Come and I will show you all / Makes each day a festival. 1
small horses ride me / carry my dreams /of prairies and frontiers
where once / the first people roamed / claimed union with the earth. 2
While the sun shines / In one quarter of heaven
And the rainbow– Breaks out its enormous flag. 3
Could I see it from the mountains / If I were as tall as they? 4
I looked for every loveliness, it all came true. 5
Rise up my love and come away / The rain is over and gone. 6
Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, 7
Your love is fruit of my darkest day / And I am your Rose of Sharon. 6
For April 30, write a cento, a poetry form in which each line comes from another poem.
Title: W. B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree
1Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sunrise
2 bell hooks, Appalachian Elegy, Section 5
3 Adrienne Rich, Peace
4 Emily Dickinson, Will there really be a “Morning”? (101)
5 Dorothy Parker, I Wished on the Moon
6 Eliza Gilkyson, Rose of Sharon (from the Song of Solomon)
Late 1950s, Atlanta.
Born into the safest middle class.
Dad, graduated from Georgia Tech.
On the executive track at AT&T.
Just a month old, I got pneumonia.
Parents rushed me to the best hospital
In the city -- in all of Georgia -- in the whole goddamn South.
Pneumonia kills neonates.
“Save my baby; save my baby!”
What mother hears that cry ungutted?
New drugs, not available to everyone,
My folks got them for me.
The gift I got at birth wasn’t those drugs (although that was a blessing).
It wasn’t economic security (although that was another).
The gift – which I wish wasn’t a gift –
Which shouldn’t have ever made a difference –
Was that I was born white.
People say that doesn’t matter anymore.
They say there’s a level playing field now.
Things have changed – everyone’s equal now.
Obama elected -- we're all post-racial now, people say.
Take a bow. Break your arm patting your back.
But when I think of a flat field, I think of a black baby girl, born in Atlanta --
Back when I was. Only she couldn’t get into the hospital that admitted me.
The drugs that shoved my death aside taunted her folks.
When her mother cried out with a mother's grief, none but Jesus heard her.
I stand on top of a level playing field,
Under which there are too many unseen graves.
All the land around here is like that. Full of graves.
And all I can do with my gift is give the dead and those who mourn them this:
To remember them – to speak of them –
To seek justice for them –
To see the graves others won't see -- such strange fruit --
Graves dug when I was born, and ...
Even as we speak.
For April 29, write a poem about a gift or curse (ala fairy tales) that you were given at birth.
Often, when I exchange one place for another, I long to stay where I arrive, indefinitely.
When I was young, I spent summers embraced by the warm love of kinfolk.
Basking in love like a cat in the sun. No arguments over schoolwork, chores.
But could that survive residency? After awhile, we judge even those we best love.
Perhaps especially those we best love. We know them so well.
Their faults are always before us. Like our own, only different.
The fault before me of another is that because he’s often late, we’re often late.
I sit outside – watching, like a spectator at a trial. Judging.
I sit outside the spectacle of my own faults, too. Judging. Odd – how much exculpatory evidence there is.
What a soft heart I have! Swayed by such facile arguments for doing as I do!
Could that soft heart enable others to go astray? We might be on time if I nagged more.
But nagging is painful. To me, to him. And as long as he is going to read until the last minute, shouldn’t I?
Even self-scolding hurts. If you can push yourself to nag, you can push yourself to adjust to where you are.
Often, when I exchange one place for another, I long to stay where I arrive, indefinitely.
For April 27, write a duplex poem. Like a typical sonnet, a duplex has fourteen lines. It’s organized into seven, two-line stanzas. The second line of the first stanza is echoed by (but not identical to) the first line of the second stanza, the second line of the second stanza is echoed by (but not identical to) the first line of the third stanza, and so on. The last line of the poem is the same as the first.
Like a she-bear, who, finding herself with cub in the fall, feasts on blueberries and salmon -- the better to get her through pregnancy and the winter --
Who burrows into a den, and sleeps away all the indignities of pregnancy (she even stays insensate as the baby bounces on her bladder), and
Oh, wise ursine goddess, manages to sleep resolutely even through the agony of birth itself, and
Only slowly wakes with the spring – perhaps hears rather than glimpses the clock of the seasons – is that birdsong? Frogs cheeping? and
Still gently drowses while a tremendously clever and loving baby cub figures out all by himself how to latch on,
Leaving mama bear generous permission to stretch and scoop him up, then roll over after languidly depositing him on her other side, still feeding,
While she drinks the last draught Morpheus lovingly bestows upon her -- this is how I fancied myself, earth mother that I thought I could be.
Kids -- all three -- had other ideas.
Facebook showed me a picture from Georgia, 6 years ago. A memory.
My mother was still alive, happy, sitting upright in her wheelchair.
She knew who I was, then. Although she would forget within a year.
Alex wasn’t perfectly well, but good enough. He could work and travel and smile.
He knew who I was then, too. He still does, often, but that won’t last.
A nurse must have taken the picture. Behind Mom’s wheelchair, a photographed-me leaned against Alex, smiling, almost silly.
But knowing my mother would die, sooner or later
(Three years later, in fact. Almost to the day -- her birthday.)
I went down to see her because I knew I wouldn’t know when she would crash.
How fast or how slowly. Just that the darkness of dementia would blot out her mind, probably before the rest of her body gave out.
I couldn’t plan the best time to say good-bye. So I said it whenever I could.
What I didn’t know that I didn't know was in six-years time, my husband would be as ill as my mother was then.
I thought our future would be largely like our past -- what I still think of as our real life -- perhaps a little paler, a little diminished. But not me sitting next to him and him calling out to the room, pleading for his wife to come get him because he forgot I was there. A room I rarely leave because I know how it can terrify him if I'm not there.
There was a fourth in the photo. My son was deployed. But sitting next to my mom’s wheelchair was our new daughter-in-law. Such a tonic.
My mom didn’t fully remember her. Still, she knew this woman was special – special to her grandson.
