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Down with OPP? Yeah, you know me.

Let’s take a deep dive into the first three lines of Ricky Ray’s poem “The Dream,” published at

"In which the monster emerged sludgehearted and fond of hares.

And triplets were born of a wish that blew itself apart.

Candleflame ignored the wind."

First, a confession. I seldom read the titles of poems. I’m like a rabid animal scrounging through trashed McDonald’s debris. I want to find and get to the meat as quickly as possible. Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that titles are superfluous annoyances.

However, when I get to the first line of this poem, I immediately hit In which, referencing the title. So, back to the title I go. There, I find the poet’s assertion: Dream.

But can the poet be trusted? (Can poets ever be trusted?) One trick to reading poetry is to keep it loosey goosey. You want to read attentively, but stay cool - don’t get too eager to nail things down. Hold the hammer, but don’t yet flex your bicep. Language and meaning float in poetry, and you want to wait with an open hand for them to come to you rather than try to reach out and grab them. Loosey. Goosey.

“In which the monster

Next, we have the monster. Monsters are scary, but so far we’re trusting the safety net of dream, so we can move boldly forward tentatively presuming that the poet is showing us a common nightmare and not a) awake and hallucinating, b) using “monster” as a metaphor for a horrible person or that c) there’s an actual monster.

Caveats: 1. The dream itself could be using “monster” as a metaphor for a horrible person 2. Anything could happen in this poem. We know nothing. 3. Never trust poets. Always read slowly, with curiosity and suspicion. Every word counts.

Lucy is the poet. The football is the poem. You are Charlie Brown.

So, we’re introduced to a monster in a poem titled The Dream, not “The Nightmare.” Curious, right? From the beginning, the poet is providing tension.

Tension - presentation of opposing ideas, moods, conclusions - is something you should always BOLO for in poetry. Many poets, including myself, live in a state of constant tension. It only makes sense that this would make itself manifest in our work. One simple example of tension is the use of oxymoron, however in my experience this tactic is often sophomoric and clumsy, while more subtle efforts are more effective.

Let’s move on.

“In which the monster emerged

Next, we read emerged. By the way, see how slowly I’m going? Every. word. counts. Here, the poet chose emerged. Not “walked up,” and not “suddenly appeared.” Emerged. What feelings and connotations does that word bring up? Off the top of my head, I think: Babies emerge from the womb. Small, furry animals emerge from holes in the ground. Neither of these are threatening. Also, emerged implies a gradual process, so we presume, even if threatened, one could run away or grab a stick and bop the offending party on the head before it offers us any harm. Still, the word emerged is not exactly graceful or pretty on the tongue, thus does not portend such. Hemorrhoids emerge.

Not graceful or pretty.

“In which the monster emerged sludgehearted

Welp. The poet just cracked his knuckles and made up a new damn word, then.

Another BOLO in poetry: language play. Here, the poet plays by creating a new compound word from two known words: sludge and hearted. These words carry their own sets of history and baggage, their own connotations that, when smashed together, further work to employ a particular tension in the poem.

Sludge we can easily associate with “monster” and “emerged.” One could expect to read this sentence: “The monster emerged from the sludge.” Plus, further connection is made with the music of repeating “g” and “d” sounds: emerged, sludge. Not to mention the similar, slack-jaw vowels. In this poem though, whether or not the monster is emerging from sludge, sludge is within the monster. That’s new, interesting, yet still fits a typical concept of monster.

But wait. Hearted. If we accept that sludge is within the monster, within this poem we must accept that the monster has a heart. The poet - Frankenstein genius - has paired sludge with hearted. Even if sludgy, can we tolerate that monsters have hearts at all? That’s new, interesting, and does not fit our typical concept of monsters, which are more often synonymously heartless.

More tension. Now we're getting somewhere.

What does it mean to be sludgehearted? Could this be a new word for sad? I am put in mind of Humorism, specifically its theory that melancholy, or depression, develops from a sluggish concentration - a sludge - of black bile in the body. What feelings does the word sludgehearted bring up in us, the readers? Do we fear this poet’s monster, or begin to pity him?

Questions upon questions. Now we’re really getting somewhere.

“In which the monster emerged sludgehearted and fond of hares.”

