July 30th: 30:30 Project

Lessons for dying

Like a midwife, I sit and count
breaths until they stop. 

I lean on the memory of rehearsal
as witness, as shepherd. 

I embrace and say the soothing
words that must be said. 

They are all nearby, the ones that
matter. It hurts to watch them lose her. 

How to describe her face, alive, now dead.
Her words forever fixed in glass. 

Soon, I’ll see her everywhere, guarding
words she cannot utter. 

They are grateful I have come to sit with them.
As for me, I’ve lost the myth of shelter. 

I do not unearth meaning.
I do not know how to pray. 

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July 29th:30/30 Project

The Big Five / by Risa Denenberg

(1) Signs of Aging

You may find you can’t do the tango anymore.
Your sex drive will circle the drain. There is no point
in looking for the whole picture with presbyopia.
In fact, all of your senses become altogether unreliable,
making you wonder if the universe, as you thought
you knew it, really exists.

(2) Common allergies

Peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and shellfish. Odd
leftovers that slosh over the bowl’s edge. Also,
shouldn’t we get smaller as we age, not bigger,
and shouldn’t we disappear at death, not leave
a ruined body behind for others to grapple with?

(3) Love

If I don’t smile much, what of it? Tell me a pun,
I’ll give you a big grin. I mean, how much loss can I
pile on before I lose it? I struggle this way often, hold
my temples with both hands to sequester anxieties.
So I have OCD, what’s it to you? What I really want
is to be left alone, gut-empty alone.

(4) Existentialism

The potential for catatonia exists in every moment.
Look, I don’t always know what point I am trying to make.
I certainly have no idea how someone else will take
my point, my poem, my whole damn philosophy.
I’m getting to that place now, where you will either
sign off or sigh and continue reading. You’ve come
this far. Let’s walk a bit further, even if we are afraid.

(5) Death

It costs a quarter for each x-ray, fifty cents per pill;
the bargain is brokered by hope, the doctor’s cut
enormous. Yes, it will cost dear. And as the end draws
near, you won’t recall why you have to suffer so,
you will only stare, eyes too big in your cachectic body.
It will be awful to witness.

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July 28th: 30/30 Project

Shower / by Risa Denenberg

Mornings can be dour.
I languish here for hours,
moldering under the storm.
Heat is salve to ache and heartache.

Steam defrosts stiff right hip, charms
a scalp, thaws sour displeasure. Lemon
sage, lavender, tea tree suffuse me. Still,
it seems, there is never enough pleasure.

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July 27th: 30/30 Project

Late July, circa 1959 / by Risa Denenberg

Baseball cards cluck in the spokes of bikes,
Bikes do figure eights in and out of the gas station,
Tires shriek as feet touch cement,
Bare soles squish on hot tarry streets,
Fingers grab a nickel from the coin return cup,
Mouths glug Nehi Orange,
Breath whistles across the empty bottle,
Ball bounces to the rhythm of the swift slaps of a game of jacks,
We rhyme verse to the whacks of the jump ropes,
Feet thwack the dirt to Olly olly oxen free,
Crickets jeer, cats whine,
Sun sets with a splash,
We’re called to bed, curtains thwap, sheets damp and sticky.

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July 26th and a message



That’s the message. Thank you so much to my glorious friends who have sponsored me on this marathon. And as for the rest of you, it’s not too late to donate. 



press the green button!

Just mention my name somewhere on the form, donate $18 or more, and you will receive my gratitude, and a copy of my new book: Mean Distance from the Sun. 

And now, the poem: 

Magpie / by Risa Denenberg

Once a hoard of curiosity, now heaps and piles. Once,
I knew what to save, now it’s every scrap and button.

I save dreams no one hopes to inherit—
I have breast cancer, I’m buried in rubble, I’m drowning. 

and senseless questions: if I were caged in a cell
without a sink, would I drink toilet water?

I should sort this damn nostalgia into mounds,
scorch the surplus in an enormous bonfire. Instead,

I pace all day searching for a once-orderly mind.
I cannot raze meager leftovers from those who’ve passed

or package debris for those ahead. Still, at times
I stumble on sudden beauty, a fragment, sparse gold.


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catching up July 24 and 25th: 30/30 Project


A mere shudder / by Risa Denenberg

She imagines a long, lean body,
closes her eyes as she gathers up chubby hips
laps at the salt lick of saggy tits,
tries to re-enter the rhythm and rhapsody,
womb over fist.

We make so much of this small discharge
of neurons,
this exclamation mark.

It takes such a rim of cunning
to maintain lust. A flower pot
of love-sick soup simmers
on the back burner.

A Perfect Reader /
by Risa Denenberg

After a dreamy reading, a poet stands
at the podium to take a few questions.

Someone asks: Who is your ideal reader?
Modestly, he replies, one who reads a poem
more than once.

There and then, I vow to be his reader.
I will recite the poem until its words enter me
like a lover who waits for the silky readiness
of the beloved’s lust.

I will read aloud and in silence, I will memorize
line by line. I will read ardently and get lost
time and again. I will swing languidly backwards
to the beginning a million times

to locate not his meaning, nor mine
but ours. Or if there is no meaning, I will
contemplate the depths of its emptiness.

I will not be deterred by difficult style
or language. I will chew the poem
down to its scaffolding and ink it with
red stars to navigate each of its turns.

I will not sleep or eat during the countless hours
of our tête-á-tête. I will not cuckold
my poet for any other.

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July 23: 30/30 Project

Big thanks and kisses to everyone who has donated to Tupelo Press!!!
(If you haven’t, it’s not too late.)

The night was long with pain, / by Risa Denenberg

and unfamiliar throbbing
in places where the mind goes during hours
of sleeplessness.

You think you know grief, but every new wound
rouses old alarm. Alone you face that instant
when disbelief becomes dread and then certainty.

It is cancer. I’ll never see her again.
My memory is dimming. I will die
and no one will look for my body.

What made it so hard to rise, to take
some pills, to lay aside qualms that
are likely to be my fate?

I don’t know how I stumbled though
this sore night of disquiet. I must
redouble efforts at equanimity.

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