Basic Me

In 2006, I invented a form called Basic Me. Basically, it means “what are your words and how would you define them?”

The rules:
- 4 to 14 lines of dactyl-dactyl-trochee-iamb
- rhymed couplets
- first word of each line is one syllable
- the word “is” must be in each line

Some thoughts about the form:

This is a form of surprises, of shock, if you can close your mind and not know what the other side of the "is" is. "Is" is a twist rather than an arrow. Strange, how this form seems to wring the uniqueness out of us! It's as if you can't hide in a Basic Me - not even from yourself. They are distinctive as fingerprints.
- Cally Conan-Davies

One of the things I value about this form is the way it encourages an off-kilter dream logic. The form almost forces you to strike out in each line without knowing what the second half of the equation will be, trusting unconscious associations to bubble up.
- Catherine Tufariello (See hers at Mezzo Cammin.)

Here’s the one I wrote, the very first of its kind:

Basic Me

Bed is a popular lesbian theme.
House is a lung on the verge of a scream.
Owl in the tree is a thought from the past.
Lake is a love that evaporates fast.
Soup on the stove is the day to be home.
Dark as the night is the time for shalom.
Rose is the source of my quick and my calm.
Bread is the fortune crisscrossing my palm.
Gay is cross-dressing on West Village piers.
Age is a measure of all my lost years.
Queer is a feeling, a flash of wild fish.
Cat is outside with a paw on my wish.
Sleep as a comfort is close to a kiss.
Jan is the gentle critiquer of this.

- Mary Meriam

And here are some by my colleagues:

"Glossary by Twilight" by Marly Youmans  at Mezzo Cammin.

To Be

Am is a fish in its wavery bliss

Is is the fizz as my limb touches his

Are is the catch and release as we kiss

Was – is there anything sadder than this?

Were is the spell-word I always got wrong

Where (as I wrote) is what moves me along

- Cally Conan-Davies

Basic Me

Heart is a hiding place where I can’t hide.
Sad is a sea with a hell of a tide.
Tree is Connector from heaven to earth.
Heaven-and-hell is the moment of birth.

Time is a tuner to focus and blur.
Space is infinity. Time is its spur.
Neither is certain of just where you were.

Flower is intimate; leaf is a voice.
Trunk is the heartbeat and it has no choice.
Green is the shadow whose meaning is light.
Blue is the smokescreen that covers the night.

- Siham Karami

Short Story

Blond is a woman who opened a door.

Night is the place where I learned I want more.

Wet is a wish cast in silver and gold.

Mouth is a music with multiple folds.

Thigh is a binding that keeps me in place.

Breath is a shortage that occupies space.

Want is wherever her eye catches mine.

End is a stopping well short of the line.

Loss is a lust sprained and spraying in vain.

Wet is a wasting where want once had lain.

Distance is wondering what did she see?

Aching is arching that echoes in me.

- Barbara Egel

Pedro = Piedra = Stone

Stone is the language of silence and time.
Time is the punishment done for a crime.
Crime is an arrow that punctures a heart.
Heart is the ocean that opens apart.
Part is a hole that's removed from the whole.
Whole is the wisdom that staggers the soul.
Soul is the spirit I drink when alone.
Lone is the surface of rippleless stone.

- Pedro Poitevin

Le Fil

Think is a moment that went in a blink.
Mind is the motherlode mined to the brink.
Speech is adornment: your desert or flood.
Child is my earth-wire, sparked with our blood.

- Seree Zohar

I Almost Am
But now I only know I am—that’s all.
(John Clare)

Hair is the dress that’s left out in the rain.
Bath is the elegant speed of the brain.
Blood is the treasury sprinkled with rice.
Tea’s that warm vowel in the heart of thin ice.

Arm is the lesson that will not be learned.
Smoke is the season that cannot be turned.
Bone is the road that leads out of the wood.
Bread is a word that’s been misunderstood.

Mile after mile is food left by the door.
Light is the bowl that’s washed up on the shore.
Dust is the handle. It breaks from the cup.
Dream is what’s left when the rest’s folded up.

(for Mary Meriam—2006)

- R. Nemo Hill

This is the News

This is the house where the murder was done.
This is the dagger and this is the gun.
This is the chainsaw and this is the drain.
This is the head of the man who was slain.
This is the witness who saw how he died.
This is the court where the killer was tried.
This is the lawyer who worked for a fee.
This is the jury who couldn’t agree.
This is the judge who was sleepy and fat.
This is the journalist smelling a rat.
This is the rat that was big as a house
This is the money that made it a mouse.
This is the hole where the mouse disappeared.
This is the journalist growing a beard.

- John Whitworth

Word Frequency Head Trip

Like is the yoke of a simile's pair.
God is the question, the O in the air.
Now is not now is not now. But it was.
End is the problem, since everything does.

- Maryann Corbett

Freeze Frame

Child is the vase I must fill every day.
Drive is a job that I do without pay.
Clock is a manacle shackling me.
Wine is a lullaby warbled off-key.

Yes is the sting of one wasp in a swarm.
No is the ominous rumble of storm.
Milk is the tears over anything spilt.
Book is the lover I run to with guilt.

Home's an umbrella with one broken spoke.
Love is the punch line divorced from the joke.
Dog is a squirrel chase bound by the park.
Dream is the blanket I seek in the dark.