The specifics couldn’t stick in her mind. But love still pierced Mom’s understanding.
My son is deploying again, this week or next. He came to see us last month, while his father still knew him. We hope he can return to his dad still in this state when he returns to the States.
This wasn’t really a dream. Just a reverie. A reverie about the Realm of Tempus Fugit.
And a woman who thinks she knows, more or less, what the lay of the future land will be.
But does not.
For April 25, write an aisling, an Irish poetic form that recounts a dream or vision featuring a woman who represents the land in which the poet lives, and who speaks to the poet about it.
Author’s note: I stretched the form slightly. My memories, my fears, and I had the discussion.
Wry wit helps with mothering..
If we were discussing someone whose behavior was dubious,
We might play at upping the ante. “She has a mind like a steel trap.”
“One rusted shut”
“It snapped on nothing long ago, but she hasn’t noticed since.”
I got tongue-sharpening lessons from my grandma. If someone was not the sharpest knife in the drawer,
She’d shake her head and mutter, “It’s a sad thing when cousins marry.”
Such banter gets tricky, though. Moms are supposed to set an example.
Teach our progeny to see the other point of view. Take the higher road. Use language fit for all ears.
Not get so carried away with insults that you say things about or to a person that are only funny if you’re not that person. Mean things you say that come to haunt you, like Marley’s ghost. Only more often than Christmas.
Once, when my oldest was in fourth grade, he and some neighbor boys kevetched about two girls.
The boys, including the girls’ brothers, solemnly concluded these girls were ... bitches! Chuffed, they gaffauwed about it for quite awhile afterwards.
Or so I was told by the mother of one of the girls, whose sings-like-a-canary son had blabbed all.
My son was downcast. He felt bad that the girl knew he’d said that. Also, that he’d got caught.
I’d seen that girl strut her mean girl stuff. I didn't mind him letting off steam without trying to rub it in her face. As she cheerfully had done to others.
People do judge each other – far more than just fourth grade boys.
Also, the snitch’s mom hadn’t suggested that her own precious angel darling had even been a wee bit remiss in telling tales. He'd called his sister a bitch in private and to her face. For which I was supposed to let my son "have it?" Deary me.
My wroth at my boy was well quenched even before I summoned him. Discussing discretion, wiser friend selection, might have been enough.
Still, I taught him three words: Xanthippe, termagant, and shrew. Words hardly any grade school kids know. In fact, words that possibly very few grade school teachers (or neighborhood moms) know. I only knew them because my grandmother studied the classics.
“Why say what people won’t understand?” he asked.
“Because you can say what you think without a hassle. Because you can smirk inside that you know what others don’t.”
“I especially like Xanthippe because you purge much venom with each syllable. Try saying each with a menacing pause in between. Xan - Thip - E."
"Hardly any words start with X, so all should be treasured. Yes, the word’s ‘history’ is surely more sexist than true. But [air kiss], a great word.”
“Use it in a sentence.”
“Be discreet in who you say what to so I never again hear from that Xanthippe down the street.”
And I never did.
For April 24, write a poem with at least one simile like those found in film noir.
Author’s note: Xanthippe was Socrates’s wife. She was significantly younger than he. Socrates reportedly said she was the most disputatious woman in Athens, which is what he liked about her. Others offered differing accounts.
Man on the Zamboni, polished ice.
Did the rink proud. Shiny.
Come playoffs, slick gray-pink octopi
rained from a red-winged crowd.
The crew ran, slid to pick them up,
Eight legs times two, equals wins for the cup.
The driver’d twirl the biggest one
over his head.
Our victory dance.
Then, an NHL suit said “No more.”
We lost our beloved quirk.
The team owner died.
The kids took over. Cold, hard jerks.
Always been rich. No heart.
Team at sea in bureaucracy.
The driver grew old.
Fired for being incontinent.
Inconvenient, a relic too human.
Started work at 17. Canned at 68.
No parting dance, nothing shiny.
Not even a tin of calamari.
For April 23, write a poem in the style of Kay Ryan, whose poems tend to be short with a lot of rhyme and soundplay.
Dating apps introduced our sons to their wives. Serendipty came through for me and my husband.
I lived in New York City. Hopped a train to Providence for a friend’s party. Like about 100 others, Alex was invited, too. We started talking at 10 pm. Conversation ended, reluctantly, at 4. Guess you could say we hit it off.
Providence proved an apt name for a meeting place. Other than that one person, Alex and I had no one and no place in common. If we hadn’t met at that party, it’s hard to see how we ever would have.
One day, we discovered that he was born on the 11th of the month; I on the 22nd. Neither of us believes in magical thinking. We don’t do numerology, astrology, tarot cards, or the I’ching. Once, at a slumber party, friends banished me upstairs (with the M&Ms) because I couldn’t stop laughing during an attempted seance.
There’s nothing to make of that odd, semi-symmetry in our birth dates. Life is a series of coincidences. The actual date of your birth within a month is meaningless. I don’t think about it, except when filling out forms.
But sometimes, those dates seem like fate giving us a wink. Like a guy at a party in Providence.
For April 22, write a party with some kind of double within it.
P. S. Krøyer, Summer Evening on Skagen Sønderstrand
All I wanted to do after college was write. Even applied for underwriter jobs, until I found out what that involved.
Then – a writing job! Copywriting, but still, writing. For money.
Green, grass green was I. All business people are businesslike, yes?
Truth-in-advertising laws were real laws, like “don’t rob banks,” yes?
I blush red at the recollection.
Navigating my way through this particular purgatory, two steadfast Virgils were my guides: Janice and Nancy.
Five years older than I, they had started out as journalists.
We all had gone to small colleges in the Midwest: Macalester, Luther, Carleton.
Places you went when you wanted an education more than a posh name on a diploma.
When you wanted to learn more than to drink.
When you wanted some serenity while you learned.
Places with a what’s true? ethic.
Their first lesson? Stick with one syllable words. Make it simple. Cut to the chase.
