Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Ghazal for a Nearly Forgotten Rain Goddess

Wilderness is a circus ride; I jump
silver turnstiles and dodge my fare tonight.

Somewhere on the withered plains, coyotes
howl and cry as they leave their lairs tonight.

Lonely weather satellites trek all through
the salted skies like robot prayers tonight.

You claim constellations for forgotten
nations on dusty roads we share tonight.

Your voice, mellifluous, you whisper and
name the hurricane wind-stirred air tonight.

Come thunder and southern lightning storms you
rejoice, “Let rainfall be our heir tonight.”

I’ve had my students experimenting with ghazal writing. It’s been interesting, and some of them have really gotten into it. A few had trouble grasping the radif (that repeating word at the end of each couplet) and wrote some decent poems sans radif. Trying to help them figure out how to get a radif in there, I turned to Johnny Cash and suggested they try his example from “I’ve Been Everywhere”:

I’ve been everywhere, man.
I’ve crossed the deserts bare, man.
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I’ve had my share, man.
I’ve been everywhere, man.

Not a ghazal really, but a ghazalish chorus at least. And so I got a few ghazals that use homie and dawg as the radif. Several of them worked quite well and would even make decent raps, which is why I think the kids who are serious about rapping really latched onto this.

Oh, and mellifluous was the word of the day. Bonus points are added to any assignment in which students use their SAT words of the day.


  1. Lovely ghazal there, very natural sounding radif and some wonderful phrases like salted skies.

    I find either people get ghazals or they don’t, similar to haiku really

    Adrienne Rich wrote a whole load of ghazals without radifs. Wonderful poems….

    • Thanks, CGP. I’ll have to check those out. I need to spend some time reading them. Most of what I know has come from reading about them.

  2. I’ve always like the Ghazal, it can be a bit tricky as you mentioned with the constraint of having to use a repeating last word, but I don’t know, I hope the students gained an appreciation for what a constraint can actually open up. There are many forms that do just this, A ghazal is one of the more engaging ones I’ve found. Very nice job here. I especially enjoyed the lonely weather beginning lines, has a certain ring to it, and doesn’t hurt that I’m a big fan of attributing human qualities to inanimate things….anyhow, thanks, really nice read.

    • Thanks, Fred. I agree about constraints, though it took a while for me to figure that out. It’s why I tend to be a stickler for 5-7-5 when I do haiku with my kids. I want them to struggle a little with the words and see how sometimes that leads to the most wonderful discoveries.

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