Reader? Pardon me. I must away to burst into tears.

At this point, you must allow me the liberty of assumption. I can not help but read “and fond of hares” as lovingly fond in the manner of Looney Tunes’ The Abominable Snowman when he holds and loves a bunny-suited Daffy Duck whom he names George, rather than “fond of hares” as in going back for seconds of rabbit stew.

Taking the former meaning, “fond of hares” is such a heartbreaking end of the first line.

The first line.

There are two more in this examination, and forgive me but I must rush through them due to technical difficulties experienced earlier. The day wanes.

And triplets were born of a wish that blew itself apart.

For expediency’s sake, I shall present the images this line called to mind in GIF form:

Yes, those are twins, not triplets, I know. My point is, the tension continues. We have the pleasant, Disney-like “born of a wish” (your heart makes) followed by the violent, mystical “blew itself apart.” This line is at once as innocuous and damning as the science of cells dividing.

Candleflame ignored the wind.

Finally, we arrive at this third line. Notice the efficiency of language. “Candleflame” instead of “the flame of a candle.” I admit I would have been tempted to write the latter, if only for the flow of words. I wave and flutter my hand when I stop to read aloud while drafting and, like Mariah Carey, I think it might tend to make me a little extravagant on the microphone. Also, note the personification choice of ignored. Every word counts. Not “withstood.” Not “braved.” Ignored. A wish blows itself apart, then a candleflame ignores the wind. Tension.

In this poem, tension is brought to us by consciousness - each object in the poem is conscious, each word in the poem is conscious, and of course here the poet is conscious at the highest level, requiring the reader, in turn, to elevate their consciousness in order to find meaning.

Tension. Consciousness. Bullseye.

The poem goes on. Please go read it. Both the poet and the journal are new to me - I would encourage you to explore them.

* If you are the poet, and find anything I've said here to be complete bullshit, or even a little bullshit here and there, please reach out and let me know.

  • Amber Shockley

When the young man she'd been dating for two years applied for a scholarship to an out-of-state school, then got in the car with his packed bags, kissed his weeping mama and drove off to major in Economics without asking her to marry him first, Judy said, Fine.

She walked down to the pawn store to look at diamond rings. There were twelve. Several were three-stone, or trinity, as the shopkeeper explained. Those looked too extravagant. The few small marquise weren't her style, but there was one tiny, round stone ring that fit the bill. She bought it for fifty dollars and placed it on her finger. Sitting the neighborhood's screaming, teething children 3-4 evenings every week since she'd turned 12 had earned her that, at least.

She went to the grocery store and unzipped her wallet with her left hand. She filed through the bills there carefully, her fingers crawling like a drugged centipede. She pushed back her hair with her left hand when the wind blew at the bus stop. She tucked her hair behind her ear, letting her ring finger linger at her lobe.

She took a job at the five and dime as a cashier, where customers were treated to flashes of brightly manicured nails, a hypnotizing effect as her fingers flitted over the register's keys. One old woman complained of the immodesty: red color is for whores. Judy went out and bought a gold band.

Men tipped their hats lower, longer. Young girls gave deference. There was an embarrassment at the bank when she presented a check and gave her own name to open the account.

Eventually, the shine did wear off. Judy appeared at the pawn store again. This time, one of the trinity rings. At work, she received congratulations. Oh, how sweet! For your anniversary? I wish I were so lucky.

The trouble and the luck was that no one really cared enough about Judy to ask about her husband, or invite the couple over for dinner. Judy was one of those people others seemed happy to let remain unknown.

Aging didn't bother Judy very much. There was no shift for her, no loss. Other women panicked. That's when they noticed Judy, and came to her for advice. She seemed smart, happy, careless. For the first time in her life, Judy was able to play coy.

She settled into the role of mysterious sage. It was assumed that her husband died. Widowers flirted with her at the five and dime. A bouncy, bright-toothed reporter from the local station came to do a human interest piece on the "bejeweled" cashier who had worked at the same shop for over 30 years. Apparently, she was an attraction for small children who begged their parents to bring them in to see "the lady with all the rings." Judy kept looking down at the huge foam microphone held in front of her during the interview. On television, she looked like she was crossing her eyes. The pawn shop owner refused to comment for the story, or even confirm that Judy was among his regular clientele.