But they also showed me how older women – even slightly older women – look after those coming along.
How it’s easier to go to the boss and fight for another colleague than to fight for one’s self. But maybe she returns the favor.
How to bring up another woman’s idea, and credit her while you did it. Otherwise, some man would claim credit.
How to share everything you can with your galpals – with the men, too, but it’s the women who appreciate it.
How it’s not a zero-sum game – share, share, share! But if we don’t stick together, we’ll get nowhere.
We sold manufactured collectibles. Artists created large, round paintings on a topic of the company’s choosing.
Reproduced as eight inch decals, they were slapped on plain white plates, fired in a kiln, and marketed as art.
Which meant a high per-plate cost – $100 or more. Never think of eating off one – to hype the colors, they're chock full of heavy metals. Just look.
Our CEO stapled his stomach. But he couldn’t pin down his love for food.
He threw up every night to eat more. Then, while his esophagus erupted, he rethought everything. .
Once, he had commissioned a Minnesota artist with a nice Minnesota name – Olsen? – to create four dragon plate paintings.
The sci-fi/fantasy market! So big! So loyal! So willing to spend, spend, spend!
He ate General Tsao’s Chicken. Barfed. Then Moo Shu Pork. On his third Tums, he thought “Dragons? Sci-fi dragons? Am I crazy? Make ‘em Chinese!”
Janice nudged me to keep my face still. Someone else had to tell him it was too expensive to change the art.
Instead, he got someone to spell the syllables "ol" and "sen" in Chinese characters and change the signature.
My job? Meander through the mists of time … discover (make up) four venerable Chinese legends involving dragons.
Preferably legends explaining why they didn’t look like normal Chinese dragons. They came from away, I suggested.
My four venerables appeared for inspection the day after the boss had spent the night slaloming between a three-course dinner and the required regurgitation. Followed by the Tums regime.
He had not slept all night. The people on the dragon project were idiots! Who could sleep when the firm’s whole future depended on us?
“Dragons are down-market semantics. Rewrite this without the word ‘dragon.’”
“The dragon artwork stays in the brochure?”
“What the hell is down-market semantics?”
Nancy explained: if potential customers hear about something that makes them sad or anxious, that’s downmarket semantics, and it disinclines one to splurge $200 on plates you can’t eat off of.
Dragons, it seems, make people sad. Also, nervous. At least people who’ve stapled their stomachs and have insomnia as a result. They don’t think of friendly Puff. They think of death.
I thought of leaving.
But I wasn’t always at work. Once, I saw an exhibit called Northern Lights. Left me haunted by its loveliness.
Never had thought about non-folk Scandinavian artists. Then I saw their work.
Their land of the midnight sun. That light – blue, infinite. A gift. Especially my new, most favorite painting. Two women walking toward a horizon you can’t see. The sky simply slips into the sea. No sunset, just a sky – quivering for its blue to start shimmering in sunset pinks – while knowing it won’t.
Why had I never seen this painting before? One week later, the exhibit would have closed.
Where else would I have encountered it? If you’re an icon in Denmark, it’s not like being the toast of Paris. Or the US. But this painting has danced in my mind -- vivid, serene, light and dark -- for decades.
What other beauty am I missing?
Not pesto and pasta, but savory foods nonetheless.
Garlic fluffed her cloves inside her papery skin. She missed her green tops, ruthlessly whacked away when she was pulled from the ground. Still, when she sniffed, she could smell her own glorious fragrance. She sighed in delight.
Basil sat in a pot on the window sill. He looked at Garlic with concern. He was a fine plant, basking in the sun every morning. The woman had plucked a number of leaves today, but no whacking off his stem at the dirt. Reassured, he sniffed in his own delightful fragrance, savored it and smiled enouragingly at his beloved, now-chopped leaves.
Parmesan noticed the carton of milk in the refrigerator. She remembered being milk. Was that milk going to become cheese like her? Can American milk become cheese?
Olive oil was also an immigrant. She was Greek. She ended up in a bottle, sold in a grocery store, and surrounded by English speakers. She looked at Parmesan. Not her BFF Feta, but more like Feta’s cousin Kefalotyri. A cheese is a cheese, she thought.
The shelled sunflower seeds sat in a bowl. They just heard a strange voice say she thought pine nuts had a touch of floor cleaner in their flavor, and she preferred sunflower seeds anyway because they were cheaper. Infuriated, about half of the seeds muttered under their breath about how they were fine nuts; it was the woman who was cheap. The others tried to determine whether sitting naked on a countertop was a better fate than sitting clothed on a bird feeder. Or in the middle of a sunflower. With a bird, you had a better chance of falling to the ground and becoming a flower. Here, there was just the trash or whatever the woman was doing with that plastic pitcher.
One by one, a woman added each of the counter mates to the plastic pitcher. It had a spindle in its center on which sat a blade shaped like one of those thick twirly mustaches silent film villains used to twirl.
The woman closed the top, pressed a button, and all the ingredients fell into a trance as a tremendous noise engulfed the pitcher, while they were spun together in tiny slices.
As they came to, the noise and spinning ceased. They -- now acting, hearing as one -- heard the woman say “Pesto’s done.” Is that what they had become? Pesto? Comparatively painless – no cooking, baking, or frying involved. And oh, did they smell heavenly! Better than Garlic or Basil! All the ingredients sampled the fragrant air and felt that they had reached a kind of perfection.
But what was that pot of boiling water on the stove with steam heaving out of it?. Also, a box labeled orecchiette (Basil had learned to read while hanging out on the windowsill) . The woman picked up the pot, and dumped the water and steam into the sink. Then, from the sink, she picked up a holey bowl with little feet and handles. It dripped, but the steam kept swirling around it. From this container, she dumped soft, cooked, cream-colored dough into a serving bowl, and after that, the pesto. The pesto swam in the orecchiette; the orecchiette swam in the pesto. Pool party! At least until dinner began.
For April 20, write a poem that anthropomorphizes some kind of food.