Girl is the dreamer I was before men.
Ice is one celibate moment of Zen.

- Anna M. Evans

Basic Me

Time is a thief of the done and the used.
Life is a book death alone has perused.
Love is forever but can't stick around.
Flight is a way to relate to the ground.
Sight is but blindness to what isn't seen.
Blue is but yellow subtracted from green.
Four is a number that never met five.
Dead is the future of being alive.
Good is just good. It's not bad in reverse.
Fuck is a compliment said as a curse.
Sound is what's hiding inside of the calm.
Fear is the subtext of every great psalm.

- Robert Schechter

Not Stealing, but Borrowing

Song is the solo the young lover sings.
Heart is the host for all amatory things.

Soul is the self you should save if you can.
Loss is the race in which you also ran.

Sea is the setting for sun going down.
End is what happens to you when you drown.

Wave is the thing you should do in its stead.
Far is how out you are, inside your head.

Die is too final, but each one is cast.
Last is the opposite breath of at last.

- Philip Quinlan

Friend Is the House

Dark is a riddle that dawn doesn't solve.
Law is an evil that crime might absolve.
Faith is roulette with a big rusty gun:
God is a bullet, but — praise God — just one.

Time is a pleasure that age makes a task.
Hope is the face of what truth tries to mask.
Heart is a bubble the heartless will prick.
Friend is the house I have built brick by brick.

- Ed Shacklee

Everyday and Special

Art is what critics decide is now in
Craft is art’s blue-collar, simpleton kin
Skill is acquired, but talent is not
Work is all play when ideas are hot
Song is the sound of the heart and soul
Scream is a fugitive breaking its hold
Snow is a feather light, deadly weight
Rain is too often too much too late
Find is what we are all hoping to do
Cure is a wish still just out of view
Gem is a treasure when not a stone
Fear is a slithering foe when alone
Love is a giving that gladdens my heart
Pluck is the armor I wear for my part

- Birthe Myers

Basic TLC

God is the scent of warm soil in my hands
Spring is a zealot obeying commands
Green is the pull of earth’s gravity home
Map of the world is incitement to roam
Sea is my play-pen and full of my tears
Deep is the ocean absorbing my fears
Fish as a wish is my constant of greed
Fur is the most and the least of my need
Time, white-hot mercury, is hard to hold
Wild is my plan to avoid growing old
Grace is a salve calming edges of red
Strength for my journey is waiting in bed

- Tamara Cross


Wine is a lover, a lush, or a lout.
Love marries hope, but their offspring is doubt.
Hope is a song that you teach to your heart.
Song is the grace of air altered by art.

Grace is perfection, or poise, or a plea.
Poise garners gold, and the medal is free.
Gold is a game that turns grim and unclean.
Grim is the night when affection grows lean.

Night is a black hole, a boon, or a beast.
Black hides your scars, and a dream is a feast.
Dream is a word that makes milk out of brine.
Word by word, poetry is the best wine.

- Jean L. Kreiling


Fretting is knitting without casting on
If is the answer not acted-upon
Night is the heavier half of the day
Bed is the blessing that wipes it away
Sleeping is solace but seldom for long
Thinking is silence that might have been song
Rat is a shadow that’s misunderstood
Waiting is wanting that would if it could
Kindness is careful, an end in itself
Singleton sits on a separate shelf
Secrets are lies that you dare not defend
Sadness is sometimes and feels like a friend
Purchase is pause on a slippery slope
Laughter is leeway that passes for hope

- Ann Drysdale

The Creatures of Earth

Fish is a feeler of Man’s darkest thoughts.
Man is a mind that observes heaven’s dots.

Lark is a rainbow-like streak through the skies.
Bat is an eardrum that eavesdrops on flies.

Frog is the voice of our planet in spring.
Snake as a rat is a whole ’nother thing.

Fox is the moon-glow on snow in the night.
Cape hunting dog is the eyetooth of fright.

Skink is a tail that sheds light on your myths.
Lost is the dino that quells shibboleths.

Bee is the buzz flowers feel in the park.
Life is a lightning bug sparking the dark.

- Martin Elster

Me, In Brief

Word is the instrument fashioning thought.
Verse is a siren whose stage-craft I sought.

Teach is the mother and daughter of learn.
Heal is the ultimate goal of concern.

Friend is a sibling despite DNA.
Love is commitment that cannot betray.

Age is a danger by virtue of length.
Lone is the basis of weakness and strength.

Dog is the animal studies our eyes.
God, if He is, may be there in disguise.

- Mary E. Moore

Basic Me

I is a someone whom I'll never know
I is a shimmering outer routine
I is just maybe with no place to go

I is the surface that's always been seen
I is so now that my now's never old
I is the knowledge that rues what I mean

I is a seller and also the sold
I is an end our beginnings can't see
I is an edict: Take Joy and Behold!

- Lance Levens

Startle and Scram

Walk is a dance I have danced to your doors.
Sit is the end of the climb up six floors.
On is the light when the curtains are drawn.
In is a bin at the edge of your lawn.

Go is a shove when you need a good pat.
Stay is a boon for a welcome mat.
Un is the prefix you try to employ.
Out is your way, not your sullen decoy.

Bend is a gesture the seeker displays.
Rise is to nights as recline is to days.
Off is to cats just a startle and scram;
At, where sand gathers, and is, in the clam.

- Jess Mason McFadden