in specific and unique ways.

I often do in-class freewrites with my students, but for this particular assignment I had never struck that vein of inspiration that led to my own "You Bring Out the..." poem - until one year all the images of being California Indian came together and demanded to be heard!

This is the second version of this broadside poem; I've made a few little revisions to the way the poem sits on the page, and polished it a bit in place.  Most noticably, I've changed the abalone background from pure abalone colors to a pre-contact (possibly Miwok) necklace on display at the Oakland Museum in California.  This allows the poem more space to breathe, and at the same time, brings the Ancestors even more fully into the image.

I brought this broadside with me on my October mini-tour of California, and it was embraced by many.  Some folks asked if I could make this available online; with a little coaxing, I've made it happen!

Props:  It's one thing to have students play around with Sandra Cisneros' poem in a classroom, but a whole 'nother thing to make a broadside based on that poem, and sell it.  I've checked with Sandra, and she gave her blessing for all proceeds from the broadside to go towards helping my granddaughter, Georgia "Turtle Girl," receive the care she needs for a rare genetic disorder called Adenylosuccinate lyase deficiency (ADSL).  

Details:  The poem is printed on 11 x 17 cardstock with a shiny finish.  I'll mail them out in cardboard tube mailers, first class.  

How to order:  PayPal.  Send $13.00 (10 for the broadside, 3 for shipping) to me by clicking this link - this is the easiest way for me to handle payments. If you'd like to order more than one broadside, simply multiply 10 x quantity desired.  For example, two broadsides would be $20, plus $3 for shipping. The shipping amount is the same for up to five broadsides. Please include your shipping address for me in the comment section!

As we head into winter, Turtle Girl's family is facing a housing crisis.  Your purchase of this broadside will help her mom and dad make sure that the whole family, including new baby Jhonathan, will be safe and warm.


Text of the poem:  

You bring out the abalone in me. The slick, slippery flesh in me. The hard-silk iridescent shell. The bitter tannin. The acorn meat on a wide flat stone, the pounding that goes on for days. For you, I would give up my white flour, white sugar, lactose-laden milk addiction. Eat your gourmet locavore meals, decolonize my diet. uh-huh. Uh-huh. For you.

You bring out the frenzied tail-whipping salmon in me. The sweet mother-of-pearl in me. The Monterey estuary thick with silver backs. The thrashing homeward past grizzlies gorging with scaly grins. The strategic wildfire in me. The trigger of seeds snapping open. The green flash of life in ashes. The Big Sur tempest in me. The rogue wave surge, swallow-tourists-sweep-them-halfway-to-Hawaii-in-seconds in me. The dolphin in me. The legend of rainbow bridge, sinewy people of the sea in me. The San Francisco quake n’ bake in me. The fear of drought in me. Yes, you do. You do.

You bring out the Bear Dance in me. The Deer Dance of desire in me. The Swordfish Dance stab in me. The dove gray cocoon rattles in me. The elderberry clappersticks in me. The all night all day all night again Solstice song in me. The Spanish soldado de cuera cruelty in me. The priest’s cross decorated with feathers and shells in me. Deer one. Mi tulecita, I am the hunter you will lie down for, obsidian knife kisses along your jugular. Your heart belongs to me; no amar dios, no neofita, no kidnapped conversion.

I want to bathe in your blood and be cleansed. I want to strip you naked as only pagans can be. I want to caste out your demons in the thick black air of the sweat lodge. You bring out the abalone in me, tanoch, and you like it.

You bring out the martyrdom of priests in me. The burning-arrows-in-the-Mission-thatched-roofs in me. The Tears of the Sun Rebellion in me. The Toypurina guerilla woman leader in me. The 1802 measles epidemic in me. The God’s Will fever of smallpox in me. The bad aguaguardiente home brew in me. The San Andreas rattlesnake of jealousy. The intergenerational postcolonial stress syndrome, late-night craving for wine in me.


I am savage. I am Coyote’s heathen twin. I am the flooder of continents. The hard white marble mountain top of creation. The single footprint of the only survivor. You bring out the pre-contact Eden in me. The love medicine basket weaving in me. The U.S. government lie and ‘49er lust in me. The Eighteen Unratified Treaties in me.
Green turtle. Quicksilver. Black sand. Gold. Mugwort. Cedar. White sage. Angelica root. All you ancestors, saved and unsaved, Momoy, Eagle, I see you. kaiusen cha’a me. sinne me xawan. sinne me. kaiusen inlam. ka muisin. ka mec mui’sin exe. Love the way an abalone woman loves. Iridescent, salty, untamed.  Let me uncivilize you.                 

Deborah A. Miranda