When you’re born
In a place,
You get a certificate –
If you move before 2 –
Add curiosity. Were
The dogwoods truly stunning?
A farm, two city houses.
Greats and grands, aunts, uncles
Cousins, firsts and seconds.
Roomy cacoon, home but not home.
Retreating in memory, but too deeply
Embedded in self to ever be lost.
I ran into a woman at Kroger’s
I knew I knew her.
Couldn’t remember from where.
Never lived anywhere long enough
For that to happen. If I learn to say
Pop, I can call it home.
Where did you first
Find your power -- the one that would
Get you through adulthood?
As strong as eating ice
Cream at 40 below and sweet as
The scent of lilacs.
Butt of 1000 jokes and mob movies.
Most of a childhood
Spent among the trees
No one who knew the state only
From the turnpike believed
For April 18, based on Faisal Mohyuddin’s poem “Five Answers to the Same Question,” write your own poem that provides five answers to the same question – without ever specifically identifying the question that is being answered.
Zack and Babinski, on the lookout for fiends in squirrel form.
Married people have unspoken agreements. One of ours was that whenever one of us proposed expanding our land-bound ark, the other would veto it.
Full of confidence in our bond, we ended up looking at puppies.
A small white ball of fluff, with prick ears, black eyes, and white eyelashes, looked up at us.
Then she smiled that devastating "Samoyed smile."
No one else had her attention. She and those eyelashes looked back and forth between us.
“Should we bring her home?” I asked. Alex was doing his first year of residency; he couldn’t want another animal about the house. What I failed to consider was that he had picked her up, and she had snuggled up under his chin.
“Yeah, let’s get her.”
Well! What a how-de-do. Someone forgot to say “no.”
First task (after getting the landlord’s permission) was to find a name.
“What about Aurora? Or Luna? Athena?” I had, after all, studied literature.
“Naw. Those are dopey.”
I appealed to my work colleagues. Their best? “Spot” (she was a spotlessly white dog). Alex shook his head.
“What do you want to name her?” I asked after each “No.”
One rationale for getting the dog was that she was a demo baby.
Caring for a child is harder than a dog, but if you can’t hack dog parenting…
I feared ending up with a child named “Person” or “Kid.” A sympathetic soul suggested naming the dog after someone notable in Alex’s profession.
The only dead-famous neurologists I knew of were Charcot and Babinski.
“Babinski?” It had “babi” in it – overtones of cute without the cloy. Despite the stereotypical smile, she wasn't actually a Samoyed; she was American Eskimo, popularly known as an "Eskie," so the "sk" fit, too.
Babinski, she became.
We loved her for all the reasons people love their dog – she was funny, sweet, and protected us from the insensate evil of squirrels, of which we had previously known nothing.
She also helped us develop a dog-specific vocabulary.
Over 30 years later, when we talk to any of our dogs, we say “insk,” (as in, "Insk Babinsk?") “nosk,” "treatsk," "bonesk,"and “outsk.”
Even better: No progeny named Human.
Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Louisville, Kentucky
My mother’s parents lived their religion. Every morning with their oatmeal and orange juice, they read a Bible verse and commentary.
When my grandmother woke me up, she’d say “This is a day the Lord has made. Rejoice, and be glad in it.” Even if it was raining.
People on TV who are evangelicals are too often harsh. They bellow "you have to believe 'this'."
Too often, “this” is a political platform, not the Good News of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior.
"This" certainly wasn’t the old-time religion that shone out of my grandparents. They lived a life of integrity, blessedness, and merriment, albeit teetotalling style.
Shirlee Orth Lambert was a force of nature. She had gone to college, back in the 1920s. Not a common thing for a southern woman, but education was sacred in her family.
To know the Lord, you had to know the Bible. Grandma studied the classics, including ancient Greek. Then she went to Appalachia to teach. That's where she met Charles Calvin Lambert, my grandfather.
My grandfather’s dad died when he was young, so Grandpa couldn’t have gone to college if he had wanted to. But how he adored my grandmother.
When dementia stole her mind, when he was the only person she recognized – when she was bedridden, staring ahead uncomprehendingly, and could barely speak – he spoke of her as if he saw the woman he met in their 20s. Beguiling. A woman who frolicked.
As long as he lived, she was looked after in their home, not a nursing home. I think of his example on those nights when my husband needs help every other hour and I doubt I can get up. But I do.
It is their love I rejoice in when I rise.
For April 16, write a curtal sonnet. This form has 11 lines. The first 10 can be long, but the last line is shorter than the others.
Author’s note: The Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church was the church my grandparents attended for over 40 years. The image is from the United Methodist website; I am not the photographer.
My senior year in high school, our football team was undefeated. I went to every game.
I wore my band jacket, which I'd earned after only a freshman year's participation.
I replaced the marching band letters with: “Madison High Literary Magazine.”
I was the editor. Drove up our sales rate by flogging it at football games. The jacket made folks laugh. And opened their wallets. Result: I liked high school football.
But I never watched any other team.
Years later, I married a man who became a neurologist.
We had two sons. In each delivery room, the staff made jokes about what a football player he’d grow up to be.
Alex always said, “Not my son.”
Why? My cousin had lost pain-free knees from high school football, but that seemed a fluke.
“They’ll end up punch-drunk,” Alex said. “It’s well known that people who get hit a lot, like in football, end up with brain damage.”
Well known? He said this long before the book or movie Concussion came out.
I kept hearing more and more about brain-damaged football players.
Lost souls. The damage showed up as violence, dementia, battered families.
The sort of damage that masqueraded as willful, a failure of character.
You could only see the cause of the damage with an autopsy.
No chance to tell the guy his problems were medical.
No chance for families to make peace.
Until this got in the news, I had never cared much about football (except for those few glorious years when it helped me sell literary magazines).
I kept thinking about my own sons. No, they didn't play football. But we did take them to their hockey practices and games as a family. We cheered their successes. Never once thought we were setting them up for a lifetime of misery.