One haggard mother was interviewed outside the shop who said that when she brought her daughter in crying after a difficult dentist appointment, Judy took off an emerald and handed it to her, just to make her feel better.

Judy was generous, and trusted to be honest. It got to the point that, if someone lost, or sold, a valuable ring, and wanted to see if they could get it back, it was a toss up whether they would check with the pawn shop or Judy first.

Judy would stand at the door, smile, then disappear inside, leaving the visitor to wait on the stoop. You stood a 50/50 chance. If luck was in your favor, she would return with your ring, and ask nothing as payment. Not even the amount she gave for it.

Late in life, when her generosity accelerated to the point that she was known to strip an entire finger bare on a whim and drop it into a stranger's hand, or the collection plate at church, people around her would look at each other and shake their heads. She was a lunatic, or lonely.

Pity, either way.

It wasn't until after she passed away - peacefully, and in her sleep - that an attorney discovered among her possessions many lost items, including the class ring of a local veterinarian who often drove drunk, a known philanderer's military signet, and a ruby from a woman who repeatedly undertipped waitresses. There were dozens. All had been reported, and everyone claimed to have knocked on Judy's door. The thief in her grave, there was no explanation other than luck and punctilious piety. These qualities are often overlooked in light of a pickpocket's flashy fingers.

Mistakes were made.

First of all, after I reported the increase in my depression symptoms, my psychiatrist increased my dose of Effexor. My stomach's lip curled like some old bitch finding a rotten kumquat in the produce bin at her local farmer's market.

Next, after much debate, we decided to switch Maddie and CC's food. We did this immediately. In turn, they immediately started dropping light brown gel-turds with cherry topping, which was blood. I was ready to haul their asses to the vet, but internet research revealed that this can happen when you make food choices for cats without slow, steady notification and consent. I kept an eye on them, and am happy to report that their feline feces are now back to the shape of fused together Milk Duds.

But then there's Pluto. Poor Pluto. We switched his food on a whim. What a wild ride.

He woke me up at 3:30 two mornings ago. He had a nervous look on his face and was making little grunts. I figured out pretty quickly that he needed to go out, and I knew it wasn't going to be good.

Reader, it wasn't. He sniffed frantically, hopping back and forth before he finally crouched into position like a gnarled tree root. What came out of his back end was sloppy and pitiful and it happened again at 5:30, then 8:30, then the rest of the day every 2-3 hours.

I cooked and fed him plain chicken and rice. His appetite is in tact, so he had a few small servings of that throughout the day. I was hoping by evening that there would be some sign of solidification.

It was not to be.

The turds continued like some kind of caramel-colored soft serve delicacy from hell's McDonald's. I don't even know if I can call them turds. They were pile deposits. Pluto's rear end out-mouth started to make weird suction noises.

I want to say right here that I pride myself on being a good neighbor. I've come home, grabbed a bag, and driven back to the scene of the crime to pick up poops I had to leave behind upon discovering I didn't have a bag with me.

But there's no collecting diarrhea. You have to just leave it. You have to let it do the cruel work of suffocating the grass underneath it and becoming one with the earth. You have to let it decompose like the kibble-corpse that dog poop is.

Luckily, most of the piles were squirted out under the cover of night.

All day during the day, Pluto farted Big Farts. He was on the couch next to me for my virtual therapy appointment, and if you think you have a hard time with Zoom, try being on camera while you're inhaling continuous clouds of noxious methane.

Maybe it was methane? I know it's methane with cows, but maybe dog guts produce a different gas? Who knows, but my nostrils are the heroes my mouth doesn't deserve.

After a squirt-poop followed by a full-meal vomit of chicken and rice in the lobby early this morning, things have slowed down.

I'm hoping tonight is better because I am sleep deprived, thus completely worthless. I've been in my pink bathrobe all day. I haven't brushed my teeth. I've only put on pants for poop runs.

Also, at some point during the night last night when I was out with Pluto, the giant cat tree crashed down. CC and Maddie sleep in the tree (it features soft cat baskets), so last night they were forced to degrade themselves and sleep with me.

Pity them their idiot parent.

Send us succor, for we are in the keeping of an imbecile.

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