Kept thinking about all those football parents, doing the same.
And then -- the damage.
Don’t wanna hear about football anymore.
For April 15, write a poem about something that you have no interest in.
The archetypal American tale is a journey. Preferably, out west.
My family moved from Atlanta (where this heroine was born) to Denver, when I was just forming persistent memories. But to Grandmas’ houses (Kentucky), we must go!
Look at a map. Animate the travel line.
From Denver to St. Louis, the mountains are to our backs – it’s the Plains grainy, grassy fields, sloping down from Denver’s high plateau.
From St. Louis to Louisville, it’s hilly farmland.
Oh, and don’t forget the rivers. We crossed both the Missouri and Mississippi.
Brown water, white caps, barges, steel girders with orange sunlight and blue geometric shade.
The drive looks awesome from the air – imagine quick aerial shots that lose focus briefly as the camera swerves to the low-slung sun at crepuscular moments. The key point is quick. Real quick. It doesn’t take long for a ride like that to get tedious.
Quick aside: My brothers and I were prone to respiratory infections. For some reason, we each had a unique vulnerability. Tom had a mucky nose – allergies, polyps, sinus infections – that dripped into croup or bronchitis. I got sore throats – tonsillitis was a specialty. Charlie was an earache guy. As a consequence, my mom bought an aerosolized version of Vick’s Vapo Rub.
In those pre-seatbelt days, we were densely packed into the back seat of a Chevy sedan with blankets, pillows, and every toy we ever liked to fight over. When we’d get fussy – as if that ever happened on a 1100 mile trip! – Mom would turn around and zap us with Vapo spray. The reek of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus suffused us and all we owned. She didn’t even let the dog sit back with us because she was afraid her chemo-germ warfare might sicken the pup.
My dad could normally be relied upon to mitigate my mom’s extreme ideas, but he felt no pity.
Turns out he’d been dosed with creo-terpin during whooping cough. What is this hillbilly remedy, you ask? Just the finer flavors of a telephone pole dripping in the sun dappled with notes of paint thinner wafting in and out. No wonder the whooping cough fled.
Film can’t convey such wretched scents. And no one would sit through our whining and fussing for a fraction of the time it went on.
Not sure how to cinematically treat those car rides – boredom, sibling swatting, and getting sprayed.
A cross between Route 66 and a Raid commercial? As excruciating as Eraserhead? John Cage's 4'33"? Dear cinematographer, keep cutting to the blinding sun. At least it’s kind of pretty.
And Grandmas? You all were totally worth it.
For April 14, write a poem that takes the form of the opening scene of the movie of your life.
We sit together watching TV. Really nothing on, but what else can we do?
He can’t read any more. He speaks in a whisper, and doesn’t always know what he’s saying.
But we’ve been together since 1981. As Eva Cassidy sings, we know each other by heart.
When Covid first started, I sweated nightmares about losing him to the lonely ventilator. How confused, how lost he'd feel.
The advent of the vaccine era smoothed the sharpest heart-hurting fears.
Once, I wanted to sing Halleleujahs, like Christmas time.
But I still saw the widow's walk before me.
Giddiness could not be my companion.
I feel a tempered gladness because I believe we will make it together to the end.
Even as his brain daily dies, no person, no pandemic rules will separate us before his end does.
So I feel serene enough about our fate, but always make out the sad violin in the background.
Don't ask for euphoria. I cannot oblige.
How big is a thought?
A neuron is between 10-25 micrometers.
If 100 fire at once, about 2500 micrometers of brain tissue are at work.
How much does the theory of gravity weigh?
How many neurons fired while giving the Sermon on the Mount? Or drawing the first Superman comic?
Can’t you fit the brain matter that gave us Pride and Prejudice into a tiny tube?
Once you have a thought, you can communicate it: with your voice, gestures, writing.
Still, hardly any heft helps transmit those impulses.
We live in a materialistic world. We value what we can see. Or touch. Usually, the bigger the better..
Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent – children learn god is as large as the universe.
A greater miracle – how minute our mind’s mechanisms to imagine that immensity.
Let us talk about the elephant in the room. You don’t see it? Oh, it’s there. Probably dressed like Babar – a proper suit, shoes with spats, a bowler hat.
Elephants in the room are all about propriety. Never let others know if something about you or your family is imperfect, untidy, failing. The elephant takes tea, sits at the dinner table, drinks all the wine, whiskey, beer. Oh, does its head hurt! Where are the drugs? Must have some of those. Greedily consuming the family’s stocks, the elephant grows and grows – until you confront it. Loudly, openly, directly. The whole family, or as many as you can muster. In a full-throated chorus of “No More!” Some say the elephant (or perhaps a parade balloon of an elephant?) then explodes, like the Hindenberg. Burning to ashes a project that has held a family together – however shabbily.
Can healthy lives grow from decimated ruins? Doubtful. Who can live with unyielding light on all one’s doings? Wouldn’t a few, unacknowledged guinea pigs in the room – nibbling lettuce here and there – bring some welcome shade, without overwhelming open, free air? Or do old habits die so hard, that a family again welcomes a new elephant, keen to replace the old? If only there were a magical Elephant Clean Up and Removal service.
In my family, we had a chain holding in an our indoor elephant. The most battered link – that between my parents – broke with a recoil that smacked us all.. Sibling bonds and those between parent and child remained, although creaky, rusted, and distant at times. The family circle became a horseshoe, and our family’s elephantine secret wandered away. Some blood, anxiety, self-loathing – mostly a freezing caution about life – memoralize its reign.
Know that I rejoice in the long, happy lives of all elephants. In the wild.
Once, when I laid down, I slept.
Languid hours with Morpheus. On weekends especially,
Drowsy awakenings, reveries, back into sleep’s arms.
Coffee not contemplated until well after noon.
Then, came childbirth – later, other cares – that tear me from dearest sleep too soon. Too often.
Still, though we may be regularly ripped apart, know that every REM cycle, I still thee cherish.
Sparrows, nearly all sparrows. Plus, some
Chickadees. A drab cardinal –
Scarlet spouse. A jay caws – where?
Pigeons eat on the ground.
Finches have their sock
For April 9, write a nonet. A nonet has nine lines. The first line has nine syllables, the second has eight, and so on until you get to the last line, which has just one syllable.
All of us have our deficiencies.
As an artist, I lack a muse. Unless you count my cats. Or dogs. But I don’t think that’s what my drawing teacher has in mind.
As a writer, I’m stuck with the only ego I’ve got. There’s no alter.
Once, for Halloween, I pretended I had a crow as a familiar. But that was just a costume.
Do I envy others’ gifts? Of course – to sing and compose like Joni Mitchell – who wouldn’t want that.
But I don’t want to be her, even for a nonce. Even just in my head. Can’t stand tobacco. Can she enjoy her own music as much as I do?
Whose songs does she play when I would play hers?
Me and my Ego (not to mention our galpals -- Id and Superego) have had our troubles. Always something we could be doing better.
But after all these years, why run around playing with some shiny new faux ego?
Do I need a bit of fluff on the side? Psyche candy, whose role is to validate my right to belong among people who do have alter egos? Is that fair to the old gal?
We shift along well enough by ourselves. Thank you, just the same.
For April 8, name your alter-ego, and then describe him/her in detail. Then write in your alter-ego’s voice.
The accumulated knowledge of the world gives us much wisdom.
But some dross.
The wise know mistakes are as common as mud in spring.
We all make them. Every day. All the time. Again and again.
Are we nothing more than helpless jellyfish?
Heedlessly headed towards our next mistake based on the whim of a wave?
Perhaps. So why revisit a failure?
Horses cost money. They can be useful – for transport, recreation, racing, farming.
They are also often loved. To have one bolt hurts. You failed it.
But what if it returns? Maybe it wanders home. Maybe police or animal control officers find it – maybe with a thief who stole it. Or what if you decide to get another?
A second chance! What do you do differently?
Do you simply vow to lock the barn door nightly? Didn’t you originally plan to do that?
Good intentions feel good. Every New Year’s, many feel they can do better.
Data shows within two weeks, most fail and give up.
Until the next January.
What to do differently? Ask what makes a plan succeed.
What if your inner jellyfish could swim towards success? One method is called “lessons-learned.”
You go back to that unlocked door. How did it get unlocked?
You try to find each little mistake that led to the bolting horse.
Is there a practice or process that would keep that from happening again?
What would it take to start that practice? What can you start tomorrow?
Yes, even if the horse isn’t back. Even if you never get another one.
Thinking through mistakes, devising remedies, practicing what you devised.
That’s how a jellyfish swims.
That’s how you give your prodigal horse a fearless, heartfelt welcome.
For April 7, write a poem that argues against, or somehow questions, a proverb or saying.
Is justice just ice? Cold, hard, like cash, only far less color-blind?
Governed by greed and lust? And a largish dollop of power-hunger. Quite the opposite of blind, even balancing.
Just the strong doing what they can. What can we do about the bullies among us? How can we stand up to them without becoming them…
And the weak suffering what they must? We all have moments of weakness. If we are not weak now, we will be eventually. Even the rich and powerful get sick and die. Why doesn’t recognizing that make us kinder?
For April 6, write a variation of an acrostic poem. Rather than spelling out a word with the first letters of each line, write a poem that reproduces a phrase with the first words of each line.
Author’s note: The phrases come from Joni Mitchell’s Sex Kills.
When I was a high school junior, Congress passed Title IX.
Hadn't a clue what it was about. I could do anything. Even
AP math. Then our teacher got a grant for a computer -- then, a golden toy in a mere high school.
Told me and the other AP math girl that only boys could use it. You know how illogical girls are.
Found a job as a junior copywriter after college. Was warned to hide typing skills lest I’d get only secretarial work.
Remuneration still turned out to be less than a fellow male grad. whose GPA, etc, was lower than mine,
Explanation? Women get dinners bought for them; men have to buy dinner.
So… unequal pay is fair because of dates you may never have?
Huffed off to grad school. Thought grad school thoughts. Then began life as a tech writin' corporate cog.
Helped my husband go to medical school in the deepest south. Such chivalry. Such chauvinism,
Learned how coddled men were. As typing pools became passe, management discovered
Lots of men couldn’t type. I got paid time and a half to type their work. To restate:
I had to do my technical, skilled work for what a woman made, but taking on extra, stereotypical women's work -- of which my male colleagues were incapable – got me paid like a man.
Such a bottom-line, logical-like-a-man decision.
Times change, for good and bad.
Hope it’s better for my daughter and daughters-in-law.
If nothing else, my sons learned to keyboard.
Sounds like a much more manly, remunerative skill than typing!
Author’s note: This poem is a misreading of the prompt for April 6. The next post is what I should have done. For this poem, Miles Franklin supplied the title; Dorothy Parker, the phrase “What Fresh Hell Is This?” and an advertisement, the picture of the typewriter.
Venus put down her bowl of spaghetti. Pretty good stuff. These Romans weren't all bad.
When you stretch orzo beyond all recognition, it does great things with any garlicky sauce.
But why did they have to conquer Greece? And by what right did they change her name?
Athena’s had to go, of course. Once the goddess of wisdom honored and was honored by Greece’s capital.
But if your name is the capital city, it can’t survive conquest.
Still, the centurions changing that name to Minerva, which wasn’t a city anywhere, told Venus – damn it, Aphrodite! – everything she needed to know about Rome’s affinity for wisdom.
Bunch of puffed-up dunderheads. Her eyes still rolling, she remembered she was due at the beach in 15 minutes.
Time for the daily step-out-of-a-shell show. Her dad was waiting for her. Poor old Zeus didn’t like his new gig either.
“I don’t care how good their cheese-and-tomato sauce pitas are. What kind of stupid-like-stones-in-desert can’t figure out you’re not born out of my head every day?”
“People who don’t eat normal portions so they have to invent a vomitarium?” she suggested.
Zeus sighed. “Poseidon, position that big scallop near the beach, but throw up a curtain of mist first.”
“Aphrodite, get in position.”
They went through the whole song and dance. The beachgoers clapped & oohed & aahed. They also left a prodigious amount of litter behind. Aphrodite whistled for the nymphs.
Being able to fob off garbage duty on them was one sweet perk about goddessing.
Aphrodite opened up her saltwater taffy stand & posed for pictures with couples in front of the wine-dark sea.
Love, schmove. Gave her a headache. She looked forward to a future where her role shrunk to that of a kind of glorified kindergarten monitor for Cupid. Thinks he’s a god called Eros now, but he looks like a baby who really needs to play with something less dangerous than that stupid bow and arrow set.
Apparently in a future time, people would only focus on love once a year, in February. And there’d be chocolate! Much better than ambrosia or manna. Heavenly food was just sweet. No contrapuntal flavors like you got with chocolate.
She snuck a little baklava. She wanted to sell that and gyros, but when in Rome…
How she loathed that expression.
Oy! She nearly forgot! She was supposed to go pose for a statue. The guy was very particular about getting her arms just right. So important for folks in Milo. Oh well, another day, another denarius.
For April 5, write a poem about a mythical person or creature doing something unusual – or at least something that seems unusual in relation to that person/creature.
Author/Artist’s note: I drew this picture in response to a challenge put on the Seattle Artist’s League. The goal was to “complete” the Venus de Milo sculpture, which was created of Aphrodite but named, later, after Venus. A little Greek nationalism seemed in order. After giving her two artificial limbs, I thought she could use some tattoos. Venus’s “tats” are homages to Hokusai’s The Great Wave, Bottecelli’s Birth of Venus, and Aphrodite’s role in fertility. The cat’s position is a homage to Cecilia Beaux’s Jeune Fille au Chat. The cat’s name is Rosa Bonne-Chatte in homage to Rosa Bonheur.
The Divine Miss Em suggests we write so that readers say
“I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.”
A stretch for mortals’ brain muscles, but let’s walk the Dickinsonian way
One’s “reach should exceed his grasp,” lest heaven scoff.
Wait – what if Mis Em merely meant – put one under a migraine’s sway?
If so, conjure up the poetical equivalent of caffeinated aspirin; give it a quaff!
Let’s go for sureties. Billy S., Johnny Keats, & a veritable plethora of other lads insist
Lovers live forever if your verse does. Get the beloveds to up social media Likes – to persist.
Jack Donne, Georgie Byron, & Vinnie Millay urge stanzas rhapsodical
To facilitate getting down to matters intimately biological.
If you aspire to join literature’s canon, validate all those English majors’ burning eyes
As they fret and toil over college entrance exams. Sesquipedalianize!
But of course you can set all the above at defiance
As long as you pack your poetic license.
During my lifetime, when our pols have sent our soldiers far away to fight, they always say it’s for freedom. For defense.
Soldiers say they fight for each other. For the guy who always shares the homebaked brownies from the mail.
For those plunked into planes, flown 10 time zones from home. To places with pasts and grievances and enemies of enemies that the pols can't be bothered to learn about (Too much nuance).
Places our pols said would be a “cakewalk” to liberate. (Never ever say invade!) Where we’d be greeted with flowers. (1000 IEDs blossomed on the roads. Close enough!)
Within a year, our rationale collapses into staying at war because we went to war. If we left, we’d lose face because we started losing that cakewalk the instant boots hit the ground, and America never loses (Except for all those other times).
Mind you, no worries about the face losing that’s happening when a grenade blows off a soldier’s face...skull...life. (Never ever think of that. They’re volunteers; it’s okay.)
Focus instead on the delicate blushes of a pol whose face would feel discomfited to hear that anyone thought his decision to start the war was, well, blameworthy. (The horrors of war!)
So soldiers, the original reality-based community, fight for each other.
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well.
Sometimes our soldiers have fought to defend our country. As Ukrainians do now.
Real bombs fell on Hawaii, launched by the Imperial Japanese army. No toy Gulf of Tonkin incident that.
GIs still fought for their buddies, but when you’re fighting folks who attacked your own land and everyone else’s, you’ve got more in your heart than just your buddies.
Our messiest war was the one we fought with ourselves.
Rich man’s war (wanted to keep enslaving people); poor man’s fight (who likes strangers with guns coming around? Back at ya.).
For the North, it was 50 plus years of hearing a lot of Southern huffy puffery about what gentlemen they were. So honorable. So unlike money-grubbing Yanks.
Best thing about a gentleman: he can make promises like pie crust (It's an honor thing).
Faux concessions: no slavery north of here or west of there. Er, west of here. No, there. Bloody Kansas! I meant north and west of here.
At some point, patience snaps. At some point, you can see these folks are looking to take over everywhere. To befoul your business with their foul business.
No evidence most Union soldiers cared about the enslaved, and “union” is a mighty abstract abstraction to walk into a slaughtering field for.
But Lincoln managed to make the fight about something more real, more true than saving face. His “union” was you and yours and ours and even theirs,
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake.
Chimpanzees kill each other in battle. It’s not alien to our nature.
But we have better tools than our ape forebears.
We can kill so many of our own kind, so much faster than our chimp psyches can bear.
Today, we see the Civil War in still, stiff black-and-white. Red washes out to gray; navy blue to charcoal.
Soldiers are statues sitting on horses. Too lifeless to deflect defecating pigeons.
But once, in our land arose the stench, the screams, the bleeding red, the raging repeating rifles, the inescapable ooze where fly-covered flesh and soil and rain and living limbs churned through its death-grip.
What a piece of work is man.
Whitman was no soldier, but he was a battlefield nurse. He knew horror.
What could scour a war-grimed mind clean?
Do graveyards of rotting cut flowers bring spring to a soul overfull of suffering?
Not enough, but all a god can give.
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.
The April 3 prompt is to use a Spanish form called a “glosa” – literally a poem that glosses, or explains, or in some way responds to another poem. Take a quatrain from a poem you like, and then write a four-stanza poem that explains or responds to each line of the quatrain, with each of the quatrain’s four lines forming the last line of each stanza.
Author’s notes: As I wrote, I realized the last two lines depend on each other for meaning, so I only wrote 3 stanzas.
I added a line from Hamlet because I couldn’t get it out of my head.
The image is a photo of a log cabin built by one of my ancestors shortly after the end of the Civil War. I didn’t take it and I don’t know who did.
I rise at 6, and read. Daylight won’t begin for an hour.
At 7, gray light shuffling through the blinds hints it may be a gray day. Too early to be sure.
Feed the cats, the dogs, and, with the dogs, the birds.
Only then, close to 8, does the sky flash daylight’s first true color.
If the sky stays gray, the light is sad and needs lamplight to warm it.
If there’s some blue, the light is strong and bright.
Whatever the light, the temperature, or the dryness of the day, it will shift by afternoon.
The wind will rise or cease. Snow may melt into rain, or rain will ice up and collect a dusting of snow.
Unless the temperature rises above 40.
At the end of daylight, a glisk may break through a wall of clouds.
Or the clouds scatter, keeping a socially responsible distance. The setting sun approves and reveals itself. The sky and clouds glow with vivid yellows, oranges, pinks, and then purples — presaging the flowers that really, truly will bloom.
The April 2 challenge is to write a poem based on a word featured in a tweet from Haggard Hawks, an account devoted to obscure and interesting English words.
Selected word: Glisk: 1. a gleam of sunlight through cloud; a glow of heat from a fire. Figuratively, a glimpse of the good (Shetlandic) 2. a brief or incomplete view. to catch a glimpse of the sea 3. a vague indication. he had a glimpse of what the lecturer meant · 4. archaic. a glimmer of light. (Definition courtesy of Collins English Dictionary and Rob Macfarlane, on Twitter.)
The colored glass in the ceiling barely glowed in the rain. A church social hall, its black-wrapped cross shoved to the side, was dotted with squared red crosses. It also accommodated blood drive tables like the one I laid upon. As the nurse wrapped my elbow in bright red, she recited her list of don’ts, including no heavy lifting. I shrugged that off as I nodded “I understand.”
My husband weighs at least 200 lbs. With balancing aid, he can carry his own weight once he’s lifted, but he has to be lifted. I am his lifter. I am his balancer.
If I could change one thing about his illness, I would give him back his power of thought. That’s what he misses most. But just as much, I miss his smile – really, all the movements his face once could make. For years, I took his expressiveness for granted – the joyous spring around his eyes and mouth when he saw me. The sly grin we shared when someone we couldn’t laugh at aloud said something funny. The rolled eyes. The faux innocence his smile winked when he held up bunny ears in group photos. His intense concentration when he was listening to a patient or reading. His uncontainable restlessness when he was bored. The wounded puppy look he assumed to fend off mutterings about housework or punctuality or spending. The in-pursuit look when he grasped at an idea and had to find all the relevant books and journals to verify and develop it while it was still fresh. That lost-in-the-beauty-of-the-idea face when he was explaining something, often to the sub-atomic level. The love that suffused his face when he saw our children. Or me.
While his illness burns his genius away, a cruel frost freezes his muscles, even his microexpressions, leaving a facescape as desolate as a forest after a fire. The death mask of Parkinson’s.
A thought while driving home: When I hear Botox commercials, I want to smack someone hard. Don’t want wrinkles? Don’t smoke. Moisturize. Wear a hat. But to freeze your face with a poison – to wantonly throw away what I grieve the loss of daily? I can’t think this way and drive right.
Why do I get these tsunamis of emotion over irrelevancies? My husband is dying of a rare manifestation of a rare disease that no one can do anything about, and the feeling I am most in touch with is irrational fury at the wrinklephobic. What is wrong with me? I pretend I’m in childbirth and take some deep, calming breaths. Gotta be balanced.
I take off my coat before I even open the door because I know, first thing, he’ll need a lift. As I pull him up, he suddenly reaches left over right to point at my red wrap, which nearly oversets us both. I struggle to keep him upright. Finally, we are balanced. After we both catch our breath, he asks, “Why?”
“I gave blood.”
“Good,” he whispers, understanding.
A faint glow through the rain.
The April 1 prompt is based on Robert Hass’s prose poem, “A Story About the Body.” Write a prose poem that is a story about the body. The poem should contain an encounter between two people, some spoken language, and at least one crisp visual image.
Tell all the truth, but tell it slant Success in circuit lies
Emily Dickinson, Number 1263
When I was a copywriter, I used to think about that poem all the time. Not lying, just circuiting, circling, wandering around the truth – Never stating it, nor denying it.
But what does a writer – even a copywriter – owe a reader? Poetry is built to convey multiple meanings, whereas advertising is prose and pix. And god forbid you think about it! The goal is to subvert thought. Go straight for the feels. People going into orgasmic ecstacy over… kids’ fruit juice. Yogurt. Cereal. Nothing dazzling gradually. Instead, cascading explosions.
Want real drama – say, cancer? Look at this mom playing with her daughter. Whipped cream on noses. No nausea! Perfect hair! Not a word about death. Or the odds. Only the side effects, raced through in a weird voice at the end. A strange coda of truth told too fast – on purpose – to make sense. Big Pharma, a little kid sticking its tongue out at Nanny State.
When am I not sold? In matters of national import – health care, war, budgets – we don’t speak honestly. Or debate rationally. . Sound bites. Message discipline. Deflection. Deniability. Where “straight talk” isn’t an action, it’s a slogan. A boast. A weapon. And, truly, a lie.
Where there is no truth, like lightning to the children eased, every (hu)man seems blind--
As an “early bird” (March 31) challenge, write a poem based on, or responding to, various lines from Emily Dickinson.